Showing posts with label Ally Carter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ally Carter. Show all posts

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heist Society by Ally Carter


Rating: WARTY!

I used to be enthusiastic about Ally Carter when I discovered her Gallagher Girls series, but that didn't last long. Initially I liked it and positively reviewed I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You which was ridiculously titled but not bad. The next two in the series were awful, though. I didn't like Don't Judge a Girl by her Cover which I reviewed negatively back in February of 2013, nor did I like Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy. Normally I won't read on in a series if I dislike one, but in this case I had both novels from the library at the same time and decided to give it a try. I wished I hadn't! Cam, the main character, had become too stupid for polite words.

I got a chance to read a 'spies and thieves' author promotion collection in July 2013, titled Double Crossed and liked it, which encouraged me to give a different young adult series by this author a chance, which means she's lucky indeed when there are so many authors competing for my attention. This particular novel turned out to be better than expected when I began it, but over the course of the novel, it proved to be decidedly sluggish in actually getting on with the story, and some of it made no sense whatsoever. Worse than this, the ending was remarkably limp.

Kat is a thief in a family of thieves, but she has conned her way into a boarding school to get out of her family's way of life. Despite this, she's dragged back into that life when someone frames her father for a theft he didn't commit, and she herself is framed for a stunt on the school premises which results in her expulsion (in quite flimsy premises I have to say). The man her father appears to have crossed is a seriously bad and very powerful Italian mobster. The person who framed her and got her kicked out of school is someone she's not even angry towards. This seemed not only to be entirely inappropriate, but to be out of character for her. She wasn't remotely pissed off with him for indulging in what frankly was at best a form of harassment, and at worst an exertion of control over her - control she had fought tooth and nail to free herself from. Her response (or rather complete lack of one) simply wasn't credible, nor was her complete capitulation to fall back in with these guys and save her estranged father.

She seems the kind of character who would be so peeved that these people got her expelled from a school in which she was doing well, that she would simply disappear and ditch them all to their fate, but she doesn't. She buckles under and goes along with their scheme, which made me dislike her considerably. I began wishing we could have kept her in school and follower her career there! It might have made for more engaging reading. On the other hand, she had four fingers and a thumb. Kidding. No, on the other hand, she was a very confident and capable young woman who knew how to get things done, which was no doubt why they'd dragged her into this. She immediately takes charge and gets things moving, but her easy access to money and unfettered and unescorted travel around the world is a bit of a stretch. Did no one ever wonder why she wasn't in school?!

I had a couple of other problems. Kat was presented as a sharp operator, yet she lets a new person into their crew at the last minute when none was needed, which seemed way off to me. It felt like she was constantly pining after for Hale, her old friend, which was annoying and made her look weak and pathetic. She'd had her chance at him, and rejected it along with everything he represented, yet now she's suddenly all a-flutter over him despite the fact that he's clearly a womanizing jerk? That stunk, because it made her look really stupid, and brought back the ipecac taste of Cam from the other series.

The ending was so flaccid that it proved to be the final straw. How she dealt with the mobster made zero sense given all that had happened. Why the mobster was so obsessive about her and so convinced her father having stolen his property was another big hole in the plot. it never felt real - it felt like a big game the author was playing with me. So. overall, I don't consider this a worthy read, and I do not plan on following the series. I'm done with Ally Carter! Next author please, right this way!


Monday, July 1, 2013

Double Crossed by Ally Carter





Title: Double Crossed
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Disney Publishing
Rating: worthy


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is shorter so as not to rob the writer of her story.

Note that this book is (as of this blogging) available free from the above-listed Barnes & Noble location.

I reviewed three of Carter's Gallagher Girls spy book series earlier this year (I'd tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover, and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. I was impressed by the first one, but the subsequent two sucked majorly, so I quit reading the series. I've never read her 'Heist Society' series, but I have considered it, which is why I took the opportunity to give this one a try. It’s described as a novella, but the real story here is that it’s little more than a commercial for Ally Carter's books. Not that I can blame an author for getting their work out in public!

There are three sections, the first being an original work which seems more like a short story, not a novella, to me, although without knowing the word count, it’s a bit of a wash. According to wikipedia, a novella should be 17,500 to 40,000 words, whereas a short story is under 7,500, so maybe Carter's effort here is more like a novelette, which comes smack between the other two. By that accounting, my own Poem y Granite contains one novella, three novelettes, and several short stories as well as a bunch of poetry, cartoons, and other idiocy. Not that any of this really matters that much. The second section of Carter's work is an intro to her 'Heist Society' series in the form of a couple of sample chapters; the third is an intro to her 'Galagher Girls' spy series using the same means.

The basic story of the 'novella' is that Macey from the spy series runs into Hale and Hearty (actually Hale and Kat - yet another 'Kat' girl) at a high society charity event, attended by the rather curdled cream of New York society. Half-a-dozen armed men take the guests hostage, but they seem to be taking too long about their business if this were a mere robbery, so what are they really up to? Macey, Hale and Kat (who might be attending the Gallagher Academy before long) decide to take things into their own hands.

This short story/novelette is sadly derivative. Carter apparently took the thieves' wearing of US president masks idea directly from the movie Point Break, and she purloined the thieves taking hostages so the FBI will cut the power to the building from the movie Die Hard. That aside, the story is passable, but it really doesn’t give much. I'm still considering reading at least the first of the 'Heist Society' novels (I love that title), but I was neither persuaded nor dissuaded any by this story. I'm going to rate it as a 'worthy' because it really wasn't bad.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter




Title: Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover
Author: Ally Carter
Pages: 236
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WARTY!
Perspective: first person past

Note: Spoil to the word!

