Book Review: “Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy” by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls, #2)

Is it strange that I actually have this whole outfit in my closet? It's all in brown, but that's pretty much the only difference.

Check out my review of the first book, I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You, here or on Goodreads!

Title: Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy (Click to add to your Goodreads!)

Author: Ally Carter (needs to come to NY or Boston so I can meet her :D)

Available In: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook for Nook, eBook for Kindle, Audiobook.

Maturity Level: YA. There’s definite appeal here, both for the young end of the YA spectrum (13-16) and the older (16+). Some mild violence and kissing, no real sexual content to speak of.

You May Like This Book if: you enjoyed the first book; if you’re a fan of the television shows Nikita, Buffy, or Veronica Mars; if you like well-crafted YA with strong and realistic female protagonists.

You May NOT Like This Book if: you expect a serious spy thriller; you don’t like YA.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Cammie Morgan is pretty tired of excitement. Her Stake-out/Obtain/Then Give Up Boyfriend Operation has left her pretty down, and all she wants is to settle down and continue studying CoveOps. Before she knows it, however, the prestigious “spy school” Gallagher Academy is welcoming a group of mysterious boys—BOYS!—codenamed Blackthorne. Throw in a security breach that Cammie appears to be at fault for, the unclear motives of the Blackthorne boys, and the aforementioned CoveOps training, and you’ve got one hell of a semester.

Oh, and the incredibly handsome, heart-pounding, ANNOYING boy known simply as Zach.

Previously On…: I have to admit, I wasn’t very stoked about this series at first. It looked like pretty typical YA fare—kick-butt girl meets boy, falls sappily in love with him, and slowly falls prey to a terrifying disease that I have termed Badass Disintegration Syndrome (BDS), pulling out her badassery only to save The Boy. I was pleasantly surprised by the first book, which had its fair share of sappy lovey-dovey moments, but also developed Cammie Morgan through her relationships with her friends, mother, and teachers. She also NEVER lost her Badass Mojo, and that definitely carries through into Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy.

Overall: I was very impressed by Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. This particular installment had more spy!plot, less romance, and as always I enjoyed the antics of Bex, Liz, and Macey just as much as Cammie’s. The “progress/case reports” are always fun to read, and I absolutely ADORED the ball!exam and all the scenes it produced. Cammie’s family/past—and her missing father—get a bit of an exploration in this one that I hope to see continued in future books. And I have to say, I like Zach more than I liked Josh—but maybe that’s just my love for snarky dudes showing.

Pros

  • The CoveOps reports.
  • Spies, guys. Girl!spies. At a school for girl spies. WIN.
  • Buffy/James Bond/Veronica Mars references.
  • The romance.
  • The spy!plot.
  • Annnnd the balance between the two. Superb.

Cons

  • Having it all be a test at the end was a bit predictable, but that’s just a nitpick.

Favorite Scene (s)

  • Pg 175: Cammie basically asking Zach out and the dynamic between them.
  • Pg 224: After Cammie has a BAMF moment. “Did you learn that in PE?”/”No. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
  • Pg 226: A forklift is once again used as a deadly weapon J

Favorite Line (s)

  • “Most little girls in England grow up wanting to marry a prince. Bex grew up wanting to kick James Bond’s butt and assume his double-0 ranking.”~ pg 13
  • “Real life in the clandestine services isn’t cat and mouse—it’s cat and cat.”~pg 184

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars.

Final Grade: A-. I will definitely be obtaining the next book very soon—this series is so very fun.

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Book Review: “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You” by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls #1)

Title: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls #1) (Click to add to your Goodreads!)

Available In: Hardcover (Library Binding), Paperback, eBook for Nook, eBook for Kindle, Audiobook.

Maturity Level: 13 +. Some kissing and light violence, but overall very clean.

You May Like This Book if: you enjoy fast-paced, light-hearted stories and/or if you’re a fan of Joss Whedon (the writing style seems very much influenced by his work, and there are plenty of Buffy references).

You May NOT Like This Book if: you’re looking for a serious spy novel ala John LeCarre.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Cameron Morgan is not your average private-school girl. Then again, Gallagher Academy is not your average private school—it’s a spy school, with a curriculum designed to turn out some of the best-trained surveillance agents in the world. So when she meets the incredibly normal Josh, she’s not quite sure how to proceed. Luckily, she has a team of very good friends there to help her sift through his trash, hack his computer, and arrange strategic meetings away from prying eyes. And along the way, Cammie just might learn something about love — and the importance of being true to oneself.

