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.
* * *
I 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.
The 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!
* * *
Sebastian 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, 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.
* * *
Gaspare 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 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!
* * *
Griffin 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 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!
* * *
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.