Well I'm into this for ten chapters so far and I have to say at this point that I'm not particularly impressed. I don't know what it was about that first volume; maybe it was the novelty of the novel and the fresh voice, and the promise of a fun series, but I really liked it. Vol. 2, not so much! Were my expectations too high after the first novel? I blame Carter for that! People often complain that the second novel in a trilogy tanks, and the third one can rescue the trilogy again, and whilst this isn't a trilogy, it is for me at this point, since I'm into vol 3, but unfortunately, it's not rising after the tanking of vol 2! Not yet. So be warned I may not read this series beyond this volume.

Just in passing, I discovered (I think from wikipedia) that Ally Carter is significantly older than I had imagined her to be. Not that her age is relevant except in that it surprised me, but I had pictured her (especially from her picture and the content of this series) as being in her twenties. More kudos to her!

This novel starts off with Cam visiting Macey in her natural environment: as the daughter of a senator, who is now, as it happens, running on a presidential ticket as VP to a guy called Winters (which makes me immediately suspect that particular guy of being a potential villain for some reason!). So they end up being misdirected with the presidential candidate's son some sixty stories up on the roof of a building sans Macey's bodyguards, whence a helicopter swoops down, dropping off several black-clad people to kidnap Macey (so we're led to understand). Cam takes charge and lowers the boy over the side of the building on the window-washer's platform, and she and Macey, whose arm is broken, beat a hasty and fighting retreat through vent shafts etc., thereby thwarting the kidnapping.

Both girls are understandably affected by this. Why the effect is so great is a mystery. Don't get me wrong; if this happened for real to any typical person, male or female, they definitely would be affected as Cam is, but recall that these girls are supposed to be exceptional! Indeed, that's part of the title of the school. Moreover, these girls have been (or should have been by now) especially trained for events like this; and have in fact, had such training in each of the two previous novels, so it doesn't ring true for me that Cam is quite so debilitated by it.

Nor did it ring true that when they all return to school at the end of the summer hols, that they would all have stories of secret adventures from the summer. Are these girls being sent on actual missions? That seems inappropriate at best, especially since it begs the question I just asked above as to why Cam is so affected by her experiences, whereas none of the other girls (with the possible exception of Macey) seem to be so put out from their experiences.

What this means from the school's perspective is that they have to have the United States Secret Service in the school. This is a cool ploy on Carter's part since the agent who is assigned to protect Macey on the premises is Cam's aunt Abby, herself a Gallagher girl. Here's a chance for Cam to learn more of her father, perhaps?

Unfortunately, Abby isn't very good at her job, even as Carter is repeatedly describing her as exceptional and giving examples. The reason I make this assertion is that at one point, Abby, for no reason whatsoever, abandons watching Macey to visit Cam's class (taught by Solomon) to talk about the kidnapping attempt! That's completely unbelievable and was actually where I really started asking myself why I'm continuing to read this series!

There are ways of having your characters do what you want and be where need them to be without completely destroying your story's internal credibility! Carter evidently does not know this; or worse, doesn't care.>/p>

At least Carter's learned to spell 'rappelling' in this volume! But there's none of the humor (so far) that I loved from vol 1. The closest she comes to it is in describing some technique using a name that is supposedly the inventor's. This is where I do miss ebooks: where you can search (assuming you have a decent ebook reader)! The funny thing is that I tried to search using Google books, and Google couldn't even find its own Google books reference lol! I can't find this in the book now, of course, but it was something like the 'Foryn' technique or theory, which sounds like Foreign technique, and which I found amusing, wondering if Carter had done it on purpose, and how many of these I'd missed, but in searching for it so fruitlessly, I found other such mentions and none of those seemed to have a hidden meaning - or if they do, it's too subtle for me!

Cam sneaks off to the Cleveland election event because she's supposedly scared for Macey's safety. She runs into Zach. Realizes he was the same suspicious person she saw in Boston, but learns nothing. She gets into trouble. She promises not to leave the school grounds. She leaves the school grounds to stalk Macey on train trip. She runs into Zach. She gets into trouble. She promises not to leave the school grounds. She sees that Macey is depressed at being confined to the grounds. She leaves the school grounds with Macey. Macey discovers she's related to Gillian Gallagher, runs off in an adolescent hissy fit. Cam gets into trouble. She promises not to leave the school grounds. Rinse and repeat.

That's it. I'm not exaggerating. There is no humor. There is no sense. There is no joy at all in reading this amateurish pablum any more. There is only monotonously repetitive, tediously ongoing, boringly never-ending sameness. I'm sure there are those who for unknowable reasons find this series entertaining. I'm sorry to say that I'm no longer one of them.

So everyone thinks Macey has run away to Switzerland, which is pretty stupid given that she's been trained to leave a false trail. Cam (of course) figures out that she went instead to Joe Solomon's house by the lake (where they went after the initial kidnapping), but instead of telling this to someone who would listen and be able to act on it, Cam, Bex and Liz drive out there and bring her back to DC. Yet again she breaks the rules. Yet again there's no price to pay, and Cam isn’t even close to being done disobeying her mother, breaking rules, and putting the lives of people she supposedly loves at risk. Neither is Zach.

The two of them step outside into an empty street against Cam's mom's expressed instructions, and suddenly a van appears, bearing down on them, and Cam all but panics thinking they're after Macey, who has also stepped outside with Liz and Bex. But they’re not after Macey, of course, they’re after Cam. There's a fight (during which one of the assailants recognizes Zach), and Cam's aunt Abby gets shot. Apparently the expert Gallagher girl is too stupid to wear a Kevlar vest. But of course she doesn’t die. And Cam doesn’t get blamed for anything, nor punished, not even remotely, much less expelled.

