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::

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