Child, Lauren. Ruby Redfort Pick Your Poison. Candlewick, 2017. $16.99. 517p. ISBN 978-0-7636-5471-9. Ages10-14. P7Q7
For four earlier volumes, intrepid 13-year-old wise-cracking spy Ruby Redfort had used magical methods to subvert the evil lurking her in non-stop plots, and this fifth novel in the series is no different. When her wealthy socialite parents ground her for something she didn’t do, she babysits a neighbor’s one-year old, but can’t quit sleuthing. Familiar enemies reappear in this novel set in 1972 southern California by the English author who created the highly popular Clarice Bean series. The focus of the book is the mystery of billboards advertising a new and maybe non-existent soft drink. Lack of cultural references and an all-white cast of characters make this book seem old. Child uses codes and puzzles to interest readers, a style that doesn’t always work. One more book is projected.
Verdict: A book of adventure for fans of earlier books in the series, this title is for libraries that have the first four novels.
May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.
Bergstrom, Scott. The Cruelty. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-250-10818-0. 384 pages. Ages 17 – 18 years. Q7P7
Gwen’s father, a diplomat who mysteriously disappears and, for an unknown reason, the same government he works for does not appear enthusiastic to get him back (the reasons behind this are their own sub-plot). Because of this Gwen takes it upon herself to find him. Thankfully, Gwen’s father has left behind some clues indicating not only that this might happen, but where to start looking. This all sounds like it could be a pretty good story and it could be, unfortunately, it’s a little far-fetched as written. Gwen’s father was taken by one of the most feared crime families in Prague, one dealing in arms smuggling and human trafficking. In order to make the rescue achievable by a teenager, the author has to compromise the believability of some (most) of the scenarios Gwen finds herself in. For instance, she is able to break into the warehouse of a crime boss in Munich by breaking the padlock. A padlock is all that is needed to protect millions of dollars of stolen merchandise? No security camera, guard, or even a guard dog? This lack of believability is throughout the book. Where the author is believable is the brutality, which makes me question if this started out as an adult novel, not young adult.
Verdict: I like the idea of the story, and I like the characters, but it seems like this was a story designed for Liam Neeson to be the lead character, not a 17 year old girl, and the adaptation to make that happen did not go well.
June 2017 review by Terri Lippert.
Carter, Ally. See How They Run: An Embassy Row Novel. (Embassey Row, #2) Scholastic, 2016. $17.99. 336p. ISBN 9780545654845. Ages 13-15. P8Q5
In the sequel to All Fall Down, Grace Blakeley, the granddaughter of the U.S. ambassador to Adria, is trying to cope not only with her realization that she killed her mother three years ago but also that the shooting of Adria’s prime minister and his resulting coma has been disguised as a heart attack. The plot follows the same pattern as the earlier book—trips through the secret tunnels, danger to the children of the ambassadors from various countries, more information about the secret “Society,” and a dead body—this one a West Point classmate of Grace’s brother. Although the book tries to keep a fast pace, the repetition of Grace’s mental issues becomes monotonous, and the intrigue is limited. The ending promises a sequel. The series does not achieve the charm and fun of Carter’s earlier Gallagher Girls series that began with I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You.
Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.
Stephen Davies. Outlaw. Clarion Books, 2011. $16.99. ISBN 9780547-390178. 289 p. Gr. 6 – 12. P7Q7
Outlaw is a book about Jake and his sister, Kas Knight. While in Africa, they are kidnapped. The kidnappers demand certain terrorists be set free in exchange for the kids’ safe return. In this daring thriller the kids are rescued by 5 mysterious figures wielding slingshots; these rescuers are known as the Friends of the Poor. When they are mistaken for terrorists the British intelligence service – M16- gets involved.
September 2016 review by Sam Case Elementary student S.H.
Jones, Ena. Clayton Stone at Your Service. Holiday House, 2015. $16.95. ISBN:978-0-8234-3389-6. Gr. 5+. P8 Q8
I loved this book. While it reminded me of the Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider series, it does stand on its own merits. Clayton, a twelve year-old boy who loves lacrosse, is saddened by the death of his grandfather who raised him after his parents died in service to their country. Clayton, hearing a phone ringing from somewhere in his grandfather’s desk, finds and answers it. His adventure as a secret agent, a spy for his country begins. The president calls on Clayton to work for a super-secret spy agency, run by his grandmother. This made me laugh. Clayton’s first assignment is to help find the kidnapped mother and daughter of one America’s senators. This is a book that I booktalked to one class and I now have a waiting list for it.
November 2015 review by Carol Bernardi.
Smith, Lindsay. Sekret. Roaring Brook Press, 2014. 345 pgs. ISBN 978-1-59643-892-7. $17.99 Ages 14-20. P6Q9
With a resurgence of interest in the 1960’s in popular culture, as well as the consistent interest in spy stories, this teen book should be well received by both male and female readers. It is a dystopian tale which takes place in 1964, when the space race between America and Russia was at its most competitive and both countries were known to have spies operating within their enemy’s borders.
Yulia Chernina is the seventeen year old daughter of former high-ranking Communist Party members, who, with her mother and brother, are fugitives in their own country. Yulia is kidnapped and coerced into using latent psychic powers for the KGB to find other Russian rebels and American spies. A whole group of teens with a variety of psychic powers are thrown together to work together, or to betray anyone within their ranks who does not want to cooperate.
It is an exciting story with plenty of real historical characters and events. Yulia learns through trial and error whom she can trust and fights the regime that wants to control her, eventually making her way to America with her whole family intact. It is a story of freedom and courage and a little bit of romance.
There is a helpful note on Russian names and nicknames at the beginning of the book, and a succinct, but enlightening author’s note at the end to help anyone who is a little fuzzy of American-Russian history from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. It is interesting that the CIA and KGB did actually experiment with psychic abilities, but with “no lasting results.”
July 2015 review by L.R.
Child, Lauren. Ruby Redfort: Catch Your Death. Candlewick. 2015. $16.99. 501p. 978-0-7636-5469-6. Ages 12-15:
The clever teenage spy returns only to struggle through Spectrum’s survival training camp which might wash her out of field agent. As in the previous two books, she manages to solve the mystery in satisfactorily enough to stay on probation as she encounters problems of missing jewels and supposedly extinct animals. As in earlier books, Ruby is supported by the housekeeper and the butler Hitch who has been assigned to keep her from danger. Puzzles and codes come from Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, and mystery-solvers will delight in the interactive activities, including Morse code. Natural history and science tidbits are scattered throughout the short chapters, and the secret perfume of Marie Antoinette actually existed. Wealthy, clueless parents contribute to the plotting, and the cliff-hanging ending promises another in the series. P8Q8
February/March 2015 review by Nel Ward.