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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• • •

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book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson

Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson • Magan Reviews

book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. JohanssonCut Me Free by J.R. Johansson [twitter • website]
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: child abuse, changing identities, escaping abuse, thriller
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Though Charlotte is able to escape her abusers (her parents) and relocate to another city, once she begins to settle she begins receiving mysterious boxes with creepy messages inside. Could her parents have possibly tracked her down or has someone else discovered her secrets?

• • •

How does one review a book that was brilliantly written but scared the bejesus out of them? I felt shaky and scared and angry while I was reading Cut Me Free. I tried to skip to the end to give myself some piece of mind; I hovered over the Goodreads app, contemplating whether or not I should look up spoilers because I was soooo anxious.

That’s a lot of emotions, huh?

Well, it’s all true. Charlotte was raised in the attic of her biological parent’s house. She and her brother’s identity was known to no one other than the two people who abused them and held them hostage. They’re sickening and grotesque and some of the worst people I’ve ever met in my reading life. The good news? Charlotte escapes. She weaves a path far, far away from the detestable souls she was unfortunately born to and tries to start over. She hires Cam to change her identity, provide the necessary official paperwork, and erase her past.

But things don’t come easy for Charlotte. She begins to see a young girl out and about with a fatherly figure who is showing obvious signs of abuse. For reasons I won’t go into, Charlotte feels like she has to save this girl. A whole series of events unfolds that really left me feeling unsettled and on guard. This story, Charlotte’s story, is multi-faceted: It’s her journey to begin anew, but interwoven is a thriller story as she begins to receive mysterious boxes.

I admire the way Cut Me Free made me feel, but maybe I walked away a little more paranoid than I began. There were times when, sure, this story really had things that may not have seemed plausible — for instance, how does a girl who has no education and socialization skills logically escape and instinctually know how to flee across the country — but ultimately, knowing whether or not Charlotte was going to be okay far outweighed the practical side of me that questions things. (And I think that’s a pretty big deal.)

As far as thrillers go, I was positively hooked. I really try to focus on my job during the day and taking care of my daughter when she’s awake, but by golly, I wanted to hire a babysitter and play hooky. I feel it’s my responsibility to admit the following to you: If you are really sensitive to abuse and neglect, I caution you to tread lightly with Cut Me Free. My anger was through the roof and Foster Mama Magan wanted to rip someone to shreds for not intervening here. (I actually read a few reviews that said the details weren’t graphic enough and my jaw couldn’t have dropped further because yes, things are told in a careful manner, but you’re quite capable of putting all the details together.)

Cut Me Free was an extremely intense story told quite well; it took me on an emotional, heart-pounding journey. I hope you’ll consider giving it a go, too.

**Sidebar: Have any of you read Room? Those same intense, crazy feelings I had while reading Room are what reappeared while reading Cut Me Free.

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Estelle: See Jane Run by Hannah Jayne

See Jane Run by Hannah JayneSee Jane Run by Hannah Jayne ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Publisher: SourceBooks Fire
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family, friendship, secrets
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Riley’s parents have always been overprotective but when she finds a birth certificate in her baby book for someone named Jane, who is the same age of her… she starts to wonder if her whole life is a lie. Determined to find out who Jane is and what her parents have been hiding, Riley decides to do her research any way she can.


Did you read The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney when you were a kid? That was a popular pick in my elementary school, and I couldn’t help but think of it when Riley discovers this birth certificate in her own baby book, a book that contains no pictures of her as an actual baby.

I was a little nervous that See Jane Run would end up all too similar to Cooney’s book and was ultimately relieved to see that it went in a completely different direction. I was so far off base, and while it was nice to be shocked and surprised… the execution was a little rough.

From the beginning, I really liked Riley’s best friendship with Shelby. Even though Riley had recently moved far away from where she lived before, Shelby always made an effort to stop in and despite her over active imagination, her heart seemed to be in the right place. She’s with Riley when Jane’s birth certificate is found, and I’m not sure just how curious Riley would have been about it without Shelby’s proposed scenarios (as wild as they were). So now Riley is curious bordering on scared, piecing together small inconsistencies from conversations with her parents and wondering just what the heck is going on.

Even though Riley’s parents are super strict about her going out, they seemed to really mean well and love her so it was sad for me to think they were the villains of the story. I was just as confused as Riley, especially when she continued to hit brick walls in her search to find the truth. JD, a guy Riley met in detention, pitched in to help and I really liked him. He was funny and sweet and thoughtful, and nothing like Riley imagined. But their potential love connection took a backseat to the creepy situations unfolding in Riley’s life: the weird car that keeps following her, the web page that pops up on her computer unprovoked, etc. As See Jane Run continued, Riley’s life grew to be more and more dangerous.

Unfortunately, the slow pacing and lack of development in some of the story never left me feeling on edge enough. In fact, scenes would build up only to fizzle in a sluggish way and it had me questioning if this could be categorized as a true thriller. I was concerned for Riley, who had no idea who to turn to and who to trust. It seemed like everyone was lying to her at one point, and that’s a lonely place to be. But it wasn’t until the final chapters that I felt super wrapped up in the action and the potential hazards of this situation. (I probably could have done without the epilogue too.)

