Pretty Little Liars (#1-4) by Sara Shepard

As you may have noticed, I’ve been reading the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard for the first time and honestly rather enjoying myself! The television series was something that I loved until it got super convoluted and it was obvious no one had any idea where things were going. I legit watched closely like an investigator 🔍 and took notes to figure out who A was, but by the end of the series I was spite-watching it just to see how it ended. Spoiler alert: not well. Many people told me that the book series was better (which is often the case with adaptation) and completely different.

I wanted to do something a little different with my review for Pretty Little Liars. The way the series is written is each arc is really one story (so books 1-4 roughly follow seasons 1 and 2, ending with the first A reveal). It made the most sense to me to review the arcs of the series in one post, so here is my review for books 1-4 of Pretty Little Liars!

162085Pretty Little Liars #1


‘Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.’ -Benjamin Franklin.

It’s really weird to read a book that you are intimately aware of but never read. If you’ve watched the television series it is important to note that there were adjustments to the timeline and events from the book (as always, got to make it more interesting for tv). It’s been three years since Ali disappeared from a sleepover with her four best friends. Now it is right before the start of their junior year at Rosewood Day, a prestigious prep school, and the girls that were once inseparable are like strangers to one another. Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily are going about their lives, still haunted by the secrets that Ali held over their heads, and embarking on adventures that they would hate for others to find out about.

‘I’m still here, bitches. And I know everything. -A’

Shepard did a good job isolating the four former friends throughout this book. You get a sense of each character, their complicated histories with Alison and each other, and their deepest secrets that Ali held over their heads. The girls don’t really even interact with one another until the final ten pages of the book and it was charming to see the tension fall away as they took comfort in one another. We all have those friends that we drift apart from but when you reconnect it is like no time has passed, and for these girls they seem to have found home in one another. They are bound together by the past and the mysterious A that has been sending them threatening messages about the secrets no one but Alison knew.

‘What if the texts were from Ali’s ghost? […] And spirits from the dead sometimes contacted the living to make amends, right? It was like their final homework assignment before graduating to heaven’

Of the changes from the book that the tv show made, the most apparent was to make the cast more diverse and appeal to a wider audience. The only characters of color in the book so far are Maya (black) and Wren (half Korean) in a very affluent, stereo-typically country club preppy town. I think that was an excellent choice. I am hoping that Emily’s mother’s apparent racism is challenged in the text in future books.

Overall I really enjoyed Pretty Little Liars and am excited to read the next book in the series. This is a light read but enjoyable, and you can tell that the story and mystery have been plotted well. This is a young adult book that handles some sensitive topics and also captures the feelings of being in the awkward teenage years. I’d recommend this for mid/upper YA readers based on the content of the book.

Representation: two characters of color (black, half-Korean), lgbtqiap+ (f/f romance)
Content/trigger warnings: bulimia, cutting (referenced), racism (“I just don’t see what you have in common with people like that,” unchallenged so far), sexual situations, teacher/high school student relationship, underage drinking

162089Flawless (Pretty Little Liars #2)


“In a place where everything looked so flawless, it was hard to stand out.”

Flawless picks up right after the first book ends with the first group A message. The book does a really good job of making the case for who A could be and casting doubt on everyone. Interestingly enough the girls are still separated and not really re-bonded yet in this book, unlike in the tv series.

I am still waiting for Emily to challenge her mother’s racism more than a couple of instances of her perspective saying “possibly racist reasons” that her mother doesn’t want her to hang out with Maya.

There isn’t any character development in this installment, although this book seems to cover like 2 or 3 days. I do want to say that the characters I loved in the show (Spencer & Hanna) I don’t like much in the book. I find myself resonating most with Aria in text.

Representation: panic attacks, lgbtqiap+ (f/f romance)
Content/Trigger warnings: assault, inferred potential rape, eating disorder, death & suicide, racism (“I just don’t see what you have in common with people like that,” unchallenged so far)

1651302Perfect (Pretty Little Liars #3)


“It’s amazing what you don’t see, though. Even when it’s right in front of your eyes.”

