Book & Audio Review: Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians

It’s been awhile since we’ve posted!  There are quite a few new entries coming up though, so we hope you’ll be sticking around to check it out!  First up…a fun series featuring a boy with a problem and a group of librarians who are…(shhh…don’t tell!)…evil.

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Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
By Brandon Sanderson, Narrated by Ramon De Ocampo
6 CDs, 7 Hours

Alcatraz vs the evil librariansAlcatraz Smedry has never known his parents. An orphan, he’s currently living with foster parents Joan and Roy Sheldon.  Although Alcatraz likes the Sheldons, he’s not counting on being with them forever.  They’re his 27th placement as a foster kid; not because he’s a bad kid, but because of his…problem.  Alcatraz breaks things.   He doesn’t intend to, it just seems to happen to things around him–from washing machines to plates to chickens.  He doesn’t destroy things, because all the pieces are still there, things just end up broken beyond repair.

Alcatraz oldWhen a package arrives on his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz is surprised to open it up and see a note from his parents.  The package looks old…the stamps date back thirteen years, and the wrapping is old and faded, with frayed cords. Alcatraz isn’t sure what to think of it.  Is it a cruel joke? Did his parents really send it?  And how would they have been able to know the address where he would be in thirteen years?  He’s only lived there for eight months.  The “birthday gift” however, is a bag of sand.  Sand?  Alcatraz looks for more, but aside from a few mysterious scribbles on the packaging, that’s all it is. A bag of ordinary-looking beach sand.

alcatraz vs evil librarins 2Disgusted, Alcatraz goes downstairs to made dinner for his foster parents in gratitude for them being normal.  But he manages to break the kitchen, setting it on fire.  Alcatraz’s case supervisor comes to tell him to get ready to move to a new home.   Once again, his ability to break things has come back to haunt him.

The next day, a very odd old man in a rattletrap old-fashioned car shows up, calling Alcatraz by name.  The case worker, Alcatraz assumes.  But the old man seems completely crazy!  When he tells Alcatraz that he’s his grandfather.  Grandpa Leavenworth Smedry has a preposterous tale of  the Free Kingdoms and the Hushlands, evil librarians who control our world, and Oculators, who control technology with special lenses.  Alcatraz tries to get away from the crazy old man, only to run into a second strange man who tries to kidnap him!  What’s the better choice? A loony old guy who seems fond of him, or a man with a gun who shoots at him?  Alcatraz leaves with Grandpa Smedry, but not before breaking the whole house.

Soon, Alcatraz is in a flying car, helping to form a team of freedom fighters and Oculators to battle the forces of Libraria and the evil librarians infiltrating our world.  Will he and his team succeed?  Or will they fall to the forces of order and librarianship?

alcatraz vs evil librarians soundThe sound recording of Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians is excellent!  I love the narrator–Ramon De Ocampo is the perfect choice for this series.  His voices for all the characters (and there are quite a few!) are all varied.  Old, young, male, female, good, bad…every character has a distinct voice and stands alone.  His pacing is excellent, and his voice is always clear and easily understood.  The quality of the recording is excellent.

alcatraz seriesThere are five books in the Alcatraz series: Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians, The Scrivner’s Bones, The Knights of Crystallia, The Shattered Lens and The Dark Talent.  There may be a sixth book on the way…author Brandon Sanderson has shared that he’s writing it from the view point of Bastille (you’ll be introduced to her very quickly in the first book).  There’s currently no publishing date, but it looks like he’s said the manuscript should be finished in 2017…so maybe soon we’ll have some news about it!

If you’re looking for a series to read or listen to with a lot of action, a great cast of characters, a touch of humor, some elements of fantasy and a likeable hero (even though he says he isn’t one) you’ll love the Alcatraz series.  As an audio book, we have had families with kids as young as six tell us they loved listening to the first book, as well as the entire series.   For reading, it’s probably at a 4th – 7th grade level–on par with the Unwanteds series by McMann or the Alex Rider series by Horowitz.

