DNF: The Grift of the Magi (A Heist Society Novella) by Ally Carter

DNF at 75%

The Grift of the Magi is a holiday-themed Heist Society novella eBook, written and published by Ally Carter via NLA Digital LLC in 2016.

Our series’ heroine, Kat Bishop, has established herself as a thief who re-steals valuable artwork and returns it to its rightful owners. The latest item she must steal back is a rare Faberge egg for a charity in London.

I read 75% of this novella, enough to get a firm grasp on the story as a whole, but admittedly lost interest in the mystery, and especially in the new cast of characters, once they’re snowed in at a British mansion. Kat’s insecurity around her boyfriend, Hale – namely, comparing herself to the wealthier girls who are also interested in him – was redundant from the previous book, and I didn’t like that Hale never seemed to reassure her.

If you can’t get enough Heist Society and are looking for a short read for the holidays, this story gives you more of the characters you love, but isn’t altogether necessary to the series.

Book Review: Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society #2) by Ally Carter

Kat and the team are back in Uncommon Criminals (Disney-Hyperion 2011), the second installment of Ally Carter’s Heist Society series. Now that Kat has established her line of thievery as a noble “Robin Hood” sort, she can’t resist when a kind, elderly lady approaches her, begging Kat to right a decades-old wrong.

Constance Miller beseeches Kat to find and steal back an ancient gem, called the Cleopatra emerald, which Constance claims her parents rightfully discovered as archaeologists, but was stolen by their conniving young assistant. Kat rounds up the team – the handsome, wealthy outsider, W. W. Hale the fifth; her gorgeous and talented cousin, Gabrielle; computer genius Simon, and the notorious Bagshaw brothers, with all their British bulk and banter, to successfully steal the Cleopatra emerald and replace it with their uncle’s forgery. However, this is only where the story begins.

Legend has it, the ancient stone is cursed. And Kat’s willing to believe it when she realizes she’s been conned. The old woman wasn’t the real Constance Miller, but a thief named Margaret, who once knew – and conned – her uncles. Margaret intends to pass off the Cleopatra emerald as its long-lost twin gem, the Antony emerald, and sell it to the highest bidder…but not if Kat has anything to say about it. Despite her wounded ego and the deep-seated fear that she is destined to become like Margaret someday, Kat rounds up her teen team once more to fix her egregious mistake.

This book was even better than the first! The plot was more complex, the new characters more ambiguous and interesting, and I loved the angle of ancient Egyptian artifacts. I am also now beginning to  see why Carter wrote this series in third person instead of first, since certain scenes are told by Interpol or the bad guys’ POV, like a Dan Brown novel, which works for this genre. I was also happy with the return of Nick and his mother who works for Interpol; I find them fascinating characters and I like the tension they add to the story.

The only thing I wished – which I learned after finishing Book 1 – was that the paintings and artifacts named in these books were real. I would’ve loved to learn some art history, or if the author could’ve used a real stone, like the Hope Diamond. However, the artists (such as Monet) and historical figures (Antony & Cleopatra) are of course real, and I do love the lore Carter created about the twin emeralds. I was fascinated to begin to see Kat’s seams and weaknesses in this installment. I seriously cannot wait to see what Book 3 holds in store!

Book Review: Heist Society (#1) by Ally Carter

“…[T]his might be, in every way, a ghost hunt, a fool’s errand. The greatest con the greatest con man to never live had ever pulled.” – 57%

Since I so thoroughly enjoyed her Embassy Row series, I’ve embarked up Ally Carter’s Heist Society trilogy. Heist Society (Disney-Hyperion, 2010) is the first book in this fun, YA heist adventure series.

Fifteen-year-old Katarina Bishop was born into a family of high-end art thieves. She tried to run away from crime life by enrolling in a prestigious private school, but her longtime billionaire friend (and potential love interest), W. W. Hale, has her expelled. And perfect timing, for it turns out a notorious villain is after Kat’s father for a theft Bobby Bishop insists he did not commit. In order to save her father, Kat must find out who stole Arturo Taccone’s five valuable paintings and steal them back for Mr. Taccone, before he kills her father.