The story is nonsense even within its own framework. Cam simply doesn't get it, nor does she show any sign whatsoever of any kind of growth or of any ability to learn from experience. She endangers her friends for no reason at all, even while professing the pretension of caring deeply for them. She completely disrespects her mother's wishes and requirements, as well as the school rules - again for no good reason! If there were compelling reasons motivating any of her behavior, that would at least ameliorate her sins somewhat, but there are no such valid reasons. She's compelled only by irrational, ill-considered juvenile whim; whim which fits neither her character nor her training, nor her age (at least I hope it doesn't). Worse than any of this, she's never ever ever ever punished for any of her infractions and no-one sees anything wrong with the principal's daughter getting away with one serious infraction after another, without her having to pay any penalty for her unconscionable behavior.

For her recklessness and blatant disregard for school rules and rational norms of behavior in this novel she ought to have been expelled from the school. Now there would have been a really interesting tale to tell: a girl alienated from all she loves, sent to a different, ordinary school, where she nonetheless has exciting and realistic adventures that are actually thrilling and fun, quite contrary to what Carter thinks she's offering here. That would have been worth the reading, but this series is not, not even by its own rules (such as they are). This series has become a disaster, and a truly boring disaster at that. I don’t know why or how Carter managed to slip from that first novel which was fresh, and funny, playful, and entertaining, into purveying this miasma of melodramatic mediocrity, but she has, and I for one am really sorry to discover that, since I was looking forward to reading this series. Now I'm just glad I don’t have to read any more!

And finally, it’s on to Pride and Prejudice.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter




Title: Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WARTY!

Note: SPOILERAMA!

So yes, we're launching into volume 2 of this series. This is the first time I've gone to a second volume since the Ruby red series.

p>
Well, the start of Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy (CMHAHTS) is depressing not because anything depressing is happening, but because Cam is a whiny brat and it's depressing to read it. What a way to start a novel!

I know that Carter has to set the scene for those who, unlike me, read this with a hiatus after the first vol, but it’s depressing. Cam is being taken for debriefing to CIA HQ, but instead of simply driving to Langley, they go to a mall, enter a clothing store, and descend in one of the changing booths, into a lobby which is far too Harry Potter-ish for my taste, not to say unbelievable in the extreme. I have to wonder why. I mean I honestly have found myself wondering what's going thru Carter's mind when she writes this stuff! Is she simply being goofy? Is she too embarrassed or lacking in confidence to write a decent spy romp, so all we get is romp minus the decent and spy? Or is she just amusing herself and is lucky enough to have garnered for herself a readership with her idle pastime? It’s really hard to engage with this kind of writing at times.

Then there are other times when it's addictively adorable, like in Ch 2 where she mentions the rumor that her mother once killed someone with a People magazine! That thought crosses her mind as she enters her school again and discovers that the East Wing has been locked down because of some chemical contamination. That sounds suspicious right off the bat. The chapters after the first one are littered with amusing gems like that, which is why I keep reading this despite certain misgivings!

In order to reestablish everything as rapidly as possible, Carter has Cam hook-up with her three friends immediately: Bex, Liz, and Macey. And she discovers that James Bond isn’t the only spy! Jason Bourne gets a mention. Two of Cam's friends are just fine, but Macey is ensconced in the library where Cam finds her sleeping on top of her books. She's had problems with her parents over her grades, which were very good - too good for her parents to believe. Macey's response to this is to go into study overdrive to get even better grades to freak her parents out even more.

As they're about to exit the library, Macey and Cam overhear Cam's mom and the delicious Mr Solomon discussing a secret operation Blackthorne about which Cam's mom did something whilst Cam was being debriefed at Langley. Cam's name is mentioned as in 'does Cam suspect anything?' which, of course, piques the interest not only of Cam and Macey, but also of the other two when they learn about it later.

All of their best research efforts reveal nothing about Blackthorne. Not a one of them thinks for even a minute that it could be something as simple as a surprise party for Cam or something along those lines. The other three prevail upon Cam to spy (spy cam?) on her own mother when she has her weekly Sunday night meal in her mom's office. Cam goes armed with a spy cam (told you!) in her watch and surreptitiously searches her mom's desk, but the only thing of note that she finds is a secreted photograph of her dad with Mr Solomon.

As she's about to leave, she spots her three friends bugging the hell out of the hallway in order to survey Cam's mom, so she quickly closes the door and engages mom in further conversation, but there's a knock on the door, and she opens it to find Mr Solomon, who hands a plain brown envelope to her mom, upon which is written the words: Blackthorne!

Now they know they have to break into the East Wing!. But before they do, they are taken on another field exercise. This time they have to shake their tail. That's not the same as shaking your booty. Trust me on this. Carter makes another slight faux pas here by describing their trip to DC in a helicopter. She describes the take-off, watching their school shrink down in size until it looks like it's a model in a snow globe; then in the very next sentence, they're zooming along at tree-top height! Which is it? I've lived in Virginia, and they have some beautiful trees there, but nothing five hundred feet or more! I'll put this on the shelf next to descending down the stairs!

Their field op is at the Mall - the Mall in Washington, District of Columbia, home of the Washington monument and the White House. Cam is teamed with Bex and they start spotting their tails and trying to shake them. Eventually, in the subway, they split up and Cam starts making tracks for the Smithsonian, where she's supposed to arrive sans tail. She meets a guy, and becomes moderately friendly with him as she's making tracks to her destination, confident her tail is lost. He sweetly offers to walk her to where she's going since it's dark and he would feel more comfortable if she wasn't alone. She tells him shes's only going to the Ruby Slippers exhibit in the museum, and so he leaves her. But of course, he was her tail and he meets her at the exhibit, thereby humiliating her.

