Top Social

Featured Posts Slider

Review: Heat of the Moment by Lauren Barnholdt

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Heat of the Moment
Lauren Barnholdt

Genre: YA Contemporary
Paperback: 304 Pages
Publication: May 12, 2015
by Harper Teen

Before graduation, I promise to...learn to trust.

Each book in this paperback original series is told from the perspective of a different girl—Lyla, Aven, and Quinn—former best friends who wrote emails to their future selves back in freshman year about one thing they hope to accomplish before they graduate. When the emails get delivered on the first morning of their senior trip all three girls will spend the next three days trying to keep the promises they made to themselves four years ago. While each book follow’s one girl’s life-changing adventure, you have to read them all to get the whole story, including why they’re no longer friends and whether they can get their friendship back on track.

Lyla McAfee had all but forgotten the email that she wrote to herself freshman year and scheduled to be delivered right before graduation—the one promising that she’d learn to trust by the end of senior year. But when she receives it the first morning of her senior trip to Florida her life is sent into a tailspin. Soon she’s questioning her seemingly perfect relationship with her boyfriend, Derrick; her attraction to the school player, Beckett; and whether ending her friendship with Aven and Quinn, her former BFFs, was one of the biggest mistakes of her life.


Heat of the Moment is beautiful in its themes of love, trust, and friendship. I love novels where characters learn life lessons that help them grow, and Lyla's character and what she learns over the course of the novel reminds me of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Barnholdt portrays a side of high school life with which we're all too familiar in YA territory nowadays: the clubbing, the drinking, the hookups. Frankly, I'm not happy with how many novels in the YA market nowadays tend to portray this as the norm or at least all there is to life outside of school. It's not representative of everyone's high school experiences; there is so much more out there. In Heat of the Moment, however, I think it works because of how Lyla's expectations are broken down. She thinks that she needs to do all these things to make other people happy when it's pretty obvious early on that she needs to learn how to pursue her own happiness outside of other peoples' expectations. And this is part of what this novel is about.

That said, Lyla's transformation is not executed as well as it could have been. It isn't until at least halfway in the novel that I realized that Lyla and Derrick had a perfect relationship. It would have helped if this fact had been established from the beginning and we were given a chance to see that. As it is, my initial impression of Derrick was that he was a total jerk and that Lyla was desperately ignoring reality. I do feel like Lyla thought about sex way too often (most of her thoughts are about sex and how to seduce Derrick, or fantasing about Beckett). Her feelings, though, are understandable. I believe most anyone who has been in love only to have that relationship break apart can understand the nagging feeling that your relationship is slipping away and the inability to realize that you aren't happy anymore. It can be hard to face the current reality when your relationship has only brought good into your life.

It would have also helped if it was better established that Beckett was a player. It wasn't until maybe three-quarters into the novel when it was explicitly laid out for us that I realized he had a reputation. Up until then, I thought that he was a smart guy that happened to be hot and attracted girls. I didn't know that he went out girl after girl. Of course, he does do some things you shouldn't be doing with a girl that has a boyfriend. . . . That's one complication to the novel. The character relationships weren't clear for the most part, and they didn't start clearing up until towards the end of the novel. Even then, I still don't understand much of the characters' motivations behind their behavior. Especially Julianna.

I initially picked up this novel because I liked the themes of trust and friendship. However, the friendship element doesn't look like it'll be pursued much until the second novel, and Lyla doesn't really sort through her trust issues until the end of the novel (though kudos to her for attempting). I'll probably read the second novel if I get the chance, however, because I'm curious to see how Barnholdt continues the series. That said, if you're looking for a novel with similar themes and less of the mature content, Before I Fall has a more multi-dimensional heroine whose growth is explored in greater depth. For a similar beach read with the mature content, Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman has great themes (though it does have its own flaws). I have linked my reviews of these two novels below. Pardon the brevity of my Before I Fall review. I wrote it early into my blogging career.

A review copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 3.5 stars

  • N/A

  • Language (cussing)
  • Alcohol, Clubbing
  • Kissing
  • Making Out
  • A lot of talk / thoughts about sex and hookups
  • Some aggression and threat of violence

DNF Review: Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me
Meredith Zeitlin

Genre: Contemporary, Foreign Country
Hardback: 336 Pages
Publication: April 21, 2015
by Putnam

High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks... but no thanks.

In the vein of Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary.