Overall, I thought this book was really fun. It’s a bit like Nikita meets Harry Potter meets Buffy. There are some very good messages twined up in the lighthearted narrative as well, making this a book that I’d recommend to any teenage girl (or, for that matter, any girl ever). The spy element was nicely handled, and I loved reading the descriptions of a typical day at a “spy school”. Throw in a whole load of Buffy references, and I am a very happy reader. It was also a wicked quick read, especially the last hundred pages or so—the sort of book you could finish in an afternoon if you had no interruptions. I’m looking forward to the next book—which, according to PaperBackSwap, is headed my way as of this morning—and I’ll also definitely be checking out Heist Society when I finish with the Gallagher Girls series.

Pros

  • Spy girls. Spy girls are always a plus.
  • Gallagher Academy is kind of like Harry Potter for spy girls. AWESOME~
  • Cammie’s mom. She’s awesome, and I love that her and Cammie have a very close relationship, which is not often seen in YA.
  • Bex, Liz, and Macey. They’re smart, sassy, and they’re great friends. What’s not to love?
  • CoveOps. I would totally take this class.
  • Short chapters make for a fast-paced read.
  • I really, really love the overall message, which is basically to stay true to who you are when you’re in a relationship, not true to what your partner might want you to be. Also, don’t ditch your friends. They’ll be around long after your BF has taken off.

Cons

  • Some of the “mean girls” in this book are pretty flat and stereotypical.

Favorite Scene (s)

  • Pages 87-90, when Mr. Solomon makes his point about what failure in a CovertOps mission would cost you. Very tense, very dramatic.
  • Josh driving a forklift through the wall on page 271.

Favorite Line (s): “Our lies come complete with Social Security numbers and fake IDS, and our truths cut like Spanish steel.”~pg 221 of Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars.

Final Grade: A. Will probably reread, will definitely read next book in series.

Book Review: “Farsighted” by Emlyn Chand (Farsighted #1)

Title: Farsighted (Click on this link or the book cover to add it to your Goodreads!)

Author: Emlyn Chand (You can follow her on Twitter, too!)

Available In: eBook for KindlePaperback.

Maturity Level: Recommended for 13+. Some gore, violence, and kissing, but little to no sexual content.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I’ve been reading a lot of self-pubs on my Kindle app recently, and I have to say that so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the selections that I’ve made. Sure, there were a couple of duds, books that I could only stand about a chapter of— the stereotypical “bad” self-pubs, complete with bad formatting, an apparent lack of any sort of editor, and a definite lack of any real sales potential.

Then, there are books like Angelfall and Farsighted—books that you could totally see showing up on a bookstore shelf and actually being better than 75% of their genre. These are books that have been self-published because that is part of the author’s artistic vision (see this post by  Chand) rather than being self-pubbed because there is absolutely NO CHANCE of a major press EVER accepting them. The latter is what self publishing has become (and also, what people tend to think when they sit down to read an indie); the former is what self-publishing was to begin with and what it should continue to be.

That said, on with the review!

Alex Kosmitoras is an abnormal guy in a depressingly normal situation: his parents are struggling financially, and there’s a bully who seems to have it out for him no matter what. On top of that, he’s blind—and, apparently, able to “see” the future. Simmi is the new girl from India, who is not only the friendliest, most accepting person Alex has ever met, but also has powers of her own. Alex is starting to think that this is actually going to be okay—that he has a shot of being friends with Simmi (and maybe more)—when he starts having visions of Simmi dying in various terrible ways and vows to stop it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It paints a lovely tableau of multiculturalism against a small-town background; as someone who lives in a truly tiny town, I can appreciate this. Chand also manages to twine the paranormal element neatly into Alex’s everyday issues with school, parents, etc while drawing on mythological elements that made the 13-year-old-me-who-read-Edith-Wharton’s-Mythology-obsessively-for-about-a-year incredibly happy. There were points where the pacing seemed a little slow, but there were also times when I literally couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a book that I’d recommend to people who are tired of the vampire/werewolves/angels that tend to overpopulate YA paranormals.

