Book and Audio Review: The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop

What could be better than a lot of chocolate, a little magic, and some secret agents?

Not much…

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The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop
By Kate Saunders, Read by Jayne Entwistle
6 CDs, 6 hours, 52 minutes

whizz pop chocolate shopOz and Lily Spoffard grew up in a tiny house in Washford Common in London.  Even though the family was cramped, they loved it.  But with a new baby on the way, the twins know that they will have even less space.  But that’s when an unexpected letter from a solicitor in London comes… Their father has apparently inherited a mysterious large house on Skittle Street from his great-uncle on the other side of London.  The solution to all their problems?  Maybe…

They go to visit the house and discover that not only is it a house, but it’s a house with a chocolate shop and chocolate-making laboratory on the first floor!  Although it’s been deserted for more than fifty years, everything is just a little dusty, and the water and electricity are in perfect order.   It even still smells like chocolate!

Oz is reluctant to leave his violin tutor, but Lily can’t wait to get away from her tutor; neither of them will really miss their school.  So arrangements are made for new lessons, and the Spoffards move in.

The first person they meet in their new house is a very grumpy cat named Demerara who tells them that their uncles didn’t only make chocolate, they made magic chocolate.  And now, there’s someone after the recipes.  Luckily, Demerara is an agent for SMU–The Secret Ministry for the Unexplained.  She has the contacts to get Oz, Lily and their new friend Caydon some training to deal with the spies who are now lurking around their house and trying to find some magical chocolate molds.

But even with training, will three kids, a talking cat, a ghostly elephant and a cheeky rat be able to topple the forces of evil trying to take over the world?

whizz pop chocolate shop audioThe audio for The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop is great fun.  I love the British narrator, who manages to make everyone sound different.  (She also does a great American accent!)  The pacing is excellent.  The characters really come to life while you’re listening.

This is a great book to listen to as a family, maybe on a long car trip this summer?  The book is written for third through sixth grades, but the story can be enjoyed by all ages.  There are a couple scary spots in the story–but not too scary–so you can reassure younger listeners that everything will turn out okay.

Some read-alikes include The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, Bliss, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Candy Shop War.

dragon with the chocolate heart bliss charlie and the chocolate factory candy shop war

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So if you like magical chocolate, talking cats, and a mystery that spans four generations, try this book.  You’ll like it!

As always, if you need help finding this or any other book, ask one of our librarians.  We love to help!

Happy Reading!



Book & Audio Review: Flunked!

It’s time for another audio book review!  If you like fairy tales, a little bit of villainy, and a dose of magic…Flunked is a book you should like!

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By Jen Calonita, Narrated by Kristin Condon
5 CDs, 5.25 Hours

Gilly isn’t a bad kid, but she is a thief.  It’s not like she has a real choice…she has five brothers and sisters and lives in a boot.  True, her father is a master cobbler, but there’s no longer a demand in the kingdom for shoes made by hand.  Magic slippers are all the rage.   So Gilly HAS to steal…her thievery provides extra food to keep her siblings fed and healthy.  And if she steals something special for a birthday gift here and there…well, it’s not like the stuck up royals will even notice that something is gone.  They’ll just replace it, right?

But when Gilly steals from the wrong royal, in the wrong shop, she’s found out.  And since it’s her third offense, she’s sentenced to Fairy Tale Reform School by Headmistress Flora, formerly the Evil Stepmother.  Princess Ella even signed the order.   There’s nothing Gilly or her siblings or even her parents can do about it.

But Fairy Tale Reform School — FTRS for short — isn’t anything like Gilly expected.  Sure, their mission is “To turn wicked delinquents and former villains into future heroes”, and Gilly expects to be stuck in a dungeon and fed bread and water while being lectured about being good.  But there is no dungeon (for the students anyway) and instead of being stuffed in the toe of a boot with all five siblings, Gilly has a spacious room with only one roommate, delicious and plentiful food, and classes on everything from magic to history to sports.

