Archive for the ‘Ally Carter’ category

United We Spy by Ally Carter

October 18th, 2013

I’ve folowed the series from start to finish now, which is tough when trying to keep up with so many series being launched each month in YA fiction. Part of it is because of Ally’s visit to our school when the series first started out, but part of it is that the series has stayed classy without resorting to too many trends or gimmicks. It’s been about spies and sisterhood, and that continued through to the end.

While there are many girl power moments in the book, I appreciated when Cammie realized that Zach had friends – that not every aspect of his life revolves around her. That’s been true of Cammie, which has been so refreshing. The books haven’t really been about getting the boy and, despite some fan complaints, Zach is not Cammie’s main protector. It’s all about the Gallagher Girls.

What’s great is seeing that tradition pass on to the younger girls of the academy. My students that were at Ally’s visit to our school have now graduated high school. They are now outside in the wide open world and, much like the Gallagher Girls, must decide what to do with the rest of their lives. One important transition is understanding the need to train up the next generation, to give back. Cammie matured throughout the series, no doubt about that, but matured in ways that matter. Again, I can’t stress enough how much I appreciated that the romance plotline was present but was not Cammie’s main hero journey.

The Circle of Cavan is still at it and the Gallagher Girls must stop chaos from erupting around the world. Having read the whole series from start to finish, it was pretty cool seeing details from the other five books show up, whether it was antagonists popping up again or Cammie reliving a moment from the first book but from a different perspective. I also appreciated the title. I know how much Ally struggled with following up I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You, but United We Spy is the perfect wrapping up of the series in both title and plot. The last three chapters read like a season finale of Alias, which is great because Ally has mentioned that Alias made her question what it would look like to train a whole school of spies. I could hear the theme music playing and then the fade to black as the credits roll.

Ally, nice job on the series. I know that you don’t need my approval, but it takes some skill to maintain a six book series and I’m glad that I was there to see the whole thing play out.

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter

March 14th, 2012

“And I remembered ‘normal’ might never be the same again.”

That, in a sentence, is the theme of the series and the core idea woven throughout the entire plot of the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls series. Cammie Morgan is a senior in a high school for spies. She still worries about what boys think and if her friends like her, but now more than ever her bigger worry is why people are trying to kill her.

Students and adults who have talked to me about what they enjoy about the series always share one common factor: Ally Carter’s ability to expertly portray the voice of a teenaged girl. Not once does Cammie sound unauthentic. What’s really cool is that, in book five, the importance of loyalty to sisterhood is emphasized and plays an important role at key plot points. A number of students I’ve talked with have been let down/ignored/backstabbed by friends and to have a main character who remains loyal even through conflict is promising.

Cammie’s view of herself is also challenged in book five. What makes her special is her ability to blend in, earning the nickname “Cammie the Chameleon”. Within the first few pages of the most current book, her concept of herself is thrown out the window and she has to figure out anew who she is. Yes, that’s a common theme in YA novels, but there’s a reason. During junior high and high school, students are trying to figure out who they are. Ally Carter continues to explore Cammie’s perception of herself without it being redundant or too conceited.

I’m a fan of spy stories. Alex Rider was one of the first book series that got me hooked on YA. The issue with having a main character as a spy is that he or she will be put in life or death situations. Spies sometimes use guns in those situations. What I appreciated in Out of Time is that an instructor says that a spy needs to know about guns but that “…weapons make you lazy”. Keen senses are what keep you alive. Ally Carter, Batman applauds you. (And, as I’m sure you’re aware, George Clooney once played Batman.)(Even though I like to block that from my memory.)(Do I hear music?)

Just like how when people talk about Hunger Games, they talk about other stories that had arena fighting first, Out of Sight had elements found in Bourne Identity and Chuck. The key, though, is in taking those elements and remixing them to make something new in the context of the Gallagher Girls. It’s something that I realized when I read the gazillionth dystopian book or superhero story (and yet still enjoyed Legend, Divergent, and The Unwanteds). The spy stuff that happens in Out of Sight is the next logical progression, which is a good thing, and is rewarding for fans of the series.

Students like an antagonist to cheer against and we definitely have that in book five. There is a ton of information revealed about character backstories, which should make longtime fans of the series happy. There are also references to conversations and lessons from book one, which is great at unifying the series. I also appreciated the fact that the school library was integral to the plot.

Side note: readers who have family in the military will appreciate when Cammie says, “When in doubt, find a marine.” I think I may have also caught a Brennan-Black author duo reference in there.

The series needs no recommendation from me, but I give it. It’s been a fun new tradition to read the books while on Summer/Spring Break. I started it at 10 this morning and finished it a little before 10 tonight. It was an enjoyable read and has a great lead into the sixth and maybe final (Cammie is a senior, after all) book of the series. Librarians, you know what to do. Stock up.

For a history of real spies in the United States, check out The Dark Game.

