Review / Spy School at Sea

20211218ma_4062Book: Spy School at Sea (2021)
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Genre: MG, Espionage
Series: Spy School


Opening lines from the book …
The principal was acting stranger than usual. In my sixteen months at the CIA’s Academy of Espionage, I had seen the principal display many aspects of his personality, none of which were good. He had been angry, bitter, paranoid, churlish, jealous, contemptuous, ornery, disdainful, mercurial, obnoxious, flummoxed, confused, passive-aggressive, and just plain mean.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) As with all the Spy School books, we know we’re in for a big adventure. This one takes place on a cruise ship. Lots of fun possibilities, including falling (or being thrown) overboard!

2) Lots of great teamwork between Erica, Ben, and Mike. They all have their weaknesses and strengths. And I like that Catherine and Alexander Hale are in this one again. Although, come to think of it, I missed Cyrus (Erica’s grandfather).

3) And of course, there’s Ben’s nemesis: Murray Hill. I love how these books are so kid-centric!

4) It was nice to meet Jessica Shang again (from Spy Ski School). I do love how various characters pop up every now and then from the older books. 

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) In this story, Ben, Erica, and Mike are posing as siblings with parents: Alexander and Catherine. Of course, they all have assumed names, but they rarely USE these names. While on board, they continue to call each other (mostly) by their real names. I would have liked them to use their fictional names a little more often!

2) The scene at the very end. I won’t spoil it, and I know that the whole series has kind of been leading up to this, but I didn’t think the book did a good job leading up to this moment. It almost seemed tacked on. It’s nothing horrible, just not handled as masterfully as it could have been.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I thought this was another good installment of the Spy School series! I’m looking forward to the next one, ’cause you know there’s going to be a next one, right?


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Kid Spy: Mac Cracks the Code

20210228ma_0334Book: Kid Spy: Mac Cracks the Code (2019)
Author: Mac Barnett
Genre: Lower MG, Espionnage

Basic plot: Mac is a kid spy who works for none other than the Queen of England. When the Queen tries to put Mac behind a desk, he decides to go rogue and set off on what seems like a wild goose chase around the world, only to end up facing his nemesis: KGB Man.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Mac Barnett has such a good sense of humour! This is a “mock” memoir of his days as a spy (when he was a kid, of course). And I especially love the fact that his boss is the Queen of England. There are some great interactions between Mac and her Majesty! (Including talk about underoos, i.e. underwear!)

2) I love the gag with the phones. Somehow, the Queen is always able to track Mac down, including that first time in the movie theatre. I love how she always asks for Mac, expecting her phone call to go through on the payphones around the world. (Since this is supposed to be 1989, there are no cell phones. But apparently, the Queen doesn’t let that stop her!)

3) The video game thread is definitely a fun hook. I enjoyed how Mac talks about Zak, the video game kid who has exactly three letters in his name, which is perfect for getting his full name when he scores during the video gaming competition! Funny how Mac does seem to realize or acknowledge that he has the same three-letter name advantage!

4) It’s fun how this kid just ends up going around the world, all by himself. Totally, unbelievable, but that’s part of the charm.

5) This was definitely a quick read. There are lots of illustrations, which is great for struggling readers. And fun for all readers!

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Not a lot here. This book has a lot of tongue-in-cheek, not-true-to-real-life events. So, if you can’t handle that, this is not the book for you. I think most kids will eat this up!

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is apparently the fourth book in the series of Kid Spy books. I haven’t read the other books, but this book does reference them a bit. I must say that I enjoyed this one a lot and will be looking up the rest. If you liked Mac Barnett’s Brixton Brothers (which is a spoof on the Hardy Boys), then I think you will enjoy this series! (And this one has the Queen in it! Bonus.)


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Spy School: British Invasion

Spy School British InvasionBook: Spy School: British Invasion (2019)
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Genre: MG, Adventure/Espionage

Basic plot: The Spy School kids are on yet another secret mission, this time to London. Their job? To bring down SPYDER. Their only clue is a key. But because they don’t know who to trust, they must go rogue from CIA, and even MI6. And then there’s Murray Hill who’s helping them. Or is he? 

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) This is Book 7 in the series, and while I felt disappointed in the last couple of books, this one brought be right back to the excitement of the first books! Yay! Ben and his friends are back, and to tell you the truth, I’m even okay with Mike being in the mix now. (Note: You’ll see from this review that I initially didn’t like Mike. I mean, I was fine with him as a character, I just preferred it when he wasn’t a spy.)

