Goodreads: The Runaway King
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy #2
Published: March 1, 2013
A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction. A king gone missing. Who will survive? Find out in the highly anticipated sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen’s blockbuster THE FALSE PRINCE!
Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King!
With The Runaway King, Nielsen writes a magnificent follow-up to bestseller The False Prince, reintroducing readers to all their favorite characters and intrigues. Sage passes through an initial period of anger, but once he gets a grip on his emotions, he is as clever as ever—something many writers find difficult to maintain over a series. He is joined by gutsy Imogen, old enemy Roden, and a few unexpected new friends.
In addition to creating an evolving cast, Nielsen keeps the story fresh by moving the plot out of Carthya—straight into a pirate camp. Sage and his friends have two new cultures to learn, that of rival kingdom Avenia and that of the pirates’ of Tarblade Bay. How well they can adapt and blend in will determine how long they can keep their lives. One suspects they must succeed (That’s what happens in modern children’s books, right? The good guys win?), but Nielsen still keeps readers on the edges of their seats, introducing plot twist as plot twist.
Sage’s exploits in The Runaway King are as physically demanding as they are mentally. Outwitting pirates often means backing them into a duel. Sage exhibits remarkable strength and endurance through his ordeals, demonstrating his mind and body are as quick as his tongue—characteristics that will serve him well as the king he is meant to become.
Through all the action, The Runaway King promotes some great moral messages about doing what is right, maintaining loyalty, and sacrificing oneself when necessary. The book is not preachy, however; ethical actions are simply something that permeate Sage’s worldview and thus the story. The Runaway King tells readers that doing the right thing is tough, but it is worthwhile.
The Runaway King is a fast-paced middle grade adventure that will please fans of The False Prince with its wit, charm, and thoughtfulness.
Teaser Quote: “Afraid didn’t even begin to describe the terror I felt. Pinched behind me, my hands still shook. But I was angry with myself too. Because for all my good intentions, it was obvious that I had been wrong to come here. There were so many who would pay for my mistakes” (250-251).
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Goodreads: The Ruby Key
Series: Moon and Sun #1
Published: May 1, 2008
Human and Nightlings are never to meet, but when Genna and her brother Dan venture into the old forest at night, they encounter a Nightling slave who reveals a terrifying secret: Genna and Dan’s village chieftain has made a dangerous deal with Letrin, ruler of the Nightlings, offering the lives of his people in exchange for his own immortality.
To save the villagers and themselves, Genna and Dan strike their own bargain with the Nightling lord, but the stakes are even higher. Now, the siblings must embark upon a journey along the Moonroads, and bring back the key to Letrin’s downfall.
Holly Lisle’s The Ruby Key is the type of fun middle grade adventure that would have just hit the spot for me as a younger reader. Genna and her brother Dan must set off on a perilous quest to save their home from the deadly bargain the village chief has made with the king of the nightlings. All the hope for the future is in their hands. Yet so is the power to save their people. Their quest is demanding, yet the reader knows that Genna and Dan are smart and strong enough to handle it.
When I was a child, I would have thought no story could be better. I loved watching characters my age accomplish extraordinary things despite the odds. Seeing that children have talents and control over the insanity of life was inspirational in any circumstance. Adults readers may be happy to know, however, that children take the lead in The Ruby Key not because no one older is qualified or interested, but because no one besides Genna and Dan even know the village is in danger. They admirably take charge of the situation that is handed to them.
As an older reader, I find myself slightly more critical of novels, and I did find a few flaws with The Ruby Key. The story starts strong, fast-paced and immersing readers into Lisle’s fantasy world where humans and nightlings lead a tenuous coexistence. Genna and Dan are dropped straight into a problem, and they take proactive steps to solve it. Their adventures begin lagging in the middle of the book, however, as the plot becomes episodic. The character bounce around from location to location, encountering oddities but accomplishing nothing that furthers the plot. I was itching for more action.
About the same time, the characters, too, began losing some of my sympathy. Perhaps being on a dangerous journey simply makes people grumpy. Whatever the explanation, they become unusually illogical and belligerent. At one point, Genna’s companions berate her for tripping as they were running from a predator. Apparently she was being a selfish brat, almost getting eaten and putting their mission in jeopardy like that: “‘You should have kept with us,’ Dan told me. ‘If you die, how are we going to help Mama? I can’t see the roads yet! The kai-lord made his agreement with you. If you died, we would be left with nothing.’” Really? Do they think she was trying to die?
