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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

Eleven for 2011

2011 was a big year for me and the blog–lots of changes and lots of new milestones. I started posting author interviews, I was quoted on a real live book, the blog turned four. I even started tagging my posts! Since I really enjoyed sharing my top books from 2010 (and since it seemed like a fitting way to close out the year on the blog) I give you my eleven favorite books from 2011:

  1. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta: This was one of my most anticipated books for 2011. Aside from being by Melina Marchetta–it’s a companion to one of my all-time favorite books Saving Francesca. Given its spot on this list, you can probably guess that it lived up to my high expectations.
  2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Maggie Stiefvater is one of the most personable authors I’ve ever encountered at a signing. When I got a copy of this book at BEA all I really knew was that everyone was excited about it and there were horses. But it’s so much more that than. A truly charming fantasy that fans of Diana Wynne Jones would do well to pick up.
  3. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: Judy Blundell’s books are magic with their blend of noir, historical detail and New York City atmosphere. In addition to having one of my favorite covers, it also has my favorite last line of 2011.
  4. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld: If you read this blog regularly, you probably know my love for steampunk already. I loved Westerfeld’s books before this series but this wonderful conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy clinched it’s spot as my favorite of his series. Definitely my most-loved sequel this year.
  5. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: After The Piper’s Son, this book might have been my most anticipated 2011 release. It also played a huge role in getting me and Nicole over to Book Expo America for the first time. Sleek and smart, this book reminded me why Carter’s Heist Society books are my favorite ongoing series.
  6. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: (I didn’t want to put one author on this list twice but I should say that The Last Little Blue Envelope also garnered an honorable mention for being a sequel I loved more than the original book.) Eerie, suspenseful, funny and witty this book really showed Maureen Johnson at the top of her game. Also, it had Stephen–best character EVER.
  7. Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: This book was a big part of my year as I was quoted on the galley copies (very exciting!). I love all of MacCullough’s books but this one combined a lot of most beloved elements with magic, time travel, history and New York City all in one slim volume full of fun.
  8. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin: A clever take on fantasy in a dystopian setting complete with illegal chocolate. The whole book felt so real and evocative with characters that stay with you–I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
  9. Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: Zombies, steampunk, action, and romance! What more do you need for a fun, clever read?
  10. So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti: I feel like my summer was closely tied to this book as Nicole and I kept running into Ms. Colasanti at numerous signings and events promoting this book. Set in my own neighborhood, this romantic story was as much fun to read for the settings as it was for the characters and the story.
  11. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: Who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice? This delightful retelling stays true to the original while adding fun twists to make it modern and unique. In addition to being my first Eulberg book, seeing Ms. Eulberg read from this one confirmed that I really, really want Elizabeth Eulberg to be my BFF.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to publish this post without mentioning this book as it was another highly anticipated book. (Not to mention that I finally got to see SRB at a signing!)
  • Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: This will probably be the last book I read in 2011 and is part of my other favorite steampunk series (besides Leviathan). I haven’t reviewed it yet but it’s awesome so far!

I limited myself to books I read in 2011 that were published in 2011–but there were a lot of other great ones. There were actually a lot just from 2011 but I committed to eleven books so eleven books is all you get, dear readers.

Here’s to another year of great things for all of us and, of course, great books too in 2012!

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.

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 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.

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