The Shadow Cabinet, by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow CabinetHas it really been two years since I read The Madness Underneath? Am I going to have to wait another two years to see how this ends?? Things are getting crazy up in this series and I don’t think I can handle it.

If you haven’t read the series, seriously, start with the first book, read the three existing books as fast as possible, and then come back here. If you read on without doing so, I can’t promise you won’t be spoiled to the best parts of the first books.

This book starts off right where the last one left off, with an upsettingly dead person. Sad face! Rory and Co. are pretty sure the UDP is a ghost now and decide to go track UDP down, but they’re already pretty busy looking for the crazy Jane Quaint and Rory’s kidnapped classmate Charlotte. Then Rory, in the midst of breaking all the rules, meets a new ghost-seer with a wealth of information about London and ghosts and even secret society conspiracy theories that are totally just wacko theories except perhaps they’re not? Meanwhile, we get the back story on crazy Jane, who helped a pair of twins murder a bunch of people in an attempt to beat death, which twins are totally dead but possibly not for long.

This book is nuts, but still awesome because Maureen Johnson does not know how to write a not-awesome sentence or a not-awesome Rory. Rory is the best, guys, even if she is incredibly terrible at following rules. And I am super-interested in all the new characters Johnson introduces and what they’re going to do in the next, last book.

This book also introduces a lot of that intrigue and subterfuge that I like, and even though I felt like things were going a little off the rails, plot-wise (Secret societies! Magic stones! Cults of personality! People who are only mostly dead!), I was still totally interested in how everything was going to play out, and it played out quite nicely. The ending was even sufficiently creepy without resorting to killing people I like! Very excellent.

Recommendation: For those who like ghost stories with subterfuge.

Rating: 8/10

The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson

The Madness UnderneathAbout a year ago I read and liked the heck out of Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, so when I heard this sequel was coming out I put it on hold at the library as soon as it showed up in the catalog. And then I even read it right after I got it! That’s almost unprecedented.

And it was as delightful as expected, though it unfortunately suffers from Second Book in a Series Syndrome, which is to say that if you read this book by itself you would be like, uh, okay, but having read the first and knowing there’s a third you’re like, okay!

The story picks up a couple of weeks after the last book, with Rory recuperating from all the crazy back in Brighton with her parents and unsuccessfully attending therapy on account of her truth sounds like crazy. She just wants to go back to school, but when her therapist unexpectedly says that she can and she does, she realizes that maybe not doing any schoolwork for a couple weeks right before the end of term was not the best idea.

So she’s dealing with the crush of school and exams, and also the fact that she can… do that thing she does, and the related fact that she was brought back to London for a reason, and the other related fact that some new mysterious murders are going on and so is it any wonder that things go a little bit not according to plan?

I, as always, enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s writing and her accurate portrayal of a stressed-out teenager. I was also verrrry intrigued by how she ended this book, and am eager to see how this plays out in the next book. I just feel like maybe this book could have been compressed and that intriguing thing could have been the thrust of this story, or alternately that the book could have taken place over a longer timespan and we could have seen more of Rory’s schooltime woes (and that perhaps she could have spent more time trying to fix them?).

Recommendation: If you liked the first book, read this one, but maybe wait until closer to the next book’s release, because seriously I want to know what’s going to happen here!

Rating: 7/10

The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the StarOkay, so, I love me some Maureen Johnson on the Twitters, and I’ve liked me some stories written by Maureen Johnson, and so when MJ started shilling this book on her twitter feed, I was like, well, I guess I’ll check that out. If I had known how much I’d adore this book, I’d have been like, “OMG give me pre-order signed copy with presents now!” Oh, hindsight, for you are 20/20.

For those not residing in a jar (this is a Twitter MJ reference), The Name of the Star is a mystery story set in present-day London and featuring a Jack the Ripper copycat killer, which, I somehow had not realized how horrifyingly brutal Mr. the Ripper was and so let me just tell you right now that there will be stabbing and disembowelment and kidneys sent via post. Not too much, and only briefly, but now you are prepared.

Anyway, the story follows Rory, an American girl spending her senior year at a boarding school in London, not far from the Ripper’s hunting grounds. Once the copycat starts his bit up, the school gets a little lockdown-y, but Rory and her roommate sneak out on a murder night to watch the proceedings from the roof of the boys’ dorm (house? whatever) with Rory’s crush. On the way back to their room, Rory has a little chat with a super creeper face who happens to be hanging around their dorm, and then the next morning it turns out that there’s a dead body on school grounds and that that creeper was probably totally the killer. Eep!

