Audio Review: Half Moon Investigations

And…here’s another audio review!  It’s a mystery this time, from a popular author of fantasy adventure books.  I was actually expecting some kind of fantasy element in this one, but it’s a straightforward follow-the-clues-to-the-end mystery.  And a good one!

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Half Moon Investigations
By Eoin Colfer, Read by Sean Patrick Reilly
6 CDs, 7 hours, 17 minutes

half moon investigationsFletcher Moon is a private detective.  He’s seen it all, heard it all, is a little world-weary…and he’s only in seventh grade.  It’s not easy to train to be a detective at such a young age, but Fletcher got his degree online, from the Bernstein Academy in Washington, D.C..  Of course, he had to use his father’s name and ID to get certified, since there was an age requirement.  But Fletcher and his father share the same name and birthdate, so it was pretty easy to do.   He’s probably the only seventh grader in Ireland, maybe even the world, who has completed the requirements for the Bernstein private detective certification and received the highly prized silver private detective badge.  Fletcher has used his qualifications for good, solving cases and bringing justice to his fellow students at Saint Jerome’s Elementary and Middle School.

Because of his successful solve rate, Fletcher’s reputation has spread around the school.  So it’s no surprise when one of his elementary school informants comes to get him to help break up a wrestling match caused by a theft.  Herod Sharkey, the youngest member of the infamous Sharkey crime family, has been accused of stealing the fancy new computer organizer of Bella Barnes, the biggest girl in the elementary school.  There’s even a witness; April Devereaux, the wealthiest girl in the school (as well as the one most likely to wear pink.)  Fletcher follows the clues and finds the organizer.   It looks like an open and shut case until Red Sharkey, Herod’s older brother and Fletcher’s classmate, gets involved. In spite of the witness and the general reputation of his brother,  Red claims his brother is innocent and has been framed.  Red threatens Fletcher, and warns him to shut down his detective agency.

But then April Devereaux puts Fletcher on retainer to investigate the entire Sharkey family and their connection with some odd crimes at the school and around town.  Fletcher is at first reluctant, but then intrigued once he starts looking into the case.  Are the Sharkey’s really behind all the crimes?  Or will his trail lead to someone else?  Fletcher enlists his allies, his informants and even an enemy or two to follow the dangerous trail to a surprising conclusion…and a new view on detective work.

half moon investigations audioSean Patrick Reilly’s narration of Half Moon Investigations has the appropriately hard-boiled tone down for this first-person narration.  I loved his Irish accent too.  The “film noir” tone continues throughout the story, with musical breaks between the chapters.  The kids in the story all have slightly different voices, and the adults sound completely different.

The story is populated by a huge amount of characters with genuine character…crooks with hearts of gold, police inspectors who are more patient than a whole realm of teachers, and lots of kids with different ideas about school, life and honesty.

Half Moon Investigations was a fun CD to listen to in the car.  I enjoyed trying to follow the clues along with Fletcher, and worrying about the red herrings thrown in his path.  I have had several families tell me that Half Moon Investigations was their favorite CD ever.    I would recommend the book to readers in fourth through sixth grade.  The audio recording could be enjoyed by the whole family.  Adults will enjoy the Philip Marlowe-type narration, while younger listeners will just enjoy the mystery, the story and the colorful characters.

If you’re going on a trip for April vacation, both the e-book and the audio (e-audio?) are available through the Minuteman Digital Catalog.

::Kelly::

Another Audio Review!

It’s been busy here, with no time for blog entries!  Fortunately, there’s still been time to listen to audio books to (eventually) report back and review.   I’ve listened to six different books since the last audio entry, but I’m not sure all six will make it into this blog entry.  We’ll see.  So, without further ado…

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No Place For Magic
by E.D. Baker, Performed by Katherine Kellgren
6.25 Hours; 6 CDs

no place for magicEmma is the princess of Greater Greensward, but even more important, she’s also the Green Witch of Greater Greensward, in charge of all the magic use in the kingdom.  Not bad, for a sixteen-year-old former cursed frog. After attending the spur-of-the-moment swamp wedding of her Aunt Grassina and her beau, the former enchanted otter Haywood, Emma and her fiance, Prince Eadric of Upper Montevista decide that it’s time to clear up some issues with Eadric’s parents, King Bodamin and Queen Frazzela.  Although it pains Emma to admit it, it’s time for a visit to Upper Montevista.

The biggest issue that Emma is avoiding is Queen Frazzela’s hatred of any magic and magic users.  For Emma, who uses magic daily for everything from cleaning her room to weeding her garden to settling a dispute between warring factions of witches, the queen’s attitude is incomprehensible.  But she is the Queen, and Eadric’s mother.  And the two of them have been avoiding facing the King and Queen of Upper Montevista for months.  Adventures with dragons and curses are fun, but even Eadric has admitted that it’s time to start planning for their own wedding.

no_place_for_magic 2The first snag is when Emma’s mother, Queen Chartreuse, decides that she must join Emma.  Although the queen understands the need for magic, she really doesn’t approve of it any more than Eadric’s mother does.  So long, quick magic carpet ride!  Since the queen doesn’t think it’s proper for a princess to be traveling unchaperoned, she can’t even ride horseback with Eadric.  So it’s an uncomfortably long horse-drawn carriage ride for Emma, complete with maids, trunks of wardrobe, dressmakers, a trousseau, and the company of her mother.  And her grandmother, the formerly evil witch, her grandfather the ghost, her aunt, the royal fairies…pretty much everyone at the castle! Emma manages to leave quickly though, leaving the queen and her entourage to follow a few days behind.  In the carriage it will be just Emma, her friend Lily, a bat who can talk, and Shelton, a crab she’s taking care of for her mermaid friend.

The journey isn’t easy, and Emma is tempted to use her magic as they run into problems along the way.  Their arrival in Upper Montevista is no happy homecoming though, as they learn that Prince Eadric’s younger brother, Prince Bradston, has been kidnapped by trolls!  Emma and Eadric set off on a mission to rescue the prince, even though Emma isn’t sure that he hasn’t brought this catastrophe upon himself.  The problem is that, to satisfy both Queen Frazzela and Queen Chartreuse, Emma has promised not to use magic.  Even as a last resort.  What’s a Green Witch to do?  When it becomes apparent that there are trolls, dragons, vampires, sea monsters and other creatures after Emma and Eadric (not to mention the girls fluttering over and flirting with the prince, right under Emma’s nose) Emma has to make some difficult decisions about magic and friendship, not to mention allies, enemies and family.

no place for magic audioThe audio recording of No Place for Magic is absolutely, incredibly wonderful! Katherine Kellgren, the reader, has a huge range of voices, each with a different accent, speech pattern and tone.  I absolutely adored her vocal range and voices.  Not surprising!  When you look her up online, you will find that she has recorded over a hundred audio books, and she won the Audie Award for Best Voice in Young Adult and Fantasy from 2008 through 2011.  She’s a finalist for the 2014 Audie Award for the narration of a book that’s near and dear to my heart, Magic Marks the Spot, by local author Caroline Carlson.  In other words, she’s a shining star of audio books!  I would highly recommend anything Ms. Kellgren has narrated, not just No Place for Magic.

Although No Place for Magic is Book Four in The Tales of the Frog Princess, you don’t necessarily have had to read the previous volumes to enjoy this title.  Although the listener (or reader) would perhaps have a better idea of the background characters if they did read the previous books, No Place for Magic does stand well on its own.  It’s an enjoyable story with fairy tale characters, monsters and humor each playing a sizable role.  The stellar performance of Ms. Kellgren is a reason to listen as well.  There are currently eight volumes in the Tales of the Frog Princess series

No Place for Magic is written for third through sixth grade readers.  The audio recording would be enjoyable for the entire family, with good listeners as young as four or five.  Fans of fairy tales would love it.  It would make a perfect audio book for a family car ride!  It’s also available as an e-book through the Minuteman Library Network Digital Media Page.  If you’re going on vacation, it would be a fun pick to bring along.

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And that’s it.  I think I’ll try to write one review every day until I catch up with all the listening.  So…until tomorrow!

::Kelly::

 

 

 

New York, New York! Audio books

I just finished listening to two audio books I grabbed at random, and by coincidence, both are set in New York City.  Now, I like visiting New York, but to really know the city, you have to grow up there.  Here are two girls, from very different worlds, who really know all the ins and outs of The City That Never Sleeps!

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The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour
by Michael D. Beil, read by Tai Alexandra Ricci
6 CDs, 6 hours, 55 minutes

red blazer girls ringThe mystery starts with a spooky face in the window of a church–a pale face with long white hair where no face should be.  In the middle of English class, Sophie screams at the sight.  She knows she wasn’t daydreaming though, and is determined to find out who was in the tiny window set high in St. Veronica’s church.   Sophie attends Saint Veronica’s Academy, a New York City girls’  attached to the church, and her fifth story classroom is opposite the window.  Saint Veronica’s church is a huge, grand structure, with lots of alcoves, tiny rooms and tunnels that provide many hiding places, for people and for treasured artwork.

Determined to prove that she did see something strange, Sophie drags her friends  Margaret and Rebecca into the church, where they evade security and priests alike to find a cat that leads them to a little-known passageway through the church and into the former convent next door.  The first mystery is solved when they meet Ms. Harriman, and elderly lady who lives in the former convent.  She introduces them to the second mystery, which involves a hidden treasure.

