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.


Quick Audio Reviews: A (partial) summer’s worth!

It’s been a long time since there was an actual review in Bella’s Blog.  Sorry about that!  It was a very busy summer, and September was also busier than expected!  But to make up for it, here are a few quick reviews of some excellent audio recordings for your next road trip.  Four today, four tomorrow!


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witch week audioWitch Week
By Diana Wynne Jones, Performed by Gerald Doyle
7 CDs, 8 Hours

“Someone in Class 6B is a witch.”

In most classrooms, that would inspire giggles and wishes to wield magic.  But in the school that Nan Pilgrim, Charles Morgan and Nirupam Singh attend, the anonymous note found on the teacher’s desk could be a death sentence.  In their world, witchcraft is punishable by death, and they all know from first-hand experience that even good people can end up accused of magic.  The problem is, all three of them suddenly seem to HAVE magic.  It’s easy to use. And it’s not easy to give up.

As their lives and the lives of their classmates become more and more complicated, Nan discovers a spell that could save everyone.  The spell is just one word, repeated three times: Chrestomanci.  But when chanting the spell brings a strangely elegant enchanter into their world, will he make things better…or worse?

The recording of Witch Week is delightful.  I love Gerald Doyle’s voice; he manages to make every character sound different…and there are a lot of characters!  The pacing is wonderful, and the story, by my favorite author, is fun.  If you like Harry Potter, you should give Witch Week (and the rest of the Chrestomanci series)  a try.  It’s a very different type of witch-school from Hogwarts, but just as intriguing.   Best for kids in third through sixth grade, this would be a fun CD for a family trip!


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kingdom keepers audioThe Kingdom Keepers
By Ridley Pearson, Read by Gary Littman
6 CDs, 6 hours

Finn Whitman is a celebrity at Disneyworld.  No one actually knows his name, but he has to wear a disguise any time he wants to visit the park.  That’s because Finn was chosen for a cutting-edge program for Disney–he’s one of the new 3D hologram guides to Disneyworld.  It’s kind of fun to be so famous, and kind of a pain.  But he never expected it to be actually painful.

Finn finds himself dreaming about being inside Disneyworld at night though, and it’s so real that when he gets hurt in the dream, he’s hurt when he wakes up.  That can’t be a coincidence.  After an encounter with Wayne, an old Imagineer from Walt’s day who claims that Finn’s dream self is actually him, Finn starts investigating.  He finds the other five kids who were scanned and imprinted onto the Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging program, and discovers that they’re also experiencing strange things when they sleep.  Together, the teens find Wayne, who tells them that there’s evil afoot in Disneyworld, and only Finn and his new friends can fix it.  After hours. In the most famous amusement park in the world.  And then they have to split up, because they’re attacked by pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean display.

Finn has to rally the others and fight the evil Disney villains, or risk them getting out of the park and into the world. It’s dangerous, and there’s a possibility that he might get stuck in his hologram body.  But what’s a kid to do?

The Kingdom Keepers is  a fun book to listen to, especially for anyone who has ever visited Disneyworld.  You can find out about hidden tunnels and the behind-the-scenes activity in the park, as well as use your imagination to see how the rides might be after dark.  (Hint: pretty scary!)  The narration is excellent.

This is the first book in the Kingdom Keepers series, which just ended (maybe?) this year with the seventh title: The Insider.  It’s a fun series for grades 4 – 6, although it could go younger or older for listening, especially if you’re a Disney fan.  A great mystery/adventure series!


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Liesl and po audioLiesl & Po
By Lauren Oliver, Read by Jim Dale
5 CDs, 5 Hours, 55 Minute

Poor Liesl is stuck in her attic bedroom, condemned to live there by her evil stepmother.  She’s rather accepting of her circumstances, considering.  She would have likes to have seen her father, but he’s been sick for years, and her stepmother refuses.  Three days after her father dies, Po appears in the tiny attic.  Liesl is convinced that Po is there from the Other Side to bring a message to her father for her.  Po thinks he was just following Bundle, his…dog?  Cat?  Small formerly furry companion, anyway.  That same night, a delivery boy named Will issent on an errand for a powerful alchemist; where he makes a terrible mistake in his deliveries.

Two boxes.  One containing the ashes of Liesl’s father, the second containing the most powerful magic in the world.