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

June 10th, 2011

I received a package in the mail that contained Uncommon Criminals on Wednesday. Since the book doesn’t come out until June 21, I can only assume that this package was connected to a certain con involving a mouse, my library, and large amounts of Italian food.

On Wednesday, I had to put aside reading The Help to read Uncommon Criminals. I had to set down the recently-received book in order to go watch Les Mis performed live at Gammage.

I know. Tough life.

So now I have just completed Uncommon Criminals two days later and can assure you that it’s a great book. That should go without saying, much like any review I could try and give for Les Mis, but it’s nice to know.

This is book two in Heist Society, although I do believe that students could check out this one having not read the first one. (What happens many times with popular novels is that book one always has a huge wait list in my library. Book one definitely is needed for greater depth, but book two can stand on its own unlike some YA series.) Kat is not a thief, despite what her criminal family and resume of heists say. She is approached by an elderly woman who claims to be the rightful heir of the Cleopatra Emerald who wants it brought back to her. Not only is it supposed to be a rare gem, but it also carries with it an ancient curse.

I was glad to see that Carter stayed away from the temptation to make this a paranormal story and instead kept true to her characters. The curse, though, provides a cool backdrop for the developing love between Kat and Hale. Another great overarching idea is Kat’s conflict with herself. No matter who she has to go against or what system she has to trick, Kat’s biggest enemy is her destiny. She does run into a rival thief who represents one possible future for Kat and it’s great to see her face that head-on at different parts of the book.

There’s an exceptional quote towards the middle of the book in a conversation between Hale and Kat:

“Someone did them first, Kat. Don’t forget that. Someone, somewhere did them first.” He shrugged. “So we’ll do something first. Who knows? Maybe a hundred years from now, two crazy kids will be debating the merits of the Kat in the Hat.”

And this, my friends, is what Young Adult fiction is all about. Faced with a task larger than themselves and adults that are all too fallible, the teens must forge their own path and give the readers hope that they, too, count for something in the world. A Wall Street Journal article recently stereotyped YA fiction by one tiny slice of the genre and this hope is the perfect response to that article. Another memorable line from Kat is when she wonders if it’s true that love is the greatest con. For many YA readers, both teen and otherwise, this is a fear that has creeped in at least once and we cheer her on hoping that it’s not just one big lie.

Granted, the book isn’t all just internal *cough* Matched *cough* conflict. There are enough helicopters, rappel lines, and even a yacht to keep me interested. This series more than Gallagher Girls is great for the Long Con developing well over time in the course of one book.

Do your best to purchase multiple copies of Uncommon Criminals from legitimate booksellers on June 21. And librarians, if you no longer have a budget for books, let’s have a little chat about the benefits of the Paul Bunyan versus the Jack and the Beanstalk. You know what I’m talking about.

Heist Society: Uncommon Criminals cover announced

February 3rd, 2011

image

I like it. I really appreciate a style continuity from book one to two, which is more than I can say about many YA series right now. Also- you have to notice the green gem. The next heist?

Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter

July 4th, 2010

I finished Heist Society a few minutes before 2010 began, so it’s fitting that I finish Only the Good Spy Young on July 4.

Ally’s writing keeps getting better with each book, which is something that I’ve mentioned in other reviews. She’s not a slacker author and works to make each installment of the series memorable. I keep saying, “This one’s my favorite” only to have the next one be my favorite.

Only the Good Spy Young will answer a lot of your questions. But, like with any decent covert operation, with more answers comes more questions. Zach does return, so I know my girls at school will be excited. A new staff member at Gallagher shows up: Agent Townsend, a member of MI6 (you know, like James Bond and Alex Rider). He adds his fair share of complications and leaves you wondering if he’s there to help Cammie or not.

Anyone who has talked with me for an extended length of time knows that I cheer for the villains in any story. It’s a strong villain that brings out the hero’s qualities and tempts them to compromise what they believe in (see also Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight). The Circle of Cavan returns. We find out that their connections reach deep into the CIA and other clandestine organizations.

Cammie doesn’t know who to trust and it’s for this main reason that I love the series. Junior high and high school students are surrounded daily by situations that break their trust. The books frame that dilemma in a spy context. It’s also during junior high and high school that we start to view our parents as real people and not idealized portraits. Cammie is searching for what happened to her father. Throughout her adventure she sees good and bad examples of parents (a moment where she chats with Bex’s father was so simple and yet so awesome) and tries to make sense of her situation.

The boy trouble returns. These two quotes sum up how Cammie has regular teen drama on top of life-and-death situations:

“I didn’t know whether to hug him or hit him (a feeling that I frequently associate with Blackthorne Boys, to tell you the truth)”

“‘He’s a guy, Cam.’ Macey pushed past me and led the way down the hall. ‘And a spy. He’s a guy spy. There’s always going to be something he’s not telling.'”

Readers are able to realize that other people are struggling with the same issues they are and that they are not weird. Cammie has a believable balance between confidence and doubt. She is maturing, though. Gone are the training missions. Every time the Gallagher Girls take on a mission now, it’s a risk.

