Review of Lion Boy Audiobook



by Zizou Corder

read by Simon Jones

Audio Adventures.  8 1/4 hours on 7 compact discs.

I reviewed the print version of Lion Boy years ago at

Unfortunately, I did not go straight on to read the next two volumes of the story — so I completely lost the thread of what was happening.  When Lion Boy was a selection for the Fairfax County summer reading program, it seemed like the perfect time to refresh my memory, so I listened to the book on CDs.  (And I’m happy to report that I have already begun the second book, so I am not going to let it go this time.)

How to say this without sounding derogatory?  I’m finding audiobooks perfect for the sort of light-hearted book that doesn’t absorb me quite enough to keep me reading late into the night.  Yes, the book is very interesting, but since I generally only get to listen in fifteen-minute stretches, audiobooks work well with a book that keeps me mildly interested over a long period of time.  I’m not sure I defined it exactly right, but I never did get around to reading the Lion Boy sequels, but I found myself eager to listen to them.  I’m finding there’s a certain type of reading that I enjoy more as listening.

And again (as with all the audiobooks I’m reviewing lately), the narration was marvellous.  The book had songs with music inserted in the text, and of course the audio version included these.

This is another good family story that would make great listening for a family vacation.  The hero is a kid, but he gets into some tight places, and the whole family will find themselves hoping Charlie finds a way to save his parents, and his friends the lions.

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Review of Larklight, by Philip Reeve



Or:  The Revenge of the White Spiders!

Or:  To Saturn’s Rings and Back!  A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space!

by Philip Reeve

Performed by Greg Steinbruner

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006. 400 pages.

Audiobook:  Recorded Books, 2007. 8 CDs, 8.75 hours.

Starred Review.

Imagine for a moment that outer space is not a black emptiness, but really the “aether,” and full of living things.  Imagine that there’s life on Mars, life on Venus, life on Saturn, and even “ichthyomorphs” floating in the middle of space.

Now imagine that instead of just discovering gravity, Isaac Newton used alchemy to figure out how to make spaceships.  Imagine that in the 1800s, the British Empire wasn’t just an earthly empire ruling the seas, but ruled the solar system.

Art and Myrtle Mumby grew up on Larklight, a large old house that orbited the moon.

At the start of the book, their house is attacked by space spiders the size of elephants.  Their father is captured by the spiders, but they manage to escape and land on the moon.  On the moon, their life is in danger from giant moths, but they are rescued by space pirates.  The captain of the pirates is a teenage boy, but the crew are all aliens.

The pirates don’t want to obey Myrtle’s demands and take them to a British Embassy, and the children’s adventures are only beginning.  The book presents narrow escape after narrow escape as Art and Myrtle travel the solar system and end up saving the world.

This story is indeed a “rousing tale of dauntless pluck.”  I was put off at the beginning because I hate the thought of giant spiders, but before long I was lingering in my car to listen.  Even though I knew Art would surely escape, several times I found myself wondering how on earth he would get out of the latest tight spot.

Once again, I was enchanted by the delightful accents of the British narrator.  This audiobook would be a fabulous adventure to listen to for a family traveling on summer vacation.  Although there are some fearsome situations, Art and Myrtle emerge unscathed from them all.  Great fun!

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Review of The Sky Inside, by Clare B. Dunkle


The Sky Inside, by Clare B. Dunkle

Ginee Seo Books (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), New York, 2008.  229 pages.

Martin gets a dog for his birthday, but this is no ordinary dog.  In fact, he gets an Alldog — “Large or small, sleek or fuzzy — all the dogs you ever wanted rolled into one.”  Martin’s “dog” is programmed to please Martin, in doglike ways.  Later, when Martin discovers his dog’s abilities go beyond the “normal” simulated dog, he finds some intriguing things the dog can do for him.

Meanwhile, Martin has to stick up for his little sister Cassie and their friends.  Cassie is a “Wonder Baby:”

“Never had the arrival of the stork brought such excitement.  Overflowing with charm, brimming with intelligence, Wonder Babies were like nothing the suburb had seen before.  But that didn’t turn out to be a good thing.

“Wonder Babies didn’t wait around to be raised.  They got involved in their upbringing, wanted to know about their feeding schedules, and read voraciously before the age of two.  Worst of all, Wonder Babies — or the Exponential Generation, as they preferred to be called — wouldn’t stop asking embarrassing questions.  No amount of time-outs, missed snacks, or spankings could break them of this awful habit.”

Martin’s suburb, under a big dome, is a place where kids dream of getting mediocre test scores so they can get a factory job and hire a robot to do the work.  This community gets tired of the Wonder Babies quickly.  Martin doesn’t fit in too well himself, always trying to find things out.

When a man comes to take away the Wonder Babies to a “special school,” Martin thinks he may have found out too much about their real destination.

One of the things I love about Clare Dunkle’s other books, The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy and By These Ten Bones, is how real the settings seem.  She builds worlds that feel like true history, with all the details twining together and making sense.

Oddly, that was exactly what bothered me about this novel — it was hard to get a grasp on the world Martin was living in.  There are lots of ideas, maybe too many:

What would it be like to live in a domed community, afraid of the world outside, which is reported to be only blowing sand?

What would it be like when robots can do most of the work?

How would genetic engineering affect communities? 

What if game shows were used as punishment?  (That’s not at all far-fetched.  After all, isn’t that what Rome did with the arenas?)

What if only a select population were allowed to live in perfect, planned communities?

What if robots could be programmed to change their appearance as well as their behavior?

In one place, Martin asks what fire is, then calmly watches someone prepare food over a fire.  I didn’t quite feel I really understood where Martin was coming from….

