24 June 2011

You Probably *Should* Read This Book

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski (June 2011; HarperCollins Publishers)
A review by Kelly Lucas

If you know me, you’ll know that I tend to not... think before I do. So when I heard the title for Sarah Mlynowski’s newest book was Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have), I was, in a word, hooked.

I wanted to know what these ten things were and why they shouldn't have done them. When I want to know something, it will eat at me until I know. So on the train home the day I received Ten Things We Did at BEA, I opened it and started reading.

1 girl + 1 non-boyfriend boy + no pants = Kelly intrigued

I turned to page two and read, “why was I in bed with boy who was not my boyfriend without any pants on?” Okay, I was going to love this story. Besides the fact that my friends and I have a joke that I hate wearing pants, I knew April was my type of girl. The type of girl I would totally be friends with.*

While the first few pages are a great introduction to the story, the scene Sarah sets first actually takes place near the end, so as the chapter ends, I was full of questions. What was going on here? Why wasn’t April wearing any pants? Where was the boyfriend? As much as I loved Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have), it started out slow. Sarah took time to set up April’s story - and she has good reason for it.

Ten Things We Did is almost every 16 year-old girl’s dream world. April Berman’s father and step-mother are moving to Cleveland, but she doesn’t want to leave her Connecticut school, friends, or boyfriend. So her father agrees to let her stay and live with her best friend, Vi.  But Vi’s mother is the lead in the tour cast of Mary Poppins, which has just left to launch from Chicago! So with a lie to April’s father here, and a lie to Vi’s mother there, the girls begin living alone.

This is why April’s back story is important. We need to learn all about April’s life before she really starts living with Vi. Honestly, I was impatient. I wanted the goods! I wanted April to be alone with her boyfriend for them to have sex! I wanted to know why there was a strange boy in April’s bed! I wanted to know who this strange boy was!

So, I pushed through the back story, and like with every other
Mlynowski book, I finally became addicted.

OMG, you guys. This book is super-mega-foxy-awesome.

I am very grateful that Sarah took her time with the pace of the first 100 pages, because all those details we learn are so important to the mystery, suspense, and joy that the end brings. Since I finished the book before the official pub date (Thanks, BEA!), I kept recommending it to my friends. This past week, I was very happy to receive this text: “omfg just finished ten things! amazing!!”

And it is at that. Actually, “amazing” may not even be the word. Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) reminds me so much of The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen and 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Pure, honest, fresh... innocent. Can I say it’s innocent when April and Vi harbor a felon (#7)? Well, it is. Ten Things We Did is not just a love story; it’s a story where the main character grows up and learns that sometimes it’s good to do things you probably shouldn’t.

Sarah takes us on this crazy and funny story of the first time a teenager lives alone. It’s a dream world, right? April and Vi throw crazy parties (#8), cut school (#3), and of course, lie to their parents (#1). Nothing could go wrong. Right? Think again. With responsibility comes consequences.

Someone’s got to do the laundry...  

Living away from your parents is...well...not always fun. Sarah captures the honesty in what it is like to live away from your parents for the first time and the mistakes that are made. The little things Mom and Dad always do are now April and Vi’s responsibility. While Vi is used to it, April isn’t and it comes as a bit of a shock. Still, she’s unique, quirky, slightly awkward, but most of all, fun; all of these character qualities translate into a wonderful story. I laughed, I cried, I worried, and got to drool over two boys vying for April’s affection. These characters come alive in Sarah’s writing. Y’all know what I’m talking about, right? April’s story flows so perfectly. She is an amazing character and I loved her from page one. Sarah gives each of their character’s their own life, their own story, their own secrets, and their own individual voice. She doesn’t just create wonderful main characters, but wonderful, realistic supporting characters as well. Their voices are so diverse but stay consistent. Noah, April’s boyfriend, is written perfectly. He acts exactly like a 16-year-old boy and leaves you guessing and wondering from, again, page one. Why wasn’t he in the bed with her?

