Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Review: All Fall Down by Ally CarterAll Fall Down by Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row #1
Published by Orchard Books, Scholastic on 2015-01-20
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things: 1. She is not crazy. 2. Her mother was murdered. 3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her -- so there's no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands. Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts.

But they can't control Grace -- no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt.

Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

Thoughts: Remember that Pringles ad back in the 90s? “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!” Well – that’s how I feel about Ally Carter’s books. They are all such entertaining, clever novels – once I open one, I want to devour it all in a single go!

All Fall Down is the first completely new book Ally Carter has released in a few years. With no Kat or Cammie, there was a bit of nervousness  from fans about the book. They needn’t have worried. While very different, the Embassy Row series will feel at home on the shelf next to the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society novels. All the books have the same teenage Ocean’s Eleven meets James Bond feel to them (aka my perfect mix).

But while similar in feel, All Fall Down is a darker book. For starters, our main character – Grace – is extremely screwed up. She’s living on the edge of sanity, and you can never be certain if you can trust her or her judgement. Hell, she doesn’t trust her own judgement half of the time. I was reminded of the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls series (Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter), where the main mystery is the one going on inside our heroine’s head. Great stuff.

I also adored the political atmosphere on Embassy Row. It was like adding Homeland to the Ocean’s Eleven/James Bond mix. What happens when a half-Israeli kid wanders over onto the Iranian embassy during a party? What if the boy you like is being told to sever “diplomatic relations” with your country? How can you go about having a mental breakdown when you are stuck at a party with royalty? In short: all the regular teenage drama, but with added political goodness.

But one frustrating little thing… the ending. There is one hell of a reveal which left me going “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” and then…. nothing!! I mean, of course I want to read the next book to find out what happens next but… WHAT?

Bottom line? This is a 4/4.5 star book with an enormously frustrating ending. That being said, it is an absolute must for YA fans… though I recommend buying it now, but reading it once you have the second book in your hands… Just a thought!

Review: Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate

Review: Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine ApplegateEve and Adam by Katherine Applegate, Michael Grant
Published by Macmillan on 2012-10-02
Pages: 291
Genres: Science Fiction YA
Source: Purchased myself
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And girl created boy…

In the beginning, there was an apple—

And then there was a car crash, a horrible injury, and a hospital. But before Evening Spiker’s head clears a strange boy named Solo is rushing her to her mother’s research facility. There, under the best care available, Eve is left alone to heal.

Just when Eve thinks she will die—not from her injuries, but from boredom—her mother gives her a special project: Create the perfect boy.

Using an amazingly detailed simulation, Eve starts building a boy from the ground up. Eve is creating Adam. And he will be just perfect... won’t he?

I was quite apprehensive about reading to read Eve & Adam! I adored Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant’s Animorphs series growing up, as well as her Everworld series (click to read my rave of their books). They were some of the authors responsible for making me such a voracious reader. So… picking up one of their novels as an adult? That made me nervous! What if it was terrible??

I need not have worried – it was fab. Eve & Adam reminded me of why I loved their work as a kid. Grant and Applegate have a dark but optimistic view of the world. They never worried about making good people do bad things – or letting bad people be responsible for good. It’s a hard message to get across but they manage every time. Eve & Adam had that message in spades and, just as I did when I was 7, I loved reading about the conflict it created.

Eve & Adam explores ethics in a way only science fiction can. Are we allowed to play God? When can its benefits outweigh the suffering caused? Always? Sometimes? Never when it comes to humans, but Always when it comes to animals? What if it is your mother you have to judge? What if she is both God and the devil? Which of these roles is defines her more? Grant and Applegate don’t preach the answers to these questions, rather they let the characters explore both sides for themselves. It was really well done.

That being said, the book did feel a bit rushed. There is a lot crammed into this book  – hell, we don’t even meet Adam until the last quarter of the novel! And since timing was an issue, there weren’t as many “character moments” as I would have liked. While I enjoyed the narrators, I didn’t care too much about any of them. And when a romantic triangle popped its head out towards the last part of the book? I didn’t really care either way. I would have, I’m sure, had the book been spread out in a duology. Unfortunately, the lack of “feels” brought my rating down by half a star…

Bottom line? If you like thought-provoking YA novels or enjoy science fiction of any kind, you’ll enjoy Eve & Adam.