 

Pros

  • Alex’s POV. I have a weakness for blind protagonists, especially those that are still major badasses. Which Alex definitely is.
  • Simmi. I kind of fell a bit in love with her right alongside Alex, which made her a wonderful romantic lead for the book.
  • Shapri. I might have fallen in love with Simmi, but I would definitely be more like Shapri. I liked how Chand handled her reluctance to admit to her gifts, and I loved that she was not “the bad guy” in Simmi and Alex’s relationship just because she had a bit of a crush on Alex. Nice.
  • The runes and how they connect to the story. I’m actually incredibly interested in runes/tarot, so I loved reading the description of each rune and then figuring out how it connected to the chapter I was reading.
  • Caffeine-assisted visions! I love explorations of how drugs/chemicals would affect theoretical psychic powers.
  • The multicultural viewpoint. ❤

Cons

  • Some of the transitions were a little choppy.
  • Occasionally, Alex fails to take action that moves the plot along and waits for other people to move it along instead. It seems just a little OOC, since he spends the majority of the book being a badass, but it wasn’t enough to disrupt the book entirely, so it’s all good.

Star Rating on Goodreads/Final Grade: 3.75 stars, rounded up for GR. A-. Would reread, will definitely read other books in series.

Book Review: “Paranormalcy” (Paranormalcy #1) by Kiersten White

Title: Paranormalcy

Author: Kiersten White

Available In: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook for Kindle, eBook for Nook.

Warnings: PG for mild sexual content, violence, and simulated profanity.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Do not make the mistake of judging this book by its cover.

If you were to do that, you might think that this is one of the many shallow paranormal teen romances that make their way out every year, with covers that emulate the Twilight series and heroines who spent the vast majority of their time being pretty for the boys. Evie is definitely a pretty girly-girl heroine… but more in the style of Buffy Summers than Bella Swan.

Evie’s a girl who really likes to think of herself as normal. She loves pink, glitter, and soft soap-operas about high school. Sure, she has a job neutralizing all sorts of paranormal nasties for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, or IPCA. And she might possibly be falling in love with a shape-shifter. And yeah, there’s some faerie prophecy that she just might be a huge part of, the consequences of which could result in the end of the world. But that’s not too out there, right?

Overall, this is an appealing book. It’s got a lot of humour and quirk, and it’s definitely “light reading”, but that should not be mistaken for shallowness, because this book actually has a lot of depth. The romance between Evie and Lend is adorably sweet (rather than sickeningly so) and there are actually some pretty complex morality conflicts tied up into the plot, especially towards the end. The conflict/relationship between Evie and Vivian evokes echoes of the Buffy/Faith days of BtVS, and towards the end, the bits with the souls bore an eerie resemblance to Castiel’s storyline in late season 6/early season 7 of SPN. This book should appeal to fans of BtVS/Angel/Whedonverse, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it MIGHT appeal to certain branches of SPN fandom, because despite her floofy exterior, Evie is one kick-ass chick.

Pros

  • Evie’s attitude. She’s just so quirky. The ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I love it.
  • IPCA. I like the concept, and it was executed nicely as well.
  • The irreverent treatment of paranormals.
  • Lish and her computer set-up.
  • Lend <3. Definitely one of my fav romantic heroes of the year, and a refreshing change from the overbearing Edward Cullen type commonly seen.
  • White’s research was actually very well done, and she weaves little bits of legend in like it’s nobody’s business.
  • Unseelie Vs. Seelie. FOREVER LOVE

Cons

  • Evie’s ditziness. The same thing that attracted me to Evie turned me off to her just a bit; sometimes when her inner monologues came up I’d just roll my eyes, because I knew she was about to go off on some super-bubbly tangent. It wasn’t enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book, but it was noticeable.
  • Wandering, slightly frenetic plot. I felt like the Seelie Vs. Unseelie concept could have been introduced earlier in the book.

Theme Song: “Everytime We Touch”~ Cascada

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars

Final Grade: A-. Would reread, will definitely read other books in series.

BOOK REVIEW: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (The Inheritance Trilogy, #2)

Title: The Broken Kingdoms

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Available In: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, Kindle, Nook.

Warnings: R for sexuality, violence, and gore.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

It takes me a long time to get through each new N.K. Jemisin book. This isn’t normal for me; generally I’m a speed-reader who can whip through a book in a week, no problem. However, Goodreads shows that I’ve been working on this one since October. Whew.

Our story opens with gods in garbage and introduces us to Oree, blind magic-artist from the city. Oree doesn’t know it, but the strange man that she takes in is far, far more than he seems, and she’s about to be thrown into the midst of a scramble for power that includes gods, demigods, and even certain humans.

As usual, Jemisin’s prose is worth the slow pace. She has such a distinctive, lyrical style, and while The Broken Kingdoms is not set in the grandeur of Sky as the first book was, she shows a distinct ability to bring that same lyricism to a grittier setting. The characters are lovely as well—I was particularly fond of Madding the godling—and Jemisin explores their interactions with the same deft sensitivity that she brought to the political push-and-pull of Yeine’s Sky.