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Sound good?  You should check it out!  If you like Alcatraz, besides the two series mentioned above, you could also try The Lives of Christopher Chant, by Diana Wynne Jones, The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, or The Beyonders by Brandon Mull.

As always, if you would like help finding an audio book to listen to, or a book to read, ask one of our Youth Services librarians.  We’re always happy to help you find the perfect book for you.

::Kelly::

 

 

 

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Audio & Book Review: Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training

Another fun book for a car ride or plane trip!  This is the second book in the Pip Bartlett series, but I liked the first one so much, I picked up the second one as soon as we got it in at the library.  If you like humor and fantasy, with a little mischief and crazy situations mixed in, this book is for you and your family.

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Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training, by Jackson Pearce & Maggie Stiefvater
Read by Cassandra Morris & Peter McGowan
4 Hours, 20 Minutes – 4 CDs

pip bartlett's guide to unicorn trainingPip Bartlett is still in small-town Georgia for the summer with her veterinarian aunt and her cousin Callie.  Aunt Emma’s Cloverton Clinic for Magical Creatures is still a pretty exciting place to be, even after she and her new friend Tomas have solved the mystery of the fire-starting Fuzzles.  (This is all in the first book, Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures.)  Even though Pip is a little worried that all of the adventures of the summer are over, she’s soon proven wrong when she finds out that the Triple Trident–the most famous unicorn show in the country–is being held right in Cloverton!

Because of her common sense during a crisis at the vet clinic, Pip is hired by Ms. Gould to keep her Rockshines (a sheep like animal that go invisible with any stress) calm and visible before the show.  Pip is eager to get a chance to get behind the scenes at the Triple Trident, and even if Rockshines aren’t very glamorous, they’re still magical!  And when she’s helping, Pip can watch the unicorns, her very favorite magical creature.  Even if they are rather vain, they are beautiful.

Pip finds out that Regent Maximus, the only unicorn she knows personally, is entered in the show and goes to see him.  But poor Regent Maximus is the complete opposite of what show unicorns are supposed to represent. Instead of being proud and majestic, he’s fearful and cowering.  Mr. Henshaw, his owner, promptly hires Pip and Tomas to train him to be able to walk across the threshold of the stable and into the show ring.  Two jobs!?  Can they manage to help both adults with their magical animals?

Training is well underway with Regent Maximus and the rockshines when disaster strikes!  Someone cuts off the beautiful tail of one of the unicorns.  On purpose!  Is someone trying to cheat so their unicorns win?  Or is there a mysterious person trying to sabotage the show? Pip uses her own special talent–talking to magical creatures–to investigate.  If they can discover who is responsible, they can figure out why.  But even the magical creatures are flummoxed.

Can two kids manage to do everything that needs to be done?  Can Pip still train Regent Maximus to compete with this creepy unicorn stalker on the prowl? Will Pip and Tomas solve the mystery before it’s too late?

pip bartlett's guide to unicorn training audioThe audio recording for Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training is absolutely delightful!  There are two readers; one for Pip’s narration, and one to read the entries for Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures.

I love both voices…Cassandra Morris sounds exactly like a girl who could talk to magical creatures, but she also sounds perfect as Aunt Emma, Callie, Mr. Henshaw and every other character who comes into the story.  She does a wonderful voice for all the magical creatures, Regent Maximus in particular is perfect! Her voice is wonderfully paced for the action.

I would highly recommend both of the Pip Bartlett books, both as books and as audio.  The book has lots of great pictures from Jeffrey Higgleston’s guide, with Pip’s comments and changes.  So if you do listen to the book, you should also check out the print copy for all the extras!  I don’t know how many more Pip Bartlett books are coming, but I hope that the series goes on for many volumes!

