A superb sequel that only raises the bar for all of Lyga's future books, not just the next Jasper Dent installment (because there is one, right? THEREA superb sequel that only raises the bar for all of Lyga's future books, not just the next Jasper Dent installment (because there is one, right? THERE HAS TO BE.)...more
Tell Me More:It's been two-and-a-half years since I first readI'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and frankly, I wish I could go baTell Me More: It's been two-and-a-half years since I first read I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and frankly, I wish I could go back. There is nothing like rediscovering a favourite series all over again, and even as I celebrate the release of the final book, United We Spy, I'm sad not only because it's the end, but because it'll be years before I can take up this series again and relive the experience like new. In the meantime, I want to take this moment to thank Ally Carter for one of the best series I've read in my entire life.
And what makes a series great anyway?
1. Consistency. Books 1 through 6 in the Gallagher Girls series have been consistently excellent, smart and ambitious, much like its subjects. Anyone who believes that a book with a girl in a school uniform can't be substantial is fooled by the same belief that the Gallagher Girls work to their advantage in every single chapter. United We Spy highlights the myriad ways that these girls have grown and used the way society sees women to achieve amazing and impossible things. Every time the reader falls into thinking that the story can be predicted, Cammie and her friends find another way to prove them wrong.
2. Real, powerful relationships between characters. I've always been more interested in the portrayal of friendships in literature than I have been in romantic attachments. The friendships on display in the Gallagher Girls series are some of the most luminous and realistic that I've encountered in literature. Cammie's strength and determination, especially in United We Spy, is built on the foundation of her love for her family and friends. She doesn't think twice about risking her life for them, not only because she knows they would never hesitate to do the same for her but that they are people worth saving. The friendship between Cammie, Bex, Liz and Macey is the crowning glory of the series, and United We Spy sees that friendship at its best. They are all brilliant girls on their own, but together? Their teamwork could single-handedly keep the world spinning on its axis.
And okay, the romance was pretty perfect. Zach is exactly what I wanted in a romantic interest for Cammie: he's funny, sweet and human. So many YA romantic heroes these days seem too good to be true, but Zach is realistic without resorting to extremes.
3. Unpredictable plot twists. I challenge anyone to correctly predict what happens in United We Spy. Go on. I'll wait.
Those of you who've read it already know that while all the plot twists and revelations make sense in hindsight, Carter handles them all masterfully, and there hasn't been a single book in the series that is unimportant to the central arc. The right pieces of information find their way to the surface all at the right times, and the suspense is bone-chilling when it needs to be. Carter succeeds in keeping the mystery and anticipation building, and the climactic scenes all feel like walking straight into a brick wall, they're that surprising. There were several moments where I literally screamed because I couldn't believe what was happening. United We Spy keeps the tension turned up to the highest level, and I couldn't be sure of who would survive the events in the novel until the very last page, as is only right for a thriller like this. It rewards readers who have followed the series faithfully, and it lays the groundwork for newer readers to return to the previous novels and pick out all the clues leading up to this one. (Frankly, I would be disappointed if those who've followed the series since the beginning didn't do that too.) It's clear that Carter has done the leg-, arm- and headwork involved in crafting this series.
4. Satisfaction. At the end of the day, a good series should tie up all its loose ends, answer its most pressing questions, and generally leave its readers with the sense that the story as told is complete. Sure, there should also be a desire for more. But if a reader can close the book knowing that the story can stand on its own and has achieved the things it wanted to achieve, good and bad, then the author has done an excellent job.
United We Spy does all of that and more.
I can't remember the last time I was this satisfied with the final book in a series, and really only Deathly Hallows compares. No question is left hanging, and it is very difficult to talk about this without spoiling anyone, so trust me when I say that this was exactly the right ending for the story. The biggest compliment I can give is this: as I finish typing up this review, I just keep thinking about how I want to sit in a corner, hold all six books and cry for a good long while because of the fantastic reading experience they gave me. So thanks, Ally Carter--you've got a fan for life.
It was a cute read but I had to actively work to keep myself focused on the plot. The little spy info tidbits didn't flow as well into the story and sIt was a cute read but I had to actively work to keep myself focused on the plot. The little spy info tidbits didn't flow as well into the story and sometimes felt like LOOK WHAT I CAN DO AND YOU CAN'T....more
Tell Me More:When you've got a brother who is all abYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: When you've got a brother who is all about video games, a certain reluctance for stories about gamers is normal. Nevertheless, when I first heard about Insignia last year on the author's blog, I filed it away under "interesting concepts" and thought I'd just borrow it from the library. Eight months later, I'm glad I took a chance on this book because it shifted every idea I had about virtual reality science fiction on its head, and it was an intense, amazing ride to boot.
Make no mistake--S.J. Kincaid plays no games with her readers in this high-stakes story of a boy who finds himself struggling for an identity amidst people who want to force identities onto him. The tone of the first chapter is simultaneously witty and rebellious, with Tom using overlooked skills to get one up on arrogant VR players. Kincaid writes Tom as older than his fourteen years, so it is jarring to remember that he still stays with his father and that he is still under the mercy of the authorities. It's a frustrating life that he leads, so no reader could possibly blame him for wanting out. What the Pentagonal Spire offers is security, stability, and a chance at being somebody. Who could turn that down after a life of running away all the time?