Ms. Harriman has just discovered a card that was sent to her daughter Caroline Chance twenty years ago for her thirteenth birthday, by her grandfather Everett Harriman.  It’s the first clue in a treasure hunt that leads to a priceless treasure.  The problem is that the second clue is somewhere inside a book in the St. Veronica’s school library, and Ms. Harriman has no way to access it.  There’s also a problem with her ex-husband, Caroline’s father Malcolm Chance, who is also searching for the treasure. When Mrs. Harriman meets the girls, who DO have access to the school, and they team up. Suddenly, the hunt is on!

red blazer girls soundThe audio recording of The Ring of Rocamadour is an excellent production.  I loved the reader’s voice…she has a slight New York accent, so the narration sounds very authentic.  The voices of Mrs. Harriman and Malcolm Chance sound very different, with Mrs. Harriman having an excellent sort of “elderly eccentric” voice, and Malcolm Chance being very British.  There are five girls who play strongly into the plot–my only issue with the voices was that the girls sound a little too similar.  Still, the pacing for each is a little different, so it’s not difficult to follow who is speaking.

The Ring of Rocamadour is an excellent mystery, with a great sense of place.  Listeners will find themselves absorbed in the characters and the mystery, walking through the city, rooting for Sophie and trying to figure out “whodunnit”!  And if you like this book and/or audio, it’s the first in a series about The Red Blazer Girls.

I would recommend The Ring of Rocamadour (and all of  The Red Blazer Girls mysteries) to mystery lovers in fifth grade through eighth grade.  It would be a fun CD to listen to for a family car trip, and a great selection to listen to if you’re planning a visit to New York City.

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Bras & Broomsticks
by Sarah Mlynowski, Read by Ariadne Meyers
7 CDs, 8 hours, 11 minutes

bras and broomsticksRachel’s morning has a great start when she looks down and her crappy old black boots have been replaced by the fashionable pair of green suede designer sneakers she’d seen at Bloomies the previous weekend.  How did that happen?  How could she forget lacing them up? Buying them? Thinking she just had a strange lapse in memory, Rachel calls home to thank her mother (and maybe get an idea about how she could have forgotten.)  But her mother seems to be worried about something else and doesn’t even want to talk about the sneakers…she just orders Rachel to come home, even though she knew she had plans for after school.

Extremely reluctantly (and with maybe a tiny bit of an attitude) Rachel goes home.  Her younger sister Miri is already there, having stayed home from school, and looking extremely smug about something.  Rachel’s mom is smoking, something she never does anymore, and she looks even more worried than she sounded over the phone. Rachel knows something is wrong, but she never expected the problem to be what it is!  Miri is a witch.  So is Rachel’s mom.  It’s inherited at puberty, it just seems to have skipped Rachel.

What?

At first, Rachel thinks her mom has cracked.  Ditto Miri.  But Miri does some magic, and so does Mom, and suddenly, Rachel has to be a believer.  Mom lays down the rules–Miri has a new spellbook, The Authorized and Absolute Reference Handbook to Astonishing Spells, Astounding Potions, and History of Witchcraft Since the Beginning of Time, but she is not allowed to use it.  Seriously?  Color Rachel Not Impressed.  If you have magic, why not use it?  With a little wheedling and a bit of blackmail, Rachel gets Miri to do a spell.  In secret, of course.  And that opens the floodgates.

What is the teenage sister of a pre-teen witch to do?  If you have magic at your fingertips (or at your sister’s) it’s just too tempting.  Popularity, here comes Rachel!  But even the best-intentioned spells seem to have some consequences, and the ones that are…maybe…a teeny bit selfish have even more.  Rachel has all her witches come true, but will it really help her with her achieve popularity and a place in the high school movers and shakers?

bras and broomsticks soundBras & Broomsticks was a fun book to listen to.  I loved the narrator’s voice, and all of the main characters are clearly different.  Rachel and Miri sound different, which is great when they spend so much time talking to each other.  Rachel’s mom has a Brooklyn accent, while her father sounds like he’s from Long Island.  Several of the other characters–Rachel’s friends and the girls’ stepmother-to-be–are clearly differentiated.

Within the story, there are  a lot of details about daily life in New York City. Even though it’s flavored with a bit of witchcraft, it rings true.  From traveling by subway to finding the best coffee shops and shopping, the flavors of New York are there.  There’s also the question of popularity…and if the ends justify the means.

Bras and Broomsticks is in the Teen section of the library. It’s best for upper middle school and high school readers.  There are several more books about Rachel and her friends that are just as funny as this one.  (And Rachel has one of her greatest wishes come true in Book Two!)  Bras & Broomsticks will probably be most enjoyed by girls facing the issues of dating, crushes and popularity.  It might be a great book for a family trip, with a discussion about some of these things afterward!

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If you’re looking for other audio titles set in New York City, you could also try Liar & Spy or When You Reach Me, both by Rebecca Stead, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburgh or How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff.

I wish there were as many great books set in Boston!

::Kelly::

Four Audio Reviews — Adventure!

It’s always hard to decide how to post audio reviews.  Should I rank them according to how I liked them?  But in that case, should it be best to worst or worst to best?  Do a grab-back and pick?  Should I pick the order in which I listened to them?  Maybe a random combination?

It’s never easy.  This time, I’ll start with the earliest one I listened to, save the best one for last, and mix up the order of the other two.  Hey, it makes sense to me.

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The Genius Wars
By Catherine Jinks, Read by Justine Eyre
10 CDs; 11 Hours, 55 Minutes

genius wars2Cadel Piggott is a genius.  He’s not exactly modest about it, it’s something he’s known all his life.  He was hacking into high-security computers by the age of eight, and his skills only developed with age.  Cadel as a child was able to do things that no one else could do.  Unfortunately, he was also a criminal, working under an evil mastermind at the direction of Prosper English, the man he believed to be his father.

Now though, things are finally going his way. At fifteen, Cadel is in his first year at University. He’s living with his foster parents Detective Saul Greeniaus and his wife Fiona, and finally escaping his past.  He has friends, interesting classes, and nothing to worry about.

Until Prosper English is sighted on several surveillance cameras in nearby Sydney, walking across the city as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  Cadel knows that his testimony would put Prosper English in jail for the rest of his life.  Is Prosper in Sydney to get revenge on the boy once believed to be his son?  Cadel certainly thinks so.  When his best friend Sonja is attacked and ends up in hospital, Cadel knows that he has to take desperate measures.  Soon he’s abandoned his new life as a law-abiding teenager and hacking into computer networks, revisiting all his illegal skills and traveling around the globe to protect his new family and friends.

Will Cadel find Prosper English before Prosper English finds him?

genius wars audioThe CD for Genius Wars was very entertaining.  Most of the characters are from Australia, and all the accents sounded varied enough to come from different areas of that country.  There were also British, Canadian and American characters, and they all had accents that sounded true.  Maybe it was the accents that threw me off, but I believed I was listening to a Australian teenage boy reading the story, not a Canadian woman.  (I guess it helped that Justine Eyre has an Australian father, grew up in the Philippines, was educated in Britain and works in both the US and Canada…obviously, her ability to mimic various accents is something that comes to her from experience!)

Being set in Australia, there were some words and phrases that might be troublesome for American listeners, but their meanings were fairly obvious.  I did have to look up “wardriving”– a term which made no sense to me, although I could tell what it was through the story.  (It might be what we call geocaching…but not quite.)

Genius Wars is the third book in a series, preceded by Evil Genius and Genius Squad.  Although I didn’t read the first two books, it wasn’t difficult to come in on the third book.  I’m sure I missed things, but the story hung together tightly and made sense.  I did wonder about a few past connections (and I want to read the two earlier books anyway) but I think anyone who picks up Genius Wars cold will enjoy it as an adventure novel and not worry about what they might have missed.

Genius Wars has plenty of action, loads of dangerous situations and some skillful detective work. It also has quite a bit of humor, which helps alleviate the tension.  Hackers and computer geeks will probably love it, although some of the terms went over MY head!

I’d recommend Genius Wars (and both Genius Squad and Evil Genius) for middle school and high school readers.  Kids a little younger who are familiar with computer terminology who like a fast-paced, involved mystery might enjoy it too.  Our copies of all the books and the books on CD are in our Teen Collection.

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The False Prince
By Jennifer A. Nielsen, Read by Charlie McWade
7 CDs; 8 hours, 14 minutes

false princeSage lives by his wits on the streets.  Officially, he lives at Mrs. Turbeldy’s Orphanage for Disadvantaged Boys,  but that’s only for another few months, until he’s sixteen and is kicked out.  Sage believes in being prepared, so he helps get extra points with Mrs. Turbeldy by “acquiring” a few things she needs for herself and the boys in the orphanage.  It’s not his fault that other people call it stealing.  When Sage is caught by the henchman of a foreign noble after stealing a roast from a butcher in the market, he has no idea how much his life is about to change.

Conner offers Mrs. Turbeldy money for Sage, and she sells him to the noble. Sage takes issue with this and tries to escape…unsuccessfully.  When he wakes up, he’s tied in the back of a wagon, surrounded by three other boys.  All four look remarkably similar, as if they could be brothers.

Conner explains that he’s looking for a boy, one who can learn quickly and keep his mouth shut. It seems that there is a problem with the throne in Conner’s country, and he’s looking for someone who could play the part of a missing prince.  Prince Jaron was rumored to have been killed by pirate four years ago, but if found, he would be heir to the kingdom. And Conner wants to place whichever of the boys who learns his part best to take Jaron’s place on the throne.  He makes it brutally clear to the boys that the only alternative to participating in his plan is death.

