The Grift of the Magi

While it’s not 100% necessary for you to read Ally Carter’s Heist Society series (Heist Society, Uncommon Criminals, and Perfect Scoundrels) before reading The Grift of the Magi, it is highly recommended. You may not fully appreciate the characters in this novella if you haven’t gotten to know them a bit through the series.

Last night, I got to dive back into the Heist Society series via a new holiday novella, The Grift of the Magi. Those familiar with the series already know that it centers around a group of savvy teen thieves (think a YA version of Ocean’s Eleven), and not much has changed in this latest story.

The Christmas season is growing closer, and someone has stolen a valuable donation from the Magi Miracle Network. The charity doesn’t want to go to Interpol about the theft, so they turn to Katarina Bishop, a girl known for stealing treasures and returning them to their rightful owners. This time, she’s charged with finding out what happened to the rare Faberge egg that was mysteriously stolen from the Magi Miracle Network, and she must do it before the charity’s upcoming auction.

Kat begins investigating both the charity and their infamous donation, and her search leads her to some familiar faces. Her boyfriend, Hale, for one. His beloved late grandmother founded the Magi Miracle Network, so he obviously has a stake in what’s going on. At first, Kat wonders if he could have had something to do with the theft, but it doesn’t take long for her to dismiss that notion. But she still wonders if someone close to her could be involved. It’s entirely possible…

As Christmas–and the charity’s auction–draws ever closer, the hunt for the Faberge egg leads Kat and company to the manor home of its donor. Something foul is afoot here, and Kat is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. She’ll need to use every resource at her disposal to uncover the truth, but even that may not be enough.

Will Kat find the egg and return it to the Magi Miracle Network? What else will she uncover in the process? Whatever happens, this is sure to be a Christmas that Kat Bishop will never forget…


This fast-paced novella combines the magic and wonder of Christmas with a fair amount of trickery and thieving. Not a bad combo, in my opinion. Like the novels that preceded it, The Grift of the Magi delivers memorable characters, twists and turns, and an exciting, eventful story. I highly recommend it to middle grade audiences and up.

It was so much fun revisiting the characters I came to love during the Heist Society series. I truly hope we’ll see more of them in the future.

For more information on Ally Carter, the Heist Society series, and her other wonderful books, visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Just One Day

Last night, when I should have been packing for a conference, I was instead devouring Just One Day by the fabulous Gayle Forman. This book had been on my to-read list for quite a while, but I didn’t make time for it until this weekend. Oh, how I wish I had read it sooner!

Like If I Stay and Where She Went, Just One Day shows that Gayle Forman is a master at writing love stories that pack an emotional punch. Even more important, in my opinion, she’s excellent at giving readers examples of young women who, while navigating the perilous waters of relationships, also work to discover their own inner strength.

Allyson is nearing the end of a whirlwind tour of Europe, and, to be honest, the trip has been something of a disappointment. Yes, she’s oohed and aahed at all the appropriate moments, she’s seen some impressive sights with her best friend Melanie, and she’s even gotten a haircut to mark what should have been the start of the greatest vacation ever. But Allyson feels like she’s just going through the motions. She should be excited about this extravagant graduation gift, but something just doesn’t feel quite right.

Everything changes, though, when Allyson and Melanie deviate from their rigid plans and are persuaded to take in a performance of Twelfth Night in a Stratford-upon-Avon park. It is here that Allyson’s life changes forever. She meets Willem, a Dutch actor in the play, and she’s immediately drawn to him. There’s something about him that makes Allyson want to break free of limits and responsibilities. Maybe it’s because Willem doesn’t really know her. He doesn’t even know her name. He calls her Lulu because she reminds him of Louise Brooks, the silent film star. Maybe it’s that little bit of anonymity that gives Allyson the freedom to do something that’s so out of character. The freedom to eschew her plans to spend just one day with Willem in Paris.

One day in Paris. One day to see the sights and experience all that the City of Light has to offer. One day to fall in love with Willem, a young man who is so different from the Allyson she’s always been. Here she’s Lulu, a girl who takes things in stride, who has the attention of someone who could be–and probably has been–with dozens of other girls. It’s not easy to leave her good girl image behind, but Allyson wants to be someone different with Willem, and she’s coming to think she can be different when she returns to her real life.

All of that changes, though, when Allyson’s one day in Paris comes to a shattering end. After waking to find Willem gone, Allyson’s entire world seems to explode, and she doesn’t really know how to put the pieces back together. Nothing seems to fit anymore, and Allyson is struggling. It’s hard to admit that one day, one boy could have such a huge impact on her life, but Allyson will have to face what happened and the still unanswered questions if she has any hope of moving on with her life.