Of  course, Gilly doesn’t like following rules, even if they do kind of make sense.  And she wants to go home to take care of her siblings; even the promise that they can visit her doesn’t make things much better.  She does start making some friends though, and as they pool their information together about what they know about the school and how they might escape, they discover a mystery.  Who is trying to sabotage the school?   Are their lives in danger?  Gilly and her new friends Jax, Kayla and Maxine may be reluctant students of FTRS, but they will have to put their heads together and use all the somewhat illegal skills they have to get to the bottom of this mystery.

flunked trilogyThe audio recording of Flunked was  quite charming.  (heh!)   Flunked is a first-person story, so everything is relayed through Gilly.  The narrator has the perfect voice for Gilly…young, a little bit inquisitive, scrappy…and reluctantly impressed with her new surroundings.  Her voice for other characters, seen through Gilly’s eyes, are varied by accent, pacing and attitude.   Letters from Gilly to her family, notes from teachers and The Happily Ever After Scrolls–updates on the action at the school, as reported by a nosy reporter for FairyWeb- enhance the story and give an outside view of the action.

Flunked is the first of the Fairy Tale Reform School trilogy, followed by Charmed and Tricked.  I would recommend the series for kids who like an off-beat take on fairy tales, an anti-hero heroine, or just an entertaining read.  Fourth through seventh grade readers would enjoy the book, while the audio would probably work with second grade and through adults.

Some read alikes include Sarah Mlynowski’s Whatever After series, Shannon Hale’s Ever After High series, Soman Chainani’s School for Good and Evil series, and Suzanne Selfor’s Ever After High series (apparently a popular series title!)

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So pick up book, or the whole series, and enjoy!  If you like it, let us know!

As always, if you need help finding books or audio books to read, ask one of our librarians.  We’re always happy to help!


Three Audio Reviews: Kids in Trouble

Time for three new audio reviews!  I haven’t been driving much, so this has taken a little longer than expected.  Although it wasn’t planned, these three books do have something in common: Kids in trouble, trying to find their way home…even though they’re already there.

So, here we go!

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The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
by Joan Aiken, read by Lizza Aiken
4 CDs, 4 hours, 49 minutes

wolves of willoughby chaseSylvia is leaving the only home she’s known with frail, elderly Aunt Jane. She’s off to live with her cousin Bonnie and Bonnie’s parents, Lord Willoughby and Lady Green at Willoughby Chase, an estate deep in the wilds of Britain.  It’s the middle of winter, and there are wolves on the prowl…and not only the furry kind.

When Bonnie’s parents leave for a year-long journey abroad to  improve Lady Green’s health, Sylvia and Bonnie are left in the care of a distant cousin.  Miss Slighcarp was recommended to Lord Willoughby, but neither girl likes her. She soon proves she’s not to be trusted, as Sylvia and Bonnie are locked in the attics, the servants are dismissed, and all Bonnie’s toys and books and belongings are sold.  Miss Slighcarp tells the girls that Bonnie’s parents have been lost at sea, and they soon end up in a workhouse run by the evil Mrs. Brisket.  Bonnie is determined to get Sylvia out of there and back to Willoughby Chase.

wolves of willoughby chase 2Will Miss Slighcarp succeed in her evil activities, or will Bonnie and Sylvia manage to escape and stop her?  And if they do escape, will they even have a home to return to?

We featured The Wolves of Willoughby Chase earlier as one of our Old Favorites.  It’s a very exciting story, full of adventures and daring escapes.  It is considered a modern classic by most children’s literature sources. Lizza Aiken, the reader, is Joan Aiken’s daughter. Her reading is well done; her cadence and accent vary for most characters.

wolves of willoughby chase audioThe audio recording of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase starts with a wonderful foreword, where Lizza shares details about her own childhood and memories of her mother writing the book.  I feel these details help create an immediate connection between the listener and the reader.  The little tidbits about the background of the book are interesting and memorable.  My only reservation is that I’m not sure that a new reader appreciates the foreward as much as someone who has already read the book and is listening to it as a “re-reading”.  Some of the information depends on knowledge of the story.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a fairly short book; only 150 pages.  Because it’s sort of an “alternate history” book of Britain though, it might confuse younger readers…and even adults not familiar with British history. It is chock-full of adventure and emotions though, and would be enjoyed by listeners as young as third grade, and probably up to middle school.  It’s an excellent choice for a family car trip!

