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Catch a Falling Star

Kim Culbertson, read by Erin Spencer. Scholastic Audio, unabridged, nine CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-0-545-72296-4

Nothing ever happens in Little, Calif.—nothing, that is, until a famous movie star comes to town to shoot a film. Much to Carter Moon’s dismay: she would much rather have her small town back and be done with all the Hollywood nonsense. It means nothing to her. Unlike her best friend Chloe, who knows all about young Adam Jakes, a child star gone wrong who has infiltrated the town, and soon Carter’s life. Adam’s people want to clean up his battered image, and a young, wholesome girlfriend from town seems like just the thing to accomplish it. They offer Carter an obscene amount of money to pose as Adam’s girlfriend while he stays. Carter needs the money, and doesn’t care a whit about Adam until they start spending more time with each other. Is he just another pretty Hollywood face or a real guy Carter could actually fall for? Spencer has an excellent voice for Carter—young and innocent yet mature and skeptical. There are occasions when Spencer misses an opportunity to realize Carter’s utter disdain for the celebrity lifestyle that would have resulted in a laugh and deeper insight to Carter’s dilemma about becoming a cog in the Hollywood machine. A Scholastic hardcover. Ages 12–up. A Scholastic/Point hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Door

Andy Marino, read by Allyson Ryan. Scholastic Audiobooks, , unabridged, seven CDs, eight hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-0-545-67572-7

Teenage Hannah Silver has an unusual life: she lives in a lighthouse with a mysterious door that is always kept closed, and she hears the voices of an old woman named Belinda and a girl her own age named Nancy, who give her advice and warn her of invisible dangers on the stairs, in her head. Then her mother tells her that their family has the responsibility of being “guardians” of the door, which leads to the world of the dead. When her mother is murdered, Hannah goes through the door to the world of the dead to find her. Narrator Allyson Ryan creates distinctive voices for hesitant Hannah, elderly Belinda, and the many colorful characters Hannah meets on the other side of the door. But she tends to use the same calm, measured tone for all the narrative parts, whether they’re descriptions or tense action scenes—there is not enough variety in her delivery.. In addition, the convoluted tale doesn’t translate well to the audio medium: when listening, it’s too easy to lose the thread of the meandering plot or miss a detail that turns out to be important. This is a tale best read in print, so the reader can easily refer back to previous scenes if necessary. Ages 8–12. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

Lemony Snicket, read by multiple narrators. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, three CDs, three hrs., $18 ISBN 978-1-4789-8123-7

This title contains 13 short stories from Lemony Snicket’s youthful time in Stain’d-by-the-Sea, a declining seaside town. While residing there with his indifferent mentor, Snicket solved mysteries such as a dog abduction, a case of stolen spoons, the cause of ghostly apparitions, and who was behind incidents of vandalism and theft. Written with his usual clever wordplay and accurate but lighthearted vocabulary definitions, the stories have just enough clues for the listeners figure out the culprits. The readers’ voices may sound familiar to parents and children who ride in NPR-listening cars: Sarah Vowell, Ira Glass, Terry Gross, and Rachel Maddow all maintain their distinctive tones while giving characters unique identities. And somehow, the Snicket character sounds uniform across all thirteen stories. The varied voices keep listeners’ interest, and every one of them is “in” on Snicket’s sly wit and dark humor. What other children’s book would contain an sledding joke about Ethan Frome? The end of each story is told at the end of the audiobook. This makes for awkward listening. Listeners have to choose either to remember all the cliffhangers and listen to the resolutions all at once, or to skip ahead in the tracks and find the appropriate ending. Flipping back and forth in a print book would be much simpler. But in a print version, there would not be the joy of hearing the molasses-slow baritone of Stephin Merritt read words by Lemony Snicket—a job for which Mr. Merritt is eminently suited. Ages 8–up. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Farm

Tom Rob Smith, read by James Langton and Suzanne Toren. Hachette Audio, unabridged, eight CDs, 9.5 hrs., $30, ISBN 978-1-4789-5312-8

Smith's startlingly original new novel is told from the perspective of Daniel, a Londoner whose parents, Chris and Tilde, have retired to a farm in the south of Sweden. The story begins as Daniel receives word from his father that his mother has been hospitalized after experiencing psychotic episodes. For months, Chris says, Tilde has been "imagining things—terrible, terrible things." Before Daniel can fly to Sweden to see her, his father calls again to say that Tilde has checked out of the hospital and disappeared. Soon after, she arrives at Daniel's door, emaciated and in obvious distress, claiming to have escaped from an asylum where Chris imprisoned her. In her ensuing tale, strikingly enacted by Toren, Tilde describes her nightmarish life on the farm, with Chris and a neighbor plotting against her. Langton convincingly renders Daniel with the voice of an educated, thoughtful young man, unable to decide whether his mother is telling the truth, or is delusional, as his father claims. Daniel, uncertain and perplexed, interrupts Tilde's story with questions that he hopes will bring out the truth. The conversation continues for much of the novel, with Toren contributing an unnerving, emotionally charged performance, and Langton reacting with questions that seemingly suggest an open mind on the part of Daniel, but that carry more than a hint of disbelief. Together, they transform Smith's brilliant prose into a mesmerizing two-character theatrical. A Grand Central hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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