Audio Review: The Wishing Spell

One of the most popular series in the library these days is Chris Colfer’s series The Land of Stories.  With five fiction books, a picture book and a collection of classic fairy tales, it’s consistently one of our most requested series.  Since he last volume of the series coming out in July, it seems like the right time to seek out some answers about why.  So, when we got a new copy of the audio book, it was time to try it!

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The_Land_of_StoriesThe Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
by Chris Colfer
Narrated by the author
8 CDs, 8.5 Hours

Alex and Conner , 11-year-old twins, have had a horrible year.  Not only was their father killed in a car accident, they’ve had to move from their beloved home to a small rental house, their mother had to sell the bookstore their father owned, and neither of them is doing well in school…for two totally different reasons.  Alex is interested in everything and always knows all the answers, so some kids are resentful, while Conner falls asleep in class because he’s not really interested in anything.  When their mother has to work a double shift on their birthday, the twins are happy that their grandmother can come for a visit and a party.

For a gift, their grandmother gives them her cherished copy of The Land of Stories…a book of fairy tales that the twins and the whole family have grown up sharing.  It’s a wonderful surprise, and something both Conner and Alex will treasure.

But when the book starts humming late one night, Alex isn’t sure what is going on.  Conner watches as his sister starts acting strangely, both at home and at school.  Alex won’t tell him what’s going on, but he knows he has to figure it out.  But he never would have guessed that the book is coming to life!

When Alex tumbles into the book–literally–Conner follows close behind.  Even if it’s dangerous, there is no way he is going to let his twin get lost in a book without him!  Upon landing, they discover that they’re in the middle of their favorite fairy tales…only nothing is quite as they remembered.  Time has passed since the stories, and the kingdoms are in crisis.  Goldilocks is a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood is a reclusive queen, and the Evil Queen has escaped prison to terrorize all the inhabitants.  Stories are fun to read, but maybe not so fun to live in.

When a new acquaintance tells them about a spell–a wishing spell–that might get them home, Alex and Conner are determined to find all the ingredients.  Can they travel the fairy tale kingdoms and retrieve the treasures to get them home?

wishing spell audioI quite enjoyed the audio recording of The Wishing Spell.  Chris Colfer is a delightfully flexible actor and his voices for the characters were wonderfully rich and varied.  Listening, you can hear that he had a lot of fun interpreting his characters for the audio production.  I was a little less impressed with the narrative sections; sometimes it felt like he was rushing through them to get to the voices.  Still, it was a good solid recording that is enjoyable for all ages of listeners.  If you enjoy thrilling quests, adventures with a touch of humor, and fairy tales, this series is for you!

I would recommend The Land of Stories books for kids in third through sixth grade.  I think avid fans of fairy tales would enjoy them a little earlier, and their enjoyment would last a little longer.  If you’re looking for something to listen to on a family car trip, this is a good choice.   If you’re a fan of tv shows like Once Upon a Time, or Disney fairy tale movies, this series is right up your alley!

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If you come to the library and The Land of Stories is not available, think about trying some of our other titles with similar themes: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, or The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley are all wonderful books on CD that should also appeal to fans of Alex and Conner.  If you’re looking for books to read in print, try the Whatever After series by Sarah Mlynowski, The Hero’s Guide series by Christopher Healy or the Half Upon a Time series by James Riley.  These are all adventurous, fun series with a fairy tale background.

 

And as always, if you’re looking for help or book, media or other suggestions, ask one of our librarians.  That’s what we’re here for!

::Kelly::

Audio Review: The League of Beastly Dreadfuls

Time for another audio review!  This one is a mystery with a little horror, a little comedy, and a lot of action adventure!   It’s also the first book in a trilogy that promises to be a mix of A Series of Unfortunate Events and 39 Clues, with a sprinkling of The Little Princess, Charlie Bone, and Peppermints in the Parlor mixed in.  (If you don’t know any of those titles, check one or all of them out at the library as well!)

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league of beastly dreadfulsThe League of Beastly Dreadfuls
By Holly Grant, Read by Rosalyn Landor
6 Hours, 41 Minutes; 6 CDs

Anastasia McCrumpet is a perfectly ordinary 11 year old girl with almost ordinary parents.  (Mr. McCrumpet is pretty ordinary, though obsessed with plants; when they die, he holds funerals.  Mrs. McCrumpet is…not so ordinary.  But perhaps not in a good way.)  Anastasia loves both her parents, which is why she’s so upset when two great-aunts she never met show up at school to take her to their home, while her parents recover from a freak vacuum-cleaning accident at St. Shirley’s Hospital for the Seriously Mangled.  Auntie Prim and Auntie Prude whisk her away in their second-hand hearse without even a trip home for clothing or supplies.

Anastasia has serious qualms when she finds out the aunties live in in a Victorian mansion…or, to be absolutely correct, a former Victorian lunatic asylum–St. Agony’s Asylum for the Deranged, Despotic, Demented, and Otherwise Undesirable (That is to Say, Criminally Insane). Not only is the Asylum at the end of a deserted road and surrounded by a high iron fence, it’s also guarded by ferocious attack poodles, and has no electricity.   Aunt Prim and Aunt Prude, although they seem to be very sweet, lock her in her room every night, and she has to eat Mystery Lumps for breakfast, lunch and dinner…when she gets the last two meals.  Keeping a child is expensive, the aunties tell her, so she has to make some allowances.  And then the aunties tell her she has to live with them forever, as her parents are as dead as dormice.

