Tag Archives: spy

Young Bond (series)

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Have you ever wondered how James Bond became 007?  How the man became that intense, unknowable, international man of mystery?  (And yes, I am currently picturing Daniel Craig in Skyfall, after he jumps into the moving train car and adjusts his shirt cuffs….  sigh…) Where was I?  Oh. Right.

Charlie Higson has taken on the monumental task of telling us how a boy became the legend.  And he does a GREAT job of it in the Young Bond series. Titles like Silverfin, Blood Fever and By Royal Command, to name just a few, evoke the mystery and intrigue of a classic Bond thriller.

Set pre-WWII, the novels set up a strong back story for the Fleming novels, far exceeding my expectations.  I find that prequels can sometimes seem forced, but that doesn’t happen here. The series takes place over James’ years at Eton, beginning at age 13, right up until he is recruited by Her Majesty’s Secret Service in his late teens.  There is the conflict with fellow students and authority, along with excellence in sport, all of which gives us a glimpse of the strength of his future personality.

Everything we already know about Bond is nicely set up: his likes and dislikes, love of family and loyalty to friends, his penchant for fast cars and beautiful women, and the experiences and details which  forever shaped him into Fleming’s top spy.

Also included are the details that make a Bond story a Bond story: mad villians with their henchmen and their fiendish plans, (all with awesomely evil names like Count Ugo Carnifex and El Huracin and Graf von Schlick), crazy car chases, international subterfuge, and even the precursors to the “Bond girls”, independent and beautiful teenage girls, suitably named Wilder, Vendetta and Precious. (Unlike his future interactions with women in the movies and Fleming novels, all action is PG-13.)

The series was sanctioned by the Ian Fleming estate, so you know from page one that you are getting unadulterated Bond. The pacing is everything you expect from a Bond mystery, the action is detailed, and the character development perfect.

These are a must read for every Bond fan, as well as any teen, boy or girl, who dreams of international intrigue, and doesn’t mind a bit of death and gore.  Well, more than a bit.  But done with the elegance you expect from 007.

The Young Bond series is published by Puffin Books.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (series)

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This is a GREAT series for boys who want a challenge.  (Fabulous for girls too, but when I find books boys will dig into, I like to highlight them). Trenton Lee Stewart has written a great four book puzzle for you to wrap your mind around, and it is a LOT of fun.

The mysterious Mr. Benedict (eccentric narcoleptic) advertises for special children who want a challenge.  Many show up for the series of unusual tests (which includes a pencil that falls down a drain and a maze within a house in the dark), but only four are chosen.

Reynie, Kate, Constance and Sticky are the four gifted young orphans/runaways recruited to solve mysteries and save the world.  Each possesses a certain skill set.  Reynie sees puzzles and solutions where others see obstacles; Kate is a fearless 12 year old McGuyver; Sticky possesses an eidetic memory; and Constance… Well, Constance is rude. And brilliant.  A poet.  Maybe psychic?  With an additional small surprise added in.  Individually, they are unusual; together, they make a formidable team.

Benedict must unravel a devious plot involving his arch nemesis, Ledroptha Curtain, on Nomansan Island. (Ok. I can die happy. Great names!)  The four members of his Mysterious Benedict Society must put aside what they believe, and become what they are not as they journey far and wide to put a stop to Curtain’s dastardly schemes.

Curtain’s sinister henchmen, the Ten Men (so named because they have ten different ways of inflicting harm) are thugs who approach their work with a casual, gentlemanly air about them.  Curtain is the evil brains, the Ten Men are the evil brawn.

The four children learn to rely on each other and work together. They are almost immediately a family, squabbling over the small stuff, but having each others’ backs when it really counts.  Stewart develops their characters believably; they grow together and take on new characteristics and abilities as they change and mature.

Each book is like a mystery within a conundrum with an enigma thrown in for good measure, where the reader is challenged to piece the plots together, very much like a classic Sherlock Holmes whodunit.  It is a lot of fun to look for the clues and solve the puzzles as the children do; there were more than a few times I had to look back and re-read parts to see what they saw!

Given that the books are written for the 9-11 year old group, they may look a bit intimidating at first glance.  Don’t let the size scare you off. Nearly 500 pages in length, each book is a page turner, and the stories will seem to positively fly by.  You will wish it was 1000 pages. The illustrations in the series are as fantastic as the story, and make the characters come alive.

Appropriate for ANY age.

The Mysterious Benedict Society series is published by Little, Brown.

The Apothecary

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“A dose of magic can save the world.”  I didn’t write that, it’s the subtitle of the book.  But it encapsulates the entire story in those eight little words better than I can in 500.  My work here is done.

Which, of course, is total and utter crap.  I love to talk about any book, even if someone else can say it more eloquently than I.  So talk I will.