So Sage quickly starts working to be Prince Jaron, along with Roden and Tobias.  As Conner and his henchmen plot, the three boys work hard at swordplay, court intrigue and other royal skills.  But Sage has a plan, and it doesn’t necessarily involve Conner.  With Prince Jaron’s title and kingdom and his own identity on the line, how far will Sage go?

false prince audioThe CD recording for The False Prince is well-done, with just the right pacing.  I loved the voice of the narrator, Carlie McWade. He sounded like a young man, stressed by circumstances and secrets.  He managed to make all the characters sound a little different, with different tones and speeds for their voices.

The False Prince is the first part of a trilogy, but it doesn’t leave you hanging. It’s a complete story in and of itself, but you will want to read the second book, The Runaway King, which came out earlier this year. The third book will be out next year.

The False Prince is a fantasy adventure, and perfect for a family car trip.  I would recommend The False Prince to readers in fifth through ninth grades, and the book on CD would be great for families from fourth grade up.  There is much going on in the story, so if you don’t listen carefully, you might miss some clues to the secrets and lies going on behind the scenes!  There is a bonus interview with the author that is quite interesting, and a missing scene from the book included on the CD.

Our copy of The False Prince as a book is located in both the Juvenile and Teen collections; the CD is in the Juvenile collection due to space issues.

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100 Cupboards
By N.D. Wilson, Read by Russell Horton
5 CDs, 6 hours; 23 minutes

100 cupboardsHenry York has spent all twelve years of his life with overprotective parents in Boston. How overprotective?  Henry had to wear a helmet to play outside, he wasn’t allowed to play sports, and at twelve, he was still riding in the back seat of their car, buckled into a booster seat.  When his parents were kidnapped on a business trip, Henry was put on a bus to Kansas, where his aunt, uncle and cousins live.

Arriving in Kansas, Henry is surprised at how different things are.  Uncle Frank has him ride home in the back of his pickup truck–no safety seat, not even a seat belt!  His Aunt Dotty is warm and welcoming, and not the least bit smothering. And his cousins– Penny, Henrietta and Anastasia—seem happy to meet him and want to take him right outside to play baseball and explore.

The girls have happily (mostly) sacrificed their attic playroom to give Henry a bedroom.  There is a spare bedroom in the house, but it had belonged to their grandfather, who died two years earlier.  He had locked his room, and since that day, no one has been able to get into the room. They’ve tried picking the lock, breaking the windows, chainsawing through the door…but both the door and windows are impervious to everything.

In the attic, Henry starts to hear strange noises from inside the wall, and suddenly plaster starts coming off.  Henry becomes curious and digs, and finds a post office mailbox under the plaster.  Henrietta sees it the next day, and the two of them set to work, pulling off the plaster.  Once it’s gone, they find a wall of 100 cupboards–all different sizes, shapes and types–revealed.  None of them will open.  But where would they go, anyway?  The other side of the wall looks over the field outside.

But then, one does open. And Henry discovers that on the other side is not the field, but a post office somewhere else. When an envelope and postcard appear in the mailbox that are obviously meant for him, Henry decides that he has to find out what is going on with the cupboards. With Henrietta’s help, he finds a key, and suddenly they are both traveling through the cupboards to mysterious places.  Why are the cupboards in the attic?  Where do they all go?  Henry and Henrietta find themselves and their family in terrible danger as they try to solve the mystery.

100 cupboards audio100 Cupboards is the first book in a time-travel/fantasy trilogy.  I found the story to be intriguing and interesting.  However, I had a very hard time with the narrator of this particular book on CD.  Although he did a great voice for a couple of the villains that appear later in the book, his voices for the rest of the characters sounded all the same to me; whiny and irritating. Uncle Frank and Anastasia were the only two that sounded different, and their voices were even more annoying.  People’s voices were drawn out, and the emotions I felt they might be feeling were not evident in the reading.

Now, voices and reading are a very subjective thing, so this may be something that doesn’t bother other listeners.  And I really did want to find out what was going on in Henry’s attic bedroom, so the problems I had with the voices didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story.  I did feel irritated with some of the actions of the characters, and I don’t know if it was because of the story or because of the narration.  But I do feel it’s a fair warning for discerning listeners!

This book is appropriate for third through sixth grade readers, and the audio recording would work with those ages as well.  100 Cupboards is in our Juvenile collection.

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Three Times Lucky
By Sheila Turnage, Read by Michal Friedman
7 CDs, 8 hours

three times luckyMoses LoBeau, rising sixth grader, lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, population 148.  She lives with The Colonel and Miss Lana, on account of her Upstream Mother losing her during a hurricane eleven years ago.  Mo counts herself lucky to have been found floating downstream on a pile of debris, a tiny newborn, and being found by the Colonel, especially with his memory problems.

Mo helps run Tupelo Landing’s only cafe, which Miss Lana runs and the Colonel owns.  Some days she’s even responsible for opening it and creating the menu.  One summer day, the cafe is the reason Mo can’t go fishing with her best friend, Dale.  He’s a good friend though, and helps her at the cafe instead. And because they’re running the cafe, they’re among the first people in town to meet Detective Joe Starr of Winston-Salem, traveling through to Wilmington to solve a murder.  He stops to ask questions in the cafe though, and angers the Colonel.  Mo is skeptical of Joe Starr’s intentions, and Dale is downright scared, what with him having “borrowed” Mr. Jesse’s boat for their postponed fishing trip and not yet having returned it.  Crime is crime, right?

Summer goes on. Mo sends some more letters in bottles, trying to find her Upstream Mother, Dale returns Mr. Jesse’s boat, and both of them help Dale’s brother, Lavender, with his race car.  Miss Lana is away, but the Colonel helps with the Cafe.  Mo’s sworn enemy, Anna Celeste (otherwise known as Attila) even manages to not be so annoying.  Although the Azalea ladies and Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton are gossiping about Miss Lana’s absence, things seem to be going about the same as they always go in Tupelo Landing.

But when Mr. Jessie is found murdered, Joe Starr is right there, investigating the murder.  Mo and Dale establish the Desperado Detectives with the intention of helping.  Mo is right there in the middle of everything, finding clues, interviewing witnesses and detecting, even if Joe Starr doesn’t seem to appreciate her assistance.

But when Dale comes under suspicion, and Miss Lana disappears, things have definitely taken a turn for the worse.  If Mo can’t help, who else can?  Mo is determined to find out who killed Mr. Jesse, and maybe, in the midst of all the turmoil, find out who she really is.

three times lucky audioThree Times Lucky  is absolutely wonderful: a little slice of quirky southern life.  Mo is someone I would have wanted to know when I was twelve.  After finishing the story, I wanted to drive straight down to Tupulo Landing and meet everyone that I had just read about!  I loved Three Times Lucky as a story, but the audio recording makes it even better!  As you listen, you absolutely believe you are listening to Mo, complete with her adorable southern accent.  The characters come to life as you listen through their accents, cadence and tones.  Even though Mo is narrating, each person has their own voice.

I especially loved the southern flavor of the town, which is evident in the text, but it’s something that comes alive through the audio recording.  The little idiosyncrasies of southern flavor were more apparent read aloud than they were in the visual text.  There is such a feeling of place that it felt like I was listening to a conversation at Mo’s Cafe.  I listen to books on CD in my car, so every time I had to stop and turn it off, I felt like I should be talking with a southern accent!

I’m not sure what else to say about Three Times Lucky other than it was great.  If you’ve ever listened to Turtle in Paradise, Three Times Lucky reminded me of that book, with a strong sense of place and the perfect marriage of story and narrator.  This book was a Newbery Honor book in 2013, and it was definitely a real winner.

Three Times Lucky is the perfect book for a family car ride.  The book is probably best for fourth through sixth grade readers.  There are some elements of the murder mystery that may make it difficult for the youngest readers, but on the whole, the audio recording works for everyone.   Three Times Lucky is my favorite audio recording of this entry and my favorite of the year, so far!

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And there you have it.  It took me almost as long to write this as it did to listen to one of the CDs!  I hope you’ll try one of these and enjoy!

::Kelly::

Audio Books: The Maze Runner Trilogy and Three More!

It’s been awhile since there was a new audio review!  But that doesn’t mean we weren’t listening to some great choices!  So here, for your listening pleasure, are six audio reviews of books on CD you could borrow for your next car ride.

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The Maze Runner,
by James Dashner, Read by Mark Deakins
10 hours, 50 minutes; 9 CDs

The Scorch Trials,
by James Dashner, Read by Mark Deakins
10 hours, 23 minutes; 9 CDs

The Death Cure,
by James Dashner, Read by Mark Deakins
9 hours, 7 CDs

maze runner trilogyI listened to all three books in this trilogy over the course of the summer, but I’m only going to review the first one.  If I started to do the second and third, I’d give away too much of the ending of the first book and really don’t want to spoil the series for readers or listeners.

 

Thomas wakes up in a small box, surrounded by metal walls and movement upward.  He tries to remember something…anything, but although he can instantly recall things like walking down a road, eating a hamburger, the bustle of cities and watching movies, the only personal thing he can remember are his name and the fact that he’s sixteen years old.  When the box finally opens, Thomas is pulled out and ends up in a clearing, surrounded by about fifty other boys around his age.  None of them seem particularly friendly, and he can’t even understand half of what they’re saying; terms like shuck, clunk, greenhorn, shank, gladers, and runners are being tossed around.  The words sound familiar, but the meaning behind them is a mystery.  Thomas knows that he has to start making sense of his surroundings though if he wants to survive.