The premise to Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me definitely holds potential for laugh-out-loud moments. After seeing the comparison to Anna and the French Kiss, I went and reread some of Anna. The tone of voice and situation of both girls seem similar, and I think that readers who enjoyed Anna may enjoy Sophomore Year as well.

Zona's voice is snarky, rebellious, and a total teenager. A common voice in YA lit. The plus is that readers who like heroines along Zona's vein will be able to connect with her. That said, there is another side to this coin. Readers looking for a unique voice will find it a struggle to get past the first pages. While I loved Anna when it first came out, I've since read a lot of novels with the snarky voice, and I think that I wouldn't enjoy Anna as much if I tried to reread it. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with snark. The problem is when the heroine is made of only snark; then her character remains one dimensional. Zona is one such character.

Another element of Sophomore Year that caused the story to fall flat for me is that most of the story is told through dialogue and Zona's thoughts. While actions are mentioned, I couldn't see events play out. It just didn't feel like much attention was given to the going ons. Rather, the focus of the story is on what the characters say and what goes on in Zona's mind. Furthermore, the story is broken up by article clippings that contribute to Zona's story. This is a clever addition to the story because of Zona's (and her father's) interest in journaling. Personally, I didn't like it, but I'm generally not fond of newspaper talk.

Aside: I think that it's pretty neat that Meredith's first novel was about freshman year while this second novel of hers is about sophomore year. Perhaps her third one will continue the high school story and be about a girl's junior year?

A copy was provided by Penguin Random House for review

  • N/A

Similar Books
  • N/A

** Content warnings are from the parts of the novel that I read and may not reflect the entirety of the novel **

Review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison

Genre: Historical Fiction
Paperback: 206 Pages
Publication: May 8, 2007
by Vintage International

Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.


The Bluest Eye is a classic for the powerful themes that continue to relate to society today. As Toni Morrison mentions in her foreword, we all know what it feels like to be disliked or rejected, be it for a moment or for a suspended period of time. Moving beyond this statement, we all know what it feels like to be dissatisfied with our appearance. Even if we are generally happy with how we look, there will be periods of time when we wish that we were "prettier." The media bombards with with images of the feminine (and masculine) ideal. Advertisements tell us how we can look sexier and be more confident (by buying their products). We are constantly told that we are not up to standard and ought to try harder to look like the ideal. The problem is that we can try our whole lives and never look like the "ideal." Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye examines the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and age in the oppression of black people through beauty ideals and the pressure to conform to them.

She does this through sketches in the lives of multiple characters of different backgrounds and across generations. Generally, I'm not very fond of novels that move around so much, as it makes it difficult to get to know any particular character, but this technique works for Morrison's novel. Rather than events moving the plot forward (like most novels), the plot takes us through the lives of different characters in order to show how the white beauty ideal influences black people of different temperaments, class, and circumstances . . . causing them to internalize racism. This does mean that there is a lot of narrating going on. At times, I even found it hard to focus on the page. For the most part, however, I felt that Morrison does a good job moving the plot forward. It definitely helps that her writing is strong and interesting with many, many beautiful, powerful lines that moved my heart. Once I started The Bluest Eye, I was reluctant to put down the novel for lengthy periods of time.

Most importantly, these sketches show us how people come to be the people that they are today. Humans are not born to be terrible. The way our natures interact with the environment to which we are exposed shapes our character. There were characters who I disliked early in the book only to realize later that they were not such terrible beings. At least, not at first. Things happened, and maybe their response wasn't the healthiest, but they lived at some point in their lives. Until they internalized racism and began to believe that they deserved the bad things that happened to them. That people couldn't change. The most notable example of the influence of internalized racism is in the home of the Breedloves. Learning about the lives and thoughts of Mrs. and Mr. Breedlove helped me to better understand the environment in which Pecola grew up. Thinking about how Pecola and her brother's lives could have been different helped me to realize how oppression not only influences the people with whom it comes into immediate contact but also their children and the generations to come. (Compare the parenting Pecola receives to the parenting Claudia receives.)

I also want to note how Morrison uses the Dick and Jane primer to emphasize the psychological element to oppression. The Dick and Jane primer portrays the ideal white family. The way its grammar and structure falls apart in the first pages of the novel reminds me of horror movies where a seemingly benign and pleasant scene falls apart to become something terrifying. In the same way, the lives of the black families, particularly that of the Breedloves, will upend in The Bluest Eye. The inclusion of distorted sections of the primer at the beginning of certain chapters foreshadows this.