In the year after her day in Paris, Allyson must come to grips with how all of this has changed her. She has to deal with going back to being the “good girl” everyone expects and all of the pressure that entails. She faces the undeniable truth that she’s not the person she once was, and she’s no longer content living out someone else’s dreams. She must do what feels right to her…even if that means standing up to her parents, becoming more independent…and returning to the “scene of the crime” and discovering just what happened to make Willem walk away from her.

As Allyson attempts to make sense of everything that has happened in the past year, she’ll also discover that she’s stronger and more capable than she thought. Even if she never discovers why Willem left her, her quest for answers may just leave her with the peace and determination to become exactly who she was meant to be.

_______________

I think you can safely assume that I adored this book. If I weren’t so held back by my own fears–much like the Allyson we see early in this book–I would take off right now on a Parisian vacation, hoping to find my own sense of peace. Unfortunately, I am a big chicken, and that just won’t happen. (Not to mention the matter of not having the money and having to attend a conference for most of this week.)

I’d love to have a journey of self-discovery like Allyson experienced. I imagine that many readers will feel a similar longing. Even with the lows that Allyson dealt with after her day in Paris, she learned so much about herself. She learned that she had to let go of some things, even friendships, her parents’ expectations, and her own need to please those around her. I’m thirty-five years old, and I wish I could do that. Maybe one day.

While I’m envious of Allyson breaking free of her own boundaries, I’m also insanely jealous of her travels through Europe. The only time I’ve been out of the U.S. was when I went on a cruise to the Bahamas. I’ve wanted to travel to Europe, particularly Great Britain, for as long as I can remember, but finances, health issues, and a hefty dose of fear have always held me back. Allyson has inspired me, though. I’m somehow finding a renewed determination to make my dreams a reality. I’ve now got the beginnings of a plan in my head–a plan to save some money, lose some weight, and finally turn my desire for travel into a reality. How long with it take to put this plan into motion? I have no clue, but at least I’m getting started. Thank you for that, Allyson and Gayle Forman!

So, I finished Just One Day late last night, and I fully intend to start reading Just One Year, the companion novel from Willem’s perspective, within the next hour or so. (I have a two-hour ride to Atlanta ahead of me, so I should be able to make quite a dent in the book.) After that, I will read Just One Night, an ebook novella and the final chapter in the captivating story of Allyson and Willem. I can hardly wait to get started!

If you’d like more information on Just One Day or the other amazing books by the brilliant Gayle Forman, check out her website (which has quite a bit of info on the upcoming movie adaptation of If I Stay), Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You may also want to take a quick look at the Just One Day book trailer below. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have!

Heist Society

Before I begin writing about my latest read, I’d like to wish everyone who takes the time to read this blog a happy Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for all of you, and I appreciate each and every comment posted (and even those of you who’ve never made a comment but still, for some reason, care what I think about books).  Knight Reader started as a way for me to keep track of what I’ve read, but it’s quickly grown into a passion, and my readers definitely help to make this more than a hobby.

Now, on with the show…

I just finished reading Heist Society by Ally Carter.  I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, and I finally picked it up this weekend when I was in the mood for something kind of light. While this was a light, fast read, Heist Society was also engaging, fun, and suspenseful.  The story is kind of a blend of Gossip Girl and Ocean’s Eleven, and, even though I’m adamantly against crime of any kind (except the occasional breaking of the speed limit), Heist Society makes art thief seem glamorous and terrifying at the same time.  I would be a horrible thief—I get very nervous when things don’t go according to plan—but the teens in this book make it seem so effortless, much the way Danny Ocean and his crew did in Ocean’s Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen).  But things weren’t so smooth at the beginning…

 

All Katarina Bishop wanted to do was leave her old life as a thief behind.  To do that, however, she had to pull off one more con—scam her way into the best boarding school in the country.  Well, she did, and Kat’s life was boring normal for a while…until circumstances pulled her back into the life and family she left behind.

Kat’s father, a master thief himself, has been accused of stealing a very valuable private art collection.  But the cops aren’t the ones after him.  No, a more sinister character is after Kat’s father.  This bad guy wants his paintings back, and he wants Kat to bring them to him.  There’s just one problem…Kat’s dad didn’t steal the paintings.  But who did?  And can Kat find out and clear her father’s not-so-good name?

As Kat and her motley crew, including the handsome, rich, and enigmatic Hale, travel the world, it becomes clear that to prove her father didn’t steal the paintings, they will have to find out who did…and steal the paintings back.  Can Kat pull off the biggest theft in her family’s history with a teenage crew?  Does she even want to?  Will she be able to leave everything behind again when/if she completes this job?  And is there more to these paintings than meets the eye?  Dive into the mystery when you read Heist Society by Ally Carter.