One of the boys introduces himself as Alby, and tells Thomas that he’s in a place called the Glade.  All of the boys have arrived there the same way Thomas did, and none of them have any memories of where they came from before the Glade.  The boys have organized themselves into several groups who carry out the jobs of keeping the Glade going, from cooking to raising plants and animals to cleaning.  There’s one elite group though, one group of boys who are trying to find a way out of the Glade.  The Runners.

The Glade is surrounded by a maze that changes every night.  Inside the Maze are Greivers, half-mechanical, half-biological monsters that kill any boy they catch.  All the Gladers are convinced that the way out is through the Maze, and the Runners are the group that run the maze every day, looking for a way out and mapping the changing walls.  As soon as Thomas sees the Maze, he knows that he has to become a Runner, to learn the Maze and find the way out.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be soon.  First Thomas has to prove himself to the other boys, and show that he can contribute something worthwhile to the group. His chance comes sooner than he thinks though, when a girl–the first girl ever in the Glades–arrives the very next day.  Unconscious and ill, she wakes up long enough to tell the boys that the End is here, then falls back into a coma.  Thomas feels a connection to the girl, and is determined to find out more.

Who is Thomas, and why is he in the Maze?  As Thomas fights to make friends and regain his memory, he learns more about his surroundings.  Taking all the information he has, Thomas resolves to solve the mystery of the Maze and escape, and bring the rest of the Gladers with him.

maze runner audioThe CD recording of The Maze Runner is very well done, and quite suspenseful!  I enjoyed the way Mark Deakins read the story, and his different voices for all the characters.  He makes everyone sound different with a variety of accents, tones and cadences.  The suspense and tension of the story was well-paced.  He reads the other books of the trilogy as well, and never loses track of his characters’ voices.

I loved The Maze Runner, as well as The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure.   As I said before, any information about the plots of the second and third book would give away the ending of The Maze Runner, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. But if you’re looking for an exciting, thought-provoking read about a boy who is determined to survive everything that’s thrown at him (and it’s quite a lot!) you’ll like this series.  Like The Hunger Games trilogy, The Maze Runner is another dystopian future world with quite a few problems.  The solution to the problems rests on the shoulders of teenagers.  It may not be fair or right, but it makes for a great story, full of danger, sacrifice and friendship.

The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure are in our Teen section, and are most appropriate for kids in upper middle school or high school.  There are some serious issues raised in the books, and they would be difficult for younger readers to see the whole picture.  The trilogy would be a great selection for a discussion group read for high school or families.  If this sounds like something that fits you, read or listen to all three books.  I think you’ll like them!

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Sebastian Darke, Prince of Fools
By Philip Caveney, Read by Maxwell Caulfield
8 hours, 25 minutes; 7 CDs

sebastian darkeSebastian Darke is a jester who isn’t funny.  It’s not that he doesn’t try…he tries too hard.  When you have to explain the joke, it’s no longer funny.  Still, Sebastian inherited the title from his father, and there’s nothing else he can do well.  Knowing he’s the sole support of his widowed mother, Septimus takes his father’s wagon and Max, the talking buffalope, on the road, hoping to find employment in the service of King Septimus of Keladon–one of the richest monarchs in the world.

At first it’s not so bad, traveling with Max.  Certainly, Max is a little full of his own importance and more than a bit judgmental about Sebastian’s talent (or lack thereof), but he makes for a comfortable traveling companion, if a slightly fearful one.  When the mysterious noises in the middle of the night turn out to be another traveler, Sebastian invites the man to join them.  Captain Cornelius Drummel may be the size of a toddler (and look a little like one too) but he’s a fierce fighter; a warrior looking for employment.  The new partnership proves to be a good one when Sebastian, Cornelius and Max come upon a girl and her guards, under attack by brigands.  All three prove their mettle and fighting skills, working together to rescue the girl.

The girl turns out to be Princess Kerin, the beloved niece of King Septimus.  With all her guards dead, she asks Sebastian and Cornelius to escort her back to her kingdom, which she will inherit from her uncle on her eighteenth birthday.  Hoping to gain employment, both men agree.  Max is a little less excited by the prospect.

It turns out that Max was right.  King Septimus turns out to be the one who ordered the attack on the princess, and soon Sebastian, Cornelius and Max are fighting for their very lives, as well as Kerin’s.  Can a fool, a manling and a buffalope bring down a king?  They’re certainly going to try!

sebastian darke audioSebastian Darke, Prince of Fools is a rollicking good adventure, and the sound recording is excellent!  Maxwell Caulfield, the reader, is a well-known actor.  (I remember him from Dynasty and Grease 2, which probably dates me.)  I loved the voices he did–you can hardly believe they’re all coming from the same man!  Max the buffalope sounds a bit like Sean Connery channeling Eyeore, while Cornelius sounds like Shrek combined with Cornelius the mountaineer from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  I could have listened for the voices alone, but it made me happy that the story was both fun and adventurous.

Sebastian Darke, Prince of Fools is in our Teen collection, but it could be enjoyed by upper elementary students and adults as well.  It would be a fun selection for a family car trip.  If you enjoyed The Princess Bride, you’ll like adventuring with Sebastian and his friends.

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Splendors and Glooms,
By Laura Amy Schlitz, Narrated by Davina Porter
12 hours; 10 CDs

splendors and gloomsGaspare Grisini is a master pupeteer.  Clara Wintermute is the only surviving daughter of a wealthy doctor and his ailing wife.  Lizzie Rose is a poor girl, the daughter of two dead actors who was taken in by Grisini.  Parsefall is a thief and a liar who hates Grisini while he does everything the man tells him to do.  Cassandra is a witch who once loved Grisini, but who now despises him.

These five very different people are brought together when Clara begs her father to let the puppeteer Grisini perform at her birthday party.  Grisini, seeing an opportunity to make himself quite wealthy by…liberating…a few Wintermute treasures, shows up for the performance with his two apprentices.  Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are overwhelmed by the richness of the Wintermute home and the kindness of Clara.  The show, however, does not go as planned.  When Clara’s mother is horrified by both the puppet show and her daughter’s reaction, Grisini, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are thrown out of the house.  It is only hours later that Clara Wintermute vanishes.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are stunned by the news, but Grisini reacts very differently.  When he threatens Lizzie Rose, Parsefall springs to her defense, and soon Grisini has also vanished.  Halfway across Europe, Cassandra has started a spell.  Does that have anything to do with Grisini’s disappearance?

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall soon find themselves wrapped in a web of lies, half-truths and spells.  As they try to help Clara and unravel the puzzle of Grisini and Cassandra, they find themselves in terrible danger.  Can anything end happily for these two children when nothing good has every happened to them?  If they stick together, maybe.

splendors and glooms audioSplendors and Glooms is a very intricate and beautifully written book.  The sound recording is also very well done, with Davina Porter doing a wonderful job of relating all the different characters.  The mystery only deepens as you listen (or read) and every time you think you might know what’s going on, something changes.  The voices of the characters are rich and divergent.

Splendors and Glooms was a 2013 Newbery Honor Book, as well as 2012 New York Times Editor’s Choice and several Best Books of 2012 awards.  The sound recording is in our Teen collection, but the book is in both the Juvenile and Teen collections.  It’s not an easy book, but could be enjoyed by a good fifth grade reader.  It’s probably most appropriate for middle school readers, and would make a great book discussion title.  Read it, and see what you think!

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Zoobreak,
By Gordon Korman, Narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross
5 hours, 25 minutes; 5 CDs

zoobreakGriffin Bing is the kid who plans.  When something goes wrong in Cedarville, all the kids know to go to Griffin, the man with a plan.  So when Savannah Drysdale’s pet monkey Cleopatra goes missing, of course Savannah goes to Griffin.

Griffin is beginning a plan for finding Cleo the next day at school, when their teacher announces a field trip.  The entire sixth grade visits a floating zoo which is traveling through their town.  When Savannah recognizes the zoo’s new monkey Eleanor as her own Cleopatra, she raises the roof.  Unfortunately, Mr. Nastase, the owner of the floating zoo swears that he’s had Eleanor for years…and he has the papers to prove it.  Neither Savannah nor Griffin can convince their teacher or any of the other grownups that Mr. Nastase is lying, even when they see the horrible conditions the animals are living in.

Savannah knows that her only hope of rescuing Cleo rests with Griffin.  But how can a bunch of kids rescue a monkey from a locked boat full of dangerous animals?  Griffin starts building his team, and soon they’re all together, plotting the demise of Mr. Nastase and the rescue of Cleo.  Will their plan work?  And what about the rest of the neglected animals on the floating zoo?  Don’t they deserve rescuing too?  Savannah sure thinks so…

zoobreak audioZoobreak is a fun caper-style mystery story, with a team of kids working their own particular skills to pull the rescue together.  At first, I didn’t really like the slow pace of the narration by Jonathan Todd Ross, but it ended up growing on me.  If you like a fun, fast adventure with heroic kids, you’ll like this book.  Zoobreak is the second book in the Swindle series, but you don’t have to read the first one to know what’s going on.  It might be fun though!  The other titles in the series are Swindle, Hideout, Framed and Showoff.  This is a much easier series than the other books in this post, and is a solid kids selection in our Juvenile section of the library.  I would recommend it to kids in grades three through five.    The sound recording is fun for all ages!

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And there you have it!  My entire car listening collection for the past two months!  I hope you’ll try one of these audio books, or come to the librarians for other suggestions.  Listening to audio books always makes both commutes and long car trips go by quickly!  Try one and find out.  And if you’re interested, search for our other audio reviews.

