Wednesday, August 17, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

Review #3 for today. Weekly updates will begin next Tuesday.

I bought 13 Little Blue Envelopes as an e-book when Amazon was having a big summer sale, not long ago, because I liked Maureen Johnson's quirky entry in the 3-author Christmas book Let It Snow.

As you probably know if you're a regular reader of my blog, I have a terrible time getting myself to read e-books. I prefer real books that I can hold in my hand. I also adore Post-its and most definitely do not have any affection for the tedious highlighting feature of the Kindle app on my iPad, Petunia.

At any rate, I felt like reading something very light and 13 Little Blue Envelopes fit the bill. Ginny Blackstone has received a parcel containing 13 letters from her deceased aunt, Peg. In the first letter, Peg instructs her to pack a single backpack with everything she needs (not including a cell phone or any other techie equipment) and head to England, where she is to knock on a particular door and ask a man what he sold to the queen. From there, she must follow the oddly cryptic directions to each clue, only opening the next envelope after she's completed whatever tasks are required. The letters lead her on a bit of a wild-goose chase across Europe, finally ending with the theft of her bag, including the last envelope. But, she figures out the goal without that final letter.

In general, I found 13 Little Blue Envelopes a little too fluffy, vague and not entirely meaningful. However, I really liked the characters, the dialogue and Maureen Johnson's quirky turn of phrase, so I enjoyed the reading.

I was about a quarter of the way into 13 Little Blue Envelopes when I took a jaunt to Borders and sought out a copy of the follow-up book, The Last Little Blue Envelope. If you read the author's notes, you'll find that she didn't intend to write a series but apparently was deluged with requests for a continuation of Ginny's story, which is not surprising because 13 Little Blue Envelopes doesn't feel entirely complete.

In The Last Little Blue Envelope, Ginny returns to England after she's contacted by a fellow named Oliver. Oliver purchased her stolen backpack in Greece and found the missing letters. But, he's heard about what happened at the end of the first book (which I think is a bit of a spoiler) and knows what Ginny is supposed to look for, now that her first tasks have been completed. Let's just say there's money involved and he wants a cut, okay? I don't want to give away too much.

After returning to England, Ginny is forced into an agreement and goes off on yet another mission that involves dashing to various countries on the European continent along with a side trip to Ireland.

Much as I love Maureen Johnson's writing quirks, I have to admit that neither of these books did much for me. I thought they read like an excuse to take a European holiday for research. The settings were great, the dialogue tremendously fun, the turn of phrase unique. But, the goals in both seemed totally implausible and Ginny spent so little time in each place she visited that I felt a little short-changed. Midway through The Last Little Blue Envelope, I began to really hate Aunt Peg's ridiculously cryptic letters. I'm a straightforward person. Hints and puzzles rather than directness just irritate me.

Having said all that, I will say that I think both books are great for when you're seeking something extremely light and fluffy. There simply isn't a lot of depth to either, in my humble opinion, although there is the obvious subtext about living life to the fullest and understanding art for its own sake because Peg was dying as she wrote the letters. The Last Little Blue Envelope appears to have been left deliberately open-ended, probably with the idea of writing yet another sequel in mind. If there is a third book, I probably won't read it.

Recommended for a fluff break but not among my favorite YA reads. Don't expect anything too deep.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I am waiting for the sequel to come in for me at the library. I am looking forward to it!

  2. Kelly,

    I think the sequel helps make sense of the first book, hence my decision to dive into the second book immediately. Wish you lived closer. I'd just loan you mine!

  3. I liked these both as fluffy light reads too. They were great for reading on the treadmill.

  4. Alyce,

    Oh, yes, they would make great treadmill material. Or, they'd be great on a plane (my concentration is low when I fly) or for beach reading.

  5. Anonymous7:11 PM

    I enjoyed the first book as a fluffy, 1-2 day read, and hope to continue with the sequil soon!


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