On “The Boy in the Smoke” by Maureen Johnson

Image result for the boy in the smokeMy friends, if you haven’t already started reading Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, now is the time. I know I’m late to the game myself, but the long reigning “Queen of Teen” has delivered a well-written, suspenseful, page-turning series; It’s best to start reading now before some production company decides to make a film adaptation.

I was only aware of the three major installments of the series before I started reading. (I have yet to read the third novel.) But I found out that Johnson published a prequel novella for National Book Day in 2014. Naturally, I had to get my hands on it. I don’t know about you, but if a writer produces supplemental material for a series I love, I have to read it.

When I realized it was about Stephen Dene’s childhood and relationship with his family, I was thrilled. The Madness Underneath left me feeling some kind of way, so the novella partially placated my sense of loss. Since I have a ton of other books to get through before I can read The Shadow Cabinet, it also served as an excellent hold over until I can get to that last book.

In just over eighty pages, Johnson paints a deft, astonishingly complete portrait of Stephen’s life as a teenager (which makes me think she’d be an amazing short story writer.) His relationship with his sister is the only¬†thing that matters to him. But after his parents cut off contact with her, sending money in¬†exchange for silence, they see less and less of each other.

After her death, he continues to go through the motions of his life at Eton with everyone avoiding any mention of tragedy. Indeed, as far as his parents are concerned, his sister never existed at all. No use airing dirty laundry, as they say.

Plagued by a deep sense of loss and time wasted, Stephen is driven to despair, attempting suicide by hanging. Yet, he doesn’t succeed. He’s saved by a ghost–a student who threw himself in the river over unrequited love from another boy and has been stuck in the boat house ever since.

Thus begins the start of everything. Before Callum, Boo, and Rory, there was just Stephen, tasked with assembling a team of fellow ghost seers. Having Stephen’s backstory makes his romance with Rory all the more poignant in retrospect. Only time will tell how the rest of their story will play out.

On “Suite Scarlett” by Maureen Johnson

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courtesy of goodreads.com

Like I said earlier: the craze continues. This time, with a novel that is more similar in tone to The Bermudez Triangle, though not quite as edgy. I imagine this would have been the perfect summer break book for me when I was younger. It has all the right ingredients:

  1. Teenage siblings brought up in an unusual environment (i.e. a hotel in New York City).
  2. An off beat hotel guest who shakes things up.
  3. A complicated love interest.
  4. Money problems.
  5. The streets of NYC in the summer.

All good things. Johnson kept Suite Scarlett light and fun–perfect for a teenager on his or her summer vacation. While I thought the novel got off to a slow start, the author quickly showed just how talented she is at designing characters and developing their interpersonal relationships, especially the dynamic between the Martin siblings.

And–while almost all YA novels contain a love interest at their core–Scarlett’s relationship (or lack of one) with Eric introduces a complexity that many lack. Oftentimes, boy and girl fall in love and run along happily ever after, but Johnson consciously introduces a three year age gap that changes everything for them.

Personally, I was so done with Eric after his and Scarlett’s rendezvous on the Empire State Building. But, first love is a bitch to be reckoned with. The complications that arise knowing that Eric will go to NYU and almost inevitably change makes their doomed romance relatable to many a young person out there. I would like to have read this book when I was 14/15 and half in love with a senior boy who I wouldn’t stop bugging. Unfortunately, I had no concept of “cool.” Yes, I was an embarrassment to myself.

Furthermore, I love resourceful teenagers in a sort of masochistic way. I sure as hell wasn’t witty, sharp, cunning, or helpful when I was Scarlett’s age. I just existed and did school related things sometimes and read a ton of books. It was a fun day when my mom realized that reading a lot does not translate into academic intelligence. Good times.

Though Suite Scarlett isn’t on the same par as Johnson’s Shades of London series, it is definitely worth a read for young people around 14 or 15. It’s fun, relatable, and contains all of the author’s trademark humor.

YA Galore for the (not so) cold winter months

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Good morning, readers –

I’m about a quarter of the way through The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin, and I’ve just started reading Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan, so look out for those reviews in the next few days.

I’m starting a new job on Monday, so there might be a short period in which I won’t be posting as much. Once I adjust to my new hours and the workload, I should be good to go. Until then, I’ll try to get these two reviews out to tide you over until then.

If you’re desperate for some great recommendations, book news, and author spotlights, be sure to check out paperbackparis.com. Many of my reviews appear there, along with great feedback from other avid readers like you.

Once I’m done with the books I’m reading, you should prepare yourselves for a slew of Young Adult book reviews. I’ll be reading a lot of Maureen Johnson, Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, Jennifer Niven, and many others, so get in touch with your inner teenager, friends.

Let me know if there are any books that I should add to my list!

As ever,

LR

Winter reading and other news

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Stock photo from Pexels

Dear readers,

My posts on this account have been few and far between lately, and most of that is due to the plague that struck my house a few weeks ago. It really wasn’t that bad, but instead of reading, I spent most of my time watching The Big Fat Quiz of Everything on YouTube. Who says I don’t have life?

Anyway, the few reviews I have posted lately are ones that appear on paperbackparis.com, which is run by a colleague of mine. Please, please, please check it out if you have the time. There’s some really good stuff on there, including book news, TBRs from our staff writers, and listicles that we curate for you good people.

These days, I’m getting back in the swing of things. I’m really trying to get on top of my reading list, but I know The Romanovs by Simon Sebag-Montefiore is going to take me ages. It’s coming up next after I finish Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth and The Guineveres by Sarah Domet.

Unfortunately, I’m getting sidetracked again these days because I’m in the process of interviewing for a new job, which sucks the energy out of me. Seriously, the anxiety I have about it is enough to narcotize the most ambitious person.

BUT, don’t fret! You will be hearing a lot more from me in the coming weeks because I have a pile of NetGalley proofs to dig into as well. I have a heap of great stuff in there, like Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian.

And, I don’t know what it is, but I’ve fallen back into my YA craze from a few months ago. I have tons of Maureen Johnson, Jenny Han, and Jennifer Niven coming up, so stay tuned!