by Morgan Reeves on September 30th, 2014
I listen to very few books on disc. I am generally just not able to immerse myself in the audio version of a book as well as I can in the print version. I end up listening to the same passage multiple times because I zoned out or got busy doing something else. If that sounds like you, try listening to anything written and narrated by Neil Gaiman. So far I have listened to three of his audiobooks; The Graveyard Book, Fortunately the Milk, and Odd and the Frost Giants. In the telling of all three stories Gaiman is engaging and brings each character to life with a distinct and unique voice. As the author, he of course has special insight into how characters are supposed to sound, but his range of believable voices is impressive. Gaiman can imitate the confused innocence of a child and in the next breath reply in the piercing tones of a talking eagle. In addition to Gaiman’s performance, the stories themselves are always imaginative and full of life. I imagine they would be riveting in any format, not just audio.
The Graveyard Book follows the story of young Nobody Owens, or Bod for short. His entire family was murdered when he was just a toddler. He would have been killed too, if not for wandering into a graveyard and being adopted by the resident ghosts. He grows up under the tutelage of his two ghost parents and his guardian Silas, who may or may not be a vampire. As a child given the freedom of the graveyard Bod learns lessons both practical, moving through shadows, and personal, how to do what is right even when it is hard. At times scary, this is great coming of age story for grades 3rd-6th.
Odd and the Frost Giants introduces Odd, a perpetually grinning Norse boy with a bit of bad luck. His leg has been crippled, his father died in a Viking raid, and winter has gone on much too long. In an attempt to get away from it all, he retreats to his father’s old woodcutter’s hut in the woods. While out walking he befriends a bear, a fox, and an eagle, who quickly reveal they are the gods Thor, Loki and Odin. They have been trapped in animal bodies by a Frost Giant who has taken over Asgard and is the cause of the long winter. With his usual good humor Odd decides he has nothing to lose by attempting to defeat the Frost Giant, returning the gods to their true forms, and ending winter. Nothing too scary here, good fantasy adventure for grades 1st-5th.
Fortunately the Milk is a shorter story about the extraordinary adventure a father endured in order to bring his children some milk for their breakfast. Dinosaur scientists, volcanic sacrifices, time travel, pirates, aliens, and even ponies are all a part of this very funny book. An amusing tale that can be enjoyed by the whole family, particularly grades 1st-5th.
by Morgan Reeves on August 25th, 2014
The Search for WondLa has been on my “To Read” list for awhile now, since it was published in 2010. But having learned a valuable lesson in series anticipation from Harry Potter, I put off starting this trilogy until the last book was published. This May the final book was published, The Battle for WondLa, and the time was ripe to start this series.
DiTerlizzi has mixed a good bit of science fiction into his fantasy to create a fascinating world. Eva Nine is a human girl being cared for and trained by Muthr, a humanoid, multifunctional robot. They live in an isolated Sanctuary with no contact with other humans. Eva longs to go outside and venture into the real world, but up until now Muthr has prevented this, deeming it safer to stay inside. But when their home comes under attack from an outside force, Eva is forced to flee on her own. Outside, her encyclopedic Omnidroid cannot identify any of the strange creatures she encounters. Feeling increasingly unprepared for life on the surface, Eva is captured by the strange hunter Besteel, but is able to escape and free his other captives at the same time. Thus, she has made her first friends, Rovender Kitt, a tall blue alien, and Otto, an enormous water bear.
Rovender has some news for Eva, instead of being on Earth as she had assumed, they are on a planet known as Orbona. To help make sense of this new world, she insists on rescuing Muthr from the ruins of their home. Reunited, the group sets off in search of other humans using Eva’s most prized possesion, a photo of a girl, robot and book with only the letters “Wond L a” still visible. Along their journey they encounter both kindness and cruelty from the natives. Eva and Muthr soon realize that they are oddities that no one has seen before, and thus valued for their rarity. The mystery of their origins is left unanswered for most of the book, with the only tantalizing hints coming at the end. Told in four parts with short chapters, this a fairly quick read accompanied by DiTerlizzi’s sylistic illustrations. An interesting tale that leaves you wanting to more, a demand that can gladly met by the sequel, A Hero for WondLa.
by Morgan Reeves on July 28th, 2014
I have been looking forward to reading this latest and perhaps last tale from the late and fantastic, Diana Wynne Jones, ever since it was announced. Finished by her sister Ursula, The Islands of Chaldea is a fitting bookend to such a long and varied career. The story begins as Aileen, a young magic user in training, discovers that she doesn’t seem to be all that magical. Devastating news for a girl from a long line of powerfully magical Wise Women of Skarr. Aileen is not given any time to dwell on this as she and her no-nonsense Aunt Beck are sent on a quest by the king of their stony grey island. Their quest is in response to a prophecy, that only a Wise Woman and a man from each of the four Islands of Chaldea will be able to remove the barrier that separates them and reunite them as one kingdom. At the end of the last battle between the islands, Logra was magically sealed off from Skarr, Bernica, Gallis, with the barrier in place for most of Aileen’s life. They set off accompanied by Ivar, an arrogant prince of Skarr, and Ogo, a Logran abandoned during the war.
After an eventful start involving poisoned clothes and a sometimes invisible cat, the companions arrive on Bernica. As they wander through rolling green hills, a traveling monk joins them, bringing with him a bird who may tell the future. After Aunt Beck runs afoul of a queen and her donkeys, Aileen begins to come into her own as a leader. She gets them all safely to Gallis, where spells are sung and a religious order reigns supreme. Here they find the relatives of Aileen’s long lost father, who offer them a way over the barrier to Logra, via hot air balloon. Together with her newly discovered cousin and his size changing dragon, they make it over the barrier only to crash land and be taken prisoner. In the capital, the companions find that the poor Lograns have blamed the barrier on the other three islands, and hope for its removal as much as the rest of Chaldea. Who then put up the barrier in the first place? As a decades long conspiracy begins to unravel, Aileen must become the Wise Woman she was meant to be and bring together the four magical guardian animals of Chaldea to overcome the great evil intent on keeping the islands apart.
A great read for fantasy fans, The Islands of Chaldea is a fantastic coming of age adventure, full of the magical comedy Diana Wynne Jones was best known for.
by Morgan Reeves on June 30th, 2014
Trains, Sasquatches, and a circus make for an exciting combination in this steampunk adventure story from Kenneth Oppel. During the late 1800′s in Canada, Will Everett grows up witnessing the expansion of the continental railroads as the son of the railway company manager. A shy boy with a talent for drawing, he has always wished for adventure, but never seems to find it. Now on the maiden voyage of The Boundless, the longest train ever built, his adventure finally begins, as he witnesses a murder. In order to stay alive and warn his father about the criminal plot, Will disguises himself as part of a circus with the help of an old acquaintance. He teams up with Maren, the highrope walker from his past, and Mr. Dorian, the circus ringmaster who has an agenda of his own. Together, they try to reach the front of the seven mile train before the criminal gang catches them. The journey, full of perils both magical and real, puts Will’s drawing skills and new friendships to the test. As the train reach the snowy mountains, danger finally catches up to the circus trio, and not everyone will escape uninjured.
The only hitch in this otherwise fantastic story, is the present tense narration takes some getting used to for most readers. Overall this is a page turning story bolstered by mild fantasy elements and plenty of detail from a lesser-known period of history, with some edge of your seat moments that lead to a suspenseful climax.