Now, I’m a huge Oceans trilogy fan and a general lover of heist films, so this story spoke naturally to my interests. It’s lighthearted, cinematic, dryly humorous, and not bogged down with too many details – just how I like my easy YA escapes! If I could’ve changed one thing, I’d have preferred it to have been written in first person, like Carter’s other books, instead of third person. Otherwise, this book was a fun international romp through Europe and the U.S., with a colorful cast of teen collaborators, an impossible mission, a mystery Robin Hood figure, and surprises at every turn. I was 100% entertained and will be eagerly devouring Book 2!

Book Review: Take the Key and Lock Her Up (Embassy Row #3) by Ally Carter

I don’t want to be a princess. I don’t want the spotlight and the chaos and the duty. But more than that, I want the people I love to be safe, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.” – 52%

Take the Key and Lock Her Up (2016) is the third installment in Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series, following All Fall Down and See How They Run. Once more, we plunge into the disturbed mind of teenage Grace Blakely in this fast-paced, nonstop international action/thriller for young adults.

Grace and her brother, Jamie, have just learned a centuries-old secret about their true heritage, which threatens the royal family of Adria, the secret women’s Society their mother once belonged to, and possibly the peace in Europe. With Grace’s Russian love interest, the stoic Alexei, the youths and their protector are on the run for their lives. Jamie has been seriously injured, and Grace fears the worst for her brother if he doesn’t seek medical help. Desperate to keep him alive, Grace throws herself to the wolves, only to be met with an impossible compromise.

This whole Embassy Row series really is excellent, and the third and final book pulled out all the stops. Everything major connected nicely in the grand finale, which was truly a nail-biter. I liked the whole ‘nursery rhyme’ theme running through the series and how the rhyme held centuries-old answers. I also enjoyed that these books have a cast of characters full of brave, bright and powerful women. Take the Key and Lock Her Up has everything from our hard-edged, not-your-ordinary narrator, action, international intrigue and  a dash of romance, to high-stakes danger, fictional but fun history, and royal secrets. If you like the idea of an action series for teens with a darker twist on The Selection, mixed with the history of Anastasia Romanov, then these are the books for you! Five stars to a trilogy well-done. I’d love to read more.

Memorable Quotes

“There are few things in the world scarier than the unknown.” – 7%

“Maybe I should set Valancia on fire—burn the whole world down. Maybe then I could stop running.” – 52%

“I look at the old-fashioned key that still lies in the palm of the king’s large hand. It doesn’t look like it should hold any power at all. But once upon a time it changed the world.” – 76%

“…what’s going to haunt me more in the future—memories or regrets?” – 85%

“I know how the human mind can be—how it’s both wonderfully strong and terribly frail, and how, if necessary, a person can rewrite history, even if only for themselves.” – 94%

Book Review: The Robert Langdon books by Dan Brown

roblangdonThe Robert Langdon books by Dan Brown consist of four (to date) fast-paced thriller/suspense novels, featuring fictitious genius Harvard symbology and iconology professor, Robert Langdon. I have read the first three: Angels & Demons, The DaVinci Code, and The Lost Symbol. Each book takes place in a famous city, involves a secret society of a religious or occult nature, and includes a new female counterpart with Langdon.

Angels & Demons is a murder mystery taking place in Vatican City, where Professor Langdon must save the day to stop the murders of Catholic Cardinals inflicted by a mysterious, archaic secret society, called the Illuminati. This is one of the best books in the series.

The DaVinci Code, this time in Paris, focuses on a grand secret kept by the Knights Templar, which the Catholic Church has been trying to eradicate for centuries. This is my favorite book in the series.

Lastly, The Lost Symbol is a scavenger hunt across Washington, D.C., leading to a hidden message left by the Freemasons. In each book, Langdon and his female counterpart encounter a series of clues. Langdon must then use his expertise in interpreting symbols and icons to solve them. The FBI or Secret Service is usually involved, as is some breaking-edge scientific technology: in Angels & Demons, it is an antimatter bomb; in The Lost Symbol, it’s a scientific invention that weighs (therefore proving the existence of) the human soul.

The Robert Langdon books are fun, plot-driven thrillers designed to twist and turn in all the right places. Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code in particular were a blast. The ending of The Lost Symbol fell flat for me. I couldn’t get through the grisly visuals of Inferno.