The Bluest Eye is haunting and beautiful. At the same time, it is terrible and brutal in its honest portrayal of the interlinking systems of oppression through race, class, gender, and age. There are explicit scenes of domestic violence, rape, and sex, as well as a pervasive sense of hopelessness. Nevertheless, there is life, love, and tenderness behind seemingly harsh acts. As Claudia says at the beginning of the novel, "since why is hard to handle, one must take refuge in how." Building upon this statement, if we can learn how things come to be, then we can learn how to ensure history does not repeat itself. We can learn how to keep future generations from sharing Pecola's end.

Rating: 5 stars

  • N/A

Similar Books
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Language
  • Alcoholism
  • Bullying
  • Domestic Violence
  • Prostitution
  • Sex, Rape

Review: Daisy to the Rescue by Jeff Campbell

Friday, April 17, 2015

Daisy to the Rescue
Jeff Campbell

Genre: Nonfiction
Hardback: 336 Pages
Publication: October 7, 2014
by Zest Books

Who rescued who? This popular animal-shelter bumper sticker captures an enduring emotional truth: With their love and companionship, animals of all species save our lives every day. But sometimes, to our utter amazement and everlasting gratitude, animals literally save our lives, and this heartwarming book collects over 50 real-life stories of animals rescuing people, in which the actions of animals have meant the difference between life and death. Today, scientists vigorously debate questions regarding the sentience, intelligence, and emotions of animals. In particular, they want to know whether animals share with humans the highest emotions of empathy, compassion, and altruism. This book also poses these questions for readers to consider, and using current research on animal minds and emotions, it examines these extreme life-saving situations for possible evidence. Where appropriate, skepticism and doubt surrounding particular stories is included, but gathered together, these anecdotes make a compelling case for the presence of altruism in animals. Thus, this book provides dramatic, thrilling, and moving stories that convey a hopeful message about our world. But these stories also provide startling evidence of the mental and emotional capacities of animals, those being we share the world with.


As a child, I was obsessed with animals and read many nonfiction books about them. I'm still very fond of animals today and was delighted to be presented with the opportunity to review a book about animal heroes!

I was surprised to find that the stories were narrated like a report. I was expecting a little more narration. It does make sense though given that there are over fifty stories covered in this book. I like how the report style of narration helps to keep the author's bias and imagination from infiltrating the stories while leaving room readers to ask questions. If Campbell had taken liberties with embellishing the stories, it would be difficult to tell fact from fiction. The lack of embellishment doesn't take away from the emotions of the stories. In fact, many of them brought me to the verge of tears.

I like the layout of the stories. The opening page provides the story title and a cute drawing of the animal hero. Beneath the picture, the following information is provided: the animal's name, species, the date and location of the heroic event, the situation, who was saved (name and age), and the fame meter (how famous the animal became). In the story itself, bold heading divide the story into segments for clear reading. As I mentioned earlier, the stories are really like reports, and Campbell often provides backstory, other angles, and epilogues to the heroic tales. At the end of some of the stories, Campbell provides abbreviated accounts of similar incidents that have taken place; he does this in bullet points at the end of the "report."

It is clear that Campbell put much time and effort into the research for his book. Campbell compares tales of animal heroes and asks important questions about the validity of such tales. He also provides supplementary information on related topics to enrich the reading experience. For example, he provides a segment on mirror neurons as a possible reason for some accounts of animal heroics; another segment provides accounts of life-saving animals in pop culture. He also references some other books in his discussions of the heroic tales. I looked some of them up and plan to check them out in the future.

Though I would have liked to see more time spent on each individual story, the broad range of stories covered in this book make it a worthwhile purchase. I recommend this book to readers who love animals and reading about true tales of animal heroism.

An ARC was provided by Zest Books for review

Rating: 4 stars

  • N/A

  • Some gruesome details (like a dog losing a snout and top jaw in the process of saving some children from a motorcycle), but clean for the most part

DNF Review: The Memory Key by Liana Liu

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Memory Key
Liana Liu

Genre: YA Science Fiction
Hardback: 368 Pages
Publication: March 3, 2015
by Harper Teen

In a five-minutes-into-the-future world, a bereaved daughter must choose between losing memories of her mother to the haze of time and the reality-distorting, visceral pain of complete, perfect recall.

Lora Mint is determined not to forget.

Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return.

But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would. Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad—burying the truth forever?

