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.






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!


Another Audio Review!

It’s been busy here, with no time for blog entries!  Fortunately, there’s still been time to listen to audio books to (eventually) report back and review.   I’ve listened to six different books since the last audio entry, but I’m not sure all six will make it into this blog entry.  We’ll see.  So, without further ado…

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No Place For Magic
by E.D. Baker, Performed by Katherine Kellgren
6.25 Hours; 6 CDs

no place for magicEmma is the princess of Greater Greensward, but even more important, she’s also the Green Witch of Greater Greensward, in charge of all the magic use in the kingdom.  Not bad, for a sixteen-year-old former cursed frog. After attending the spur-of-the-moment swamp wedding of her Aunt Grassina and her beau, the former enchanted otter Haywood, Emma and her fiance, Prince Eadric of Upper Montevista decide that it’s time to clear up some issues with Eadric’s parents, King Bodamin and Queen Frazzela.  Although it pains Emma to admit it, it’s time for a visit to Upper Montevista.

The biggest issue that Emma is avoiding is Queen Frazzela’s hatred of any magic and magic users.  For Emma, who uses magic daily for everything from cleaning her room to weeding her garden to settling a dispute between warring factions of witches, the queen’s attitude is incomprehensible.  But she is the Queen, and Eadric’s mother.  And the two of them have been avoiding facing the King and Queen of Upper Montevista for months.  Adventures with dragons and curses are fun, but even Eadric has admitted that it’s time to start planning for their own wedding.

no_place_for_magic 2The first snag is when Emma’s mother, Queen Chartreuse, decides that she must join Emma.  Although the queen understands the need for magic, she really doesn’t approve of it any more than Eadric’s mother does.  So long, quick magic carpet ride!  Since the queen doesn’t think it’s proper for a princess to be traveling unchaperoned, she can’t even ride horseback with Eadric.  So it’s an uncomfortably long horse-drawn carriage ride for Emma, complete with maids, trunks of wardrobe, dressmakers, a trousseau, and the company of her mother.  And her grandmother, the formerly evil witch, her grandfather the ghost, her aunt, the royal fairies…pretty much everyone at the castle! Emma manages to leave quickly though, leaving the queen and her entourage to follow a few days behind.  In the carriage it will be just Emma, her friend Lily, a bat who can talk, and Shelton, a crab she’s taking care of for her mermaid friend.

The journey isn’t easy, and Emma is tempted to use her magic as they run into problems along the way.  Their arrival in Upper Montevista is no happy homecoming though, as they learn that Prince Eadric’s younger brother, Prince Bradston, has been kidnapped by trolls!  Emma and Eadric set off on a mission to rescue the prince, even though Emma isn’t sure that he hasn’t brought this catastrophe upon himself.  The problem is that, to satisfy both Queen Frazzela and Queen Chartreuse, Emma has promised not to use magic.  Even as a last resort.  What’s a Green Witch to do?  When it becomes apparent that there are trolls, dragons, vampires, sea monsters and other creatures after Emma and Eadric (not to mention the girls fluttering over and flirting with the prince, right under Emma’s nose) Emma has to make some difficult decisions about magic and friendship, not to mention allies, enemies and family.

no place for magic audioThe audio recording of No Place for Magic is absolutely, incredibly wonderful! Katherine Kellgren, the reader, has a huge range of voices, each with a different accent, speech pattern and tone.  I absolutely adored her vocal range and voices.  Not surprising!  When you look her up online, you will find that she has recorded over a hundred audio books, and she won the Audie Award for Best Voice in Young Adult and Fantasy from 2008 through 2011.  She’s a finalist for the 2014 Audie Award for the narration of a book that’s near and dear to my heart, Magic Marks the Spot, by local author Caroline Carlson.  In other words, she’s a shining star of audio books!  I would highly recommend anything Ms. Kellgren has narrated, not just No Place for Magic.

