Title: Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard
Author: Lars Guignard, narrated by Bailey Carlson
Publisher: Fantastic Press, 2012, 328 pages (orig.). Audio book 2013 by Fantastic Press
Source: I was given a free review copy of the audio book in exchange for my honest review.
Zoe thinks she's just going to spend a few days in a fancy hotel in India. But that was before she met Zak, and they got a bit sidetracked into adventure. Before long the children find themselves in the Himalayan mountains, and the adventure is getting scary--and weird. The book falls somewhere between fantasy and magical realism as the children race to figure out the strange world they are now in and save the mysterious ghost leopard.
The Audio: Still working on my format for audio reviews, but I thought that this one particularly needed some comments on the audio. First, I think that Ms. Carlson did a great job voicing the characters and making the story come to life. I was, however, aware of and occasionally irritated by some small glitches in the production values--what sounded to me like points where the track was edited and the edits were not seamless. It is just tiny little hitches, but they often made my listening stumble, as it were. It would be just a quick sense that I'd missed something, or that the transition from one sentence to the next was too fast--really a trivial thing, but it did begin to bother me a bit.
Wow, what an adventure! It is well-paced, exciting, and kept me listening. I think that the author developed the characters (at least the main characters) very well. Zoe and Zak have easily distinguished voices and characters. Zoe seems much older than Zak, but that's probably right--they are both 12, but he is a boy and decidedly ADHD.
As stated above, the story might best be classified as magical realism--it is set in a real-world setting, and then things get, well, magical. Nobody is transported to a new land, they just find that India is a place where the impossible might be happening. I don't know enough about Indian mythology to know how much of what the author presents is accurate, but it feels right.
I was a little put off by the way the children's parents left them in the big hotel with just a rent-a-nanny they had just met. I'm not at all a protective parent, but I would not do that with a pair of 12-year-olds. I didn't think it was necessary, either--they could have gotten into the same situation even if their parents were at the hotel, though it would have forced the kids to tell the adults about their adventure. Once that dubious plot device was accepted, however, the story worked very well, and by the end I'd nearly forgotten about it.
This seems suitable for readers from maybe 8 or 9 up. There is nothing too frightening in it, and not a whisper of sex. The violence is not graphic. I enjoyed the story a great deal, and I think that readers of most ages would do so.
About The Author: Lars GuignardPrior to writing novels, Lars Guignard wrote for film and television. As a teenager he attended boarding school in the Indian Himalayas and his experiences there provided the inspiration for the Zoe and Zak series which now include: Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard, Zoe & Zak and the Yogi’s Curse, and Zoe & Zak and the Tiger Temple. He lives in the Pacific Northwest where he dodges bears and cougars while hiking & skiing the magnificent Coast Mountain Range.
For news about new releases, please join his email list here: http://www.larsguignard.com/contact/
Full Disclosure: I received an audio copy of Zoe & Zak and the Snow Leopard as part of a motherdaughterbookreviews.com review blitz, in exchange for my honest, not favorable, review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."