::Kelly::

Three Audio Reviews: Kids in Trouble

Time for three new audio reviews!  I haven’t been driving much, so this has taken a little longer than expected.  Although it wasn’t planned, these three books do have something in common: Kids in trouble, trying to find their way home…even though they’re already there.

So, here we go!

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The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
by Joan Aiken, read by Lizza Aiken
4 CDs, 4 hours, 49 minutes

wolves of willoughby chaseSylvia is leaving the only home she’s known with frail, elderly Aunt Jane. She’s off to live with her cousin Bonnie and Bonnie’s parents, Lord Willoughby and Lady Green at Willoughby Chase, an estate deep in the wilds of Britain.  It’s the middle of winter, and there are wolves on the prowl…and not only the furry kind.

When Bonnie’s parents leave for a year-long journey abroad to  improve Lady Green’s health, Sylvia and Bonnie are left in the care of a distant cousin.  Miss Slighcarp was recommended to Lord Willoughby, but neither girl likes her. She soon proves she’s not to be trusted, as Sylvia and Bonnie are locked in the attics, the servants are dismissed, and all Bonnie’s toys and books and belongings are sold.  Miss Slighcarp tells the girls that Bonnie’s parents have been lost at sea, and they soon end up in a workhouse run by the evil Mrs. Brisket.  Bonnie is determined to get Sylvia out of there and back to Willoughby Chase.

wolves of willoughby chase 2Will Miss Slighcarp succeed in her evil activities, or will Bonnie and Sylvia manage to escape and stop her?  And if they do escape, will they even have a home to return to?

We featured The Wolves of Willoughby Chase earlier as one of our Old Favorites.  It’s a very exciting story, full of adventures and daring escapes.  It is considered a modern classic by most children’s literature sources. Lizza Aiken, the reader, is Joan Aiken’s daughter. Her reading is well done; her cadence and accent vary for most characters.

wolves of willoughby chase audioThe audio recording of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase starts with a wonderful foreword, where Lizza shares details about her own childhood and memories of her mother writing the book.  I feel these details help create an immediate connection between the listener and the reader.  The little tidbits about the background of the book are interesting and memorable.  My only reservation is that I’m not sure that a new reader appreciates the foreward as much as someone who has already read the book and is listening to it as a “re-reading”.  Some of the information depends on knowledge of the story.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a fairly short book; only 150 pages.  Because it’s sort of an “alternate history” book of Britain though, it might confuse younger readers…and even adults not familiar with British history. It is chock-full of adventure and emotions though, and would be enjoyed by listeners as young as third grade, and probably up to middle school.  It’s an excellent choice for a family car trip!

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What Came From the Stars
By Gary D. Schmidt, Narrated by Graham Winton
6 CDs, 6.5 hours

what came from the starsThe Valorim are under attack, and their way of life is at an end.  Young Waeglim, of The Ethelim, manages to pull all the strength of the Valorim  into one small package, which he casts out into the galaxy.  Traveling at the speed of thought, the Art of the Valorim makes it through multiple universes until it comes to a small, single-sun planet on the remote edges of a tiny galaxy…

Tommy Pepper lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  His family lives in a ramshackle old house on the seashore.  Every morning, Tommy, his dad and his little sister Patty greet the morning out on the beach, watching the sun come up.   After that, Tommy and Patty walk or take the bus to school. Both of them prefer walking; then they don’t have to deal with Cheryl Lynn Lumpkin and her bullying about how her mother’s new development is going to take over the stretch of beach in front of their house.

The morning of Tommy’s twelfth birthday starts out with nothing going right. Tommy’s father makes him take the lunchbox his grandmother sent him to school–the lunchbox for a show Tommy hasn’t watched since he was eight.  Afraid that the other kids will laugh at him, Tommy hides the lunchbox under the picnic table.  Tommy doesn’t notice when a mysterious glowing green chain falls from the sky and lands in his lunchbox.  He just thinks it’s part of the birthday present from his grandmother, and puts it on.

Suddenly, Tommy is using words his classmates have never heard before. The town of Plymouth is under attack from something that breaks into houses when no one is home and leaves them strewn with stinky seaweed. Tommy can draw things that move, hear music that no one else can hear, and his head is full of information about life on a double-sun world. Plymouth Police are at the Peppers’ door and Tommy spends more time in the principal’s office than he ever has before.

Does all this have something to do with the glowing necklace Tommy is now wearing?  Tommy and his friends are going to try to figure it out. But when Tommy draws a figure in the sand, it comes to life, and suddenly Tommy isn’t only dealing with his odd new memories and abilities, but an O’Mandim, the enemy of the Valorim, come to life on Earth.

what came from the stars audioThe audio recording of What Came From the Stars is excellent–I love the narrator’s voice.  His take on Tommy, his family and his friends (and enemies) are all slightly varied.  He does a wonderful job with integrating the foreign words Tommy starts using, making them sound completely commonplace.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the Valorim as well, their planet and their way of life.  In the book, the chapters based on the Valorim are in italics.  I did find it a little more confusing to hear the names rather than read them.  There are a lot of vowels and “th” sounds in the names of the O’Mondim, Valorim and Ethelim, and I had a hard time distinguishing who belonged to which group.  But that’s probably just me.

What Came From the Stars is probably best for fifth through eighth grade readers. It would make a wonderful audio book for a family car trip.  The book balances well between science fiction and a realistic school story.  Tommy Pepper has some problems, and his friends rally around him to help him deal with them.  Yes, he is dealing with inter-galactic technology and aliens, but at heart, this is a story about love and life and loss.

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Liar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead, Read by Jesse Bernstein
4 CDs, 4 hours, 41 minutes

liar & spyGeorges (the s is silent) is not happy to be leaving the house he grew up in, but his father has lost his job and is still looking for a new one.  In order to save money, they had to sell the house and move into a small apartment.  They’re in an entirely different neighborhood, but still close enough so that Georges can go to the same school.  Not that that’s a huge benefit, since Georges best friend dumped him the year before to sit with the cool crowd, and Georges hasn’t really made too many other friends.  Georges tends to end up at the table with the other outcasts, like Bob English Who Draws.

Living in a apartment building is very different from living in a house. There are people coming and going on the time, and your neighbors are a lot closer.  When Georges and his father go down into the basement to look over their new shared laundry room and garbage cans, Georges’ dad sees a sign for an upcoming Spy Club meeting.  Georges’ dad writes “what time?” on the announcement.  When the reply is penciled in the next day, Georges decides to go.  (Or maybe his father pushed him into it.)  At any rate, Georges meets Safer and his little sister Candy.

The Spy Club turns out to be an excuse for Safer to get Georges to be his second in command and spy on Mr. X, another tenant in the building. Safer is convinced that Mr. X is up to no good, and has something to hide.  Georges goes along with it, learning techniques of observation and spying skills. He also starts to spend some time with Safer’s eccentric family when his father is away or visiting his mother at work.

At school, Georges is spending more time with Bob English Who Draws, and finds that maybe being picked on by the popular kids isn’t something he has to just take.  As time goes by, Georges finds that living in an apartment is still something to get used to though, even though he and his father are taking it one day at a time.

liar and spy audioThe audio for Liar & Spy is excellent.  I really enjoyed listening to the recording.  This is a book where things unfold very slowly, and although the clues are there, it’s not until later that you see them. The narrator’s voice fits the story well.

I did have one problem though…although I wanted to, I really didn’t like Safer.  Because I listened to the book rather than read it, I don’t know if it was the character’s actions or the voice the narrator chose to use for him. Since I had a pretty quick reaction to the voice though, I think it was that.  I’m not sure if my take on the book might have been different if I had read it rather than listened.

Liar & Spy is an interesting book about a boy who is trying to figure out what friendship really means. He’s also dealing with quite a few changes in his life, and some issues that he doesn’t even want to acknowledge.  It’s probably best for readers in fifth through eighth grades, but a mature fourth grade reader would probably enjoy it too.

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So, there you have it.  Three VERY long reviews of three very different books.  I think I’m going to go for humor next time!

::Kelly::

 

Three Excellent Teen Audios for Review

Are you looking for something new to listen to (or read?)  Here are three excellent suggestions of good books–one fantasy/science fiction, one fantasy/horror, one fantastic crime caper.  In fact, I’ve been driving longer lately, just so I can finish a chapter or a disc!  What are these great titles?  SO glad you asked…

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Incarceron
By Catherine Fisher, Read by Kim Mai Guest
10 CDs, 11 hours, 37 minutes

IncarceronFinn lives in a prison.  It’s all he can remember.  Incarceron is a sentient prison; it is aware of all the prisoners within it, and it arranges their lives; it has been doing it for generations.  No prisoners have entered or left Incarceron in all that time.  But Finn wasn’t born in the prison–he doesn’t think so, anyway–but when he woke up there, about four years earlier, he was just a terrified boy with no memory of his past.  In order to survive, Finn has learned to function with the holes in his knowledge; he’s even joined a gang and sworn allegiance to his oath-brother, Keiro.  Together, Finn and Keiro have managed to rise to positions of power with one of the warlords of Incarceron.

Claudia is the Wardenincarceron_book_cover of Incarceron’s daughter.  She lives in a beautiful castle, with servants at her beck and call.  She is engaged to Caspar, Earl of Steen, Heir of the Realm. Claudia doesn’t like Caspar much. She actually liked his brother, Prince Giles, who she had been set to marry before he was killed years earlier.  Now, Claudia spends much of her time maintaining her father’s household, or with her tutor, the Sapienti Jared, trying to figure out what plots her father and the Queen are involved in.

