author photo of paula stokes

Getting to Know Paula Stokes, Author of LIARS, INC.

book cover and review of Liars, Inc by Paula StokesAuthor Paula Stokes reached out to me via social media when she saw I had read a review copy of LIARS, INC. Several changes went into the final edits of LIARS, and she created a document so her readers could be aware of them before reviewing. (I’d like to add that reading the document only allowed me to love Paula more. There was one tidbit of information I was happy to see changed because it was a clue for me in the ARC.) Writing back and forth with Paula led to realizing she and Estelle had connected last year and I couldn’t stop thinking, “I really adore her! She’s so great and nice and I just want everyone to feel this way about Paula!”

Even after 3.5 years of working on Rather Be Reading with Estelle, I still get nervous when I reach out to authors about interviews. I’m not sure why I worried because Paula is the nicest person ever, and I’m so extremely grateful she set some time aside for us. I hope you’ll adore her as much as we do after reading her interview with RBR below and I sincerely hope you’ll pick up LIARS, INC. (in stores as of 3/24/15) and THE ART OF LAINEY.

♥ ♥ ♥

author photo of paula stokes

Estelle called THE ART OF LAINEY a pick-me-up-book after a rough day; I called LIARS, INC. trippy and suspenseful. How difficult was it for you to shift gears after writing a feel-good story to one that involved a lot of meticulous detail work to make sure everything flowed well and you weren’t contradicting yourself?

It wasn’t difficult to switch gears because I wrote LAINEY at the same time I was finishing up VENOM and I wrote LIARS at the same time I was drafting BELLADONNA (my work-for-hire books for Paper Lantern Lit) so if anything, writing LAINEY just felt like a break from keeping track of clues and red herrings, more like an exercise in catharsis than work. Lainey isn’t me and her breakup isn’t my breakup, but her pain IS my pain and as much as I wanted THE ART OF LAINEY to sell, I wrote that book to heal myself more than anything else. Along the way, I realized I had a knack for writing swoony contemporaries so I sold a couple more.

As an author who has written several very different books, what do you hope to produce in the future? Have you enjoyed writing one particular story more than another or found that you’ve really discovered your niche? (We love how diverse you are!)

I don’t really prefer one type of story so my brand is just going to have to be brandlessness, I guess. Or maybe my brand is writing books that people don’t want to put down. Those are the ones I prefer to read so I try to write prose and chapters that propel readers through stories. In the future, I hope to produce both dark and light stories every year (I’m set for 2016 and 2017) and then I’m also finishing up the beta draft of an NA book right now and toying with an adult medical thriller idea. I would also really like to write a Parvati companion novel—totally different from LIARS, a spy girl story in the vein of Homeland meets Nikita. This book is about 25% written, but I’ll have to wait and see how LIARS does before making any decisions.

I fully, fully support you completing Parvati’s story, and hope I get the chance to read it one day. You’re a woman of so many talents! You’re an RN, an author, a world-traveler (who has snuggled with snakes? *shivers*), and you’re crazy talented at staying connected to your readers via social media. How do you balance it all, and what’s your best tip for creating an online presence and making lasting connections?

I’m not currently working as a nurse, though that will probably change once I get caught up on my deadlines, because even writing for two publishers, money is tight without a reliable day job. My work-life balance is currently slanted way, way, way in favor of work and not anything a healthy human should emulate  😉  I do try to take at least one cool trip a year, which often ends up with me having odd animal encounters.

As far as making lasting connections online, I start by treating bloggers like industry professionals, like equals, and I think that goes a long way. I also don’t quit talking to people because someone doesn’t like a book. I hate a bad review as much as the next person, but that doesn’t mean the person who wrote it doesn’t have anything to offer me in the way of conversation or information. It doesn’t mean they won’t like my next book. All my books are different so it would be ridiculous for me to expect anyone to like them all. Finally, I remember there are real people behind the screen names. If someone is worried about a sick pet or a parent in surgery or has a real world concern I can comment on meaningfully, then I do. I love reading and writing books, but there are more important things, and I try never to forget that.