And then there’s this twist that I wasn’t expecting and that I disliked and I was like, maybe I’m not going to like this book after all and maybe I should just stop reading but I was so intrigued by how they were going to get the SCF and then the twist just totally stopped bothering me and now I kind of like it a lot, because I think Johnson did a superb job of keeping the twist grounded in reality. Well, as much as one can, I suppose.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this book that I love, as opposed to the moderate to strong like I’ve had for her other stories I’ve read. I guess I just really liked Rory, who’s a smart kid that I would totally have hung out with in high school, and I liked the mystery and serial killer aspects, and I liked that even though I could see some things coming from pages away, the reveals were never exactly what I expected.

Now to just wait a year for the next book to come out! I’ll just be over here, twiddling my thumbs, impatiently…

Recommendation: For fans of mysteries and serial killers and boarding schools and stories that veer slightly out of the realm of reality.

Rating: 9/10

13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson

This isn’t technically my first e-book, since I’ve read two Cory Doctorow novels and Dracula on my computer, but it is the first e-book I’ve read portably, in this case using the Kindle app for my Android phone. I had originally downloaded the app to try to read Pride and Prejudice, but gave up on that for the audiobook version, and the poor app was destined to languish along with Angry Birds and Words with Friends.

BUT THEN! Maureen Johnson, whom I dedicatedly follow on the Twitters, decided to offer up 13 Little Blue Envelopes for FREE in advance of the publication of the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope. And while I am in love with Twitter Maureen, I have managed to read but one of her books proper, and so this situation presented itself as a win for everyone. It can even still be a win for you, as the book is still free for a few days yet, with all the pertinent links over at Maureen’s blog.

So first a note on the e-book format itself: it being on my phone, the book necessarily looked a little odd, what with sentences not fitting perfectly on short little lines and some formatting causing odd little line breaks here and there. And indeed, I felt a little lost without page numbers or an idea of the heft of the book. But I had an eye appointment right after work last week and got there, as usual, embarrassingly early, and so I pulled out my phone and started reading. I felt like Reed on Criminal Minds, “turning” pages at an alarming speed but still managing to understand them (if only I could do that for regular-sized books!), and though I was surprised by a chapter break here and there it still felt like reading a paper book. It being my phone, I wouldn’t want to read a large book in one go on it for fear of going blind by backlight, but it was perfect for the waiting room and for the times I was standing in line or otherwise bored.

And now for the story: It was okay. It, like its format, was perfect for the waiting room or standing in line et cetera, but I had some problems with it.

The driving force behind the story is the eponymous set of envelopes, which are left to our hero Ginny by her dead aunt who was a bit flighty in life. Her aunt, Peg, wants Ginny to go wander around Europe, following the path that Peg took after she left the States.

This seems pretty cool, except that the letters are constantly telling Ginny to go here or there IMMEDIATELY DO NOT PASS GO DO NOT GIVE YOURSELF A CHANCE TO DO WHAT YOU WANT and Ginny, being that sort of person, obliges without question. This makes me hate Ginny a bit, and it makes me hate Peg more considering that she herself did whatever she wanted. And as a consequence of Ginny up and leaving for somewhere new every ten seconds, the book felt quite rushed and unfinished and I just wanted it to slow the heck down and let me figure out what was going on HERE before I had to go THERE. And so there is that.

But! For all the rushing around, I was still quite engaged in the story; I wanted to know where Ginny would go next and what she would learn and who she would meet and if she’d ever get back to the cute guy from the beginning of her adventures. And although Maureen Johnson does not quite write the way she tweets (for then her stories would go on for ages), I am still drawn in by her turns of phrase. And and, I love the way that she describes all of the weird things that go on in foreign countries, like washing machines in kitchens and oddly labeled bathrooms and other things that you don’t really think about until they’re staring you in the face.

So, on the whole, I do not regret the time I’ve spent with this book. The free version comes with a preview of the sequel, which preview I read and which did not really entice me to put the book on hold. But I am excited for Maureen’s upcoming Jack the Ripper mystery series, which seems slightly more up my alley.

