Review: United We Spy by Ally Carter

Review: United We Spy by Ally CarterUnited We Spy by Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #6
Published by Hyperion on 2013-09-05
Pages: 304
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Only the Good Spy Young, Out of Sight, Out of Time

Cammie Morgan has lost her father and her memory, but in the heart-pounding conclusion to the best-selling Gallagher Girls series, she finds her greatest mission yet. Cammie and her friends finally know why the terrorist organization called the Circle of Cavan has been hunting her. Now the spy girls and Zach must track down the Circle’s elite members to stop them before they implement a master plan that will change Cammie—and her country—forever.

When I started the Gallagher Girls books, I never thought it would end with this – with its young girls developing into gloriously three-dimensional characters who have found their place in the world. They’ve gone through so much and are going to kick serious butt as adults.

United We Spy is exactly what you want from a last-in-the-series. Ally Carter doesn’t do a complete 180 and change everything; she doesn’t start killing everyone off left and right; she doesn’t leave over half the questions you had unanswered; and – most importantly – she doesn’t contain the character too tightly at the end. Writing a far-in-the-future epilogue can be done well (see the Razorland series by Ann Aguirre for a great example of that) but usually it just comes off as cheesy. At worst, it can really make people angry! None of that was here and the Gallagher Girls wrap up their books the way they were taught: super-secret and super-awesome.

I won’t say anything more than that, to avoid spoiling plot points for those of you who haven’t read any of the books. If that’s you, just know this: these superficially light reads have more heart, more depth and more meaning than most novels I read. I wouldn’t have believed this based off the first book but it is 100% the case. I teared up like a nut as United We Spy came to a close – and I’ll bet you you will too.

Bottom line? A supremely satisfying end to a surprisingly fantastic series.

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: 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: The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

Review: The Realm of Possibility by David LevithanThe Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
Published by Penguin Random House
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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One school. Twenty voices.

Endless possibilities.

There's the girl who is in love with Holden Caulfield. The boy who wants to be strong who falls for the girl who's convinced she needs to be weak. The girl who writes love songs for a girl she can't have. The two boys teetering on the brink of their first anniversary. And everyone in between.

As he did in the highly acclaimed Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan gives us a world of unforgettable voices that readers will want to visit again and again. It's the realm of possibility open to us all - where love, joy, and the stories we tell will linger.

Thoughts: One of the reasons I have many 3 and 4 star reviews on Dead Book Darling has nothing to do with all books being awesome. The opposite, in fact; about 40% of books I pick up I dislike intensely. Normally I don’t end up sticking around to see them end because I have better things to waste my time on.

Then a book like The Realm of Possibility comes along. A book that makes you want to pull out your hair and puck out your eyes in despair – but, hey, it’s short. You might as well finish the torture and then delete the memory from your brain.

In case I haven’t given the game away: I did not like this book.

David Levithan is trying too damn hard to be “one of the kids” while still preaching morality. Now, that would be fine if he could pull it off. His Boy Meets Boy does exactly the same thing, only the writing is good and the characters are well developed. The Realm of Possibility just isn’t well written.

The poetry is just… bad. The song “lyrics” are bad. The prose would have been… fine, if it hadn’t been for the obsession with formatting. All 800 of the characters might have been rather interesting, except they get about 3 pages a piece. It’s like Levithan followed an online how-to-write-in-verse and didn’t realise that his novel-writing skills would not translate. Give the man one of those gold stars saying “you tried, but please never try again”.

Just because you want to be progressive and write about LGBT characters does not automatically make your writing good. Just because you want to be inclusive and write about eating disorders does not make everything that comes out of pen gold. Nothing about this book felt genuine, While I applaud David Levithan for his good intentions, his execution just… sucked.

Bottom line? The Realm of Possibility has a vomit-inducing pretentiousness about it. Good intentions do not a good book make.

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