We love a lot of different things here at Rather Be Reading; we’re huge nail polish, Zac Efron, make-up, and Fossil fans. For a little lightening round, name your favorites:

  • Everyday make-up essential: eyeliner
  • Favorite nail polish brand: It would be a complete lie to pretend like I have a favorite brand. I have a fave color—blue/teal. Aside from that, anything decent that doesn’t chip off immediately works. Right now it’s Revlon Colorstay Gel Envy.
  • If you could only shop at one store for the rest of your days it would be: Again, I feel like the correct answer here is something like Sephora or [insert fashionable clothing store I can’t even name] but the real answer is probably Kohls  😉
  • Character most like yourself that you’ve written (ha! snuck in a writing one): Parvati. (Apparently I need one of those Unlikeable Heroine IRL shirts.)
  • Your go-to favorite food to order when you eat out: Korean
  • City you hope to travel to on a book tour: Prague
  • Your daily mantra is: Don’t look back. The mistakes you made, the things you gave up, the things you should’ve known but didn’t—those will swallow you whole if you let them.

We’ve been working on the Dive Into Diversity challenge this year with Reading Wishes to highlight diverse aspects of the books we’re reading. Liars, Inc. was a fantastic example of a really well-rounded set of characters and backgrounds. What are some of the best diverse book examples that you’ve read? What do you hope to see in the coming years in the young adult world in regards to diversity?


I would point out Antony John’s FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB, which has a well-rendered deaf protagonist and April Henry’s GIRL, STOLEN, which has a very believable blind protagonist. What I like about these books is that the main character’s disability figures into the plot without being the whole story. DUMB is a fun contemp about a rock band and GIRL is a kidnapping mystery.

I guess what I hope to see in the coming years is that readers, bookstores, and publishers really embrace all sort of books and main characters, and that a culture is created where authors can feel comfortable writing inside or outside their zones of experience. At one panel I recently attended, a white writer asked how best to create authentic diverse characters without falling into the trap of relying on stereotypes and was quickly told that if readers want good diverse books then they need to support diverse authors—end of story. I’m all in favor of supporting diverse authors, but the subtext there—white authors shouldn’t even try—was really troubling. I felt marginalized and excluded as a human being. Isn’t that the antithesis of this movement?

Can you share three of your favorite under-the-radar books that you think deserve more attention? And how about three authors you will auto-buy books from without even reading the summary?

paula stokes book recommendations to read

HARMONIC FEEDBACK by Tara Kelly, THE BREAK-UP ARTIST by Philip Siegel and SAME DIFFERENCE by Siobhan Vivian.

I don’t really do the auto-buy concept, because a lot of my favorite authors also write books that are different from one another and I don’t have the money to buy books I’m not sure if I’ll like. I do have a group of author-friends who have supported me along the way and vice versa, whose books I’ll always buy and read as a show of support, but there are more than three of them.  😉

Thanks for having me on the blog!

♥ ♥ ♥

Thank you so much for stopping by, Paula! Looking forward to soooo many more books from you! <3

Friends, don’t forget to add LIARS, INC. to your Goodreads, or read my review if you need a bit more convincing. xo

It’s a Wrap • See Ya Next Year, March!

Well, another month bites the dust. Who’s prepared for April and taxes? (UGH.) Ahem, sorry – that’s what I’ve been focused on a lot the last two weeks. April is going to be full of sunshine and reading outside and lots and lots of vitamin D. (We hope.) Here are a few highlights of our March:

We had an awesome time participating in Cassie’s #15beautifuldays in March! Thanks so much for hosting this, Cassie, and we hope you guys enjoyed seeing a bit more of our lives outside of books on our Instagram.

