Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Review: The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
Series: The Conspiracy of Us book 1
Genre: Contemporary/Romance/Adventure
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Avery West's newfound family can shut down Prada when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war. Part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle, they believe Avery is the key to an ancient prophecy. Some want to use her as a pawn. Some want her dead.

To unravel the mystery putting her life in danger, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the monuments of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul with two boys who work for the Circle—beautiful, volatile Stellan and mysterious, magnetic Jack. But as the clues expose a stunning conspiracy that might plunge the world into World War 3, she discovers that both boys are hiding secrets of their own. Now she will have to choose not only between freedom and family--but between the boy who might help her save the world, and the one she's falling in love with.

(Warning: a very long review with many quotes.) I didn't realize how lucky I've been until I started this book. I've come across plenty of YA books with leading ladies that I've disliked - maybe even hated - but until this one, I'd never come across one that was TSTL.

Very early on, we're treated to Avery finding a photo of herself in a classmate's (Jack) possession. This photo is one that she didn't take, her social media obsessed friend didn't take and it was taken in her front yard. Instead of worrying how he got it, she doesn't really seem to care. She never asks him about it; she never tells anyone about it.

Jack seemed nice, but carrying a vaguely stalkerish photo was weird.

She did follow him though, after she found the photo and over heard him talking on the phone with a British accent, which he most assuredly didn't have before. He invited her to prom. Instead of thinking he's some stalker freak, and against her mother's express order, she goes solely to meet him there.

Then I waited until my mom was safely on her way to the airport, slipped my dress on, threw my hair up with bobby pins, and walked out the front door.

She doesn't tell her mom where she's going or who she's going with. Her mother asked her to promise not to go. Not to go with Jack. This is how it starts - then you wind up chained to a radiator in a little hotel off i55 while he rants that he can't live without you

"Quit it!" I finally snapped out of it and fought against his hand, careful to avoid the knife. "Let me go."

A few curious sets of eyes turned toward us, and I stopped struggling. As much as I wanted to get away from Stellan, I didn't want to make a scene.

Right. Because when a guy has a knife in one hand, your arm in the other and is dragging you off, the most concerning thing at the moment is making a scene.

Now, at this point, Jack - her stalker - tells her to go with Stellan - the guy with the knife - and that she will be 'fine'. Instead of freaking out, instead of staying in the gym with all the people, instead of going right to the police, she listens.

She follows a guy that she literally just met today. A guy that she saw for the first time today. A guy that, during their first conversation, pulls a knife on her and tries to drag her out of the school gym.

She does this because a guy that she's known for less than a school year - a guy that has been stalking her and taking candid photos of her, and putting on a phony accent (which, even if she doesn't realize it, means he's in some seriously deep stuff) - tells her she will be 'fine'.

She, once again, doesn't tell anyone where she is going or who she is going with. Though the former might be because she didn't know. It isn't until she's getting into Stellan's car that she asks where they are going. Turns out, France. And she doesn't have a passport but that 'doesn't matter'.

I didn't trust him for a second. And that would have been true even if he hadn't pulled a knife on me a few hours ago.

Yet you still willingly got on a plane with him. Of course, it doesn't matter that you don't have a passport, because he's going to dump your lifeless body on a secluded beach somewhere.

I shook it off and reminded myself that even if he'd been civil since the prom, something about him still made me uncomfortable, which meant it was deeply messed up to let him flirt with me at all, much less react to it. But if he was trying to get me to let my guard down, I could do the same to him.

So…now you're bating the suspicious guy with the knife?

I was too exhausted to protest anymore.

Yes! Quit protesting and just let him do whatever he wants with you. Granted, this was only him untangling her pins from her hair, but she didn't want him to and told him so. Really, if he tries something more, would she put up more of a fight? I don't think so.

But I couldn't help thinking about […] what kind of people would practically kidnap a girl from prom to bring her to France […]

Kidnapping is 'against the person's will'. She went willingly, never arguing or protesting. This is not kidnapping - not even practically kidnapping.

"Did you say you're keeping me here?" I wondered out loud. "For how long?"

Stellan was already walking away. "You're not going to question everything I say, are you? It's growing tiresome."

Ugh. She hasn't questioned everything he said - in fact, this was probably her first question that wasn't either ignored or plot relevant. Instead of following up her line of questions, she get's distracted by Stellan's dress shirt being tucked in. (She has a strange fixation with if the shirt is tucked or untucked on the guys.) I'd like to mention that this is the same girl that, thirty pages ago, said this to her mother, after she was told she had two days to pack and be ready to move from Minnesota to Maine..

"There are things I can't leave that fast. Like…getting the records for my AP classes transferred. There's no way a new school will let me into AP at the end of the year without paperwork. And checking the weather in Maine so I can put the right stuff in the right boxes."

She's in a foreign country, without a passport and she allows the one person there that she knows slightly, to rebuff her questions. She doesn't know these people, is suspicious that they are the French mafia, and has no idea what their plans for her are. And she just lets it go.

His eyes could almost have been deep blue, but they weren't, not quite. No, they were a dark violet.
They were exactly the color of my eyes.
I had never, ever seen another person with my real eye color. The guy disappeared back into the party. He must be related to me.

Are violet eyes hereditary? I did a little reading about violet eyes, and I heard it's an incomplete form of albinism and then both parents have to have the recessive gene otherwise they'd have more normal colored eyes. I'm pretty sure this means he only 'must be related' to Avery in the same way everyone in the world must be related to one another.