The only complaint that I have about this book is the same as the first—at times, the slow pace of the plot really bogs the book down, and there are moments when I have no idea what’s going on, even after I reread several times. It’s not a huge annoyance, but given the vast strides Jemisin made as a writer between The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and the Broken Kingdoms, I hope to see her improve this aspect.

Pros

  • The magic. As usual, Jemisin’s magic system is beautifully realized and completely unique.
  • Great continuity between book 1 and book 2.
  • Jemisin’s gods. ❤ I love that she incorporates some elements from existing mythologies into them without sacrificing her personal vision.
  • Oree’s POV. She seems much more grounded than Yeine, and I love that she’s an artist despite her blindness, which is handled in a way that I personally thought was inventive and respectful.
  • The bond between Itempas/Shiny and Oree.
  • The sex/lovemaking scenes. This is one of my favorite things about Jemisin’s writing; she is very good at making her sex scenes complex and impactful, and at exploring the many different facets of human love and lust.
  • The end, which I thought was simply perfect.

Cons

  • The plot is somewhat wandering and vague, and is very slow to develop and come to fruition. At times, the slow pace is appreciable, because it’s nice to be able to savor Jemisin’s prose, but at others it is simply annoying. I did see a definite improvement between The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, however, so I hope to see this trend continue in the next book.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars out of 5.

Final Grade: A. Would reread, will definitely read next book in series.

Book Review: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (The Infernal Devices, #1)

Title: Clockwork Angel

Author: Cassandra Clare

Available In: eBook for Kindle, eBook for Nook, Paperback, Hardcover, Audio CD

Warnings: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, and Magnus Bane’s existence.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG, HONEST OPINIONS. ALSO, DECLARATIONS OF LOVE FOR CERTAIN CHARACTERS.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

When I first picked up Clockwork Angel, I had not yet realized that this book was a prequel to The Mortal Instruments series. I’m kind of glad I didn’t; since I’ve only read City of Bones, my inclination would have been to put the book down and read the rest of TMI first. I kept going, however, and was pleased to discover that my very basic working knowledge of the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders was enough to carry me through this book.

The story opens with our heroine, Tessa, sailing from the familiar streets of New York City to the unfamiliar atmosphere of London Town at the behest of her brother Nathaniel and in the wake of her beloved aunt’s death. Tessa’s already nervous enough about leaving the city that has been her home, and when she is met at the docks by a sinister pair of women who claim to be acting on Nathaniel’s behalf, she is understandably perturbed. She goes along with it, however, thinking that surely Nathaniel knows best. It turns out, however, that the Dark Sisters are interested in her for their own reasons– particularly, her strange power to Change into others at will.

And when Tessa meets Will Herondale, a young Shadowhunter, she discovers that the Dark Sisters aren’t the only ones intrigued by her…

Overall, I really thought this book was much better than City of Bones. I liked Tessa more as a main character than I liked Clary—mainly because there is no reason for Clary to be as passive as she is given that she’s a modern gal. Tessa, on the other hand, is very much a classical Gothic heroine, bound by society’s expectations but determined to fight back, and towards the end of the book, she really has started to grow a backbone of steel. I am also completely in love with Jem, and the love triangle that Clare has set up is delicious. Throw in the lovingly researched alt-London setting and the demon-killing badassery that characterized TMI and we have a real winner here. I’m definitely looking forward to Clockwork Prince.

Pros

  • The clockwork angel pendant is such a lovely concept.
  • Henry. I adore mad scientists, and Henry’s ineptitude makes me snicker.
  • The fact that Tessa is a book lover. Rock on, bookworm girl. Unfortunately, the real world is not like the novels, which sucks.
  • JEM. ❤ I just cannot get over how much I love this guy. He’s just so sweet, and brave, and so DEAD at some point in the future. I always go for the doomed ones.
  • Sophie. I love her as a  character, and should Will/Tessa become a thing, I would love it if Clare threw in some Jem/Sophie—if it weren’t for the fact that Jem is so DEAD.
  • Jessamine’s killer parasol,  which is badass.
  • Henry/Charlotte. They are just so cute together, regardless of what people say about the reasons for their marriage. I do think they truly love one another, under all that—at least they’re happy.
  • The Institute’s family dynamic. I loved reading the bits where the “children” were spying on the Enclave meeting and Jessamine and Will’s brother-sister bickering.
  • Magnus Bane. Who needs no explanation. All I can say is, the Victorian era suits him. AND CHURCH! ❤
  • Jessamine clonking Nate. I was cheering for her. Out loud.
  • Tessa’s London is lovingly researched and beautifully portrayed. It’s a world I would love to take a holiday in, and I applaud Clare for her efforts to make it as historically accurate as possible while still adding enough twists to make it just a little bit steampunk.