I remember a conversation I had with Ally when she visited my library (librarians, you need to have her come talk with your students!). I told her how I love spy stories and how there’s a prerequisite for helicopters. Only the Good Spy Young met my helicopter quota. Something else I mentioned, though, was that I respect any YA author who can threaten her characters. Many times there’s too much suspension of disbelief.

I appreciated Mikaelsen’s Touching Spirit Bear because when Cole tries to stab a bear, he gets worked over. Moral of the story? Don’t stab bears. When spies are in the field, there’s a decent chance of them being captured, tortured, and shot. Saying anything more will reveal too much plot from Only the Good Spy Young.

Students, you might want to buy the book on your own. I will have multiple copies, but I can tell you that there will be a wait list. If you are new to the series, I recommend starting with Love You, Kill You. You’ll appreciate the growth of the characters and the depth of what being a Gallagher Girl means.

Ally, keep ‘em coming. I’m excited for senior year.

Chapter 1 of Only the Good Spy Young

June 11th, 2010

Check out the great book trailer and chapter one of the book here.

Barnes and Noble rights the opening day wrong

March 24th, 2010

When I went to pick up Heist Society on its release date, Barnes and Noble didn’t have it yet.

I told them they’d need to correct that.

Here’s what my local Barnes and Noble set up:
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Espionage and Adventure from Ally Carter

Heist Society to be a movie

February 5th, 2010

The script has been optioned by Warner Brothers (who beat out Disney…interesting, since Disney-Hyperion is the publisher) and has the same team that made the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie working on it.

A change will happen, though. They’re turning Kat and her gang into people in their early 20’s instead of teenagers. Does this mean it will be a more mature-themed movie?

Check out the Hollywood Reporter article here and my review of Heist Society here.

Edit: If you look at the acting pool for the early 20’s versus the teen range, Kat behaves more like the 20-something roles than the teen actors. Also, there are bigger names at the 20-something age range right now. Finding one teen actor to pull off the role of Kat wouldn’t be too tough, but to find people for her whole crew would be a challenge. (Think about the cast of Glee and their real ages.) Let’s just say a reliable source clued me in.

Heist Society by Ally Carter

January 7th, 2010

I welcomed in 2010 (or MMX, as I’m going to call it) by finishing Heist Society by Ally Carter. I’m a huge fan of the Gallagher Girls series, so I was very interested to see how this new set of books would play out.

It is a new series, to be clear. Cammie does not show up at all, although I think a Cammie vs. Kat showdown (in the same degree as a Batman vs. Superman, Spider-man vs. Wolverine conflict) is in order. Kat demonstrates the same strong protagonist characteristics as Cammie. I would argue Kat shows even more.

The set-up is that Kat has left the family business of thieving and has tried to pull off the ultimate con: live a normal life at a boarding school. News of her father’s trouble reaches her and she must get back into the game to save her dad.

If you are a fan of movies like Oceans 11 or The Italian Job, this is a must-read. Kat has to assemble her crew and each contributes their special abilities towards the goal of robbing the Henley. You’ve got your tech person, your pickpocket, and your diplomatic “face”. How the crew cases the museum is pretty funny and the tone highlights the fact that these characters are not the villains of the book, even if they are trying to steal thousands of dollars worth of paintings. There is genuine concern for the characters’ safety, but not to the extreme of Hunger Games/Catching Fire.

I feel like Kat has more focus on her objectives than Cammie did. Cammie could be distracted very easily by Zach and Josh. Kat still has two boys to try and figure out, but her long-time friend Hale outclasses Nick the pickpocket by far. (I know that this point will become an issue of debate in February when Heist Society hits the shelves, but come on! Hale is awesome.)

The book does have a more mature feel than the Gallagher Girls, a fact enhanced by Kat’s level of maturity. It’s not like there’s any questionable content; you can just tell that Kat has seen more of the world. The author mixes references to historical events and actual locations with fictional characters, locales, and pieces of art. It’s a great world that Ally Carter has envisioned.

What’s really exciting is to see Ally Carter mature as a writer with each book she creates. It would be easy for a series writer to slack off with one of the books ([cough]Final Warning[/cough]) and many times I finish book one to a series thinking that more plot could have gone into the first book. Heist Society has great pacing and can stand alone as its own book. You definitely want to hang out with the likes of Uncle Eddie and Bobby Bishop more (and figure out who framed Kat’s dad), but you could stop at Heist Society and know you’ve enjoyed a complete story.

I wouldn’t recommend stopping after just one book, though. Ally’s currently working on book two while we wait for GG4: Only the Good Spy Young to come out in June. Make sure you grab a copy of Heist Society in February (librarians, you’ll want multiple copies).

Heist Society Cover

October 21st, 2009

When I have time I’ll put up a photo or two from the great author visit from James Dashner.

Until then, enjoy the cover for Ally Carter’s new book, Heist Society, coming out February 9, 2010.