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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Secrets, blackmail, & waterworks galore, July 25, 2011
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This review is from: Pretty Little Liars Box Set: Books 1 to 4 (Paperback)
First off, let me say I hopped on the bandwagon after catching a marathon of the TV show on ABC Family. Lucy Hale's brief role in Scream 4 led me to check the series out and I gotta say, it's one of my favorite guilty pleasures at the moment. The whodunit style of the show is very appealing and both the acting and writing make it a notch above other typical teenage dramas and the best series ABC Family has ever produced (which, given such trite shows as The Secret Life of the American Teenager, isn't that hard).

I eventually decided to read the source material and bought this box set to see if the books were as engrossing as the TV series. The first book, simply titled Pretty Little Liars, sets up the main story - it's condensed into the first episode of the television show. Flawless, the second entry, continues the storylines from the first book, and while a little slow at the beginning, picks up steam when it reaches its conclusion. The third novel in the series, Perfect, does a better job balancing the suspense with lighter moments and also divides the four lead character's involvement more evenly. The fourth installment, Unbelievable, is a solid conclusion but suffers from something I'll address momentarily.

There are several aspects of the books I enjoyed, primarily that the chapters are short (usually less than ten pages) and the POV shifts between the four girls à la the TV show. It's also worth noting that the television show and books' storylines aren't completely identical. For someone who began to follow the series on TV first, I appreciated the plot curveballs in the books instead of always knowing what was coming next - one character's death in the second book completely threw me off guard.

There are some shortcomings, though. The second, third, and fourth books often reiterate past events from the first book and while this is probably done to help new readers understand what's going on if they're starting out of order, it feels like unnecessary padding for those who read the books in sequential order. Another thing I initially wrote off but then began to notice again was that these girls tear up at just about anything. For example...

The following phrases appear in the first 15 chapters of the fourth book:

1. Emily was sobbing with fear (Ch. 2)
2. Tears dotted Emily's eyes (Ch. 3)
3. Emily felt hot tears stream down her face (Ch. 3)
4. "Hey," Ezra said, noting the tears spilling down Aria's cheeks (Ch. 5)
5. ...Suddenly afraid she was going to start crying again (Ch. 6)
6. She willed herself not the cry, talking big, gulping breaths...Emily's vision blurred with tears (Ch. 9)
7. Tears bloomed at the corners of Emily's eyes (Ch. 12)
8. Her eyes welled with tears (Ch.13)
9. Tears brimmed at the corners of Hanna's eyes (Ch. 15)

While it's understandable that these characters are emotionally damaged, it starts to become comical when, in just about every other chapter, one of the four leads breaks down over smelling a scent that reminds her of a memory. I almost expected to read something along the lines of, "Spencer opened the window. A breeze came in and her eyes watered - the cold draft reminded Spencer of Ali flying past her on her bike. She began to sob uncontrollably." It feels like lazy writing on Shepard's part, and I'm surprised nobody who edited the books picked up on this and approached her. "Sara, the amount of crying in your books rivals the compressed estrogen of something Stephanie Meyer would write."

Despite those quibbles, I do recommend reading the books if you're a fan of the show. After the second book, I made a game out of tallying the "crying/tear" phrases and it made the novels all the more enjoyable. Hell, I'm looking forward to highlighting the next set of books when they come next week.

Personal Ratings:

Pretty Little Liars: (7.5/10) Lays down the framework for what's to come. Not the most eventful entry but a necessary introduction.

Flawless: (7/10) Lots of retreading at the start, but hard to put down in the final chapters.

Perfect: (8/10) Good balance of humor and shock. The ending is easy to predict but immediately entices you to read the next book.

Unbelievable: (7.5/10) Emily's a blubbering mess in this one, as evidenced by the list above. The title basically sums up my opinion of her and everyone else's caterwauling.

Overall: 7.5/10
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