Review: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter

Review: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally CarterPerfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter
Series: Heist Society #3
Published by Hachette Children's Books, Hyperion
Pages: 352
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Heist Society, Uncommon Criminals

Katarina Bishop and W.W. Hale the fifth were born to lead completely different lives: Kat comes from a long, proud line of loveable criminal masterminds, while Hale is the scion of one of the most seemingly perfect dynasties in the world. If their families have one thing in common, it's that they both know how to stay under the radar while getting-or stealing-whatever they want. No matter the risk, the Bishops can always be counted on, but in Hale's family, all bets are off when money is on the line. When Hale unexpectedly inherits his grandmother's billion dollar corporation, he quickly learns that there's no place for Kat and their old heists in his new role. But Kat won't let him go that easily, especially after she gets tipped off that his grandmother's will might have been altered in an elaborate con to steal the company's fortune. So instead of being the heir-this time, Hale might be the mark. Forced to keep a level head as she and her crew fight for one of their own, Kat comes up with an ambitious and far-reaching plan that only the Bishop family would dare attempt. To pull it off, Kat is prepared to do the impossible, but first, she has to decide if she's willing to save her boyfriend's company if it means losing the boy.

Thoughts: Perfect Scoundrels is very nearly perfect – which is still ruddy brilliant.

One of my main issues with the Heist Society series (up till now) had been that there was not enough character development on the Hale side. To be honest, I still hadn’t quite forgiven him for getting Kat kicked out of boarding school in Chapter 1 of Heist Society (I hold a long grudge). But in Perfect Scoundrels we get Hale back story, front story and side story – it’s Hale-a-palooza. And finally I can say that not only do I forgive Hale for the aforementioned Chapter 1 incident, I also rather like him!

Now, along with the Hale-a-palooza, Perfect Scoundrels is still very much a Kat story. She doesn’t have Hale to rely on and every single decision she makes affects him somehow: not easy to choose what is right when it hurts someone you care about.

As for the cons, the heists and whatnot, some of my favourites yet were pulled in Perfect Scoundrels. Heirs returned from the dead, documents were hidden in secret drawers and honest-to-God death-defying stunts were pulled. There was one (which I don’t want to spoil you for) that was slightly obvious, but the rest were just as brilliant as I’ve come to expect from Ally. A-mazing.

On one last character note, I was surprised by how happy I was to see Marcus developed in Perfect Scoundrels. As Hale’s man-servant/butler/back-up, he’s been part of the team since the first book and yet we hardly ever heard a peep out of him. I didn’t know I wanted to know more until Ally Carter suddenly delivered it. Now? I would devour a novella from his POV (in case anyone is listening!).

Bottom line? I’ve loved every one of the Heist Society books – but if you put thought Uncommon Criminals wasn’t quite what you were hoping for, then Perfect Scoundrels will be your come-back book. Pick it up!  you’ll be wanting to pick it back up now. Ever

Note to those of you who think this is the last book in a trilogy: It’s not. Don’t believe me? Ally confirmed it when I interviewed her. Can anyone else say YAY?

Review: Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

Review: Uncommon Criminals by Ally CarterUncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
Series: Heist Society #2
Published by Hachette Children's Books, Hyperion
Pages: 352
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Heist Society, Perfect Scoundrels

Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life: Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners.

There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long — and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous, and that is . . . the emerald is cursed.

Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all, she has her best friend — the gorgeous Hale — and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses and realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time.

Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules.

Thoughts: After the success of Heist Society, I really wasn’t sure how Ally Carter could continue with Katarina’s story. Turns out, Katarina wasn’t sure either.

Unlike Heist Society, which set out to establish the verse and introduce all the fantastic characters (all while carrying out a heist, of course), Uncommon Criminals starts off with characters without a purpose. Kat and her crew have peaked as teenagers: if you’ve just carried out the greatest heist of your career… what do you do next?

That’s not a question anyone wants to answer, but it’s what Kat ends up spending the whole book working out. She also gets knocked down a few pegs: it is rather easy to develop an ego when you really are the smartest person in the room (no matter how nice you may be). And along with all this character development, there is con after con, heist after heist – all of them as clever and entertaining as I’ve come to expect from Carter.

I was also happy that the entire team was reunited. I knew they would be, I knew that they would become a team out of their experience in Heist Society – but it was lovely to see how it was done. I was also overjoyed to see Nick back with the team – I heart Nick the way most people love Hale. He was one of the few characters who wasn’t really welcomed by the gang (other than Kat), so fitting him into the book required a rather ingenious stretch of imagination.

The only thing I wasn’t quite in love with? Hale’s storyline. To be perfectly frank, I’ve never been his biggest fan (don’t shoot me people) as I never really understood why he was there in the first place. So having him sulk about in Uncommon Criminals was just rather tedious. Enough to drag down the rest of the book, to be completely honest.

Bottom line? Great follow-up to the excellent Heist Society, but it didn’t blow me away the way the first book did.

Review: Heist Society by Ally Carter

Review: Heist Society by Ally CarterHeist Society by Ally Carter
Series: Heist Society #1
Published by Hachette Children's Books, Hyperion
Pages: 352
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Uncommon Criminals, Perfect Scoundrels

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the Louvre... to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria... to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help.

For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family's (very crooked) history--and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.

Thoughts: Even though this is the first Ally Carter book I’ve ever read, I’ve been a fan of hers for eons. I like her blog, her twitter and, just, the fact that she went out and pitched “I’ve got a book about teenage thieves a-la-Ocean’s-Eleven, but with a proper gender distribution” to a publisher. And then I loved the fact that people went out and bought it.