That, I think, is how a character should be written. You want to be friends with truly great people and characters and April, Vi, Marissa, Noah, Hudson and Dean are truly great characters.  You not only read about the crazy party, you’re there too, and get to (#9) help judge the Mr. Teen Universe Contest (yes, a MALE BEAUTY PAGEANT. I am not lying.)

We’ve all done things we probably shouldn’t have, but just like Sarah wrote in my copy, “DO IT!”

So go do something you probably shouldn’t**. It’s good for the soul.

And if you still want to know who was in bed with April, well... read the book. =)

*    Please don’t judge me.
**  Except if it’s illegal.  Illegal is BAD.  Do only LEGAL things.

21 June 2011

Alan Ryves for Life

The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan (June 14, 2011; Simon & Schuster)
Review by Laura Beutler

Bailey has written us up a policy for spoilers, which you should go read if you haven’t already. Before we go on, though, I’d like to take a moment to remind you that while this review of The Demon’s Surrender is spoiler-free, you shouldn’t read it unless you’ve already read The Demon’s Lexicon and The Demon’s Covenant. The content of those books is fair game.

3:34 p.m. Tuesday. June 14, 2011. Post Office. Somewhere in Indiana.

“I was wondering if you could help me,” I said with as much disarming sweetness as I could muster. “I have a package I’ve tracked with UPS. This morning it said it would be delivered today, but now it says it will be sent out with the mail tomorrow.” I smiled. “I was hoping I could just pick it up from here, since I was in town. Then no one would have to bother delivering it.”

The postal worker stared at me a little. In fact, all four of them did. One of the women smiled back at me, and I took this as a sign of hope, hope that she would go back, pick up the box, and bring it out to me.

If I just could get that package, everything would be okay.

“Here’s the problem,” said a postal worker I was sure had to be the manager. “UPS gives us these packages in pallets. Pallets that are shrink-wrapped. Then, they update their tracking information. But right now, we have no way of knowing your package is even here.”

This was bad news.

“So,” he continued. “We will find out when we next sort the mail.”

I took this to mean he wasn’t going to bother checking. The smiling woman smiled a little wider, as if to say, “We’ve heard this before and are very sorry your hopes have been dashed in this fashion.” The look on the man’s face said, “Your pain means nothing to me, pathetic, obsessive human girl.”

“Laura,” you’re thinking. “What was in this package? Was it the special medication that keeps you from keeling over dead? Was it insulin, or an antidote for some rare toxin you picked up on one of those twenty mile hikes your father forced you to go on back when you were too young to steal the family station wagon and drive as far away as possible, the kind of toxin that takes ten years to kill you?”

Nope. The package was from Barnes and Noble. And inside it was The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan, the final book in her Demon’s Lexicon trilogy. Inside the package was Alan. And Nick, Mae, Jamie, Sin, Gerald, and Merris. (But mostly Alan.)

I lasted about another hour. Then I bought the Kindle edition of The Demon’s Surrender, so I could read it while waiting for the hardcover to come in the mail.

I love The Demon’s Lexicon books so much, I want to write their names in little hearts on all my notebooks. I love it so much, I bought an Alan t-shirt on CafePress, so I could walk around expressing my love for the series, attracting fellow readers for impromptu book discussions. I love The Demon’s Surrender so much, I’m not even mad at Sarah for making me cry on four separate occasions while reading it, even though I was at work in the library at the time, and patrons were giving me funny looks. I’m hugging my copy right now, which is tough while typing.

If you haven’t picked up the books yet, take this as your official command from MHLit. I want you to read this series. I NEED you to read this series. Honestly, it’s a friendship requirement. How could we relate to each other when this vital part of my reading life is a mystery to you? Do yourself a favor and go pick up the first book, The Demon’s Lexicon, and start reading. When you finish, get The Demon’s Covenant. Then come back here, and we can chat.

