Not If I Save You First: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterAfter six year living in an isolated cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with her Secret Service agent father, Maddie is used to being on her own. She has definitely given up on hearing from her former best friend Logan, the president’s son.

Maddie thought that she and Logan would always be best friends but it turns out a friendship is hard to sustain when only one of you ever writes letters without ever getting a response. Turns out getting used to having no best friend is a lot harder than adjusting to not having a phone, Internet, or any privacy.

When Logan does show up–six years too late–Maddie is ready to kill him. But a mysterious assailant forces Maddie to put that plan on hold when he pushes her off a cliff and drags Logan away at gunpoint.

Now Maddie has to save Logan. But once she finishes that she’s definitely going to kill him in Not If I Save You First (2018) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

In her latest standalone novel Carter brings together her signature combination of girl power adventure with the unforgiving Alaskan landscape. Maddie already knows that everything in Alaska wants to kill you from the weather to the wildlife so she’s ready when actual Russian gunmen are thrown into the mix. Maddie is a tough-talking heroine who uses bravado to hide her vulnerability and sparkles to hide her abilities. After all, no one ever over-estimates a flighty teenage girl, right?

In contrast to Maddie’s muscle and might, Logan is the one who needs rescuing. He is a quick thinker with a photographic memory. But it turns out that can only take him so far against a loaded gun and everything else Alaska has to throw at him.

Not If I Save You First is filled with action, chases, flirting, and just a little kissing. An unusual setting, some of my favorite characters, and a fast-paced story make this a must read. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a new adventure and an obvious choice for fans of the author.

Possible Pairings: All-American Girl by Meg Cabot, Right Where You Left Me by Calla Devlin, You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando, Liberty: The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me by Andrea Portes,  I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

All Fall Down: A Review

All Fall Down by Ally CarterIt has been three years since Grace has seen her ambassador grandfather or set foot in the country of Adria. Now, with nowhere else to go, Grace is once again home at the American Embassy in the city of Valancia.

Three years is a long time to be away, but distance has done nothing to dampen the painful memories of her mother’s death. In fact, returning to her mother’s childhood home only brings it all back in painful detail.

Returning to Valancia, Grace is more convinced than ever that her mother was murdered; even more convinced that she has to do everything she can to find the killer and make him pay.

Until then Grace has not one but two annoyingly present boys to deal with and a mess of secrets to untangle as she hunts for the truth.

Living on Embassy Row among the other international embassies is like living on a very thin ledge where one wrong move can push Grace over forever in All Fall Down (2014) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

All Fall Down is the first book in Carter’s Embassy Row series.

It’s hard sometimes to reconcile immeasurably high hopes for a book with the reality of reading said book. Ally Carter has already received wide (and well-deserved) acclaim for her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society novels as well as legions of loyal fans.

All Fall Down marks a dramatically different direction for Carter’s writing. Grace is still a witty and sharp narrator but she is also abrasive. Grace is also rash to the point of being reckless, something that can rarely be said for Carter’s other heroines. The pain and grief of her mother’s death is fresh and palpable throughout the novel. The sense of loss and regret is often so palpable that it is hard to read through.

In many ways, All Fall Down feels like the natural progression for Carter’s writing career as she continues to push her prose and her protagonists in new directions. The writing remains excellent and evocative as Grace delves into her new surroundings as well as a not-so-new mystery.

While the plot sounds sleek and polished, All Fall Down is much grittier with as many raw edges as Grace herself. Unfortunately, this darker tone also lessens the charm and humor readers familiar with Carter’s previous YA novels might expect to find here.

Unfortunately, with such a radically new premise (not to mention a country entirely of Carter’s own invention) almost all of All Fall Down is setup. Some parts of the initial plot are resolved but many are left dangling to be pursued in later installments. Instead of a start to a new series, this book feels more like a supplementary prequel as readers are left waiting for the actual story to start.

