June 2021
Children's/Teen Reviews
*Gordon Korman. War Stories.
Read by Jonathan Todd Ross.
5 CDs. 6.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 8+

Listeners of Gordon Korman's War Stories will follow World War II-obsessed teen Trevor and his 93-year-old veteran great grandfather, GG, as they travel to France. GG has been asked to return to a village he helped liberate 75 years ago to receive an award. Not all of the village's inhabitants are thrilled that he is returning and try to dissuade him with verbal and physical threats. However, GG prevails and shares a part of his journey that softens eyes and hearts toward those who fought so many years ago.

Narrator Jonathan Todd Ross's ability to resurrect characters from across eras and ages, along with genders, is impressive. His main focus is on GG's vocal tones, both as a 17-year-old enlistee and an elderly man reflecting on his past. The younger GG is full of energy and determination and fear and focus, and Ross's efforts highlight each emotion beautifully. The seasoned veteran, on the other hand, is clearly strong and stubborn and tired and remorseful as he shares details of his war years. Again, Ross's tones and pacing are convincing.

Trevor's youthfulness and innocence are evident in Ross's efforts, as well. The boy, who is just five years younger than his great grandfather when he enlisted, sees only glory and bravery in war. His bewilderment is evident as the story progresses. Ross makes the transition believable.

Fortunately, Ross's French accent is beautiful, which bodes well since most of the story takes place in France. He helps listeners fall in love with those involved in the French Resistance in 1944 and the Lafleur descendants in 2020.

Ross has narrated several titles for a variety of authors, including Kate Milford, Bill Nye, and Liliana Hart. He has also lent his voice to the Yu-Gi-Oh! animation and video game series.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold

*Kate Milford. The Thief Knot. A Greenglass House Story.
Read by Sandy Rustin.
12 CDs. 14 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 10+

Who is ready for an adventure? Marzana, the socially-anxious protagonist of Kate Milford's middle grade book The Thief Knot, and her best friend Nialla, certainly are. In their boring hometown where nothing ever happens, they are so antsy for a little fun that they sniff out suspicious behavior where none exists. All they want is a good caper, like the kind they read about in books.

Except that the girls are citizens of the Liberty of Gammerbund, a city that serves as a sanctuary for reformed pirates, thieves, and other adventurers with shady pasts, including Marzana's own mother. In Milford's intricately-built world, most of the adults in the Liberty have secrets. They go by fake names, hide their lock-picking skills, and pretend to be everyday parents, all to protect their children from harm, ever mindful of their kids' need for "deniability" should something from the past come bubbling back up. So when Marzana's parents are asked to help rescue a young girl who has been kidnapped, and let Marzana in on some of the details, she leaps at the chance to help, and to find out more about her mysterious mother.

Let the adults question the usual suspects and puzzle through the official clues. Marzana and Nialla, along with a multi-talented crew of friends, are going to save the kidnapped girl with tricks only kids could think up. Provided they don't get themselves killed in the process.

For middle-graders who have been stuck behind computer screens for the past year, The Thief Knot is a doorway into a thrilling new world. The story has magic, of both the "rabbit out of a hat" variety and the supernatural, like buildings that have minds of their own, and helpful ghosts. But Milford also layers in some real life lessons here, including the threat of monopolizing corporations bent on domination. Milford portrays grief realistically, and her characters wrestle with anxiety in social situations and how to trust others.

Narrator Sandy Rustin has an approachable, pleasant reading style, capturing the pathos of young adolescents and the excitement of the thrill of the chase. Rustin only falters when attempting a minor character's English accent, which she would have done well to leave behind.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss

*Brigit Young. The Prettiest.
Read by Laura Knight Keating.
6 CDs. 6.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 8+

Brigit Young's newest novel focuses on important topics for middle school: bullying and sexual harassment. The Prettiest centers on a list recently released that rates the fifty prettiest girls in eighth grade. Eve Hoffman, a quiet girl who loves to read, made the number one spot, pushing classmate Sophie Kane down to number 2. Young explores the reactions of both girls, their friends, and the boys who garner so much pleasure teasing those who made the list and those who didn't.

The Prettiest is presented in three voices: Eve's, Sophie's, and Nessa's, Eve's best friend. Narrator Laura Knight Keating skillfully differentiates each voice in ways that are appropriate to each character's personality. Eve sounds shy and afraid. It is clear Sophie is angry and insecure. And Nessa, the theater nut, comes across confused, yet confident. Keating's pacing fluctuates with the passions of the moment and smoothes out as the girls' confidence increases.

Not to be outdone by the challenge of bringing male voices to life, Keating handles the boys' vocals well, too. Brody, the most popular boy in school and the prime suspect of the list's creation, is cocky and flirtatious. Eve's older brother has a deeper voice and a tender way of encouraging his younger sibling. Even Weston, a classmate who sides with the girls-turned-vigilantes, has his own vocal cues, including a hint of a stutter and sounds of regret.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold

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