A photo posted by Estelle (@thatsostelle) on

A photo posted by Magan (@magan) on



Estelle’s Picks: The Wrong Side of Right • A Mad, Wicked Folly

Magan’s Picks: Things We Know by Heart • The Start of Me and You



Buy It:

Small Damages by Beth Kephart
Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark
Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson
The Winner’s Trilogy
In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen
Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Worth It:

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
One Wish by Robyn Carr

Borrow It:

Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor
When Joss Met Matt by Ellie Cahill
Dove Arising by Karen Bao

Free Writing:

Top Ten Books We Want to Re-Read
The Beginning of Our Attachment (our Twitter/G-Chat beginnings)
Top Ten Books on Our Spring TBR List
Estelle and James’ Early Beginnings (inspired by The Start of Me and You)

Monthly Features:

Little Kids: Books About Feelings
Dive Into Diversity: They Work Hard for the Money
Pub Date: Can I Be So Blunt


What were some of your favorites in March? Let us know in the comments.

Here’s to amazing books, beautiful weather, and no terrible April Fool’s jokes being pulled on you today! 😉

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby • Magan Reviews

Book Review for Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby


Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby [twitter • website]
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: death of a boyfriend, transplant donor recipients, moving forward
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Quinn feels unable to move on until she has closure about Trent’s last donor recipient, Colton, who received a heart transplant. When their two worlds collide, Quinn knows she should tell Colton who she is, but it’s easier said then done when she starts developing feelings for him.

• • •

Quinn’s boyfriend is killed in a freak accident while he’s out for a run early one morning. Quinn wasn’t with him, but any other day she would have been. When Things We Know by Heart opens, it’s been 400 days since Trent’s death. 400 days of Quinn’s life being on hold — removing herself from her activities, failing to apply for college, sleepwalking through graduation, and distancing herself from her friends. The one thing she’s successfully managed to do is meet four out of the five donor recipients.

But the fifth one puzzles her; why hasn’t he responded to her letters? Consumed with finding him, she pinpoints where he is by the magic of the Internet and stumbling upon his sister’s blog. Colton received Trent’s heart and Quinn feels if she could just see him, maybe she could finally feel some closure. She goes to his home town to catch a glimpse of him, but her startled clumsiness causes them to do more than bypass one another and begins a sweet friendship.

As the days tick by and Quinn’s silence becomes deafening, she knows she’s gotten in too deep with Colton. She knows she should have been upfront about who she was, especially once she can’t seem to think of him as just a friend. Though their relationship isn’t an honest one, she just can’t seem to back away. Kirby did a phenomenal job creating a complex storyline — How does Quinn reveal herself and not risk heartbreak (again)? — but she peppered Things We Know by Heart with great adventures, an awesome connection between Colton and Quinn that just made me smile, and really, really strong family dynamics. (The bond between Quinn and her sister Ryan is so authentic; when Quinn least wanted to get out of bed, Ryan was there to shove her out of it and to speak truth when it was the hardest thing to say.)

Things We Know by Heart is ultimately a simple story of moving on when you’re not sure you should or are able. Plus a sweet romance. The strength is in all the small details that are layered with beautiful moments and pacing that feels so effortless. I love that Jessi honed in on heartbreak and moving on and did it so, so well.

(My really, really minor complaint would be that I would have liked to have seen some of those friends Quinn neglected for the last year filter back into her life, but really — such a teeny tiny thing to have hoped for in a darn near perfect book.)

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book cover and review of Melissa Kantor's Better Than Perfect

Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor • Magan Reviews

Melissa Kantor's Better Than Perfect

Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 336
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: college preparation, Harvard, parent in rehab, cheating
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Juliet’s picture-perfect life goes downhill when her parents split, her dad moves out, her mom tries to pop pills and drink away her depression, and Juliet kisses a guy that’s not her boyfriend. She takes on every responsibility and activity she can to keep herself busy and moving forward, but she begins to realize that perhaps what she’s working so hard for isn’t what she wants.

