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.
Salisbury, Graham. Hunt for the Bamboo Rat. Wendy Lamb/Random House. 2014. $16.99. 323p. 978-0-375-84266-5. Ages 11-15:
Noted for the excitement in his books and the accurate ethnic characterizations, Salisbury doesn’t disappoint in this novel about a 17-year-old Japanese-American living in Hawaii who enters World War II as a spy. The character of Zenji Watanabe is based on the real-life adventure of Richard Sakakida, who was in his early twenties when he went undercover in the U.S. Army Corps of Intelligence Police and was picked up while spying on Japanese nationals in Manila. In powerful language, the author describes Zenji’s capture, torture, and escape before he survives alone in the Filipino jungles. The protagonist’s thoughtful and honorable approach toward his heritage while moving forward in the 20th century makes this a fascinating read. P8Q9 December 2014 review by Nel Ward.