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The Deceivers (Vale Hall #1) – Kristen Simmons

The Deceivers (Vale Hall #1) – Kristen SimmonsTitle: The Deceivers (Vale Hall #1) by Kristen Simmons
Publishing Info: February 5, 2019 by Macmillan, Tor Books
Source: Received from the publisher for review purposes, ALAAC18
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery/Thriller, Heists/Spies/Espionage, Retelling
Date Completed: June 3, 2019
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom's loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials--because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that's before she meets her mark--a senator's son--and before she discovers the school's headmaster has secrets he'll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she's in way over head.

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I really wish that the synopsis of this book had made note of the Norse mythology inspiration because I honestly didn’t pick up on that at all but once I knew about it, it seemed really obvious and I think that would have been a fun thing to pick up as I was reading. That’s no fault of the author but I guess that’s what happens when I don’t do a lot of looking into things before I read a book (and I guess whoever’s in charge of making the synopsis/making sure that info is on Goodreads). I didn’t know about it until I started reading reviews after I was finished. Since I never read reviews before I start a book (in case of spoilers and I don’t want anyone to influence my opinion), there’s really no other way I would have known about that and I bet a lot of other people may not be aware either.

That may have helped how much I enjoyed the book but I still think I would have come out relatively the same. I was irritated that it was labeled as “Pretty Little Liars meets Ocean’s 11”. I don’t know PLL but Ocean’s 11 is one of my favorite movies and if we’re talking about the 2001 version…. that movie is WAY too sassy and not even close in tone. I was expecting some super clever sass, cheeky cons, and an overall heist feeling. This really wasn’t a heist book. I guess it was more of a “long con” but it wasn’t really a plan we were in on from the beginning and we learn a lot as the book progresses. This was just not the tone I was expecting and would compare it more to Deadly Class (the SyFy TV show), THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, TRUST ME, I’M LYING by Mary Elizabeth Summer, or new Adriana Mather book KILLING NOVEMBER. It wasn’t ALL serious but it certainly wasn’t quite as light or funny as I had expected.

Mostly, the book was just kind of slow. We picked up some interesting facts along the way, sure. But it unraveled a bit more like a mystery than a heist/con concept (which is more of what I was expecting with the Ocean’s 11 comparison) since we got some reveals about characters in the end and unraveled a little mystery that tied all of the characters together. It’s just a different way of putting that story together and it makes a difference of how I read/approach/experience a book.

I was also really disappointed that there wasn’t much happening to show us the school itself. It’s a con school which is AWESOME and really all we see are little snippets of Brynn’s intro to her classes with glimpses of what she might learn there but the book doesn’t really spend much time there at all. Aside from convening in each other’s rooms and using it as a base to get all of the students together, there wasn’t much about the school at all and it really felt like a missed opportunity. I felt like the book took entirely too long to set up Brynn’s family life and introduce the compromising situation that she’s in and I felt like things just dwelled there for an unnecessary amount of time. I get it. We’re supposed to be uncomfortable with Pete. She needs an escape. The school is it. But there was just too much time wasted in the beginning when the book could have set up that school world more to really pull readers in some more.

It seems like this book gets some mixed reviews. Its core was still solid and it had a clear story to tell. Some of my friends absolutely loved it and others, like me, felt a little underwhelmed. At least it seems like no one really hated it, which I agree with! There were a lot of good elements there and some appreciated the structure and tone more than I did, but if you don’t have the expectations that I carried into my read, maybe you’ll enjoy it more!

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Kept Me Hooked On: Mythology retellings. I didn’t even realize this for what it was while I was reading but looking back, it was a fun way to adapt some Norse mythology as a modern retelling!
Left Me Wanting More: Time in this awesome school! I felt like it was a real missed opportunity to make this series about Vale Hall and then not even really spend time in this unique and interesting school! I really wanted to see more of the classes, especially in the first book.

Addiction Rating
Try it

I have a few friends who really loved this book. Maybe they knew more about it than I did before starting, maybe not, but it seems like I might be the minority with my reservations!

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BOOKS LIKE THE DECEIVERS

             

Killing November (Killing November #1) – Adriana Mather

Killing November (Killing November #1) – Adriana MatherTitle: Killing November (Killing November #1) by Adriana Mather
Publishing Info: March 26, 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: Received from the publisher for review purposes
Genres: Young Adult, Heists/Spies/Espionage
Date Completed: March 19, 2019
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Related Posts: How to Hang a Witch, Haunting the Deep (How to Hang a Witch #2)

It’s a school completely off the grid, hidden by dense forest and surrounded by traps. There’s no electricity, no internet, and an eye-for-an-eye punishment system. Classes include everything from Knife-Throwing and Poisons to the Art of Deception and Historical Analysis. And all of the students are children of the world’s most elite strategists—training to become assassins, counselors, spies, and master impersonators. Into this world walks November Adley, who quickly discovers that friends are few in a school where personal revelations are discouraged and competition is everything. When another student is murdered, all eyes turn to November, who must figure out exactly how she fits into the school’s bizarre strategy games before she is found guilty of the crime…or becomes the killer’s next victim.

