The Runaway King

Runaway KingTitle: The Runaway King
Series: Ascendance Trilogy #2 (sequel to The False Prince)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545497695 (audiobook)
Pages: 331 pages
CD/Discs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 27 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Audiobooks, c2013.

Newly crowned King Jaron is convinced that the neighboring community of Avenia is set to attack and claim their land, but none of his advisers will listen to the mad king who just resumed the throne after his presumed death at the hands of pirates years ago. When a failed assassination attempt convinces his advisers to hand over a captured traitor in the hopes of placating the group, Jaron fears they will relieve him of his crown in order to send him into hiding. Instead, Jaron puts his own plan into play, which involves sneaking across the border and tracking down the pirates who are trying to complete the unfinished task and collect on the spoils of war. As Jaron’s past catches up with him, he wonders which of his assumed identities he will have to maintain in order to survive. Is he an orphan boy, a street thief, a prospective pirate, or the ruling sovereign of a kingdom in danger? His strength, stamina, and smarts are put to the test in a political game that everyone thinks he will fail.

Jaron is an arrogant, dishonest, insolent, manipulative, overconfident, sarcastic, self-righteous, and stubborn individual, and I can definitely see why his departed father’s advisers would not get along with him. Jaron has his own way of doing things and refuses to listen to anyone’s concerns unless he has no other option. On the other hand, he usually proves himself right by the end of the adventure. I’m not sure if it is maddeningly coincidental that things happen to go his way or just a way for author Jennifer Nielsen to prove his unflappability in the face of obstacles. Scaling a rock wall with a broken leg is not something I would attempt, but he faces it with a determination that you think would ultimately be detrimental to his cause, if not his body. His physical endurance and ability to read his opponent and maintain charades and mind games makes him appear superhuman. And yet, you can’t help rooting for him to succeed and yelling at him to don’t do something stupid that you predict is going to fail.

Jaron’s journey is filled with delays, and it’s a wonder he gets where he needs to be at all. While realistic to the vast distances he needs to cross and the dangers he faces, it does slow down the pace of the plot. In return, you have daring sword fights with his enemies that are over in a manner of minutes at most. A lot of political scheming and plotting is presented, and while I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would, some readers might want more of the fight and flee action that most fantasies have today. We’re privy to Jaron’s inner thoughts regarding his reasoning, but sometimes only as he tells another character his plans. The audiobook proved slightly problematic, as Jaron’s inner thoughts are sometimes indistinguishable from the dialogue. However, I thought Charlie McWade did an acceptable job distinguishing between the accents and tones of the older advisers, Jaron, the pirates, and his younger friends.

Obviously a set-up for the third novel, with the upcoming conflict revealed in the final chapter of the book, I feel like this suffered the sequel syndrome and didn’t live up to my expectations of the first one. Some readers might remember that I was on the committee that chose The False Prince, the first book in the series, for a Cybils award when it was published in 2012. Knowing who Jaron really is cut down on the tension and intrigue, and the ending, while leaving enough unfinished business for a third book, came about a bit too cleanly. I’m sure Jaron would think privately that it was anything but easy, although he would never voice his frustrations or admit to his limitations aloud. That’s just not his style. It’s a trip of endurance, and many readers might question what they would do in that same situation, never fully understanding Jaron’s motivations or his innate ability to overcome adversity.

2 The Point Tuesday The False Prince

I was on the Cybil’s committee that chose The False Prince as the winner for 2012. I’ve held off on posting a review of this because I didn’t want to tip my hand. Now that I’ve reviewed the sequel The Runaway King, I thought I would post a copy of our summary as a To the Point Tuesday. To the Point Tuesday was formed as a 150 word review of a recent read. It’s slightly over the 150 word limit, which I’m okay with because of how much happens in the novel and also how much I loved the book. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

False PrinceTitle: The False Prince
Author: Jennifer A Nielsen
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545391665 (audiobook), 9780545284134 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 14 minutes
Pages: 342 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic, c2012.
Publication Date: April 1, 2012

“You’re a trick to figure out Sage. Would you ever be on my side, even if I chose you above the other boys?”
“I’m only on my side. Your trick will be convincing me that helping you helps me.”
“What if I did?” Connor asked. “How far would you go to win?”
“Th better question, sir, is how far you will go to wine.” I looked him steadily in the eyes as I spoke, although his back was to the fire and his eyes were set in shadow. [...] So we know you’re willing to murder to win.”
“I am.” Conner backed up, speaking to all of us again. “And I’m willing to life, to cheat, and to steal. I’m willing to commend my soul to the devils if necessary because I believe there is exoneration in my cause. I need one of you to conduct the greatest fraud ever perpetrated within the country of Carthya. This is a lifetime commitment. It will never be safe to back down from my plan and tell the truth. To do so would destroy not only you but the entire country. And you will do it to save Carthya.” (28-29)

