4 star, YA

Review: 10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston

Series: Messina Family #2

It’s Senior Week, that magical in-between time after classes have ended but before graduation, chock-full of gimmicky theme parties, last-minute bonding, and family traditions. Olivia couldn’t be more ready. Class salutatorian and confident in her future at LSU, she’s poised to sail through to the next phase of her life.

But when the tiny hiccup of an unsigned off-campus P.E. form puts Olivia in danger of not graduating at all, she has one week to set things straight without tipping off her very big and very nosy extended family. Volunteering to help at a local golf tournament should do it, but since Olivia’s mom equipped her phone with a tracking app, there’ll be no hiding the fact that she’s at the golf course instead of all the graduation parties happening at the same time. Unless, that is, she can convince the Fab Four–her ride-or-die cousins and best friends Sophie, Charlie, and Wes–to trade phones with her as they go through the motions of playing Olivia for the week.

Sure, certain members of the golf team are none too pleased with Olivia’s sudden “passion” for the game. And sure, a very cute, very off-limits boy keeps popping up in Olivia’s orbit. But she is focused! She has a schedule and a plan! Nothing can possibly go wrong . . . right?



After the surprising success with book one, 10 Blind Dates, I knew the Messina family could both be messy but also fun. I wish my family was more like them sometimes, with relatives living close by one another and being close enough to just drop in at the matriarch’s house whenever they wanted for some breakfast or family gossip. Clearly my Asian family didn’t meet the traditional large family sizes that I know others have, but if it did, I sure would love that it would feel the same way in love and mess as the Messinas.

Going into 10 Truths and a Dare, I wasn’t sure if this book could live up to the hype that was its predecessor. While I liked Olivia enough as a secondary character and cousin in the first book, was she enough to pull off her own story? That thought carried itself around when I first picked this book up. Fortunately, I read this as an audiobook and oh boy, this made all the difference I think. Let’s break my thoughts down, shall we?

Storyline

Did this plot really make the most sense? I mean, what kinda cruel principal and PE teacher would hold back a senior graduate, someone who we all know puts in the effort everywhere else, from graduating based on a half credit of physical education? I’m literally the same as Olivia. I cared about my academic standing wayyyy over whatever I did for anything physical. So sue me. But to not sign a form that is LITERALLY standing in the way of her graduating? That’s just heartless. And the only way to make up for it is to volunteer for a whole week without missing a single hour? Feels a little over the top to me.

Also, what kind of self-respecting teen would allow their mother – one whom clearly has some boundary issues – to track their every movement on their phone? I mean, sure, it’s nice to know where your kid is but do you not trust them at all times and need to constantly be checking what they’re doing? It’s bound to send some message to them that you need to go hide things from them by leaving your phone elsewhere if you just want some privacy.

Okay, clearly this tells you what kind of teenager I was. Or would’ve been if my parents and school did this to me.

So while the major plot points were a little wonky to me, that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun. I rolled with it and so did Olivia’s best friends/cousins. Hilarity is definitely going to ensue when you leave your phone in the hands of your male besties. Wes, but particularly Charlie, clearly had no idea what was coming to them when a mother asks what kind of bra you should wear underneath a specific dress for that party you’re going to. Talk about some laughing moments!

Romance

Did I fall head over heels for Leo, the bad boy who is friends with the enemy, the Evil Jo’s? No, not really, and not because he was friends with the cousins no one wants to deal with in any family.

I like my off-limits/forbidden romance as much as the next person but I’m not sure there was anything driving the romance for me. He was nicer than they anticipated for the fact that he socialized with the cousins who shall not me named. Keeping it a secret from Charlie, Wes and Sophie for a while was loads of fun and made the chemistry seem to spark more, but I definitely didn’t feel anything particular about it.

Where the chemistry really lies

And that brings me back to why I still really enjoyed this book. I can understand why some may not have loved it as much because it definitely lacked the romantic chemistry that propelled the first book. But listening to this banter cemented even more in my mind how much books about family, the ones with a little less dysfunction in it, is a refreshing perspective. That’s not to say I ignore the reality and need for books to dive into serious family issues because those are definitely present and real for many people. But there’s just something nice to be able to be a part of this big old family who love one another even with – or perhaps because of – their individual quirks.

Olivia spent this whole time trying to hide what was happening this week from her family, which was meant to be full of fun and partying to reminisce 4 years of high school. She was afraid to let them down. Yet it’s in those moments when she realizes maybe she never had to hide it from them in the first place that really got my heart melting. And that’s the kind of feel-good story I need sometimes. I hope 10 Truths and a Dare may also give you that if you ever need it.

Overall Recommendation:

10 Truths and a Dare highlights family at the centre of it all. While there was plenty of fun and weirdness going on as Olivia hid her mandatory volunteering to graduate from her massive family, this story focused on love in other ways than just romantic. From her cousins who handled her mom and the parties Olivia was invited to (in the most hilarious ways) to the serious manner her grandmother and uncles always asked about her well-being, there’s something special about a large family who holds one another in support. If that’s what you’re looking for, with a side of romance and craziness, this is the book for you. There’s no other family that makes my heart grow 1.5x its size than the Messinas it seems.

3.5 star, YA

Review: Being Mary Bennet by J.C. Peterson

Acerbic and delightful, this YA rom-com about a girl who resolves to become the main character of her own story is perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Becky Albertalli.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every bookworm secretly wishes to be Lizzie Bennet.

A less acknowledged truth is that Mary Bennet might be a better fit.

For seventeen-year-old Marnie Barnes, who’s convinced she is the long-suffering protagonist of her life, this revelation comes at the end of a series of self-induced disasters that force her to confront a devastating truth: Marnie has more in common with Mary Bennet—the utterly forgettable middle sister—than the effervescent Lizzie.