I actually enjoyed Perfect a lot more than the first two books in the series. I feel like while action was happening, a lot of groundwork was being made to develop the four main characters – both who they were in relation to Alison and who they have become in her absence. This definitely paid off for me big time.

I mentioned in my prior reviews that I like how Shepard isolates the girls in the books (in contrast to their quickly re-bonding in the tv series with A’s harassment); it feels more real that the girls have to reconcile their pasts that they have all left behind, but A won’t let the past lie. Three years is a long time to have been drifted apart and they each have their own lives now. With A drudging up the past and watching their every move, it is inevitable that the girls will rekindle their friendship through this new trauma of A.

The bullying in this series gets really intense here and A manages to drive a wedge between the girls, their families, and their friends. They are completely isolated and alone and it is truly heartbreaking. If you are sensitive to bullying, please tread lightly my friends.

Interestingly enough, the girl’s biggest secrets are all related to the mistakes they are making now. And things get really dark for each of the four ex-best friends in this book. Tensions are running high and A is pitting them against one another, sending them clues to what really happened to Ali.

“P.S. I may be a bitch, but I’m not a murderer. Here’s a clue for the clueless: someone wanted something of Ali’s. The killer is closer than you think.”

These continue to be enjoyable and quick reads, and even though I was obsessed with the tv series, enough is different that I don’t trust that I know anything. I was on the edge of my seat while reading and had to start book 4 straight away. I am honestly devouring these and loving everyone moment.

Representation: lgbtqiap+ (f/f romance)
Content/Trigger warnings: bullying, conversion therapy, eating disorder, homophobia, bad parenting (sorry but kicking your daughters out = selfish af in these instances)

1537534Unbelievable (Pretty Little Liars #4)


“The obstacle is the path. Meaning what wouldn’t kill Aria would just make her stronger.”

I’ve finished the first arc for Pretty Little Liars and I have to say: I think I enjoyed the books more than the series! Our girls have been put through the ringer and all the developments from book 3 continue here. While books 1 and 2 were all setting the stage for book 3,Unbelievable is the direct continuation & resolution of the previous book.

There isn’t much to add that wasn’t said in my review of Perfect . By the end of this book A is revealed… and let me tell you – it was much more believable for me than in the tv series. I am really interested in Jenna’s character and hope she plays a role in the next arc of the series.

This was a satisfying end to the first arc of Pretty Little Liars. A’s been unmasked after torturing Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer but we all know that there will be a new A in town, waiting for the Liars to fall back into their old ways. And I look forward to continuing with the series soon!

Overall I really enjoyed the first arc of the series! I was surprised how differently I would feel about the characters in print but knowing what happened from the tv series didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. Enough was changed that it was as much about the journey to see how we got there, and in terms of reasoning I feel the case makes more sense in the book. It is worth noting that the books are much darker than the tv show, so please read my content warnings for each book and exercise care before picking them up. The first two seasons followed the first arc closely for the most part but I am beginning to see more departures from the original text cropping up. I began Wicked (PLL #5) last night and… I feel like I am in for a wild ride.


You can find information about my rating criteria here.


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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

40 thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars (#1-4) by Sara Shepard

    1. The last season was trash and you didn’t miss anything, Kim! Seriously. It’s been years and I am still angry af about the last season! I just invested so much time into the show at that point that I needed to see it through… I am enjoying the books though!


