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: 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.

Review: Before I Wake by Rachel Vincent

Review: Before I Wake by Rachel VincentBefore I Wake by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #6
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 346
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save, My Soul to Keep, My Soul to Steal, If I Die, With All My Soul

Spoilers for previous books! Covering up her own murder was one thing, but faking life is much harder than Kaylee Cavanaugh expected. After weeks spent "recovering," she's back in school, fighting to stay visible to the human world, struggling to fit in with her friends and planning time alone with her new reaper boyfriend.

But to earn her keep in the human world, Kaylee must reclaim stolen souls, and when her first assignment brings her face-to-face with an old foe, she knows the game has changed. Her immortal status won't keep her safe. And this time Kaylee isn't just gambling with her own life….

Thoughts: Before I Wake was just an absolute treat. We’re six books into the Soul Screamers series now, and I can firmly state that none of the characters we met in the first book are the same – Kaylee most of all.

And thank God for that! Kaylee is one of those characters that has rather frustrated me over the years. She always feels pathologically responsible for the decisions of others – which leads to books and books of guilt, guilt, guilt. It’s been frustrating beyond belief.

But her death in If I Die and her break up with Nash have, well, made Kaylee grow up. This is rather sad, in a way. A lot of reviewers have commented on how they felt sorry for Kaylee in this book, that she was so depressed and that it was sad to see her that way. I understand where they are coming from. After all, she died. She can’t just “get over” that. But I happen to think that overcoming her death made her grow as a person – even if she’s not the same (happier?) girl we met in the first book. Bad things happen and they suck – but that’s part of growing up and sometimes people can come out the better because of them.

Gosh, that was maudlin.

Anyhow, I also loved what Vincent did with everyone else in this book. I very nearly felt sorry for Nash in this book (an absolute first for me, devoted anti-Nash fan that I am), and I certainly felt for Sabine (who I’ve always liked despite her insanity). Both Sabine and Nash have to deal with their own fallout from Kaylee getting together with Tod, not to mention Nash’s never-ending addiction problems. I am so glad I am not reading a book from their POV, because that would be epically woeful.

Vincent also went all out plot-wise. The ending of Before I Wake was an absolute shocker and all I could think was, “wow”. Love that this series can still surprise – considering all the bombs Vincent has dropped in this series, you’d think we’d see it all coming! But no… she’s still got us on tenterhooks.

Best for last: Tod. He remains one of my favourite characters ever and fortunately there is plenty of him in this book! I don’t want to give a single thing away, so all I will say is this: every word out of that boy’s mouth was a bloody gift.

Bottom line? While not quite as stellar as stellar as If I Die, but up there. I cannot wait for the seventh and final book in this series: With All My Soul.

Review: River Marked by Patricia Briggs

Review: River Marked by Patricia BriggsRiver Marked by Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson #6
Published by Ace/Roc, Orbit
Pages: 326
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Moon Called, Blood Bound

Being a different breed of shapeshifter - a walker - Mercy Thompson can see ghosts, but the spirit of her long-gone father has never visited her. Until now, on her honeymoon with the Alpha werewolf Adam. An evil is stirring in the depths of the Columbia River-and innocent people are dying. As other walkers make their presence known to Mercy, she must reconnect with her heritage to exorcise the world of the legend known as the river devil...

Thoughts: This book has confirmed what I long thought to be true: Patricia Briggs is incapable of writing books I don’t like.

I was in a real reading slump when I picked up River Marked. Almost every book I picked up left me with a desire to send letter bombs in the mail – and there seemed to be no cure in sight. I thought: “If Briggs can’t get me out of this funk, no one can.” And sure enough, she did.

River Marked was absolutely stellar. It was really different to the previous Mercy books, as Mercy and Adam spent 90% of the time away from home with strangers. I adored this for two reasons: 1) it was a chance for us to see how Mercy and Adam’s relationship would work outside of their comfort zone. 2) it was a completely natural, realistic thing for a couple to do. Too often authors will stick to a particular group of characters or a certain location, because that’s what people want to read. Not Briggs. She’ll take two of your favourite characters, toss them somewhere brand new, and make you love her for it.

That said, though most of the book was spent on the road, Briggs did sneak in a few fan favourites: Bran, Stefan and Jesse all put in some rather solid appearances. Thank God, as I really needed to check in on them after Silver Borne.

So, along with the fantastic exploration of Mercy and Adam’s relationship, River Marked also introduced a bunch of Native American mythology… which I loved. I read stories about Coyote and Raven when I was a girl, so seeing their stories incorporated into River Marked was a dream. Without giving away too many details… I also really liked how Briggs dealt with Mercy’s family history. Maybe other readers will find it a bit iffy, but I thought she handled it all very well.

You can also see the beginnings of a bunch of new plot lines in River Marked; I am positively twitching with impatience with the need to find out what Briggs has planned! I was starting to worry that she was wrapping up the Mercy series, but I can picture at least 5 more books worth of content she can cover after this.

Bottom line? A stellar – albeit, very different – installment in the Mercy series. If you are looking for a UF series that can hold up six books in, look no further.

Cover Note: I’ve used the US cover for this post as I absolutely loathe the new UK covers. The covers are actually what kept me from reading this book for so long – I just couldn’t stand the idea of buying the UK version! Only reason I bought it in the end was because I spotted it at Oxfam. Will need to get the US cover on bookdepository one of these days…

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