Wrap up – Embassy Row Trilogy by Ally Carter

A contemporary with international political intrigue.

   Wrap Up - Embassy Row Trilogy Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

I was really keen to jump into this trilogy – at the time only the first book had been released and I was eager to read out of the dominating genres in YA – a murder mystery with an international setting felt like the right ticket. The Embassy Row trilogy felt like a mash-up of The Scooby Gang from ‘Scooby Doo’ and the movie ‘What A Girl Wants’ starring Amanda Bynes. Plus I’d read some cracker reviews from book blogger friends…

As much as I loved the concept, there are moments when I felt the story went a bit juvenile – unrealistic, overdramatic that I found tedious or even frustrating. But given the demographic, and the fact that it’s YA, it was to be expected. It was easy to overlook these hindrances and really enjoy the world Embassy Row presents.

Grace, our protagonist, a damaged heroine, thrown in the deep end of secret societies and political drama was an interesting character to read. She had all the necessary flightiness, drama and curiosity to engage the reader, but as the series progressed, some elements were repeated to death, and others had her looking like a flake, and even bipolar. I bit more research and cohesiveness would have seen Grace as a strong protagonist.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleHer friends on Embassy Row, which I dubbed of the ‘Super Crack Teen Spy Squad’ came and went from the narrative with each successive installment of this trilogy. So strong in the debut, but were reduced as mere plot points to move the story along in the consecutive two sequels. That was highly disappointing for me. There was such great chemistry and such interesting characters in this group, I would have liked to see them featured more prominently.

The flip-flopping with the love interest Alexei was the most frustrating part. It really established doubt in Grace herself instead of the motives of the mysterious Russian. The middle book of the trilogy needed the most work in editing to bring it to a much more palatable novel in my opinion, As it stood, I actually got a little pissed and the treatment of the cast.

The adults in this world all seemed to be James Bond characters. Members of secret society, spying on each other, manipulating each other, secret tunnels and meetings… It lost a sense of family that this series was missing to ground it in something solid. Consequently, the adults for all their nefarious activities felt a little two dimensional.

The basics of the storylines in each novel – the mystery – is crafted excellently. I loved the mechanics and storyline of all three novels. Ally Carter can weave a mean plot. It was just the delivery and immature tones that dragged the pace for me that lowered my ratings.

We get a spectacular ending – ‘Goonies’ style, though after a promising debut with ‘All Fall Down,’ both ‘See How They Run’ and ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ flatlined. Great mystery, fantastic twists and turns, but the wiring style was a little ‘meh’ and predictable.

Marvelous hook and concept, eye-catching cover art, and a quick easy reads. A fun trilogy I happily recommend – falls more into a guilty pleasure than an outstanding recommendation.

Wrap Up - Embassy Row Trilogy Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

For individual reviews click on the links below:

All Fall Down’https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/book-review-all-fall-down-by-ally-carter/

See How They Run’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/book-review-see-how-they-run-by-ally-carter/

Take the Key and Lock Her Upcarter’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/book-review-take-the-key-and-lock-her-up-by-ally-carter/

 

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ by Ally Carter

A perfect political mystery to kick off a CW tv series, or a Disney movie…

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 327

From Goodreads:

The princess is dead. Long live the princess.

Centuries ago, the royal family of Adria was killed…or so everyone thought.

Now Grace Blakely knows the truth: There was one survivor, and that survivor’s blood runs through her veins. This simple fact could cause a revolution—which is why some people will stop at nothing to keep it from coming to light.

There is only one way for Grace to save herself, save her family, and save the boy she loves. She must outmaneuver her foes, cut through the web of lies that has surrounded her for years, and go back to the source of all her troubles, despite the risk.

If she wins, she will inherit a throne.

And if she loses, she will inherit the fate of all the dead princesses who came before her. 

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

A trilogy that culminated in spectacular form! It still reminds me of ‘The Goonies,’ a bunch of teenagers pulling together against all odds, risking peril for their noble quest, ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ captured my youthful excitement with its drama, subterfuge and a European setting.

The narrative dragged a bit for me – continual repetition of clues, rehashing of the past, and Grace’s “episodes’ – all recounted in such efficacy that I ended up putting this book down numerous times because I just wasn’t that into it. But that’s the worst of it.

