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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Three New Audio Reviews set in fantastic worlds

Vacation week is almost over, but there’s still plenty of time to travel.  If you don’t want to listen to the sound of tires rumbling or music, beat the traveling blues with a book on CD.  If you’re looking for something new, try one of these selections…

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museum of thieves 2Museum of Thieves
by Lian Tanner, Read by Claudia Black
6 CDs, 6 hours, 48 minutes

Goldie Roth lives in Jewel, a city in a world where all children are protected.  So protected that they are attached at all times to the adults in their lives with locks and chains.  Although most of the children have loving parents who would do anything to keep them safe, the world knows that parents are not all-seeing, so the protection of children is left to the Blessed Guardians.  Until their sixteenth year, children spend most of their times under the care of the Blessed Guardians.

Goldie chafes at that protection, longing to be independent and free of the chains.  Her inability to obey the Guardians makes them place her in heavy punishment chains, much more restrictive than the everyday chains.  But her freedom is within sight…Goldie is overjoyed to be going to Separation Day, the ceremony where children have their chains removed and they are free.  Usually, Separation Day happens only when children reach sixteen years, but the Grand Protector of the City of Jewel has declared that this year, Separation Day will happen for everyone between twelve and sixteen years.  And Goldie is first in line!

But only one chain is broken with the city is attacked.  The Blessed Guardians are told to stop the Separation, and get the children back to their hall.  Goldie cannot stand it.  She grabs the pair of scissors from the Blessed Guardian’s hands and breaks her chains herself.  But now she can’t go home, or she’ll just end up back in chains.  She has to find somewhere to hide, somewhere to live until she can figure out what to do next.  Wandering through the city, she finds The Museum of Dunt.  And suddenly, her life is completely turned around.  She meets the residents of the Museum and finds out that Jewel isn’t quite as safe as everyone thought.  And if she wants to save herself, she has to work with a strange group of people to save Jewel…from the attackers and from itself.

museum of thieves audioMuseum of Thieves is narrated by actress Claudia Black, who has an absolutely WONDERFUL voice for reading aloud.  She brings the characters completely to life, with accents and pacing.  I just love her take on every character.

Museum of Thieves is the first book of the Keepers Trilogy, so it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger.  The other books in the trilogy are City of Lies and Path of Beasts, which are also available.  If you have middle grade students who enjoyed  the movies of The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, this science fiction/dystopian world book would be a great read at a slightly more accessible level for fourth through seventh graders. It would be an enjoyable car audio for a family trip.

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snicker of magicA Snicker of Magic
By Natalie Lloyd, Narrated by Cassandra Morris
8 CDs, 8.25 hours

Felicity Pickle is used to moving.  Every few months, Mama packs Felicity and her younger sister Frannie Jo and their dog Biscuit into their van, the Pickled Jalepeno, and the little family wanders on to a new place.  But this time, Mama landed them in Midnight Gulch, the town where she grew up, staying in the small apartment with Aunt Cleo, Mama’s sister.

Felicity isn’t quite sure what to expect of Midnight Gulch, it seems to be the same as every other town they’ve rolled into. Then she discovers that Midnight Gulch used to be magical; it was a place where people could dance up thunderstorms, save memories in a jar and bake secrets into pies.  Felicity’s ability to see words kind of fits right in there, even though she doesn’t exactly want to share her ability with anyone but Frannie Jo.  Mama and Aunt Cleo are reluctant to tell anyone, but Felicity soon learns from other people in town that most of the magic has drained away due to a curse.  But even so, there’s still a tiny bit, just a snicker of magic, that may be left.

And that’s good, because Felicity Pickle wants to settle down and stay somewhere.  If she can find a way to settle Mama’s wandering heart with a little magic, that’s what she’s going to do.  Felicity soon finds herself in the midst of her new town, making friends and meeting people and finding out about the magic.  But can Felicity manage to find the answer to the town’s needs before Mama leaves?  She’s going to do her best!

snicer of magic audioA Snicker of Magic is a fun book to read, the language is rich, and colorful and it comes to life, even when it’s not narrated.  But the audio recording enhances that so much more.  Cassandra Morris has a wonderful slightly southern accent, with a unique twist of phrase.   I loved Felicity and her family and their way with words.

A Snicker of Magic is a book that readers of Three Times Lucky, Savvy, and A Tangle of Knots will love.  Readers from third through sixth grades will enjoy both the print and audio versions of this book, but listeners of all ages–even grownups–would also enjoy it.  It’s definitely my new favorite of 2014!

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and for a complete change of pace…

half badHalf Bad
by Sally Green, Narrated by Carl Prekopp
7 CDs, 8.5 hours

Nathan lives a brutal existence, locked in a cage, beaten by his caretaker, deprived of everything that most people take for granted.  His cartaker’s brutal training is to turn him into a killer, for the Council of White Witches.