Once The Ruby Key gets past the bumpy middle, however, the plot becomes as exciting and complex as it is at the start. The climax features an epic facedown between Genna and her companions and the evil kai-lord, and everyone learns a lot of new things about their pasts and their own special powers. The story ends on a satisfactory note, wrapping up most of the loose ends but leaving just enough promise for an even more intense sequel. A good pick for lovers of fantasy and adventures.
Goodreads: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem
If you ask Vivian Vande Velde her feelings about “Rumpelstiltskin,” she would tell you the story does not make a lot of sense. If you read her preface to The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, you would probably begin to agree. Vande Velde summarizes the original tale step by step, outlining along the way where characters either do something without any explanation or do something that is explained, but illogically so. Why, indeed, would Rumpelstiltskin accept gold jewelry as payment for turning straw into gold? Apparently he can acquire all the precious metal he could ever want.
Vande Velde attempts to explain the characters’ actions in six original retellings of “Rumpelstiltskin.”
Each of the stories in this collection is fun, a little wild and weird. Vande Velde definitely reveals a quirky streak in this book, and her lighthearted tone is common to all six stories, even as the plots and characters change. All open with a line about how far in the past the story occurred, usually before something random like before sliced bread was sold in supermarkets. Some of the tales are bit more dismal than others, but they never get so depressing that Vande Velde cannot poke a little fun at herself or the characters.
Interestingly enough, although Vande Velde’s retellings are supposed to make more sense than the original story, her characters do often merit a bit of mockery. Vande Velde’s stories are all internally consistent, and her characters always offer explanations for their actions—but their decisions are sometimes still a little crazy. For instance, in one version the miller is poor and is convinced he can tell the king his daughter can turn straw into gold if he gives her three gold coins, and then he and his daughter will simply take the money and run before she is given any straw. Vande Velde gives the miller a reason for telling the king a preposterous lie, but his plan is still ridiculous.
Vande Velde also gives each character a chance to be the villain: the king, the miller, the miller’s daughter, and Rumpelstiltskin. While this does allow for variety in the retellings, it also means it is easy to catch on to the pattern, for readers to guess who will be the villain next. Of course no one expects fairy tale retellings to be overly surprising (especially ones that are only short stories, not novels), but it is a bit disappointing to be able to predict a large part of what will be “new” about a retelling you have not even started to read.
The main problem with this book: After about two tales, the reader probably wants to be done with “Rumpelstiltskin.” The stories may be different, but in the end they all have the same basic plot. This will be a challenge for readers who like to read straight through a book and be finished, rather than patiently read a section or two and replace it on the shelf for another day.
Nonetheless, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is an imaginative and slightly quirky book, perfect for readers who want to see “Rumpelstiltskin” in a new light.
Goodreads: The False Prince
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy #1
Source: ARC provided by Scholastic through Shelf Awareness giveaway
Summary: Connor, a nobleman in a kingdom on the brink of civil war, has created a plan to hold his country together. He gathers boys from orphanages across the land, seeking for the perfect boy to present to the court as the long-lost prince, the rightful heir to the throne. Although Conner presents his motives as pure, Sage is skeptical. His tongue is as sharp as his mind, but he finds he may have to compete for the role of prince as keenly as the other boys if he intends to come out of the plot unscathed.
Review: Jennifer A. Nielson’s The False Prince is an exuberant adventure filled with mystery, intrigue, and plotting that will have readers racing through the pages from the very first chapter. Sage is introduced as a rambunctious, incorrigible orphan with a penchant for stealing and a flippant mouth, but the keen intelligence and noble character he hides beneath this rough façade begin to show quickly once he is in the hands of Connor. Trapped in a corner where it appears his only two options are to be the perfect puppet prince or to die, Sage strives to do the impossible, to manipulate both friends and foes so he comes out on top. Readers will be captivated by his spirit and his designs, eyes glued to the book as they wonder what he will do and say next. It is always a surprise!
Sage has a worthwhile opponent in Conner, who has spent a lifetime scheming at court. The False Prince is a protracted battle of wits and crossing of swords between the two. But Sage must also deal with the other boys chosen for Connor’s competition, precariously balancing the benefits of their friendship against his own survival. Their relationships fluctuate, fraught with tension, camaraderie, and the sense of something valuable that has been lost.
Nothing in The False Prince is certain—Connor’s motives, the final winner of his competition, whether any boy will claim the throne at all. Nielson has created a very real suspense that is infrequently found in most YA literature. The characters ultimately hurtle the readers toward a dramatic conclusion sprinkled with danger, secrets, and hope. At the end, readers will find themselves rethinking the book, watching events fold in a completely new light as all the tiny pieces fall together.
