Lot of Action Not A Lot of Else: Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

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Maddie thought she and Logan would be friends forever. But when your dad is a Secret Service agent and your best friend is the president’s son, sometimes life has other plans. Before she knows it, Maddie’s dad is dragging her to a cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.

No phone.
No Internet.
And not a single word from Logan.

Maddie tells herself it’s okay. After all, she’s the most popular girl for twenty miles in any direction. (She’s also the only girl for twenty miles in any direction.) She has wood to cut and weapons to bedazzle. Her life is full.
Until Logan shows up six years later . . .
And Maddie wants to kill him.

But before that can happen, an assailant appears out of nowhere, knocking Maddie off a cliff and dragging Logan to some unknown fate. Maddie knows she could turn back- and get help. But the weather is turning and the terrain will only get more treacherous, the animals more deadly.

Maddie still really wants to kill Logan.
But she has to save him first.

Source: GoodReads

Ally Carter is known for writing cute action pack books in the YA scene.  This book fits the bill.  If it’s action alone, this book is great.  There’s also chemistry between the two characters.  Her ships are great.

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However beyond that… this book is sort of weak.

I just felt throughout the entire reading experience that there was a lack of development with the characters.  There was potential, but often that development fell through to make way for action.

Hell, the action kept the plot from even making much sense at points in the book.

This made the action in some ways seem less exciting because there was no build up.

To be fair, there were good bones for a story here.  I was fairly impressed with the initial set up.  However, jumping from one event through the next with little to no explanation weakened the book.

Throughout the reading experience, this book reminded me of one of my favorite movies Romancing the Stone.  If you haven’t seen that movie it’s pretty much about this romance writer who gets trapped in the South America with mercenaries after her.  Replace South America with Alaska and gender swap the romance novelist with the president’s son you get this book.

Funny enough, this isn’t the first book that takes cues from Romancing the Stone and sets a book in Alaska.  Meg Cabot also did it with She Went All the Way.  However, that book took a different approach than Not If I Save You First.  It was much more comedic while this was much more action oriented.

While this book wasn’t intended to be comedic, I kept hearing Tina Fey’s version of Sarah Palin talking about seeing Russia from her house since Russians are the bad guys in this book.

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Yes, until the very end the bad guys are just referred to as Russians.

This book had a very interesting set up, but at the end of the day it was a bit of a hot mess.

Again though, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read and I didn’t like it better than Carter’s Embassy Row series.

Overall Rating: A C+

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A Small Improvement: See How They Run by Ally Carter

Inside every secret, there’s a world of trouble. Get ready for the second book in this new series of global proportions–from master of intrigue, New York Times bestselling author Ally Carter.

Grace’s past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

The twists get twistier and the turns get even more shocking in the second thrilling installment of Embassy Row.

Source: GoodReads

I wasn’t really that impressed with the last Embassy Row book and had reservations about the sequel, but with the third book coming out I decided to give the series another go.  And…well, this installment is better than the first one.

That’s something, right?

I still had a lot of problems with said book though.

I really think my crux with the series is the main character.

God, I can’t stand her.  Which is a shame because Ally Carter does usually create enjoyable leads.  I think my issue with Grace though is that she’s just a pain in the ass in general to everyone she comes in contact in.  In the first book, I sort of understood why Carter had her be so ugh.  I mean, she was supposed to be an unreliable lead.  Thing is, the truth’s been revealed and rather than developing as a character like one would hope, she’s still committing the same bone headed mistakes.  And a lot of the mistakes she makes this time around aren’t exactly fixable.

The romance isn’t bad.

I mean, that’s something, right?  While I don’t care for Grace there is decent chemistry between her and the male lead.  Of course, Grace does a lot of stupid stuff which makes me think dude you can do so much better, but it’s not exactly terrible.

The other real issue I had with this one was that things were sort of oddly paced.    There was so much that happened in this book, and it was all sort of thrown at the audience which while making it an interesting enough read, made it sort of hard to follow.

That being said, I am going to continue on with the third book because there are lots of interesting things that are going on in this series.  But there are bits and pieces of it that are really just a hot mess.

Overall Rating: A B-, some good bones but lots and lots of flaws.

Not Hitchcock: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

 

 

A new series of global proportions — from master of intrigue, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter.

This exciting new series from NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter focuses on Grace, who can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world, and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she’s come back to stay–in order to solve the mystery of her mother’s death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.