Nathan’s mother was a white witch, and his father was a black witch.  He knows neither of them…his mother died when he was a baby, and his father is an outlaw on the run. Nathan was brought up by his Gran with his older half-siblings, Jessica, Deborah and Arran.  Gran, Deborah and Arran love him, but Jessica has always hated him, to the point where she sabotages everything he has ever loved.

In Nathan’s world, white witches are good and black witches are bad.  His father Marcus is the worst, most violent of the black witches.  It’s rumored that Marcus has killed over two hundred white witches, eating their hearts to steal their powers.  In this alternate version of modern-day England, there is no such thing as a half-good or a half-bad witch.  Nathan has spent his life under close scrutiny, every witch he knows watching to see if he’s good or bad.  They will wait until his sixteenth birthday to decide; the time where every witch is given three gifts by their nearest blood relative and discover their powers.

But the Council didn’t give Nathan much leeway.  They’re not planning on giving him the chance to get any powers.  He’s spent three years locked in the cage to keep him from Gran, and no one even knows where his father is.  With his sixteenth birthday only weeks away, Nathan’s only chance to save himself is to escape, find his father, and persuade Marcus to give Nathan his blood gifts.  It won’t be easy. But if Nathan can do it, he may be able to survive.

half bad audioHalf Bad is an intense, gritty book, not for the squeamish.  The scenes of Nathan’s life in the cage are gut-wrenching.  But it also is a story of a boy who is struggling to find his place in the world, living up to the expectations of the wonderful woman who raised him and loved him.

The narration of Half Bad is compelling and tense.  It ends on a real cliffhanger–Half Bad is the first book of a trilogy.  The second book, Half Wild, is coming out in the spring of 2015, and the third  probably in 2016.  Even though it’s a long time to wait, Nathan’s story is too unique to wait to read.  Both the print and audio book of Half Bad are best or readers in high school and older.  But if you try it, you’re sure to come back for more of Nathan’s story.

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And…that’s it!  Three more audio books to enjoy!  As always, if you want suggestions, ask a librarian!

::Kelly::

Audio Review: Half Moon Investigations

And…here’s another audio review!  It’s a mystery this time, from a popular author of fantasy adventure books.  I was actually expecting some kind of fantasy element in this one, but it’s a straightforward follow-the-clues-to-the-end mystery.  And a good one!

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Half Moon Investigations
By Eoin Colfer, Read by Sean Patrick Reilly
6 CDs, 7 hours, 17 minutes

half moon investigationsFletcher Moon is a private detective.  He’s seen it all, heard it all, is a little world-weary…and he’s only in seventh grade.  It’s not easy to train to be a detective at such a young age, but Fletcher got his degree online, from the Bernstein Academy in Washington, D.C..  Of course, he had to use his father’s name and ID to get certified, since there was an age requirement.  But Fletcher and his father share the same name and birthdate, so it was pretty easy to do.   He’s probably the only seventh grader in Ireland, maybe even the world, who has completed the requirements for the Bernstein private detective certification and received the highly prized silver private detective badge.  Fletcher has used his qualifications for good, solving cases and bringing justice to his fellow students at Saint Jerome’s Elementary and Middle School.

Because of his successful solve rate, Fletcher’s reputation has spread around the school.  So it’s no surprise when one of his elementary school informants comes to get him to help break up a wrestling match caused by a theft.  Herod Sharkey, the youngest member of the infamous Sharkey crime family, has been accused of stealing the fancy new computer organizer of Bella Barnes, the biggest girl in the elementary school.  There’s even a witness; April Devereaux, the wealthiest girl in the school (as well as the one most likely to wear pink.)  Fletcher follows the clues and finds the organizer.   It looks like an open and shut case until Red Sharkey, Herod’s older brother and Fletcher’s classmate, gets involved. In spite of the witness and the general reputation of his brother,  Red claims his brother is innocent and has been framed.  Red threatens Fletcher, and warns him to shut down his detective agency.

But then April Devereaux puts Fletcher on retainer to investigate the entire Sharkey family and their connection with some odd crimes at the school and around town.  Fletcher is at first reluctant, but then intrigued once he starts looking into the case.  Are the Sharkey’s really behind all the crimes?  Or will his trail lead to someone else?  Fletcher enlists his allies, his informants and even an enemy or two to follow the dangerous trail to a surprising conclusion…and a new view on detective work.

half moon investigations audioSean Patrick Reilly’s narration of Half Moon Investigations has the appropriately hard-boiled tone down for this first-person narration.  I loved his Irish accent too.  The “film noir” tone continues throughout the story, with musical breaks between the chapters.  The kids in the story all have slightly different voices, and the adults sound completely different.

The story is populated by a huge amount of characters with genuine character…crooks with hearts of gold, police inspectors who are more patient than a whole realm of teachers, and lots of kids with different ideas about school, life and honesty.