Pip Bartlett’s Guide books are probably best for third through sixth grade readers, but the audio is good for all ages–kids as young as five should enjoy both the humor and the mystery.  Some similar titles are Fridays at the Castle by Jessica George, The Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors, and The Familiars series by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson.

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As always, if you need help finding a book or need suggestions for books to read, just ask one of our librarians!

::Kelly::

 

Audio Review: Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures!

Almost time for the next school vacation!  And if you need a book for a long car trip, I’ve got a good one!

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Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures
By Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater; Read by Cassandra Morris & Peter McGowan
4 Hours, 12 Minutes; 4 CDs

pip bartlett's guide to magical creaturesPip Bartlett has an unusual talent…she can talk to magical animals.  Miniature Silky Griffins, Bitterflunks, Unicorns, Emerald Dunking Ducks…if she meets it, she can talk to it.  The problem is…no one believes her!  Not her parents, not her classmates, not even her aunt, a veterinarian who specializes in magical creatures.  So Pip has to keep her abilities a secret.

Then comes Career Day, when all the parents come to school to talk about their professions.  Piece of cake, right?  Pips parents are  geologists and bring geodes for kids to examine; there’s a dad who’s a chef, a mom with the stringed instrument quartet, an antique dealer dad….and then there’s Marisol Barrra’s parents.  Who raise unicorns.  Pip LOVES unicorns!  But unfortunately, unicorns love no one more than themselves, which Pip finds out from a vain unicorn named Raindancer as he tramples geodes, grills, violins and (almost) classmates and other unicorns, with Pip on his back!

After The Unicorn Incident, Pip is exiled to Cloverton, Georgia, to spend  the entire summer with her Aunt Emma and cousin Callie.  The best part to Pip will the the chance to help in the small vet clinic Aunt Emma runs.  It seems like a vet clinic for magical creatures would be the perfect place for her, but it’s more difficult than you might think NOT to talk to creatures when they’re right in front of you.  Things get a little heated when mysterious tiny fuzzles start popping up all over town, followed by fires that start small and grow to endanger everyone.  Pip and her new friend Tomas jump from the frying pan into the fire when they realize that the fuzzles they’re trying to rescue are actually starting the fires.  If that’s not bad enough, Mrs. Dreadbatch, from the Supernatural/Magical Animal Care, Keeping and Education Department, tries to close down Aunt Emma’s clinic and have the fuzzles exterminated.  Can Pip and Tomas save the town from fire, the clinic from Mrs. Dreadbatch, AND the fuzzles from themselves?  It’s a mystery and a rescue mission, all rolled into one!

pip bartlet audioI loved Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures!  It was a fun and fast story, with lots of humor, an intriguing mystery, some great flights of imagination, and a wonderfully original character right in the middle of it all.   Cassandra Morris narrates the story with lots of enthusiasm and great characterizations, while Peter McGowan jumps in to narrate the selections from Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures, Pip’s source of information for everything magical…which she adds to once she meets a creature and agrees or disagrees with the description.  In fact, if you listen to the audio book, you should definitely pick up the print book as well, so see the illustrations for each creature entry.  Pip’s additions are humorous, and the illustrations are beautiful.  If you don’t want to listen to the book on CD, Pip’s story would be a fun read-aloud for a family to read together.

Pip Bartlett would be a great family car trip book for everyone…kids as young as five or six would probably enjoy the story as much as adults, and it’s perfect for third through fifth graders.  A second book just came out–Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training.  I’m looking forward to reading and/or listening to that one too!

So come down to the library and check out Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures!  And if someone else beats you to it, put it on hold and pick up something else while you wait.  Similar titles would be Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George, Hatch! by Bruce Coville, or Ten in a Bed by Alan Ahlberg.  Or ask one of our librarians for help finding something perfect, just for you!

::Kelly::

Another Audio Review: Full of Beans!