Next it turns out that the rumors are true: there is a boys equivalent of the Gallagher Girls, and some of them are coming to stay at the school. Hence the changes in the East Wing. And who should be one of the boys but Zach, Cam's tail from DC. We know, since she's determined to avoid him, that the two will be thrown endlessly together, even as she pines for sweet Josh, whom she learns is now dating DeeDee. This is a teen romance, so who's going to win: sweet Josh, or mean, tough, distant, mocking, devil-may-care Zach? Yes, nice guys finish last and this novel is going to be a cliché, At least, that's how it looks so far.

Of course, the next op is a school ball, to be attended by all staff and students, including the boys, and Cam's mom buys her a beautiful strapless dress. But as the ball goes on, and Cam has to leave because her bra broke, there is a Code Black called and an immediate lock-down. Someone has tried to breech the walls of the Gallagher Girls school! And now Cam's mom wants to know where can was when the lights went out!

I finished CMHAHTD last night and I have to say, in the word of Kevin Kline's character in A Fish Called Wanda: "Disappointed!". This novel was not as funny as the first and was far more buried in goofy teen angst that really rendered it not very entertaining for me. It was passable, but I can’t give it a 'worthy' rating this time. And yes, I know it's not written for me, and clearly people are buying these since Carter has several volumes in play, but the fact remains that I know she can do better because I've read vol 1! Hopefully vol 3 will be better, but meanwhile I'm taking a break from YA, and reading an adult-oriented novel before I tackle the next vol in this series.

So, to wind this up: after the lock-down and the over-the-top 'Code Black', Cam is now suspected by everyone of trying to bust out of the school again to go to the dance that's being held in the village, where she knows Josh will be. But she didn’t do it!

The novel then descends (down the stairs!) into a boring repetition of the first volume, where the action takes place in the warehouse district - like a small town like that has a warehouse district! - where the action took place in the first vol! Dr Steve, the head of the boys contingent, is the bad guy, intent upon stealing 'the disk' containing the names of all Gallagher Girl Graduates - the GGGs. Again with the disk? Like super secret agencies keep one convenient CD, ready for stealing, which contains compromising top secret data? And no-one could figure out that it's a spy school and get a list of students attending? Honestly?

And then it turns out that this was all a training exercise to see if the Gallagher Girls and the Bitchin' Boys (about whom we’ve learned nothing, just as we’ve learned nothing of Cam's dad's fate) can overcome their… what? Lust? Antagonism (of which there's been none except between Cam and Zach)? Poor Plotting?! - and work together as a team.

No, this wasn't an epic fail, but it was a tired reworking of the plot of the original volume, and I'm disappointed in Carter, having seen that she can do much better. I know series novels are, by their very nature, formulaic, and they are so because undiscriminating readers seem to want that predictability, but I really don’t! I want to read about well conceived characters again, but I don’t want to read the same story again with (in this case) just the hot guy's name changed out as a substitute for actual variety! If I had not already picked up the next vol from the library, I’d be reconsidering right now whether I want to read any more of these.


Friday, February 1, 2013

I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter




Title: I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You
Author: Ally Carter
Pages: 284
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WORTHY!
Perspective: first person past

Note: SPOILERS Galore as per freaking usual!

OK, I'm a book slut. There, I've admitted it. Are you happy now? What kind of person hangs out in cheap dives looking to pick up young books if not a recidivist book slut like me? At this time in the morning? And using transparently cheap introductions like, "I'd love to get between the covers with you!", or "How would you like to crack this spine, baby?", or "I'm dedicated to you, sweetheart!", or, "Spending all my time with you is a life sentence." Yeah, that last one wasn't so wise. But at least it ended with a period rather than a pregnant pause.

Yes, I'm done with In Mozart's Shadow and now I'm cutting loose with I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You" (I am going to have to acronym-ise that. Is ITYILYBTIHTKY too much?). This one sounded interesting to me because it reminded me of Francine Pascal's Fearless: FBI series, which I'll ramble about elsewhere on this blog at some point. ITYILYBTIHTKY isn't going to work. I'm going with ITYILY, pronounced like ITALY.

Yes, I know it's becoming a cliché how ill-fated my romances are with some books. It's love at first sight and then comes the roller-coaster courtship, the all-too-hasty marriage and the inevitable, bitter divorce. Hopefully it won't be like that with ITYILY, but to be honest, I think I'm already in love.

Seriously how can I not be with a title like that? And there's NO prologue. See what I mean? I'm doomed with this one! The premise is that the Gallagher Girls are students and graduates of a girl's residential school ("all girls, all the time") which specializes in training spies and secret agents, but to the outside world, is just your ordinary girl's school (if there be such a creature), although this one is for geniuses. The students are recruited because of their high IQ and other traits. Yes, it's another iffy young-adult premise, but it's a young-adult novel; it goes with the turf, so get on board or catch the next book out of town.

Our protagonist is Cameron "Cammie the Chameleon" Ann Morgan, who isn't even 16. She has the inevitable two to three close friends, in this case Long Tall Liz Sutton, and the requisite black friend: Rebecca "Bex" Baxter, who is also English (see? I told you I was doomed!). Carter uses Rebecca's nickname as a verb at times, which I find funny, such as in "...and Bex is, well, bexing".

At the welcome back assembly that afternoon, a new teacher shows up, Joe Solomon, who is also English, and hot, according to the general consensus. He specializes in field operations, and the homework he sets them is to notice things!