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI really liked Grace’s strength in this final installation of the Embassy Row trilogy. She was bad-ass. Though I found her continually slipping into PTSD mode : her episodes, were becoming tiring. I’d much rather see her come to terms with her demons earlier on in the piece. The whole wounded damsel thing was wearing thin. Especially when she was able to dismiss it and launch into terrifying situations in other moments. A little inconsistent from someone suffering the mental issues Grace was tackling.

The mystery side of things is expert level 10! I loved all of the plot twists, how facts were revealed, it is truly the best part of this series. Carter really knows how to plot and pace a story.

The rest of the Scooby Gang that featured so prominently in the first book, their relevance, and presence has slowly dwindled with each installment. To the point where I wasn’t really believing their friendship by the conclusion of ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up.’ Grace manages to push people away and get so tied up in her predicament, she comes across as being a friend only when she needs their help for something. And don’t get me started on her brother Jamie – he felt like a prop, rather than a key person to the storyline and her motivation.

The same can be said for the love interest, Alexei, I got so invested in them over the second book (‘See How They Run’) of the trilogy, but didn’t feel the magic here.

I liked the twists and turns, but ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ felt like some of the antagonists were practically cartoonish. The novel, and series, feels more like a Saturday cartoon serial than realistic YA fiction. It lacked a certain maturity in the writing style. I think it could have been streamlined and something extra injected into the narrative to give it some oomph without isolating its demographic.

It was fun, and I enjoyed ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up,‘ but as you can gather from my review there is a tone of disappointment. It’s like the complexity and character development has been decreasing with each instalment. I really wanted things to go out in a mammoth climax. And while it was spectacular as far as plot goes, I did not connect so much with the characters this time. I didn’t get that buzz when I finished the last page like I normally do.

I won’t say it was predictable – because what I assumed was going to happen, totally didn’t. I really think if I had been able to get emotionally invested in the cast more, I would have given this a full five stars/kisses because the writing is marvelous, the story outstanding… it was just slightly juvenile… (which *cough* is totally is marketed demographic, so maybe I should just leave the room)

Definitely recommend this for younger YA audiences who love a mystery, lost princesses, action, and a bit of political intrigue.

Overall feeling: Bring me more popcorn!

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Book Review – ‘See How They Run’ by Ally Carter

Not the best follow-up, but brings more mystery and tension to Embassy Row..

See How They Run Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 336

From Goodreads:

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. 

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

I’ve got a soft spot for the Embassy Row series. A damaged heroine, thrown in the deep end of secret societies and political drama… ‘See How They Run’ was a great addition, though I must admit, I was expecting a little more.

Our protagonist Grace was always freaking out, screaming, or demanding attention. There were things set up in the first novel I was hoping to get some resolution for – but they weren’t. Instead, we get a new set of mysteries and only a small number of answers. As a result ‘See How They Run’ suffered middle book syndrome for me. I didn’t get a pay-off and the cliff-hanger felt cheap. Almost telenovela style.

Grace became stronger, but also more unstable. The way she conducts herself adds to the frustration I feel over how reactionary she is. The whole lamenting in guilt was getting laid on thick, where at some points, I was annoyed – move the story forward please. There is a lot more telling instead of showing. The PTSD flashbacks got tiresome.

See How They Run Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I also found myself becoming a little pissed at Grace – she creates a bad situation for Alexei and then berates him for it. She’s starting to come off as a flake. Or quite possibly bipolar. It’s an easy assumption to conclude I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as the debut.

Alexei is thrown around as trustworthy then not. As hot and comforting and then as some feral woodland creature. You can get my frustration with Grace. I liked the story, but not its execution. Less emotional roller coaster – more mystery and intrigue.

Precedence of the ‘Scooby Gang’ (Grace’s group of friends with spy skills) set up in the first novel are practically ignored here. Doubt and suspicion are flung everywhere in a messy fashion. I felt like there was less structure in crafting this storyline in comparison to ‘All Fall Down.’ Maybe there is too much going on, or Grace is too scattered with her inner dialogue.

It also felt like a case of “Grace gets a bit of love and ignores her friends.”

Ms Chandlier the American Embassy staffer (and secret organisation member) has simply become the most annoying character I’ve ever read and seems to be a storytelling device (along with ‘Scar Man’) to add tension and drip-feed clues. It feels so unrealistic and contrived. Having them blurt out facts at key points in the narrative is so out of character for who they are set up to be. The whole premise of the factions involved relies on secrecy – why in hell do you blab it all out to a clearly unstable teenage girl?