Will is in deep trouble, and suddenly on the run.  Po finds himself drawn to Liesl, unable to find her father, but returning to see her.  Liesl mourns her father and looks for a way to escape the attic and put him to rest.  Will, who  has been watching Liesl at her attic window for days, wishes they could meet while trying to figure out how to escape his situation.  Po figures out how to help Liesl.  And Liesl finds the courage to defy her stepmother. When Will’s mistake becomes obvious to the adults in their lives, it affects all three children, and Bundle too.  Suddenly, Liesl, Will, Po and Bundle are on the run, looking for the answer to a problem they don’t quite understand.  But they will!

The narration of Liesl & Po is excellent. Jim Dale is the narrator of this audio book, and if anyone has ever listened to the Harry Potter audio books, you’ll know that listening to his voice is an experience in itself.  The story is spooky, and full of adventure, with a hint of mystery and a lot of feelings.  You should also look at the book, even if you experience the story through the audio book, because the illustrations are wonderful.   Best for kids in fourth through sixth grades, but enjoyable for all ages.


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19093_dreamthieves_lbl_nodieThe Dream Thieves
By Maggie Stiefvater, Read by Will Patton
11 CDs, 12 hours, 46 minutes

Where we left off: in The Raven Boys, Blue Sargent had befriended The Raven Boys; four students at nearby Aglionby Academy–Adam Parrish, local boy on scholarship, Noah Czerny, mysterious and not quite part of their world, Ronan Lynch, angry bad boy and Richard Campbell Gansey III, otherwise known as Gansey, their defacto leader.   By the end of the book, their search for the lost Welsh king Glendower  awakened the ley lines, Blue and Adam had started dating (even though Blue was attracted to Gansey) and  one of the boys had sacrificed himself for the others, changing their world.  At the very end of the book, Ronan announced that he had brought his pet crow out of his dreams.

In the sequel, The Dream Thieves,  Ronan is keeping secrets from everyone, and maybe even from himself.  Although he told the others that he could bring items out of his dreams, he didn’t tell them that he has.  And every item that is taken from a dream can be dangerous.

Luckily, Ronan has friends who are willing to help him, because his family won’t.  When his father died, his will stated that his three sons never set foot on their childhood home again.  It also stated that are to never see their mother, who slipped into a coma after his death, again.  Declan and Matthew seem to abide by this, although both obviously hate it. But Ronan, angry Ronan, who was his father’s favorite, fights it.  In his day to day life, and in his dreams.

When Ronan discovers that there is  a killer after his family, working for someone who is determined to retrieve all the dream items and learn the secret of how to steal items from dreams, it stirs his anger to a boiling rage.  Blue, Gansey, Noah and Adam are pulled into the fight, along with Matthew and Declan.  But is it a fight that they can win?

The Dream Thieves is a well-written and suspenseful story, and the audio book reflects that.  I had an easier time getting into the second book on audio, but I still wish that they had picked a different narrator.  I think it’s me though, not him.  Other listeners seem to love his take on the characters.  The third book in the cycle, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, will be released this month and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens to these characters in the next chapter of their lives.  The Dream Thieves is in our Teen collection, and is definitely for high school readers.  I think adults will enjoy it as well.

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Old Favorite: The Magicians of Caprona

It’s been a year since my favorite author Diana Wynne Jones passed away. She wasn’t just my favorite though, there are many people all over the world who have adored her and her books.   In her honor, many blogs all over the world are having a Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones Blog Tour!  From April 12th to April 26th, bloggers from all over the world will be talking about Diana, her books and her influence on writers and readers from April 12th to April 26th.

This is a writer who deserves to be read and reread, talked about and enjoyed.  So though we’ve done other Old Favorites of her books, (see Eight Days of Luke, The Homeward BoundersCharmed Life and our Tribute to Diana Wynne Jones) here’s one more: The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones.

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The Montanas and the Petroccis are two of the most powerful magical families in Italy. For decades, all of the best spells have come from either Casa Montana or Casa Petrocci.   The two great houses of Montana and Petrocci go back to the founding of the great state of Caprona, seven hundred years ago, but they’ve been bitter rivals for over two hundred years.  There are stories about what started the feud (different at each house, of course) but no one really knows.  If groups of Montanas and Petroccis  meet on the streets, they fight. Sometimes with stones and fists, but more often with spells. Every citizen of Caprona knows to get out of the way if two factions of the rival houses meet.

Paolo and Tonino Montana have never been to school with any Petroccis, they’ve never even met one. But their older sister Lucia tells them stories about the family’s horrible habits. Since all the Montana cousins have heard these stories since they were children, they believe it too, especially dashing cousin Rinaldo, who is almost an adult. Only Tonino’s oldest sister Rosa laughs and tells Paulo and Tonino and the younger children not to listen to the over-imaginative Lucia.