Determined to reinvent herself, she enlists the help of her bubbly roommate and opens herself up to the world—leading lady style. And between new friends, a very cute boy, and a rescue pup named Sir Pat, Marnie realizes that being the main character doesn’t mean rewriting your life entirely. It’s about finding the right cast of characters, the love interest of your dreams, and, most important, embracing your story, flaws and all.

With a hilariously sharp voice, a sweet and fulfilling romance that features a meet-cute in an animal shelter, and a big family that revels in causing big problems, this charming comedy of errors will have readers cheering for Marnie during every step of her obstacle-ridden journey toward embracing who she truly is.



If I’m honest, the sole reason I want to win the Hunt Prize is to earn my place among my older sisters. But more than that, what if it doesn’t matter? What if nothing will give me equal footing – equal love – within my family? What if all they see is Mary?

What if that’s all there is to see?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story but I found an oddly empathetic protagonist who only yearned for her family’s love as one of the overlooked middle children. With plenty of literary references, not only that of Jane Austen, I fell for Marnie as she strived to give herself a make over so that she resembled more as Lizzie Bennet in the story that was her life than the drab, annoying Mary.

At the heart of this story is about family and Marnie’s search for herself. Living in the shadow of her big sister’s brilliance, Marnie pushed herself to win the prestigious Hunt Prize as her sister once did many years ago. Perhaps then her father would pay her attention or she would make her mother stop for one second to be proud of her. I was so upset alongside Marnie at one particular family scene where it felt like her whole family was ignoring her. Like nothing happening in her life was important enough to be memorable. Even her troublesome younger sisters got more attention, even if it’s of the negative kind.

It was like she could’ve disappeared. She was that invisible. She wasn’t even expected at this family gathering. I was so indignant on her behalf! And that’s where trouble comes in.

The one person to pay attention to her was an old family friend of theirs. Although this guy was fairly young in his early twenties, he was still creepy enough that he was paying certain attention to her. Even with Marnie’s previously harmless unrequited infatuation with him, it suddenly got more serious there and I’m glad the book didn’t particularly take us down that road.

The romance was in fact a lot sweeter than that. For her Hunt Prize project, Marnie ends up meeting a cute guy named Whit who may or may not spark something with her. Of course, with any romance, things don’t go as smoothly as one would hope and the slow burn process they took to putting their feelings out there was excruciating. In the best way possible.

You know what makes this book a winner in my eyes? The fact that Marnie compared this guy to Gilbert Blythe. Making her Anne, of course. Anyone who makes L.M. Montgomery references is a queen in my books.

I will say that the rating was only docked off a bit because of the slow middle. The Hunt Prize competition is the timeline of the book but it gets really detailed on the project at times in the middle that is less relevant to Marnie’s growth and romance. I mean, it was still necessary to have present, but it could’ve been paced better in my opinion.

I really did enjoy Marnie’s journey most of all. It became evident with time that perhaps it wasn’t just her family’s negligence that made her feel lonely, but maybe a little to do with her misperceptions of their intent with her. Maybe they really were trying to help her out of love instead of pity. Marnie wanted to be the opposite of Mary so that she would be likable, loved and worthy. Those are all things I think we as readers can empathize with. So it was wonderful to organically see her come to the conclusion that she was worthy in her own eyes. As Lizzie, as Mary, or…even as just plain old Marnie.

The ending was better than I could’ve asked of it and felt true to these characters. Marnie’s story is one I feel can connect with many people. We all want to be the protagonists in our own stories, but perhaps it’s worth reflecting on what that may mean to us.

Overall Recommendation:

Being Mary Bennet is a great character exploration of our protagonist, Marnie, who wanted to be more like a Lizzie than a Mary Bennet in her story. I felt drawn to the emotional struggles she faced, wanting to feel loved and worthy by her family and seeking out ways to make her stand out among her sisters. I feel Marnie’s internal struggle and journey to self-love is one that many of us can resonate with, in whole or part. With a cute romance on the side that adds an extra layer of sweetness, this is the kind of rom-com that is both lighthearted and meaningful. I had no expectations from JC Peterson coming into this, but I am pleased to have discovered her and look forward to more.

4 star, YA

ARC Review: Sense and Second-Degree Murder

Series: Jane Austen Murder Mystery #2

Three of Jane Austen’s classic novels receive a murder mystery makeover in this romantic and thrilling three-book series that’s perfect for fans of The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy and Stalking Jack the Ripper. In Sense and Second-Degree Murder, aspiring scientist Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne, a budding detective, work together to solve the mystery of their father’s murder.

When eighteen-year-old aspiring scientist Elinor Dashwood discovers her beloved father slumped over the desk of his office study, she knows his death means dire straits for the Dashwood women. To make matters worse, an outdated will entails his estate—including Norland & Company, the private investigation firm where her younger sister Marianne worked as her father’s partner and protégé—to their half-brother and his haughty wife, who waste no time in forcing the Dashwoods out of their home and into a cramped apartment on London’s Barton Street.

But before they go, the Dashwood sisters make a startling discovery that points to foul play, and the killer might be family.

Obviously, the girls must investigate. It could be dangerous; it could ruin their reputations; and most importantly, it won’t bring back their father. But if the Dashwood sisters can combine their talents and bring their father’s murderer to justice, it may bring them all some comfort—and it might even lead to love.



**Sense and Second-Degree Murder comes out April 5, 2022**

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Tirzah Price continues to amaze me with her ability to take on a familiar Jane Austen book and add a mystery twist. Sense and Second-Degree Murder took all the beloved characters of Sense and Sensibility and really drove home a few key things: the sisterly bond, romance in its different forms, and science.

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