Oh, and where was grandfather in this book? From playing such a strong role in ‘All Fall Down,’ he was notable absent here.

Wow – I’m getting my rant on… *changing gears*

I liked the mystery solving aspect, and the age-old political drama, but there wasn’t enough resolution for me to say I enjoyed the book. Plus with a whining protagonist and unrealistic reveals for clues, I’d say the good points and bad points balance each other out.

All in all it was a bit meh for me.

Overall feeling: fun, but fleeting

See How They Run Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.gif

See How They Run Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘All Fall Down’ by Ally Carter

On edge with PTSD and thrown into an international political nightmare – Grace is only able to keep her head above water… and it makes for a great read.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 310

From Goodreads:

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:

  1. She is not crazy.
  2. Her mother was murdered.
  3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her 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.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

I did not know what to expect going in to ‘All Fall Down,’ and I went in blind… what a pleasant surprise! International politics and a murder mystery never looked so good.

Some aspects to this storyline had me just about rolling my eyes – apparent “spy-like skills” some of the characters conveniently possessed. A higher degree of difficulty could have really added some authenticity to the narrative instead of the ease by which some of the teens countered their investigation. The formation of a ‘Scooby Gang’ felt a little cheesy. And finally, how the grown-ups kept things from our protagonist, Grace, for her own good. Can you think of a book where that has ever worked, like, ever?

Yes, those aspects lowered my rating a little, but only because it is thrown under the genre of realistic fiction. I did like the formation of a crack bunch of self-appointed teen spies with abilities and technology they had “borrowed” from their diplomat parents. It was all very exciting and took me back to the days of watching ‘The Famous Five’ on television.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleGrace annoyed me at first, her sarcasm, her frequent flashbacks and ‘episodes.’ Mainly because none of it made a whole lot of sense. But as we get to know her, more things clicked into place. She has a lot of witty lines that had me laughing out loud. Maybe her bipolar fluctuation between daring, adventurous, and fragile to mentally unstable prevented me from connecting with her in the beginning. But by the conclusion of ‘All Fall Down’ I was eager to read more of her story.

Can I mention the cliff-hanger the book ended on! Ay Currumba! Ally Carter you tease me so.

All of the ‘Super Crack Teen Spy Squad’ as I call them, are likeable, even Grace’s crush Alexei, though there seems to be a lot more to his story. I’m guessing in the following books we’ll discover more. Rosie, Noah and Megan are all the crew I want as my best friends, they have Grace’s back even when she behaves in a way that she shouldn’t deserve it… and vice versa. The Embassy Row kids stick together.

As for the mystery of who killed Grace’s mother – well, I’m usually pretty good at sleuthing out the answer well in advance in these types of books, but to be honest, didn’t see this one coming at all. Carter’s narrative style has a way of moving the story forward without dropping obvious clues, but enough to throw suspicion on lots of other characters. I was guessing right up to the reveal.

I was first attracted to this series because of fellow reviewers, and the colourful cover. Plus Carter seems to have a pretty great catalogue of titles. I’m really glad I decided to give this a go. It has tones of movies like ‘The First Daughter,’ ‘The Prince and Me,’ ‘What a Girl Wants,’ and ‘Chasing Liberty,’ with a murder mystery thrown in. Fun reading and I’d recommend it to those who want a light YA read with an angsty heroine, political intrigue and a mystery to solve.

Overall feeling: Not bad at all.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout

Can K-pop be Graceful?

Hello I Love You Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 304

From Goodreads:

Grace Wilde is running—from the multi-million dollar mansion her record producer father bought, the famous older brother who’s topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother’s breakdown. Grace escapes to the farthest place from home she can think of, a boarding school in Korea, hoping for a fresh start.

She wants nothing to do with music, but when her roommate Sophie’s twin brother Jason turns out to be the newest Korean pop music superstar, Grace is thrust back into the world of fame. She can’t stand Jason, whose celebrity status is only outmatched by his oversized ego, but they form a tenuous alliance for the sake of her friendship with Sophie. As the months go by and Grace adjusts to her new life in Korea, even she can’t deny the sparks flying between her and the KPOP idol.