I have to mention a couple of things, one of which is funny unintentionally, the other impossible. At one point, Carter has her girls "descending down the stairs". Honestly? Have you ever seen anyone descend up the stairs? The only time I've seen that was when I met a man who wasn't there.... It's like when you send an email and someone asks you if your intended recipient has "replied back" yet. Or you talk about 7:00am on a Saturday morning, as Cam does on p106. Or you talk about an ATM machine. As in, "We descended down the stairs at 7am in the morning; because our friend has not replied back yet, we're going to go to the ATM machine...." OK, enough!

The impossible thing before breakfast is when we hear that a Russian was carrying liquid nitrogen in a beach ball under his shirt. No. Never happened. Not even once. Unless the outcome of that episode was that the Russian died horribly.

There's a code red called at the school which merely means that unexpected people have shown up unexpectedly, and Cam and Bex are assigned to give them the school tour. As they prepare to do so, the school switches around rather like the stairs at Hogwarts, hiding the spy/agent stuff and replacing it with uninteresting high school stuff. Most of this is automated, but some people are assigned to walk the floor making sure that nothing revealing is left lying around.

The new arrival is Macey McHenry, the spoiled daughter of a senator and a perfume purveyor (what a nightmare that would be irl!), as Cam and Bex discover in meeting her parents. They escort her through the building. The tour consists of trying to show her what a boring, routine, tedious, spiritless, stale, humdrum place it is, the better to dissuade you with my dear. At that point, I was thinking this is going to fail, and I was right. Macey is not only going to come to the school, she's going to share the three's room. The story this far, has me fully entertained. Carter has a nice way with dialog, and whilst some of the humor falls flat (maybe that's just me), most of it works.

On her first day, Macey meets with Cam's Mom (her father mysteriously disappeared a while ago. Or did he?! He's presumed dead). Also at this meeting is Solomon, along with some random student called Jessica Boden, and the three we know. When Macey gets uppity, even after the school's real purpose has been exposed to her, Solomon tosses a knife right past her head to stick into War and Peace behind her.

Carter intimates that Gallagher girls had been the first to figure out that no two fingerprints are alike, and also that they invented duct tape! That's like Romy and Michelle claiming they invented Post-it™ notes! Fingerprinting has been around since the Chinese Qin Dynasty. Duct tape was invented by Johnson & Johnson during World war 2 for sealing ammunition cases. And no, it wasn't the Gallagher girls who invented Velcro, it wasn't even the US space program! It was a Swede by the name of George de Mistral. Have you ever eaten a swede? They're yummy. You may know it as a rutabaga rather than a swede, but Bex would know what I mean....

A sign over cafeteria announces which (of fourteen) languages is going to be spoken that meal break and everyone tries to comply.

Macey keeps surprising Cam with her behavior. Bex and Macey get into it one lunch break over a mean comment she makes about Liz. They learn that she knows all about the latest fashions when they get a field assignment in place of Joe Solomon's field class, and they go to bizarre extremes in trying to dress for it. Cam's assessment of the situation is: "Four years of training had all come down to this, and I for one did’t have a thing to wear."

They're supposed to tail one of the school's most paranoid teachers - the one who has cosmetic surgery every year to keep his appearance from stagnating - through a carnival, and discover what it is he drinks. Liz, who is backup to Cam can't even tail her; she keeps losing her in the crowd!

Carter loses the reins a little bit on this tailing exercise. Cam's team starts following Smith, who's supposed to be appallingly hard to follow because he's so paranoid. Actually, I'm starting to wonder about him. If there are to be twists in this story, then my money is either on Smith having something weird and unexpected going on, or on Solomon the new hottie teacher.

One of my guesses for Solomon is that he is a double-agent, which would be really hard to understand given the territory he oversees: a high school! This is a YA novel though, so his task could be something really lame! Besides, he would be in an excellent position to expose all of those secret agents who are graduating from the school, wouldn’t he? Perhaps Solomon's position is going to be like the Defence Against the Dark Arts teaching position at Hogwarts: there will be a new occupant of it each new book in the series! Carter already has another three or four titles out or due soon in this Gallagher Girls series, each with an amusing title. She also has other titles.

My other guess is that Solomon has some connection with Cam's mom, and may even be her father after cosmetic surgery! Or maybe Smith is her father?! Why on Earth would I think wild thoughts like that?! Well, I've been keeping things from you. Naughty me! On his initial arrival, Solomon winks at Cam's mom, something Cam notices, and Macey had some rather trenchant remarks about the school during her tour, in one of which she suggests that Solomon is likely some sort of child predator, or that he's having an affair with Cam's mom. Macey, at that point, did’t know that Cam was related to the principal. This may reveal more about Macey than it does about Solomon, but it may be a clue. We'll have to see.

Anyway, the idea of the exercise that evening is to tail Smith unseen and find out what he drinks with his funnel cake. Things go wrong and he catches both Bex and Liz, but he fails to see Cam, who merely waits until he leaves and then retrieves the bottle she sees him toss into the trash. Mission accomplished.

At this point Cam becomes aware of the inevitable guy inevitably noticing her, leading to the inevitably forbidden inevitable relationship!

I took the opportunity to read some other reviews on this book this morning, now that I've begun to read it myself and form my own opinions. Several of those reviews seemed to make a big deal out of this boy being special because he noticed Cam, who is supposed to be unnoticeable since she can blend into her surroundings so easily. That's why she's called the chameleon, but we never learn what she ever really did to earn the appellation.