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I absolutely loved Adriana Mather’s debut HOW TO HANG A WITCH and followed up with the book’s sequel so when I heard that she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to pick up KILLING NOVEMBER!

If you’ve watched SyFy’s show Deadly Class, you may be the perfect audience for this book. If you haven’t, well obviously you can still enjoy it and maybe you’ll want to watch Deadly Class after this because I continued binge watching after I finished! KILLING NOVEMBER finds titular character November in a new, mysterious school after things are shaken up at home. November doesn’t exactly know how serious it is but she’s dropped in the middle of nowhere full of prominent badass/ninja/assassin/secret agent-type families (except they’re not allowed to talk about it) and she’s not entirely sure why she’s there, but we all know there’s some sort of reason!

I loved the sort of mafia/assassin/secret agent feel in KILLING NOVEMBER, especially at a boarding school specifically for the families who work in this type of secrecy or espionage. It was such a fun read with a really fun concept, full of a great balance of the severity of the situation and levity at how weird it would be to be dropped there, plus some great character sass.

I didn’t realize this was a series when I started it but thankfully this book has that sort of feel anyway! I could tell by the pacing that it was setting up for a series and I am totally here for it! There’s a little bit revealed in this book about the overall series plot and some little hints of things you see coming, but there’s still a whole lot more to explore and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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Kept Me Hooked On: Assassin School. The whole assassin/espionage concept was just so much fun! I loved the assassin school and all of the secrecy surrounding it.
Left Me Wanting More: Reveals. Even though it is the first in a series, I did want juuuust a bit more history and reveals in this installment!

Addiction Rating
Read it!

I had a lot of fun with this one and it really hit the sweet spot of so many things that I enjoy in a book! I’m really looking forward to continuing the series.

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BOOKS LIKE KILLING NOVEMBER

             

Thieving Weasels – Billy Taylor

Thieving Weasels – Billy TaylorTitle: Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor
Publishing Info: August 23, 2016 by Penguin
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery/Thriller, Heists/Spies/Espionage
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: September 29, 2016

Cameron Smith attends an elite boarding school and has just been accepted to Princeton University alongside his beautiful girlfriend, Claire. Life for Cameron would be perfect, except that Cameron Smith is actually Skip O’Rourke, and Skip O’Rourke ran away from his grifter family four years ago…along with $100,000 of their “earnings” (because starting a new life is not cheap). But when his uncle Wonderful tracks him down, Skip’s given an ultimatum: come back to the family for one last con, or say good-bye to life as Cameron.
“One last con” is easier said than done when Skip’s family is just as merciless (and just as manipulative) as they’ve always been, and everyone around him is lying. Skip may have given up on crime, but there’s one lesson he hasn’t forgotten: always know your mark. And if you don’t know who your mark is . . . it’s probably you.
Witty and irresistibly readable, this standout debut will always keep you guessing.

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THIEVING WEASELS was a bit different than I anticipated but really in a good way. From the cover, I thought it was going to be a lot goofier and really slapstick but it was actually a lot more serious and realistic than I thought! The book was pretty entertaining, even though it wasn’t what I expected and I really appreciated that it was a bit more on the serious side.

It really became quite the complicated thing with the book being more realistic than I thought because I ended up not being able to write off some things for the sake of comedy. For example, I was left wanting just a bit more character development for the tone of the book. Some of the family members kind of blended together (could also have been the narration too since they all had the same accent) but even from main character Skip, I wanted just a bit more emotion or connection. I think if it had been more of a slapstick style, I wouldn’t have minded as much because it would have been a “fluffier” read but just from the overall tone of how everything went, I think I needed just a bit more backstory or a few more anecdotes or digging a little deeper into the main characters.

I really liked the that the story had some twists! It kept me on my feet and it was really interesting to see where the story went. I wasn’t even sure how it would end when it was so close to being over so that was fun! I always really appreciate when I’m not able to guess the ending of a book because as an avid reader, you tend to be able to guess certain things just from reading all the time, so I really appreciated the direction the book took towards the end.