Source: GoodReads

Alfred Hitchock was considered to be the master of suspense.  While his movies normally don’t contain an obscene amount of gore (unless it’s that awful shower scene in Psycho) they have had a lasting impression on film and how crime was portrayed in film and TV.

The man even made a movie about psychotic birds scary.  Unfortunately, Ally Carter is no Alfred Hitchcock.

Not that I’d expect her to be a master of suspense (or even intrigue like the blurb suggests), with Ally Carter I expect light frothy capers.  I loved her Gallagher Girls series  and her Heist Society books.  Both series had an element of mystery, but weren’t suspense novelor a psychological thriller like All Fall Down.

I take that back, the fifth Gallagher Girls book was a little bit on the dark side, but compared to All Fall Down that book might as well had been Legally Blonde, Cammie’s weirdo amnesia included.

All Fall Down is not terrible.  It had some things going for it.  Like the whole embassy angle, that could work for it’s advantage.  However, it didn’t utilize that angle to the extent that I was hoping.  In fact, the embassy stuff was more or less an after thought.

What the book was more or less focused on was the sanity of our main character, Grace.

And I don’t like her.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

And that’s probably why I couldn’t connect because in order to like this book you have to like and sympathize with Grace because it’s all about her psychological torture as she tries to go all Batman on some scar faced dude, but without the Batarangs or the common sense.

Plus, I bet she’d use a gun.

Oh, wait…not going to say it because spoilers.

I get it.  I’ve seen several Hitchcock films where the Not Crazy individual is gaslighted through the entire movie, but here….I couldn’t even sympathize once with Grace she was just annoying.  And mean (cough, slut slamming, cough).

Oh, yes, there is some heavy slut slamming in this book.  Random hating.  And well, everything was really random about the relationships in this book.

Noah is basically Grace’s best friend because he’s told to be her best friend by Grace’s caretaker.  His twin in randomly a bitch.  Megan, who would seem like an ideal candidate for being a best friend, helps Grace even though Grace treats her like crap for being feminine.  And Alexi just has really pretty  blue eyes/hot accent and is just helping Grace because her brother told him so.

I couldn’t get into any of these characters.

Oh, then there’s grandpa and the caretaker lady.  Caretaker lady is a bit like Julie Andrews version of Grandmere (dyed red hair included) and Grandpa has a Southern accent.

And that’s all I know about the characters.

I think in novels such as All Fall Down, there needs to be more exploration with character since they play such a large role in the novel. I get that this book is first in a series, and that many of these characters are going to be fleshed out as the series continues, but right now it’s just not working.  And in a storyline like All Fall Down had, they needed to be fleshed out some more.

The plot itself was fairly typical for a psychological thriller.  You knew a twist was coming.  You knew that the character was being gaslighted to a degree.  And honestly, the reveal wasn’t that exciting to me just cliche.

I applaud Carter for trying something new.  Many authors stay in their niche, but she tried something different.  While All Fall Down wasn’t an awful, it definitely had some major faults.  I’m willing to give its sequel a chance, but I probably will library it.

Overall Rating: C+

United We Spy: Ally Carter

My name is Cammie Morgan and I used to be a spy.

Oops, wrong character and wrong program.

 

Sort of.

Honestly though, Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series has evolved into an episode of Burn Notice if it had Covert Affairs slightly dumber baby.

That’s not entirely a bad thing.

In a lot of ways it breathed life into what otherwise had a tendency to be a rather fluff oriented YA series with the mentions of spies in there for the pitching purpose.

I’ll admit a book or two of this sort of series I’d buy, but for longevity purposes…no.  It just doesn’t work.

Luckily for Carter, she decided to add a plot halfway through the series.  But unfortunately for her, it also made the series a bit disjointed.

And there were definitely jumping the shark moments.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book by itself.  I thought it was pretty action paced and it really was like watching a TV show-minus Jeffrey Donovan’s butt, though there’s plenty of book eye candy to make up for it.  It was just that…well, the tone in the last few installments in this series is just too different than the first.

And yeah, I as I said before I get why Carter had to do it.  And if this would’ve been a standalone I would’ve been wowed.  This book kept me on edge, but a series finale?

Sigh.

It’s true most of the loose ends are tied and we find out what happens to Cammie and the rest of the gang, but I felt like Carter lost the spirit of the original novel.  And what the heck ever happened to Josh?  I almost feel like now that I could skip the first, maybe even the second book in the series and be okay.

I guess it sort of helps that I had no idea what I was reading for about fifty pages because it’s been like a year and a half since the last one of these books have been released.

