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: Truly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne

Truly Madly Deadly by Hannah JayneTruly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 262
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Death, stalking, secrets
Format read: eBook from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: When Sawyer’s popular jock boyfriend dies in a car accident because of his drunk driving, she thinks the secrets of their relationship will be buried with him. But a mysterious note in her locker (“You’re welcome” attached to a newspaper clipping of her boyfriend’s accident) has her wondering what really happened that night… especially when other horrible things start happening right before her eyes.

When I picked up Truly, Madly, Deadly, I expected something along the lines of Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf — a book about a girl who survives a car accident that kills her boyfriend (who wasn’t really the nicest guy). I was completely glued to that book until the very end.

But Truly, Madly, Deadly only grazes what Shaw managed to do in Breaking Beautiful and I really missed that happening here. While main character Sawyer does wrestle with the truths of her relationship with Kevin, the novel focuses on the domino effect of bad events that occur after his car accident. All of these terrible things are somehow connected to Sawyer, are supplemented with a note or flowers, and are downright scary. Instead of going to the authorities, she fears all of these occurrences might be her fault and keeps it to herself.

I really felt for Sawyer throughout the book. Her boyfriend suddenly dies, she feels like she can’t trust anyone, her dad is preoccupied with work and his new baby with his new wife, and her mom lives on the opposite side of the country. The only two people who seem at all on her side are Chloe, her best friend from forever, and Cooper, the new guy in her life who is super sweet. But even so, she doesn’t divulge what is happening to anyone until everything spirals out of control and too many lives are at stake.

Personally, I felt very suspicious of every character I met in this book. (This is probably in direct relation to my reading of the amazingly horrifying Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas.) And while the ending semi-took me by surprise, I would have loved to have the book go on a tad longer instead of just dropping off and ending on a semi-joke. There was too much blood shed for a tone change like that. Plus, I’m not sure if Sawyer’s character made the kind of growth that I needed her to make.

A little bit more character development and plot tweaking could have really strengthened Truly, Madly, Deadly. Instead, I felt like I had just finished an addicting but not entirely fulfilling Lifetime movie of the week.

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Estelle: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Dangerous Girls by Abigail HaasDangerous Girls by Abigail Haas ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 16, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 400
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: spring break, friendships, murder
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thanks!)

Summary: Spring break for a group of friends turns deadly when one of their own ends up brutally murdered and another charged in the crime.

I have been anxiously awaiting and anticipating Dangerous Girls since Jamie’s January Catalog Creepin’ post.


Full disclosure about me: I’ve been known to get wrapped up in those big headline crimes and when I first read the synopsis about mayhem in Aruba, Natalee Holloway popped into my head. (Teenager who went missing on a school trip to Aruba in 2005.) What about a character in the book stuck in a different country facing murder charges? Instant reminder of the recently published and freed Amanda Knox. (Charged with the murder of her roommate in Italy in 2009.) But Haas manages to make Dangerous Girls completely her own because while this story sometimes alludes to these particular crimes, it makes more a statement about the 24-hour news cycle and how media paints the victim and the accused. And just like I’d been with certain cases, I was completely alert and engrossed with untangling this vacation-turned-tragedy.

Anna and Elise are uber best friends on vacation with their group (including Anna’s boyfriend, Tate) in gorgeous Aruba. They are prepped for a week of partying, the sun, the surf, and just leaving all their worries  in Boston behind. But in the opening chapter, we know their hopes for their paradise vacation are all but a pipe dream. Elise is missing, and when they are on the phone alerting the authorities, another in the group discovers her brutally murdered in her bedroom.

It’s obvious that the Aruban authorities don’t have much experience dealing with a crime of this caliber, and zero in on Anna and Tate as their prime suspects. But Tate comes from an affluent family and sneakily escapes his convictions while Anna is left to await trial. Rethinking every minute of her life since she first met Elise in school, going over every second of their time in Aruba, and wondering if she will ever be home again.

Haas effectively alternates chapters between the present and the past. The story grows more intense because the further you read the more detail you get, those small little details that could uncover what really happened to Elise. I was probably convinced I had figured out the whole thing about five times, even declaring so outloud. But then I kept reading, doubt crept in, and I realized I didn’t know much at all.

That, folks, is the sign of a fantastic thriller.

I had to exercise EXTREME self-control when it came to my reading because I wanted to just plow through the whole thing, skip over paragraphs that I thought could lead to some answer sooner. I actually had to stop myself many times and I’m glad I did. The moments of reprieve,  the slow burn made it THAT much better.

Listen, I read Dangerous Girls in less than a day. Elise and Anna’s dependent friendship, the cruelty of Elise’s murder, Anna’s relationship with Tate, the loyalty between their circle of friends, this all encompassing sensuality, and the uncertain future for Anna? I had to get to the bottom of it. All I can say is the ending blew me away so much I was yelling four-letter words at the book, and frantically scrolling back to make sure I had read it right.

But I had, and whoa, Haas sure got me.

Dangerous Girls is one wild, twisty ride; the details felt so real that my first reaction was to Google the heck out of this crime when I was done reading because I had to know more. Only, there was no murder to research. Instead, it’s purely a piece of fiction, so addicting and so dark that I can only call it an experience.

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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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