Half Moon Investigations was a fun CD to listen to in the car.  I enjoyed trying to follow the clues along with Fletcher, and worrying about the red herrings thrown in his path.  I have had several families tell me that Half Moon Investigations was their favorite CD ever.    I would recommend the book to readers in fourth through sixth grade.  The audio recording could be enjoyed by the whole family.  Adults will enjoy the Philip Marlowe-type narration, while younger listeners will just enjoy the mystery, the story and the colorful characters.

If you’re going on a trip for April vacation, both the e-book and the audio (e-audio?) are available through the Minuteman Digital Catalog.

::Kelly::

Audio Review: The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas
By John Stephens, Read by Jim Dale
10 CDs, 11 Hours, 38 Minutes

Kate, Michael and Emma are orphans.  They weren’t always orphans. Kate can remember the night her parents vanished; she was four, Michael was almost two, and Emma was just a baby.  When a shabby man with a serious warning showed up at their home, Kate’s mother kissed her and told her to take care of her brother and sister, and eventually their family  would all be together again. She slipped her locket over Kate’s head.  The  next morning (after a dangerous car chase they slept through)  the children woke up in the care of Sister Agatha, of St. Mary’s Home.

Ten years later, there’s still no sign of their parents, and Kate, Michael and Emma have ended up at the Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans, their twelfth stop in a long line of placements, each one worse than the last.  They may not know their last name, but they do know that their parents are still alive and will eventually come for them. But in the meantime, they still have to deal with bullies, nasty orphanage directors and prospective adoptive parents.  When Miss Crumley, their latest tyrant of an orphanage director tells them that they have to make a good impression on a prospective adoptive couple, Emma and Michael just can’t.  Mrs. Lovegood and her horrific swan headpiece and attitude toward children are too awful.

In the aftermath of the scene that ensues, Miss Crumley finds the three children the most out-of-the-way institution she can to take them. After a day long train trip to Lake Champlain, they end up in Westport,  New York, waiting for a ferry.  No one they ask knows anything about Cambridge Falls, the town where their new orphanage is, the orphanage itself or even the island where both are located.  There is, however, a derelict dock where they can meet the boat they’re supposed to take to the mysterious island.

When the children are picked up for the ferry ride, they encounter a mysterious fog in the middle of their journey.  When the fog finally clears, they arrive on the island. Cambridge Falls is desolate, cold…and empty.  And it’s strange; the huge mountains on one side of the island certainly should have been visible from Westport. And the vicious wolves that chase their carriage are unexpected.

When they reach the musty old mansion that is to be their new home, Kate, Michael and Emma learn that not only are they the only children in the orphanage, they’re only children in the whole village. The only other people on the island seem to be Abraham, the man who picked them up at the ferry landing, Miss Sallow, the housekeeper, and the mysterious Dr. Pym, the head of the orphanage.

But the strange island and the drafty old house are well worth exploring, and the children do that. When they find a secret passage down to the basement, how could they resist? And when during their explorations, Kate picks up a book, who could have known that the discovery would change their lives forever?  Traveling through time, dealing with monsters, dwarfs, and one evil  sorceress…will Kate, Michael and Emma survive?  Will they find out who they are?

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The audio version of The Emerald Atlas is read by Jim Dale, famous for his narration of the Harry Potter books.  Although I loved the narration, for me his English accent was a little off-putting.  Kate, Michael and Emma grew up in orphanages in New York, Boston and Baltimore.  Cambridge Falls is in the middle of Lake Champlain, so it’s either New York or Vermont. It’s difficult to believe that any of them would have British accents…and yet they do.  I realize that Jim Dale is a master narrator, but I had a hard time remembering that these were supposed to be American kids living in the present time. (Well, at the start of the book, anyway.)

If you get past that though, the narration is wonderful.  The characters that live in Cambridge Falls and the other places the children end up (who could very well have British accents, given their magical backgrounds)  have rich voices, filled with individuality. The tempo of the reading is wonderful–breathless and hurried when action is taking place, slower at moments of exposition or discovery.  And the end definitely leaves you wanting more!  Luckily, it looks like there will be two more books, since The Emerald Atlas is one of three missing books in the story.  A true trilogy!

I would recommend The Emerald Atlas to fantasy fans.  Kate, Michael and Emma are great characters, each a little different, but devoted to each other. (Even if they don’t always show it.) The magic is grand, the villains very evil. The good guys aren’t always aware of their roles, but they learn.  And there’s subtle humor throughout, keeping things from getting too dark. Mostly.

If you liked Harry Potter (the books, but especially the audio books) this title is a must.  Fans of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass and The Dark is Rising Sequence should also enjoy this book and audio book.   It’s a long book, with some complicated plot devices, so it’s probably best for readers in 5th to 8th grade. But don’t let that stop you if you’re older or younger!  If The Emerald Atlas sounds like something you’d like…try it!  And let us know what you think.

::Kelly::