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What Came From the Stars
By Gary D. Schmidt, Narrated by Graham Winton
6 CDs, 6.5 hours

what came from the starsThe Valorim are under attack, and their way of life is at an end.  Young Waeglim, of The Ethelim, manages to pull all the strength of the Valorim  into one small package, which he casts out into the galaxy.  Traveling at the speed of thought, the Art of the Valorim makes it through multiple universes until it comes to a small, single-sun planet on the remote edges of a tiny galaxy…

Tommy Pepper lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  His family lives in a ramshackle old house on the seashore.  Every morning, Tommy, his dad and his little sister Patty greet the morning out on the beach, watching the sun come up.   After that, Tommy and Patty walk or take the bus to school. Both of them prefer walking; then they don’t have to deal with Cheryl Lynn Lumpkin and her bullying about how her mother’s new development is going to take over the stretch of beach in front of their house.

The morning of Tommy’s twelfth birthday starts out with nothing going right. Tommy’s father makes him take the lunchbox his grandmother sent him to school–the lunchbox for a show Tommy hasn’t watched since he was eight.  Afraid that the other kids will laugh at him, Tommy hides the lunchbox under the picnic table.  Tommy doesn’t notice when a mysterious glowing green chain falls from the sky and lands in his lunchbox.  He just thinks it’s part of the birthday present from his grandmother, and puts it on.

Suddenly, Tommy is using words his classmates have never heard before. The town of Plymouth is under attack from something that breaks into houses when no one is home and leaves them strewn with stinky seaweed. Tommy can draw things that move, hear music that no one else can hear, and his head is full of information about life on a double-sun world. Plymouth Police are at the Peppers’ door and Tommy spends more time in the principal’s office than he ever has before.

Does all this have something to do with the glowing necklace Tommy is now wearing?  Tommy and his friends are going to try to figure it out. But when Tommy draws a figure in the sand, it comes to life, and suddenly Tommy isn’t only dealing with his odd new memories and abilities, but an O’Mandim, the enemy of the Valorim, come to life on Earth.

what came from the stars audioThe audio recording of What Came From the Stars is excellent–I love the narrator’s voice.  His take on Tommy, his family and his friends (and enemies) are all slightly varied.  He does a wonderful job with integrating the foreign words Tommy starts using, making them sound completely commonplace.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the Valorim as well, their planet and their way of life.  In the book, the chapters based on the Valorim are in italics.  I did find it a little more confusing to hear the names rather than read them.  There are a lot of vowels and “th” sounds in the names of the O’Mondim, Valorim and Ethelim, and I had a hard time distinguishing who belonged to which group.  But that’s probably just me.

What Came From the Stars is probably best for fifth through eighth grade readers. It would make a wonderful audio book for a family car trip.  The book balances well between science fiction and a realistic school story.  Tommy Pepper has some problems, and his friends rally around him to help him deal with them.  Yes, he is dealing with inter-galactic technology and aliens, but at heart, this is a story about love and life and loss.

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Liar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead, Read by Jesse Bernstein
4 CDs, 4 hours, 41 minutes

liar & spyGeorges (the s is silent) is not happy to be leaving the house he grew up in, but his father has lost his job and is still looking for a new one.  In order to save money, they had to sell the house and move into a small apartment.  They’re in an entirely different neighborhood, but still close enough so that Georges can go to the same school.  Not that that’s a huge benefit, since Georges best friend dumped him the year before to sit with the cool crowd, and Georges hasn’t really made too many other friends.  Georges tends to end up at the table with the other outcasts, like Bob English Who Draws.

Living in a apartment building is very different from living in a house. There are people coming and going on the time, and your neighbors are a lot closer.  When Georges and his father go down into the basement to look over their new shared laundry room and garbage cans, Georges’ dad sees a sign for an upcoming Spy Club meeting.  Georges’ dad writes “what time?” on the announcement.  When the reply is penciled in the next day, Georges decides to go.  (Or maybe his father pushed him into it.)  At any rate, Georges meets Safer and his little sister Candy.

The Spy Club turns out to be an excuse for Safer to get Georges to be his second in command and spy on Mr. X, another tenant in the building. Safer is convinced that Mr. X is up to no good, and has something to hide.  Georges goes along with it, learning techniques of observation and spying skills. He also starts to spend some time with Safer’s eccentric family when his father is away or visiting his mother at work.

At school, Georges is spending more time with Bob English Who Draws, and finds that maybe being picked on by the popular kids isn’t something he has to just take.  As time goes by, Georges finds that living in an apartment is still something to get used to though, even though he and his father are taking it one day at a time.

liar and spy audioThe audio for Liar & Spy is excellent.  I really enjoyed listening to the recording.  This is a book where things unfold very slowly, and although the clues are there, it’s not until later that you see them. The narrator’s voice fits the story well.