In the case of this particular exercise, I see nothing special about this guy - named Josh - having noticed her. She is soaked to the skin by getting too close to the dunking game at the carnival. So much for her being unnoticeable! She hastily buys a T-shirt promoting a local sports team to cover her wet-T-shirt look, and she's in the act of retrieving the bottle that Smith tossed into the trash when Josh notices her. Her situation can hardly be described as blending in at that point! I'd say she stands out like a sore thumb.

And what’s with Josh? Why is it that all these heroic-type guys are called Jack in the adult version, and Josh in teen version? Cliché much?!

So Cam ends up in this really lame conversation. All of her four years of training is out the window. She forgets her cover story. She reveals her real name to him. She fails to report the encounter to her superiors. She even fails to report it to her friends until they winkle it out of her. This kind of conduct ought to be grounds for, at best, a reprimand if this school is supposed to be so top notch and actually serious about its training program.

Some reviewers made much of the amusing paradox that Cam is a capable agent, but she hasn't been trained for this. Excuse me?! If she's supposed to blend in, doesn’t that imply an ability to deflect conversation or to bend it to your own advantage? Have none of these girls been trained at all in engaging in conversation and using their cover? Have they never met guys?! Does the school not appreciate even remotely that for girls of this age, cool guys will be a major weakness? This part doesn’t ring true to me, or it speaks to incompetence or weakness in both Cam and the school's program! Does her meeting with 'the guy' have to be of the disabling thunderbolt variety? It would be nice if now and then it did't.

The age range for this novel dipped a bit alarmingly for me as I read of her reaction to this encounter, I'm afraid to say. Actually I'm not since I said it right there. Yes, I accept that it may be how fifteen-year-old girls react to guys they have the hots for, but then what price the term 'special' as used in describing these girls, if they're really no different than your average girl, anywhere?

I'm still on board so far, but I hope this juvenile romantic component doesn’t spoil what had been, up to this point, a really good yarn. It’s still a good yarn, but let’s not let it slip any more! Please! I want to read the whole series if I'm not driven away from it.

Solomon is particularly cruel to Cam when she gets back to the school for debriefing (that is, going over what happened, not losing her briefs…). She gets no credit for achieving their aim. Instead she gets to watch slides (or vid, I can't tell which) of tortured women. For all Cam knows (since they're nowhere to be seen in the classroom), the victims could be Bex and Liz.

She's cruelly lectured about the true price of failure and incompetence on a real mission. This seems to fly in the face of the light tone of the novel so far. The rather extreme reaction of the girls to this would seem to imply that they've had no training whatsoever in preparation capture. Worse, it implies that not a single one of them has ever read a novel, or seen a movie or TV show about spies or secret agents!

Did they never see the James Bond movies? That name is frequently used in this story, and we know there are at least two relatively recent Bond movies (Casino Royale, and before that, Die Another Day) where Bond is tortured. Yet these girls appear never to have given it any thought nor to have been required to do so. As it happens, Bex and Liz are fine, but this seems like an appallingly callous way to redress the fluffiness of her encounter with Josh.

How girls who supposedly have the smarts of the Gallagher girls can draw hasty black and white conclusions based on one very limited encounter is something of a mystery, but the girls decide that either Josh is an enemy agent trying to infiltrate the GGs or he's Cam's soul mate. Really. I am not making this up - Carter is!

They embark upon a thorough investigation of Josh, including hacking all his online stuff including his school records, and they break into his house to scour the place for clues. Of course, Cam runs into Josh who is going to the party they expected him to be at when they planned to break into his home. Cam lamely says she's going to the party, too, since her four years of training once again deserts her but she has to go back to the car because she forgot something, and she promptly disappears. Somehow, hiding behind the car, she can turn the mirror to watch Josh. I'm not exactly sure how that would work since in order to be able to see Josh int he mirror, she'd have to be on the same side of the car as he was, and therefore completely visible to him! It seems that Carter hasn't thought some things through properly. But Cam doesn't vacate the area quite so fast that she misses hearing Josh tell his inquiring friend, "Oh, she's nobody". So nuance-free Cam is now totally crushed, and all they've learned is that Josh's fingerprints aren't in any database.

Their next class with Solomon is an introduction to 'garbology' - what people throw out in their trash can reveal a lot about them. They also become involved in learning to drive, which I find scary. I hope your typical school doesn't do this: without any prior training or instruction whatsoever, without even taking a test about their knowledge of road law and road signs, they're set behind the wheel of a real vehicle out on the public streets and allowed to drive! Virginia actually has some < href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driver%27s_education#Virginia" style="color: cyan;">serious rules about this. It's supposed to be funny because Bex is English and keeps driving over onto the wrong side of the road, but it doesn't work that way and it's a bit tedious and uninventive to keep harking back to it.

I can speak from personal experience of this having driven on both sides of the Atlantic (and the car did't even get wet!). If you're driving in traffic, there's no problem with staying on the correct side of the road, since everyone else is, and you'd have to be really unobservant or majorly brain-dead to go over to the wrong side. Once you're driving, it's not a problem because you're in traffic. The only time you might encounter this as a problem is if you park somewhere out in the country where there is no traffic around. When you set off driving again later, you might find yourself, now there are no ready cues, habitually moving over to 'your own side' but even then there's the position of the driving wheel to remind you, so you're soon clued in!

I actually found it hard to believe that a super-secret spy school with all manner of expensive gadgets and hidden technology did't have a computer training system to teach people for their initial instruction, or that they don't have an outdoor course away from public streets where they can learn. I know Carter's novel is somewhat tongue-in cheek, but why take so much time telling us of all the other cool advanced stuff these girls are learning, and then betray that by tossing driving in so haphazardly like it's completely unimportant and has never crossed the tutor's minds before the girls turn 16?! It's another of those things which reminds me that I'm actually reading a novel instead of following some intriguing and fun adventures of some spies in training.

