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Monday, March 28, 2016

MG Review: Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith, illustrated by Scott Garrett

Published: November 5th, 2013 by Quirk Books
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 237 plus About The Authors, and whatnot.
Part of a series? Yes, there are currently 5 books and I'm not going to dig around in the Goodreads page to see if there'll be more because I don't want to see spoilers.
Got via: This was sent to me by the publisher for review consideration.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Nick and Tesla are bright 11-year-old siblings with a knack for science, electronics, and getting into trouble. When their parents mysteriously vanish, they’re sent to live with their Uncle Newt, a brilliant inventor who engineers top-secret gadgets for a classified government agency. It’s not long before Nick and Tesla are embarking on adventures of their own—engineering all kinds of outrageous MacGyverish contraptions to save their skin: 9-volt burglar alarms, electromagnets, mobile tracking devices, and more. Readers are invited to join in the fun as each story contains instructions and blueprints for five different projects.

Review: Well, this was a whole lot of fun! The design of it is just nifty, with little details on the pages that make it look all science-y. This one actually has a similar set-up to Middleworld, with a cancelled family vacation, parents off on a work trip to somewhere far away, the kids sent to live with an uncle for the summer. However, this one honestly worked much better for me. And I'm particularly inclined drawn to either science or history. I'm an art/English girl. (Not like... art history or anything. I destroyed last night's Art Class category on Jeopardy! All about different techniques!)

This uses the science angle very well. The kids are passionate about it. It's something they obviously enjoy, not something they're forced into, and that is so much nicer to read about than complaints about hating something. They have fun, so we have fun reading about it. That basis makes the rest of the good things in the book even better. Shall we continue?

Plot Talk: Basically, Nick and Tesla get sent to live with their uncle for the summer, and they run into a mystery that no one really listens to them about that they decide they need to solve. The mystery solving is done very organically - at first it's just a matter of trying to get something they lost back, then they start snooping a little, and only when the adults they go to can't really do anything do they get a little more serious. It works really well both with the immediate mystery plot, and with the underlying one that isn't resolved within the book.

Characters: Some of the characters can be a touch stereotypical. The book isn't that long, so I'm hoping in future books, the characterization of those characters can be explored more and make them slightly less stereotypical, but it's not so badly done, I think, as to be harmful. It's just a touch lazy. I also would have liked more female characters. There's really only one girl, Tesla, that appears for more than a few pages. We need to show girls being involved in STEM fields in media.

That said, the characters have potential. Tesla is a very good character, and I like having twins as main characters, especially since the third person POV doesn't limit itself just to either of their POVs. It makes it very balanced. I would want a little more from future books, but for a first book, the characters are not bad. Their uncle especially is hilarious.

PG-13 stuff: There's nothing for language. A little bit of scary situations, but there's not really anything for violence or anything. There's a pretty wide audience that this could appeal to, and younger readers wouldn't find anything they wouldn't be ready yet.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Like I said, some slightly stereotypical characters, and a lack of female ones. There is also a touch of casual ableism that I'm not too fond of. Other than that, I'm pretty much good.

Cover comments: It's a really cool cover. It's got a lot of life, the kids look like they're having a blast, and it does actually depict something that happened in the book.

The illustrations aren't exactly like the cover, but they are close. They're good pictures. They reflect what happens in the book, and the ones that make up the science experiments within the book are also clear, and easy to understand.

Conclusion: I know some kids who would really enjoy this, and it's a fun way to bridge the gap between either an interest in reading and not as much in science, or an interest in science and not as much in reading, or just fun to read if there's an interest in both. The way the experiments are scattered through the book as the kids do them make them very interactive, and is fairly unique. The mystery is really good, and I'm intrigued by the threads left to carry you into the next book. While not perfect, this was a very good first effort. I enjoyed it, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Four out of five roses.

Other notes:

- Their names are adorable, and I enjoy punny character names.

- They include a Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. What's not to love here?

Peace and cookies,

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