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

Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne • Magan Reviews

Since You've Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Publisher: Dundurn Group
Pages: 224
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: missing parent, London, abusive parent
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Edie and her mom Sydney flee to London to get away from her abusive father; the day after her mom’s first night shift at her new job, she doesn’t ever return home. Edie decides she can’t go to the authorities because she doesn’t trust them (since her dad was a cop). She goes in search of Sydney with a guy from her school, Jermaine.

• • •

Since You’ve Been Gone had the potential to be a really great “whodunnit” thriller if it had kept me on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, timing and unnecessary sexuality prevented me from staying hooked.

Edie and her mom, Sydney, pack up their lives within a few hours to flee Canada and take cover in London. For years they’ve been hopping from location to location to hide from her father. They left him when his abuse was no longer just verbal. He’s in law enforcement so outrunning him is difficult, but it is even less likely that someone would believe this cop is capable of being so aggressive.

Edie’s life in London is less than ideal — their apartment isn’t as homey as it is shabby (minus the chic). Forget about making friends; somehow she pisses off the mean girls on her first of school. Worst of all is that after her mom’s first day at her sketchy new job, she never reappears. Edie doesn’t receive a phone call from her and knows something’s gone awry; somehow her dad has always been able to figure out where they’ve gone. Has he resurfaced again so soon?

With a trail of lies following her and a lot of fear she’ll be thrown into the foster care system, Edie knows she can’t go to the authorities. She has to start the search for her mom on her own. She makes an unlikely “friend”, Jermaine, who has a rumor mill of gossip outlining his juvenile record. Jermaine and Edie set out to find Sydney, but hit dead end after dead end.

Edie’s story is an interesting one; I’m always fascinated by how people will get out of unbelievable circumstances. How would Edie and Jeramine do this on their own as two young teenagers with no detective skills scrounging for clues in London? That was the catch for me, but Since You’ve Been Gone lost its footing when things came to a screeching halt with a surprise revelation. It seemed like things were wrapped up abruptly from that point on. Essentially she had too much to handle and no way out without this loophole.

Quite possibly more upsetting was the escalation of the romance between Edie and Jermaine. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that not all books need a love story. It didn’t feel authentic here. These two really started out as enemies, two people who didn’t trust one another, when the story began. When less than 24 hours later, they find themselves in Jermaine’s house and Edie is contemplating having sex with Jermaine all while tangled up in this great search for her mother, things just didn’t feel convincing. Is it possible to consider losing your virginity with a boy you’ve just met that you didn’t even trust at the beginning of the day all while wondering if you’re mother’s been kidnapped or murdered?

My answer would be no.

Since You’ve Been Gone had the potential to be a story I would have loved with more refinement and focus. I suggest you check out Liars, Inc. or Twisted Fate if you’re looking for a good “edge of your seat” book.

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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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Twisted Fate by Norah Olson | Magan Reviews

book cover for Twisted Fate by Norah Olson

Twisted Fate by Norah Olson [twitter]
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 272
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: YA mystery, boy next door, sisters, online privacy
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: When a new boy, Graham, moves in next door, sisters Ally and Syd both develop crushes on him. But things don’t add up: Why did Graham move to town? Why’s he always videoing people? Why’s he sporadically in school? One sister only falls harder while the other begins to piece together a few disturbing clues.

•••

Sisters Sydney and Ally are picking blueberries when their new neighbors pull into the driveway next door. Out steps Graham, a boy Syd immediately thinks is a little weird but Ally finds attractive. They make small talk and both girls walk away with crushes blooming in their hearts. As the days tick by (and the multiple-point-of-view chapters), Ally falls head over heels for Graham; he flatters her and pays attention in a way no one else does. But Sydney becomes wary. Things just aren’t adding up and his story just doesn’t quite make sense.

Of course when Sydney attempts to discuss her hesitations with her sister, Ally assumes Syd is jealous.

Ally is the good girl — the people pleaser, always doing something for everyone else, never stepping out of line. Syd is wild, adventurous, constantly getting called to the counselor’s office, and is Ally’s opposite in nearly every way. Graham plays both girls, making them feel like they’re the most interesting person in the world. Though Syd is nervous about him, she can’t help but also fall under his spell when he compliments her.

Because of the different POVs — Syd, Ally, Graham, Graham’s step-mother, a cop — there’s this sinking feeling Syd is right and you’re just waiting for all the little clues to add up and make sense. (I was also really hesitant for them to. My suspicions and the truth were pretty heavy.) There’s something to be on alert for, but what?

