Book Review: The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

burmudez triangleToday’s book review comes courtesy of one of my favorite authors, Maureen Johnson. I follow her on Twitter and also read her blog, and she mentioned that this book had been challenged and banned in a high school in Ohio. Any time a book created controversy, I have to read it. Besides, I’ve really liked Maureen Johnson, ever since seeing her on the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel.

The book I’m talking about is The Bermudez Triangle. It’s about these three girls, Nina, Mel and Avery, who have been best friends nearly their whole lives. During the summer before their senior year of high school, Nina goes off to a special summer program for high school leadership at Stanford, leaving Mel and Avery behind to have a really lame summer working at a really lame theme restaurant. And while they are together, they enter into a relationship. A romantic relationship.

Hence why this book was challenged. Because it featured two homosexual teen girls. Sigh. People are stupid. The story does talk about the two of them trying to figure things out, especially since one of them had never really considered herself gay before. Let me also say that this book is one of the cleanest teen books I’ve read, with very little language that anyone would find offensive, and absolutely no sex at all. In fact, if the two characters had been a girl and a boy, I seriously doubt this book would have been challenged at all. As I said, stupid.

Mostly, this book is about what happens when Nina comes back home and finds out that her two best friends are more than just friends now. It makes things more than a little awkward, and of course, hilarity ensues. This book is also very heartwarming and bittersweet, since it shows how even though best friends can sometimes grow apart, they are still always there for each other. And while Nina knows what she wants to do with her life (hence going to the summer program), Mel and Avery are still trying to figure all that out, which is a very relatable topic for teens.

Anyway, this book is a lot of fun to read and will probably bring back some high school memories. You should definitely check it out.

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Book Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Guess what! I sat down and wrote out all the books that I still need to write reviews on and realized that I am terribly behind! So that means you get a Sunday review. And probably a few extra reviews throughout the week.

13 little blue envelopes

This follows the tradition of Maureen Johnson covers where girls have no eyes. Or upper faces.

Today’s review is one of my favorite Maureen Johnson books, 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Actually, I have to say that Maureen Johnson is one of my favorite authors, not just because her books are good, but because she is a really fun person. If you don’t already, go follow her on Twitter. It will make your life just a little bit better.

Anyway, back to the review. The book follows the story of Ginny, a teenage girl who is left with a package from her Aunt Peg. Inside the package are thirteen handmade blue envelopes, each with a picture drawn on it.  Inside each envelope is a letter from her aunt with certain instructions – like hop on a plane and fly to London.

It should be said that Aunt Peg has recently died and these letters are basically her speaking from the grave. And that’s not a spoiler. You find that out in the first chapter.

So Ginny follows the letters, which take her on a whirlwind adventure through Europe, from London to Amsterdam to Greece. Each envelope gives Ginny a challenge, something to accomplish, but also gives a glimpse into her aunt’s life. Let’s just say that there was a lot that Ginny didn’t know about Peg, despite their close relationship.

It’s this relationship that really makes the book interesting. Ginny admit that she is a boring, live-by-the-rules kind of person. This is the polar opposite of Peg. Peg is an artist who goes from place to place, wherever her whims take her. Ginny loved spending time with Peg because she felt like it made her a more interesting person. As much as Peg’s life mystifies Ginny, Ginny would be terrified to live like Peg. With the thirteen envelopes, Peg is encouraging Ginny to break out of her shell by sending her on an adventure where she is forced to survive on her wits.

The challenges range in scope, from asking Ginny to donate money to a struggling artist (she chooses Keith, the author of Starbucks: The Musical) to having her stay in a hostel with a whole bunch of strangers. I think what makes this book so exciting is that you never know what Peg will be asking next. It also makes me wish that I had a relative who would send me on an adventure backpacking through Europe. Of course, in this context, that means that one of my aunts would have die, which would be terrible. So never mind.

This book is a lot of fun, and heartwarming as well. It’s also a quick read, so you don’t even have to devote a huge chunk of time to it. Go off on an adventure with Ginny!

Book Review – The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

The bad thing about falling behind in your book reviews is that you can never remember which books you’ve reviewed and which you haven’t. For example, I’ve talked so much about The Madness Underneath in Top Ten Tuesdays, Teaser Tuesdays, WWW Wednesdays, and other places, I thought for sure I had formally reviewed it already. Turns out I haven’t.

So let’s begin, shall we?

