Monday, February 23, 2015

Perfect Scoundrels: A Heist Society Novel by Ally Carter

The death of Hale’s grandmother, Hazel Hale—owner of the billion dollar Hale Industries—pulls Kat Bishop away from her comfortable heist-life and into Hale’s ritzy, back-stabbing world. When Hazel’s will states that Hale will inherit Hale Industries, Kat can naturally smell a con. Her suspicions are confirmed when Hazel’s maid, Marianne, approaches Kat about how Hazel’s will is wrong. Using her heist crew, Kat finds the correct will but the person behind the con gets to it first. Kat and Hale must expose the con artist or Hale Industries will be no more. 

Carter’s third Heist Society novel is a more emotional piece than her other books. When Hale loses his grandmother, Hale pulls away from Kat as he reenters his world. To Kat, it seems that the charming and charismatic Hale she loves is lost among his snobby, money-grubbing family members. Hope and their strong friendship are the two things Kat holds on to as she waits out Hale’s grieving. But Kat won't just sit and wait. She uses all her family resources to expose the culprit behind the con. Even though this is a more emotional book, Carter still maintains her expert flare for clever cons and intelligent deception. A rousing read great for ages 12 and up.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Uncommon Criminals: A Heist Society Novel by Ally Carter

During Kat’s investigation into the overlord’s missing paintings, the name Visily Romani was at every corner. Visily Romani is a prestigious pseudonym used only by the greatest and most skillful thieves in history. Soon after her Henley heist, Kat is approached by an old woman carrying Romani’s business card. The woman asks Kat to steal the Cleopatra Emerald—rumored to be cursed—because it rightfully belongs to her family. With Hale’s help, Kat steals the emerald. However, returning the emerald to the woman creates more problems than Kat ever imagined.

Carter creates another amazing edge-of-your-seat read. In this second book, Kat’s character becomes more complex and intriguing. Since the first book, Kat is riding on the successful Henley heist by doing many dangerous jobs on her own. But her family and friends see that she’s isolating herself from others through her pride. By making the jobs define her, she is beginning to lose her true self. This book can create some great discussion topics: like what happens when you let success completely define you and comparing and/or contrasting Kat’s character against the con artist, Margaret Gray.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Fifteen-year-old Katarina, or Kat, Bishop comes from a long, prestigious line of thieves. However, Kat tries to rise above her family roots by creating a new identity for herself. But when a criminal overlord suspects her father of stealing four priceless paintings, Kat must go back to her thieving skills to clear her father's name. This is not an easy job because the paintings are now housed in the most secure museum in the world, the Henley. With a teenage heist crew behind her, Kat has a slim chance of stealing back the paintings and saving her father.

Carter’s story has the intelligence of The Italian Job, the suspense of To Catch a Thief, and the humor of How to Steal a Million. Carter attributes the creation of her story to actual historical events. During World War II, priceless pieces of artwork were stolen by Nazi forces from many prestigious families and museums. Many of those pieces have not resurfaced since that time. In this story, the four paintings owned by the overlord are a part of that tragic history and Kat feels that it’s her duty to help those painting get returned to their rightful owners. Heist Society is expertly crafted with characters that are worth reading about. A great read for both teenagers and adults.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Beneath by Roland Smith

After waiting a year, Pat O’Toole finally receives news from his missing brother, Coop, in the form of a strange package. Inside is a digital voice recorder detailing Coop’s exploration of an unknown society beneath New York City called the Deep. But when Pat’s letters to Coop go unanswered, Pat decides to make his way to New York City’s underground. Once there Pat meets Kate, a girl who needs Pat’s help in rescuing Coop from the clutches of the underworld dictator, Lod.

Smith creates an incredibly original and thought-provoking story with Beneath. The book is written from the perspective of Pat as he dictates his and Coop’s voice recordings into his journal. Both Pat and Coop describe their separate descents into the Deep, except Pat has the added complication of claustrophobia. Pat’s claustrophobia was created when, as children, Coop and Pat were almost buried after a tunnel collapsed. Pat’s love for Coop helps him conquer his phobia while making his way through dangerously tight and cramped situations. Along with Pat and Coop’s story, Smith creates an intriguing idea of how easily a cult-like society can be hidden inside a normal population. Smith is currently writing a sequel called Above

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Introducing Roland Smith

Image result for roland smithHappy Valentine's Day to my fellow readers! Speaking of Valentine's Day, here is an author whose work I just love...Roland Smith! I met Roland Smith in 2003 when he came to Iola, Kansas, for the Allen County Young Authors celebration. My family and I have kept in touch with him and his amazing wife, Marie, through the years, especially as I have attended the Warrensburg Children's Literature Festival. He and Marie have been great friends to my parents. Love you guys!