Although No Place for Magic is Book Four in The Tales of the Frog Princess, you don’t necessarily have had to read the previous volumes to enjoy this title.  Although the listener (or reader) would perhaps have a better idea of the background characters if they did read the previous books, No Place for Magic does stand well on its own.  It’s an enjoyable story with fairy tale characters, monsters and humor each playing a sizable role.  The stellar performance of Ms. Kellgren is a reason to listen as well.  There are currently eight volumes in the Tales of the Frog Princess series

No Place for Magic is written for third through sixth grade readers.  The audio recording would be enjoyable for the entire family, with good listeners as young as four or five.  Fans of fairy tales would love it.  It would make a perfect audio book for a family car ride!  It’s also available as an e-book through the Minuteman Library Network Digital Media Page.  If you’re going on vacation, it would be a fun pick to bring along.

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And that’s it.  I think I’ll try to write one review every day until I catch up with all the listening.  So…until tomorrow!





Audio Reviews – Three series fantasy(ish) books!

These three books on CD have been waiting since February vacation to be reviewed!  All three are sort of fantasy…but not really.  One mysterious fantasy with some humor, one sort of dystopian science fantasy, and one fantasy alternate universe historical.

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Whales on Stilts
by M.T. Anderson, Read by Marc Cashman
3 CDs, 3 hours, 3 minutes

Lily Gefelty is a normal girl.  Sure, her hair hangs over her face so that she can only see out of one eye at a time, and her best friends both have their own book series, and her father works in an abandoned warehouse for an evil genius…but other than that, she’s pretty normal. Who knew that she’d soon be involved in a plot to take over the world?

The problem starts on Career Day when Lily’s dad, Mr. Gefelty, brings her to work. Mr. Gefelty is in sales, but he has to use the same secret door to the abandoned warehouse and check in with the receptionist, just like all the mad scientists do.  Lily can’t help but notice the secrecy about everything, the signage and guards everywhere.  Lily wants to linger and figure out what might be going on, but she can’t because (as her father tells her) the guards get nervous and start shooting if people don’t keep  moving.  Mr. Gefelty tells her that there’s no mysterious hidden agenda–the company is simply devoted to expanding cetacean pedestrian opportunities.

But when Lily meets Larry, her father’s boss, her suspicions only grow.  Larry is wearing a pin-striped suit, has bluish hands, and has a sack over his head with eye holes cut out for him to see.  There may even be the slightest hint of a tail under the suit. When Larry dumps a vat of briny water over his head in the middle of the conversation, no one even looks surprised. Despite her father’s reassurances, Lily knows something weird is going on.

Luckily, Lily’s best friends Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut and Katie Mulligan (who doesn’t have a title but does have a book series of over 200 books dealing with her adventures with zombies, killer bugs, ghost teachers and other supernatural creatures) are ready and willing to help.  Between Lily’s investigation, Jasper’s inventions and Katie’s fighting skills, the kids think they can figure out what is going on.  But that’s when the whales appear, with lasers and stilts.  Can three kids save the world (or at least their town) from an unthinkable threat?

The audio book is read by Marc Cashman, who is a well-known voice actor. At the beginning, I thought the pacing was rather slow; as the story progressed, it became obvious that it started slow so that there could be better effects during the action-packed portions of the story. And the action-packed parts were very good!  The pace, tempo and emotions in the reader’s voice varied.

Whales on Stilts is a very quirky little story, but there was a lot in it. Whales on Stilts is the first book in M.T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales: Pals in Peril. Each book features a story that’s a unique blend of mystery, laughs and thrills…sort of like the Hardy Boys were fighting a villain from Saturday morning cartoons alongside  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Anastasia Krupnik helping them.  It’s a blend that might appeal to parents as well as elementary school listeners.

I’d recommend this to fans of Goosebumps and detective series books. It might be a little frightening (or incomprehensible) to kids younger than second grade.  It’s a fun, short book for a car trip.  If you listen to the CD, make sure you look at the book as well…the illustrations are funny, and add a lot of extra clues to the story.

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The Queen of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner, Performed by Jeff Woodman
8 CDs, 9 hours

In this sequel to The Thief, Eugenides is still working for Eddis, his queen, trying to get information to aid their kingdom.  However, things are not going quite as well this time, and Gen is on the run.  Even though he’s slipped in and out of the palace of Attolia hundreds of time, this time, he’s been cornered. With the Queen of Attolia anticipating his every action, Gen uses all his skills to escape, but in the end he is captured and thrown into Attolia’s prison.

