Three Fantasy Audio Books Reviewed

Time for a few more audio reviews!  For some reason this month, they’re all fantasy-adventure stories.  I guess I have a type.

* * *

Earwig and the Witch
by Diana Wynne Jones, Narrated by Charlotte Parry
1 CD, 1 Hour

Earwig was left on the steps of St Morwald’s Home for Children as a baby with a note pinned to her shawl:
Got the other twelve witches all chasing me.
I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off.
It may take years.
Her name is Earwig.

Of course, Matron didn’t believe that anyone would name a child Earwig, so she called her Erica Wigg. That never stuck though, and Earwig became…Earwig.

One of the interesting things about living in an orphanage is when people show up looking to foster children. Earwig always manages to avoid being chosen though, because she likes living at St. Morwald’s.  Where else would she be able to make everyone do whatever she wants? When potential foster parents come through, Earwig concentrates on looking unloveable. It’s always worked.

So when two strange people come in–the woman with one brown eye and one blue one in a mean face, with blue-rinsed hair and purple lipstick, wearing a brown suit with a green sweater and sky blue high-heeled boots,  the man just a tall black blur in the air–looking for a child, Earwig looks unloveable. It doesn’t work. The couple seems to see right through her concentration, and they take her. Earwig tries to refuse, but she has no grounds for an objection.  She goes to live with Bella Yaga and the Mandrake.

But the little house on Lime Street has some curious secrets. Why is it bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? Where are the doors to get out?  How can Thomas the cat speak to Earwig?  And what is Bella Yaga brewing in hter kitchen?  Soon Earwig has her hands full figuring out the mysteries of her new home and practicing magic, as well as trying to make her place in the world.

The narration for Earwig and the Witch is quite charming…I love the narrator’s matter-of-fact approach to telling the story.  All the characters have distinct voices and accents.

Earwig and the Witch was the last book Diana Wynne Jones completed before her death, and it’s an intriguing story.  Somehow though, it feels like it was only the beginning of a tale that is much longer and more involved.  I just wish she’d had the chance to write more about Earwig, Thomas and all the orphans at Saint Morwald’s.  But for a quick car trip or to introduce Diana Wynne Jones to younger readers, this would be an excellent choice.  I think kids as young as five would enjoy listening to Earwig’s story, and the book is aimed at second through fourth graders.

* * *

Skulduggery Pleasant
by Derek Landy, Performed by Rupert Degas
6 CDs, 7 Hours, 30 minutes

Stephanie had always enjoyed her Uncle Gordon, even if he was a bit of a mystery. Part of that may be because he was a mystery writer, coming up with far-fetched horror plots where the hero never quite makes it through the book. But when Gordon dies and leaves the bulk of his estate to Stephanie, she’s as shocked as the rest of her family.

At the reading of the will, she meets the mysterious Skulduggery Pleasant. His only legacy from Gordon is a pithy piece of advice, but Stephanie is intrigued by his appearance. He wears a very fancy suit, gloves, a large hat, sunglasses and a scarf. There’s not a single bit of skin showing on his extremely thin frame. Stephanie and the rest of her family finds it very odd.

When Stephanie ends up alone in Gordon’s house–well, HER house now–overnight, she enjoys the time alone and the chance to read Gordon’s last manuscript.  Just after midnight, when she’s finished reading, someone starts banging on the door.  Stephanie tries to pretend she’s not there, but soon the prowler breaks into the house and attacks.  He apparently wants something that he thinks Gordon left to Stephanie–something that is hidden in the house. Something Stephanie has no idea exists.  She fights back, but Stephanie is no match for the mysteriously strong thug. She is saved by Skulduggery…who in the course of the fight reveals himself to be a living skeleton.

Stephanie is determined to learn what kind of craziness Uncle Gordon was involved in, and soon discovers that there is a whole other world which exists alongside the human world, populated by magic users, monsters and beings like Skulduggery, former humans transformed into something different by magic.  As she works alongside Skulduggery, trying to find out who is trying to kill her, she learns that she has some magic skills of her own…

The CD recording of Skulduggery Pleasant is fun to listen to.  I love the narrator’s accent, and his tone is full and rich.  I was at first taken aback by the bridges between chapters and scenes…most of them feature spooky music but there are also rattling bones, echoing footsteps, and sudden screams. (My poor dog practically jumped out of the car the first time she heard the screams on a car ride.)