  1. I remember these books being really popular when they were first published and my best friend was addicted to the tv series. I have 0 experience with both, and now that I’ve been getting into mystery type books your reviews have me tempted to pick the series up. Great idea reviewing the 4 as a set, I like series reviews like this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read all of the Pretty Little Liar series, I think? I was definitely obsessed at the beginning for sure. I really appreciate that you included the trigger warnings. The books can get pretty dark & intense. As a 20 something reading them, it was NBD but for young teens it could be too much. Can’t wait to see your next set of recaps!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I enjoyed most of the books. Towards the end, I wasn’t that into them but didn’t dislike them either. They were too unrealistic for me, but I’m glad I read them all though. It might be because I started the series in my early 20s and finished in my late 20s so my reading tastes had changed some in that time period.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. OK so I know that you’ve been reading this series for a bit now, but until this moment, I wasn’t planning on checking them out. I loved the first couple of seasons on TV but the show became a bit of a mess in my opinion and got very… complicated. I mean, I still watched… but mostly because I felt like I had to see it through to the ending haha. BUT, this post has now convinced me to try out the books. I’m a little anxious because I honestly thought the books would be cookie-cutter, but your post shows that a lot of serious topics actually get approached! Now I’m excited.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww I love comments like this, and I hope you find the books as enjoyable as I do! The series got… very bad and I spite finished the series because at that point I wasted so much time of my life and felt the need to see it through. I have heard mixed things about the later parts of the book series, but I know through book 8 at least it’s good!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, you officially convinced me to purchase them! I got books 1-8 on Amazon so I’ll have to let you know how I like them! If the books derail the way that the series did, I’d understand why some aren’t huge on the later books. But we’ll have to see how it goes! I actually started rewatching early seasons of PLL over the weekend while I was sick because I watched the new You series on Netflix and got nostalgia from Shay Mitchell being on my screen, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. OMG this excites me so much?!?! Definitely let me know what you think, and you are welcome to scream at me on Twitter if you want. I am about 70% into book 5 right now, been kind of slumping.

        I legit almost watched You and PLL this weekend, but last minute decided to re-watch Gossip Girl, haha. Last night I was encouraged to listen to the audiobook for you by a couple of friends, so I am going to do that before watching the show.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I will most certainly be letting you know how I like them! I’m holding you solely responsible if I hate them (totally kidding). I really want to check out the book You now that I’ve seen the show. If you do get to the audiobook, I’d love to hear what you think of it so I know if I should go for it! I read that there are some pretty big differences between the show and book.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I actually did get You with my audible credit because Taylor and Destiny screamed at me to do so. I literally listened to .365 seconds of the audio preview and it… it’s creepy. I’ll let you know what I think when I read it, I think I am going to wait and buddy read it with Scrill.


    1. I definitely feel like the book series does a better job of handling the “coming of age” topics better than the tv series for sure. At the core it is still a bullying mystery with tons of lies to unravel, but it is more than that in print. Thanks for your comment!


  4. I find this book series quite intimidating. I mean, so many books, and it appears the first 4 books should have been technically one storyline wise.

    I tried watching the series, but gave up after the first episode. I can’t even really pinpoint what exactly i didn’t like about it. Nothing to do with the story, i think. I just found the characters kind of fake? If that makes sense. Like, they didn’t come across as actual teen girls my teen girl self could have identified.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am going to be honest with you… same. Someone recommended it to me and I was like “yea ok fine if everyone says the books are better…” and then I saw how MANY books there were and noped for like a year. I definitely feel like books 1 – 4 could have been tightened up a bit to be one book in a trilogy or quadrilogy, but I actually do like the pacing and how things are laid it. At least in this first arc it didn’t feel drawn out.

      Agreed on the fake feeling, though. The characters “felt” like they were in their early 20s, and honestly the whole Ezra/Aria thing pisses me off to this day.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful reviews! ❤ I'm glad to hear you've been enjoying this series. I read it a while ago now and remember being completely obsessed with it for a while, unfortunately the book series continued on for too long and I ended up giving up on it around book… 11, I think haha. I really loved all the drama though haha and yes, I thought that the 4th book ended… well I liked it and I also found it more believable than the show 🙂 Lovely reviews 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Marie! And it’s good to hear about where you gave up on the books… because I have a feeling I will feel similarly and want to know where I should plan on giving up if needed. The show dragged on and when I saw there were like, 16? books I was like “yea okay.” I agree 100% on the ending for book 4, I liked it more than the way the show handled it too! It felt more authentic and believable and I am really intrigued now how the book’s second arc pans out as a result.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the next books and I’m curious to see if you’ll manage to keep on going until the 16th book hahaha. 🙂 Happy reading! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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