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: 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: 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?

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