First up - James and the Giant Peach. This is another book that I'm sure I read dozens of times when I was growing up (or at least had read to me dozens of times), but had no clear memory of. Obviously there was a giant peach involved, and I thought I remembered it flying, or something, but that was about it.
If you are in the same boat, you really should pick this up and give it a read. It would probably take a couple hours at most, but it will be a fun, refreshing two hours. It's obvious why this imaginative, exciting book is considered a children's classic.
Though James is entertaining in his role as the titular character, it is his giant insect friends who make the book. I caught myself laughing out loud at their antics all the way up to the end.
As for the audio side of this audio book, Jeremy Irons is wonderful. He brings each of the characters to life and captures the light-hearted tone of the book perfectly. If you get a chance to listen to this one, don't pass it up.
The 39 Clues fascinates me as a marketing strategy. If you aren't aware of this series, it tells the story of Dan and Amy Cahill as they partake in a worldwide scavenger hunt to find 39 clues that will make them the most powerful people in the world. There are currently 7 books in the series, with an 8th due in April.
I say it's fascinating from a marketing perspective because of several reasons. First of all, at the rate the books are going so far, they are on pace to have 39 in the series. That's right, 39 - one for each of the clues Dan and Amy are searching for.
Another interesting aspect of these books is that they aren't all written by the same author. My guess is in order to keep them fresh, and to turn them out fast enough, they have multiple authors working on subsequent books simultaenously. This, of course, means that they aren't all as high quality as the first one (written by the talented Rick Riordan), and that they don't all capture the exact same tone and style. So far, however, this hasn't been too problematic. I imagine a lot of that is helped by the fact that so far all 5 books have been performed by the same narrator - David Pittu. His consistent voice probably helps smooth over many of the more subtle stylistic differences between authors.
There is also a card game associated with the series, but I don't know anything about it. Suffice it to say, this is the most strategic, financially motivated books series I've ever read. But is it any good? Yeah, it is good. At least, it's as good as the author who pens the current book. As I said above, Rick Riordan is talented, as is Patrick Carman who wrote book 5. However, this can't be said for them all (in particular, book 3 by Peter Lerangis comes to mind as low point).
I'm also not sure how I feel about creating a series for children that has so many requirements for spending money. I'm capable of handling it as an adult (and checking them all out at the library helps), but if I kid were to get into the series, they would be wanting every book as soon as it comes out, plus all the trading cards, etc. At the same time, if it can keep children reading, it is doing something right so I probably shouldn't complain.
Plus, in terms of tone and themes, the books deal with difficult problems with sophistication. For example, Dan and Amy are often tempted to behave the way the others in the contest do (lie, cheat, steal to get ahead), and they reflect upon these temptations with honesty. Sometimes they give in, and when they do they know they have made a mistake. It's encouraging to see lessons like this being taught, no matter the cause that drives the books to be published.
Still, I don't think I would recommend these to everyone I meet without reservation. They aren't masterpieces, and in most cases there are books by the same authors that are better. However, if you enjoy juvenile fiction, long-running series, and world travel this might be right up your alley.
On another note, does anyone have any other young adult books to recommend? I'm starting to run out of audio books at the library...