Full of Beans
By Jennifer L. Holm, Read by Kirby Heyborne
3 CDs, 3.5 hours

full of beansBeans Curry has plans.  It’s 1934, and the country is in the Great Depression.  There’s no money anywhere for fun things; Beans’ family is just managing to squeak by.  His mother is taking in mending, and his father has left Key West to find work in New Jersey, so he can send money back to the family. Beans’ plan is to find a way to  make a whole lot of money so he can get his father back home, give his mother time to relax, and get some funds so he can go to the movies every week.

His first venture leads to him being cheated by Winky; the restaurant owner had promised Beans a dime for finding and cleaning cans for his business, but when Beans and his brother Kermit show up with the cans, Winky says it was fifty cans for a dime.  Hot, sweaty and angry, Beans casts out his net wider.  Several schemes with  his friends Pork Chop and Too Bad don’t go as  planned.  But when Beans hooks up with rum-runner Johnny Cakes, he suddenly has a lucrative job!

Too bad that it’s illegal.

Is the promise of money more important than honesty and friendship?  Can a kid from Key West find a way to survive?  Beans finds himself caught in the middle of some big lies and some small ones.  But he also discovers that keeping your eyes open and seeing what’s around you can lead to some pretty important discoveries…and some surprising sources of income.

full of beans audioFull of Beans is a sort of prequel to the Newbery-Award Winning Turtle in Paradise.  (Beans is Turtle’s cousin, and although Turtle is the main character, Beans has a major part to play.)  Beans is a character with a lot of character and an authentic voice…and Kirby Heyborne does a great job of translating that voice on CD.  In Full of Beans, Beans and his friends come to life, and you can practically feel the heat of Key West around you as you listen to the narration.

This is a relatively short book, and would be great to listen to on a short car trip.  If you’re going to Key West, you should definitely read or listen to this book…there’s a lot of history about how Key West developed, and what the residents did to help that happen.   Kids in grades three through six would enjoy reading this book, and it would be a good listen for kids as young as six through adults.

And if you listen to the audio, look at the book as well.  The afterword, with pictures from Key West in the 1930s, is well worth checking out, and so is the list of internet resources, with links to finding more information.

::Kelly::

A New Audio Review!

Do you need an adventurous, but funny, book to listen to?  This one is for you!

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Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas
by Jonathan W. Stokes, Read by Ralph Lister
7 CDs;  7 hours, 50 minutes

addison cooke and the treasure of the incasAddison Cooke and his sister Molly live with their Aunt Delia and Uncle Nigel, famous researchers and archeologists who work all the time.  It makes for some great perks (visiting archeological sites all over the world, for example) but also for some lonely times when both adults are working and Addison and Molly have to either eat dinners out of a vending machine at the museum or stay at home and eat peanut butter and jelly.  Again.

When Russian mobsters, led by Professor Ragar, an unscrupulous archeologist, kidnap Uncle Nigel and Aunt Delia in order to force them to find a mysterious treasure, Addison and Molly overhear their plans.  Unfortunately, Professor Ragar’s henchmen spot them just when they’re about to make a rescue, and the siblings have to flee.  Back at their apartment, they enlist the aid of their friends Raj and Eddie to get away from their pursuers.  But with the Russian mob hot on their trail, and the only adults in their lives in danger, Addison decides that the best defense is to follow the clues and find the Incan treasure before it can be stolen by the bad guys.

Armed with Uncle Nigel’s credit card, Addison’s ability to charm his way through most situations, Molly’s practical nature, Raj’s survival skills, Eddie’s Spanish translation abilities and the first clue (which Addison managed to steal) they buy plane tickets to Columbia and are off on the hunt!   Will they be able to find the treasure before Professor Ragar?  Can they free Aunt Delia and Uncle Nigel from his clutches?  Will they even survive the trip?

addison cooke audioAddison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas is a fun book to listen to in the car or at home.  It’s non-stop action will keep you laughing and not wanting to stop reading (or listening)! The cliffhanger endings (literally, in at least one case!) will leave you wanting to continue onto the next chapter to see what is going to happen.  I did like the narrator, my only question was why they picked someone with a British accent, since only Uncle Nigel is British.  It seems an odd choice to portray a bunch of kids from New York City.  The voices occasionally sounded a little forced, since he was trying to do American accents.  It did make a nice distinction between the narration and the dialogue though.