Lora’s longing for her lost mother and journey to patch up her broken memories is filled with authentic and poignant emotion. Her race to uncover the truth is a twisty ride.


While the concept of memory keys is very intriguing to me, they are not the main focus of the novel. It keeps switching to Lora's love life and the problems she that has with her best friend. As a result, the world building is weak. The plot narration is also confusing and hard to follow; the narrative jumps between the present and the past through flashbacks. On top of that, I cannot connect with the characters. There is no character development. While I understand why Lora does not want to fix her memory key, I couldn't relate to her on an emotional level.

I would have stopped reading this earlier, but I thought that I should give it more of a chance.

DNF around 70%

An ARC was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 1 star

  • N/A

Similar Books

  • N/A

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Red Queen
Victoria Aveyard

Series: Red Queen #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Hardback: 383 Pages
Publication: February 10, 2015
by Harper Teen

Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood--those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.


I wholeheartedly admit that, while I found the premise of Red Queen interesting, I read this for the cover. It is such a relief to see a cover that isn't an image of a girl and doesn't really have anything to do with the plot itself. That said, while the image is symbolic, the presence of the "queen" in the title doesn't have much to do with the plot. The idea of a Red Queen is more of a passing suggestion late in the novel. After having read the novel, I would have thought that this title would be saved for one of the future installments.

The world of Red Queen is interesting but doesn't fulfill all of its potential. A world where the population has been divided between the elite and the non-elite and where the people of each group have different statuses (such as if they can find work (the Reds) and the strength of their power (the Silvers)) . . . such a world holds the potential to explore the human condition and how power affects the haves and the have-nots. Rather than building court intrigue and the human condition, however, Aveyard seems to focus the plot primarily on Mare's personal interests after arriving at court.

Even with the stronger focus on the characters, the characters were one dimensional and easily categorized into a stereotype. To name a few, Mare is the gutsy, bullheaded heroine who charges into a situation without much thought for the consequences, Cal is the romantic hero who has a habit of ignoring his personal desires to fulfill his duties, and Maven is the younger brother who has grown up in the shadow of his older brother's superior talent. While some characters end up seemingly changing personalities at the end, the changes are sudden, unexpected, and sorely disappointing. I was expecting some of these to happen; however, they're clichéd, predictable, and overdone—and I was really hoping that I was wrong. The biggest problem I had with the characters is that their character motivations were difficult to discern. The most that we delve into any one character is on a superficial level. We don't get sufficient reason for why they behave in the way they do, and this makes it impossible to fully understand and connect with the characters.

Mare's voice also lacks a distinct personality. Reading her narrative, I wouldn't be able to distinguish her from many other YA heroines. If her character motivation was better developed along with her strengths and weaknesses (particularly emotionally and psychologically), then her narrative would be stronger. Mare also runs hot-cold, a problem that I've seen in many YA heroines. She will act one way one moment and a different way the next. This happens particularly around Cal; this doesn't make sense considering how her same reasoning could be applied on other characters. I would have liked to see the characters' relationships developed better. I would also like to see at least her closer friends developed into more multi-dimensional characters in the next installment. I would also also like to see more of Mare's family or at least her backstory. Blood is an important element in this novel, and some of Mare's most important decisions occur because of her desire to protect her family and those she considers family.

That said, the plot is dull to the point that I skimmed more and more as the novel progressed. (The only thing that kept me reading to the end was my curiosity on what would happen.) While it was interesting that I didn't know until the end who would be the true hero, it also means that the novel never let us get to know any of the guys. If the hero candidates were better developed, then the reader would be able to develop suspicions and rejoice or mourn in the end when these suspicions were proven right or wrong. That my discussion on the plot centers on the guys shows that there wasn't much else to the court intrigue. It isn't until the end that an important twist is introduced to us. Given Mare's unique situation, I would have expected more foreshadowing on this issue.

I do want to make a statement here that I do not approve of someone kissing another person against his or her will even if they end up enjoying the kiss. This is sexual harassment and should not be tolerated. Even if you like the kiss and want it, you still have the right to tell the other person that what they did was wrong. Even if you are in a dating relationship, your partner does not have the right to kiss you or do anything to you against your will. No is no. I am really disappointed that this happens in the novel, especially as I thought the guy was a decent person. Especially considering what their relationship (through another person) is.

On the bright side, even if it was clichéd and a total case of plot shielding, a character that I was hoping to see turns up in the end (hint: this person teleports).

