The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sep 18, 2020

I used to try to make an effort to read at least some of the same books as my kids. But lately, I haven't had much of an interest in their reading material. For most of fourth grade, Maxwell's favorite series (along with its multiple spinoff series) was Warriors. In case you couldn't guess, action packed drama involving warring cat clans is definitely not my thing. 

Aaron is a much more eclectic reader than Max, but this summer he has either been reading books that I recommended (which I've already read) or long-winded fantasy series (also not my thing).

As part of our summer reading program, the boys could earn a book after twenty hours of reading (ten hours for Clark). For the first two months of summer, Aaron was literally earning at least one book every week. At one point, we kind of ran out of ideas, so I had him look through this excellent list of adventure books from Erica at What Do We Do All Day (seriously, all of her lists are good, but this one is a particular gold mine). He selected The False Prince, and after reading through the summary, I said, "Hey, that actually sounds like a book I might like, too." 

Luckily, knowing that his mom might be interested in the same book as him is not a turnoff for Aaron. Once he was done with it and confirmed that it was very good, I checked out the audio and gave it a listen. 

Although his life is not luxurious in any way, orphan Sage is quick on his feet with an even quicker mouth, so he gets by just fine. But one day, just after stealing a ham, his life makes an abrupt turn when a man named Connor, one of the country's regents, stops by the orphanage and handpicks Sage for a secret project.

After a great struggle with some complaining and insults thrown in, Sage finds himself in the back of a wagon with three other boys: Vladimir, Tobias, and Roden. They exchange what little information they know, but it is soon clear that the four of them were chosen for a role that only one of them will ultimately fill. Connor gives each of them the chance to leave before he reveals the full plan, and when Vladimir accepts the offer, Connor has him shot in the back before he even leaves the campsite. The other boys quickly realize this isn't a game, and Connor will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

And what does he want? To save the kingdom of Carthia from war and destruction. The king, queen, and prince have just been murdered, leaving no heir to the throne. There was a second son, Jaron, who was  supposedly killed by pirates four years before, but his body was never found. Connor has evidence that Jaron actually did die, but he plans to take advantage of the hope the country still has that Jaron is alive. 

And that is where Sage and the other boys come in. Connor takes them to his estate for two weeks where he trains them in all of the arts, graces, knowledge, and traits of Prince Jaron. At the end of the testing period, he will choose one of them to be presented as the long-lost Prince Jaron and ascend the throne as the rightful king of Carthia. 

I listened to an interview with Jennifer Nielsen about writing this book, and she said that once she had the character of Sage firmly in her mind, everything else fell into place. She said that Sage became this living, breathing person for her, and she would think about him constantly and what he would do in various situations in her actual life. 

When I heard the way she talked about Sage, it suddenly made sense why the story worked so well for me. It was because Sage was so convincing--even with his conflicting actions and attitudes. He was 100% believable, and I think a lot of that had to do with Jennifer Nielsen's relationship with him: it was affectionate and personal and very intimate. He wasn't just some character that she dreamed up to execute a certain idea. She took the time to get to know him--his layered complexity that made the story so rich and thrilling.

I'm so glad she took the time to get him right because if Sage hadn't clicked for me, the whole story would have fallen flat. As it was, I enjoyed the whole thing very much and thought it had some good twists and turns.

This one is the first book in the series, but I can't decide if I want to read any of the others or not. I honestly kind of liked it as a standalone novel. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm worried that Sage won't be as fascinating or exciting of a character in subsequent books, and since he was the reason why I loved this book so much, I just don't want to risk ruining that. 

I would place this book solidly in the 10-14 age range, but a younger child could enjoy it as a readaloud, and I obviously still enjoyed it very much as an adult. 

A Little of This and That in August

Sep 6, 2020

I saw on the the news that this was the hottest August in Utah on record. And I believe it. The heat felt absolutely relentless at times . . . and this is coming from a person who is generally a heat seeker. Add to that the oppressive smoke from the California fires, and there were times when we couldn't bear to be outside. But all in all, it was a good month with some exciting milestones and fun times, such as . . . 

Giving . . . Clark the nickname of The Town Crier. In our family, Clark is the one who loves to spread information. It doesn't really matter what it is--dinner is ready, there's a package by the front door, we are going to grandma's--it brings him a great amount of joy to tell others about it. One evening, we bought some bar stools from the classifieds. By the time Clark saw them, almost everyone else already knew about them. But he said, "Does Bradley know yet?" And when we said no, he raced off, yelling, "Bradley! Bradley! Did you hear?! We got new bar stools!" Too bad a town crier is a career of the past because I'm pretty sure Clark would be an excellent one.

Finishing . . . an online class. Aaron decided to take an online class this summer (Digital Literacy) in order to free up a credit in his school schedule so he could take another elective. He worked on it almost every day for the full two months, and even then, there was still a mad rush at the end to get everything finished and turned in on time (including a proctored test that he didn't realize he'd missed until two days before the end of the term). He definitely didn't love it, but I think he really will be glad not to have to take it during the school year.