First off, I just need to say that I adore Maureen Johnson. I want to be her when I grow up. And don’t tell me that, at age 34, I’m already grown up. I will stick my fingers in my ears and stick my tongue out at you. Maureen Johnson is just an awesome person. I picked up The Madness Underneath at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC (which is a cool independent bookstore – if you are any where around the Raleigh area, stop in and see them). Maureen was there for a book signing, along with Stephanie Perkins who I also love, and I got to meet them both. They are super nice, a little crazy, but that’s what makes them fun. I haven’t read all of Maureen’s books yet, but I’m going to.

madness underneathThe Madness Underneath continues the story of Rory Devereaux, a teenage girl from Louisiana living in London. In the previous book, The Name of the Star, Rory barely survives an attack from a ghost who was replicating the murders of Jack the Ripper. Rory’s parents are understandably protective and pull Rory out of school. Rory is understandably frustrated with them. She wants to go back to Wexford, not only to regain her life again, but to get back with the mysterious Shades of London, an underground police force that deals with ghosts.

Something strange happened to Rory when she nearly died. The Shades have an instrument they call a “terminus,” which they use on ghosts to make them leave this world for good. The terminii were hidden in cell phones, but they were all destroyed. Now Rory is somehow a human terminus – every time she comes in contact with a ghost, the ghost disappears forever. The Shades are very interested in this power, and they’re not the only ones.

I haven’t read very many books that are both funny, yet suspenseful as all get out. Somehow Maureen Johnson does both with this book. There are a lot of twists and turns, really cool supernatural mysteries to be solved, and an ending that I did not see coming AT ALL. Let’s just say that Rory’s new gift is about to get super inconvenient. I really liked this book and, although it wasn’t quite as good as The Name of the Star, I can’t wait to get to the next book (The Shadow Cabinet, coming sometime in 2014 according to GoodReads). So yes, check out this series. These books are spooky and fun, which is a great combination.

So I met some people . . .

This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to go to a book signing and meet two awesome authors – Maureen Johnson and Stephanie Perkins! It was so much fun! I’ve never really gone to a book signing before, since I always seem to be behind in the times and find out about things just a day or so too late. This time, thanks to my writing buddy Jeff, I was able to make it.

The book signing was held at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC, which is a really neat independent bookstore. I didn’t know this, but they have lots of events like this. Needless to say, I am now signed up to get their newsletter and I have started following them on Twitter! Raleigh isn’t too far away from where I live – only about an hour and a half drive – but since I didn’t feel like going alone, I talked my mom into coming with me. She agreed, despite not really knowing anything about these two authors, except that I really liked them. After listening to them, she now understands why I am so enamored with them both.

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Stephanie Perkins and Maureen Johnson

The event started off with a small panel discussion and a Q & A session. It was fun seeing so many younger people excited about reading. There were even a few very small fans (one in particular, who was still in a stroller) that Maureen and Stephanie had fun “talking” to. Actually, at one time, the little kid started laughing in a maniacal sort of way, and Maureen said that was just how she sounded while working on The Madness Underneath.

My favorite part of the panel was when they talked about writing and getting published, which are two very separate things. As a writer who wants to be published one day, it is always refreshing to hear how it sounds like from the other side – the side I hope to one day be on. It is easy to think, while plodding through your own manuscript, that published authors have it easy. Obviously, they’ve been successful, so they must be brimming with confidence and know exactly what they’re doing, right? Nope. Maureen confessed to the crowd that while writing, she often feels like sealing herself in a box and shipping herself off to Spain in order to get away from her manuscript. Stephanie has similar fantasies, except instead of Spain, she would find a small isolated cottage in England, throw her laptop off a cliff, and settle down with cups of tea while her husband plays the piano. Names would be changed, of course, so that no one would ever find her or her writing.

Maureen sees you with that camera!

Maureen sees you with that camera!

After that was the signing, which was set up over in the children’s department. Everything moved pretty fast, but we never felt like we were being rushed. Maureen got very excited when a fan brought metallic gold Sharpie pens, and quickly appropriated one. They were both lovely, stopping to take pictures and sign as many books as you could carry in. I bought two books there, Maureen’s The Madness Underneath and Stephanie’s Lola and the Boy Next Door, and got both of them signed. And got a photo, of course.

Maureen, Me, and Stephanie. Squee!

Maureen, Me, and Stephanie. Squee!

Ladies, it was so nice to meet you! Hope you come back soon!

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

I came across Maureen Johnson the same place I found John Green – through YouTube. I know that’s a strange place to find new writers, but hey, it seems to work!

The Name of the Star follows the story of Rory Deveaux, a teenage girl who is sent to go to boarding school in London. A string of murders plague the city, mimicking those of Jack the Ripper. The places, the methods, even some of the victim’s names are similar to Jack the Ripper’s crimes. Then Rory meets a man who no one else seems to be able to see.

The press is baffled, the police completely stumped. Surveillance cameras show one of the victims being attacked by what looks like an invisible assailant. Everyone in London is obsessed with “Ripper-mania.”

I won’t say more so I don’t give away any of the surprises, but this book was great. It was incredibly spooky in the best way possible. I also love how much detail Johnson put into the history behind Jack the Ripper – she definitely did her research. The parallels between the current murders and the famous ones a century ago are perfectly done and very creepy.