My husband Jono and I have pretty divergent reading tastes: his section of the bookshelf is largely business books and non-fiction, whereas mine’s largely fiction with the odd piece of narrative non-fiction thrown in. But there is some overlap in our reading habits, and zingy fiction that treads the line between MG and YA definitely comprises a large part of that meeting of our Venn reading subsets.
If you’ve been following my Twitter feed at all, you’ll probably know by now that Jono’s a big fan of Ally Carter’s books, and that he’s ploughed through both the Gallagher Girls series and the Heist Society books with the kind of fiendish concentration that only a computer programmer can manage.
Since he’s such a fan, the crew at Hachette Australia and I thought that it might be fun to get his thoughts on Carter’s latest, Perfect Scoundrels…and some fun photos while we were at it.
Steph: There aren’t many books that manage to capture your attention enough that you don’t end up putting them aside or skimming through to the end, but Carter seems to be a pretty reliable go-to for you. What is it about her books that keeps you reading rather than reaching for your phone or laptop?
Jono: I prefer the Heist Society series to the Gallagher Girls, mostly because I find the story of how the main character, Katarina Bishop, unlocks the puzzle of each heist quite interesting. That coupled with lots of action and a fast moving plot should keep me reading early into the morning.
Steph: A fast moving plot is definitely a must-have item for you, although I’m a bit the opposite: I find that I get narrative whiplash when things move too quickly for me to keep up with. In Perfect Scoundrels I found myself flicking back to refresh my memory about who was who. Was this an issue for you?
Jono: Nope. Though, Perfect Scoundrels probably expected you to already be familiar with a few characters that were introduced in previous books.
Steph: All right, then, smarty-pants. What about the ending of this one? Although I enjoyed the first three-quarters of the book, I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that everything wrapped up a little bit too quickly and conveniently, with essential characters just popping up out of nowhere to help Kat and her crew resolve things. What did you think about this?
Jono: It did end too quickly. The author just wrapped it up so suddenly. It was like the editor said, “hey, quick, you need to get this book submitted!” The pace exponentially increased until it fell off a cliff. I also didn’t like how the way that the return to the Henley was dealt with. I just felt like in the first book in the series it was so hard to get into the Henley, but in this book they managed to get in straight away. It sort of damaged the whole “puzzle” nature of the books. I much prefer the books when they’re about nutting out the puzzles and trying to come up with something really creative and unexpected. This time around it felt like this real smoosh between Gallagher Girls and Heist Society.
Steph: A smoosh?
Jono: It is smoosh. It’s not even a mix. It’s a smoosh.
Steph: Okay. On a similar note, I found that the book suffered from an odd expositional quirk. Every chapter either starts with a truism about Kat and her life, or with a sort of cinematic scene-setting that gives us an overview of a scene and then zooming in to give us a closer look. This sort of thing works in a serial novel or a film, but I found it out-of-place and cumbersome in a book–particularly when it was used at the beginning of every chapter. It kept me distanced as a reader and meant that it took me a while to settle in to each chapter. Did you have any issues with the writing at all?
Jono: The writing didn’t really bother me too much. I’ve always been more of a plot person. If it bores me, I’ll just skip it, so I don’t really notice it.
Steph: How about the romance side of things? I know that you were frustrated over the romantic arc in the Gallagher Girls books, but you seem to be much more on-board with the relationship arc in this series, even though in this one we begin to see the romance element become more prominent.
Jono: In Gallagher Girls I found being exposed to the thoughts of an early teenage girl on her crush a little too icky for my liking. The romantic elements of the book were given a lighter touch than in the Gallagher Girls series so it didn’t bother me too much at all. The thing with Gallagher Girls is that you get in the head of this teenage girl who’s having these crushes, and it’s just too much. In this series the romance is sort of there, but only because they’re angry with each other. The romance is there to add tension rather than just being sappy. There aren’t a lot of sappy moments, and I’m not continually in Kat’s head hearing her act like a teenage girl.
Steph: I couldn’t help but feel that Perfect Scoundrels suffered from “scope creep”. I feel that the series is at its best when it’s focused on heists and double-crossings, whereas here we end up in a sort of Austin Powers quasi-parody territory with the introduction of a device that essentially has the power to change the world. I couldn’t suspend disbelief with this plot element, and given that each book in the series seems to be ramping up the stakes, I’m a bit nervous about where the next in the series is going to go. What were your thoughts on this?
Jono: I enjoy the puzzle-nature of the books, and Perfect Scoundrels doesn’t have the raw puzzle solving nature as the earlier two books. I didn’t really think of it as scope creep; really, the Austin Powers-esque plot reminded me a lot of Gallagher Girls. It seemed as if the author was blending together the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, so it’s no surprise that at the end of the book is a novella that blends the two worlds together.
Steph: You have mixed feeling about the Gallagher Girls books, so what do you think about the fact that the novella blends the two worlds? Is this something you want to see more of in the future?
Jono: It depends where the author takes it. Probably some people will prefer one series to the other depending on whether they prefer action or getting into the heads of the characters, so it will depend on which one gets more emphasis. Personally, I read for these clever plots and I enjoy seeing an author subvert your expectations. When you’re in your twenties or thirties you’ve read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies, so I like seeing how authors can make something new out of an action story and surprise the reader.
Steph: Well, as a thirty-year-old guy you’re not exactly her target reader…and yet you’re a huge fan. Do you think that Carter has cross-gender appeal? If not, what’s the key to getting guys to read her books?
Jono: The Gallagher Girls books seem targeted at teenage girls, whereas Heist Society appears to be targeted at a wider audience. Strong female characters have strong cross-gender appeal, and provided there’s a strong, fast moving plot with action, guys like me would love to read it. The Gallagher Girls books have a lot of action, but there’s so much other stuff that I can’t relate to–the girls talk about crushes and things that I’m not that interested in. Whereas the Heist Society books have a lot of action, and don’t spend too much time in the character’s head. Books need to get to the point and keep things moving, and I think that the Heist Society books do that.
Steph: So you’ll keep reading to see where Carter takes both series?
Jono: I’m interested in seeing where Carter takes the Gallagher Girls-Heist Society hybrid thing, particularly if she can incorporate the Heist Society puzzle-type thing into a new book. I don’t want the novella to just be a side story: you have people who are invested in two different worlds already, and you’ve gone to all the effort of blending together the worlds, so I want to see what happens with that set-up. There is a danger of having her characters all feel really similar–am I going to be able to distinguish between the different characters in the different worlds? It’ll be really interesting to see how she set it up.
Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing Perfect Scoundrels using one of the affiliate links below:
or support your local independent.