2) I love Catherine Hale! And, I even really like what Gibbs did with Alexander Hale in this one! (I’m not crazy about bumbling adults that have no redeeming qualities. And that’s the brush Alexander Hale’s been painted with for the last ten books… Yes, I know there haven’t been ten books yet. I’m slightly exaggerating. Anyway, just saying, that I’m glad part of this book was about seeing that everybody brings something to the table, even if we don’t always see it at first.

3) I love the friendship and trust that’s developed between Ben and Erica. And of course, the underlying romantic tension that remains underlying. And I am okay with Zoe misinterpreting a few things. (Like the hand-holding bit. Not what it sounds like.)

4) I loved the setting of this one. London and Paris! The British Museum. Tower Bridge. The Eiffel Tower. Even the Catacombs. All good.

5) This book was quite action-packed. It comes directly on the heels of the book that comes before it. The only breather seems to be the times they’re in the air, flying to their next destination. The climax at the Eiffel Tower was great! I’ve never been to the Eiffel Tower, so I found that part very fun. I’m guessing a lot of the descriptions are true. (Now I want to climb up the Eiffel Tour!)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The destruction of museum property and artifacts was slightly (no, very) hard to read about. I was somewhat surprised that Catherine Hale (a museum curator) didn’t cringe a little more often!

FINAL THOUGHTS

The kids from Spy School are back in this rip-roaring adventure. Everything you love about Spy School is here in this one. If you haven’t read the first books in the series, please do. And while, I think some of the middle ones sag a bit, they are kind of necessary to read before you pick this one up.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review / The Bicycle Spy

bicycle-spyBook: The Bicycle Spy (2016)
Author: Yona Zeldis McDonough
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)

Basic plot: It’s Marcel’s job to deliver bread from his parents’ bakery on his bicycle. And with the French occupation by the Nazis, he often gets stopped. Luckily, they haven’t discovered Marcel’s secret… that the bread hides messages for the French Resistance. And then comes Delphine, a new girl to the village with her own secrets. It’s up to Marcel to help her.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked the Tour de France references in this book. Marcel, like many kids his age, wants to “train” for the big race. Of course, with the war going on, there was no race. Loved the little history of the race at the end of the book.

2) Marcel’s parents (the bakers) keep him in the dark about their connections to the Resistance. I love how Marcel accidentally figures it all out. And then, how he joins in with his family’s mission, full speed ahead.

3) Delphine. Loved her! I liked the intrigue and how, little by little, we find out her story. By the end of the book, I was definitely rooting for Marcel and the others in their rescue attempt.

4) This book made me hungry with all the talk of bagettes! And I don’t blame the soldiers for focusing on Marcel’s tasty pain d’épice. Yum.

5) I like how Marcel’s ordinary bravery and courage are what push the book. One of the best scenes for me came at the end with regards to his bike (his wonderful bike!) and a flat tire and the sacrifice he makes to complete his mission.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Not a huge thing, but I was expecting a bigger pay off with the Tour de France. Other than the bicycles used, there isn’t much of a connection. Of course, there weren’t any races during the war, but he could have met somebody who had won the race in the past.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I love historical fiction, and I do like a good World War II spy book. This one is a quick read and overall, quite satisfying.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Spy School Goes South

spy-school-goes-southBook: Spy School Goes South (2018)
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Espionage
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: SPYDER is at it again. Murray, who’s been a prisoner at the Spy School since the events of the last book, is willing to lead Ben and Erica to SPYDER’s headquarters. But things (obviously) go wrong. There’s a plane crash and survival tactics come into play. And the best news is that SPYDER thinks they’re all dead, which is perfect when you plan to infiltrate the enemies hide out.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Ben’s a great main character. I love how unassuming he is. And of course, juxtaposed against Erica… well, they make a great team.

2) The Farkle Family Reunion was a fun method for the team of spies to fit in at the resort. I also like that this also turns out to be a bad decision.

3) Love how Catherine Hale (Erica’s mum) shows up.

4) As always, the covers of these books are a fun way to introduce a basic plot of the novel!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Okay, this is where I start pointing out things I didn’t like. And sadly, as this series continues, I find there’s more and more things I don’t like. Why is the CIA and SPYDER run by kids? (Other than Catherine Hale–and the body guards for SPYDER–there are no adults! Even Cyrus and Alexander Hale only pop in at the end, after it’s all over.) I get it. The CIA has been infiltrated by SPYDER. But I still don’t know why Joshua (maybe 18 or 19?) is the one in charge of the special red button that will blow things up!