Best of all, however, the pieces do fall together, and The False Prince can function perfectly as a standalone book. Sage is such a fascinating character, however, and Nielson such an engaging writer, that everyone will be rushing to read the sequels.
Published: April 1, 2012
Goodreads: The Frog Princess
Series: Tales of the Frog Princess #1
Summary: When Princess Emma runs to the swamp to escape a visit with Prince Jorge, she meets a frog who claims to be an enchanted prince. One kiss, he tells her, and he will return to being human. Unfortunately, things do not turn out quite as the frog claimed.
Review: The Frog Princess is an amusing read full of little jokes and cute animals. Many of them have the potential to be an enemy to a frog—otters, mice, toads, bats, snakes, and spiders—but most of them end up being friends. Young readers will enjoy their adventures as they experience the world along with them, from an animal’s unique point of view. Everything is large. Many things are dangerous. But some things, like eating flies, are unexpectedly good.
The writing style of The Frog Princess will probably appeal to only a select group of readers, however. Baker attempts to be funny or modern, maybe both, but the effect is that Princess Emma sounds completely out of place. Her rude, contemporary speech suggests that a royal upbringing was missing, even though her mother is supposedly a stickler for decorum, and it makes her sound as if she does not belong in her own time period—whenever, precisely, that is. Some readers may find this approach refreshing; others will find it quite jarring.
The plot also strives to be more fun than believable. Ridiculous obstacles arise at every turn, and then convenient solutions pop up around the next corner. This does keep things exciting, but none of the plot twists get the time they deserve, and there comes a point when one begins to wonder whether the story should not have ended already. The frog prince himself makes a similar observation, which suggests Baker may actually be aware of the problem. It would have been better for her to resolve it rather than joke about it, however.
In the end, my complaints may be unique to readers who have encountered tighter and more complex books. The Frog Princess does have enough going on to keep younger readers—the intended audience—interested, and they may find that the characters’ dialogue actually makes them relatable. There are enough books in the series to indicate that someone is reading and enjoying them. If you did, please feel free to leave a comment!
Series: The Wolves of Mercy Falls #1
Summary: Grace loves the wolves she always sees in the woods behind her house during the wintertime. But when Jack Culpeper, a boy from her school, is attacked by the wolves, the town of Mercy Falls begins to arm themselves against them. Grace’s favorite wolf is shot and transforms into a boy on her deck. The two work to unravel the mystery of Jack’s disappearance and try to build a relationship before their time together runs out.
Review: I normally avoid paranormal romances, but all the reviews extolling how haunting, achingly beautiful, and lyrical this book is persuaded me it might be worth reading. I was wrong. Shiver manifests all the flaws that make paranormal romance an artistically bereft and sometimes disturbing genre.
The book opens melodramatically, with Grace lying in the snow surrounded by wolves, calmly awaiting her death. Her complete apathy toward the situation is concerning, and she never really does abandon the attitude that life is not particularly valuable. The problems with her character only escalate after her recovery. She soon develops an obsession with the wolves who were trying to kill her, standing in her backyard for hours watching them and thinking summers are worthless because the wolves are not around. She even develops an intense crush on a particular wolf, which is disconcerting because at this point she has no idea that he is a werewolf. She is in love with an animal.
Once Sam transforms back into a human (no surprise here), the two instantly are in love. In wolf form, he had apparently fallen in love with her, as well. They immediately begin making out and become boyfriend and girlfriend. There is absolutely no build-up to this romance, and their relationship never gets any deeper as the book progresses. They make out a lot more and gush about how much they mean to each other and how they want to be together forever. Grace even decides that school, her family, and her friends are now worthless because her “real” life is with Sam. Grace is not as overtly annoying as Bella from Twilight, but she is an equally terrible role model when it comes to romance.
Other than the continual gushing, nothing much happens in Shiver. Stiefvater throws in a very loose plot about Jack, whom Grace and the readers immediately suspect has been bitten (again, this is hardly a spoiler). Because he does not seem to have found the werewolf pack, Sam and Grace go around town looking for him because he is supposedly dangerous. However, it never seems as if he is as much of a threat as the two say and their search never seems particularly pressing; even they waste time they had set aside to track him down in order to take romantic walks in golden woods and other such activities.
I began reading the book with the expectation that it was primarily a romance, so I tried my best to ignore the lack of plot. However, Grace and Sam are not particularly romantic because there is no foundation to their relationship. They are just weirdly obsessed with each other. Sam throws in a couple nice comments about wanting “to do things right,” and randomly composes song lyrics in his head, but nothing about their relationship is really convincing. Shiver can best be summarized as boring, gooey, and occasionally creepy if you actually think about what is happening.