Book Reviews: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen and Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

The False PrinceThe False Prince
The Ascendance Trilogy, Book One
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-28414-1
Trade Paperback

The King of Carthya has many enemies.  Some dislike his way of ruling, while others simply want the chance to push their own agendas.  Many in his court detest him for sending away his youngest son, Prince Jaron. No one would argue with the fact that the 10-year old was strong-willed, mischievous, opinionated and completely improper; but he was adored for his spirit.  Immediately upon being sent away, it was said that pirates attacked his ship, Prince Jaron had been killed.  While all of the evidence was there, the boy’s body had not been found in the five years that have passed.

Bevin Conner, serving as one of the king’s twenty regents, wants the king ousted because he believes that the king will not be strong enough to defend the country, and war is imminent.   He learns of the rumour that the King, his Queen, and Jaron’s older brother, the Crown Prince, have been murdered.  Upon gaining this information, he sets out to several orphanages looking for boys that may resemble Jaron as he would look today.  Conner chooses four boys he plans to groom to impersonate the Prince, who will later serve as his puppet in gratitude for being removed from the orphanage.  Obviously, only one boy will be chosen at the end of the two-week training.

The False Prince is intended for the Middle Grade genre (ages 10 – 14).  I can’t imagine a more enticing book for that age group.  The tale is filled with entertaining characters and tons of twists and turns.  It is quite suspenseful and engaging.  While it tells a fascinating and captivating story, there is another layer.  There are characters that are evil to the core, but appear to be looking out for the best interest of the kingdom.    The orphans are unique, and their interactions compelling.  It is clear that they are in a competition, the reader is challenged in determining when, if at all, there is sincerity or camaraderie among them.  Truth and lies are intertwined, promises are made and broken, trickery and sabotage occur frequently; making this a fast-paced story that this reader could not put down (despite being well outside of the intended audience).  It is written in both first and third person, giving the reader different views of each character.  For me, it shows by example, that no matter how insubordinate, flippant and arrogant a person may appear, there could be a heart of gold that can be seen when looking past the apparent character flaws.

This is the first book in the Ascendance Trilogy.  While I have tons more praise to share, I also have the second book in the series, The Runaway King, sitting in front of me begging to be read.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

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Don't Breathe a WordDon’t Breathe a Word
Jennifer McMahon
Harper, May 2011
ISBN 978-0-06-168937-6
Trade Paperback

I don’t always know what I want when searching for a creepy, scary book.  Two things terrify me, faeries and psychotic minds.  Naturally, I love Don’t Breathe a Word, because this book features both.  Well, at least ONE of those things.  Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  Maybe they are so intertwined that it is nearly impossible to know which came first.

In many a review, I have used the word “haunting”.  I always meant it.  At the time, whatever I was referring to (the entire book or a passage), indeed felt “haunting” to me.  This book, however, epitomizes the true definition of the word.  The story didn’t pull me in, rather it catapulted into me.  I was captured.  I became invested.  The tale stayed in my mind, like a catchy tune…..admittedly a creepy, terrifying tune; but unshakeable nonetheless.

Ms. McMahon has done amazing things here.  I can give you a Book Review in the rawest sense, I don’t even have to delve into a summary or allude to the plot in order to entice you.

For starters, if this book should ever be made into a film, I will not see it.  The depth and richness of the characters is such that I feel as if I know Bee, Sam and Evie.  I sympathize, support and struggle to understand them.  I accept the flaws that Ms. McMahon has given them and embrace the goodness, even when buried deeply inside of someone.  I won’t have my images spoiled.

The intricacies of the characters’ pasts create and support the strong, unique personalities in this novel.  Of course, spectacular characters can’t carry a book, and there is certainly no attempt to do so here.  Instead, as Bee’s drama unfolds, the reader is kept guessing.  There is more than one mystery to be solved here, but the book won’t be categorized that simply.  Life lessons are learned, heart-wrenching decisions need to be made and loyalties are forcibly tested.  Trust is established and broken.   Inexplicable events in the past become decipherable, yet they become no easier to understand or accept.  Supposed answers only lead to more questions, until there is really only one question remaining.  What is real, and what is not.

Rarely do I find a book that, to me, has everything.  Don’t Breathe a Word does have everything I hope for in an amazing book, yet I’ve read nothing like it before.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

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