3 star, YA

ARC Review: Begin Again by Emma Lord

As usual, Andie Rose has a plan: Transfer from community college to the hyper competitive Blue Ridge State, major in psychology, and maintain her lifelong goal of becoming an iconic self-help figure despite the nerves that have recently thrown her for a loop. All it will take is ruthless organization, hard work, and her trademark unrelenting enthusiasm to pull it all together.

But the moment Andie arrives, the rest of her plans go off the rails. Her rocky relationship with her boyfriend Connor only gets more complicated when she discovers he transferred out of Blue Ridge to her community college. Her roommate Shay needs a major, and despite Andie’s impressive track record of being The Fixer, she’s stumped on how to help. And Milo, her coffee-guzzling grump of an R.A. with seafoam green eyes, is somehow disrupting all her ideas about love and relationships one sleep-deprived wisecrack at a time.

But sometimes, when all your plans are in rubble at your feet, you find out what you’re made of. And when Andie starts to find the power of her voice as the anonymous Squire on the school’s legendary pirate radio station–the same one her mom founded, years before she passed away–Andie learns that not all the best laid plans are necessarily the right ones.

Filled with a friend group that feels like family, an empowering journey of finding your own way, and a Just Kiss Already! romance, Begin Again is an unforgettable novel of love and starting again.

Overall Recommendation:

As college stories go with a coming-of-age trope, Begin Again made itself unique with its fun, personable characters that feel like your friends and an intriguing ribbon hunt organized for freshmans in their second term only. It made me reminiscent of my own college days (though with not quite so much drama). I thought the themes and message were great, but the pacing sometimes was a little slow to the point it became a struggle to push to the end. Otherwise, a solid book by Emma Lord although not what I consider her finest.

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3 star, YA

Review: Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson

Senior year at Ellingham Academy for Stevie Bell isn’t going well. Her boyfriend, David, is studying in London. Her friends are obsessed with college applications. With the cold case of the century solved, Stevie is adrift. There is nothing to distract her from the questions pinging around her brain—questions about college, love, and life in general.

Relief comes when David invites Stevie and her friends to join him for study abroad, and his new friend Izzy introduces her to a double-murder cold case. In 1995, nine friends from Cambridge University went to a country house and played a drunken game of hide-and-seek. Two were found in the woodshed the next day, murdered with an ax.

The case was assumed to be a burglary gone wrong, but one of the remaining seven saw something she can’t explain. This was no break-in. Someone’s lying about what happened in the woodshed.

Seven suspects. Two murders. One killer still playing a deadly game.

Overall Recommendation:

Nine Liars continues to demonstrate the beauty of a stand-alone mystery in this series following amateur detective Stevie Bell. A bit of fun sightseeing in London plus a cast of 9 adults who are all suspect of the mysterious deaths among their own group makes for an entertaining read. Slow at times but it picks up in places that propel me to continue. A solid mystery concept but with a subpar romance at the heart.

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3 star, adult

Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.

Although I have heard my share of woes over this one, I did have one friend who asked me to read it, so I did it. Unsurprisingly I didn’t enjoy it that much. It wasn’t horrible by any means but if compared to his other book, this one definitely pales in comparison!

The Maidens has an interesting premise whereby there is our main character is who already gung-ho set on a professor being a murderer. It’s fair, since he has a group of young female students whom he calls “The Maidens.” Of course they are all young, rich, and beautiful, and Edward Fosca seems to have them all within his grasp. Our protagonist, Marianna, also faces her own demons from her past as she navigates a new series of murders at her old haunts. Too many coincidences add up…maybe she should get out before it’s too late.

The characters, on their own, were fairly well-crafted and I enjoyed this aspect of the book. Full of clearly flawed characters all trying to get by, while keeping too many secrets, I thought the tensions in the book were excellent. There was even mention of the main character of his other book, and the conversation was so much more chilling having read that book already. But I liked the link between the two books! However, the relationships between the characters might have been a little bit too unbelievable. Without spoiling too much, it just felt like the relationships were more convenient for the plot than out of what was believable. I forgot to mention I just couldn’t really get behind the main character either, she’s just a little bit too paranoid and stubborn for me. You’ll see what I mean about that.

The plot was also okay. I am not a fan of these kinds of stories where you start off having a huge focus on this professor being the murderer and basically never deviating from this story. It felt so forced (because it was), and whether it turns out finally to be the professor or not, either way it wouldn’t be satisfactory. If it was the professor, then we knew it all along; if it wasn’t, it was obvious from the beginning that it wouldn’t be. See how that is kind of lose-lose (at least for me) here? The suspense was fine, but I think as the plot went on it kind of felt like it wasn’t going to go anywhere exciting. I wanted some fireworks kind of ending, and it just kind of fell short of my expectations, unfortunately.

The ending definitely was too unbelievable for me. If anyone has read it, you probably know what I mean. I just didn’t buy it. It wasn’t deus ex machina, but honestly, I felt that it was pretty close. And the punchline that was supposed to be chilling and be that kind of final hit on your psyche didn’t land at all on me. Instead it made me just feel kind of confused. I could see how it could work to be scary and thrilling, but it just totally missed the mark for me. I don’t particularly recommend this one beyond just the face value of it being a thriller suspense novel; in that sense it was good!

Overall Recommendations

The Maidens is a story of a serial killer running loose at Cambridge University. Our protagonist is sure she knows who it is and chases them down. Full of suspense and dark intrigue, the story is certainly full of suspenseful moments as the paranoia within Marianna’s mind builds up more and more up to its finale. For me, there were a few too many moments that were not believable for me to fully enjoy it. Maybe I’m just a little bit too picky, and you may have more luck with it than me!