I dialed my mom's phone. I wouldn't let her force me to come home, but I was starting to feel bad.

Do I really need to get into what's wrong with this statement? Beside the 'I won't do what mom says because I know better and she's not the boss of me' vibe, it's really about time she starts to feel bad. She ran away from home. All the way to France and now she can't leave because she doesn't have a passport. (Not that she wants to, anyway.)

But it wasn't like there was anything wrong with shopping. It could be fun. It was nice of the Dauphins to take me in, and I might as well enjoy the perks while I could, before my mom found out what I'd done and locked me up until I turned eighteen.

This little morsel came three pages after her rebellious 'I do what I want' tirade. I'm seriously starting to wonder if maybe she has some sort of mental disorder. Besides that, of course it's a good idea to shop for a ball gown when total strangers offer to pay for it. I'm pretty sure I've heard about cases where serial killers have to have their victims dressed just so…

"I know exactly how old you are. Sixteen, seventeen next month. June fourteenth."
"Five foot two inches tall." He looked me up and down again, and I straightened automatically. "One hundred and three pounds."

I'll give her credit for being slightly creeped out, but then:

"Ah. Daddy issues, then," he said with a sage nod. "Though I suppose that should have been obvious when you immediately agreed to run off with strange and somewhat threatening men you didn't know."

I felt myself flush. Okay, yes, obviously I did have daddy issues, but it had nothing to do with my literary preferences. (He was ragging on her for reading Lolita.) I fished for a witty comeback, but I'd gotten too flustered.

He knew her name before he ever talked to her and he knows her age and birthday, height and weight and she's more concerned about what he thinks of her reading preferences than that he knows all of this. He's the one that should explain himself, but he's put her on the defensive so she feels she has to make excuses for something that isn't wrong. (Okay, yeah, I'm surprised a 16 year old would read Lolita, but there's nothing wrong with that.)

[…]the killer reached the bottom of the stairs.

What did he kill, the dresses? Because, as of this point in the book, he hadn't killed anyone that Avery was aware of. He was, so far, merely an attempting killer.

Stellan whirled on me. […] "Why did he try to kill you?"

Victim blaming. Nice. (Maybe taken out of context, you won't see it, but he does have a knife and he's angry. I had to take it out of context though, otherwise spoilers!)

He stalked across the floor until he towered over me.

So now he's using intimidation tactics on a girl that was just nearly killed. Nice.

Now, I'd like you to note, this is just the first 80 pages.

On page 87, I was treated to this:

In the space of one day, I'd turned into what I thought I'd never be: a naïve, hopeful idiot. Despite my wariness, I'd convinced myself this was fun. I'd spent all day smiling at famous people and admiring Paris and playing dress-up. I was thinking about going to a ball. All the while I had willfully ignored the ominous signs I didn't want to see.

My note on this says: Finally! Is this the turning point?

[…]you are the only girl with purple eyes in the world."

Excuse me while I roll my eyes so had they fall out of my head.

Allowing myself to be taken in by the Circle without understanding exactly what I was getting into would be beyond stupid. I had no room to be blindly optimistic anymore.

The interesting thing about Avery is that this isn't character development. She claims that the way she was behaving for the previous parts of the book to be out of character for her. So, assuming that she is telling the truth and doesn't think she's brilliant when, really, she isn't, it's like the author knew where she wanted the story to go, but couldn't get Avery there without making her act like a stupid idiot.

The problem is, no matter what she's trying to be now, she made all those bad decisions and the reader won't be able to forget that. At least, this reader can't. I also imagine that there are a lot of people that will have given up before she starts acting like she had two brain cells to rub together.

To put it simply, I don't like Avery. She has potential when she's not acting like…well, like she was for the first 80 pages. Jack is a boring stalker. Honestly, there's nothing about him that I like. He pushes all the wrong buttons for me. I am a little interested in Stellan, as I do think he has potential to be an interesting character, but I balk at the thought of him being a love interest. Especially to a girl as weak willed as Avery.

The romance in the book is a huge part of the book. Avery is always noticing the guys, blushing while thinking about kissing them. It, so far, isn't a love triangle, but I bet that's where it's headed for book two.

It wasn't my first kiss, but it felt like it was. It felt like how kisses in movies looked […]

Oh, please.

"That's when I stopped watching you just because it was my job," he said.

Ugh, creepy! For pity's sake, quit romanticizing stalkers!

As for the romance, the only thing to hope for is that Avery gets a restraining order against both them.

I love secret treasure plotlines with historical mysteries thrown in, however this one was kind of a disappointment. I love the feeling of discovery, the idea that they're solving a mystery no one else ever has. My biggest complaint about this puzzle, the clues that they're following, is that they aren't breaking new ground. These are clues that someone else found and left for them, possibly as recently as a week ago.

"He could have texted you where he'd hidden this stuff […]"

Thanks for never once allowing me to forget that this isn't Indiana Jones or The Librarian. There's no feeling of wonder. No 'we did it when no one else did' no feeling that they were the only people that could. Very much a let down.

I will say, the latter part of the book picks up - enough that I am considering reading the second in the series when it gets published next year. This is partially due to the fact that the plot is left dangling. Majorly dangling and I haven't decided yet if I should be angry about that and swear off the rest of the series, or await it hopeful that it's better than this one.