Mac B, Kid Spy: Mac Undercover

by Mac Barnett
First sentence: “This is the house I grew up in.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 11, 2018
Content: The chapters are short and pretty simple, with lots of illustrations. It will be in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

I think Mac Barnett is funny. I know humor is subjective, but I find Mac’s sense of humor hilarious. So, it’s not a surprise that I found this first book in a new series where the premise is that Mac, when he was a kid, was a spy for the Queen of England absolutely hilarious.

There’s not much to it. The Queen of England calls Mac to come to England and find a spoon that was supposedly stolen from the crown jewels by the president of France. Mac goes, gets a Corgi sidekick, and (of course) solves the mystery. But that’s beside the point (at least for me). What was the point was the silliness of it all. The way Mac talks directly to the reader (telling them to look it up when he drops a fact or two), or his silly asides. Add in the pictures and it’s just hilarious.

I hope kids will like this one. I sure did.

Most Dangerous

mostdangerousby Steve Sheinkin
First sentence: “They came to California to ruin a man.”
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Content: There’s some swearing (no f-bombs), and it’s a bit complex. It’s in the teen non-fiction section at the bookstore, but I think a 5th- or 6th-grader would be interested.

I’m late fan of Sheinkin’s but I’m becoming a truly devoted one. There are few people who tackle more interesting subjects in a way that’s accessible to kids without being simplistic and yet make the book (and the subject) utterly fascinating.

This time, the subject is Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon employee in the 1960s who turned against the Vietnam War and ended up stealing and releasing a series of Top Secret papers in order to expose conspiracies in the government surrounding the war. It’s a fascinating story, one that (given my age; I was only 2 years old when Vietnam ended) I hadn’t heard of before. And Sheinkin raises interesting questions: sure, governments need secrets in order to operate, but how much is too much?

Much like Port Chicago 50, the government didn’t come off well in this book. Sheinkin was fair — Ellsberg was never lauded as a hero or portrayed as anything but human  and Sheinkin pointed out times in which presidents made good decisions — but, in my view, the actions of the government were despicable. Perhaps it’s my political views toward war in general, but there really was never anything solid given for why Vietnam happened. It seemed like it was all just a big Bro statement: look at us, we’re America, and we’re bigger than you.

And yes, I drew a lot of parallels to our current situation as well. There’s the obvious one that Sheinkin brought up in the epilogue with Edward Snowden, but for me, there was a general underlying mistrust of current motives for the government to head into any military action. Why, actually, are we doing this?

A very timely book, and (like everything Sheinkin touches) an excellent one.


See How They Run

seehowtheyrunby Ally Carter
First sentence: “I don’t know where I am.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: All Fall Down
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some deaths, off screen, some mild swearing, and a lot of intense moments. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

The last thing Grace remembers was finding out that she killed her mother (by accident, but still), and then her grandfather’s chief of staff shot the Adrian prime minister (who is currently in a coma). What she’s being told, however is that the prime minister had a devastating heart attack, so Grace is still questioning her sanity. That and said chief of staff happens to be part of a secret 300-year-old organization of librarians who also happen to be assassins. Oh, and Grace’s mother was part of that society as well.

To make things worse, her brother Jamie shows up with a friend in tow, and after a party on a nearby island, said friend turns up… dead. The person being targeted is the son of the Russian ambassador (obviously) and Grace’s almost love-interest, Alexei. And Grace is determined to prove what she knows: Alexei’s innocent.

While this is a darker turn for Carter, it’s still very much her fun, engaging writing. I adored the chemistry between the characters (though I ship Grace and Noah, but that’s just me. I need more Noah in these books.), and the twists and turns kept me turning pages. While it was predictable at times (yeah, I figured something bad would happen to the new guy who just showed up and was a bit of a jerk) I never felt bored by it at all. I loved the intrigue, the history and mythology Carter is weaving around her invented country.