I probably won't check out the second novel. I am curious about what happens, but I'm afraid to see the series end up like The Selection did for me. I may just wait for it to show up in my local library and skim the pages to see if I'd be interested in reading further.

An ARC was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 1.5 stars

  • N/A

  • Kissing
  • Violence

Review: Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson

Friday, April 10, 2015

Charlotte Temple
Susanna Rowson

Genre: Historical, Sentimental Novel
Paperback: 192 Pages
Publication: September 23, 2010
by Bedford/St. Martin's

A novel of seduction, abandonment and villainy, Charlotte Temple was initially published in England in 1791 before making its American debut in 1794. Susanna Rowson's short novel became the first bestseller in America and its most popular novel until Uncle Tom's Cabin, and has gone through more than 200 editions. This Bedford College Edition is based on the 1794 edition, and features editorial matter that engages key questions for responding to the novel, including those of genre, authorship, book history, gender, sexuality, family, class, and community.


Charlotte Temple was so bad, I couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it. So many factors were working against Charlotte that I kept turning the pages to find out what happens to her. Yes, she does things that she knows she shouldn't do, but not-so-nice people also use her for their own gains. This was why I stayed up reading this novel; I felt so bad for Charlotte. With all the terrible developments, the plot moves forwards fairly quickly. There is also the time Charlotte faints, and we do not know if she would have had the willpower to resist the influences of the not-so-nice people.

A story of emotion and ethics, the goal of the sentimental novel (like Charlotte Temple) was to teach young women good morals and to warn them against associating with certain types of people who would certainly lead them to ruin. You can see the didactic messages in Charlotte Temple when the narrator speaks directly to the audience about what we should be learning from the story. The seduction plot teaches us the potential consequences of loving and following the wrong man. Of course, the consequences wouldn't be as bad today as in Charlotte's time, so the primary value of reading this novel would be to learn more about the culture during the colonial period.

That said, the characters are one dimensional for the most part. Mr. and Mrs. Temple are obviously the ideal sentimental hero and heroine respectively, Montraville is the seducer, La Rue is the seductress / temptress, and Charlotte is the naive heroine . . . to name a few. While there are a couple changes in some of the characters, they're very subtle and aren't enough to make them multi-dimensional. We also don't get to peer much into the minds of the characters other than those that contribute to the plot, so we don't learn much about them as people. While Charlotte Temple provides a different kind of read, it wouldn't be my first pick for leisure reading.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of intricate plot and character development, I did enjoy reading Charlotte Temple. I read this book for my American Heroine class, and it made for some fantastic discussion on the different characters and how they relate to one another. Fun fact to consider while reading this novel - though Rowson was a British writer, Charlotte Temple sold better in the Americas than in Britain.

Rating: 2.5 stars

  • N/A

Similar Books
  • N/A
  • N/A

Review: Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Liars, Inc.
Paula Stokes

Genre: YA Mystery Crime
Hardback: 368 Pages
Publication: March 24, 2015
by Harper Teen

Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell forged permission slips and cover stories to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts Liars, Inc. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit?


Liars, Inc is not only a murder mystery, but it explores relationships with family, friends and romantics.

Max, his girlfriend Parvati, and his best friend Preston start a business call Liars, Inc., which sells lies such as excuses, forged parental signatures, and alibis for teens who want to spend uninterrupted time with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The business is going well up until Preston disappears and later turns up dead. Worse yet, the evidence points to Max as the killer.

Max’s mom died in childbirth, and his dad died when he was young. He went through a foster home, ran away, and ends up in a boy's orphanage where he is adopted by his current family. Parvati is the daughter of a Colonel and a defense attorney who are over-protective parents. She is smart, rude, and rebellious. Preston is the son of Senator DeWitt. He is cute, funny, and the football star of the school. Nobody hates him,except for the local bookie (because of Preston's gambling addiction). I like how the author shows three different sets of parents and how these three teens have grown up under these parenting styles.

I also like the character growth shown throughout the novel. At first, Max makes some mistakes, holds back information, and makes bad decisions out of fear. The lies that he tells are like a tangled web. The more you try to lie, the tighter they wrap around you. Liars, Inc starts with one single white lie, and it ends up getting Max in serious trouble. If he told the truth from the beginning Max wouldn’t have dug himself into such a deep hole. Rather than burying himself in it, however, he learns from his experiences and gradually recognizes that he needs help. Trusting yourself and others is not easy. It takes a lot of time and patience, especially if you have a broken past. I really love the dynamics between Max and his family. It proves that you don't have to be blood-related to be true family.