I really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to further adventures of Kat and crew in the sequel, Uncommon Criminals, which is already out.  Even though I did wonder where most of the parents were throughout this entire book, the story was still thought-provoking and entertaining.  Male and female readers from middle school on up will enjoy this one.

For more information on Heist Society and other books by Ally Carter, visit http://allycarter.com/.

A Kiss in Time

It’s no secret that I like fairy tales.  Beautiful princess, handsome prince, fighting the bad guy, true love…what’s not to like?  There is one, however, that’s never been a favorite of mine–Sleeping Beauty.  I just didn’t see the point.  This girl pricks her finger on a spindle, falls asleep, is awakened by a kiss, a witch gets mad, the witch is killed, and they all live happily ever after.  Not my thing.  Well, my lastest read, A Kiss in Time, is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty by acclaimed author Alex Flinn.  It puts a new spin on this story, and I must say that I like this version a lot better.  When I was reading, I was reminded of Enchanted, the movie where a fairy tale princess is magically transported to modern-day Manhattan.  I adore that movie, and I feel the same way about this book.

Princess Talia of Euphrasia has lived her entire almost-sixteen years in fear of spindles.  At Talia’s christening, a curse was placed on her by the evil witch Malvolia stating that the princess would prick her finger on a spindle before her sixteenth birthday and die.  A fairy modified the curse a bit so that the princess wouldn’t die.  Instead, she and everyone in Euphrasia would sleep until Talia was awakened by true love’s first kiss.

Nearly sixteen years pass, and Talia has been bombarded with talk of this curse.  Spindles are outlawed from Euphrasia to protect her, and she is horribly sheltered.  She can’t go anywhere, and she’s tired of it.  As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Talia can finally see an end to a life full of fearing a curse and always being told what to do.  The curse has not been fulfilled, and she’s almost sixteen.  (The key word here is “almost.”)  Well, guess what?  Shortly before her birthday celebration, Talia is searching for her perfect dress when she happens upon an unfamiliar room.  An old lady is inside with just the dresses Talia is looking for.  The old lady just needs a bit of help from Talia.  Just hold this sharp, pointy thing for a bit…lights out.

Fastforward three hundred years…

Jack is in Europe on a boring trip full of museums and other stuff he’s not interested in, so he decides to escape for a bit.  He and his buddy Travis walk through a dense hedge and find a village where everyone appears to be sleeping, even the horses.  They soon find a castle.  Jack is drawn to the highest tower where he discovers a sleeping girl.  She’s beautiful, and he feels almost compelled to kiss her.  He does, and she wakes up.  Surprise!

Join Jack and Talia as they deal with expectations, customs, and technologies (or lack thereof) of different time periods, parents, ex-girlfriends, running away, a continued threat from Malvolia, and a three-hundred-year age difference.  Can this even be real?  Do Jack and Talia have any hope of getting together under these circumstances?  He’s a slacker; she’s a princess.  Do they even want to be together?  Read A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn to find out!

High Dive

It took me a while to get into Tammar Stein’s novel High Dive, but once I did, I found it to be a pleasant read.  Arden has just completed her freshman year at Vanderbilt and is traveling to Sardinia for the summer.  This is not just a typical summer vacation, though.  She is charged with the task of selling her family’s vacation home.  Her father died a few years ago, and her mother is serving as a nurse in Iraq, so this task falls to Arden.  She’s less than thrilled about packing up and selling a place that meant so much to her family, but she embarks on this journey anyway.

Along the way, Arden meets three girls from Texas who invite her to change her path a bit.  Instead of traveling the route she had planned, she decides to visit Paris with them and have something of a summer vacation to cope with the stress of the past few years.  But traveling with three other nineteen-year-olds is not without its stresses, as Arden soon learns.

While Arden is traveling, she also reflects on times spent with her parents, past travels, her mother’s deployment, her father’s death, and her first love.  This is a sometimes painful, but often therapeutic, process that helps Arden to grow as a person and learn that being independent doesn’t mean you can’t form lasting friendships with the people you encounter.  Read High Diveby Tammar Stein to see how Arden learns to live her life by just diving in.

I enjoyed High Dive more than I thought I would at the beginning.  While I still feel it’s a bit unrealistic that a teenager would travel to Europe by herself to sell her family’s vacation home (I know most of my students won’t be able to relate to this), I found Arden’s journey and growth in the novel to be things that anyone could relate to.