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)

Going Bovine, by Libba Bray

Again! Again I thought this was going to be a weird book, and it was, but again, it was pretty darn cool in the end. Luckily (or unluckily?) it looks like my next few reads will be “normal” books… we’ll have to see how that goes. 🙂

Back to the weird book. So there this kid, Cameron, who lives a pretty regular teenage life. He goes to school, he gets his C’s, he smokes some weed, he has a lame job, he’s distant from his parents and sister… fairly normal. But then one day he starts seeing really weird things, with stuff catching on fire and angels walking around and weird people standing in the street but then not standing in the street. His parents, naturally, think he’s totally on the hard drugs, and so does the drug counselor they make him see. But soon they wise up, and Cameron ends up in the hospital with a diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob and not much time to live.

In his disease-fueled dreams, Cameron gets a quest from an angel to go find a Dr. X that will cure his CJD and sets off with his dwarf roommate on an awesome road trip. This trip includes stops at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, at the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack ‘N’ Bowl (curiously abbreviated CESSNAB), and eventually at the MTV-equivalent Party House in Florida. It’s a little weird, but with all the references to it throughout the book, I’m assuming the story follows along with Don Quixote, one of those books that I never had to read in school but should probably get around to reading someday. A quick glance at that Wikipedia page certainly shows a lot of connections in names of things, at least, so I’m going to run with it.

As soon as it was made clear that the whole quest bit was a fever dream, I was 100 percent behind this book. I loved the way that Bray interwove Cameron’s dreams with his real life up to this point and his current hooked-up-to-tubes status. And the way she made ridiculous things like dimension-traveling rock groups seem totally real with the perfect small details. And, of course, I am a sucker for a decent road trip novel, and I think that any road trip that involves a Norse god trapped as a yard gnome is a road trip I want to be on. 🙂

Rating: 9/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Back to Books
Book Nut
Blogging for a Good Book

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Little Road Trip Handbook, by Erin McHugh (27 August — 30 August)

Speaking of wanting to go on a road trip… this book is really making me long for one! Scott and I go on “road trips” all the time, driving a long way to get places, but this book is more to get you ready for a Kerouac-type trip — maybe you have a destination in mind, but there’s plenty of time to stop and see anything and everything else along the way!

McHugh sets out the important things for a road trip: who and what to bring (and NOT to bring!), what music to listen to, how to assign duties for your fellow road-trippers (from Driver to Mapper to Point Man), and even what games to play when you get bored. And, of course, the obligatory “weird state laws section”:

Ohio
• Getting a fish drunk is unlawful.
• A driver must honk the horn when he or she passes another car. (This is totally in the driver’s ed manual, but I have never heard anyone do it, ever.)
• No one may be arrested on Sunday or the Fourth of July. (Mmhmm…)
Newark, NJ
• Selling ice cream after 6 p.m. is illegal unless the customer has a note from his doctor.

Tennessee
• Daring a child to purchase beer is against the law.

And more, of course, but those are the ones I enjoyed. 🙂

I definitely need to buy a copy of this book and put it in my glove box.

Rating: 8/10

See also:
Dreadlock Girl Reads

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac (18 August — 23 August)

Mary has been bugging me to read this approximately since the day I met her four and a half years ago. I have finally read it. Stop bugging me, Mary. 😛

Um. Hanyway. On the Road is this weird little autobiographical novel written by Jack Kerouac about being young and free and awesome and travelling across the country with as few cares as possible. It’s definitely not the kind of book I would normally read, as it is really very plot-less, but I did appreciate Kerouac’s ability to set a scene.

The book is essentially this: Kerouac, in the form of Sal Paradise, travels from New York to Denver to San Francisco and back many times via bus and car and hitchhiking, and with next to no money, and meets some rather interesting people along the way. His big inspiration is Dean Moriarty, who does the “without a care” part of his roadtripping by ignoring the cares he should have (a wife, a kid, another wife, some more kids…) and doing generally whatever he wants.

I found Dean to be kind of a putz, but I can definitely see why Sal would want to follow him around the country; he’s just got this crazy spirit that begs to be observed.

And reading the book made me want to do a wild and crazy roadtrip of my own, but of course with less hitchhiking and having no money and having to pick up odd jobs just to get back where I came from. Because I am not one of these “beat” kids. So maybe it would be just a regular roadtrip, without the wild or the crazy but definitely with the fun?

Rating: 7/10
(Critical Monkey Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Paper Towns, by John Green (12 June)

When I saw that John Green had mentioned Scott Westerfeld in his acknowledgements as part of a writing group, I was surprised but not surprised. I love them both! And now I’m going to have to search out the works of the other authors in the group, because I imagine they are also swell.

But back to the book at hand. Paper Towns is the story of Quentin Jacobsen and his quest to find Margo Roth Spiegelman, his erstwhile best friend. Margo showed up at Q’s window one night after several years of non-speaking-ness, took him on a grand revenge-getting and trouble-making adventure, and then disappeared. When Q hears from her parents that Margo likes to leave clues when she runs away, he gathers up his friends to decipher the ones it seems she’s left for them. It takes him a while to make sense of what she’s left, and all the while he starts to realize that he doesn’t even know who Margo Roth Spiegelman is, let alone how to get into her head and find her.

It’s a good time and a fast beach read. (But be careful on the beach — you’ll get so caught up in the book you’ll get a sunburn. [Yes, this did really happen to me.]) Green’s characters are always so very, and these guys are no exception, but I feel like I could have known these people as a larger group in high school. And they’re fun, so that’s good. And [spoiler alert?], Green evens out all the ridiculousness inherent in the road-trip-on-a-deadline at the end with a punch of reality to the face, and I for one appreciated it.

Rating: 8/10

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (27 April)

Obviously, after the slow but interesting Murder, as I think I will call it from now on, I needed to go back to the YA brain candy. So I did. And it was good.

An Abundance of Katherines, as the title suggests, is about a kid called Colin with a lot of Katherines in his life… as of his high-school graduation, he’s been dumped by 19 of them. Nineteen! Of course, some of these are third-grade (third-grade!) relationships, but they still count because every single one of them has been named K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e. Not Kate or Katie or Catherine. Katherine. Yes.

This last Katherine having been his girlfriend for 11 months and eight days, Colin is understandably upset about this breakup. So, in the grand tradition of all high-schoolers everywhere, Colin and his best friend Hassan go on a road trip. From Chicago to middle Tennessee. Where they go on a tour of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s grave and then make friends with the also high-school-aged tour guide, whose mother gives the boys jobs and invites them to stay in her house. Right.

So then adventures occur and all the kids discover new things about themselves and, you know, come of age, as you do. Also Colin tries to develop a Theory of Underlying Katherine Predictability which will tell him how long a relationship will last. And there is math and footnotes and it’s all kind of ridiculous but you go along with it because why the hell not, we’re adventuring!

Seriously, it’s good stuff. I continue my *heart*ing of John Green in happiness.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)