I did have one problem though…although I wanted to, I really didn’t like Safer.  Because I listened to the book rather than read it, I don’t know if it was the character’s actions or the voice the narrator chose to use for him. Since I had a pretty quick reaction to the voice though, I think it was that.  I’m not sure if my take on the book might have been different if I had read it rather than listened.

Liar & Spy is an interesting book about a boy who is trying to figure out what friendship really means. He’s also dealing with quite a few changes in his life, and some issues that he doesn’t even want to acknowledge.  It’s probably best for readers in fifth through eighth grades, but a mature fourth grade reader would probably enjoy it too.

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So, there you have it.  Three VERY long reviews of three very different books.  I think I’m going to go for humor next time!



Audio Reviews: Survival!

I didn’t realize there was a theme between the last three audio books I listened to, but when I put them together, it was right there.  One space adventure, one steamy Everglades fiasco, and one white-water rafting trip in the middle of a tropical storm.  And yet, they all have one thing in common–Survival!

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Have Space Suit, Will Travel
By Robert A. Heinlein, Read by Will McAuliffe and the Full Cast Family
8 CDs, 8 Hours

Kip has wanted to go to the moon since he was in elementary school.  There is a lunar base up there, of course, but most people have to do something extraordinary to get stationed there. Kip decides that he’ll just have to go into science, work hard, and get there. His parents support his plan, although they tell him he’ll have to work hard.  In fact, his father takes a look at his school and the curriculum, and gives Kip a bunch of extra homework to do in order to have the type of basis he’ll need to get into a good college.

But then Kip hears about a contest a soap company is running. The person who creates a new slogan for their product will win an all-expenses paid trip to the moon!  Kip is suddenly the biggest fan of soap that ever was. With everyone in town giving him soap wrappers to mail in the slogans he thinks up, Kip is sure he can win.  With five thousand entries, one of them has to catch the eyes of the judges.

But Kip doesn’t win first prize; he wins something else. A spacesuit. Formerly used on the space station but retired, it’s still (mostly) space-worthy.  Instead of selling it for college tuition, Kip decides to completely renovate and update it.

Which is why he’s standing in the middle of a field when he receives a distress call from space.  And it’s how he survives being snatched by space pirate, meeting aliens, and being stranded on a secret base on the moon.

If Kip survives the experience, he’ll have a LOT to tell his grandchildren!

Have Space Suit, Will Travel was written in 1958, and it’s an interesting blend of 50s culture, projected technology and science fiction. For example, Kip is trying to fit a radio into his spacesuit helmet, and he mourns the fact that the transistor circuit isn’t smaller.  But of course now, we have micro circuits that could fit a radio in something the size of a quarter…and have much better ways than radio waves to communicate, anyway.  Kip wants to make multiple copies of something, but can’t because he doesn’t have access to a mimeograph machine.  There are computers, but they’re the size of houses. And Kip buys 5,000 stamps for under $200!

But even though there’s a huge difference from the projected future of Kip’s world and what we have now, Kip and Peewee are kids who could exist today.  They’re brave, and funny, and determined to get back home.

Now, there is quite a bit of scientific theory in this book, which might make it a little hard to listen to for listeners not interested in how things work.  But if you’re a budding scientist, with a yen for space travel, this book would be perfect for you.  And I do love the narrators of Full Cast Audio, who have different actors reading each part.  The voices are perfect, and listeners will find themselves absorbed in the adventure.

I’d recommend Have Space Suit, Will Travel book to listeners in 5th – 8th grade.  The book might be more accessible to slightly younger readers, because you can skip over the science theories and explanations.

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By Carl Hiaasen, Read by James Van Der Beek
5 CDs, 6 Hours, 11 Minutes

Wahoo Cray lives in Florida, where he shares his home with his parents, several alligators, a few dozen snakes, monkeys, raccoons, turtles, a wild cat and a bunch more animals.  His father, Mickey, is a wildlife wrangler, and is so good at his job that he’s frequently in demand by TV and movie productions.   Unfortunately, he’s currently having problems due to being hit on the head by a frozen iguana dropping out of a tree onto his head and causing a head trauma and a (temporary) coma. Even though he’s now home, he’s not quite up to working.