But on this particular driver's ed trip, Bex has apparently navigated onto Josh's street, and Liz has apparently contrived to blow a tire right outside of Josh's house so they can steal his garbage and secrete it in the trunk for a thorough analysis later! That's quite amusing, especially Cam's fantasizing about Josh leaving her notes like he leaves his mom. Her fantasy is along the lines of "Darling, I may have to work late, so I might not be here when you get back. I hope you Had a great time in North Korea and disabled lots of nuclear weapons. With all my love, Josh."

Did you know that yawning will short-circuit a budding sneeze? I just discovered this by accident.

They find a note from someone called DeeDee thanking Josh for the fun they had at the carnival and suggesting they do it again some time. Despite the wording and tone of the note, once again, this is the end of the world for Cam. She All three of them automatically assume that DeeDee is Josh's love-in girlfriend rather than a cousin, aunt, acquaintance, lesbian friend, or something. I used to wish I'd had a daughter along with my sons, but having read this stuff in Carter's book, I'm rather glad I don't have a teenage daughter! Now I don't have to take her to a psychiatrist for treatment for manic depression.

But just as Cam is about to give up Josh's ghost, Bex makes an observation that Josh has a lot of church flyers, and that Cam had told him, at the Carnival. that she was home-schooled for religious reasons. Bex draws the conclusions that Josh is going to church functions because he's looking for Cam. Right then, Macey walks into the room and asks, "So what's his name?" Now that, is much better writing, Ally Carter!

The start of chapter 12 is pretty entertaining, too. Macey asks Cam, given that "it's been two weeks" (which ought to tell the other three something important, but hasn't yet!) if she's got to second base, and Cam's response is, "You think I could get to second base?" Maybe I'll get into a discussion on reducing women to sports metaphors and how wrong it is that both Macey and Cam, themselves young women, have bought into those metaphors to the point where they're actually employing them as an integral part of their own speech, but not now, not here!

Carter has a habit of slipping an hilarious, if totally unrelated, humorous remark into the narrative from time to time, and she tosses in one here and powerfully, too. Apparently Macey had been in the physics lab when Mr Fibs got attacked by the bees he thought he'd genetically modified to obey commands from a whistle, but it turned out that "...they only respond to the voice of James Earl Jones." I have no idea what that's all about but it definitely got my funny bone. If Carter's mind actually works like this, a conversation with her would most definitely be highly entertaining.

It's also funny that the next day, Solomon's text for the day centers on forming alliances, since Macey has proposed an alliance with Cam, in that she will help Cam with her quest for Josh if Cam helps her to get up to speed now she's coming out of the newbie classes and getting into the mainstream spy curriculum. They set up Cam for a date because they discover, through tapping Josh's email, that he's going to be a at a video store. They plan everything and can asks herself, "Is every girl on a date really in deep cover?" I loved that line. It's the kind of line which makes you understand the potential for a novel like this and which makes you desperate for Carter, in that she doesn't drop the ball! Later, Can adds, "All these years, I'd thought being a spy was challenging. Turns out, being a girl is the tricky part." Yes, Carter, I can take more of this kind of writing. Bring it on!

So Can stakes out a bench and waits for hours for Josh to show up. Her notes from the night observe that: It's almost impossible to look pretty and/or seductive if you SERIOUSLY have to go pee." Josh does show up but makes an excuse to leave pretty quickly. This is either suspicious or out of character given that he's supposedly been trying to track her down. He asks for here phone number and she refuses because her phone doubles as a stun gun. She notes that Josh is so sad it was as if she had run over his puppy. Then comes the hilarious part: "(though no actual puppies were harmed in the formation of that metaphor)". See? That's brilliant and only serves to renew my assertion that Carter is probably a riot to talk to. Now I'm really hoping I like this book so I can read the rest of the series.

Now Cam is upset because, even though she told Josh that he can't call or email, she offered to meet at the same place the next night, and he said maybe he'd be there. He is there, and he covers Cam's eyes from behind, in a 'surprise, surprise!' gesture. Bad move. Cam completely overreacts by tossing him over her shoulder onto the ground in a defensive maneuver. She claims she's using his momentum against him, but given that he's merely standing behind her covering her eyes, he has zero momentum! And it's a bit sad that she's so poor at being a spy that she did't notice his arrival. I can see how Carter wants to take a light touch and make their interactions humorous and awkward so that we can see how this badly begun relationship works out, but sometimes I think there have to be better ways of arriving at a given destination than the amateur route the author actually chose to employ!

Anyway, She and Josh have their date and exchange a few confidences (severely limited on Cam's side) and she learns that Josh is not happy with his family's designs on him that he follow his father into the family pharmacy business. She and Josh arrange to leave notes for each other in the gazebo in the town since she's not going to let him have email or telephone access to her. Now Carter has everything up and running, so you and I both know perfectly well that she's going to start messing with it, don't we now? And I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to it.

The passage of time in ITYILY speeds up rather towards the end, just as it does in In Mozart's Shadow. Over several weeks, Cam and Josh exchange notes in the dead-drop gazebo, and they plan on seeing a movie, but when Cam shows up, it turns out that the movie started an hour before and they missed it. Obviously Cam's team has ceased to be suspicious of Josh otherwise they would have known when the movie started. Instead, Cam and Josh go to a burger place, but that enjoyment is cut short when some of Josh's friends show up. Josh leaves early, but at least Cam gets to meet DeeDee and likes her in spite of herself.