The author is apparently a screenwriter, and it’s obvious through the course of the story; the action goes from slapstick to heartfelt to dangerous .  In fact, Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas feels a little like someone mixed parts of the movies Goonies and Indiana Jones, with a dash of National Treasure added.   Adults may find it a little predictable in places, but kids from 8 to 12 will enjoy this exciting treasure-hunting adventure!

Audio Review: The War That Saved My Life

Whoo-hoo!  Another audio book review!  One to go on our “top ten” list, too.

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The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle
6 CDs, 7 1/2 Hours

war-that-saved-my-lifeAda and her little brother Jamie live in a one-room flat in London with their Mam.  It’s 1939, and a war with Germany is looming.  Ada doesn’t know much about the war; because she has a ‘bad foot’, Mam doesn’t allow her to ever leave their room, even for school.  She has grown up staying in the flat all day, sitting for hours in the chair by the window, watching Jamie play with his friends and waving at neighbors she’s never met.  Unless it’s a day that Mam is angry with her, then she’s stuffed into the cupboard under the sink or not given any food.

One day, Jamie comes home with the news that the children from their neighborhood are being evacuated to the country because the government is expecting London to be bombed.  Mam scoffs, but decides that one less mouth to feed might be a good thing.  She’s not letting Ada go though. No, Mam says Ada has to stay and get bombed, if it comes to that. Both children protest, but Mam locks them in and leaves for the pub.

No one at school knows Ada even exists, but she’s determined to go away with Jamie. Her practice standing on her bad foot comes in handy for their escape. When the morning comes to evacuate on the train, she steals her mother’s shoes and limps, then crawls, then gets a lift from one of Jamie’s friends.  Ada and Jamie make it to the country…only to be left out when everyone else is chosen.  Not one villager seems to want two dirty children with no belongings.

Then Lady Thornton, the woman in charge of the evacuated children, takes them in hand and leaves them to stay with Susan Smith, in a big old empty house.  Even though Miss Smith claims she is unkind and unfit to care for children, living with her is better than living with Mam.  As Ada and Jamie start exploring the world around them, fall in love with horses (Ada) and planes (Jamie), they start to trust Susan.  But will Susan want to keep them?  Will the war reach them, even in the country?  Will their Mam come to take them away, as the other refuge children are taken back?  And what about spies?

A little bit adventure, a little bit coming-of age, a little bit historical fiction, this is an amazing story about strength and courage and family.  The War That Saved My Life was a 2016 Newbery Award Honor Book Winner.

war-that-saved-my-life-audioThe sound recording of The War That Saved My Life is simply wonderful.  I loved the narrator, Jayne Entwistle.  She did a terrific job finding each character’s voice, and I was truly impressed at how she could infuse her voice with emotions.  You could hear the laughter and the tears in her voice as Ada spoke.  This audio book is right up there in my top ten recordings of children’s books.  It also won the 2016 Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audio Production, so I’m not the only one to think that way!

The War That Saved My Life is for kids in grades 5 – 8, although I think adults would enjoy it just as much as their kids do.  The sound recording would be great to share on a family car trip, although it might be difficult for a child younger than nine or ten, because of some tough subject matter.  (In addition to the consequences of being at war and the loss of loved ones, Ada and Jamie’s Mam is a thoroughly horrible person, and her treatment of the children might be difficult to hear.)  Listening to it as a family though, would provide some great groundwork for discussion about war, and families, and strength of spirit.

Some read-alike suggestions:  Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt.

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Remember, if you would like recommendations for book or books on CD, ask one of our librarians.  Or check out some of our earlier recommendations here at BellaOnBooks!