All Fall Down does once again highlight what Carter does so very well as she moves in an entirely new direction. A promising start to a new series for fans of thrillers and twisty suspense novels.

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Dial M for Murder by Marni Bates, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

Perfect Scoundrels: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally CarterTwo years ago–before Katarina Bishop put together her own heist society and robbed the most secure museum in the world–Kat tried to steal a Monet. Except it was a fake. And instead of a painting she wound up stealing a boy who happily threw himself into Kat’s world.

Stolen or not, W. W. Hale the Fifth isn’t a part of Kat’s world. Not really.

When Hale unexpectedly inherits his grandmother’s billion dollar company, Kat realizes it was, perhaps, inevitable that Hale would eventually return to his own world of wealth and privilege–the one place Kat can’t follow.

Things get worse when Kat learns Hale might be a mark in an elaborate con instead of an unlikely heir.

Saving Hale and his company could be impossible. But Kat’s been told a lot of things are impossible in her short life. And her family is behind her all the way. The only problem is saving Hale Industries may not be the same thing as saving her Hale. And if Kat has to choose, she isn’t sure there is a right answer in Perfect Scoundrels (2013) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Perfect Scoundrels is the third book in Carter’s Heist Society series. It is preceded by Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals. (There is also an e-novella featuring characters from this series and Carter’s Gallagher Girls series called Double Crossed which is available online.) Set mere months after Kat’s most infamous heist, Perfect Scoundrels takes a small step back from all of the scheming and planning to provide a welcome look at the characters who readers know and love from this series.

Fear not, there are still quite a few heists, cons, and surprises to be found in this installment. The job might be personal but Kat still has plenty of tricks up her sleeve that will surprise her crew as well as readers in a reveal that makes pulling off the perfect job seem effortless as Perfect Scoundrels ticks away to an ending that readers might not see coming. Kat’s singular family also features prominently in the second half of the story when the pace really picks up after a more character-driven start.

Carter’s enviably sleek writing and careful focus on characters and their relationships (particularly Kat and Hale’s evolving one) make Perfect Scoundrels a page-turner with as many laughs as surprises. And it has Bagshaws, of course. Because as Kat’s cousin Gabrielle will tell you, everything is better with Bagshaws.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau by E. Lockhart, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason and Lee Gruenfeld, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series), The Italian Job (movie)

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally CarterLast term Cammie Morgan met her first boyfriend. She also staked out his house, ran surveillance on him, and had to make up a whole entire life just to be with him. Only to be forced to break up with him when he came too close to the truth.

Cammie is a Gallagher Girl, a student at the prestigious Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women–young women who plan to be spies that is.

After dating and losing the one boy who saw her as more than “the Chameleon” she usually is at school Cammie is back for a new term ready to once again blend in. She even plans to follow the rules this time.

But things are different at the Gallagher Academy. New security measures. Mysterious guests. A new op code named “Blackthorne.” And those are just the beginning of Cammie’s problems as everything she thought she knew as a Gallagher Girl is put to the test in Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (2007) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy is the second book in Carter’s Gallagher Girl series which began with I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You.

When I finished the first book in this series, I was not sure if I would keep reading. The premise–a boarding school for spies in training–was genius. Cammie and her friends were likable and authentic in a way that only girl geniuses learning to become spies can. Still, something never clicked in that first volume where Cammie spent all her time obsessing about . . . a boy.

Nonetheless, this was a series I wanted to like. So when I heard the end of the series arc was slated for book 6, I decided to give Cammie and the Gallagher Academy another chance.

I’m so glad I did.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy has everything I wanted from I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You and then some. New characters, new challenges, plus lots of action and humor make this book a winner. While the book follows in the same vein as the first of the series, Carter keeps things fresh with twists and turns (and did I mention the new characters?!) that keep both the reader and Cammie on their toes.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller, Divergent by Veronica Roth, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Uncommon Criminals: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Uncommon Criminals by Ally CarterFifteen-year-old Katarina Bishop is a small girl with dark hair and bright blue eyes. She is also the girl that, mere months before, robbed the Henley–the greatest, and arguably most secure, museum in the world.