All done?


If you’re reading this, then you’ve read the first two books already, because you would never disregard my instructions about avoiding spoilers by reading Lexicon and Covenant before you read my review. I’m not going to do in-depth character descriptions and analysis, because you’ve read the first two books, so you already know everything I could possibly tell you about them. And I’m not going to give you a plot summary, because you’ve read the books preceding this one, so you know what happened in them, I would hope. What I am going to do, though, is give you my overall impressions of the series so you can understand WHY I love this series so much.

Where were we?

When we left our heroes, they were deep in what Bailey calls a “tortured middle” (I love that term). Brothers Nick and Alan were struggling with the changes in Nick’s life, what with Nick’s unbridled demon powers and his lack of, well…conscience. Mae made out with Alan then Nick, all while giving Nick Human Lessons. Jamie was trying to choose a side, then got more or less abducted by magicians (even though I’m not so sure he didn’t want to go with Gerald all along so he could go learn magic-y things). Oh, and he also made a new friend: Nick. If only Nick could remember that friends don’t menace friends with swords. Seb was a jerk, but I kind of felt sorry for him anyway. Gerald kept himself busy by playing everyone, abducting children, marking Alan, and being straight up evil. Sin trusted no one but Merris, then no one at all. And Merris went and sold Liannan a time share in her body, so now they share. Just when you thought life couldn’t get any harder, Merris drops a bombshell: Sin and Mae have to compete to see who will inherit the Goblin Market.

The Demon’s Covenant leaves you with a thousand different questions, and The Demon’s Surrender is one exhilarating answer to all of them.


Sometimes, when the final book of a series comes out, I don’t even want to read it, for fear that the author will use the last book to rip my heart out of my chest, stomp on it, and then watch with sick pleasure while I curl up into a ball and grieve. *cough*deathlyhallows*cough* I know it must be hard to write a series, since you have to work so hard to stay consistent from book to book. One installment can’t fall flat, characters need to remain true to themselves, even as they grow from book to book. It must take a massive amount of planning, plotting, and living vicariously through your characters. I don’t know how I would handle it. I’d probably snap, start living in a tree, and insist that people call me my protagonist’s first name. If I tried writing three books in the same series with three differing viewpoints--I’d end up writing the last book in a straight jacket with chalk clutched between my toes.

Sarah Rees Brennan makes it all look like a cakewalk. I have a huge respect for her as a writer. I think, had the post office understood my love for her work, they would have opened up those pallets and gotten me my Barnes and Noble box. Don’t you?

I’ve read quite a few different reviews of The Demon’s Surrender in the last week, and many reviewers talk about how the trilogy is all about the bond between brothers Nick and Alan (despite how twisted that relationship seems, once you stop and think about it). I would agree Nick and Alan’s relationship is quite important to the plot. But to say that brotherhood is the most central theme to the trilogy is to overlook Mae and Jamie’s bond, the connection between Nick and his adoptive father, Sin and Merris, and all the other characters we meet. The series is really about family, the family we are born to and the family we build ourselves.

As I was reading, I found myself thinking a lot about the definition of love. Nick doesn’t have emotions as much as he has states of being: calm, and killing people. Mostly, though, the “calm” is only there to prepare for the killing. Nick doesn’t have emotions. He’s a demon; demon’s don’t have human emotions. They don’t even have words. Reading about Nick and Alan, it’s clear that Nick is bound to Alan by something. Whatever one calls that bond, it’s strong enough for both brothers to deny their very natures for the other. My thought, at the end of the book, was that love doesn’t need to be a feeling, it can be a choice, and it’s a choice Alan and yes, Nick, made.

