OK, so if there are any regular readers of this blog, you know how much I don't want to pick up a series book in the middle. Most of the time, I can get around this by reading up before listening, but I literally didn't have anything else to listen to except for the fourth (fifth?) installment in The Land of Elyon [this is a very outdated website, so try this one instead!], so I reluctantly started Stargazer by Patrick Carman. Best to get it over with, I thought.
The girl on the cover is Alexa, heroine of these stories, and as this book starts out she is sailing across the Lonely Sea with some loyal companions. Soon, an evil mechanical sea creature (Abaddon) attacks their ship -- killing its captain. Alexa and her faithful gnome (or some other short and hairy creature) Yipes are rescued by the peaceful, happy citizens of The Five Pillars. These people seem to spend their days sliding down vines in an activity called "skimming." They have no idea of the evil that lurks at the bottom of their pillars -- Abaddon is slowly attacking the pillars' bases so they will fall into the sea. Alexa -- telepathically linked to the creature -- knows, and she acts the heroine to save the community, finding and piloting the balloon flyer that will transport those citizens who wish to go back to their original home in the Land of Elyon.
If that synopsis creates more questions that answers, blame the fact that I have little idea of what backstory was provided in the previous four books. I'm sure that there are young readers everywhere who are fully caught up in Alexa's adventures -- but to me, they reek of the mediocre fantasy series that have sprung up in the past 10 years hoping to catch the Harry Potter backsplash. There isn't much of anything in this book: no story, stock characters, leaden dialogue, and a whole lot of telling and not much showing. This appears to be the final volume, and it concludes with a balloon-load of cheap sentiment.
The audiobook doesn't rise above its material. Read by Ellen Archer -- a narrator who has clearly worked hard to create some wacky character voices, but who seems to me to just be trying too hard to amuse young listeners. There's no subtlety in her characters (well, there's no subtlety in Carman's characters, either). I didn't find her voice all that pleasing to listen to -- she seemed harsh and overly loud.
I did my duty and now I can move on.