Sleeping . . . on the trampoline. The boys had been begging to do this all summer, and we finally relented. I have to admit that I'm a little nervous at night; I like being able to go into their rooms and check on them and hear them if they need me. So even though it wasn't like they were off camping in the mountains, they still felt farther away than normal. Ian started out with them, but as soon as it got dark, he came inside. The others knew that they could come inside at anytime, and I fully expected at least one or two of them to be in their beds in the morning. But they were actually all still sound asleep on the tramp when I woke up and also, as we discovered a little bit later, covered in mosquito bites. That put a bit of a damper on the adventure, but they still loved it. 

Watching . . . American Idol . . . from 2008. In search of something to do, the pandemic forced us to dredge up reality shows from the past where the outcomes were determined long ago and contestants have long since moved forward with their lives. No, we're not that desperate. The real reason is that our kids have been fans of David Archuleta for a long time, and Mike and I realized that they didn't know anything about him, nor did they know anything about the show that gave him his start. We thought they might think it was fun to watch him move up the ranks and also get this little slice of reality TV history. And they have actually loved it and are all so into it. It's pretty nostalgic for me to watch as well because I have a lot of memories of watching that season while being very pregnant with Aaron. The one downside to watching it twelve years after the fact is that they can't actually vote for David, and I know they want to. 

Passing . . . up Bamboo. Aaron reached his first height milestone this month. He is officially taller than my mom. Of course, that's not a huge accomplishment since she's only five feet exactly, but I know she's just the first one, and he's probably going to shoot up in the next couple of years. I'm already mentally preparing myself to be the next casualty. 

Tasting . . . chicken sandwiches. For one of our dates this month, we did a little taste test with Mike's sister and brother-in-law. We went to four different fast food places (Arby's, Popeye's, Chick-fil-a, and Shake Shack) and ordered the deluxe chicken sandwich at each one. As we ate it, we ranked it in terms of taste, texture, and a number of other factors (Mike had, of course, made up a detailed score sheet for each person). It might surprise you to know that Arby's bun won by a landslide while the chicken patty from Popeye's was the crowd favorite. However, Chick-fil-a won the competition overall because there's just no way to compete with their customer service and general experience. 

Relaxing . . . at the beach. One Thursday night, my mom Marco Poloed me and said, "If you don't have any plans tomorrow, you should come to the pond with us!" We actually did, in fact, have plans (a tough hike in 100-degree temperatures and smoke-filled air), but we scrapped them because her plans sounded a lot more fun. And they were! We had the pond almost to ourselves, and we spent the morning floating in tubes, swimming, digging in sand, kayaking, and eating treats and snacks. The boys connected the tubes and kayaks to form a train and circled the perimeter of the small pond. My mom and I paddled back and forth across the length of the pond, chatting and watching the activities on the shore. When the beach started to fill up with other people, we headed over to my parents' where we picked raspberries and peaches and made the most delicious shakes. It was a nice way to say goodbye to summer. 

Playing . . . many, many rounds of Memory. This is Ian's game of choice right now. It's lucky there are six other people in this family because if he can convince each person to play it once with him every day (which, he often can), then that's six rounds for him. He has improved immensely since he first started playing it, and sometimes he wins fair and square. 

Cheering . . . on the Jazz once more. Aaron was so excited to have the NBA start playing again. It had been too long without his beloved sports. 

Canceling . . . the family reunion. Most of our family reunions were canceled before summer even started, but everyone was holding out for Mike's family reunion, which was to be held at a large cabin in Hobble Creek Canyon. Unfortunately, the Covid cases refused to drop and it was kind of stressing everyone out, and so a couple of weeks before it was set to happen, Mike's dad decided to cancel the reservation. But even though we couldn't all get together under one roof, we still decided to spend some time in the mountains together. On two separate occasions, we gathered in the canyon for yummy food and fun with the cousins. On the first time, Mike showed the kids how to make a trap with a box, a little bit of bait, and a string. It was quite the hit, and all of the kids caught squirrels and chipmunks all afternoon, letting them go each time. They had grand plans to do the same thing the second time, but I was pretty sure it was illegal to catch wild animals, so I told them they couldn't. They resigned themselves to games instead, which they liked just as much.

Going . . . to the park. We basically haven't been to a park since the start of Covid. But when some new friends in our neighborhood invited us to go with them, I just couldn't say no--we have been so starved for friendships since we moved. We had the best time. They took us to a park that we had never been to before: it had tons of play equipment and a stream and was encircled by paths and bridges. The boys got along great with the five kids in the other family, and Ian was the only one who was actually ready to go when it was time to leave. Clark and six-year-old Evie had so much fun that the two of them had a little playdate at our house the following week. 