In this light, I found it extremely interesting that Kincaid chose to make Tom a fourteen-year-old. He's on the younger end of the YA spectrum, and his mind and attitudes are still malleable. That itself is the main reason why the government chooses to hire teenagers for their programs, but there is also a darker side to it. Where is the fine line between employment and utilization? In other words, can we remain human when the entire point of our lives is to serve? Kincaid takes the idea of dehumanization--something that still happens to this day--and dresses it in the robes of virtual reality and celebrity, in games and patriotism. Does that really make a difference? Tom's position and subsequent promotions in the Spire depend on his turning a blind eye to the fact that to a large extent, every teenager is a tool, a weapon. They don't create the programs that they use, even though they are taught programming in case they need to escape from it. A chilling scene in the programming class drives this point home--should someone insert malware into the much-touted neural processor, you would be even more helpless than a regular human. And Tom, as a young teenager, is positioned to receive years of training under this neural processor, to depend on it and make it a part of himself. That unpredictability kept me tied to the story and I genuinely could not stop reading this book.
There were several moments in this novel that reminded me of Veronica Roth's Divergent. I'm not a huge fan of that series--the first book was okay, Insurgent was a more compelling read--and I have to say that when it comes to action and conspiracy theories, Insignia is a better book, hands-down. I felt like Tom's actions were more in keeping with his character than Tris's were, and the world around Tom was much more carefully laid out and detailed than the Chicago we see in Divergent. Admittedly, I'm a reader that goes for those tiny details, so my preference for this book won't come as a surprise. We know so much about Tom's futuristic world after only 50 pages, and Kincaid writes his story in such a way that you constantly thirst for more of everything.
Ultimately, that is what makes Insignia such a satisfying read: readers can draw very real connections to its universe, and see how history might just play out to be exactly like it. Even better, Tom is not a push-over, and he is determined to make sure that he knows as much as he can before making any risky decisions. That kind of self-preservation instinct is important, and it stops Insignia from becoming just another flash-in-the-pan thriller. As you make your way further into the story, it becomes clearer that Tom is a strong character, one that won't find himself at the mercy of factors he can't control. Granted, that strength also leads him into some unsavoury situations, but he's a smart kid. He knows there's much more to life than what he can see at any given moment.
The Final Say: S.J. Kincaid's unique vision of a world tied to the brilliant minds of teenagers in Insignia will keep readers enthralled with electric prose and heart-stopping twists.
Release Date:April 17, 2012 Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 330 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received fRelease Date: April 17, 2012 Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 330 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: The last time I remember being terrified from reading a synopsis alone was when my father handed me a copy of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. (Vampires--the really scary ones--and I do not mix.) Hinting at the horror that is about to unfold, the cover copy sets the tone for this intense story about everything that can go wrong between life and death.
Mary Downing Hahn's narrative is flawless. It makes one's chest ache with the sheer beauty of the prose, the melody of the words. You can almost touch the sad desperation of Buddy Novak as he fights back against damning accusations; Nora is insightful and perceptive, too perceptive for her age.
Murder happens far away, in cities or desolate places. It happens to strangers and you say how sad, how awful, and then a commercial comes on and that's that, you forget. You watch I Love Lucy and laugh, you watch Gunsmoke and Matt Dillon catches the killer before the show is over. You go up to bed before the news comes on to remind you of the woman's body found in an alley. You fall asleep in your safe little house, and you know all your friends are sleeping in their safe little houses and you'll see them as school tomorrow. And you forget the woman in the alley who will never sleep in her safe little house again.
But not this. You won't forget this. It will be a part of you forever. This day...this day will never end.
Beneath each line lies a pulse--this story is alive in all the best ways, but it required bravery to write and it requires bravery to read. Hahn does not shy away from the intensity of the events that are unfolding, but she does find the humanity in every character and highlights it. I loved that aspect of the story, and I think it elevates Mister Death from simply being a mystery to a powerful commentary on perspective and justice.
The most stark character parallels can be drawn between Nora and Buddy, whose role in the murder of his ex-girlfriend and another girl is contested even 20, 30 years after the event. Both of them ask questions of the world that are never truly answered, and both of them suffer an immense amount of guilt related to the murders. Hahn's choice to employ multiple points-of-view lets the story play with a different narrative dynamic and allows readers to draw their own conclusion about each person. In a way, the reader is judge and jury of this case, and that responsibility mirrors what the characters experience.
Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls is a book that questions what we think we know, and whether we have the courage to fight for that knowledge. It asks us to consider all sides, to face our bias and to make up for the damning assumptions we accept about other people. In light of the extreme violence that has plagued "civilized" society lately, this book will not please everyone. It will turn people off and disturb their sensibilities. It will make people uncomfortable and reluctant to add to the discussion about justice. But I firmly believe that books like these have the ability to help us shove off assumptions and lies and focus on the search for truth and justice, for honesty and love in a world that grows more terrifying by the second.
The Final Say: Looking for a mystery that will not only make you think but examine the lives we have been conditioned to lead? Mary Downing Hahn proves that she is a powerful force in YA literature with Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls, which will shock, scare and inspire.