Here is a little background on Roland's life:

"I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. When I was five years old my parents gave me an old manual typewriter that weighed more than I did! It was my favorite possession. I spent hours in my room clacking away on that old typewriter. Of course, when I was five I didn’t know how to spell and I barely knew how to read, but I loved the sound and the look of the letters on the crisp white paper.

"Things haven’t changed much since then. I still spend several hours a day in my room clacking away and I still love the sound of the keyboard and the look of the letters and words that eventually turn into stories. The only difference is that I can read now and I spell a lot better...

"My wife, Marie, and I live on a small farm south of Portland. I spend my days in my basement office writing stories that usually include animals. If I’m not writing I’m traveling — doing research and taking photos for upcoming books. Or, I’m out visiting schools — something I love to do! My writing led me to animals and my work with animals led me back to writing. It’s funny how things work out. I spent over twenty years working with animals. Now I’m going to spend the next twenty years writing about animals…as well as a few other things."

Recently, I asked Roland a few questions about his life as both a reader and a writer:

1. What was the first book that inspired you to become a reader?
I began reading at a pretty young age. I can’t really remember learning how to read, although I’m certain someone taught me. The first book I remember reading, although I’m certain there were many before this, was A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. I read it several times. I wanted to move to New York and live at the train station. It was decades before I finally got there, but I stayed in a hotel.

2. Which authors inspired you to become a writer?
All of them. I’ve read one or two books every week for over fifty years. Every one of these novels, great, good, or not so good, has influenced my writing. I'm not talking about stealing other author's ideas here. I'm talking about how they choose to tell their story. The words. The sentence structure. The plot. The characters. The rhythm of the story. What did they do right? Where did they go wrong? What would I do differently if I were writing their novel? These questions, and others, are very inspiring for me.

3. Your books are set in some pretty exotic locations around the world. What has been the most enjoyable place you have traveled to while doing research for your books and why?
The most beautiful place I've been to was Kenya. A very close second would be Alaska, where I have been many times as a biologist, writer, and tourist. My most thrilling travel experience was spending several weeks deep in Myanmar (formerly Burma), living and working in elephant camps. I was there to help elephants and do research for my novel Elephant Run. It was like going back in time a hundred years, and was remarkable in every way. Of all the places I've ever been, this was the place that changed my worldview the most.

4. From your past work in zoos, what animals have inspired your writing the most?
That would be elephants. I had the good fortune to work with them in zoos and in the wild for over 20 years. As a result elephants have been featured in many of my novels. Most notably Thunder Cave and Elephant Run.

5. What books are in the works right now?
At this very moment I’m working on the sequel to Beneath, which will be called, Above. The next book, coming out in October, is The Edge. This is a sequel to my novel Peak.

Check out more on Roland Smith from his website:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Elephant Run by Roland Smith

To escape London bombings, Nick Freestone is sent to live on his father’s teak plantation deep in the Burmese jungle. Once there Nick develops a close friendship with Mya, a girl longing to become a mahout, or elephant rider. However, WWII catches up to Nick when the planation is invaded by the Japanese and both Nick’s father and Mya’s brother are sent to a labor camp. With the help of Hilltop—Mya’s Buddhist monk great-grandfather—and Hannibal, a dangerous bull elephant, Nick and Mya escape the planation disguised as novice monks. Nick and Mya's mission is to rescue their family members, but they must travel through dangerous jungles crawling with enemy soldiers.