2) Speaking of the red button… not the most original plot device. I guess this is a spy novel, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – This book was okay, but not as good as the first three in the series. I almost wish he’d stop writing this series as it becomes harder and harder to suspend disbelief. I’m guessing he’s going to do at least one more since he seems to have set that up. Do I recommend this book. Sort of. Maybe? Only if you don’t mind kids who make better spies then spies with years of training and experience.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Code Name Verity

code-name-verityBook: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, WWII
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: The story of two friends, Maddie and “Verity”, who find themselves behind the lines in Occupied France. Maddie goes into hiding, but Verity is being interrogated by the Nazis. As a spy, she is forced to spill secrets in order to survive another day.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved the friendship between the two girls. And the hard choices that have to be made pose a real dilemma for them. (No spoilers here!)

2) We get both versions of what happens to each girl. First, it’s Verity’s turn. Then Maddie’s. I love how when you come to Maddie’s account that, all of a sudden, things from Verity’s account (supposedly throw-away details) start to make more sense.

3) There’s a lot of spy code going on in this book. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

4) I love the Peter Pan references, especially with “Mrs. Darling” (aka Verity’s mum in Scotland). It works very nicely with all the RAF flying done by her children.

5) There are some surprises with the characters, which I don’t want to give away, especially two secondary characters: Georgia Penn and Anna Engel.

6) SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden was a complex character. At times, I hated him. At other times, I found him almost sympathetic. He’s not your typical Nazi caricature. Although, he’s definitely a Nazi. And the Bad Guy.

7) I love how the title of the book fits in with the story. The themes of truth (verity) and lies. And that grey part in-between.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) During Maddie’s account, I sometimes found I mixed up some of the characters. Especially with the family in France where she is staying as a “cousin”. I still don’t fully know who’s who.

2) This book was slow at times. This is not a huge criticism, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really liked this peek into Occupied France. It wasn’t a page-turner, so don’t expect that. But it makes you realize what a tough time these spies had when they were caught.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Spy Ski School

spyschool4
Book: Spy Ski School
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Ben and his fellow spies-in-training are activated for their first mission. They go to ski country to try to figure out the nefarious plot of crime boss, Leo Shang, by cozying up to his daughter, Jessica.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The cast of characters from this fourth installment of the Spy School books is top-notch… Everyone from Ben and Erica to Zoe and the rest of the gang. Cyrus and Alexander, too!

2) The setting for this book is a fun addition to the series. I especially love the random umlauts in the names of the “fake” Austrian names at the ski resort. Since when does the word ünd have an umlaut?? 🙂

3) I love the fact that “perfect” Erica is (**SPOILER: not very good at skiing! Even though she’s confident that she’ll be able to pick it just as easily as she’s mastered other sports, she turns out to be, GASP!… an average skier. END SPOILER)  I like that Erica is really good at what she does (she’s the best spy at the school), but it’s nice to have this little touch to humanize her!

4) The cover art continues to be excellent for this series. How can you not love this cover art?

5) Anytime you can use the word “nefarious” (and it’s appropriate) gets a bonus point!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I’m not crazy about how Alexander Hale is portrayed in these last couple of books… Yes, he is obnoxiously James Bond-like, but that little quirk makes him likeable. However, as the series grows, so do the contempt of both Alexander’s daughter and father… to the point of despising him. I wish Gibbs had made him a little less incompetent. Sure, he can exaggerate about his spy skills, but does he have to be a complete idiot??? I LIKE Alexander Hale, quirks and all!! I like Erica Hale (and yes, she has her own quirks) and I like Cyrus Hale (although, in this book I did find him at times unlikable due to a mean streak I don’t remember from the other books).

2) I’m also not crazy about the character of Mike. Mike is Ben’s best friend, which should mean I should like him, right? But the thing is, I don’t. And I really don’t know why. I just don’t like him. Every time he comes into the plot, I feel like he’s intruding on the story. (**SPOILER: And I’m not really looking forward to his recruitmenthinted at in the bookto Spy School. Sorry, but I guess I just don’t really like Mike! END SPOILER)

3) (**SPOILER: Why is Murray in this book? Totally and completely not necessary. Shang’s a “good” bad guy. He doesn’t need Murray to help him with his nefarious plotting. END SPOILER)

4) The title of the book is a weird alliteration that, frankly, is hard to say.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – A fun read! I like the development of the characters in this series (with the exception of those listed above). I look forward to the next Spy School book! 🙂