Recommendation: For YA fans who like a good road-trip story or a good jaunt about Europe.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge)

Let it Snow, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle (18 December โ€” 20 December)

I picked this book up both because I like John Green and Maureen Johnson and because it’s practically Christmas and I wanted to get some of that proverbial spirit going. Well, I still don’t have any Christmas spirit, but I did have a good time reading about people who do. ๐Ÿ™‚

The book is three shorter interconnected stories: Johnson’s, the first, tells of a high-school girl called Jubilee who ends up stranded on a train in western North Carolina. Because of the scary cheerleaders who are also stranded with her, she treks away from the train as fast as she can, which is of course not very fast in snow that can strand a train. Jubilee ends up at a Waffle House where she meets a cute guy who offers her his and his mother’s hospitality for a few days. I think we all know what a mother’s “hospitality” is like. -eyebrow waggle-

Then Green comes in to tell the story of three kids who are friends with the manager at said Waffle House, who, by the time he calls, is looking at a room full of cheerleaders and wants to invite along Tobin, JP, and the Duke to ogle them. Of course, the Duke being a girl, she’d rather ogle maybe one of the other people I’ve already mentioned, so there’s awkwardness there, and oh, did I mention the snowstorm? Because there is some slow-tastic adventuring out in Tobin’s mom’s SUV just to get to the Waffle House. Current me is like, “Why would you go out in the snow like that???” but high-school me is like, “ADVENTURE!”

Myracle’s story is about a girl called Addie who is devastated over her breakup with Jeb, a bit player in the two previous stories (stuck on the train and then stuck in the Waffle House), even though it was all her fault. She’s pretty self-absorbed, but when her best friends and her manager and the old lady that comes in to Starbucks all the time all tell her so in the span of a couple days, she starts to take it to heart and tries to make up for all of her mistakes.

I’m always a little wary of teen romantic novels, because they’re always a little implausible, but this one is just completely implausible so it worked for me. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t think any girls are going to be looking for romance in a snowstorm at the Waffle House (though, maybe), and after Addie is portrayed as a bad guy for wanting a storybook/movie romance… well, there’s a chance for teens yet!

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2008)

See also:
Library Queue
an adventure in reading
Book Nut
Blogging for a Good Book
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Bermudez Triangle, by Maureen Johnson (10 December)

I first heard about Maureen Johnson and this book back when it was all a-being banned over the summer, and I thought to myself, “Banned book? I like reading banned books. Give it here!” and then I requested it from the library and then I got it and then I didn’t read it for, like, three months and then I suddenly had a craving and I read it! Good job, self.

And in the first few pages, I was like, “Oh, no. This book is overdescriptive and overexpositive and if this keeps up I am going to just throw its hefty selfยน across the room because I can’t deal with that again for a long time.

But it did not keep up, thank goodness, because I might have dislocated my shoulder in trying to heave it, and it was actually a very fun read!

The eponymous “triangle” is three high-school-senior girls who have been bffs(aeae) for some relatively long period of time. The summer before senior year, Nina goes off to a pre-college thing at Stanford, meets a guy, has a great time, and comes back to upstate New York ready to get her party on with Avery and Mel. Except that while Nina was gone, Avery and Mel met… each other, and now it’s all sorts of awkward-pants up in this triangle. Nina tries to figure out how to deal with her two best friends dating, Avery tries to figure out why a straight girl like herself is dating a girl, and Mel sort of gets left out in the process.

Obviously, the whole book-banning thing is on account of the lesbians , but except for the fact that Avery and Mel are girls, it’s pretty much your basic high school story of one or more friends finding significant others and totally ditching Friend One. And even more so the story of two friends hooking up and then trying to figure out how to make the relationship work. And doing these things all while trying to graduate from high school, because that stupid homework never stops coming.

I thought this book was delightful, and I recommend it if you’re in the mood for a reality-infused tale of love and friendship.

ยน As you can see from the image of the book cover I’ve included, the copy I ended up with is a “splashproof beach read!” with 100% waterproof cover and ridiculously stiff pages that must have been printed on, like, sixty-pound paper. It’s intense, and I’m not sure that I would be willing to lug this thing to the beach anyway. But someone must have!

Rating: 8/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously, Countdown Challenge: 2004)

See also:
things mean a lot
Book Nut

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.