From the mysterious, “whodunnit” stand point, I really enjoyed trying to figure out where Olson was going with Twisted Fate. I didn’t want to stop reading because I just knew the clue I was looking for would be on the next page. But on the flip side, the way the story was infiltrated with so many different perspectives, I found myself flipping back and forth between chapters a lot, particularly between Syd and Ally. (This later made sense why, but I kept thinking I’d missed something along the way.)

Twisted Fate has an ending that left me feeling uncomfortable (because it really made my mama-bear come alive) and scratching my head. Weeks after finishing, I’m still left wondering how everything would have tied up the way it did: Was that really possible? Huh? In comparison to a book such as We Were Liars, I felt everything tied up in a way I could accept even though it blew my mind. Olson delivers an extraordinarily creepy story that really had me hooked and made me have several “Aha!” moments pertaining to personal safety.

How’s that for making you wonder what happens?

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book cover The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston

Magan: The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston

book cover The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley ElstonThe Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston
Publication Date
: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: witness protection program, secrecy, multiple identities, mystery thriller
Format read: ARC via NetGalley from Publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: Meg Jones’ family is in the Witness Protection program. Meg isn’t her real name; it’s the sixth identity she’s had to assume as they’re relocated to Louisiana. She’s not sure why they’re in the program, but she’s determined to find out. And this time she’s not making any connections that will hurt to leave behind when they’re relocated the next time.

You know those books that grab your attention when you read the summary because you think, “Wow! I’ve never read anything about that topic before” therefore, you must, must read the book because it’s new and exciting? That’s how I felt about The Rules for Disappearing. Meg Jones (nope, not her real name) and her family are in the Witness Protection program. In less than a year, she’s been moved six different times and assumed six different identities. Her newest relocation has landed them in a small town in Louisiana. She has to pretend she moved there from Arkansas (though she doesn’t know a thing about it) and she’s forced to chop off her long, blonde hair, give it a bad dye job, and wear brown contacts that hide her blue eyes.

Meg doesn’t have the slightest idea WHY her family is in the program; she only sees how it’s affecting everyone. Her mom, once a casual drinker, is now a full-fledged alcoholic. Her dad refuses to acknowledge her mom’s drunkenness while her little sister, Mary, is slowly withering away, only a ghost of her happy-go-lucky self remaining. Meanwhile Meg is creating boundaries for her new placement — no making friends, no joining clubs or extracurricular activities, no boyfriends — nothing that will cause her heartbreak when their inevitable next-move spontaneously occurs. (Witness Protection gives them zero warning; they just show up and remove them immediately.) Meg is also beginning to feel a little skittish — she can’t help but glance over her shoulder because she’s afraid someone’s following her. Is it her imagination or is her family in severe danger?

When I began The Rules for Disappearing, I possibly expected something that was a lighter take on being in the program — how Meg adapted to each move and what it was like moving constantly. I really enjoyed the depth Elston explored — the fear of being stripped away, the unknowns, the distrust, the loss of knowing who you are, and all the chaos and confusion. All of this added up to a really well-written read that sometimes had me sitting on pins and needles, anxious for the next break in the story. For a good while, Meg has absolutely no idea why her family is on the run. What are they hiding from? She guesses her father did something to monopolize their life, but she’s just not sure. With each and every bit of information she learns, the story gets just a little bit creepier.

There were times I definitely felt like I shouldn’t have been reading The Rules for Disappearing at night. I swear thriller music was playing in my head — the dunna dunna dunna tune was on loop while I crazily tried to solve the mystery of what they were running from and how to get her family out of the situation they were in. Some scenes were downright eerie, I tell ya — the kind where the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. Major kudos to Elston for never allowing me to anticipate when the next big reveal was coming. I loved that everything wasn’t easily solved when the story was at its climax either. (YIPPIE for not making the resolution easily fixable!)

Full disclosure? One thing I do find myself lingering on is the ending. I mostly like how things wrapped up, but there’s just something about the ending that has me questioning whether or not I missed a big clue in there. I almost have this need to reread the story so I can determine whether or not I’m okay with the conclusion. I’m not quite sure if it was done this way because Elston has plans to continue the story or if it she wanted us to close the book with goosebumps still on our arms, a little freaked out. (I do see on Goodreads there is a Rules for Disappearing #2 in the works, but I don’t know if that’s a continuation of the same story/idea.) Regardless, my end-of-the-story hesitation doesn’t take away from the thrill ride that was The Rules of Disappearing. I still definitely, definitely believe those of you who are interested in being slightly creeped out should consider picking this one up!

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