But things aren’t always wonderful, even for magical families.  Casa Montana may be magical, but poor Tonino despairs of ever being able to work magic himself; his spells just go wrong.  Paolo, who has a great instinct for spells,  is sure that he would be good at school.  Tonino had always hoped for that too, but even at school, Tonino really has to concentrate to remember anything. He’s so unhappy that Old Niccolo, his grandfather, charges the leader of the house cats, Benvenuto, to look after Tonino.  That is how Tonino becomes the liaison between the Casa Montana cats and the Casa Montana spell-workers.

When the Old Bridge of Caprona is cracked by winter floods, the Duke of Caprona orders it to be repaired. It will take both the Montana and the Petrocci familes to repair the damaged spellworks. Although each family is determined to stay to their own side of the bridge, only the combined efforts of working together will ensure that The Old Bridge’s spells will endure.  But it’s much harder to repair than anyone thought…someone, or something, is diverting the magic.  When the Montanas call on Chrestomanci, the English enchanter who regulates the use of magic in their world, he is only able to tell them that there is an evil enchanter removing the virtue of the city.  If Casa Montana and Casa Petrocci can find the words to the Angel of Caprona (which is both a hymn and a powerful spell), they may be able to save the city.  If they don’t find the spell, they won’t be able to save Caprona, and it will mean war. And in fact, Chrestomanci must leave without helping them much more, he needs to prevent the city-states of Florence, Pisa and Siena from attacking Caprona while the Montanas and Petroccis try to find the Angel of Caprona. He takes several of the older cousins and uncles with him.

Both families know different words to the hymn, but they’re not the right words. As the search goes on for the spell, Old Bridge is in danger of collapsing again. Both families return to work on the spell-work, but since most of the men are trying to prevent war, the spells are being done by the senior uncles and aunts, the women and even the older children. At Old Bridge, Tonino and Paolo meet two Petrocci sisters–Angelica and Renata.  They don’t SEEM horrible,in fact, they remind the boys of their girl cousins.  Tonino even learns that there might be someone worse at magic than he is–whenever Angelica tries a spell, it works, but never the way that she intended.

Banished from the spellworking on Old Bridge because of their unpredictable powers, Tonino and Angelica are left unprotected and vulnerable.  Both are suddenly and sneakily dragged into a spell, and only Paolo and Renata seem to understand that something has happened to them.  Benvenuto knows too, but without Tonino to explain what he’s saying, the adults won’t listen to any of them.

While Tonino and Angelica struggle to discover where they are and how to save themselves, Paolo and Renata work together to try to get a rescue mission in play. The Casa Montana and Casa Petrocci families though, seem determined not to listen.  In fact, they spend more time fighting and throwing spells at each other.  Is this all part of the evil enchanter’s plan?  Are the two biggest Spell-houses of Caprona destined to fall?  Will anyone find the Angel of Caprona?  Is the fate of Caprona resting on the shoulders of Tonino and Angelica, Paolo and Renata?

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The Magicians of Caprona came out in 1980, to much anticipation and critical acclaim.  It was the second book to feature Chrestomanci, the mysteriously vague nine-lived enchanter. The main focus of the story though, are the two feuding families.  The Montanas and the Petroccis are similar to the Capulets and the Montagues, only without the romance. Well, not the same kind of romance, anyway. Tonino and Paolo’s older sister Rosa has a secret she’s keeping, although Angelica and Renata’s older brother Marco might know more about it than any of the Montanas…

This is a great book!  Writing a description is difficult though, since all of the bits and pieces fit together so carefully that saying too much is like pointing out the way to put it together.  Most of Diana Wynne Jones’ books are like that, which is why they’re such a pleasure to re-read.  There’s always much more going on than you thought, and a second time through makes the reader realize that the clues were always right there, disguised. It’s almost a different book the second time around!

But if you like stories of magic, of brave and determined kids in danger, of brothers and sisters who are friends and who fight together, then you’ll like The Magicians of Caprona.  The world of Caprona might take a little getting used to (it’s a little like Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets live in Hogsmead, and their children all go to Hogwarts but must stay in different houses) but it is definitely an interesting world. (And it came first!)  The plot contains a lot of twists and turns, but I think the story would be enjoyed by kids in fifth through eight grades, and by even older readers  who know who the Montagues and the Capulets are.  Tonino makes some appearances in later books featuring Chrestomanci, so his story continues in some of Diana Wynne Jones’ later books.

So pick up The Magicians of Caprona and read it…twice!  Then let me know what you think. I’m guessing that if you’re a fan of original fantasy, you’ll love it!