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Playing with Fire (School for S.P.I.E.S., #1)
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Playing with Fire


3.96  ·  Rating details ·  322 ratings  ·  65 reviews
Max Segredo, tossed out by yet another foster family, has finally come to the end of the line. After being wrongly accused of setting a fire, he is sent to the Merry Sunshine Orphanage — on his thirteenth birthday, no less.

But what kind of group home offers classes in surveillance techniques, lock picking, and mixed martial arts? When the staff announces a “field trip” th
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 25th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (first published June 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  322 ratings  ·  65 reviews

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Review by James, age 9, 12/17/18

This book is about an orphan who has gone through several different foster homes and is accused of setting fire to the last one. Max's case worker finds him an orphanage he calls "more than he deserves," and "the end of the line." After that comes juvie.
But this orphanage has classes on surveillance techniques, lock picking, and mixed martial arts. Clearly this is no ordinary orphanage. But Max has other things on his mind: someone left him a coded note (in the C
Erik This Kid Reviews Books
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Orphan Max Segredo was wrongly blamed for burning his foster parents’ house. He did NOT do it! But anyway, this little incident earns him the title of “Pyromaniac.” Thus, Max finds himself at the Merry Sunshine Orphanage as a last chance before landing in juvenile hall. Max soon finds out that this isn’t an ordinary orphanage – it teaches special skills – SPY skills!

At the spy school/orphanage, Max learns:

to pick locks,
break codes,
and do martial arts, among other things. Max also learns that
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Somewhat entertaining. Mixed race; good diversity. But kind of insulting to make the director speak like that. She speaks seven languages and has a masters degree. Accent okay, but poor grammar - highly unlikely...
Viola Sung
Jul 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Not bad, but it was too boring at the start, there wasn't enough suspense. I liked the twists and turns throughout the story. ...more
Valerie McEnroe
Here's another decent addition to the growing category of spy series. Max has been scuttled from one foster family to another since his mom died and his dad went MIA. Once again he is booted and blamed for a fire he didn't start. He’s sent to an orphanage, where it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, is actually a spy training school. Classes in decoding and acrobatic dodging are a dead give-away. On top of that, he learns that his father is alive and well, but in hiding as a spy. Max ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-summer
A PYRO?? Not is Max's 13th birthday and he is being blamed for another fire! Max is sent to a place called Mercy Sunshine - from the outside: an orphanage, from the inside: a school for spies. Max and his new friends learn some great skills: picking locks, getting lost in a crowd, following a suspect, etc.. Max also learns through a few coded messages....his father is still alive - he is not an orphan. Great story with plenty of action. For us Macgyver fans - this is the book for yo ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-2017
A PYRO?? Not is Max's 13th birthday and he is being blamed for another fire! Max is sent to a place called Mercy Sunshine - from the outside: an orphanage, from the inside: a school for spies. Max and his new friends learn some great skills: picking locks, getting lost in a crowd, following a suspect, etc.. Max also learns through a few coded messages....his father is still alive - he is not an orphan. Great story with plenty of action. For us Macgyver fans - this is the book for yo ...more
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Max is a troubled foster child hes been kicked out of so many foster homes. When he ends up at a strange group home he knows something is going on. He gets notes that his father is still alive and might betray his own family to find him.
Dec 19, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 ... Read aloud to my 8-yo daughter. She loved it! Probably better for a tween or teen, though. Story deals with kidnapping and murder. A bit dark. Very suspenseful and engaging, though. Well written.
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, it had a mix of confusion and fighting.
May 27, 2020 added it
good book
Isaac Peter
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Max is an orphan who has to go to a foster home each time moving because he is blamed for setting fire to the last one.
Oct 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read it it was great
Sue Edwards
Apr 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I’m a huge spy movie/novel fan so getting me to pick this one up was pretty easy. It doesn’t hurt that it is written by Bruce Hale. His sense of humor is tops and always keeps me laughing. Yes, his target audience is the middle grade boy and that tells you all you need to know about what I find funny.

The book opens with Max Segredo standing on the lawn as fire trucks try to put out the fire. His latest foster home has just gone up in flames. Yes, his file claims he’s a pyro but he didn’t start t
Jun 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Review also posted at http://readingnookandcranny.blogspot....

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher, and I really tried to enjoy it. After all, I grew up on the likes of Artemis Fowl and Alex Rider, and this book seemed to be on par with those series at first glance. I had a hard time putting my finger on why, but this series just doesn't add up to others in the genre.

For one, all the character names in this book are absurd apart from the man character, named Max. We have a guy name
Ms. Yingling
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Max has an unfortunate habit of setting fire to things, but maintains that he did not burn down his last foster home. Doesn't matter; his track record lands him at the Merry Sunshine Orphanage under the care of Hantai Annie. While there, he gets a coded message that indicates the father he never met is still alive, and further investigation reveals that he is involved in spying. Making friends with Wyatt while learning lock picking and other spy skills at the orphanage, Max tries to get more inf ...more
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I quite enjoyed this book with its spy school and great characters. Max is definitely a sympathetic character, starting at the beginning where he is accused by his foster father of starting the fire that burns down their house, which he didn't do apparently. When Max ends up at the spy school he meets Hantai Annie Wong who runs the school, the half-Chinese lady who speaks Japanese and barely English. He is baffled by the classes he takes that introduce him to dodging flying projectiles and picki ...more
Kolby J. 6
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale is a book about a boy named Max who is kicked out of every foster home he lives in. So when Mr. Darney takes Max to Merry Sunshine Orphanage and tells him this is his last chance, Max knows that he can't mess this last one up. At this orphanage Max takes classes in lock picking, surveillance, and mixed martial arts. When Max finds a note telling him that his father is still alive Max embarks on a mission of his own. While reading this book I like how the author ad ...more
Kristen Harvey
Jul 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Max just wants to have his own family, but cannot seem to even stay in a foster home for long. His latest family's house caught fire and he was blamed for it and ends up in the Merry Sunshine Orphanage. This orphanage is not what it seems and soon Max is in classes to become a spy. As interesting as the orphanage is, Max doesn't want to stay, because he's been receiving coded messages that his father may still be alive. He takes every chance he can get to slip away to find out more about his fat ...more
Nov 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
Max is an orphan who has been shuttled around to seven different foster homes in the last six years. When his latest home burns down he is sent to The Merry Sunshine Orphanage. The orphanage run by Hanti Annie is more than a home for orphans though it is a spy school. Max receives coded messages that indicate his father is alive. A covert mission gives him the perfect chance to see if he can find and rescue his father from the evil LOTUS group. Max must decide if his only blood relative is his f ...more
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