Because the family still needs to pay their bills though, Wahoo’s mother takes a job in Japan. When she’s gone, Wahoo accepts a job over the phone, one that will pay extremely well and help the family pay off their bills.  All they have to do is work with Expedition Survival!, a TV-reality show starring Derek Badger.  What Wahoo doesn’t know is that Derek Badger is a pampered TV star who believes his own press and thinks that he can wrestle any wild animal into submission. And then eat them.   Mickey, who is extremely protective of his animal family, clashes with Derek immediately.

So when the Expedition Survival! production company decides to film in the wild, instead of in the Cray’s Everglades staging lot, Mickey and Wahoo are hired to go along as animal wranglers.  Who knew things would be complicated by a runaway girl named Tuna, a crazy boat driver, Derek Badger’s inflated ego, and a dangerous man with a gun.  Will Wahoo and Mickey survive Expedition Survival!?

Chomp is a great book to listen to!  Carl Hiaasen always creates completely wacky situations that seem to be just normal life for his characters.  I loved Wahoo and Tuna and Mickey.  And even though I didn’t really LIKE Derek or Raven, his producer, they were a lot of fun to hear about.  As they travel around the Everglades, finding snakes and dodging giant bats and encountering danger, you won’t want to stop listening.

James van der Beeks’ narration was quite enjoyable, although I was a little unsure of it at first.  Wahoo and Mickey sound very similar, and I thought there would be a problem distinguishing between the voices.  As soon as the cast of characters started growing though, everyone had a distinct voice and rhythm.  And it makes sense that a father and son would sound alike.  And he did some great Australian, Floridian, and backwood swamp folk accents.

Chomp is a great survival story, with a hint of mystery that could be enjoyed by readers in grades 5  through grade 8.    The audio could be listened to by kids slightly younger, although Tuna’s situation and her father’s actions might require some discussion with younger kids. I think adults and high school kids would enjoy it as well…it has a unique and subtle humor that makes you grin, rather than laughing out loud.  And then try Hoot, Flush and Scat, which are all great books and books on CD as well!

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Take Me to the River
By Will Hobbs, Narrated by Steven Boyer
5 CDs, 5.25 Hours

Dylan has been planning this trip to Texas to visit his uncle and cousin for months.  Although he’s never met them, all three share a love of white water rafting; for the visit they’ve planned a trip  down the Rio Bravo, with Dylan in a canoe and Rio and his father in a raft.  When Dylan gets to the airport, he takes the bus to town, just as planned. But no one comes to meet him. Instead, he gets a message that he should hitchhike to his uncle’s house.

Puzzled and dismayed, but not wanting the adventure to be cancelled, Dylan finds a ride with a trucker, and meets Rio in a little restaurant where he works.  There, he learns that his uncle has been hired as a river guide in Alaska, and won’t be able to go on the rafting trip.  Rio was supposed to call Dylan while he was still at home in North Carolina, so that he could change his travel plans.  Rio didn’t make that call though, because he wanted to meet Dylan, even if all they can do is hang around Rio’s house.

And then the boys have an idea.  Why don’t they go on the rafting trip anyway?  They’re old enough and responsible enough, and they have plenty of experience on a variety of rivers. They get a friend of Rio’s to give them a ride to the head of the Rio Bravo, planning to buy most of their supplies at the store there.

But when they reach the store, it’s closed. And there are black helicopters on the river.  Dylan and Rio learn that there’s a tropical storm approaching and that the US and Mexican governments are searching for a group of dangerous drug runners.  Even though they consider both these problems with care, Dylan and Rio decide that it’s most likely that the tropical storm will go another direction, and that the Mexican criminals will be spotted by the searchers before they even reach the river. They set out on their trip.

But of course, things don’t go as planned, and soon Dylan and Rio are faced with tropical downpours, a raging river that’s much higher than they’d planned on, and two unwanted passengers.  Will they manage to survive?

Take Me to the River is a great adventure book for anyone who likes their stories spiced with danger!  The cousins don’t always make the wisest choices, but they’re both smart, and tough, and trying to do the right thing.   Although they’ve been in touch through e-mail and phone calls for years, this is the first time they’ve had a chance to meet, and it’s quite an introduction!

The descriptions of the storm, the raging river and the various weather fronts make the listener feel like they’re in the back of the raft.  The tidbits of information about life on the border of Texas and Mexico are quite interesting, and very eye-opening.  Once the boys run into their uninvited passengers, their actions stay true to their natures, and they struggle with a lot of difficult choices.