Although Eddis manages to ransom him, Gen is first subjected to an ancient punishment for thievery…his hand is cut off.  Sent back to Eddis one-handed and in terrible shape, Eugenides has to recover his health, his sense of adventure and his skills as a thief…and deal with his feelings for the Queen of Attolia.

During his recovery, war has erupted between Attolia and Eddis. Once he’s recovered, Gen knows that he is the one to end that war…and so Eugenides, Queen’s Thief of Eddis takes back his mantle and comes up with a plan.  All he has to do is has to steal a man, steal a war, steal a queen…and win a kingdom.

The audio book is read by Jeff Woodman, who also read The Thief (as well as the other sequels The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings.)  His voice is light and believable–which is not easy when the character he’s reading is hiding so many things!  He does a great job with all the characters, using his phrasing and tone to distinguish between their voices.

I love this series, and I love both the book and the audio rendition of The Queen of Attolia.  There are a lot of things going on in this, both on the surface and hidden beneath.  Little clues are interspersed throughout the unfolding story, and the reader or listener has to be watching to catch them all.  It’s difficult to talk about this story without worrying that you’ll be giving too much away!  All the Megan Whalen Turner’s books are stories where, if you go back and re-read, you’ll find all kinds of nuances that may have been missed or misinterpreted the first time around.

I’d recommend The Queen of Attolia to middle and high school readers, just because of the sophistication of the story.  Adults would enjoy it too.  Fantasy fans in fifth grade who enjoyed The Thief would enjoy this book too.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman or Terri Pratchett.

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The Unwanteds
by Lisa McCann, Narrated by Simon Jones
6 CDs, 7.5 hours

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into three categories: Necessaries, Wanteds and Unwanteds. The Necessaries go on to do the boring, routine jobs that keep the city operating.  The intelligent and strong Wanteds go to the University and learn how to govern the walled city. And the artistic Unwanteds are sent to the Death Farm to be terminated.

Alex has known he would be an Unwanted since the day he was caught drawing with a stick in the dirt.  He doesn’t mind leaving his Necessary parents, but he regrets his separation from his twin, Aaron, who’s been declared Wanted.  He’s extremely hurt therefore, when Aaron turns his back and walks away as if it doesn’t matter…as if HE doesn’t matter. Crushed, Alex mounts the steps to the bus that will take him and  the 22 other Unwanteds purged this cycle. Their journey will end outside the gates the city. All the Unwanteds know that their fate is to be tossed into the lake of boiling oil on the Death Farm.

Instead, all the children are surprised after the Quillitary bus leaves, and the guardians and soldiers they expect to lead them to their death instead throw off their disguises and reveal the hidden land of Artime, a creative paradise run by the enigmatic Mr. Tomorrow, where statues talk, magic is learned, and every Unwanted ever purged from Quill survives and thrives. The children are given rooms and lessons, learning how to paint, make music, dance and sing.

Even as the Unwanteds learn creative magic and art, they are also being taught spells of destruction.  For if they are ever discovered, Quill will try to destroy them.  But Alex cannot forget Aaron, and wants his twin to join him. The bond between twins is strong, and Alex thinks to use that to rescue his brother. While Aaron is working to better Quill, Alex is trying to find a way to reunite them. Will Alex’s longing for his brother cost Artime the ultimate price?

The narrator of The Unwanteds audio book has a gravelly, very deep voice, which threw me at first.  It seemed too harsh for the story at first. But in a land where statues talk, as do flying turtles, it turned out that the narrator was perfect for the story. He’s just as convincing as a thirteen-year old-boy and a twelve-year-old girl l as he is at voicing a seven-foot granite statue.

The Unwanteds has been described as a blend of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and that really is an apt description.  It has the magic and heart of Harry Potter, and the dystopian fight-to-the-death background of The Hunger Games.  I think it’s a little more accessible to younger readers than The Hunger Games, but there’s almost as much mayhem and destruction in the final battle.  It is aimed at grades five through eight, and that is definitely the audience that will appreciate it most.  There’s definitely some disturbing violence at the end, as the battle between Quinn and Artime comes to a head.

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So if you’re looking for a good book on CD for your next vacation car trip, try one of these titles.  And let us know if you’d like these titles.  If you have any suggestions for other books to listen to as a family or as an individual, ask one of our librarians!  We’re here to help.