Overall though, it just really didn’t knock me off my feet. I love the surprises and overall feel of a con/heist story. The book was really fun but it just really wasn’t a stick-with-you kind of book. It did keep my attention and was a very quick read (or listen, if you do the audio like I did) but it was kind of middle of the road for me.

AUDIOBOOK IMPRESSIONS

Source: Digital review copy from Listening Library
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Performance: Decent

The audio for this book was decent but not stellar. This was the first I had heard from Robbie Daymond and while I did like his voice in general, I didn’t feel like he did a very good job with differentiating of the different characters. There were a lot of other male characters and they all had the same type of accent and same tone of voice so that got kind of confusing at times. I probably won’t search out more from him but if he happens to narrate another book I’m interested in, I also wouldn’t say no.

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Skip // Character obsessions: Honesty, school, his girlfriend.
Skip is the honest one in a family of cons and this was a really fun concept! I wish I did get to know him a little bit more and have him feel like a more rounded character but I did enjoy what I got to know of him. The poor kid gets put in some really tight spots, especially by family members, and I really appreciated how he handled them.

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Kept Me Hooked On: Con stories. Skip’s family is entirely con artists and I just love stories about cons/heists, etc. I felt so bad for him since they put him in a lot of tight places but it was also really fun to see different cons and how that shaped the story!
Left Me Wanting More: Personality. I thought the characters could have really had more personality.

Addiction Rating
Consider it

If you’re a fan of cons, this is an easy and quick read! It was fun and kept me on my toes but it also wasn’t a book that stuck with me. Depends on what kind of read you’re in the mood for!

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BOOKS LIKE THIEVING WEASELS

(Click the cover to see my review!)

HEIST SOCIETY    ALSO KNOWN AS

Mini-Review: Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society #2) – Ally Carter

Mini-Review: Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society #2) – Ally CarterTitle: Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society #2) by Ally Carter
Publishing Info: June 21, 2011 by Scholastic Inc.
Source: Audible
Genres: Young Adult, Heists/Spies/Espionage
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: May 9, 2016
Related Posts: Heist Society (Heist Society #1), All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1)

Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life. Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners.

There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long, and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous and that is simply… the emerald is cursed.

Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all she has her best friend—the gorgeous Hale—and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses, realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time.

Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules.

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Just a mini-review for UNCOMMON CRIMINALS today! It had been almost four years since I had read HEIST SOCIETY (on audio) before I picked up UNCOMMON CRIMINALS but it wasn’t because of disinterest. After four years of waiting, I finally gave up hope that my library was going to get the audiobook because I just really enjoyed Angela Dawe’s performance so much! I knew I had to keep this one going on audio.

UNCOMMON CRIMINALS was just as much fun as I remember HEIST SOCIETY being! I just love heist books because so many of them often times employ a lot of humor or sarcasm, I think mostly because the characters are just so clever. You really have to be able to outsmart everyone when pulling off a heist and I think that extends a lot into a character’s social interactions as well. I feel like UNCOMMON CRIMINALS was a little less humorous and a bit more serious than HEIST SOCIETY since the stakes were raised a bit more, though!

I really enjoyed how the characters’ relationships started to go a bit deeper as well. There’s always a certain level of trust in a friendship — especially when it involves deception and thievery — but Kat really starts to amp things up with Hale, whether she intended to or not, and both friendships and familial relationships are really put into the spotlight in this book.

UNCOMMON CRIMINALS is an easy read but still full of so many important moments that any teen (or adult) can relate to. I love the balance of humor along with the severity of a heist and all of the experiences that come along with it. These books are so enjoyable and I’m hoping to finish up the series soon! Although now I’m hearing book three is not the last book like I thought it was… so more adventures for me, I guess!

AUDIOBOOK IMPRESSIONS

Source: Purchased from Audible
Narrator: Angela Dawe
Performance: Fun, sturdy, and comfortable yet light

HEIST SOCIETY was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to (actually, I think THE first audio I ever listened to) so I have a soft spot for Angela Dawe! I really loved her performance then and I still do now. I like how her voice is mature but still appropriate for a teen main character and her voicing of everyone is really good throughout! She does some really fun accents and some are more believable than others but the book was just fun from start to finish and I’m still seeking out more audiobooks that she narrates!
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“The View from Goodreads” is a featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!

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Addiction Rating
Read it!

These books are a lot of fun and if you like books/movies/TV shows about heists or espionage, this series is for you! It was totally Leverage meets Ocean’s 11.

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BOOKS LIKE UNCOMMON CRIMINALS

(Click the cover to see my review!)

ALSO KNOWN AS    THE FIXER