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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.