Both Finn and Claudia long to escape their worlds, Finn to get Outside of the prison, Claudia, to throw off the rules and protocols that limit her existence.  Neither of them is aware of the other.  But then Finn retrieves a stolen artifact from a prisoner, and Claudia finds a hidden treasure while searching her father’s office…and they find each other through the devices.  Now Finn and Claudia are communicating, and they may be able to help each other achieve their individual goals.

But Incarceron is awake and aware, and it has been keeping prisoners captive for hundreds of years.  No one has ever escaped, and Incarceron is not going to let Finn be the first.  And Outside, the Warden and the Queen are not without their own resources.  How far will Finn and Claudia manage to go before someone stops them?

incarceron cdI loved Incarceron the book, and I loved Incarceron the spoken recording.  Kim Mai Guest has a very unique way of separating the narration from the characters.  When she’s reading the descriptive passages, she uses an American accent. All of the character’s voices, however, have distinct English accents.  It’s a wonderful way to clarify the story in an obvious way.  All of the character voices are distinctive; it sounds as if the listener is hearing the action unfold as it’s happening.

There is a sequel to Incarceron, called Sapphique.  I believe it is only a two-book set, since Ms. Fisher has just written the first book of a new projected trilogy (The Obsidian Mirror) that comes out in April.

Incarceron is in our Teen Section.  I would recommend it to dystopian fans, readers of steampunk, and science fiction/fantasy fans.  It’s probably best for 8th – 10th grades, but a good 5th grade reader who enjoys those genres would probably be able to read the book with no problems.  I know quite a few adults who have enjoyed it too!

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The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater, Read by Will Patton
10 CDs, 11 hours, 9 minutes

raven boysBlue Sargent spends the night of April 24th, St. Mark’s Day at the local cemetery.  Every year on that day, she helps her clairvoyant mother speak with the spirits so she can discover who will die over the course of the year.  Blue’s mother is a psychic, and every member of Blue’s family has a psychic power…everyone but Blue herself.  Blue does have a talent though–she amplifies the psychic ability of the people around her.  So on St. Mark’s Day, the year she is sixteen, Blue is surprised to see a spirit herself for the very first time.

She’s even more surprised when she sees the “spirit” in person a few days later.  He’s a boy named Gansey.  Blue investigates and discovers that he’s one of the rich students at Aglionby, the local private school.  The boys are mostly from wealthy backgrounds, and used to getting their way. The locals call them The Raven Boys, after the school mascot.  Blue meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan and Noah at her waitressing job.  She and Gansey immediately rub each other the wrong way.

Gansey might not be a spirit…yet…but the fact that Blue saw him in the churchyard on Saint Mark’s Day means that he will die before the year is out.  Blue doesn’t want to get involved with any of the Raven Boys, but suddenly they seem to be everywhere she turns.  Gansey, who makes her angry every time he acts; Adam, the local poor boy at the school on a scholarship; Ronan, who can’t control himself or his life; and Noah, the quiet one who seems to notice everything.  Blue doesn’t know that the boys are working on their own project–Gansey has been working for years, trying to find a ley line.  If he can find the one that seems to run through the Virginia landscape, he might be able to waken the sleeping Welsh king, Glendower, who he believes is hidden in the nearby hills.

Try as she might, Blue cannot seem to stay away from Gansey and Adam and the other boys. Eventually, she begins to help them, starting a friendship that might turn into something more.  But  Blue and the boys are not the only ones searching for Gwendower, someone else is too.  And he has a much more sinister reason, and will stop at nothing to satisfy his needs.

raven boys cdI really loved The Raven Boys.  The story is excellent.  I had a bit of a problem with the narrator; his voice grated on me so much that at first I didn’t think I’d even make it through the first CD.  He has a soft-spoken southern accent, and he speaks in almost a whisper throughout the first chapter, trying, I suppose, to sound feminine.  It gets a little better when he starts the second chapter which is louder and less accented, from Gansey’s point of view.  By the third chapter I didn’t even notice, I was so absorbed in the story.  I do wish that the narrator was more personable in his voices, but the story is compelling enough that it overwhelms the dislike I felt.

The Raven Boys is also in our Teen section of the library.  It’s sort of a modern fantasy, with elements of both horror and history.  The story is probably best for readers in 8th grade and up.  I do know a lot of adults who have read and enjoyed the book…I think it’s one of those crossover novels that can be enjoyed by readers well beyond their teen years.  (Shannon, Karen, Casey and I all read and enjoyed it, and my sister, who has nothing to do with teens or books, loved it!)  The Raven Boys is the first title of a projected four book quartet, so there’s plenty more to come!

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Heist Society
By Ally Carter, Performed by Angela Dawe
5 CDs, 6 hours, 10 minutes

heist society 1Kat Bishop has never had an ordinary life.  Boarding school is about the most normal it’s ever been.  But her new life at the Colgan School is cut short when Kat gets blamed for putting the Headmaster’s car on top of a fountain.  It’s not that she couldn’t do it, but this time, she’s actually not guilty!  It doesn’t matter though; Kat can’t convince the school council and she leaves the school.

Her friend billionaire W. W. Hale the Fifth is on hand to pick her up in his limo. It turns out that Hale, her friend and sometime partner-in-crime, is the real culprit behind the car incident.  The plan had been to cut off all contact with her former life at boarding school, but Hale is sure that Kat needs to be back with her friends and family.  Hale tells her that Kat’s father is the main suspect in the theft of five paintings from a powerful mobster named Arturo Taccone.  Not suspected by the police or Interpol, but Taccone is certain that he’s the only one with the knowledge and skills to pull off the theft.

Kat’s childhood included casing the Louvre and stealing the crown jewels of Austria.  her family is well-known in the world of art thieves, con artists and high society crime.  It’s not impossible to believe that her father took the paintings.  But when she flies to Paris to meet with him, he tells her that he is innocent–he was pulling another job that night; stealing a statue from an art gallery. Kat believes him.  So when Arturo Taccone has her picked up by his goons, and tells her that she has two weeks to return his paintings or there will be consequences, she’s aware that she’s in serious trouble.  Taccone is a scary man, and Kat is knows that her father’s life is on the line.  The only solution?  Find the art and steal it back!

With Hale’s help, she gets in contact with her cousins and friends and starts assembling a crew of teenage thieves, hackers and con men.  Is two weeks enough time for Kat to organize her crew into a cohesive unit?  Can they pull off a job that seems impossible to even Uncle Eddie, the most experienced master thief in the family?  And why does the name Visily Romani, an alias from one of the worlds greatest heist families, keep coming up?  If they can pull it off, Kat and her crew will save her father’s life and prove themselves the best thieves in the world.

heist society cdsHeist Society was a fun read.  It’s a teen version of Ocean’s Eleven, with a touch of the TV shows White Collar, Nikita and Leverage thrown in for good measure.  The narrator of the audio recording was good–her voices for the various characters were on the mark.  She did a range of different accents for characters who came from all around the world, and it was very convincing and fun to listen to.  My only problem was that I had to keep adjusting the volume.  When characters whispered, the sound became almost inaudible.  Just turn up the volume, and you should be good to go!

Our copy of Heist Society is in the teen collection. All the characters are between fifteen and seventeen, but the book itself would be accessible to both middle and high school readers.  It’s a fun “caper” book.  There are two sequels, Uncommon Criminals and Perfect Scoundrels, and I just saw a short story online that crosses over with Ally Carter’s other series, The Gallagher Girls.  (In the stort story millionaire Hale meets spy Macey during a society party that turns into a hostage situation.  And if that doesn’t sound like a great crossover, what would?)  Heist Society has been optioned for a film by Drew Barrymore.  It sounds like she’s planning on aging the characters up by a few years, but I still think it would be fun to watch!

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So if you’re looking for a good book to listen to during your next car trip or vacation, these three books from our YA collection would be great choices to listen to, and also good series to read.  So pick them up in either format and see what you think!

::Kelly::

Audio Reviews: Three (and a fifth) titles

These audio books have been waiting in my review pile for far too long!  So here are a few new audio books for your listening pleasure.  Try one of these titles (or any of our previous reviews) on your next road trip!

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Fake Mustache: Or How Jodie O’Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind
by Tom Angleberger, Narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross and Jessica Almasy
3 CDs, 3.25 Hours

fake mustacheLenny Flem Jr. is a nerd.  He freely admits it.  His friend Casper Bengue is more of a con-man, so it’s hardly surprising that when Lenny finds himself in a heap of trouble, Casper is at the root of it.

Both boys live in Hairsprinkle, a rather strange little town where nothing every changes.  They still have trolleys running down the middle of main street, the Hairsprinkle Hot Dog Stand, Sven’s Fair Price Emporium, Chauncey’s Big & Tall, Short & Small store, and there’s even the Heidelberg Novelty Company on the outskirts of town.

fake mustache 2When Casper borrows the last ten dollars he needs from Lenny to pay for a fake mustache at Sven’s–not a cheap one either, but the Heidleberg Handlebar Number Seven–Lenny isn’t really surprised.  Weirded out a bit, maybe, but not surprised. He’d spent the entire afternoon following Casper as he made a variety of odd purchases, including a pin-striped suit and the mustache.  But everything becomes clear to Lenny the next day, when he hears that the local bank has been robbed.  He knows it has to be Casper.   After all, what other criminal mastermind could pull off a heist with a gang of strolling accordion players, led by a short, well dressed man-about-town sporting a spectacular handlebar mustache?

