Gibbs, Stuart. Evil Spy School (Spy School #3)
April 21st 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Ben Ripley is doing his best at beginning of the year exercises at spy school when he is blamed for blowing up the principal's office. It's really a plan by Erica and her family to get him to infiltrate SPYDER's spy school, and Ben suspects as much. First, though, he has a disastrous day back at his old middle school before SPYDER does approach him and whisks him away to their ultra secret and very posh training center in New Jersey. There, Ben is in a house with Nefarious, who is always playing video games, and Ashley, the 6th best gymnast in the US who has turned to a life of crime after her failure to make the Olympic gymnastics team. He learns some of SPYDER's ways, takes a bit of a liking to Ashley, and finally is contacted by Erica, who tells him that SPYDER is up to something, and it's his job to find out what. The what ends up involving a lot of bombs, counter spying, and some unpleasant reminders of Ben's past. Which side is offering Ben a better deal?
Strengths: Pitch perfect middle grade novel. Well meaning but accident prone main character who also gets to be a SPY. A frisson of romance. Things blowing up. Awesome cover; glad the series is staying the same. It's hard to keep this series on the shelf.
Weaknesses: A little confusing, all this changing of sides. It makes both spy entities seem disorganized, which is maybe the point, but middle grade readers like their good and evil to be a little more clear cut.
What I really think: Great series, and I was glad to see that Gibbs didn't indulge in some of the mean spirited humor that is in Poached.
Jensen, Case, Bird and Lindelof. Before Tomorrowland
April 7th 2015 by Disney Press
Three sets of characters converge at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City: Lee and his mother Clara, who is dying of cancer; Henry, who was made robotic after an accident; Rotwang, the evil scientist who made him that way. All come in contact with the Plus Ultra society, to which Lee and his mother are introduced through a comic book handed out at one of the exhibitions. There is a lot of action, lots of famous scientists, science fiction writers, and Amelia Earhart, who has not died in this reality. The comic book appears at the end of the text. The book is a prequel to an interesting looking movie coming out in May. (Tomorrowland: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1964418/)
I wanted desperately to like this. If I could time travel to any historical event, it would be the 1939 World's Fair. The cover of this is fabulous, the interior illustrations are sort of like the ones in Big Little books from this era, and there is a lot of action and adventure. The characters are typical to the time period, and historical figures are included. But it was so confusing! I felt like I was constantly missing half of the story. Younger readers may not be able to tell the historical figures from the fictional ones, so notes would have been helpful. I was distracted a lot, thinking "Would Bradbury have been at the World's Fair? Would there have been science fiction conventions? How old was Nikola Tesla in 1939?" The real life events seemed to hang together alright, but I probably doubted them because the world building for 1939 was lacking.
The language didn't seem to fit with the era, and there were too few details, which was a same. On top of that, there were occasional anachronisms. Sure, Alzheimers was a scientific term then, but I can't remember it being widely used until the 1980s. (People were termed "senile", at least in my world!) The mother wears a "pillbox" hat, which clearly isn't; at this point in time, I would have expected a cloche, but the pictures indicate something more like a vagabond. Earhart is referred to as "Ms.", which again would have been possible, but not likely. Lee is mentioned to be wearing jeans, which would not have been dressy enough to be wearing in New York City. Will students be bothered by these things? Absolutely not. But I will have to debate before buying this one, especially since it bound in my archnemesis, paper-over-boards.