Soon, Grace realizes that her feelings for Jason threaten her promise to herself that she’ll leave behind the music industry that destroyed her family. But can Grace ignore her attraction to Jason and her undeniable pull of the music she was born to write? Sweet, fun, and romantic, this young adult novel explores what it means to experience first love and discover who you really are in the process.

Page border by Casey Carlisle

I picked this up because I’ve had a good run of contemporaries lately – and I love k-pop… it should’ve been a winning formula for me, but unfortunately it was only so-so. Later, discovering that it had been compared to ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ was glad I hadn’t read that comment, because I would have been even more disappointed. Though, having no expectations, ‘Hello, I Love You’ was a pleasant easy read that left me with a smile on my face.

Starting off with a premise that grabbed my attention – country music virtuoso is sent to boarding school in a foreign country where she doesn’t even speak the language. Grace is a fish out of water with her big blonde hair and struggles with homesickness to find her place in this unfamiliar region. Sophie embodies much of the K-Wave phenomena: pop culture dominating for overseas export (fighting!) Then there’s Jason… who suffered much of the typical misunderstood bad boy trope so familiar in YA. He didn’t treat Grace particularly well either – all of those points had me disliking this character most of all and I lost much of my investment in his story arc.

Hello I Love You Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

With pop culture intimately wrapped up in the story, you had to expect an amount of superficial – which came in the form of Sophie – and she lost a bit of realism for me. As well did Grace when she succumbed to Sophie’s will; I wanted to see Grace take her own journey, rather than be lead about by Sophie so much.

Katie M. Stout has a soft writing style, like the understated manner of the Asian culture itself, but I was hoping to get some edge to it from the pop side of things, or maybe something more melodic and sophisticated nodding to Korean History… but it was fun to read nonetheless. I think there were a number of points that could have enriched this story because if fell a little flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, there is substance, and what is there packs a punch, but it wasn’t enough. ‘Hello, I Love You’ ultimately felt somewhat immature – perfect for a run of the mill YA Audience.

There was too much coincidence with the story line and it came off as corny rather than kismet. I think with characters that were fleshed out more and not so typical of this genre I’d have been convinced that the outcome was destiny rather than some after school special.

Overall, I did like the book, the clash of culture, the trappings of fame and plenty of angst. I’d only recommend to a younger audience and lovers of contemporary romances.

Overall feeling: bubble-gum pop cute

Hello I Love You Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Hello I Love You Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – Shiver

Book Review Shiver by Casey CarlisleFrom Goodreads:

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf – her wolf – is a chilling presence that she can’t seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human – or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Shiver’ felt a little long for me – only because it was hard to get into; the pace was slow and not a lot happened. I did enjoy the relationship element between Grace and Sam, even if it was a little stalker-esque. I’d hoped for a darker tone with the werewolf treatment for this novel, but it focused more on the pack mentality and ‘canine’ forms rather than something monstrous and half-human-half-wolf, fighting against an inner evil vying for control over the physical body. It was very light and fluffy and failed to hook me in.

Book Review Shiver Pic 3 by Casey CarlisleMaggie Stiefvater does have a beautiful way of writing though, she has a lyrical turn of phrase which helps paint beautiful scenes in the imagination. She also has a great knack for world building and underlying mythology in her novels, and where ‘Shiver’ failed to captivate me, it was still an interesting concept.

As far as story goes, I found it ultimately very predictable and unoriginal. It followed a formula rife in YA paranormal romances; which I could have overlooked if there was something that hooked me, but unfortunately ‘Shiver’ fell short.

Grace was a strong character, which is the most redeeming quality of this book. She is intelligent and observant, juxtaposing Sam’s alternate point of view (which I had a little trouble relating to). As the narration alternated between Grace and Sam, I kept getting pulled out of the novel, distracted by trying to find a connection and get my bearings. I felt if the novel had remained with a single character and was only half its length, it would have been a far superior story.

There have been a lot of parallels drawn between this book and ‘Twilight’ by Stephenie Meyer – and even the sparkly vampires were more menacing than the wolves of Mercy Falls. I wouldn’t particularly recommend this book; maybe to a younger audience – early teens – but I’m uncertain if many would have the attention span to complete the novel.

Book Review Shiver pic 2 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle © Casey Carlisle 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.