Take Me To The River is a wonderful survival story for kids in fifth through seventh grade. The audio could be enjoyed by family members of all ages for a long car trip.  This is a must read for anyone planning to raft the Rio Bravo, and would be an enjoyable selection for anyone who might be going white water rafting.

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And…that’s it.  Enjoy these survival stories and let us know what you think.  If you’re in the Weston Public Library looking for something to read or listen to, ask one of our librarians for help.  We’re glad to assist you in finding the perfect book or audio!


Three Fantasy Audio Books Reviewed

Time for a few more audio reviews!  For some reason this month, they’re all fantasy-adventure stories.  I guess I have a type.

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Earwig and the Witch
by Diana Wynne Jones, Narrated by Charlotte Parry
1 CD, 1 Hour

Earwig was left on the steps of St Morwald’s Home for Children as a baby with a note pinned to her shawl:
Got the other twelve witches all chasing me.
I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off.
It may take years.
Her name is Earwig.

Of course, Matron didn’t believe that anyone would name a child Earwig, so she called her Erica Wigg. That never stuck though, and Earwig became…Earwig.

One of the interesting things about living in an orphanage is when people show up looking to foster children. Earwig always manages to avoid being chosen though, because she likes living at St. Morwald’s.  Where else would she be able to make everyone do whatever she wants? When potential foster parents come through, Earwig concentrates on looking unloveable. It’s always worked.

So when two strange people come in–the woman with one brown eye and one blue one in a mean face, with blue-rinsed hair and purple lipstick, wearing a brown suit with a green sweater and sky blue high-heeled boots,  the man just a tall black blur in the air–looking for a child, Earwig looks unloveable. It doesn’t work. The couple seems to see right through her concentration, and they take her. Earwig tries to refuse, but she has no grounds for an objection.  She goes to live with Bella Yaga and the Mandrake.

But the little house on Lime Street has some curious secrets. Why is it bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? Where are the doors to get out?  How can Thomas the cat speak to Earwig?  And what is Bella Yaga brewing in hter kitchen?  Soon Earwig has her hands full figuring out the mysteries of her new home and practicing magic, as well as trying to make her place in the world.

The narration for Earwig and the Witch is quite charming…I love the narrator’s matter-of-fact approach to telling the story.  All the characters have distinct voices and accents.

Earwig and the Witch was the last book Diana Wynne Jones completed before her death, and it’s an intriguing story.  Somehow though, it feels like it was only the beginning of a tale that is much longer and more involved.  I just wish she’d had the chance to write more about Earwig, Thomas and all the orphans at Saint Morwald’s.  But for a quick car trip or to introduce Diana Wynne Jones to younger readers, this would be an excellent choice.  I think kids as young as five would enjoy listening to Earwig’s story, and the book is aimed at second through fourth graders.

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Skulduggery Pleasant
by Derek Landy, Performed by Rupert Degas
6 CDs, 7 Hours, 30 minutes

Stephanie had always enjoyed her Uncle Gordon, even if he was a bit of a mystery. Part of that may be because he was a mystery writer, coming up with far-fetched horror plots where the hero never quite makes it through the book. But when Gordon dies and leaves the bulk of his estate to Stephanie, she’s as shocked as the rest of her family.

At the reading of the will, she meets the mysterious Skulduggery Pleasant. His only legacy from Gordon is a pithy piece of advice, but Stephanie is intrigued by his appearance. He wears a very fancy suit, gloves, a large hat, sunglasses and a scarf. There’s not a single bit of skin showing on his extremely thin frame. Stephanie and the rest of her family finds it very odd.

When Stephanie ends up alone in Gordon’s house–well, HER house now–overnight, she enjoys the time alone and the chance to read Gordon’s last manuscript.  Just after midnight, when she’s finished reading, someone starts banging on the door.  Stephanie tries to pretend she’s not there, but soon the prowler breaks into the house and attacks.  He apparently wants something that he thinks Gordon left to Stephanie–something that is hidden in the house. Something Stephanie has no idea exists.  She fights back, but Stephanie is no match for the mysteriously strong thug. She is saved by Skulduggery…who in the course of the fight reveals himself to be a living skeleton.