I also enjoyed the journey to uncover all of the secrets surrounding Preston: the videos found from his computer, the situations with Parvati, and the secrets surrounding Preston’s family. It makes one wonder if we can ever really know the people around us, like our neighbors, friends, and colleagues.

Overall, Liars, Inc. is a great novel. I can't wait for Paula Stokes' next book.

An ARC was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 4 stars

  • N/A

Similar Books

  • Kissing
  • Sex
  • Arson
  • Violence (gun shooting)

Review: Finding Paris by Joy Preble

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Finding Paris
Joy Preble

Genre: YA Contemporary, Mystery, Road Trip
Hardback: 272 Pages
Publication: April 21, 2015
by Balzer + Bray

An evocative and compelling story of two sisters who would do anything for each other.

Sisters Leo and Paris Hollings have only ever had each other to rely on. They can't trust their mother, who hops from city to city and from guy to guy, or their gambler stepfather, who's moved them all to Las Vegas. It's just the two of them: Paris, who's always been the dreamer, and Leo, who has a real future in mind--going to Stanford, becoming a doctor, falling in love. But Leo isn't going anywhere right now, except driving around Vegas all night with her sister.

Until Paris ditches Leo at the Heartbreak Hotel Diner, where moments before they had been talking with physics student Max Sullivan. Outside, Leo finds a cryptic note from Paris—a clue. Is it some kind of game? Where is Paris, and why has she disappeared? When Leo reluctantly accepts Max's offer of help, the two find themselves following a string of clues through Vegas and beyond. But the search for the truth is not a straight line. And neither is the path to secrets Leo and Max hold inside.


I picked up Finding Paris because I love novels with strong family ties. It was disappointing that Paris and Leo's relationship and family situation isn't explored much beyond little snippets that kept the plot moving. However, I did get something more than I expected. With the fourth clue to Paris's location, I got a mystery that made stay up reading until I had finished the novel.

From the first pages, I knew that I would enjoy this novel. The writing is beautiful and descriptive, and I like how we really get into Leo's thoughts. Plus, Leo is an intelligent girl who tells Physics  / science-y jokes. Sure, they're cheesy ones that I've heard a lot, but how often do you get such jokes in a YA novel? It's rare that I find a protagonist who talks about the SATs, aims to attend a top-ranked college, and keeps the readers aware about these facts throughout the novel. It made me so happy to encounter such a girl in Leo. Better yet, she doesn't look like the stereotypical nerd.

I'm also very happy with how Max is also a science-y nerd and can keep up with Leo. He's a cool guy even if there are some questionable things about him, like his secret and how he offers Leo a ride even though they just met. That said, the romance was very rushed. The main events of this novel take place over the course of several days, and Max and Leo don't know much about each other even if they do learn some of their deepest concerns. As much as I've come to care about the two, I don't believe in passionately kissing a guy you just met the other day. Romantic relationships should take a little more time to build true intimacy.

I wish that more of Leo's home life and familial relationships were explored more. I especially would have liked to see Leo and Paris's relationship better developed before Paris leaves, setting the plot in motion, and perhaps afterwards as well through Leo's memories. I would have also liked to see more of Leo's home life growing up. These would have greatly helped me understand the circumstances leading to Paris's disappearance and the motivation behind Paris's behavior.

As it is, the ending felt rushed. I was particularly unhappy with the handling of the secrets. One secret leads to a plot twist that I didn't see coming. While it seems cool, I do wonder how the novel would have played out had there been more foreshadowing. I feel like such a secret should have influenced this character's behavior. Furthermore, we only see a partial resolution to one secret coming out into the open. We see progress towards resolving the other secret, but we don't get the satisfaction of seeing it carried out. If it's not going to be resolved for us, it would be better to tell us it's going to happen instead of setting it in motion only to end partway through. Overall, I would have liked to see both secrets play more of an overt role in the plot.

Finding Paris is a moving story about learning to open one's heart and facing the truth. While I did have some complaints, particularly entering the climax of events and during the resolution process, I very much enjoyed unraveling the mystery of Paris's disappearance. It wasn't on as large of a scale as I was anticipating with the road trip suggestion in the synopsis and cover, but the fourth clue raised the stakes and made me genuinely concerned with the outcome. Even before then, the beautiful writing and likable heroine in Leo drew me into her world. I recommend Finding Paris to those looking for a unique setting (in Vegas), sisterly bonds, road trips, and mysterious secrets.

