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J.J. Bennett: Junior Spy in The Rise of the…

J.J. Bennett: Junior Spy in The Rise of the K-CIA

by Alba Arango

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Move Over 007, Here Comes J.J. Bennett!

Back in January I took a break from my regular reading pile on the advice of my niece to check out a debut novel for middle-graders. She somehow learned that one of her former teachers had written a story featuring a 12-year-old spy that was set in Prague (where my niece spent a semester of college just last year), so she bought a copy of the self-published ebook, read it, and then turned to me to say, “I think you need to check this out; it would be perfect for your blog!” My niece generally has pretty good taste in books, so I went ahead and purchased a copy for myself (since it did seem to be right up my alley), and sat down to see what JJ Bennett was all about. What did I discover? Let’s investigate.

What I Loved

JJ and Maggie: These 12-year-olds are great! Intelligent, inquisitive, maintaining caring relationships with their single parents (JJ and his dad, Maggie and her mom)…I found both kids to be totally relatable and a lot of fun. They are best friends who balance each other, bounce ideas off each other, and are equally involved in the investigation. I thought it was cute, too, that just like a grown man JJ was easily distracted by a pretty face – in this case, Russian spy Ivana – while Maggie looked on and rolled her eyes (I think we women totally understand her reaction). I especially loved that the “bad guys” saw them as an actual threat, not just little kids, and treated them accordingly.

Sweet Action: Starting things off with JJ and his best friend Maggie breaking into a secure government facility and moving swiftly through scavenger hunts in clock towers, medieval churches and historic tombs, author Alba Arango throws her characters right into the action. In fact I found myself extremely tense during one particular sequence involving a landmark clock tower and some window washing equipment. It felt fresh and original, even as my blood pressure went through the roof with worry over JJ’s safety (I know, I know, it’s just a book…but it was exciting!).

What I Liked

Prague As A Backdrop: I have it on my niece’s authority that the Prague described in this story is the real deal. She recognized the landmarks, the food, the atmosphere…apparently Ms. Arango has captured the city. I’ve never visited Prague, but as the narrative unfolded it felt like the story was taking place in Eastern Europe; nothing seemed generic, and I found myself wanting to make my way to the city to check things out for myself.

Writing Style: As I noted above, The Rise of the K-CIA is a self-published novel which always causes me to pause since self-published books can be hit or miss. In this instance, it is definitely a hit. The writing is tight, exciting, and flows naturally. The editing is VERY well done; I don’t recall any spelling or grammar errors – just a well-told story with interesting characters. It never feels like the author is talking down to her intended audience, and everything is appropriate for the age level. It kicks right in with the action, but is balanced nicely between excitement and quieter moments as JJ and Maggie work through the clues to find answers. Moments of danger are off-set by family moments. This is a really solid debut all around.

What I Didn’t Like

Maggie Needs More Back Story: Jumping right into the action with JJ and Maggie, Ms. Arango did an admirable job snagging my attention and getting me involved in the characters. The only thing missing was a little more information on how Maggie got mixed up in JJ’s adventures and how he knew she would be a perfect partner. The two kids work great together; I just wanted a bit more development of Maggie’s background to explain how they got to that point.


JJ Bennett: Junior Spy in The Rise of the K-CIA is an exciting debut for middle-grade readers who love action and adventure, as 12-year-old JJ and his friend Maggie follow clues hidden throughout the city of Prague to track down a dangerous formula stolen from the CIA back in the 1950′s. Sporting a fascinating backdrop, a cast of interesting characters, and plenty of danger, Alba Arango’s debut novel had me riveted from the opening chapter and is a highly entertaining introduction to what looks to be a fun and exciting new series. ( )
  eomalley | Apr 13, 2013 |
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