But Kat isn’t a thief. Not anymore. At least not exactly. Think of a her as more of a return artist, a righter of wrongs maybe.

When Kat is asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald she can’t say no. Not when the Cleopatra has been waiting years to be returned to its rightful owner. Yes, the Cleopatra hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Yes, it is essentially a concrete symbol of the doomed love between Cleopatra and Antony. Yes, there are rumors that the stone is cursed. And a history of jobs involving the Cleopatra Emerald going bad. Really bad.

But Kat is smarter than that. And curses aren’t real, not that the Cleopatra is cursed. There has to be some other, logical, reason for why the world’s most famous emerald is bringing Kat and her crew nothing but trouble, right?

Either way, before this job is over Kat is going to have take a long hard look at who she is and what she does because all of her old tricks–the tricks her family has been using for centuries–are useless this time. This job is going to require something different. Good thing Kat and her crew are anything but ordinary in Uncommon Criminals (2011) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Uncommon Criminals is the sequel to Carter’s delightful Heist Society and the second in what she has stated on her site will be an ongoing series featuring Kat, her crew, and her inimitable family.

Heist Society was a smashing introduction to the world (and crew) of Katarina Bishop. The writing was sleek, smart and elegant. The  story was well-paced, original and exciting. It was the kind of book where a sequel could go horribly wrong. Or it could be just as amazing as the first.

Turns out Uncommon Criminals not only held up to the standards set Heisty Society, in a lot of ways it exceeded those standards.

Filled with several surprising twists, a cunning foe, and all of the characters readers loved in Heist Society (like Hale and Gabrielle), Uncommon Criminals is another great installment about Kat’s exploits. At the same time this book also deals with what it means to be a thief and, for Kat, what it means to be a part of her family. The con itself, and Carter’s beautiful writing, are deceptively simple here making Kat’s plans and the writing itself seem effortless.

Uncommon Criminals is a quirky, sophisticated page-turner that will leave readers guessing until its clever conclusion (and eager for another installment about Kat, Hale and the rest of the team).

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau by E. Lockhart, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason and Lee Gruenfeld, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series), The Italian Job (movie)

*This book was acquired at BEA 2011

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally CarterCammie Morgan is used to blending in and even feeling like she disappears. She goes to a school where that kind of thing is considered cool.

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a private boarding school for geniuses looking to realize their full potential. As spies.

Of course the students are free to pursue any career that befits their exceptional educations. But when that education includes advanced encryption, learning fourteen languages and advanced martial arts . . . well let’s just say it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what it means.

At the start of her sophomore year at the Gallagher Academy Cammie learns that Gallagher Girls might know how to tap phones, surveil, and hack computers but when it comes to being a normal teenager their educations are sorely lacking. Turns out sometimes, even for a genius, being a girl spy really is more about being a girl than a spy in I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (2006) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You is the first book in Carter’s Gallagher Girls series.

This book is a fun blend of girl power action, humor, cool spy tech and just a fun story. Cammie and her friends are exceptionally fun to read about. Carter hits the perfect blend between fun and serious as well as realistic and old fashioned made up details (two words: Napitime patches).

Though not quite as sleek as her later novel Heist Society, this book does have a frank, honest style fitting for a book filled with characters keeping secrets. The middle of the story was a bit frustrating, but maybe ultimately authentic, as Cammie struggles to determine her priorities and her own place as a Gallagher Girl.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You isn’t quite a fantasy (in the same way that James Bond movies are not quite fantasy but kind of are) but Carter’s world building is fantastic. Cammie’s evocative narration will draw readers right into the dangerous, exciting world of the Gallagher Girls in this story that is equal parts Bildungsroman, adventure and fun.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller, Divergent by Veronica Roth, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Ten for 2010