However, I still recommend this book.  It takes the story of a boy and his dog to an entirely new level.  A lot of fun, and with some intriguing ideas.  Like all good science fiction, this book could spark some interesting discussion, with plenty of food for thought.  What would such a world be like?

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Review of Flight, Volume Four


Flight, Volume 4 

Villard, New York, 2007. 344 pages.

Like comics? Here’s a book sophisticated and strange, silly and freaky all at once.

In the book Flight, Volume 4, you’ll find a magic window maker, a girl preserved for years in a box in the basement, a roomie-pal to order when you’re traveling, a baby born with shining eyes, and the silly story of Igloo-Head and Tree-Head. (Find out what happens when they meet Public Library-Head!)

All the stories are done graphically, each with a totally different style than the story before. These stories will make you think, they will make you laugh, and they’ll make you scratch your head and say, “Huh?”

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Review of Specials, by Scott Westerfeld

by Scott Westerfeld

Reviewed September 15, 2007.
Simon Pulse, New York, 2006. 372 pages.

Specials is the dramatic conclusion to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy. As before, I don’t want to say too much about what happens, because that will give away the ending to the earlier book, Pretties.

This third book focuses on the department of Special Circumstances—run by the “Specials.” While “Pretties” are beautiful and empty-headed, Specials have a cruel beauty. They look perfect, but haughty and superior. The effect is frightening when combined with their pointed teeth and nails.

What’s more, the Specials have superhuman abilities—with bones crafted of unbreakable aircraft ceramics, muscles sheathed with self-repairing monofilament, and heightened senses and reflexes. The Specials are after the Smokies who want to reverse the effect of the surgery on the Pretties’ brains. The Smokies want people to think for themselves, and then what will become of the world?

These books are absorbing and exciting. My friend, who also heard Scott Westerfeld speak at the Bologna writer’s conference, was mad at me for snapping it up when it came to the library. Fortunately, I was already planning to read it as soon as it came in, and now I’ll pass it on to her.

This is science fiction with teens that seem real—complete with love-hate relationships, conflicting emotions, and complex feelings. Sometimes they screw up, and when you’re “Special,” that can cause a major disaster.

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Review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, by M. T. Anderson

M. T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales:
The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen
by M. T. Anderson

Reviewed September 9, 2007.
Harcourt, Orlando, 2006. 243 pages.

This book, another “Thrilling Tale” in the spirit of Whales on Stilts, is a delightful spoof of children’s series books. Both my sons, ages 18 and 12, read this book, and laughed so much and read bits aloud so often, I simply had to read it myself. It may not be great literature or a terribly compelling story, but it is hilariously clever.

Katie Mulligan, her friend Lily, and Jasper Dash, Boy Detective, are ready for a vacation, so they take advantage of a coupon for a free dinner at the Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort. Once there, they learn that the coupons are fake—and many other people, all stars of series books, have received them as well.

Then the Hooper Quints are kidnapped on their way to the hotel. Which of the dashing detectives will be able to solve the mystery? Then a valuable necklace is stolen while people are out searching for the quintuplets. Are the two mysteries tied together?

The story isn’t the point of this book. It’s got lovely unlikely plot twists, just like the series books they are spoofing would have.

Here’s the first section that my 12-year-old felt he HAD to read to me. It’s talking about how Jasper Dash’s books are somewhat out of date.

Often, if you go to a town library and under Keyword Search type “Jasper Dash,” you’ll come up with a list of his books—and beside each one, it says: “Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn.” This means that they are no longer in circulation. Some librarian has taken them off the shelf, wiping away a tear, and has opened the book to the back, where there’s a pouch for a card dating back to the time of the Second World War, and she’ll crumple up the card, and then she and her fellow librarians will take special knives and slice away at the book and will eat the pages in big mouthfuls until the book is all gone, the whole time weeping, because they hate this duty—it is the worst part of their job—for here was a book that was once someone’s favorite, but which now is dead and empty. And the little cheerful face of Jasper Dash, heading off to fight a cattle-rustling ring in his biplane, will still be smiling pluckily as they take their Withdrawal Knives and scratch his book to pieces.

(How did he know?)

A section my 18-year-old was compelled to read to me was actually on the back flap:

M.T. Anderson is seven monkeys, six typewriters, and a Speak & Spell. It took them ten years to write The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. Their previous books include Adf2yga^vvvv, WpolwOox.S Ppr2dgn shr Elssf, and The Riverside Edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Adf2yga^vvvv was a National Book Award finalist. The M. T. Anderson Monkey collective is located outside Boston. Its hobbies include flash cards, hopping, and grooming for lice. It divides its time between the parallel bars and the banana trough.


Who wouldn’t want to read a book with such a blurb?

Here is the review on the main site:

Journey Between Worlds, by Sylvia Engdahl

Journey Between Worlds

by Sylvia Engdahl

Reviewed August 8, 2007.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), New York, 2006. Originally published in 1970. 240 pages.
Starred Review.

I would call Journey Between Worlds science fiction for girls. Although I’m sure boys who like science fiction would enjoy it as well, the other-worldly setting isn’t the main point of the story. Instead, Melinda Ashley’s life is complicated by her father’s gift of a trip to Mars, and it provides the background for difficult decisions.

First, Melinda must decide how to react to a gift she didn’t want, but that her father went to great lengths to get for her and is sure she’ll be delighted about. On the way to Mars, she travels with someone else who is not excited about going there—someone to reinforce her complaints. But then she meets a young man born on Mars, and all of her ideas are challenged.

In the end, she has to consider which is more important: her world, her plans, the dreams she grew up with, or the unchanging, real things in people’s hearts.

I love this book, as I love all of Sylvia Engdahl’s books. I like her heroines. They are people I’d like to be friends with. They are faced with difficult decisions and rise to the challenge. I’m delighted at this chance to read another of her books.