But I’m always confused.  And noticing the difference in tone is a bit different than details.

Another issue I had with this book is how far away it’s gotten from reality.

I get it’s a book about spies.  But the Gallagher Girls world has always been more rooted in realism like the USA shows than more Bond or Austin Powers like.

Stuff that happened in this book was more Bond like.  Okay, so there’s no Aston Martin or cool gadgets, but there are moments where you have to just let go of all logic and thought.

Yes, I get it’s the spy genre.  But really, really.

Have an element of realism.

Yes, I guess there were some moments, but honestly Cammie really wasn’t that great of a spy throughout the majority of this one. She should’ve been caught and killed by the Circle several times.  I felt like the resolution was just too easy.

Did that take away from my enjoyment of the book…yes and no.  It reminds me sort of one my favorite movies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Yes, I like that Indiana Jones movie even though most of the critical universe hates it.  And I can perfectly understand their hatred.  Short Round is annoying.  Willie Scott…well, she should just be glad she married the director.  But there’s something about the movie that is just charming to me.  It’s cheesiness, the fact that the plot is so overly dramatic, or maybe the fact that it just works with what it has.  That’s what this book sort of reminds me of, but its better than the movie (sort of).  Like the movie, it has very glaring faults.  Fans of the series are probably going to ignore them and just enjoy reading their series finale.

For me though, while I did enjoy reading this book and am glad that Carter has written a relatively satisfying conclusion that involved no demon babies or teen marriage, admittedly I’m still slightly dissatisfied.  And I don’t entirely blame her.  I almost feel like this series was written into a corner.  The first book read like a standalone, the second seemed to have more of a series feel but still…then the third and after total departure.  While it was exciting it did jump the shark and I feel the original tone of the series is long lost just like the character Josh (who btw, I never really did like, but I would’ve liked to known what happened to him).

Overall Rating: Seven out of ten secret agents.  A good book, but not my favorite installment of the series.

Perfect Scoundrels: Ally Carter

Is that Hale I see in her glasses?  Hmm, he doesn’t look like a young George Clooney/Christian Bale.  That is so wrong.
I think one of the reasons I like Ally Carter books so much is that they’re a breath of fresh air in comparison to the buckets full of paranormal and dystopia lit that’s out in the YA market right now.  That and there’s no insta love.  However, up into this installment I wasn’t a huge hand of her Heist Society books as I am of the Gallagher Girls series (which I’m a little annoyed at at the moment because by the time the next book is released, I’m a little blurry on what’s going on).  However, this particular installment of Heist Society went beyond my expectations.

General Summary: Kat’s boytoy inherits his grandma’s fortune.  That should be a good thing, right?  Well, the will was forged and things are more sinister than they seem.

Review:

This was better than I expected it to be.  And that my friends is always good.  Or is it?

I mean, maybe I shouldn’t have had such low expectations when it came to this series, but I did which is weird because it’s Ally freaking Carter.

I was pleasantly surprised though and I actually sort of enjoyed this book more than I did the last Gallagher Girl book.  I think because the book is different than a lot of stuff out there in the genre these days.  Oh, sure there are spy/thief books everywhere in YA (in fact, I’m reading one now).  And God knows there are tons of spy/thief shows out there that I watch ( That’s what most of the scripted program I watch consist of spy and thief shows, and detective shows too.  Oh, and General Hospital.  How could I forget General Hospital?  They’re having this freaky plot line right now where Detective John McBain has this lookalike who’s a vampire that reminds me of Meg Cabot’s Insatiable and I digress…).  And grant it, this wasn’t the most original spy/thief story I’ve ever read, but it worked.  And for that matter, it was different in the YA genre because it’s plot involved corporate espionage.  And fraudulent wills which actually helped me with my Wills homework oddly enough (unlike some YA books).

And while I pretty much figured out the twist to the whole mystery plot before the big reveal, I have to admit it was fun to read.  And I really felt like I grew to like the characters in this installment a lot better.

That was probably my biggest problem with this series until up to now.  The lack of character development.  Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer Cammie from Gallagher Girls over Kat any day of the week.  But Kat has grown on me.  And Hale he’s pretty awesome too.  In fact, I’d say I might like him better than Zach, he’s definitely better than Josh (but then again, who isn’t).

I also liked the fact that this book primarily took place in New York.  While I liked the globe trotting that went on in previous installments, it was nice to see the characters quasi grounded and in their “home” environment.