Now an orphan, Anastasia is sunk in despair…but not so sunk that she doesn’t start wondering what is going on around her.  Isn’t it peculiar that the aunties have the same ring as the evil school secretary back at home?  Is the deranged teenage gardener with the silver cage on his head really chasing her, or is he only trying to talk to her?  And what is making that eerie EeeeooooEeeooooo sound in the night?

When Anastasia starts exploring St. Agony’s she finds secret rooms, hidden dumbwaiters and disguised speaking tubes, which lead to even more mysteries.  Why are there clippings of missing children in an empty desk?  Who are the strange women with uni-brows in the portrait hall, and why do some of them look familiar?  Most importantly, who are the deranged gardener and the boy trapped behind a mirror?  Eavesdropping might not be polite, but what can she learn from listening to the aunties secret discussions?   When Anastasia finds and reunites brothers Ollie and Quentin, both prisoners in separate areas of St. Agony’s, the three of them decide to work together.  Can the newly-named League of Beastly Dreadfuls find out what Prim and Prude are up to and escape the dire fate the two have in mind for them?

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is one of those stories that is funny while it’s at its most perilous.  Anastasia takes everything coming at her with the utmost seriousness, even when a reader (or listener) knows that things are probably not exactly what they seem…

league of beastly dreadfuls soundThe sound recording of The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is absolutely wonderful!  It’s funny, scary and suspenseful, all in turns.  The reader, Rosalyn Landor, has a beautiful British accent, and her character voices are distinctive and perfectly narrated.  If you do listen to the sound recording, make sure to check out the print copy of the book as well; the illustrations by Josie Portillo are quirky and a wonderful addition to the text.

I highly recommend The League of Beastly Dreadfuls for kids in third through sixth grades to read; for listening, I think it would be accessible to kids ages 7 to 14;  older teens and adults would enjoy it for the storytelling.  Like the Series of Unfortunate Events, much of the humor is in the way the characters don’t recognize that their world is not quite as it seems to be…but the reader (or listener) can see what the characters might not.

Book Two in The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, The Dastardly Deed, came out this spring.  I haven’t read it yet, but I am looking forward to it!  If you would like other books or recordings that are similar to The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, try Caroline Carlson’s The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series, Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series, or The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series by Jordan Stratford.  As well as A Series of Unfortunate Events.

league of beastly dreadfuls 2 magic marks the spot alcatraz vs the evil librarians wollstonecraft detective agency series of unfortunate events

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As always, if you would like a personal recommendation or need help finding something to read or listen to, ask one of our librarians for assistance.  We’re always happy to help you find the perfect thing to read!

::Kelly::

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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: Falling In

Magic, adventure, and alternate realities.  What could be better?

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Falling In
By Frances O’Roark Dowell, narrated by Jessica Almasy
5CDs, 5 Hours

falling-inIsabelle Bean has always been an unusual girl.  She doesn’t have many friends…other kids seem to know that she’s different.  Isabelle is the girl who sits in the back of the room, almost invisible to the rest of the class. She rarely speaks first, and has bangs hanging over her face so you can’t look at her eyes.  She wears clothes that come from wherever she finds them…right now, her favorite shoes are a pair of red lace-up boots she found stuffed into the corner of a chair on the sidewalk.

falling-in-pbkIsabelle is rather otherworldly, if another kid concentrates hard enough, he or she can almost see the silver sliver of light that connects  the top of her head to the bottom bump of her spine.  Kids don’t want to sit too close, because something about that silver thread tells them that if they get touched by it, Isabelle might just tangle them up in it and take them into a dark space where they will never be found.

But Isabelle is used to it.  She just makes her own way in the world, picking out words and ideas and rearranging them into stories.  Other kids aren’t going to keep her down, no sir!  Isabelle Bean keeps hope in her pocket, and listens to the buzzing that always seems to be just on the edge of her hearing.

And then…one day…she opens a closet door where the buzzing is loud, and falls through to another world.

Because of her red boots, the people in the world think she’s a witch!  Still, Isabelle feels like this world suits her just a little better than her own.  Can Isabelle Bean figure out how to prove that she’s not a witch, rescue the REAL witch, and find her way back home?

falling-in-audioFalling In was a fun audiobook, full of references to everything from fairy tales to Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz.  The chatty narration was fun to listen to; it felt like the narrator was talking directly to me. Isabelle’s adventures were both fun and a little scary, and her practicality and imagination both helped her survive. Isabelle Bean is a girl I would want in my corner if I fell through to another world.

Falling In would be a fun book to listen to on your own, or for a light-hearted car ride.  The books is for kids ages nine and up, but the audio book could be accessible to kids in first or second grade who enjoy fantasy.  Grown ups will enjoy picking up the references to older fantasy books.

Read-alikes: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood.

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Give this book a try!  And, as always, if you would like an audiobook or book recommendation, ask one of our librarians.  We’re always happy to share some of the books we enjoyed.  If you would like to see some of BellaOnBooks previous audio reviews, click here.

::Kelly::

 

 

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::