The Apothecary is fantasy and magic.  Maile Meloy makes turning into a bird and running invisible (and naked) through post-war London completely believable.  Of course smelling an herb which was picked at noon (solar, not the one we see on the clock), then ground and brewed into a tea will make you incapable of lying.  And haven’t we all seen an invisible polymer net contain a nuclear explosion?  Alchemy at its best.

It is the mid-1950s, and Janie and her television writer parents have fled the United States for England, under threat of interrogation for Communist ideals.  London is a stark change for 14 year old Janie; used to the sunny beaches and excesses of California life, she has trouble adjusting to the still-rationed food and clothing of a London that bears the physical and psychological scars of WWII.

Meeting Benjamin helps.  Janie notices the intelligent, engaging and authority-challenging would-be spy at her new school, and follows him home, just to learn more about him.  He is the son of the local apothecary, who, it turns out, is more than that.  Mr. Burrows is the latest in an ancient family of alchemists who work for kings and labour to save the world.  He guards the Pharmacopoeia, the leather bound bible containing the research and notes of 700 years of family study and experimentation in the healing arts. It must be kept out of enemy hands.

What follows is a Cold War spy thriller with teenage protagonists whose mission it is to help save the world from nuclear destruction.  Without their parents’ approval or knowledge, of course.

Meloy employs meticulous research and a great sense of humour throughout this completely captivating story.  It has scientific interest and Cold War mystique, and while I cannot say whether or not the author’s use of alchemy is accurate, it is intriguing.  There is great wonder and discovery in this novel, something that is lacking in so many stories.

Meloy’s character development is perfect.  Janie is a modern girl in post-war times, and the relationship between her and Benjamin is real and believable.  I laughed at the testing of the truth serum, and cringed on behalf of them both.  Pip and Sarah were great additions, although they were a bit more predictable than I would have liked, given the rest of the novel.  The resolution to the story is surprising and suspenseful.

Everyone, no matter his or her age, who wants to allow for the possibilities, should read this book.

The Apothecary is published by Puffin Books.

 

CHERUB (series)

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It was a difficult choice of which book/series to review first.  I have read a ton of fantastic books in the past few months while planning this blog (actually, while procrastinating about planning about starting this blog); each one made the cut to be the first, until I read the next.  Finally, I decided to go with a series I have loved for a number a years, mainly because the entire series fits one of my main criteria for what makes a good book:  I have re-read the series over and over, and love every book each time.

May I introduce you to the CHERUB series, by Robert Muchamore.  Muchamore is a former private investigator in the UK.  He was visiting his sister in Australia, and listened to his young nephew moaning about how there was nothing for him to read.  So he wrote the first in a series of 16 books, CHERUB: The Recruit.   In the first book we meet James Choke, an 11 year old boy with a 9 year old younger sister, Lauren, and a mum who runs a smuggling ring.  James is your typical bored out of control boy, constantly getting in trouble at school, lazy, unmotivated.  After his mother passes away unexpectedly, James is sent to a children’s home, where he again gets in with the wrong crowd, and is headed down a path to a life of petty crime and jail time.  Except…

His roommate Kyle is actually an undercover agent on a recruitment mission, and James finds himself asked to join CHERUB, a secret agent ring staffed by orphan teens age 10 to 17, chosen for their intelligence and physical abilities.  It is operated by British Intelligence under the belief that kids are not suspected of working for the government, and people tend to let their guards down around them.  They live on a secret campus in Britain.  James is put through rigorous testing and training, and goes on his first mission. Throughout the book he meets new friends and learns about himself and what he can be capable of when challenged.

I loved this book, and I loved this series.  Throughout the 16 books I watched James grow up to be one of CHERUB’s best agents, but still wanted to smack him when he acted like an ass.  He made good friends, and treated them like crap sometimes.  He worked hard, and he slacked off.  He looked for shortcuts, and got pissed off when they didn’t work out for him.  He fell in love, and got distracted by breasts, and made stupid relationship choices.  He is brave and impulsive.  He is very much a typical, normal teenage boy, who just happens to be a secret agent.  And while the series is marketed to boys, it is just as much for girls.  There are a lot of kick-ass female agents in CHERUB, many of whom have kicked James’s ass over the years.  Muchamore writes great, believable characters.  And he writes a great, believable story.  There might not really be (or might there…?) a teenage spy ring based in the UK, but when you read these books, you will wish there was one.

I would definitely recommend this series for the young teen, but the themes do get more mature as James grows up.  Expect sex (there is no detail at all, very PG-13), drugs etc., all issues teens face in real life, and well handled without unnecessary graphic description.

The CHERUB series is published by Hodder Children’s Books, a division of Hachette Children’s Books.