Best Feature: Leverage: Reading one of these books always makes me feel like I’m watching a TV show (a.k.a. Leverage or White Collar).  Grant it, the shows are better than the book, but Carter has improved.  I enjoyed this installment a lot more than it’s predecessor.  It actually felt more like one of those TV shows and while that’s normally not a good thing it works here. A lot better than it did in Uncommon Criminals. 

Worst Feature: Obvious Plot.  The mystery is lame here, guys.  It’s basically told to us right away who’s behind all of this hanky panky, but the motives and everything it just seems cliche.  And so was the suspect, both suspects.  I mean, really I thought this one character could have a potential future in the series.  Guess they won’t considering they’re doing ten to twenty behind bars.  Though who knows, maybe they’ll pull a Neil Caffery or whatever.

Appropriateness: Pretty clean.  There is some violence.  And while the romance is steamy, we never get past first base level.

Blockbuster Worthy: I already said yes and have cast the main roles.  Honestly, I probably should recast but whatever.

Overall Rating: Eight out of ten corporate credit cards.  I liked this one a lot.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a definite improvement on the last one in the series and I really enjoyed it.

Double Crossed- A Spies and Thieves Story: Ally Carter

General Summary: Every wanted a Gallagher Girls/Heist Society.  Well, this is the short story for you.  Macey and Hale meet at a robbery of all places.  Of course, hijinks occur.

Review:

This was a quick free read that was released probably to advertise Ally Carter’s third Heist Society novel by incorporating her better known Gallagher Girls series with it.  Since it was free, I went for the obvious gimmick.

The story is actually quite good and I have to say I was impressed.  A lot of crossovers seem clunky, but this one didn’t.  Rather, the storyline was very fluid and I could see it easily being translated to television or film.  That is a good thing, even though I think I’ve seen a lot of the techniques that Hale and Macey used on Burn Notice, White Collar, and Leverage respectfully.

I also liked the little hint that these characters might run into each other again in the future.  You could take the ending either way you want.  And I liked that.  If she decides to expand this idea later on that’s great if not, I can live with it.

Probably the best thing about this novella was the fact you didn’t have to read either series to enjoy it.  If you a novice to either series you an enjoy this novel and not get that loss.

Best Feature: Free.  This short story was free thank God.  In this day and age of cash cows, this was actually quite refreshing.  Though honestly I would’ve been sort of pissed if I had to pay for this it was ridiculously short.

Worst Feature:  Super short.  This isn’t a novella really more like a short story.  But whatever.  It’s short and sweet.  I think it took me about half an hour to read, so if you don’t have a lot of time to invest this will probably be the story for you.  But I do have to say, I really wish that this story would’ve been expanded on more.  I think it would be great if these series really did collide more.  This is one multiverse that actually makes sense unlike others that try to mesh Christian and Norse mythology together and end up failing  quite epically.

Appropriateness: This is pretty clean.  Some violence.  Maybe mild cursing (I honestly can’t remember if there was cursing or not, I know I would curse if I was in the situation Hale and Macey were in).  But overall, it was pretty clean.

Blockbuster Worthy: I like both of these series.  In fact, I think I’ve already have done casting for both of them.

Overall Rating: Eight out of ten jewels.  This is quick easy read.  I wish it was longer, but I can’t complain mainly because it was free.  This is how crossovers should be done. And above all, it made sense.

Out of Sight, Out of Time: Ally Carter

I reviewed the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter a couple of weeks ago in preparation for the release of the fifth book, Out of Sight Out of Time, in this series.  Let’s see if it makes the grade.

General Summary:  Cammie Morgan wakes up in Austria and finds out that it’s October, she has a really bad haircut, and she can’t remember what happened last summer.  Of course, the rest of the book is spent trying to figure out just what had happened to Cammie.  However, some secrets are better left buried.

Review: Wow, just wow.  This was the most intense Gallagher book I have read.  Is it the best one in the series?  Well, it depends if you like action.  I did, so it was my sort of thing.  But character development in this one is sort of pushed to the side.  Sure, there is some definite development when it comes to Cammie.  But the supporting cast really played a supporting role in this installment as Cammie tried to figure things out.   Besides the psychological turmoil that is going on in Cammie’s mind, the action sequences are also heightened by the exotic locations they take place in.  Yep, there’s some traveling in the Gallagher series.  Which includes locations such as:

 
 
Ireland

Best Feature: Page Turner: It took me about two hours to finish this book.  I couldn’t put it down.  The action is pretty intense it really did remind me of an episode of Alias or Burn Notice.  Though there were some answers revealed there are still many questions that went unanswered at the end of this book.  Also, I think that some of the things that were discovered weren’t  exactly what they seemed.