Smith expertly transports readers into the Burmese wild. In Burma elephants help shape not only the land, but also its people and culture. Nick learns to respect the giant mammals, especially when those elephants both threaten and save Nick’s life. From a historical standpoint, readers can see how far-reaching WWII spread as they begin in battered London and travel across the globe to a newly conquered Burma. But even in the face of war there were still good people on the enemy's side, like the character of Sonji, the sympathetic, haiku-loving Japanese soldier. A wonderful WWII historical-fiction read for ages 10 and up.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Peak by Roland Smith

When fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello is caught scaling the side of a skyscraper, he is sentenced to serve probation with his absent, rock-rat father, Josh. Josh pushed for Peak to go with him so that Peak could become the youngest person to climb Everest. After traveling around the world, Peak ends up at Everest’s Base Camp. Once there, Peak begins his rigorous training in hopes of completing the climb before his birthday. But as Peak gets closer to Everest's summit, Peak starts questioning his father's motives.

Smith writes his story through the eyes and emotions of Peak Marcello. Not only does Peak tell about his own travels, training, and troubles, Peak also talks about his background and relationship issues with his attention-seeking father. After his skyscraper-climbing stunt, Peak can see that he is heading down a similar negative path as his father. By questioning the climb, Peak can see it will determine his future. Besides learning more about Peak himself, Peak also describes a climber’s life on Everest, detailing the special training and camps all climbers must complete before heading to the top. A fascinating, eye-opening book that any reader, age 10 and up would enjoy.

Storm Runners: Eruption by Roland Smith

After surviving a hurricane in Florida, Chase, Nicole, Chase’s father, and his construction team head to Mexico to tract down the lost caravan of the Rossi Brothers’ Circus. An earthquake destroyed several roads there, making it impossible to search the area for the caravan or for survivors. Because of the earthquake, a local volcano is threatening to erupt at any time, possibly before any survivors can get out. As Chase’s group travels towards the last location of the circus caravan, Chase is again separated from his father and mugged by looters. With no way to communicate with his father, Chase must rely on his survival skills to not only help himself, but to also aid a stranded village in the volcano’s path.

With Eruption Smith does it a third time in keeping up a seamless, pulsing pace that will leave readers in breathless suspense for Chase, his father, and his friends. With each disaster Chase faces, he tests his limits and learns from his mistakes in sometimes painful, life-threatening ways. Aside from the surviving these natural disasters, Chase and his father finally resolve their issues because they realize how much they love and need each other. A fantastic series for ages 8 and up.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Storm Runners: The Surge by Roland Smith

After twelve hours of walking through a hurricane, Chase, Nicole, and Rashawn arrive at the Rossi Brothers’ Circus property. But they are far from being safe: two wildcat cages were damaged during the hurricane letting both a leopard and a lion escape. The only somewhat safe place for the storm’s survivors is a large warehouse that is currently housing an antsy, pregnant elephant. To keep everyone safe, Nicole and Chase must work together to secure the warehouse from the lion, the leopard, and the surge.

Smith flawlessly continues with the thrilling story he began in Storm Runners. This time, the storm is not the only obstacle. Readers will race along with Chase and Nicole as they find the courage to battle both deadly weather and man-eating animals. Chase combines his storm survival skills with Nicole’s circus know-how to capture both a leopard and a lion, all with limited adult supervision. But while Chase and Nicole are securing the storm’s survivors, readers will learn more about Chase’s father as he tries any way he can to get to Chase’s side. The final book in the Storm Runners' trilogy is Eruption.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Storm Runners by Roland Smith

Chase Masters and his father live an unsettled lifestyle as storm runners. When they hear of a predicted hurricane in Florida, Chase and his father drive their RV home and portable construction business to the winter quarters of the Rossi Brothers’ Circus. While Chase’s father prepares locals for the storm, Chase attends school with Nicole Rossi. But when the storm’s condition becomes threatening, school is cancelled and students are sent home. As Chase, Nicole, and another girl--Rashawn--are being driven home, the bus driver dies and the bus is overturned on washed out roads. Chase must rely on his storm skills to help them all survive the life-threatening weather.

Smith writes a riveting, adventurous start to the Storm Runners trilogy. Even though the story’s focus may be on the non-stop suspense and nail-biting danger of the hurricane, Smith creates an inner storm raging inside of Chase’s character. Ever since Chase lost his mother and sister and his father was struck by lightning, Chase has felt abandoned. When his father took on the personal crusade to become a storm runner, Chase had no choice but to join him and leave behind his memories of home. Yet when Chase is faced with surviving a hurricane on his own, he realizes his love for his father and hopes he can rekindle their relationship. The next book is called The Surge.