A review copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 4 stars

  • N/A

  • Language (cussing)
  • Alcohol
  • Kissing
  • Sexual abuse
  • Some violence

Movie Monday: Romanzo Criminale

Monday, April 6, 2015

Romanzo Criminale

Directed by Michele Placido
Genre: Drama/Crime
Running time: 152 minutes
Released: September 30, 2005
by Warner Bros

After serving prison time for a juvenile offense, Freddo (Kim Rossi Stuart) gathers his old buddies Libano (Pierfrancesco Favino) and Dandi (Claudio Santamaria) and embarks on a crime spree that makes the trio the most powerful gangsters in Rome. Libano loves their new status, and seeks to spread their influence throughout the underworld, while the other two pursue more fleshly desires. For decades, their gang perpetrates extravagant crimes, until paranoia threatens to split the friends apart.


I found Romanzo Criminale, also known as Crime Novel, to be a really interesting film. It’s a criminal drama that is heavily rooted in human nature as a trio of young men dream of conquering modern Rome.

The three main characters are mostly referred to by their street names: Lebanese, Dandy and Ice, and they are tied together by a tragic incident from their past. Lebanese is the leader and is the dreamer of the group. He was the one who brought up the idea of starting their own criminal organization and conquering Rome together. One scene that stuck out was when he and Ice walked down a beach together and talked of the greatest emperors and conquerors of history and how they all rose and fell. Lebanese says, “Maybe that will happen to us, too.” In doing so, Lebanese likens himself to the greatest emperors of history while simultaneously foreshadowing his inevitable downfall.

Together, Lebanese, Dandy and Ice form a small criminal group with some other trusted friends. They quickly make a name for themselves as they have something to prove. They want to show that the new generation has arrived. They’re smarter, tougher and more brutal than the older figureheads. They don’t hesitate to kill anyone in their way, and they quickly begin forcing out the other criminal groups in Rome.

What really stood out to me when I saw Romanzo Criminale was how it portrayed extremely violent and dangerous criminals as human, and each of them had a fatal flaw. Lebanese, while being the classic tough-as-nails character, is steadfast and extremely loyal to his friends. He even suffered a permanent injury to his leg as a child when saving a friend. Ice is probably the easiest character to sympathize with. He realizes early on into their conquest of Rome that they are beginning to go too deep and attempts to leave, but is pulled back in by an incident. Dandy suffers internally because of his cowardice.

I enjoyed the film, but parts of it can get confusing, especially if you do not know your history, as the film makes constant references to world events and domestic Italian events. If you’re into crime films I would definitely recommend this one.

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith

Friday, April 3, 2015

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
Steve Hockensmith

Genre: HorrorParody
Paperback: 287 Pages
Publication: March 23, 2010
by Quirk Books

As our story opens, the Bennet sisters are enjoying a peaceful life in the English countryside. They idle away the days reading, gardening, and daydreaming about future husbands—until a funeral at the local parish goes strangely and horribly awry.

Suddenly corpses are springing from the soft earth—and only one family can stop them. As the bodies pile up, we watch Elizabeth Bennet evolve from a naive young teenager into a savage slayer of the undead. Along the way, two men vie for her affections: Master Hawksworth is the powerful warrior who trains her to kill, while thoughtful Dr. Keckilpenny seeks to conquer the walking dead using science instead of strength. Will either man win the prize of Elizabeth’s heart? Or will their hearts be feasted upon by hordes of marauding zombies?


Now I know what some of you are probably thinking: "Roxanne, why didn't you read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies before picking up Dawn of the Dreadfuls?" Well, it's a little experiment on my part. I'm usually pretty fond of origin stories, but this is my first time actually reading a prequel to another book. I thought it'd be fun to read this first and see if any of it fits in the continuity of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I do plan to review in the future. For now, let's talk about the merits of this book.

We're literally thrown into the lion's (or in this case, zombie's) den from the very first chapter. The book opens with a funeral where the deceased sits up in his coffin and, lo and behold, it turns out he's a zombie. What really struck me was the fact that this is a world where people are familiar with zombies, as there are frequent mentions of The Troubles, a time when there was a similar infestation of zombies in England. Another thing that really caught my attention and made this world so wonderfully wacky was the fact that some people were trained in the deadly arts, use of weapons and some martial arts, in order to get rid of the zombies, a great warrior among them being a woman named Lady Catherine de Bourgh (those of you who have read Pride and Prejudice will probably recognize her).