::Kelly::

 

 

The Magicians of Caprona Audio Book Review–Fantasy!

Looking for something to listen to on the family car trip to Grandma’s?  Try one of these!

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The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jonesmagicians-of-caprona-2
Narrated by Gerard Doyle
7 CDs, 8 hours

The Montanas and the Petrocchis are the two most famous spell-casting families in the great city of Caprona.  The crests of the Montana winged horse and the Petrocchi leopard top the best spells and  grace all the magical (and non-magical) buildings and bridges across the city, and have for hundreds of years.  It’s unfortunate that the families have been at war for generations.  The Montana children are warned away from the Petrocchis starting practically at birth.  When the two families are forced to work together on a project, like mending the New Bridge that has started losing it’s magic, they stay as far away from each other as possible.

magicians-of-capronaTonino Montana looks at all the enchantments surrounding him, and wishes he was  better at magic.  But he doesn’t seem to be able to learn spells as quickly as his older brother Paolo, or even his dashing cousin Rinaldo.  Of course,  Tonino can talk to Benvenuto and all the other Montana cats;  Old Niccolo, the head of the Casa Montana,is the only other person who can do that.  But it takes Tonino forever to memorize a spell, and although it works, nothing spectacular ever happens.  At least he’s not like Angelica, the littlest Petrocci girl, who is said to have no control over her magic, and even turned her father bright green.  Tonino would much rather be reading a book than making a spell.

magicians-of-caprona-1But something is not right in Caprona.  The magic is disappearing, and both families blame each other for causing it.  When the Duke of Caprona brings two delegations to the Palace to talk about it, Tonino and Paolo are drafted to be part of it.  Across the room, they see Angelica and her sister Renata as part of the Petrocci delegation–the first Petroccis they have ever seen!  The girls look normal though, not like the monsters the Petroccis are supposed to be.  The boys’ attention is pulled away from the girls when both families are tasked  to find the true words to The Angel of Caprona, a powerful spell that should save their city.  But no one knows quite where to look.  Even the famous enchanter Chrestomanci, called from England to help, cannot fathom where the words might be.

magicians-of-caprona-originalWhen Tonino and Angelica are kidnapped to force the Montanas and the Petroccis to stop using spells, it seems like someone must think someone at one of the Casas is close to a solution. That doesn’t help Tonino and Angelica though, who find themselves stuck in a spell with only each other to rely on.   Can they work together to escape and get back home?

At the two Casas, even with the missing children, the Montanas and Petroccis won’t work together; blaming each other for their missing child.  They’re having a hard time not working spells too.   Paolo and Renata are determined to find their siblings.

As the countdown continues, the youngest members of the Montana and Petrocci families find themselves relying on each other.  Can they work together to find The Angel of Caprona and rescue their city?

magicians-of-caprona-3I love Diana Wynne Jones, and I’ve always loved The Magicians of Caprona.  (It’s also a bit of an Old Favorite.)  In this parallel world, Caprona is one of the city states that make up Italy.  Most of the cities are at war with each other, trying to take over the country.  Florence and Venice want Caprona and it’s spells for themselves.   The Magicians of Caprona originally came out in 1980, and is one of the Chrestomanci books.  The nine-lived enchanter Chrestomanci has a very brief appearance in this one though, although his sense of style and his demeanor make as much of a splash as they usually do.

Gerald Doyle narrates this title; he does most of the Diana Wynne Jones books.  I love his voice, it’s very smooth, and his accent is quite enjoyable.  He does a wonderful job making characters sound different, without changing his voice too much.  I would recommend any of the books he narrates–I’ve never been disappointed with his performances.

I would highly recommend The Magicians of Caprona, both as a book to read and an audio book for kids ages 8 and up.  With it’s subtle humor and intriguing setting, it would be as accessible for adults  listening in the car on a family trip as well as kids and teens.