Worst Feature: Too Dark: Honestly, I really didn’t think this was a problem.  I liked the dark root this installment took.  However, I can see it isolating parts of Carter’s audience.  However, if you’ve been reading the series for awhile, you should know that it has been becoming darker   And I think that seeing Cammie in the state she was in throughout the book was sort of awesome.

Blockbuster Worthy: Of course, didn’t I say that before.  To see principle casting click here, otherwise scroll down to look at some picks I have the supporting cast.

Bex:  I always found casting for the role for Bex difficult until I saw Annaliese Dayes on America’s Next Top Model this cycle.  She has the accent and the look that I’m thinking of when I think Bex.  However, she might be a tad bit on the older side.  But who knows, maybe she has a kid sister or something.

 

Liz: A tiny petite blonde, I think Kristen Alderson can take this part.

Macey: High styled with a bit of a bitchy side, but can be sweet when need be.  I think Macey could be played by Lucy Hale would be appropriate.

Joe Soloman: Jeffrey Donovan, of course.  He plays super spy Michael Westen in Burn Notice.  And I can see him the some time grouchy but hot Covert Ops teacher.  And for further proof of his teaching abilities here is another one of his Ask a Spy videos.

Overall Rating: I’m going to give it nine out of ten secret agents.

Gallagher Girls Books: Ally Carter

The fifth book of one of my favorite YA series will be released next week.  And since I haven’t reviewed its predecessors yet, I decided to devote this entry for them.  That and I promised you I’d review the Gallagher Girls books when I devoted a whole entry to the characters’ wardrobe.

General Summary:  Cammie Morgan is a spy in training.  This means she attends Gallagher Girls Academy with her best friends and studies Covert Ops instead of Health and Science Class.  Of course being a teenage spy doesn’t mean taking classes that will one day help you be a professional spoof.  Oh no, Cammie and her friends usually find themselves in trouble.  The sort of trouble that if not dealt with properly could have someone ending up in a body bag.

Review: I really enjoy this series.  Though I think originally it was only to be a stand alone.  The first book is so different in tone from the rest of the series.  And it has no Zach, who in my opinion is far superior from Josh.  I have to say though, I really enjoy this series evolution from cutsey to a genuine espionage mystery.  The characters are pretty fleshed out.  Cammie is a likable protagonist with flaws and the same can be said about the rest of the cast.  The plot is pretty tightly woven, even in the first book, so it’s pretty crucial that you read every book in the series or you’ll miss something-though you could probably get away without reading the first one.

Best Feature: Progression: With these books I think they get better and better with each installment.  A lot of the time, especially in YA series, you don’t see this.  While the overall series might be good, more often than not there’s a book or two in the middle that stands out as the dunce in the series.  So far, knock on wood, this has not happened with this series and you really have to applaud Ally for that.

Worst Feature: Too long of a wait time: The waiting time between installments of these books is sort of ridiculous.  I’m planning on having a Gallagher marathon reading session this weekend, just to get a rehash on all the little nuggets of information I might have forgot before diving head first into the fifth one.  I guess this really not a fault though because the best things in life, you have to wait a bit.  And Ally almost always delivers.  It’s just that it unless I reread the series prior to opening the new addition I’m a little confused at first about what’s going on.

Blockbuster Worthy:

Cammie: Lexi Ainsworth: The reason I chose Lexi, is I think she could pull off Cammie’s chameleon like power.  With a little makeup and a change of clothes, I think she could easily change her appearance  like Cammie does.

Josh: Corey Monteith: Honestly, I think his character on Glee is the epitome of Josh: sweet, simple, and first love material.  One factor against him is that he’s almost hitting thirty.  But if Ryan Murphy believes he can pass as eighteen.  Who am I to judge?

Zach:  When I think Zach, I think dark, mysterious, and slightly dangerous.  These are things to live up to.  So who should get the part?  Well, Spider-Man of course.  Okay, not  the Tobey McGuire version.  But I think Andrew Garfield would be a good Zach even though like Corey he’s getting a little too old to play teen roles.  But then again if he can play Peter Parker then he can play Zach.
 

Overall Rating:

Book 1: Seven out of ten secret agents

Book 2: Eight out of ten secret agents

Book 3: Eight out of ten secret agents

Book 4: Nine out of ten secret agents

Overall Series Rating: Eight out of ten secret agents