Of course, no one believes Lenny, and soon he finds himself trying to stop his best friend from his crime spree.  Things only get worse though, when Casper has the financial backing to run for United States President. Lenny has to call in the big guns: Jodie O’Rodeo, former child star, now teen cowgirl queen, and her trained horse.

Will Lenny and Jodie succeed?  Or will Casper win?  It’s a battle of wits as these friends face off over a fake mustache and the fate of the U.S. population!

fake mustache audioFake Mustache is such a goofy story; all  preposterous situations and ridiculous coincidences and silly clues. That’s what makes it fun though!  The two readers split Lenny and Jodie O’Rodeo’s telling of the story, and they do a wonderful job.

The main characters in this story are all twelve years old and in middle school.  Tom Angleberger is also the author of the popular Origami Yoda series, and like those books, Fake Mustache will be popular with the fourth through eighth grade crowd.  Make sure you check out the book, even if you’re planning to listen to the CDs…the illustrations are great and add an extra level of absurdness to the story.  And you’ll definitely want to check out the mustache types on the end pages!

If you want a serious story, give Fake Mustache a pass. But if you want an absurd, over-the-top extravaganza of wackiness, go for it.  You’ll be laughing as you try to figure out what Casper is going to do next, and how Lenny’s predicament can possibly get any worse!

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A Confusion of Princes
By Garth Nix, Read by Michael Goldstrom
8 CDs, 9 Hours, 44 minutes

confusion of princesPrince Khemri is a Prince of the Empire.  While most citizens of the Empire go about their boring lives, living out their short life-spans, Princes are taken from their parents at a very young age and placed in a temple. For the next ten years, their minds and bodies are augmented by three forces: Mektek, Bitek and Psitek.  This makes Princes stronger, faster, smarter and luckier than normal humans.  The only drawback is that once a Prince reaches maturity, he is subject to the rules that govern all other Princes–there is only one Emperor.  And the surest way to ensure your endurance is to kill, dishonor or destroy the competition.  Fortunately, when a Prince dies, his life is assessed, and if the Imperial Mind finds him or her worthy, he or she is reborn.

confusion of princes 2When Prince Khemri reaches his majority, he has to leave his temple and make his way to a protected learning place.  At one of the Academies, he will be safe from being challenged to duels and protected from major, obvious, conspiracies.  But of course, one thing about Princes is that they always believe they’re right, so being in a protected place doesn’t actually mean that Khemri is safe.  No, it just means that the rules are harder to figure out, and that the game is even more deadly.

Khemri is finally chosen for a special assignment, and is sent out on a secret mission.  In the midst of his trial period, after a deadly space battle, he finds himself rescuing a lieutenant named Raine on a disabled and drifting spaceship.  Is this another test, or is it real?  When Raine and her world challenge everything Prince Khemri has ever known about the Empire, the Imperial Mind, the Emperor and himself, will he find a way to reconcile all these different sources of information?  Or will he return to what he knows?

confusion of princes audioAlthough I love reading science fiction, I sometimes find it difficult to listen to.  I was a little afraid that I would have that problem with this audio recording, but was quite pleased that while it sounded futuristic, it was also exciting and current.  Michael Goldstrom, the narrator, is enjoyable.   His voice sounded both young and confident, befitting a prince. There was some infrequent but useful sound effects for Khemri’s internal psitek evaluations when he spoke with the Imperial Mind.

A Confusion of Princes is in our Teen section. Because of violence and some romantic situations, is more appropriate for upper middle school and high school readers and listeners.  Garth Nix has had quite a few series (The Seventh Tower, The Keys to the Kingdom, and the Abhorsen Trilogy) and this one should be just as popular.  Science fiction readers and listeners–teens and adult– could enjoy this together.

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The Willoughbys: A Novel
Nefariously written by Lois Lowry, Narrated by Arte Johnson
3 CDs, 2 Hours and 55 Minutes

willoughbys2The old-fashioned Willoughby children live in a small, old-fashioned house with their old-fashioned parents.  Timothy is the eldest, is twelve.  Barnaby A and Barnaby B, the twins, are two years younger.  Jane is the youngest at six and a half.  All four children are convinced that, like Anne of Green Gables and James of the Giant Peach, they should be orphans.  After all, in old-fashioned books, all the best worthy and winsome children are orphans.  And it’s not like their parents really like them or anything, they couldn’t even manage to think of two names for the twins!  The clincher to the orphan thing is when they find a beastly baby abandoned on their doorstep. Of course, they don’t want to keep it, so they pass it on to the rich old gentleman down the road.

willoughbys 3But when their parents depart on a sea voyage with the Reprehensible Travel Agency, they hire Nanny to watch after the children.  The letters home prove that the Willoughby parents are remarkably resistant to the dangers of floods, volcanoes and tornadoes.  However, they’re also resistant to their worthy and winsome offspring.  They put their house on the market with no intention of ever returning.

Timothy, A and B, Jane and Nanny are not very happy with this situation. They Must Do Something!  And with the help of sweets tycoon and bereaved benefactor Colonel Melanoff and his adopted ward, Baby Ruth, they may rise above their situation and prevail!

willoughbys audioThe Willoughbys is a parody of all the “great” children’s classics. It really helps to know the rags to riches, poor orphaned premise of stories like Pollyanna, The Secret Garden, Mary Poppins and Heidi to know what the Willoughbys are going through!  Every element of Old-Fashionedness is here, from villains and wealthy benefactors to long-lost heirs and abandoned babies. The Willoughbys pays playful homage to classic works of children’s literature with all the wit of current writers like Lemony Snickett.

Arte Johnson is the perfect narrator; droll, dry and understated.  He sounds like he’s surprised with every twist and turn of the plot, but he’s as matter-of-fact about these developments as the children are.

The Willoughbys is for all ages; anyone who appreciates parody and children’s literature will enjoy both the book and the audio.  It’s a fast read, and a fun listen.  There is a great glossary of old-fashioned terms in the back of the book, as well as a bibliography of classic children’s literature mentioned during the story.  This would be a fun book for a family car trip with kids in third grade through middle school.

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…and the “fifth” of a book:

Seraphina
By Rachel Hartman, read by Mandy Williams with Justine Eyre
11 CDs, 13 hours, 15 minutes

seraphinaSeraphina lives in a world where humans and dragons co-exist, although there are still problems between the two groups. These issues are part of Seraphina’s secret: although her father is human, her mother, who died when she was born, was a dragon.  If anyone knew, she would be put to death immediately.

Seraphina’s father has told her not to reveal her secret to anyone, and to make herself as inconspicuous and invisible as possible.  But Seraphina keeps finding herself in situations that bring her to the attention of powerful people–human and dragon.  Can she keep her secret and discover her heritage?

Why is this “a fifth”?  Although I LOVED the narrator’s voice in the audio recording of Seraphina, my daily commute is about ten minutes. And I couldn’t keep track of who people were (lots of fantasy names with different-sounding vowels) and what they were doing (which was pretty detailed and convoluted) in such short, choppy segments.  I’m sure this is a wonderful audio, but it needs to be savored in long stretches of time.  So although I only listened to the first two CDs, the book is in my list of Books To Read, because I think it’s sure to be a wonderful story.  For me, it just needs more time and visual contemplation.

Because of the situation and concepts of Seraphina’s existance, Seraphina is definitely a teen book. I would highly recommend it to fantasy and dragon fans who have the time to pour over it.

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And there you have it!  Three (okay, almost four) audio books to listen to on your next trip.  And let our staff know what you think!

::Kelly::

Two Audio Reviews: Friendship

Still catching up!  Here’s two new audio reviews.  And they were GREAT!  I’d recommend both of these stories to any reader.  Although you wouldn’t think of it by reading the two descriptions, these books have much in common.  The Night of the Howling Dogs is a story about survival and friendship, where Wonder is a story about friendship and survival.  But read on, and see what you think.

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The Night of the Howling Dogs
by Graham Salisbury, Narrated by Robert Ramirez
5 CDs, 5 Hours

Dylan Scout Troop is going camping!  And it’s not just camping, the middle school troop is taking all their gear and hiking to Halape, a deserted stretch of beach on the southern flank of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The beach can only be reached by an eight-mile hike over lava flows and rough ground from the Hilina Pali trailhead.  Dylan’s best friend Casey will be there, along with his father, troop leader Mr. Bellows, a former Marine and current police detective.  Also on board are nine other scouts and one other leader along for the four-day trip.

It would be perfect, except for one thing.  Louie Domingo.  Ever since he joined the troop, Louie has been making things difficult for Dylan.  Dylan is convinced that it’s because of a confrontation between them a couple years ago, when he was a fifth grader and they didn’t even know each other.  But whatever it is, Louie seems to hate Dylan’s guts and doesn’t mind showing it.  Dylan and Casey have no idea why Mr. Bellows even let Louie into the troop or why he keeps telling the boys to give him a chance.

The hike into Halape is tough, especially since it’s over 90 degrees outside. But the boys eventually reach the beach, where they split up to find spots to camp.  The younger scouts go off with the troop leaders for the day, leaving Casey and Dylan to deal with Louis and his attitude.

Dylan doesn’t know that Louie is the least of his worries.  Before the weekend is over, Dylan, Casey, Louie and the rest of the scouts will be dealing with bigger problems.  Disaster-type problems.  Because the dogs howling on the beach are warning of big changes on Halape.  Earth-shattering changes. Ocean-moving changes.   And Dylan and Louie may never be the same.

The narration of The Night of the Howling Dog audio book is excellent.  I love the voices of the various characters, from the Hawai’ian dialect of the paniolos who join the scouts on the beach to the hispanic accents of other characters to the various voices of the other characters.  It’s easy to distinguish who is talking.