In no particular order, my ten favorite books from 2010:

  1. Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson: Scarlett is still living in a NYC hotel and her life is about to get way more insane when her boss Mrs. Amberson gives her the unenviable job of befriending an annoyingly perfect young Broadway star. Add to that said star’s especially annoying brother, Max, and you have a recipe for disaster.
  2. Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows a lot about stealing. So much, in fact, that she managed to steal herself a normal life. That was before she had to leave that life to clear her father of the one robbery he really didn’t commit.
  3. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner: Sophos never wanted to be King of Sounis. But after he is abducted and presumed dead by his kingdom, Sophos realizes that responsibilities very rarely care about wants.
  4. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: The people of Lumatere are scattered, some trapped inside the kingdom walls while others live as exiles, haunted by the ghosts of their tragic past. But there might be hope. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock.
  5. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: Nothing leaves Incarceron and nothing enters. No one knows where the prison is or how to get to it. So why does Finn suspect he has a life Outside the Prison? And why does Claudia have a key that seems to let her talk to Finn–a prisoner Inside?
  6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: Tessa Gray travels to London wanting to find her brother and start a new life. Instead she is dragged into the world of Shadowhunters and London’s Downworld–people with mysterious powers not of this world.
  7. A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: Charlie Duskin and Rose Butler have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for.
  8. The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan: Mae struggles to protect her brother Jamie from the warlocks who want to exploit his power. The enigmatic Ryves brothers are willing to help–if they can overcome their own demons first.
  9. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: Duh, who doesn’t have this one on their list? Do I even need to blurb it?
  10. White Cat by Holly Black: Cassel Sharpe is perfectly content being the straight arrow, ordinary guy in a family of crooked curse workers. That is when he’s not being followed by a white cat that reminds him a lot of his best friend Lila–the girl he killed three years ago.

Is it still early in the year? Yes. That said, these are my favorites so far. Maybe before the year is out there will be more but I’m not expecting it simply because there isn’t that much time to read more books from 2010. Who knows? Maybe this will end up being my top eleven or twelve.

Heist Society: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Katarina Bishop grew up all over Europe, but she isn’t an heiress. She has a Faberge egg, but she isn’t a Romanov. Kat is used to looking at a room and seeing all the angles, but that was before she stole a whole other life at the Colgan School only to walk away from it months later without a trace.

That was before everything went sideways.

While Kat was busy trying to steal a new, legit, life the family business prospered. When a powerful mobster’s priceless art collection goes missing it isn’t all that surprising that Kat’s father is on the list of suspects. It isn’t even surprising that he is the entire list of suspects.

The only problem is the mobster wants his paintings back. And he isn’t taking no for an answer.

Kat has two weeks to find the paintings and steal them back with her own heist society and the help of her friend and long-time co-conspirator W. W. Hale (the fifth). Her pursuit will criss-cross Europe and reunite Kat with some of the most talented teenagers in the world–if, that is, by talent you mean skills like picking pockets, hacking computers, and running a con.

Time is short and the job is monumental but Kat has a crack crew and, hopefully, enough talent to pull off an impossible heist (and maybe right a few wrongs along the way) in Heist Society (2010) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Carter’s writing is poised to dazzle and enthrall right from the first page. Filled with twists, turns, criminals and even some restitution Heist Society is a sleek, clever, and subtle book that somehow exceeded even my (high) expectations.

Heist Society is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and officially in my Ten for 2010 list. I can’t put into words how much I love the cover or how much the writing impressed me. Let’s just say that if I could live in a book, I might want it to be this one. I fell in love with the setting, the characters, and everything else about this little gem.

Stories about criminals and their crimes have been around for years, but never has life on the other side of the law looked this exciting and dangerous all while being glamorous. A must-read for anyone with a little larceny in their soul (or a little love for an old-fashioned heist).

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau by E. Lockhart, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason and Lee Gruenfeld, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series), The Italian Job (movie)