So, when I picked up Heist Society, I knew I would enjoy it. What I did not expect was the four-hour reading marathon that would ensue as soon as I picked it up.

I didn’t just “like” it. I loved it.

Ally Carter has a writing style that is deceptively simple. She jumps from country to country, character to character, scene to scene, with the skill of a professional storyteller. She manages to weave in the main character’s complex back story (complete with heists, a dead parent and billionaire BFFs) into an already-tricky heist plot. Ally Carter shows and doesn’t tell. Colour me impressed.

As for her characters, all I can say is: L-O-V-E. I was skeptical at first that there would be any emotional depth to this book… but there is. Lots of it. The main character is a tough, smart, savvy girl, but she is still damaged in a way that you can relate to. She’s not perfect, but she’s is trying really damn hard. I absolutely adored her.

Of course, the most important part of this novel is the heist. It had to be superb; it had to be believable; and it had to be pulled off by teenagers. A tall order, but one that Ally Carter met with flying colours. I won’t give anything away, but suffice to say that she succeeded!

Bottom line? Heist Society is a smart, slick, and surprisingly-moving novel. Pick it up!

Great for fans of: Leverage (TV) and White Collar (TV).

Note about the UK edition: There were a number of unfortunate typos in my copy. Usually this really pisses me off, but I was too distracted by the genius of the writing to fuss too much. Hopefully this will be something that’s cleared up in the next printing.

Review: Last Chance by Sarah Dessen

Review: Last Chance by Sarah DessenLast Chance by Sarah Dessen
Published by Hodder Children's Books, Speak
Pages: 246
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
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Colie expects the worst when she's sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television infomercial, tours Europe. Always an outcast-first for being fat and then for being "easy" - Colie has no friends at home and doesn't expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina. But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Café and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship. Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along.

Published as Keeping the Moon in the US.

Thoughts: Sarah Dessen is one of those authors I’ve heard a lot of rave things about; she’s considered one of the very best Contemporary YA writers. And though I was not over-the-moon for Last Chance, I was certainly hooked on its author.

Last Chance is a novel about overcoming one of the toughest things in life: the terrible perception you have of yourself. The main character, Colie, has had a life of bad experiences – and she’s learnt to expect more of them to come. But while I really loved what Dessen did with Colie over the course of the novel, I can’t say I ever came to love her. She was fine, but I never really “got” who she was. Her main role was as the “doormat”, but taking that away seemed to leave a blank slate.

Which, now that I think of it, might have been what Dessen was going for. I guess Colie was still working out who she was – as a “work in progress”, I guess a blank slate would be just what she wanted. Hmm…

Anyhow, the real standouts of Last Chance are Colie’s supporting cast of characters. There’s Isabel, the bitchy, so-truthful-it-hurts, supermodel-look-a-like waitress who starts off as the main antagonist but slowly becomes the greatest friend you can have (and my favourite character in the novel, to boot). Morgan, the soft-hearted waitress with hearts in her eyes and a quick temper. Mira, the eccentric artist-turned-card-writer who sees a good side to everything – even the most broken of appliances. And Norman, the boy who is written off as an “artist hippie type” but turns out to be the most observant of the lot.

Gorgeous, gorgeous characters. I am going to miss them. And are they worth picking up the book for? In a word: yes.

Bottom line: Overall, a great introduction to Dessen’s writing. While I wish the main character had had a bit more character, her friends more than made up for her.

Review: Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

Review: Chain Reaction by Simone ElkelesChain Reaction by Simone Elkeles
Series: Perfect Chemistry #3
Published by Simon & Schuster, Walker Books for Young Readers
Pages: 308
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Rules of Attraction, Perfect Chemistry

Like his brothers, Luis Fuentes is a risk taker; whether he’s scaling the Rocky Mountains or dreaming of a future as an astronaut, Luis is always looking for the next thrill. Nikki Cruz lives her life by certain rules -, don’t trust a boy who says “I love you”, boys lie to get their own way and never date a boy from the south side of Fairfield. Then she meets Luis at his brother Alex’s wedding and suddenly she’s tempted to break all her rules. Getting Nikki to give him a chance is Luis’s biggest challenge, until he finds himself targeted by the head of the gang that nearly destroyed his brothers’ lives. Will Luis’s feelings for Nikki be enough to stop him from entering a dark and violent world that could prove to be the ultimate risk?

Thoughts: I really enjoyed the first books in this trilogy, Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction – they were extremely readable books that starred some surprisingly fleshed out characters. And while Chain Reaction was certainly readable, it’s characters were some of the most one-dimensional I’ve read in a long while. In fandom, we would have called this book “crack” – the kind of story that is just so unbelievably terrible, and is yet extremely addictive. The one where Spock is pregnant with Uhura’s lovechild and decides to run away on the TARDIS. This was that kind of story.

None of the new characters in this book made a lick of sense: Luis is a “good boy”, but spend the last 50 or so pages oscillating between crazy and crazy with love of violence. While Nikki… ick. I don’t even want to get into her. This girl had zero character and was completely defined by a traumatic experience. While I kinda “get” why Elkeles might want to traumatize her characters, you’ve got to give me more than just that if you want me to actually like them. *stabs them both*

Seriously, if it hadn’t been such a fan of Rules of Attraction, I would never have finished this thing.

Bottom line? Disappointing ending to an otherwise entertaining series; Perfect Chemistry’s  Breaking Dawn, if you will.

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