My advice to you is this: Take a day off from your life. Get cookies, milk, tissues, tea, chocolate, and any other munchies you require. Put them in an easy-to-reach location, then start reading. Preferably, keep a cell phone on hand, ready to text a friend that’s already finished the book (I don’t know how I would have made it through the emotional roller-coaster without my friend Kate). Know that when you are required to go somewhere, you will go there while reading. If you need to stop reading, or if someone tries to force you to stop, you will have to menace them with a sword, if you’ve got one, because there is no way you’ll be able to walk off and leave your book behind, especially not in the last 135 pages. Frankly, it’s cruel for them even to ask.

Your Smiles Make Us Smile: A MHLit Giveaway

Now, there is a certain black pearl necklace that is featured heavily in The Demon's Surrender, so we're bringing you a giveaway to win a black pearl necklace of your own! In addition to the fancy necklace, a la Celeste, we're throwing in a copy of the Demon’s Lexicon book of your choice. We don’t do things halfway around here.

US only
Must be a follower
Must be 13+
Must fill out form to be officially entered
Enter only once
Giveaway ends at midnight, EST, Tuesday, June 28th
Winners will be chosen using Random.org
Good luck!

19 June 2011

Book Noir

Red Glove by Holly Black (April 5, 2011, McElderry Books)
A review by Bailey Kelsey

Being that this is a review of a sequel, please read our spoiler policy here. But basically, if you haven’t read White Cat, don’t read this review.

If you’re a reader like me, you enjoy happy endings, but you love tortured middles. I just can’t seem to help it: the more crappy a character’s middle is, the happier I am as a reader. If you catch me sobbing and throwing my book against a wall (which has happened once or twice), this is a sign of unadulterated reader joy.  Holly Black does right by me with Red Glove, the sequel to White Cat, in her Curse Worker’s series.

Cassel Sharpe has all his life’s dreams coming true at the end of White Cat.  The girl he is madly in love with is madly in love with him; his older brother, Baron, is finally watching out for him; and his mother is finally out of jail and back at home. And, his biggest secret--that he’s the most powerful, and dangerous, worker around--is still his biggest secret.

But unfortunately for Cassel Sharpe, Holly Black is his creator and she believes in providing pure joy to her readers.


For Cassel, magic and the mob have always gone hand in hand.  But when his eldest brother is murdered, the cops turn to him to help unravel the only clue: a woman wearing red gloves entering the crime scene.  

But the mob is trying to recruit Cassel, too. One family knows exactly how powerful and useful Cassel would be to them. He is a curse-worker, after all. He belongs with the mob.  

Cassel must stay one con ahead of both sides. But when your mother preys on emotions and your brother plays with memories, pieces of your life tend to be lies.  Who can he trust when he can’t even trust himself?


Cassel’s tortured middle is a skillfully written Noir murder investigation.  But Black doesn’t leave it at just dark clues wrapped in beautiful prose.  While Casel is busy confronting very confusing and important personal and moral dilemmas, the real world is still spinning and affecting everyone.  There is a political and moral background against which everything is set; the events in this very real world only amplify the entire plot and a few twists.

In Red Glove, Cassel ends up losing so much--of himself, of his family, of his friends--but he gains a hell of a lot more, with the potential to keep on gaining in book three.  Because that’s what the torturous middle is all about: self-discovery through trial. There really isn’t anything more delightful.

10 June 2011

Ruby Has a Hoodie, Too.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma (June 14, 2011, Dutton)
Review by Laura Beutler

If Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and The River King by Alice Hoffman had a baby, the result would be Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. You know...if books could have babies. Imaginary Girls is the perfect mix of creepy and unsettling, with just enough magical realism to convince you that anything is possible. From the first paragraph, I was completely hooked.

(Also, I may never go swimming again. I am very happy I have a younger brother and not an older sister. Very happy.)

Happy Plot Summary Time

Chloe trusts her older sister, Ruby, completely. So when, after a party at the reservoir, Ruby announces that Chloe can never drown, Chloe believes her. Ruby tells the group that Chloe will swim across the reservoir and back, bringing back a souvenir from the drowned town of Olive, hidden beneath the reservoir’s dark surface. But halfway across, Chloe discovers something horrible, her classmate, London Hayes, floating in the water, drowned.

