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!




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