That said, I did want more of the assassin-librarian group, and Grace and her PTSD were often annoying. But, I was able to look past the second one, especially as the book wore on and Grace became less fraught with emotion and more invested in proving Alexei’s innocence.

In short, it’s a good, solid series and I’m curious to see where it goes from here.

All Fall Down

embassyrowby Ally Carter
First sentence: “‘When I was twelve I broke my leg jumping off the wall between Canada and Germany,’ I say, but the woman across from me doesn’t even blink.”
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Content: There’s some intense situations, but no swearing and  no sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Grace saw her mother murdered three years ago. She is 100% sure of this fact. She knows it was a man with a scar on his face, that her mother was shot, not burned in an accidental fire. The problem? No. One. Believes. Her.

She’s spent the past three years in and out of therapy and in and out of drugs, and now has come to Embassy Row in Adria to live with her grandfather and forget what happened. The problem? Grace can’t let it go.

And it doesn’t help that Grace is positive that she’s seen the man who murdered her father. So, she ropes her new friends Noah and Megan (and her German neighbor, Rosie) into spying on the man. The further she goes, however, the more confusing everything becomes. Grace has no idea who’s her friend and who isn’t.

This is darker than Carter’s usual fare, and without the swoon factor (ahhh HALE). But what it lacks in fluff and swoon it more than makes up for with a completely unreliable narrator, several twists and turns, and a pretty amazing ending. Grace is a fascinating character, angsty (well, I prefer to think of it more as PTSD-y), smart, and completely wrong about so much. It makes for a trippy ride, one where I had no idea what was going to happen next. I loved that about this book. And I’m completely in the dark as to where the next book is going.

Of course I’m going to have to read it.

The Winner’s Crime

by Marie Rutkoski
First sentence: “She cut herself opening the envelope.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Others in the series: The Winner’s Curse
Content: There’s some violence, sometimes a bit graphic, and mention of sex (but only illusions). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

There will be spoilers for Winner’s Curse. You’ve been warned.

Kestrel handed Arin his country, a treaty that gave them a pseudo-independence from Valoria after their brief revolution. Even though she’s in love with Arin, she knows she can’t have him. He’s Herran. He was her slave. And, probably most importantly, she offered herself to the emperor to be his son’s bride in exchange for Herran’s independence.

But, of course, things are not simple. She can’t get Arin out of her head. The emperor is cruel and manipulative, which means Kestrel is constantly playing games with other people’s (and her own) lives. Especially because she wants — no, NEEDS — to help the Herrani out. By becoming a spy for them. She’s definitely playing with fire.

First: I LOVED being back with Kestrel. She’s so smart, so wily, and yet feels everything deeply. She’s just a fantastically complex character, and I thoroughly loved being in her head as she went through the paces. I loved hating the emperor (oh, man, he’s despicable). And even though Arin is pretty annoying, I enjoyed his character growth.

That said, it’s very much a middle book in a trilogy. It’s moving things forward, sure, but it’s also very much spinning in place. Kestrel, while fun, doesn’t have any character growth, really, until the end when she does something completely out of character (but leads to a pretty great cliffhanger ending). Arin did grow, however, and after he stops being moody about Kestrel, he has some pretty great scenes. It took me a while to get going, but once I did, I plowed through straight to the end which left me begging for the last book.

Even with the second-book-in-a-series curse hanging over it, it’s still a GREAT read.

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein
ages: 14+
First sentence: “I am a coward.”
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Things this book is:
A World War II book.
A book about friendship, between two young women, specficially.  Funny.
A book about torture.
A book about the Resistance.
A book about women pilots.
A book about things a person will do to save their skin.
An amazing example of voice. Seriously, the characters leap off the page.
Unputdownable. (Yeah, I know. Still, it fits.)
Freaking awesome.

Things this book is not:
Another Holocaust book.

In other words: if you haven’t yet read this story about Maddie and Verity, and been captivated by their story, you are missing out.

And yes, it really is just as good as “they” all say.