Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerThese Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner
Series: Starbound #1
Published by Hyperion
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: This Shattered World

It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

Thoughts: I adored this book. I savoured every page, every word, every scene. It has almost single-handedly changed my view of Science Fiction YA (just a week after I proclaimed my distrust of the genre – though I am not quite a convert yet).

These Broken Stars was not what I expected. In the spirit of the best science fiction, the novel incorporates socially-resonate themes elements into a classic tale. It is a story about social classes, corporate cover-ups and exploitation – but all in the context of a star-crossed, enemies-to-lovers romance. In short: it is my definition of a good sci-fi book.

While reading this book, I posted on goodreads that I had found my YA version of Grimspace (Ann Aguirre). I stick to that assessment. While the plots are nothing alike, both books have a certain je ne sais qoui to them that makes me feel like they are in similar verses or perhaps have the same author (Spooner and Kaufman could be Aguirre’s long-lost cousins? Well… it’s a theory). Either way, I really can think of no higher compliment than this comparison. It’s just as fierce, but with more party dresses.

On to a few specifics: These Broken Stars is a duo-narrative book, so the romance vibe is pretty apparent from the beginning. But I wouldn’t say the relationship is the sole focus of this book. The characters are fighting to survive, fighting to stay sane… it’s not until the end that they are fighting for each other. Not only did this focus make the  relationship more realistic, it gave the authors a lot more page-time to focus on the plot… something I really appreciated.

Besides the realistic romance, I loved the culture in These Broken Stars. It felt almost like the monarchical, Victorian age – where fancy dress and poetry made headline news. But instead of a monarchy, this universe is run by corporations and militaries. I loved how both characters never really challenged this establishment, but both actively hated it. They don’t start a Katniss-style revolution (and hey, their lives really aren’t as bad), but they do stir the pot. I am hoping for a bit more “fight the system” spirit in the next book.

These Broken Stars is the first book in a trilogy, but the next books do not centre around these same characters. In a similar vein to Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, each book is set in the same universe but focusses on different characters. I think I kind of love this trend for series, as I think it gives the author a wee bit more focus. Always a good thing!

Bottom line? These Broken Stars is a unique novel in the YA section. Romantic, political and with a side of high-tech science fiction goodness. I can’t recommend it enough.

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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Rating:
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.

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