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel HawkinsHex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Series: Hex Hall #1
Published by Disney Publishing on 2010-05-29
Pages: 336
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father„an elusive European warlock„only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

I expected a lot from Hex Hall. I thought it would be funny and smart and a warm, cosy, awesome read. So maybe my expectations were set a bit too high… because while I enjoyed it? I am not sure I’ll be running out to buy book 2.

Let’s start off with the good things: I LOVED the boarding school aspect. Call it a symptom of a Harry Potter generation, but there is nothing in the world I enjoy more than the teenagers-dealing-with-important-things-at-school!trope. Hex Hall had plenty of that and, I admit, that was a blast.

While I would have liked to have stayed in class, Hex Hall was far more focussed more on the extracurricular elements of the school. There was a pretty good mystery keeping the plot rolling (A murderer is loose! Is it my roommate? She does drink blood! Whatever shall we do?!). I found myself quite invested in protecting BFF!Vampire!Jenna. Her determination to stay as human as possible despite the horrible things that have happened to her… it was quite inspiring.

But where the book really let me down was in the romance department. We are introduced to standard bad-boy Archer early on, and while Sophie starts out hating him she gives up on that unfortunately quickly. Oh! And now that she has a crush? He’s taken. Of course he is.

I am sick to death of the “I love him but his girlfriend is a bitch!” set-up. It drives me up the wall. Either your One True Love is as perfect as you think, in which case there is probably something awesome about his girlfriend you don’t know about – or he really is the jerkface he plays and they deserve each other. I am NOT a fan of reading about girls hating each other over some guy. Not to mention the fact that Archer is so, so not worth an iota of swooning.

Bottom line? Hex Hall is a fun, quick read – but the love triangle thing really bothered me. I may pick up book 2 someday… maybe.

Review: Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter

Review: Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally CarterOut of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #5
Published by Hyperion on 2012-03-13
Pages: 304
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Only the Good Spy Young, United We Spy

The fifth sassy installment in Ally Carter's best-selling spy-school series delivers the most nerve-wracking, high-stakes adventure yet! The last thing Cammie Morgan remembers is leaving the Gallagher Academy to protect her friends and family. But when Cammie wakes up in an alpine convent and discovers months have passed, her memory is a black hole. The only traces left of Cammie's summer vacation are the bruises on her body and dirt under her nails. All she wants is to go home. But even the Gallagher Academy now holds more questions than answers as Cammie and her friends face their most difficult challenge. With only their training and a few clues to guide them, the girls go in search of answers on the other side of the world. But the Circle is hot on their trail and will stop at nothing to prevent Cammie from remembering what she did last summer.

Thoughts: When I started the Gallagher Girl books, I was entertained but not exactly fulfilled. They felt like young, fun books that straddled the line between Middle Grade and Young Adult.

But as the characters have matured, so have the content and the writing. These have turned serious, meaty books that deal with a lot more than just teenage shenanigans. The change was gradual and it was only in Out of Sight, Out of Time that I really felt it come through. Needless to say, I am a big fan!

Out of Sight, Out of Time is by far my favourite in the series. The novel opens with an amnesiac Cammie being tended to by Austrian nuns – so right from the start I knew I was going to be in for a treat. You’d think the amnesia trope would be too cliché to handle, but instead it gave the book an overarching mystery that I really enjoyed. What happened to Cammie? How did she suddenly become a bad-ass warrior? What did Bex and Zach get up to while Cammie was away? ALL THE QUESTIONS.

Not only did Ally Carter deliver a fantastic mystery, she wrapped it up in a kick-ass ending. This book had me salivating for the next (I managed to delay the satisfaction of starting that one… by 2 whole days).

Bottom line? If you gave up on the Gallagher series during the first few books, please reconsider! They get plottier and more awesome as they go on.

Favourite Quote: 

Townsend made a note, and I remembered the immortal advice of Joe Solomon that, at its heart, being a spy is boring.

The older I got, the smarter my teachers became.

– Chapter 26

Review: Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter

Review: Only the Good Spy Young by Ally CarterOnly the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #4
Published by Hyperion on 2010
Pages: 273
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Out of Sight, Out of Time, United We Spy

When Cammie Morgan enrolled at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, she knew she was preparing for the dangerous life of a spy. She just didn't know that life would start during her junior year of high school. But that's exactly what happened when Cammie faced off against a mysterious organisation called the Circle of Cavan.