In the aftermath of London’s death, Chloe is sent to live with her father. But Ruby isn’t going to give Chloe up without a fight.

When Chloe returns to town, two years later, she begins to uncover the mystery of London’s death and Olive’s secrets. What follows is the perfect blend of sisterly love and the surreal, as Chloe peels back the layers of deception that surround her sister and discovers the truth.


To talk about Imaginary Girls, I first have to explain magical realism. Otherwise, nothing I say about the town will make any sense at all. And we are all about making sense here at MHLit. Magical realist texts are much like other works of realistic fiction, but with a healthy spoonful of the fantastical mixed in. For example, a character might have telepathic or telekinetic abilities in a novel that is otherwise true to life. Since Nova Ren Suma used this technique, Ruby’s power over others isn’t just peer pressure, like my ability to force my brother to kill spiders when I am too lazy to get up and do it myself; but rather, it’s a supernatural force that compels the people in Ruby’s life to follow her will. The same thing is true for Olive: this town has a consciousness and can be considered a character, not just a setting. Olive can reach out and effect Ruby and Chloe’s lives. I love the depth that magical realism adds to Imaginary Girls.  

Ruby fascinated me. She’s sultry, seductive, and absolutely terrifying. Picture the most popular girl at your high school, that table in the lunchroom where she sits every day, the crowd of people that gather around her and follow her from class to class, and then magnify her power until it becomes malicious, like a walking nightmare. Ruby’s abilities are surreal and otherworldly. She can bend reality, and she does, often on a whim to satisfy momentary desires. When you’re a total literature nerd like I am, you read about Ruby’s signature shade of red lipstick and her omnipresent sunglasses and you think, “Ruby is the opposite of nature, the opposite of Olive,” setting the two up nicely as warring forces.

When water flooded into Olive, the town was both destroyed and preserved. Olive doesn’t just sit there; it acts on Ruby and Chloe’s lives to restore balance. If something is taken, something has to be given back. Though I can’t really tell you what that means without lots of spoilers, I can tell you is that Olive is my favorite character. Such is the glory of magical realism. The town isn’t a mere setting. It is a character in its own right. When the water rushed in, the town woke up. Olive is creepy, at one point reaching out with watery hands toward Ruby and Chloe’s home. I really love Olive (but I will never look at floodwater the same way again).  

Nova Ren Suma’s writing is powerful and haunting. Imaginary Girls is one of those novels you keep thinking about days, weeks, months after you’ve read it. It’s also a book I’ll have two copies of--one for marking up with a pencil and a highlighter, and one I keep as a Pretty Copy.  Sometimes I read a novel and think, Where has this author been hiding? I thought that when I finished Imaginary Girls. I’m now reading her middle grade novel, Dani Noir, and I’m eager to see what she comes up with next.

I bought red lipstick this week, just to try it out. I didn’t think anything of it until I got into the car. I took a look at the tube and saw the name of the color, “Refined Ruby.” I found myself wondering what Ruby would think, or if this was her color, as I put some on and drove home. If a book can have that kind of effect on me, it’s definitely something everyone should read. And that means you.

Would you like to read an excerpt? Of course you would.

03 June 2011

Your third grade teacher was right, you WILL use Roman numerals when you grow up.

XVI by Julia Karr (January 6, 2011, Speak)
Review by Kenzie Helene

When I heard about XVI by Julia Karr, I was immediately entranced. Not only was it my favorite genre, dysptopia, but it also was a product from my favorite literary agent. I waited for months, ordering the book right after midnight when it came out earlier this year.

