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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

Also Known As

Also Known As - Robin Benway I’ve made it no secret that I absolutely adore Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait! and that my reaction to The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June was…not so much love. And I admit, I was hesitant—I had seen a lot of comparisons to Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series which I didn’t really get into. (I read the first book; it was okay.) But I decided, “Well, if I don’t like it, I don’t like it. But I’ll give it a shot.” And while it’s not zomg mind-blowing, it’s still a lot of fun to read.The reason I don’t like a lot of YA spy stories is that every single one I’ve read is too gadget-reliant. Yes, let’s parody the Q scenes from classic Bond; let’s have accessories that can conveniently knock out the love interest and look cute (raise your hand if your brain headed to Totally Spies!); we need to have MacGuffins so that the heroine can escape and still look fabulous. Not only do none of these things appear in Also Known As, Maggie and her family openly mock glamorized spy work and lampshade it to hell. (For example, near the climax, Maggie’s friends ask if there’s some sort of gadget they can just hack all the files. Maggie responds, “My job would be so much easier if that existed.”) I loved the fact that, aside from the shadowy spy organization her family works for, there are no ridiculous gadgets or tech that is so top secret that it can’t exist because logically it shouldn’t. There is actually spy work and stake-outs and getting close to the marks. The only thing glamorous about Maggie’s life is her jet-setting (and okay, her wardrobe and school, but still) and she even points out how boring her role in assignments are. I loved that the realistic angle was worked in so well.Maggie could have very, very easily been a cliché, with her whole diatribe on “I just want to be normal!” However, Benway does a great job of showing us that there’s a reason why Maggie isn’t normal and also how frustrating that is for her. Most of Maggie’s duties on assignments up until the beginning of the book are “Oh, go have fun in Iceland until we need you to crack this safe.” It’s not just she’s been trained to work as a spy in the Collective because of her parents, either; she has a knack for picking locks. And when Maggie’s confronted with the fact that her special talent doesn’t really have a lot of applications in the real world, she does pull out the argument of “Okay, maybe I don’t want to be a spy. Have you ever thought of that?” Yes, I’ve seen it so. Many. Times. But most of the time when the “Normal” argument pops up, I don’t get much of that context behind it, and that’s what I like here. Now, there are some parts when she does fall into the cliché, but again, having the background of Maggie’s character and her safe-cracking helps a lot.The thing I didn’t like though with the “I just want to be normal” argument was her relationship with her parents. I did like the relationship when you got to see Maggie working on the assignment or when they were just settling into their new loft. But my problem came when Maggie went to her first party at Jesse’s house. There is a tendency in YA books wherein the parents have some sort of ‘cool’ lifestyle, when their mousy plain daughter decides to live it up, the parents will initiate lockdown. I do see where that’s coming from…but I would also think once Maggie pointed out “Hey, I’m doing my assignment, I’m supposed to get close to Jesse,” her parents would be a bit more understanding. I kinda don’t like the fact that the reasoning for this is that Maggie was kidnapped when she was younger; it never feels like her parents are overprotective until it becomes plot convenient. Also, Maggie has Angelo constantly following her. I liked Angelo, he’s fun. Even if he’s just the mentor figure for a lot of the book. (I love the ending when he tries to teach Roux chess.)Roux could have easily been the bitchy friend who I debate if I’m supposed to like because…? And while she does have her moments, I also liked the fact that we see Roux being vulnerable and her acknowledging that she makes terrible decisions. I really can’t wait to see more of Roux in the sequel; she takes a while to warm up to, but she’s fun. I also did like Jesse, again for the same reasons—I liked how quickly he opens up to Maggie. And even when she reveals that she’s been using to crack into his father’s files, Jesse’s rightfully pissed but he’s willing to help because Maggie and her family are in danger. Jesse and Roux aren’t completely fleshed out, and normally I’d rag on Benway for “Why would you hold character development until the sequel!” But they’re strong characters here, and I really liked their respective relationships with Maggie. Hell, I love that Maggie dispenses with the dancing around that she’s a spy and flat-out admits it to Roux and Jesse. (“Do the passport thing, it’s surprisingly effective.” CAN I POINT OUT THAT I LOVE BENWAY’S STYLE HERE? Her writing style and dialogue were the best things about Audrey, Wait!; I love that this is just as quotable.) As for the other-all major mystery, it’s probably the weakest part of the book. The set-up and Maggie getting close to Jesse are drawn out, and the majority of the book is spent on that. (I really like that Maggie messes up when she first cracks the Olivers’ safe—it’s an understandable mistake, too.) But the revelation of who’s behind the news scoop of the Collective and Maggie’s kidnapping is rushed and thrown together too quickly. I have a feeling the bad guy is going to reappear in the sequel, but I just didn’t feel it towards the climax. Maggie feeling her way into her first assignment is really well done, especially since it focuses on the fact that she has to make friends when her lifestyle hasn’t really prepared her for that.As I said in the beginning, Also Known As isn’t an amazing YA book, but it’s so much fun to read. I did enjoy reading it, I loved the characters and the endless quotables (“Wait, did you just use a simile?””Actually, that was an analogy.”), and the realism of the spy work is what really sold it for me. It’s fun and fluffy without talking down to the reader, and I really liked it.