Maureen Johnson presents a whirlwind of a duo in 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope. Main character Ginny Blackstone has no idea what direction her life is going in. Her favorite Aunt Peg dies and leaves a sort of puzzle for Ginny. She receives 13 envelopes and the challenge to follow the directions contained in each. It is a quest of sorts which takes her to Europe where she crisscrosses countries, meets people good and bad, and more important, finds herself. As the first book ends, the last envelope is stolen and she returns home. The second book takes up with Ginny trying to write her college entrance essay, an experience many seniors can identify with. She reflects on the adventures of the past, her Aunt Peg and the loss of the last piece of the puzzle, the envelope. Someone finds the envelope, demands money from the sale of one of Aunt Peg’s paintings and to follow her on the last adventure. Ginny meets people from her last adventure and the new mystery man who has the envelope. The fast pace of the novels is appropriate and the reader feels as rushed as the main character. I liked the characters and felt Johnson found a fresh story to tell. The reader becomes vested in Ginny’s story and there is satisfaction in the end, although it doesn’t end quite as I predicted.
Pat Flynn delivers another winner with his latest book, Out of His League. Ozzie, a talented ‘football’ player from a small town in Australia, participates in an exchange program and finds himself in Hope, Texas. He is an instant hit with the girls. It’s hard to compete with good looks, and alluring accent and great skills on the soccer field. Ozzie finds himself in the midst of the American high school experience as a member of the football team. The story could be a typical story of the new kid on the block taking all the glory and in the process making male enemies and female friends. However, Flynn doesn’t take that road and what the reader ends up with is a complex story with well developed characters and plenty of good old American high school football. A very good read and well worth the time.
I thoroughly enjoyed Larson’s latest, In the Garden of Beasts. It had three points working in its favor even before I started reading it. I loved Devil in the White City, I have a passion for WWII and I enjoy nonfiction. This latest Larson saga is the story of William Dodd and his family who served as American Ambassador to Germany in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to power. Dodd was a professor of history when called upon to serve his country. He wasn’t the first choice for the position and he knew it. When he accepted Roosevelt’s offer he was determined to live within his means and conduct business on a budget. That decision upset some of the establishment who often took advantage of their position and lived a lavish lifestyle. Dodd, his wife Mattie, son Bill and daughter Martha left for Germany on July 5, 1933. Dodd was a man of character, his wife was very down to earth, his son entered the University and his daughter, in the midst of a divorce, was a woman of the world. Larson provides a unique look at an American family coming to terms with what the rest of the world had to come to terms with, the rise of Hitler. All Hitler’s henchmen are present and there is a unique look at the beginning of the Third Reich. To call it a dysfunctional family would be an understatement. Mixed in are the dalliances of Martha who seems to date most of Germany, was set up with Hitler (that didn’t work out) and a brief stint as a Soviet spy. It is an enjoyable and disturbing read. A must for WWII aficionados, lovers of history and just a good read!
I had high hopes for L.A. Weatherly’s book Angel Burn when I started reading. The premise of angels as soul sucking beings was intriguing. The story is your typical man vs. alien-being-thing. Alex is an AK (Angel Killer) and receives his orders, or so he thinks, from the head AK, Cully, and the CIA. Yes, you read it right, the CIA. It seems the Earth is under attack from angels. They like it here, because humans are tasty and easy prey, plus you can feast on them over and over again. I guess we are the buffet of the universe. Humans are enamored by the angels and become like zombies when they have served as breakfast, lunch or dinner for the winged creatures. Huge churches crop up worshiping angels. The angels are taking over and there doesn’t seem to be much the humans can do. Enter Willow. Willow lives with her emotionally disturbed mother and hoarding aunt. I really didn’t get the hoarding part and it was never fully developed nor did it really add to the dysfunction of the family. Willow’s father is not in the picture. Spoiler Alert: but he does show up at the end. Willow is a psychic and can tell a person’s future just by touching them. She reads a fellow classmates future and that is where she learns about angels because her friend had recently been a midnight snack. Alex is given orders to kill Willow, but, you guessed it, he can’t. She is beautiful and half angel. Although angels do take their liberties with humans, she seems to be the only offspring of such a relationship, and is very valuable. Willow has the ability to destroy all the angels, but she doesn’t know how. Willow and Alex escape and elude both angels, human zombies and ultimately the AK and CIA. There are many close calls, the two fall in love, and Willow becomes an avenging angel. There is no clear conclusion to the story which begs for a sequel. The plot has the two of them spending much time in bed, together, with nothing happening. A bit farfetched considering neither were wearing clothes. Their relationship got a bit sappy and drawn out. The climax was a tad anticlimactic. Putting soul sucking angels, human zombies, the CIA, an Angel Killer and an avenging half angel/half human should have been one great fight scene, but it did disappoint. In spite of a few hiccups in the plot, I will read the sequel and give the characters one more chance to kick some angel butt.
Hope in Patience is not your typical teenage problem book. Fehlbaum’s story begins after the physical and sexual abuse of the main character, Ashley by her stepfather, Charlie. She has moved to Patience, Texas to live with her biological father, David, stepmother, Bev, step brother, Ben and dog Emma. Suffering from PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, Ashley has to face her past and find a way to live in the present and see a future for herself with the help of her therapist Dr. Matt. Hiding in the dark, hurting herself and isolation are Ashley’s coping mechanisms. She wants the love of her mother and to know that she believes that Ashley was abused by Charlie. As Ashley learns living in Patience and through the patience of her new family, therapist and friends, is you don’t always get what you want. What the reader gets is a glimpse into the healing process which is not quick, pretty or made-for-TV happy. What Ashley gets is the ability to move on. Hope in Patience is a gritty read well worth the time and energy.
Libba Bray won me over as a fan with her YA novel Going Bovine. I anxiously awaited Beauty Queens and the wait was worth it. To begin with the cover is awesome and will pique the interest of both guys and girls. The premise of the story is a plane carrying contestants of the Miss Teen Dream Pageant sponsored by The Corporation crashes near a seemingly deserted island. As expected, none of the adults survive and just a handful of girls. True to their beauty pageant training the girls continue to practice their routines, keep up with their personal hygiene and discover their resourcefulness and the truths about their fellow contestants. The cast of characters include a hyper Texas teen and self appointed leader, a Jewish girl, an African American girl, an Asian girl, a lesbian (or 2), a former boy band member going through gender re identification, etc. Interspersed with their survival story is the intrigue of pirates, corporate espionage, large man/girl eating snakes, and personal conflicts. The Corporation TV shows serve as a backdrop for the action of the story and the girls are soon joined by the shipwrecked cast from the show Captains Bodacious IV: Badder and More Bodaciouser! The sudden onslaught of good looking men complicate the relative calm of the island. In their efforts to get off the island, they must escape the clutches of the dictator MoMo and The Corporation’s leader, Ladybird. It is a fun read and the end certainly doesn’t disappoint.