Sage is taken from his orphanage along with three other boys and thrust into an attempt to save the kingdom from impending war. If he loses, it’s certain death, but Sage is very reluctant to win, since the prize at the end means becoming someone’s pawn and living a lie for the rest of his life. The detailed world Nielsen creates is full of life, populated with mystery, twists and turns, and engaging and complex characters. Readers don’t know who to trust, while Sage knows he can trust no one, especially not Connor, the man who stole them away and has aspirations of his own. Sage’s voice is perfection, reading like a medieval Sherlock Holmes. Unreliable and snarky, Sage keeps his observations, assets, and motivations to himself until he knows he can benefit. Readers can’t help but cheer for him, even as he struggles to come to grips with the ups and downs of a fate he doesn’t desire.

2 the Point Tuesday Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Extraordinary WarrenTitle: Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken
Author/Illustrator: Sarah Dillard
ISBN: 9781442453401
Pages: 59 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014.
Publication Date: February 11, 2014

Warren is an ordinary chicken who is tired of pecking and peeping. So when he overhears Millard the rat wishing for a special chicken, a chicken supreme, Warren jumps at the chance to be something special. Millard is excited to hear there are more chickens, and invites everyone to a barbecue. But when Warren realizes that having “chickens for dinner” could mean two totally different things, he jumps into action. With graphic novel like panels interspersed with short chapters containing bright pictures, this eye-catching title defies expectations, just like Warren.

2 the Point Tuesday Winter Sky

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Winter SkyTitle: Winter Sky
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Narrator: Arielle Sitrick
ISBN: 9780804121422 (audiobook), 9780375838927 (hardcover)
Pages: 152 pages
Discs/CDs: 2 hours, 51 minutes, 3 CDs
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2014.
Book Publisher/Date: Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, c2014.

Something was moving across the stage!
She leaned closer. That terrible dog–
How had he gotten in there?
He ran back and forth across the stage, almost as if he didn’t know how to get down.
And then she saw the curl of smoke. One of the long curtains was on fire. She dropped the cookies and reached into her pocket for her cell phone. But it was on her dresser, forgotten at home.
The dog was barking now, howling. (38)

Siria, named after the star Sirius, fears for her firefighter father every time she hears the sirens. So during the night, she sneaks out and chases the trucks, watching over him until she knows he is safe. She worries about the increasing frequency, and dreads there is an arsonist on the loose, starting fires for fun. Clues point to an unlikely suspect, and Siria debates whether to turn him in. Narrator Arielle Sitrick maintains Siria’s innocence but conveys her readiness to grow up and take on responsibilities. Newbery Honor-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff provides a heartwarming tale of community and family bonds amid a cold winter backdrop as fire and ice literally collide.

Revolver

I listened to this audiobook way back in February of 2011. How this review got buried so far down that it hasn’t seen the light of day before now the world may never know. I have been recommending this to patrons ever since to rave reviews, and I hope you take the time to enjoy it too.

Title: Revolver
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Narrator: Peter Berkrot
ISBN: 9781596435926
Pages: 204 pages
Discs: 3 CDs, 3 hours 35 minutes
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press (Brilliance Audio), c2009.

Even the dead tell stories.
Sig looked across the cabin to where his father lay, waiting for him to speak, but his father said nothing, because he was dead. Einar Anderson lay on the table, his arms half raised above his head, his legs slightly bent at the knee, frozen in the position in which they’d found him; out on the lake, lying on the ice, with the dogs waiting patiently in harness. (1)

Fourteen-year-old Sig Anderson is waiting for his sister and step-mother to return from traveling across the frozen ice to the neighboring town. The same ice had, just a few hours earlier, killed his father when he fell through and froze to death in the Alaskan cold. While waiting for help to arrive, Sig gets a visitor of a different sort; a giant, gun-wielding man named Wolff, claiming that he has some unfinished business with Sig’s father. Sig hopes that help will arrive before the man makes good on his promise to harm Sig and his family. But when help does arrive, it’s Sig’s sister Anna, and she’s alone. How will these two survive?

First off, excellent narration on the audiobook by Peter Berkrot. He gives the book a Clint Eastwood, old-western “You feeling lucky, punk?” quality and his nitty-gritty tone and inflection sets the whole mood. I’ll admit that it a little slowly paced in the beginning, but that’s okay. Nothing is moving fast in this story, and it’s the palatable tension that readers will revel in.