• • •

Juliet’s perfect life has gone to crap. Her parents have separated, and her dad’s officially moved to the city in his own apartment. Her mom can’t handle the change and Juliet notices she’s drinking more and popping pills frequently. This eventually leads to Juliet finding her on the bathroom floor in a barely conscious state, uncertain if the overdose was intentional or accidental, and left alone to tackle her tumultuous senior year while her mom recovers. While she’s dealing with her grief, her boyfriend is out of the country on vacation with his family. She runs to her best friend’s work where she waits until she’s able to get off work; Juliet gets wrapped up with the new band playing at the country club that night, and one thing leads to another and …she kisses Declan, the sexiest guy in the group.

Very clearly Juliet just doesn’t know how to deal with all of these things piling up in her life; it was quite a lot to handle, especially once school begins and attending Harvard with her boyfriend is her main focus. Her AP classes, extra tutoring, and SAT prep-sessions felt like an insane amount for a girl to handle, but Juliet adds to that by joining a band (without ever really noticing that she could sing before?). I think the key is that she must have been gifted more than 24 hours in a day because I don’t know how she would have balanced it all otherwise. She thinks the kiss (ahem, make-out session) with Declan won’t matter until he enrolls in her school and becomes Public Enemy #1 that she can’t seem to avoid. (Did I mention she joins his band?)

All of last year, I certainly felt like I was fighting to keep my head above the water and Dori’s “Just keep swimming” mantra became my own. But there’s a point where something being plausible begins to feel unrealistic when a certain line is crossed. Perhaps what kept me reading was seeing if Juliet was next in line for an emotional breakdown or panic attack. There were times I wasn’t sure I loved her character  — she wasn’t always the nicest, particularly to her father, and the major life realizations she had felt so different from where she was headed that I just wish she would have had more backbone to not follow everyone else’s dreams and to speak up for herself a lot sooner. Juliet tried to live up to crazy high standards, but was critical when people seemed to be functioning at that level (her boyfriend’s mom). The whole cheating topic isn’t really addressed either; things worked out a little too easily for Juliet in this regard and that didn’t really sit well for me.

Better Than Perfect was my first Kantor novel, and I think I would be more inclined to recommend it if the story had felt a little more authentic or tightly pieced together, and possibly if more time had been spent really smoothing out Juliet’s character. It’s so much fun to root for a character going through a bad situation, but when she seems really judgmental and needs a lot of personal growth, it makes her successes a little bittersweet.

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The Beginning of Our Attachment

Estelle and I met at a wedding in Texas. We had this brief serendipitous moment where we connected over books, but that was short lived as we went home at the end of the night. Estelle returned home to New York, married James, and somewhere along the way we connected on Twitter (and then Facebook, I think). That turned into emailing and lots of g-chatting back and forth.

Recently I read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell and I couldn’t stop thinking about how similar Estelle and I were to Beth and Jennifer, and I tossed out the idea to Estelle that we should really dig deep into the beginning of our friendship to see what we could find. Inspired by Beth and Jennifer’s conversations, we’re sharing some of our personal gems from the very first times we chatted and tweeted.

July 11, 2011: (five months after we met) reading goals.

Reading Goals and Motivation

August 24, 2011: book splurges.

book buying tweets

August 30, 2011: the very first mention of starting a blog together and considering a partnership. Our blog launched on 11/1/2011 so the idea festered for a little while before we decided to move forward and then we spent a solid month planning and writing before going live.

the first mention of rather be reading

September 16, 2011: on what we like to read + the library.

<Magan to Estelle> Oh yea, which book blogs do you follow?
I like reading new releases so I can be on the forefront of what’s good. Usually I’m so far out of the loop.
The library is harder to use when you want to read brand new books.
I’m trying to get good at reserving them online and being patient. I’m not a patient person though.

<Estelle to Magan> Ah, I’ve been good with that so far.
We borrow from all the libraries in our county so I haven’t had much trouble.

