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The Much Dreaded Curse: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Hola!

Books about kingdoms and royalty are kinda up my ally. Duh. I love them! So, it’s no surprise that I’m a fan of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendance trilogy!  Today we’re focusing book two, The Runaway King.

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly Runaway King by Jennifer A. Neilsensituation. 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 Runaway King is the second book in the Ascendance Trilogy and although still a fun read, it’s pretty clear that this installment has fallen slightly into the much dreaded “second book curse”. Did it live up to the first book? No. Was it still fun? Yes!

I think a huge part of the weakness of this book is in Jaron’s character himself and the lack of world building. Jaron/Sage is so awesomely awesome in book one – he is this snarky, secretive, competitive, stubborn and loyal boy who’s daring sarcasm kept me entertained the whole time.  In The Runaway King, it seems a little like Jaron is a bit overshadowed by the plot. There is so much going on that it’s like Jaron has forgotten to be his witty self…or, rather, Nielsen forgot to write him that way. It is almost like she wrote him so well in The False Prince, that she felt like she could take a break. Jaron is there, but he’s kind of like a much dimmer, more muted version of himself.

Since most of this story takes place out in Jaron’s kingdom of Carthya and the surrounding areas, I was really hoping to explore the region in more detail. I wanted more information about the culture of his people and how the kingdom looked. Expect for a few tiny details, there really wasn’t much to sink your teeth into. Nothing to truly make you care about Carthya. Honestly, Carthya could be any random fictional kingdom – it just doesn’t seem to have a personality of its own.

Okay, so I did say the story was still fun and it really was. All of my favorite characters were back. Yes, Imogen, Mott, Amarinda, Tobias are all back by Jaron’s side and we even see those I dislike…such as Conner for example.  It’s interesting that while Jaron’s personality seems to fade into the background a little, his supporting characters all glow a little brighter in this book, especially Imogen and Amarinda. Plus, we’re introduced to pirates! Pirates are always cool!  Also we have a lot of buildup to a cliffhanger ending, which of course always makes you crave the next book no matter what!

So, while I was slightly disappointed in The Runaway King, I did still enjoy it in the end and you might too.

Author: Jennifer Nielsen

Publisher: Scholastic Press (March 1, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 331 pages

Series: Second in The Ascendance trilogy

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book: The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy

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To Like or Not to Like? Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster by Berkeley Breathed

  I really don’t know what I think about this book.  My feelings are so mixed.

Maybe I can explain myself while talking about the book itself.

Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster by Berkeley Breathed is the story of Sam the Lion a priceless dachshund who was bred to be a winning show dog.  He was meant to live a safe, sheltered life as a show dog, but Sam’s life has been anything but.

The story starts with Sam at a very low point in his life; he’s being asked to fight for money.  While facing a very angry fighting dog, Sam remembers what got him to this low point in life.

The rest of the story is Sam’s life up until the fighting ring. Although Sam was bread to be a show dog, his most important job was being Heidy’s best friend at a time when she really needed one.  Heidy, an orphan, is sent to live with her reclusive uncle after getting kicked out of the St. Egregious Home for Troubly Girls.  She is scared and alone until she meets Sam.

Sam and Heidy seem to “get” one another and life is good.  One day, however, Cassius a snooty show poodle, who is incredibly jealous of Sam and Heidy’s relationship, frames and turns everyone against Sam.  Sam is forced onto the wild streets alone where he faces a world he was not bred for. Sam gets pretty roughed up by the world and this is where Flawed Dogs can be a difficult book to read.  Sam eventually gets nursed back to health by a man who gives him a soup ladle to replace his missing leg.

Despite the very hard and sad life Sam has led he is a fighter and along with a group of other flawed dogs, Sam decides to take revenge on Cassius and get back the best friend he has ever had.

So seriously, this book is super endearing and heart warming.  Anyone who loves animals and as a special animal best friend (or two) will love the author’s homage to the bond shared between pet and human.  But at the same time, this book will be tough for sensitive readers to take.  A dog is short, loses his leg in a bear trap, there is mention of how a dog is victimized at an animal testing facility and just the pain that comes with watching a creature get battered around by life when they can’t defend themselves.
This is where I had a difficult time with the book.  And actually wanted to put it down on several occasions because I’m one of those sensitive readers (when it comes to topics like this) that I mentioned earlier. You have to understand that I’m the kind of person who cries just thinking about the life my dog lived before we rescued him.  In the end I did finish Flawed Dogs (b/c I have to read all the Sunshine State books, or because I felt like I should push through sad feelings?  Who knows!).
Apparently Berkley Breathed says that he believes “kids’ books should take one into the valley of hard emotions so that one can climb out again” which is an interesting thought.  I started thinking about all the classic children’s literature out there that deals with difficult emotion: Where the Red Fern Grows (pretty sure I sobbed in my 5th grade class when we read this), Old Yeller, The Velveteen Rabbit (got me every time), Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web  to name only a few.  I mean think about it, life isn’t all puppies and kittens cuddling in flower filled meadows.    Breathed  does claim that this book is intended for older readers (8-13 year olds) than his Flawed Dogs picture book is.
Now, I do believe that this book is really funny at times (no surprise being written by the author of the comic strip Bloom County). And the illustrations throughout the book are really cute and also pretty humorous.
So, there you go.  I liked and didn’t like this book.  I’m going to stick with that and just be okay with it.
P.S. There are rumors about a Dream Works adaptation of Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster in the making….