Their next date is to a local dance held in a barn, and Cam is having fun until her mom shows up dancing and laughing in the company of Joe Solomon! Cam's team whisks her up to the upper level of the barn and they decide they have to split, but once outside, Can says she can't just leave Josh like this, so the other three depart leaving Cam to try and figure out how to get back in the barn without being seen and exit with Josh in tow. She's saved by, of all people, DeeDee! Cam claims she has a headache and DeeDee offers to relay the message to Josh inside. Cam is now even more fond of her and sees that she, the chameleon, has some things in common with DeeDee, the wallflower. No one notices DeeDee, either, but that's not the way DeeDee wants it.

Cam and Josh dally briefly at the gazebo and Josh gives her a birthday present of silver earrings to match her silver cross. DeeDee helped pick them out. It's not Cam's birthday, but it is is the birthday of her cover. On her return via the secret tunnel, Cam finds another secret tunnel she's never known about, and she follows it to discover that it gives her a view into her mother's own office. Her mother is there already (I guess she unaccountably cut her night short, too), but she's crying and Cam realizes the significance of November 19th. It's not her birthday but it is her father's. Cam spends the night sitting in an empty classroom staring into space.

The next day she enters her mom's office to discover that Mr Solomon and Ms Buckingham are already there. There is a problem: Bex's father has ceased sending messages and may have been captured. Cam's advice is not to tell Bex until they know one way or the other. At least then she will get to have a few more hours of joy in her life before tragedy slams down. Why they take Cam's advice (other than that this is a YA novel) is a mystery. These people are spies who have a psychological profile on Bex and know everything about her, yet they place a higher priority on a fifteen-year-old's knee-jerk opinion than they do on their own intel. This is not a smart move!

Macey immediately intuits that something is wrong when she next sees Cam, and Cam realizes she is not alone. She's been anguishing over this massive heap of secrets on her shoulders (what heap? She has her secret dating and now she's added Bex's potential tragedy, and that's all. And only one of those isn't shared with her team!

So next Cam finds herself downtown on a school trip to a movie (which she's evidently already seen with Josh. I guess more than a few days got skipped). She claims she has a headache (that excuse is beginning to feel seriously over-used!) and heads to the pharmacy, where she plans to spend two hours with Josh, rejoining her movie-bound girls afterwards. No harm, no foul, right? When she gets into the pharmacy, Josh isn't there but as she ducks down behind some adult diapers to hide from one of her classmates, Anna, who comes in to refill her inhaler, someone else comes in. It's Dillon, Josh's friend, and he's accompanied by some guys from his school and they start bullying Anna.

Cam doesn't intervene, trying to maintain her secrecy. Fortunately, she's saved because Macey comes in and backs-up Anna, and she's followed by Bex who does the same. When they leave, Cam discovers that Liz has been watching her through the store window and she has a very disapproving look on her face.

After a cold spell with Liz, things improve, especially since they discover that Bex's dad is fine after all; then the other shoe drops. Josh's friend Dillon is telling him (as Cam's team can see from the email tap they have in place) that he's seen Cam hanging out with the Gallagher girls down town. Josh doesn't believe him. But Cam sets out to intercept them as they're coming (apparently) to scale the walls of the academy. How they plan to make their data mining escapade succeed after that, is a mystery, but Can ends up 'fessing up to Josh. She tells him she's leaving in the morning and just wanted to say goodbye. She pretends her dating of him was just to see if she could get away with it, and she returns the earrings.

Their final exam is a practical which involves Cam being kidnapped by teachers. Right after she broke up with Josh! She's confident that her team will bust her loose. She doesn't expect Josh to come to rescue her. He saw her 'kidnapping' and he comes to her aid, but Cam tells him it's all over; she can't see him any more. She explains the kidnapping away as a school hazing ritual.

She makes a dramatic exit by sliding down a zip-line which Carter foolishly describes as imbuing her with weightlessness. No. If she were weightless, the zip-line wouldn't work. The reason it works is precisely because she's not weightless: gravity is pulling her down. In fact, even in orbit, astronauts aren't weightless; they're actually falling under the pull of gravity, but because their fall precisely matches the curvature of the Earth, they never hit the ground. Any time you're under the influence of gravity or of acceleration (which Einstein showed us are the practically the same thing), you're not weightless.

Carter makes another mistake when she has Cam 'rapeling' down from a warehouse roof through which they've just cut with acid. No, she's not rapeling (nor is she rappelling which is the correct spelling!). One rappels down a cliff face or the side of a building; when you're in the open, which is where Cam evidently is, it's called fast-roping: the kind of thing we're used to seeing when special ops soldiers slide down from a helicopter. It was apparently invented by the Brits during the Falklands war.

But it goes downhill, and right when it seemed to be over, and the girls were captured, Anna manages to get the disk they're after (Yes, disk! Though the USB serial drive was invented in 1999 and available in commercial form since 2000, Carter is still using disks in 2006). But Josh has not given up on Cam. He returns and accidentally disables Solomon, so Cam decides that the only thing to do is to introduce him to her mom. Josh learns all about the school, but in the end he leaves like he's never going to see Cam again. The ending is rather weird, like Carter knew she was going to launch into another volume and didn't care how many loose ends she left in her haste to get down to writing it.

But having said that, I can recommend this. It's very entertaining, and now we've passed the awkward introductions, I hope and feel that it will only improve.

In closing, I must ask: need I remind you of what I said at the start of this review? I returned this novel to the library this afternoon and I know I'm weak, but I couldn't help catting around the shelves to see if the others in this series were there, and yes, yes they were! I had strength enough to restrain myself from inhaling all four. I just got two, which I shall review shortly. This does mean Pride and Prejudice will be postponed, however! Check the What am I reading now? section to see what's on the radar