In retrospect, I spent too much time hyping myself up. It had been compared to The Hunger Games, so I was expecting a novel of high caliber. I found fault in the description on the back, telling readers that it was about a girl turning sixteen and being labeled as ready for sexual experience. I immediately felt scared for the main character. Was it dangerous to turn sixteen? Had the blurb been more specific that it was the year leading up to her sixteenth, or that it was the beginning of a series, I would have been much more prepared for reading the novel. While I regard XVI as a good book, I did not feel as if it held up to the pre-release excitement I had about it.

XVI is about Nina, a fifteen year old, who is afraid of turning sixteen. In the future presented, girls are forced to get a tattoo that labels them sexually mature and legal to partake in intercourse. Nina is part of the lower class and the only way to get out is through a program called FeLS. However, her mother has warned her that the program is corrupt and to never get involved. When Nina’s mother dies, hidden plots involving her start to arise, making Nina fretful about her safety and her upcoming birthday.

In my opinion, one of the main aspects a dystopic book has to contain is characters from the opposing side. This part is usually made better when those characters are close to the protagonist, creating hard decisions and altering choices for the plot. I had trouble figuring out what was really pressuring Nina, though, as her family and friends supported her choices. Normally, this would create a character who is self-assured and finds it easy to follow the path that she has chosen. Instead, Nina feels pressure from the media, which is shallow, but many sixteen year olds can relate to. Who wants to be labeled that they’re ready for sex whether or not they actually are? Her character is very determined to go against the ideas that the society is trying to encourage, but all of the people surrounding her are also going against them as well. Only one of her friends, Sandy, bought into the government’s view on sex that the media presented, and if there were more characters like Sandy, I would have felt more sympathetic towards Nina and her plight.

XVI brings up the current issue with the media influencing young girls to have sex, like they do in the novel. Only, the book came across like it was written with the moral in mind, instead of written with the great plot in mind and allowed the moral to come through that way, so it didn’t seem forced.

There were a few plot points intended for the reader to connect with Nina that fell a little flat, especially with Julia’s great writing. Since I felt Nina’s character was written so strongly, her lackluster reactions were uncharacteristic and needed just a pinch of more feeling to get the reader to hang onto every word.

The novel also heavily revolved around Nina turning sixteen, but she did not have her birthday until the very end of the book. This annoyed me as a reader. A lot of the major plot developments were also hit upon briefly early on, but forgotten about until needed later on. XVI reads more like an extended background needed for a sequel, one that could hopefully have a faster pace and get the reader more involved with Nina's life now that she is sixteen. XVI put all of these interesting questions and plot leads out there, but barely solved any of them by the end of the book.

Julia’s writing was easy to read. The simplicity of it made it easy to sit and get into the book without having to go through and try to figure out what awkward sentences were trying to say. Even if it wasn't at a plot point, the language kept the novel paced well, encouraging the reader to keep turning the page.

The first person narrative made it easy to like Nina, and her personality came through on every page. Her tone seemed almost conversational and her thoughts were relatable to me and a lot of teenagers out there. She is a determined female character and very strong, but has enough personality flaws to be realistic. Every girl worries about sex, and when they’ll be ready to have it. Being marked as ready is, frankly, annoying. I, and Nina, refuse to let anyone tell me when I am ready to do something or not. Sex is a personal decision, and I applaud Julia for commenting on such a tough topic to teenage girls. As her first book, she definitely created a new, different dystopian world. With this book, she set herself up perfectly to create a stunning second novel that I am excited to read.

The problems I faced did not ruin the book entirely, but just made it underwhelming, when the intriguing idea behind XVI could have been made into something completely new and different. I still believe that Truth, the sequel, will take the leads that XVI has provided and create something great with them. Despite the flaws in this book, I still want to know how Nina's life turns out for her sixteenth year. I still wonder about her and her boyfriend. No book that makes you wonder is a bad book.

All of that being said, I appreciated the novel as a whole. I read it in one sitting and it was not painful to do so, which is rare. I know, though, that the sequel will show more of the great potential that Julia has as a writer.