Playing With Fire by Bruce Hale was a fabulous start to a series. It was very different from what I was anticipating, but still turned out to be a really great read! It was my first read from Bruce Hale, and I'm very eager to check out more from him.

Bruce Hale keeps the plot moving at a lightening fast pace - I read the book in under 2 hours! I just couldn't put it down. The setting was so bizarre, and readers get to find out about it alongside the story's main character, Max.

I loved t
Teresa Bateman
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Max Segredo's 13th birthday starts with arson that gets him removed from yet another foster home. (Honestly, it wasn't his fault...although he's starting to get a reputation as a pyro.) As an orphan, his life has been chaotic, but his new placement is different. He's put into an orphanage training spies. When your classes consist of lock-picking, code-breaking, and various stealth techniques you can bet field trips are going to be unique. And is it really true that all the good bad guys have a s ...more
Jan 10, 2014 rated it liked it
After being bopped around to different foster homes and being dubbed a pyromaniac (even though he is innocent), Max finally lands in an orphanage. At least what he believes to be an orphanage! He has actually been inducted into "spy school". He also receives a cryptic message on his first night that reads "Your father is alive!" Is he really not an orphan, after all? Is it possible that he will be reunited with his father? And who exactly was his mysterious father? This books holds plenty of int ...more
Nov 26, 2013 rated it liked it
A serviceable offering for 5th/6th graders, particularly boys, who are looking for an adventure/spy novel. Max is an orphan who, after yet another failed foster placement, finds himself at the Merry Sunshine Orphanage, where classes in lock picking, self-defense, and surveillance take the place of ordinary academics. Max has found himself in a training school for teen-aged spies... Soon after arriving, Max receives a coded message that his father - long presumed dead, is alive - and was a renown ...more
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book by Bruce Hale. I thought it was going to be like the Spy School by Mr. Gibbs, but it was surprisingly very entertaining and complex. Max Segredo is an orphan who was been through many foster homes. The first two families, someone died and the last family had their house burnt down. He ends up at the Merry Sunshine Orphanage and discovers its a spy school for kids. What is different about this book is that Mr. Hale tells us about real spy training that the kids do with ...more
Jack L 6
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Novel Playing with Fire (School for S.P.I.E.S.,#1) by Bruce Hale. Max is a foster child who grew up in foster homes that he always seemed to destroy. After the sixth home his lawyer decided to send him to a last chance home. Witch turned out to be a school for spies. Witch came naturally. This book is a good book probably for a little lower reading levels. The storyline was predictable but still fun to read. It never really had a slow part. Like the time they broke into a building i felt lik ...more
Jeff Raymond
I enjoyed what I read of Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko books, a series of mystery titles for middle grade readers, so his jump to a middle grade spy/science fiction thing sounded good. I ultimately found a lot of it to be kind of lacking, with a main character who isn't entirely likable and a spy school setting that has been done more than a few times before and, frankly, done better (N.E.R.D.S and H.I.V.E. in particular come to mind).

This is not a bad read by any stretch, but it doesn't necessarily m
May 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2013
Advanced proof. If you're going to make a story about spies that is over the top, you need to go all the way (a'la Spy Kids). This just didn't do it for me. The adults act like children, the adults underestimate the children - in itself a drawback for me - and the lead spy is so stereotype. I don't know a single Chinese person who speaks like that. Her vocabulary is way to good to speak so poorly.

Those things aside, the story was pretty good. This one just wasn't for me.
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Max, a thirteen year old, who has been tossed from foster home to foster home, has finally landed at the Merry Sunshine Orphanage. The place is strange, the classes even stranger, and Max doesn’t plan to stay. He wants to find his father and have a “real” family. But the spy school has other plans for Max and he finally figures out what family really means.
Good adventure story –plenty of action and fun.
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Are you the type of person who likes adventure?
If so, this book is for you. Max Segredo, whose parent is a spy, is sent to an orphanage that really is a school for spies after he is blamed for the fire at his latest foster parents' house.After he is is chosen to go on a mission to the capitol, he knows he one of the best spies. If this is the sort of thing that interests you, then this book is for you.
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A serious book addict, Bruce wanted to be a children's book author since he was in 4th grade (right after he got over wanting to be a pirate, Tarzan, and Daniel Boone). Today he's the author-illustrator of over 50 seriously funny books for kids, so some dreams do come true.

The Malted Falcon, one of his Chet Gecko Mysteries series, was an Edgar Award finalist, and Murder, My Tweet won a Little D Aw

Other books in the series

SCHOOL FOR S.P.I.E.S. (3 books)
  • Thicker Than Water (School for S.P.I.E.S., #2)
  • Ends of the Earth (School for S.P.I.E.S., #3)

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