Something else that stood out to me while I was reading was the characterization of the Bennet family. (Keep in mind, my knowledge of their personalities comes from their portrayal in the original Pride and Prejudice.) We get an idea of why Mr. Bennet acts like such a curmudgeon, especially towards Mrs. Bennet, as well as learn some interesting tidbits from his past, specifically from the time of The Troubles. Elizabeth's strength and cleverness is obvious to us here, as is her father's favoring her. Lydia's clear manipulation of Kitty is also seen here, as is Mrs. Bennet's frivolousness and Jane's innocence and naivete. We also get more time spent with the middle Bennet sister, Mary, who is barely mentioned in the original book.

This was my first time reading a full-length book about zombies, and it was a lot of fun. I love the fact that people of proper society don't call the walking corpses zombies, opting instead for words like unmentionables, the sorry stricken, and the titular dreadfuls. Mrs. Bennet throws a fit when Mr. Bennet declares that he will teach his daughters the deadly arts, and the girls are immediately shushed by their mother if they say "the  Zed word" (zombie). The absurdness of the whole thing made me giggle. There are zombies running around the countryside, and Mrs. Bennet is more worried about her daughters acting like proper young ladies.

Truth be told, I wanted some more moments with the girls fighting zombies. What we do get is good, since we see how nervous and scared they are about exercising all that they've learned during their training. The scenes with zombie slaying had their share of gore, but it wasn't so graphic that it made me feel squeamish or stop reading. That being said, I felt like there was more time spent seeing the girls as they train with their father and later with Master Hawksworth. There is a big scene when a mansion is overrun by zombies Night of the Living Dead style, which would've made for a great scene with zombie slaying. But we don't get much action in this sequence, which was a big lost opportunity in my mind. However, there's a tiny thing that happens during the training that you don't pick up on until later in the book, and when this is revealed, it changes your opinion of one of the characters.

I was looking forward to the love interests in this book, and I got a bit of a surprise. Though not the focus of the book, it's revealed that Jane has a suitor in the form of a local lord. Her mother wants Jane to develop an attachment to this man, who is revealed to be really low and foul. Elizabeth's suitors, Master Hawksworth and Dr. Keckilpenny, were quite interesting in their respective portrayals. From the moment he arrives, Master Hawksworth comes across as, for lack of a better word, a badass. He's a bit of a mystery, an incredibly young man who has been to trained well in the deadly arts and is a strict teacher. After he's trained the Bennets for a while, it becomes obvious that he has some sort of feelings towards Elizabeth, though he himself seems to be struggling to understand what he feels. Dr. Keckilpenny is delightfully loopy, and you can definitely see the passion he has for his studies. I was actually surprised when he revealed that he had feelings for Elizabeth; the revelation was sporadic and felt kinda out of place. At least  there are a few hints of feelings in the case of Master Hawksworth, even if they are subtle.

However, the love triangle was the weakest aspect of the book, in my mind. You can tell Elizabeth is interested in both men, but I don't know if I could quite see it as a romantic interest. There's literally only one scene where Master Hawksworth and Dr. Keckilpenny are face to face, and nothing really happened between them. Okay, so they do size each other up and argue over Elizabeth, but it doesn't lead to anything physical going down between them. It's Elizabeth who has a major epiphany, and it's this clever moment that shows the origin of her prejudice against pride, which I think we will definitely see in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies when she meets Mr. Darcy.

This book wasn't amazing, but it was definitely entertaining. The love triangle was negligible, and there could've been some more scenes with zombies, though the scenes we do get with them are rollicking and fun to read. The world the story takes place in is delightfully wacky, from the outbreak of zombies to the training of warriors, and it was this that really gave this book its juice. I'm really looking forward to reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies now, especially since the ending to this book leads up to it well, and because people tell me that it's the best of the Quirk Classics. Now if you don't mind, I'm gonna go out, buy myself a bo staff, and practice my battle cry.

Rating: 4 stars

  1. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
  2. Dawn of the Dreadfuls (prequel)
  3. Dreadfully Ever After (sequel)

Similar Books
  • Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy & Ben H. Winters
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen & Ben H. Winters
  • Creature violence
  • Physical violence
  • Brief language
  • Some gore