Berkrot had great material to work with, as Marcus Sedgwick’s terse prose is as gripping as the performance. Wolff, the man who invades Sig’s little cabin in the snow, is a man of few words, and when he does say something, his tone makes them count. “The words hung in the air, drifted around the room. They seemed to paint themselves on the walls in letters two feet high. They seemed to be painted in blood.” (70) Shiver. Shortly after, this description got stuck in my brain the whole time I was finishing the book:
“Wolff dropped the words onto the floor like little spiders, which scuttled over to Sig and crawled up his legs, his back, his neck. He stopped grinding the coffee briefly but then determined that he would not let the man rile him.” (80) Now that is masterfully crafted writing, if I ever heard/saw it. You know exactly how Sig is feeling with Wolff being in the house. And there are other scenes that convey the same familiarity with the characters and their emotions.

The details are also there, and in an author’s note at the end Sedgwick explains how he did his research, traveling to the “sub-zero temperatures in Northern Sweden that I got a sense of the cold and the landscape and walked on frozen lakes.” (203) He also discussed revolvers with “Peter Smithurst of the Royal Armouries, the UK’s leading expert on Colts. He carefully explained his history and workings of the Colt, took a 44-40 to pieces for me to show how it works, and did it all with great enthusiasm. (203-204). I’m sure that interaction with an expert is where we get the description of how the gun works in chapter 18, which although I don’t have any experience with guns, I still found fascinating. A riveting read about choices.

City of Light, City of Dark

City of Light, City of DarkTitle: City of Light, City of Dark
Author: Avi
Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 97805311068007
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, c1993.

People! The land you wish to build on belongs to us, the Kurbs. Still, we are willing to lend you this island as well as our power so you may have the light and warmth you humans require. But there is a price. Each year you must enact a ritual to show you acknowledge that this island remains ours and is governed by our rules. If you fail to perform this ritual-be warned!-the consequences for you will be dire! (8)

Before people had arrived in New York, the Kurbs controlled the lightness and darkness. When people landed on the island, the Kurbs agreed to hide the power somewhere on the island and give the people six months to find it as the land progressively got colder and darker. If it wasn’t returned noon on December 21st, it would be plunged into darkness, but if it was returned it would gradually get lighter and warmer until it was hidden again on June 21st. One woman needs to find the power and return it to the Kurbs, but a greedy blind man, his reluctant assistant, and a young girl and her friend are all searching for it too for very different reasons. Who will find it first?

This is Avi’s version of the Persephone myth, adapted for modern-day New York. I liked the concept, but with my love of Avi’s stories, I was surprised at the narration, which seemed rush and disjointed. The book starts as a mixture of text and graphic novel panels, and then eventually transitions to only graphic novel format. There is too much plot time between the background setting flashback in the beginning and then the bulk of the story. It took him that long to track down the token… Really? Maybe other reviewers are right and it would have been better as a textual novel, as large amounts of the plot are layer out in stilted, expository dialogue.

With Floca’s recent Caldecott Award win, and repeated recognition by the Sibert committee, I was surprised by this first effort at illustrating a novel. Maybe he should stick with the picture book format and continue to color his drawings. I expected more of the sweeping skyline that we see on the cover of the original publication, but the black and white renderings found in the interior seemed rushed, vague, and not detailed. On page 35, he actually draws arrows to guide readers from panel to panel, which seemed unnecessary and awkward. All told, it would be a nice thing to provide readers who are interested in stories influenced by mythology, but it is not the best work of either the author or illustrator.

Robot Go Bot

Every month, each staff member takes the time to review a title that has arrived this month in 100 words or less. I include my contributions in a feature I like to call To the Point Tuesday. Feel free to comment with a link to your own to the point reviews.

Robot Go BotTitle: Robot, Go Bot!
Author: Dana Meachen Rau
Illustrator: Wook Jin Jung
ISBN: 9780375870835
Pages: 32 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, c2013.

For the earliest of readers, this picture book formatted like an early reader presents an unnamed girl building a robot friend. Things start off well, with the pair happily playing together with bubbles, a ball, a boat, and a book. But then the girl finds other uses for the robot, she orders the robot to “Hoe, Bot!” “Grow, Bot!” and “Mow. Mow. Mow Bot!” Bot understandably gets frustrated and leaves. When the girl finds him, it’s to ask him back and give him his turn on the swing, learning her lesson and providing an example of good manners and friendship.

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