On the plus side, See Jane Run worked better for me than Jayne’s debut, Truly Madly Deadly. Why? This story line felt more relatable, and I must applaud an ending that comes out of left field like this one did. Still, pacing and development is so imperative to making a thriller thrilling and I needed more.

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Estelle: Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw WolfDead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Pages: 352
Target audience:  Young adult / thriller
Keywords: murder investigation, friendship, gangs
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Other books reviewed by Jennifer Shaw Wolf: Breaking Beautiful

Summary: After not speaking for six months, Jaycee is shocked to see a foreboding text from her ex-best friend, Rachel, on her phone. In the company of a new boy, Jaycee decides to ignore the texts. The next morning Jaycee gets the terrible news that Rachel is dead. Could she have stopped it from happening?

You know that feeling when you are reading a book and you keep giving yourself a cut off to go to sleep but then you just keep flipping the pages and it’s suddenly past midnight?

This is exactly what happened while I was reading Dead Girls Don’t Lie.

Rachel and Jaycee were inseparable friends growing up (they even did a blood oath) but scary circumstances shake up their friendship and nothing is the same after that. When Jaycee surprisingly receives text messages from Rachel, she opts to ignore them and spend time with Skyler instead. A few hours later, Jaycee’s dad delivers the bad news: Rachel has been killed. Obvious guilt plagues Jaycee. She’s always the good girl, always the rule follower, and the one night, the one night, she decides not to do the right thing, her friend dies.

Jaycee has a lot going on. Not only is she mourning her friendship (again), combating pressure from her overprotective dad to be squeakly clean, and feeling out her first relationship, but she feels obligated to find out why Rachel was killed and who did it. This is the second time their small town has been hit with such a horrendous crime, and most are quick to blame it on gangs and Mexican migrant workers. But that last text, in addition to a dreaded secret the two share, Jaycee is just not so sure what to think anymore.

She was not the only one. Wolf has created such an intriciate story, peppering the plot with quite a few characters who could be to blame for Rachel’s death. I had no idea how all the loose ends would tie up, how Jaycee would come to her final conclusions, and, most importantly, who she would choose to trust. Law enforcement? Her father? Skyler? Though the writing could be a little choppy and I wasn’t in love with Jaycee’s “friends”, I was definitely hooked to the max once the pacing picked up a few chapters in.

I was a huge fan of Wolf’s debut Breaking Beautiful last year, and I read a review last week that wondered how readers who experienced both would compare the two. While my emotional connection to the characters in Breaking Beautiful was definitely stronger (maybe because it had an emphasis on romance), Wolf proves she can create just as riveting a story when the focus is on friendship and the intricacies of a small town. As far as YA thrillers go, I’m still partial to Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas, which was more well-rounded from all aspects, but Dead Girls Don’t Lie certainly threw me for many scary scary loops.

Wolf is definitely an author who keeps me coming back for more.

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Estelle: Find Me by Romily Bernard

Find Me by Romily BernardFind Me by Romily Bernard ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 307
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: hacking, death, foster family, sisters
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Wick likes to live under the radar, working as a hacker to ensure that her and her sister are never left uncared for again. But when a classmate commits suicide and her diary is left on Wick’s doorstep, Wick can’t help but solve this mystery, especially when her sister could be in danger next.

It’s funny how you point out the absense of one particular situation in books (foster homes!) and all of a sudden they are popping up everywhere. Wick and her younger sister Lily are currently living with Bren and Todd, a picture perfect couple who is anxious to clean up the messy past of the girls and make them a part of the family.

With a drug dealer dad and a mom who committed suicide, Wick doesn’t have much faith in most people and as extra security for her and her sister, she manuevers the web and investigates suspicious behavior for wives, jealous girlfriends, and whoever will wire her money. She’s a supreme hacker and finds comfort in her secret business; no matter what she knows that her and Lily will always be okay.

Even so, nothing feels entirely safe. Wick knows her dad is still out there somewhere and the possibility of him summoning her is too real. Then there’s the cop who is constantly monitoring her house, and the sudden death of her ex-friend, Tessa. The emotions hit close to home when Tessa’s diary lands on her doorstep with a note simply stating “Find Me.”

Though Wick isn’t immediately okay with using her hacking skills to solve this particular mystery, she feels surprisingly protective of her old friend. The stakes are built even higher when Wick realizes her sister could be the next likely candidate. So not only must she get to the bottom of this, but she’s roped into another project for her dad and his hoodlum friends. Honestly this girl is so busy I don’t know how she had time for anything else.

Find Me kept my attention because I wanted to know just how Wick would solve the case. Could she keep her sister protected? I had a pretty strong inkling from early on about the villain (I guessed right), and Bernard did a great job of making the hacking details seem accessible. (I wasn’t confused! Yay!) Unfortunately, I felt pretty disconnected from Wick and I wished the reader got more than a few lines of Tessa’s diary. I’m also very big on dialogue on a book. It helps me to picture people and understand them, and many of my feelings were lost because I didn’t have enough interaction between the characters.

Still, I did admire Wick for all of her protectiveness and it was interesting to see how she handled not always being in control.

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