Saturday, May 25, 2013

Review: Playing with Fire School for S.P.I.E.S. by Bruce Hale

Juvenile delinquent and budding pyromaniac Max Segredo belongs in juvie hall. At least, that’s what his most recent foster family would tell you. Instead, Max ends up on the doorstep of Merry Sunshine Orphanage—their very heavily guarded doorstep. As he begins to acclimate to his new home, Max learns a few things straightaway: first, cracking a Caesar Cipher isn’t as hard as it seems; second, never sass your instructor if she’s also holding throwing knives; and third, he may not be an orphan after all. Soon, Max and the rest of the students are sent on a mission to keep a dangerous weapon out of the hands of LOTUS, an international group bent on world domination. Of course, all Max cares about is finding out more about his father, the man he’s now sure is still alive. As the stakes get higher, Max must make some difficult choices, including who to trust, and finally learns the true meaning of family. 
I went through a spy phase as a kid, so now that I'm older, I have a thing for spy books like this one.

In Playing with Fire, Max is a foster kid who seems to have a problem with authority. After a fire at his latest foster family's house, he ends up at the Merry Sunshine Orphanage. It's not your typical orphanage, though. It's actually a school for spies. Max is more interested in finding about his father, though, and  when he does find him, he realizes he got more than he bargained for.

This book was awesome! There are plenty of plot twists and red herrings, but not so much that it gets overwhelming. I also appreciated that trivia like what a Caesar cipher found its way into the story without looking like an info dump. It made the book part novel, part spy 101.

Despite the fact that the book focuses on Max, the book isn't just for guys. There are several kick-butt female characters in the book, my favorites being Cinnabar and Hantai Annie. I rarely see spy books that have an almost equal mix of boys and girls as lead characters. This feels a lot more organic and believable, especially since the orphans featured act the way you'd expect them to: cautious, looks out for number one but are loyal to their family and friends.

Max is kinda frustrating sometimes, particularly when he's being selfish, but at the same time it's not as annoying as it might have been because Max does know he's being a jerk and you get to see why he's doing it.

The ending isn't a cliffhanger, but it does leave you wanting more. I can't wait for the next book! :D

Thanks to NetGalley and Disney Book Group for the e-ARC. Publication date of Playing with Fire School for S.P.I.E.S is on June 25, 2013.


  1. It's action-packed.
  2. There are plenty of likable characters.
  3. You learn a little bit about spy stuff.


  1. Max can be a selfish jerk sometimes.

Rich smells of cooked meat filled the air, and Styx hustled back and forth from kitchen to table, bearing platters of eggs, bangers, and bacon, as well as baskets of muffins and tureens of porridge.

  1. You have a kid who likes spies.
  2. You are a fan of spy novels.
  3. You like books with a strong cast of characters.




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