Now even Cammie 'the Chemeleon' can't hide. Danger has followed her to London where she discovers one of her most trusted allies has been labelled a double agent. The Gallagher Girls quickly realise that the Circle's agents are closer than they'd feared - maybe even within the Gallagher Academy's own walls. Cammie and her room mates must call upon old friends if they want to find the traitor at their beloved school before it's too late.

Thoughts: I’m surprised every time I pick up a Gallagher Girls book. It always starts off the same:

  • Page 2: My god these characters are juvenile.
  • Page 3: Honestly, how many excited can anyone possibly get about a teenaged boy?
  • Page 5: OK WOW. Everything just got real really fast – the world is a lie, and everyone is a liar – this is life/death here, people!

In other words, Ally Carter manages to make the Gallagher Girls real teenagers (worried about nails, and boys, and their homework) while still involving them in life-or-death scenarios. To make things even better, there is are about 10 underlying mysteries that have been woven through the series. With each book we get more revelations that often lead to more questions than answers. I’m reminded – bizarrely enough – of the Harry Potter books. Of how no one would answer Harry’s questions because of his age – but his age, determination and friends were what gave him the ability to succeed where grown-ups failed. Same goes for Cammie.

Only the Good Spy Young gave me so many answers I’m been waiting for! We find out more about Mr. Solomon (oh, Mr. Solomon), Blackthorne Institute and – shockingly enough – Zach (oh, Zach). Read it to find out, but I let me just say I loved it all. Each revelation made the books grittier and darker – always an improvement, in my mind!

But, most of all, I loved what Cammie did as she uncovered each new piece of information. She was smart and logical while still recognizing her emotions. She discussed it with her friends and didn’t just fall into a boy’s arms. YA heroines could learn a lot from Cammie – she was a Gallagher Girl through and through.

Bottom line? This series gets better and better with every book: darker, more complicated and utterly kick-ass. They are light reads but highly enjoyable.

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #1
Published by Penguin on 2012-12-31
Pages: 384
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Burns

When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up these magical problems. But when Kate's guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta's magic circles.

The Masters of the Dead, necromancers who can control vampires, and the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, blame each other for a series of bizarre killings—and the death of Kate's guardian may be part of the same mystery. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she's way out of her league—but she wouldn't have it any other way…

Thoughts: People have been nagging me to read the Kate Daniels series for years. I distinctly remember a friend sneaking the first book into my basket at Forbidden Planet way back in 2010. “You love Patricia Briggs,” they said, “so you’ll love Ilona Andrews.” I am glad to say they were right! As Magic Bites was this month’s pick on the VF Goodreads group, I finally had a great excuse to start reading it. Now I am thrilled to have found a new series to love!

Let me start off with the “negative”: Magic Bites could be called stereotypical urban fantasy. It features a badass-yet-vulnerable!female heroine, a murder mystery and a whole lot of scary-hot!shapeshifters. If you aren’t a fan of those things – or if you are fed up with seeing them over and over in your books – you might be put off by Magic Bites. I for one don’t mind a stereotype if it is well executed – which is exactly what Magic Bites succeeds in.

On to the good: the world building in this verse is fantastic. Set in a world where technology no longer dominates and magic has resurfaced after a 4000 year break, the book merges familiar elements of our world with some old-fashioned elements. What if you could no longer rely on your car because “magic” kicks in at noon? Well, it makes sense to go out and get a steed. Rich men ride Mustangs, but not the type with an engine. I just… love that!

Magic Bites throws you straight into this universe with little explanation. This technique can sometimes backfire, but for me, it made uncovering the details and politics all the more exciting. To be honest, that was the most interesting part of the whole book, as the murder mystery was somewhat lackluster. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting, rather I was not yet invested in the characters enough to really care whether they succeeded.

But the great potential here for me to fall in love with the characters. Kate Daniels is snarky in that charming way – sending a saucer of milk instead of a cocktail to the local pack’s head were-lion. While Curran, the aforementioned cat, seems to have a lovely sense of humour underneath all his macho-alphaness. I can easily see how – with a bit more exposure – they could become favourites.

Bottom line? Magic Bites sets up a fantastically complex and original universe that I am eager to explore. While I don’t quite have that emotional pull towards the characters, I can see the potential and cannot wait to start the next book.

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