We Were Liars

16143347-e1397585781962We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
© 2014
225 pages (hardcover)

Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.
No one is a criminal.
No one is an addict.
No one is a failure.
The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins are square, and our tennis serves are aggressive.

So begins E. Lockhart’s much-hyped YA novel, We Were Liars. And, with these first lines, we immediately suspect that our young narrator, Cadence Sinclair, may not be terribly reliable.

Through Cadence, we meet the Sinclair family. At its head is Harris, Cadence’s grandfather, the patriarch of the Sinclair clan. He is a wealthy and powerful man who lords his wealth and power over his three useless, divorcée daughters, Carrie, Penny, and Bess. They vie for his affection (read: they try to sinclair-family-treelock down their inheritances), drink too much white wine, and bicker constantly. And, every summer, they bring their seven children and Gat (Carrie’s boyfriend’s nephew, who first summers with them the year he is eight) to the Sinclairs’ private island, Beechwood Island, a twenty-minute boat ride from Martha’s Vineyard.

Cadence is the oldest grandchild, but she, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat are all roughly the same age, having been born in the fall of the same year. The four of them are inseparable on Beechwood Island, and the rest of the family calls them, collectively, “The Liars.” They refuse to be involved with their mothers’ incessant efforts to plead their cases for this house or that piece of jewelry. Instead, they just enjoy the island and being together. They are happy. Continue reading


Written by Colin Meloy
With illustrations by Carson Ellis
© 2011
541 pages (hardcover)

Two of my great loves (aside from Bryan and Legos, that is) are: 1) books and 2) quirky art featuring whimsical animals (think Michael Sowa and Ed Heck). Combine the two, and I swoon. My friends and family members have figured this out, so, on gift-giving holidays, I usually get a gift or two that fits that bill, like the gorgeous (and out-of-print) miniature coffee-table book Sowa’s Ark.

This year, for my birthday, I received one such gift from my stepsister: a very special copy of Wildwood, a book full of quirky art featuring whimsical animals, inscribed and signed by the author and illustrator. Happy birthday to me!


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Flirting with French

DISCLOSURE: I received a free advanced copy of this book through NetGalley from the publisher, Algonquin Books, in exchange for an honest review.


Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart
William Alexander
© 2014 (expected release date September 16, 2014)
280 pages (ARC e-book)

To put it mildly, I was not a good student in high school. My mother frequently got letters and calls from the school about my truancy, my sleeping in class, my failure to “live up to my potential,” and my bad attitude. I rarely did any homework, and I definitely didn’t study. I earned the honor of being the first person at my high school ever to fail AP History.

But, even as I was failing core subjects, there was one class in which I excelled: French. Turns out, I’m a big language nerd. After barely scraping by in high school, I took a year off and got my shit together. And then I applied early admission to one school and one school only (luckily, I had great SAT scores, kind letters of recommendation, and a solid essay about my gap year spent as a full-time volunteer). I chose my college based largely on the following two criteria: 1) an excellent foreign language program, and 2) amazing study-abroad options. Continue reading

Dare Me

Dare-MeDare Me
Megan Abbott
© 2012
295 pages (Kindle e-book)

The other day, my neighbor called and told me he had sliced off the tip of his finger (yes, it was as disgusting as you would imagine) and asked if I could drive him to the E.R. I grabbed my bag and ran out the door . . . and, in my rush, I neglected to bring my iPad or a library book.

Sitting in the waiting room, I realized very soon that all I had with me was my cell phone. After checking Facebook and Insta and various “news” sites and playing random games on my phone, I grew very bored and very restless, very quickly. I was in the middle of two “real” books at home, so I didn’t want to start something new . . . but I had nothing else to do. So, I scrolled through my unread Kindle books and happened upon Dare Me. Continue reading

Love Letters to the Dead

Love Letters to the Dead
Ava Dellaira
© 2014
327 pages (hardcover)

A couple years ago, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was adapted into a movie. It was one of Emma Watson’s first movie forays outside the wizarding world of Harry Potter, so it got a fair amount of press:

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One Plus One

jojomoyes1One Plus One
Jojo Moyes
© 2014
368 pages (hardcover)

My mom strongly believes that, if you live your life doing the right thing and being a good person (being nice and truthful and kind and generally following The Golden Rule), everything will turn out great in the end. You may hit a few bumps in the road along the way. And there may be struggles. But all of those bad things happen for a reason. The eventual positive outcome will always outweigh any negative stuff you had to endure on the journey.

Perhaps this outlook is a common single-mom survival mechanism, because her attitude and optimism are very similar to those of Jess, the protagonist in Jojo Moyes’ new book, One Plus One. Jess is a down-on-her luck single mom who works two crappy jobs.  She cleans rich, obnoxious people’s houses by day and is a barmaid (this is England, after all) at a local pub by night. Her life is hard and it isn’t fair . . . but Jess believes unwaveringly in the importance of doing the right thing and being a good person despite all the hardships. Her deadbeat husband, Marty, left two years ago to go live with his mom and get over his “depression” after his last get-rich-quick scheme failed miserably. Jess is left taking care of two kids (and Norman, a huge, flatulent mutt) on her own with no financial support. Tanzie is their precocious and sweet math-whiz daughter who loves sequins and is being courted by great private schools that they simply can’t afford. Nicky, Marty’s son from a previous relationship, is quiet and gothy and gets beaten up by the neighborhood bullies so badly that it lands him in the hospital. Continue reading

The Book of Unknown Americans


The Book of Unknown Americans
Cristina Henríquez
© 2014
286 pages (hardcover)

When I was twenty years old, I headed to Japan for my first semester abroad. My Japanese was rudimentary, at best. I had taken two semesters of college Japanese, so I knew the basics (the two phonetic alphabets, how to count, a smattering of basic vocabulary, and a handful of useful phrases).

My first week there, my host mother showed me the route for the commute from my new home to the university. The trip took over an hour and involved a bus, multiple subway lines, and about a half-mile walk from the subway stop. I wasn’t worried about the subway—there were lots of signs in Romanji (Japanese words written in Roman letters) and a few in English, and I had a subway map that I could easily follow.

But the bus was a different story altogether. My host mother had pointed out to me the kanji (the most complicated of the three Japanese alphabets; it’s the alphabet that uses Chinese characters) that I needed to look for on the bus signs. I couldn’t read them; I had just memorized them by sight . . . and, to my untrained eye, they looked very similar to the kanji on all the buses going other places. Continue reading