<M to E> Before we left [on vacation], I had 10 books checked out of the library and I read 7 of them. The other three I didn’t want to read anymore. I read what I’m in the mood for. I can’t just pick up anything at any given moment.

<E to M> I feel the same way.

September 21, 2011: Dustyn, my husband, turns 30, and James hasn’t started law school yet.

<Magan to Estelle> I’m having a bunch of people over tomorrow for a pizza party for him. Haha!
It’s kind of like he’s a little kid.
I’m trying not to make his birthday too big of a deal.

<Estelle to Magan> I like it!
It sounds like something we would do.

<M to E> 🙂 And we could do it together if James gets into law school here!
(Oh, here i go.)
I could talk to you forever.

<E to M> Hahaha 🙂
I’m glad!!
I hope the movie is good.

<M to E> Talk to you tomorrowwww!

September 22, 2011: the first idea for our blog name.

<Magan to Estelle> I wish I were reading right now. Ha!
I went to the library and got 6 new books, so I’m excited to sit down and start something new.

<Estelle to Magan> I wish I were reading now.
That should be our title.

<M to E> YES!
That would be so appropriate.

<E to M> Or like “I wish I were reading now” with a little ^ in between the last two words and it says “right.” Haha!

<M to E> Oh yeah! Good thinking!
I have GOT to get better about putting books on reserve at the library so they can pull them from other libraries. I went through my goodreads list alphabetically searching for books and I got to letter N before I even found a single one on my list!

I think you and I are a lot alike in many ways – how busy we are is just another similarity. It wears me down, but I still keep putting things on my schedule.

<E to M> I KNOW. OMG
James wants to shoot me.
I always make plans, but in October I made none.
I’m just bummed because I have 2 friends I’ve been trying to see and I haven’t seen them since my wedding.

<M to E> It’s so hard to stay on top of everything, especially relationships and friendships.

<E to M> And I feel like I’m the one who plans all of these things.
And I’m kind of tired of it, ya know?

<M to E> Yes, I know exactly how you feel. I have a lot of friends who wouldn’t be proactive at scheduling together time if I didn’t do it. I know they love me and care about me, but they just aren’t good at it. Sometime last year, I got so tired of trying all the time. I just pulled back. Ironically enough, things finally leveled out a bit with them. With one person in particular that finally did the trick. She finally started saying, “I miss you. I haven’t seen you in forever. We should do xyz.”

I think who we ARE influences WHAT we read.

September 26, 2011: Snippets of our frequent book recommendations on Twitter (back when I didn’t use my @magansays account as much, but also another validation that my work is what brought us together.) 🙂

twitter screencap about books

…later that day: 

<Magan to Estelle> What’s the hardest part about reading a book for you?

<Estelle to Magan> Starting? When I’m super tired. Haha

<M to E> It’s always starting for me too.
Or ending sometimes if I don’t want the series to be over.
I stretched Harry Potter out for as long as I could.
Like right now, I want to read, but I actually don’t want to start another book. I want to get to the meat of it right away.

<E to M> Yea that happens.

September 30, 2011: stuck on a train + book recommendations.

<Magan to Estelle> Hiya!

<Estelle to Magan> I read another book you should.
Not That Kind of Girl
And I started Lola [and the Boy Next Door] today.

<M to E> Hahaha
I finished The Piper’s Son last night.
Also think you should read that one. It’s by an author I really like – I’ve read 3 of her books recently.
She’s from Australia.
You’re on a ROLL lady!

<E to M> Well I got stuck on the train for 2 plus hours yesterday.
So I finished an entire book.
Oh I’ll add it. What’s the authors name?

<M to E> Woah!
Melina Marchetta
I recommended Jellicoe Road by her to you.
And I read Saving Francesca, but liked Fixing Delilah better – same kind of subject matter.

<E to M> I’ll have to look into them!

<M to E> Yeah, I like her a lot. 🙂
Why were you stuck on the train for 2 hours?!

<E to M> There was a huge problem after lightning struck a generator.