Stephanie is determined to learn what kind of craziness Uncle Gordon was involved in, and soon discovers that there is a whole other world which exists alongside the human world, populated by magic users, monsters and beings like Skulduggery, former humans transformed into something different by magic.  As she works alongside Skulduggery, trying to find out who is trying to kill her, she learns that she has some magic skills of her own…

The CD recording of Skulduggery Pleasant is fun to listen to.  I love the narrator’s accent, and his tone is full and rich.  I was at first taken aback by the bridges between chapters and scenes…most of them feature spooky music but there are also rattling bones, echoing footsteps, and sudden screams. (My poor dog practically jumped out of the car the first time she heard the screams on a car ride.)

The narrator’s voice is surprisingly deep, but there are so many menacing adult male characters in the story that his voice is perfect.  One thing that did throw me was that Skulduggery’s voice changed from disc to disc…on the first two CDs, he had a very deep voice with what sounded a bit like an American accent…but on the third CD, it was higher and had the same accent as most of the other characters.  It was a small flaw in an otherwise masterful recording.

Skulduggery Pleasant is both a mystery and a fantasy story.  It has two sequels–Playing with Fire and The Faceless Ones. The books do feature some magical fighting and contain some violence, so it’s probably better for older listeners.  I would recommend the books and the recordings to kids in fourth through seventh grade.

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Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog
by Ysabeau S. Wilce, Performed by Danielle Ferland
10 CDs, 11.25 Hours

Flora Fyrdraaca has problems.  She’s the only Fyrdraaca at home, which makes her the one in charge of Crackpot Hall.  As if being fourteen and preparing for her Catorcena ceremony wasn’t enough, she has to clean a house with 11,000 rooms, muck out horses stalls, care for the family dogs and watch out for Poppy, her father who lives in his Eyrie away from everyone else at the top of the house, has temper tantrums that destroy rooms and cause more work for Flora.

Even if Flora’s Mamma was home, the responsibility would still fall to Flora. Mamma, after all, is the Rock of Califa, the Commanding General of the Army of Califa, second only to the Warlord who rules the country. She is much too grand and busy to worry about the upkeep of the house. It would be different for Flora if Mamma hadn’t banished the Fyrdraacan Denizen, the magical entity who IS the house. But she did, and that’s why nothing in Crackpot Hall works. Even though there are 11,000 rooms, only a handful are actually accessible regularly.

So when Flora takes a forbidden shortcut and ends up in the Library, a room she has never before seen, she just has to explore. And when a skinny boy comes out of the gloomy stacks and introduces himself as Valefor, the family butler, Flora is amazed at how much Fyrdraaca family history he knows. But when he tells her that she can restore him to the healthy magical Denizen of Crackpot Hall by giving him a tiny taste of her will, Flora is intrigued.  The pot is sweetened when he offers to restore some of the conveniences of the house with the rebuilding of his Will.  Flora will have help cleaning, and cooking, and have fresh towels and sheets and someone to talk to while her Mamma is away and Poppy is hiding in his Eyrie.  Flora agrees, and Valefor takes some energy.

Flora thought that things would get easier with Valefor’s help, but then Mamma comes home and she has to hide his presence. Mamma leaves shortly, but not before Flora’s snooping in Mamma’s office reveals that one of her heroes, the Dainty Pirate, is about to be hung.

Flora enlists her best friend Udo to help rescue the Dainty Pirate. But can two teenagers take on the entire forces of the country (not to mention the overlords and enemies of that country) to save one pirate? Some surprising people come to their aid, and some unsuspected villains are revealed as Flora and Udo take their lives into their hands to do what they think is right.

I loved the narrator of the Flora Segunda CD.  The language in the story is quite different from most books, with a little bit or exotic flavor. The narrator’s voice is quirky, and her accent is just right for this book.  There are terms thrown around that are not what you expect to hear, and yet they sound perfectly natural.  It feels like the listener is in an entirely different world.

Flora has to deal with some difficult issues in her life–her father has PTSD and drinks, her mother is away too much, her family tree is riddled with strange characters–yet her charm and innocence and determination comes through. But because of that, I would recommend both the book and the book on CD for kids in fifth through ninth grade.

And if you like Flora Segunda, try the two sequels: Flora’s Dare and Flora’s Fury.

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So if you’re in the mood for a good fantasy book of CD for a car trip, a bedtime listen, or just to play for fun, try one of these.  They’re sure to be a hit with the right listeners.

If you need suggestions for your next book on CD, please ask one of our librarians. We’ll be happy to help you find the perfect story for your family!