I also love the descriptions of Hawai’i.  Sometimes, when I’m reading,  descriptive passages of places don’t register as much; but when you’re listening to a book read aloud, this sense of place is much more real.  The heat, the smells, the beauty of the island come through clearly.  So does the danger the boys find themselves in.

The Night of the Howling Dogs is based on a true story of a group of scouts who found themselves facing nature’s fury in 1975.  One of those real scouts was Graham Salisbury’s cousin Tim.  Dylan’s story is all about survival, courage and friendship.  It’s  a great read for kids in fourth through eighth grade. It’s a wonderful audio book for a family car trip, for Boy Scouts, or for anyone who’s about to visit Hawai’i.

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Wonder
By R.J. Palacio, Performed by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd
7 CDs, 8 hours, 12 minutes

Auggie has never been to school.  When he was a preschooler, it was because he was in the hospital too much. Later, it was because his medical needs made it easier to be home schooled.  But now, he’s ten, and with over a dozen surgeries behind him, he’s ready to move on.  Auggie is about to go into fifth grade.

Auggie thinks he’s a pretty ordinary kid…inside at least.  But outside?  He knows his appearance is anything but ordinary.  He was born with several rare conditions that interacted and caused his face to be…different.  As Auggie says “I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

But August isn’t a boy who is pitied. He’s a boy with incredible strength of character.  And this story isn’t just about his first year of middle school.  It’s a story about expectations, about bullies, about friendship, about school assignments and about how someone who’s never been to school figures out how things work.  How cliques work. How honesty is important. And how being yourself is the best thing you can be.

He may look different, but August is determined to be an ordinary student with an ordinary life.

Auggie’s story is told in both his own words and in chapters from his family and friends.  The audio book has three different narrators, but there are several different perspectives.  It was a little hard to get used to Auggie’s voice at first…the book describes him as having a “funny, raspy voice”, but the narrator sounded (to me at least) like a woman trying to sound like a kid.   Auggie’s friend Jack spoke with a strong Brooklyn accent that seemed kind of cartoonish; an unnecessary reminder that the book takes place in New York City.  But the story is so compelling that I forgot my initial reaction and just wanted to hear Auggie.

The chapters are short, and each character tells about their interactions with Auggie, and how he has woven his life into theirs.  When I was listening, I found myself cheering for Auggie and his friends.  There were a couple points in the narration where I had to turn off the CD player because I was on the verge of tears.  (Not safe when driving!)  Other times, I was laughing out loud at some of the antics in the Beecher Prep classrooms.  And I loved Auggie’s family, flaws and all.

Wonder is a book that I think every child should read.  It has the potential to open up some great discussions between parents and kids, teachers, and classrooms.  It’s probably a fifth through seventh grade reading level, but it’s a good book to share with everyone from third grade through high school…and even adults.

Auggie’s appearance may be different, but in his heart, he’s just an ordinary kid.  His story, though, is extraordinary.  Wonder came out this year, and I think it’s a serious contender for for the 2013 Newbery Award.  I really hope it wins.  Auggie and R. J. Palacio deserve it.

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Both these books are stories are highly recommended to read and to listen to.  If you have any other great suggestions for audio books to review, please let me know!

::Kelly::

 

Two Audio Reviews–Fantastic Adventures!

I don’t know how it happened, but I have a back-up of audio books to review!  So…on with the first reviews!

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The Beyonders: A World Without Heroes
by Brandon Mull, Narrated by Jeremy Bobb
12 CDs, 14 Hours

The prologue starts in a dungeon with a tense confrontation between a prince and an emperor.  The prince loses. Or does he?

Skip to a completely different world.  Jason Walker is your normal, average, everyday Colorado thirteen-year-old.  He’s athletic, has several good friends, pretty good grades in school and a volunteer job at the zoo.  It’s that job that drops him into danger…but probably not in the way anyone would be expecting.

One afternoon, cleaning around the hippo tank, Jason hears mysterious music.  Because he’s curious, he follows the music to the source…the hippo tank.  Or is it the hippo?  Trying to find out where, exactly, the music is coming from, Jason falls into the tank and into the hippo. The hippo’s mouth, to be exact.  After a brief bout of disorientation, he finds himself coming out from the top of a tree in the middle of a dark forest.  He doesn’t know where he is, but it’s certainly not Colorado!

Not sure what to do, Jason hears the same mysterious music and once again follows it until he finds a river. On the river is a raft full of people playing instruments, on the banks of the river are people watching them.  Jason starts asking questions, and learns that the musicians are about to make a statement against their evil ruler, The Emperor Wizard Maldor, by falling to their deaths over the waterfall just downriver.  Horrified by the inaction of the watchers and needing to stop the musicians from killing themselves, Jason tries to save them. He saves one of the musicians, but makes an enemy of the guards. The crowd has also turned against him.

This is just too crazy!  Jason thinks he must be still in Colorado, unconscious from a head wound or something and hallucinating, but sees no reason to hang around for the crowd to find him.  He runs through the forest and starts following a path.  Eventually, he comes across an imposing building, where he seeks refuge for the night.

The building turns out to be The Repository of Learning. The Loremaster who resides there tells Jason about Lyrian, the land where he is.  Jason learns that Lyrian is ruled by the cruel emperor Maldor, who cares nothing about his people.  People live in fear, and anyone who speaks or acts against the emperor vanishes, never to be seen again.  Over the course of the night, Jason discovers that seems to fill a prophecy about a Seeker of Knowledge.  Before he knows it, he’s on a quest to find the syllables of a unique word that will defeat Maldor and bring peace and prosperity to Lyrian.

He can’t do it alone though, and along the way, Jason finds himself allied with Rachel, a girl from Washington who has also fallen through our world and into Lyrian, Ferrin, a man who cannot die, and several other people who he helps along the way.  Will Jason and Rachel find the word?  Will it defeat Maldor?  And what happens if they find a way home first?

Lyrian is a world where almost everyone has been quashed. No one is able to stand up for anyone else, they’re all just trying to survive.  Jason and Rachel, two ordinary kids with ideals and a strong sense of right and wrong end up in a world that is not like anything they know.  Their quest starts out as a straightforward search for a word, and ends up with them in a position to be the heroes that Lyrian needs.  Of course, The Beyonders: A World Without Heroes is only the first book of a trilogy, so you know that there’s more to come.

Jeremy Bobb, the narrator of this audio book has a great voice for the tale.  His voices for the characters are separate and varied.  The pace of his reading is great; his pacing for the action sequences makes the action both easy to understand and suspenseful.  He does a wonderful job keeping the listeners’ interest.

The Beyonders: A World Without Heroes would be a great book for a family car trip. There are some violent parts, so it’s not for very young children or for sensitive listeners. A good fourth grade fantasy fan could read it, but it’s more appropriate for  kids in fifth through eighth grade.  Listeners could be a little younger, although parents might be explaining things to them. The book on CD is long, so you may want to save it for a long ride!

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The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp
by Rick Yancey, Read by Paul Michael
6 CDs, 7 Hours

Alfred Kropp is an orphan. He never knew his father, and his mother died when he was thirteen.  He now lives with his Uncle Farrell, a security guard, in Nashville.  Alfred is big for his age, a little slow, and maybe a bit of a coward.  He’s afraid of fights, confrontations and blood.  When his uncle tells him he has a way to get rich quickly, Alfred is skeptical.

Uncle Farrell has worked for Mr. Samson, a rich businessman for over twenty years. But when Mr. Myers, one of the man’s rivals offers him a million dollars to steal something from Samson’s safe, Uncle Farrell thinks it’s easy money.  The only problem is, his plan requires two people. Alfred objects.  Even though Mr. Myers told them he only wanted to take back something Mr. Samson stole from him, how do they know that Myers is telling the truth?  Besides, something about Mr. Myers gives him the creeps. But Uncle Ferrell doesn’t listen to Alfred’s objections. He threatens to turn him over to foster care if Alfred doesn’t help. Totally against his will and principles, Alfred steals the object–an incredible sword.

Is it Excalibur?  Alfred finds himself fighting mysterious monks with the sword, and defeating them. And he doesn’t know anything about fighting or swords! With the sword now in his possession, Alfred returns home with Uncle Ferrell.  When they get there Myers is waiting. Uncle Ferrell tries to hold out for more money, and Myers kills him.

Alfred is now alone.  Mr. Samson comes to talk to him, but although he seems kind, and tries to help, he has his own problems.  Soon Alfred is on the run with Excalibur, allied with a wounded knight, driving a Ferrari, with punks on motorcycles and a mysterious organization chasing him.  Will he find out the truth about the sword and return it to its rightful owner?

I wasn’t too sure about the narrator when the book started. Alfred and Uncle Farrell sounded too much alike.  But as soon as other characters started popping up, I was enthralled.  From Irish businessmen to American spies to not-quite-French mercenaries, everyone sounded different.  I loved the narration.  And the pacing was great.

Alfred is a reluctant hero. He grows as he faces things he never thought he could handle, and comes out the other side a stronger person.  Since there are two other books about Alfred’s adventures, you know that he’ll have a lot of dangers to face before he reaches his final adventure.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp is a great adventure story for fantasy and spy fans, but it is violent. And that violence is described in detail in the narration. For that reason, I’d recommend it to kids in sixth grade and up.  Although younger kids could read it, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp is in our teen section.  It has been optioned as a movie, so it may pop up on the silver screen at some future point in time!

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And…that’s it for tonight!  More tomorrow…I hope.  :)

::Kelly::