Cons

  • Tessa’s kind of passive in the early parts of the book, almost in a bodice-ripper heroine sort of way, which always makes me cringe a bit. She gets better as the book goes on, though, so I’m hoping to see her gain even more awesomeness in book 2.
  • Occasionally, the exposition in this book is rather unwieldy, with long portions of dialogue that are nothing more than one character telling another how the world works.
  • Some descriptive words are used repetitively, i.e. Jem’s silvery eyes.
  • The prose could be made a little tighter and neater, by cutting unnecessary descriptors and sentences, especially when they do nothing but reiterate what a character has just said/done.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars out of 5.

Final Grade: A. Would reread, will definitely read other books in series.

(My review of Clockwork Prince is now live! Click to read….)

Book Review: “Incarcercon” by Catherine Fisher

Title: Incarceron

Author: Catherine Fisher

Warnings: PG 13 for violence and swearing.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG, HONEST OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I have long held the opinion that when you are reading/reviewing a book, the question that you should be asking is not “Is this book good/bad/decent/awesome?”

Rather, the question should be “What makes this book good/bad/decent/awesome?”

In the case of Incarceron, there are many different factors that make it awesome. The best thing about this book? All of these factors come together to form a cohesive whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The story is a dual narrative, alternating between  two worlds that Fisher balances  wonderfully. Finn is the amnesiac “seer” of a gang within the living prison of Incarceron. Claudia is the entitled daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, attempting to escape an arranged marriage within the equally restrictive society of Outside. At first, there is very little that connects them, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that they are, in fact, rather intimately linked. Joined by allies such as Jared, Keiro, and Attia, Finn attempts to find a method of escape from Incarceron, while Claudia investigates its mysteries and discovers that she is far more entangled in Incarceron’s web than she initially believed.

Overall, the plot was a little bit predictable, the dual narrative a bit fiddly, but it was, for the most part, a lovely read. The brilliance of this book is that its strengths far outweigh its flaws, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the sequel, Sapphique.

Pros

  • The worldbuilding alone is gorgeous. Obviously, Fisher is an adept in this department; she has a deft touch that permeates both the restrictive Era-focused society of the Outside and the chaotic and cutthroat environment of Incarceron. Her through knowledge of mythology and history also shines through, and her ability to weave these small references into her narrative is astounding.
  • The concept of Incarceron as a being in its own right is neatly executed. I love that it kind of has its own personality, rather than being a faceless rumbling beast ala The Devil in season 2 of Doctor Who.
  • Jared. The dude is a Badass Bookworm despite the fact that he’s got a death sentence hanging over his head. Sickly academics don’t have a whole lot of survival potential in vaguely dystopian/steampunk worlds such as this one, so I’m already steeling myself for the moment that I have to watch him die.
  • Keiro. Keiro’s one of those rough-and-tumble types who give tough love a whole new meaning, but he really does seem to care deeply about the people around him, particularly Finn/Giles. I would like to see him get some POV time in Sapphique, as I feel there is really some untapped potential in his character. (Also, I could totally see Keiro/Attia being a thing, oddly enough.)
  • Claudia. Claudia is the type of girl I like to read about– strong-willed and smart, if occasionally a bit rash. The twist to her storyline was wonderfully executed, and I’d love to see what Fisher does with it from here on out. I’d also like to see Claudia get more chances to be a badass in book 2, just because.
  • Fisher’s fast-paced prose and neatly executed — if slightly predictable– plot are, along with her worldbuilding, the best technical aspects of the book.  And the last line is pitch-perfect!

Cons

  • The dual narrative is jarring at first, and since I was far more into Claudia than Finn, there were places where I’d see that the next chapter was Finn’s and just roll my eyes. Starting around page 105, the POV’s started to become more cohesive, and from page 137 onward, it works.
  • The Queen. As a villain, she was frankly unimpressive, more SnowWhite!Evil Queen than the level of character that I’d come to expect by the time she appeared.
  • Finn can sometimes come off as a bit whiny and unlikeable, and the Finn-is-Giles plot was definitely one of the weakest and most predictable. I’m hoping that he grows more of a spine in book 2, and that he becomes involved in some slightly more complicated subplots.
  • The POV occasionally changes from what appears to be third person focused to third person omniscient without much warning, especially toward the end.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars out of 5.

Final Grade: A.  Would reread. Will definitely read the sequel(s).