Changing . . . wishes. Because of all of his medical adventures over the past year, Aaron was nominated to  be a recipient of the Make-a-Wish foundation. He declared his wish last fall (a trip to New Zealand). The wish was accepted, and we got passports for everyone in the family. The wish was supposed to be fulfilled in February of 2021. But then, covid happened, and all trip wishes were canceled. Not just postponed, but canceled. I called the wish director and told him Aaron would be fine to wait as long as needed for travel to be safe, but he said they were required to schedule the wish no more than a year after they received Aaron's application. It was very disappointing for Aaron, and I felt so sad for him, but we know we are in good company with many other people who have had something taken away because of covid. Anyway, he met with his wish granters this month to brainstorm a new wish idea, and I think he's still going to end up happy (although I don't think anything will be able to compare to New Zealand . . . ). 

Enjoying . . . junior high. Out of all of the boys, Aaron was the least excited about the start of school, which surprised a lot of people. Having missed pretty much all of last year, I think they expected him to be eagerly anticipating the return to a classroom and friends. However, you have to remember that last year was technically his first year of junior high, but since he hardly got to go, it meant that he was facing the newness of it all over again. Plus, he had no idea what the state of all of his friendships that took a break would be . . . would he still have those friends, or would he have to make new ones? People (especially kids reaching adolescence) can change a lot in just a few months. And then of course, we can't forget that Aaron basically hadn't woken up before 8:30am for an entire year, so the 6:30am alarm was not looking great. All of those reasons made me totally understand why he was dreading going back to school. So imagine my surprise when he came home on the afternoon of the first day with a wide smile on his face and practically bursting with things to tell me. He followed me around the house for a good forty-five minutes talking about each of his classes, all of his friends, the lunch schedule, and his favorite teachers. Aaron is usually my kid that I have to pry information out of, so I was kind of stunned, but also so so happy, that he was so willing to share. (Also, having him walk to and from school is pretty much the stuff dreams are made of.)

Sewing . . . masks. After months of having absolutely no interest in making masks, I finally surrendered. Three things provided the necessary motivation: 1. After trying various styles and types, we finally found one that we all really liked. And wouldn't you know, it was pretty much the simplest style out there. I was no longer afraid of making something that wouldn't fit because I had a perfect template to copy. 2. Maxwell and Bradley begged to make masks as one final sewing project using their leftover scraps. 3. My sister-in-law gave me several yards of thin elastic, so I didn't have to go through the hassle of trying to track some down online or in stores. Max, Bradley, and I made masks until the elastic ran out, and the homemade masks, combined with the store-bought ones, gave us a pretty good stash.

Riding . . . the bus. Although the bus has always been an option for my kids, it never made very much sense to take it because I would have had to drive to the bus stop, and it would have only taken me a minute more just to drive them to school. But now, we live within easy walking distance of the bus stop, and it also happens to be the final stop before it heads to school, which means the boys only have to ride it for five minutes, and they don't have to be get ready any earlier than they normally would. So it's really the perfect situation. This means that instead of being in the car five times a day like I was last year to transport my kids to and from school, I literally don't have to drive at all. Plus, it feels so old school to walk to the bus stop, and I love that.

Finishing . . . the dining room. I alluded to this progress in last month's update, but everything finally came together this month, and I am in love with the results. Of course we might still change or add some things to it, but it feels complete as is. What was once a room that I hated being in has now become somewhere that we gather often as a family. I love the dining table that we bought--it is simple and sophisticated and so easy to clean. I also love the rug, which helped anchor the furniture in the room and tie everything together. But my favorite thing is probably the framed black and white photos, which are all pictures that I took on various trips and adventures. It just feels so good to have one room finished, and I'm so excited to start tackling the next project (and I'm so lucky to be married to a person who loves to build, make, and fix things). Here's a little before and after:

Scoring . . . the yarn deal of a lifetime. One of my favorite yarn companies is Brooklyn Tweed. They had a tent sale in August where they sold seconds and overstocked yarn at a steal of a price. The sale began at 10:00 on a Friday morning, and I decided to set my alarm and see if there was anything worth getting. I had a pretty good idea of what I was hoping for--I had a certain sweater in mind and knew the number of skeins I needed for it. So when the sale started, I was extremely quick with selecting the yarn I wanted and paying for it. It kind of gave me a rush, to be honest. After I was done, I kind of kept expecting to get a notification that said there had been a mistake and someone else had purchased it before me, or something like that. It just seemed too good to be true. The yarn I purchased was normally $34.50 per skein, and I got it for just $7.00 a skein. After it was all said and done, I found out that they literally sold 10,000 skeins in less than thirty minutes. So it was good that I was so quick and didn't waste any time browsing. And now I have eight beautiful skeins to make a sweater and a hat with! I'm so excited.

Squeezing . . .  in a few more times at the pool before it closes for the season. This was definitely not our year for the pool, but we finished it off with a bang. Ian and I went multiple times together during the first two weeks of school, and all seven of us went one final time on a Saturday morning. 

Usually I mourn the end of summer because I love having my kids at home. But since we basically had five months of summer instead of ten weeks, I was ready for a change of pace. I've loved having Ian be my little buddy during the day, and the structure and responsibility that comes with school has been a good change for all of us. I'm even, dare I say, ready for some cooler weather. Fall is welcome here!

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