The narrator’s voice is surprisingly deep, but there are so many menacing adult male characters in the story that his voice is perfect.  One thing that did throw me was that Skulduggery’s voice changed from disc to disc…on the first two CDs, he had a very deep voice with what sounded a bit like an American accent…but on the third CD, it was higher and had the same accent as most of the other characters.  It was a small flaw in an otherwise masterful recording.

Skulduggery Pleasant is both a mystery and a fantasy story.  It has two sequels–Playing with Fire and The Faceless Ones. The books do feature some magical fighting and contain some violence, so it’s probably better for older listeners.  I would recommend the books and the recordings to kids in fourth through seventh grade.

* * *

Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog
by Ysabeau S. Wilce, Performed by Danielle Ferland
10 CDs, 11.25 Hours

Flora Fyrdraaca has problems.  She’s the only Fyrdraaca at home, which makes her the one in charge of Crackpot Hall.  As if being fourteen and preparing for her Catorcena ceremony wasn’t enough, she has to clean a house with 11,000 rooms, muck out horses stalls, care for the family dogs and watch out for Poppy, her father who lives in his Eyrie away from everyone else at the top of the house, has temper tantrums that destroy rooms and cause more work for Flora.

Even if Flora’s Mamma was home, the responsibility would still fall to Flora. Mamma, after all, is the Rock of Califa, the Commanding General of the Army of Califa, second only to the Warlord who rules the country. She is much too grand and busy to worry about the upkeep of the house. It would be different for Flora if Mamma hadn’t banished the Fyrdraacan Denizen, the magical entity who IS the house. But she did, and that’s why nothing in Crackpot Hall works. Even though there are 11,000 rooms, only a handful are actually accessible regularly.

So when Flora takes a forbidden shortcut and ends up in the Library, a room she has never before seen, she just has to explore. And when a skinny boy comes out of the gloomy stacks and introduces himself as Valefor, the family butler, Flora is amazed at how much Fyrdraaca family history he knows. But when he tells her that she can restore him to the healthy magical Denizen of Crackpot Hall by giving him a tiny taste of her will, Flora is intrigued.  The pot is sweetened when he offers to restore some of the conveniences of the house with the rebuilding of his Will.  Flora will have help cleaning, and cooking, and have fresh towels and sheets and someone to talk to while her Mamma is away and Poppy is hiding in his Eyrie.  Flora agrees, and Valefor takes some energy.

Flora thought that things would get easier with Valefor’s help, but then Mamma comes home and she has to hide his presence. Mamma leaves shortly, but not before Flora’s snooping in Mamma’s office reveals that one of her heroes, the Dainty Pirate, is about to be hung.

Flora enlists her best friend Udo to help rescue the Dainty Pirate. But can two teenagers take on the entire forces of the country (not to mention the overlords and enemies of that country) to save one pirate? Some surprising people come to their aid, and some unsuspected villains are revealed as Flora and Udo take their lives into their hands to do what they think is right.

I loved the narrator of the Flora Segunda CD.  The language in the story is quite different from most books, with a little bit or exotic flavor. The narrator’s voice is quirky, and her accent is just right for this book.  There are terms thrown around that are not what you expect to hear, and yet they sound perfectly natural.  It feels like the listener is in an entirely different world.

Flora has to deal with some difficult issues in her life–her father has PTSD and drinks, her mother is away too much, her family tree is riddled with strange characters–yet her charm and innocence and determination comes through. But because of that, I would recommend both the book and the book on CD for kids in fifth through ninth grade.

And if you like Flora Segunda, try the two sequels: Flora’s Dare and Flora’s Fury.

* * *

So if you’re in the mood for a good fantasy book of CD for a car trip, a bedtime listen, or just to play for fun, try one of these.  They’re sure to be a hit with the right listeners.

If you need suggestions for your next book on CD, please ask one of our librarians. We’ll be happy to help you find the perfect story for your family!

::Kelly::

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