Thursday, April 25, 2019

Spy School and Lock and Key

Gibbs, Stuart. Spy School: British Invasion (Spy School #7)
April 30th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ben and his friends are still trying to recuperate from their adventures in Mexico when they are rushed off on another mission. Cyrus has an accident and can't go with them, but Erica's mother, Catherine, and her father, Alexander, are up for the adventure, even though Alexander is still peeved to find that Catherine worked for MI6 all this time. Murray is in their custody, and they hope to get information from his about SPYDER. Operation Tiger Shark takes the group to London, where a disastrous experience at the British Museum ends with some priceless artifacts being damaged and the group being designated public enemies. They take refuge in a secret room in the Tower Bridge for a bit, but are soon plunging into the Thames, high jacking  a bus and a truck, and making their way out to the estate of brilliant hacker Orion. Mike has several really good ideas, and he and Zoe start to bond over a shared love of fonts, making Ben jealous, even though he isn't sure if he likes Erica or Zoe better. Orion is willing to help the group decrypt a SPYDER flash drive, but SPYDER agents attack Orion's house, and the group is off again, this time in Orion's Russian helicopter, which only Alexander can pilot. Coordinates on the flash drive lead them to Paris, through the sewers, and into the lair of Mr. E., SPYDER's leader, who has some surprises for them. Operation Tiger Shark is successful, but there are still some loose ends, like Murray having decamped, and Cyrus's condition needing to be updated, so I think there will be another book!
Strengths: I've had a notice up that this book is coming out, and my students are really excited about it. Gibbs' series are the only ones where children actually get further than book three, which is unusual! Ben's self doubt, romantic entanglements, and attempts at making himself a better spy are completely realistic, and even children who aren't particularly interested in spying will appreciate him as a middle school character. Of course, the spy details are exquisite-- if I am ever dumped from a height into a river, I know to point my toes and keep my arms to my sides! Catherine is a fantastic character, as is Erica, and their ability to take down bad guys is non-pareil. Murray is interesting as well, although I'm not quite sure on which side he will eventually fall. Orion's loneliness as a hacker was innovative, and Mike's take on his interaction with his dogs was spot on! Another great installment of a highly amusing series.
Weaknesses: Alexander is a tremendously complicated character; I feel like he should have his own adult series, because these books aren't the place to discuss his backstory.
What I really think: Can't wait to see what is next!

Pearson, Ridley. The Final Step (Lock and Key #3)October 30th 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Moira and James, still reeling from the death of their father and of Ralph in The Downward Spiral, are back at school, working on school survival competition in the woods. During the game, they happen upon the injured Mr. Lowery, the family lawyer. This is decidedly odd, but also very alarming-- the man is badly injured, and croaks out "Elves and the Shoemaker" before he dies. Even more alarming is the fact that the body disappears, and the news later reports that his body was found back in Boston, which schoolmate (and former girlfriend of James) Lexie discovers. The kids decide that the school probably did not want the publicity, but when Espiranzo contacts James, things start to look suspicious. How is the Directory and the Scowerers involved? And how is this related to the disappearce of the Moriarty's mother, the death of their father and Ralph, and the death of Lexie's father? There are secret locations, encrypted flash drives, and lots of false clues, which are all further complicated by the fact that not everyone is whom they appear to be. Can Moira really trust James, or is he becoming more and more evil? Luckily, Sherlock arrives to help out his friend, and decades old mysteries are resolved in this final installment of the series.

Told in alternating view points, we hear Moira's first hand account of the events and her concerns about James, and are able to see an omniscient point of view when James' chapters are recounted. This gives readers an interesting view of the events; it's good to know everything, but also interesting to have an insight into the sibling relationship.

There are any number of middle grade books involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal character of Sherlock Holmes, including Andy Lane's fantastic Young Sherlock Holmes, Hearn's Baker Street Academy, Cavallaro's Charlotte Holmes novels, Misri's Jewel of the Thames and Springer's Enola Holmes series, and the Lock and Key series is a nice twist, since the main characters are the Moriarty family. Moira is leery of her family's past, but James seems more willing to embrace it, and the exchanges they have as they work through their family legacy is interesting.

There are few murder mysteries for young readers, and they are much in demand. The killing of the lawyer was an appropriate choice-- close enough for the children to be concerned and affected, but not a family friend to add to their already considerable grief. Tying in the most recent murder to the long history of family tragedies wrapped up many of the plot lines nicely as well.

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