<M to E> Wooow.


Never in a million years did I think that I’d meet one of my best friends while photographing a wedding. What are the odds? (Truthfully, most wedding parties sort of loathe the photo-taking portion of the day so I kind of expect them to not remember me.) Before we began Rather Be Reading, Estelle and I had both gone through this whole “I love books again” phase after being burned out in college and we were devouring absolutely everything in our paths. It’s pretty amazing to see and feel that spark and to read about how excited we were, and to know that we’re really proud of that little book addiction becoming this little blog.

I’m really grateful that Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments led us to wade through the past to find these snippets of the beginning of our relationship. (Confession: I used to wonder if Estelle just thought I was so silly; I was, and still continue to be, so impressed by her ability to thoughtfully break a book down into such a meaningful review.)

All that being said, if you haven’t read Attachments, do so now (Goodreads • Barnes & Noble • Amazon) because it’s lovely and inspiring and some of Rainbow’s best work. I’m positive I’ve had a book hangover for weeks after finishing it.

book cover and review of Liars, Inc by Paula Stokes

Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes • Magan Reviews

book cover and review of Liars, Inc by Paula StokesLiars, Inc. by Paula Stokes [twitter • website]
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: teenager disappearance, thriller, Internet dating
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Max, Preston, and Parvati form a small underground business developing lies for their classmates to get what they want at school; business is going great until Preston asks Max to cover up for him so he can go to Las Vegas to meet his Internet girlfriend he’s never mentioned before.

• • •

Told from an independent, tends-to-be-kind-of-a-loner’s perspective, Liars, Inc. reveals how Max and his best friend, Preston, and girlfriend, Parvati, start a small but lucrative side business creating cover-ups and forging permission slips at their school.

One thing leads to another and all of the lies build up to the moment Max finds himself camping on the beach to cover up for Preston skipping town to meet his older Internet girlfriend that no one has ever heard about before.

And Preston never returning.

Preston is a Senator’s son so his disappearance escalates quickly and is taken very seriously. Initially, Max lies to the officials because he’s positive Preston will suddenly reappear; he thinks that Preston decided to extend his stay or had just a little bit too much fun. The official’s turn their attention on Max but he’s dug himself so deep with all the lies; he follows Parvati’s advice (because of course she’d know things since she wants to be in the CIA one day) though he’s not always confident he should and he begins looking more and more suspect by the minute.

Liars, Inc. turned out to be a much different story than I was anticipating. I felt like a lot of the synopsis focused on their business venture so when that was really just a stepping stone to the greater story of Preston’s disappearance, I was pretty excited. I really get into the mystery/thriller stories trying to figure them all out, and lemme tell you, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Stokes kept me guessing and second guessing myself. I did a lot of flipping back and forth when I wasn’t sure I was remembering something correctly; the ending really surprised me because there were so many elements I just couldn’t have predicted. (Score!)

I read an ARC of Liars, Inc. and felt like things were really tight, but Paula and I connected afterward and she shared the ways with me that she’d tightened up the story even more for the final copy. That means I’ll need to get my hands on it for a re-read, of course. (Note: if you’ve read an ARC, read Paula’s article about her changes. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t click that link because of spoilers.)

Aside from feeling really entranced by a great whodunnit, I really admire that Stokes managed to weave in elements to make it a great Dive into Diversity contender as well: Parvarti taught me a lot about being interracial. Max was a foster kid who was adopted into a great, loving family. He showed me one side of what it’s like to not completely feel like you belong, but to be extremely grateful to be out of the foster system. Oh, and he has a younger (also adopted) sibling that has a disability; there’s an amazing description of him getting into some trouble because he’s protecting her, and it just made this former foster-momma so, so happy. (I mean, boo violence and those mean bullies, but yay bonding.)

I can’t really think of a reason that Liars, Inc. shouldn’t be on your to-read lists this spring. What are you waiting for, guys?

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• • •

Dive into Diversity Reading Challenge