Thursday, August 26, 2010

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

Posted by Simcha 4:09 PM, under | 4 comments

It is common knowledge to those familiar with fairy tales that if you meet an elderly woman along the way who requests something from you it is best to give it to her graciously. If you do so, you will likely be rewarded, and if not, you will be sure to regret it.

Stepsisters, Dirbani and Tana live together with Dirbani's mother in a village, struggling to make ends meet after the death of their father. One day Dirbani goes out to collect water from the village well and encounters an elderly woman who requests from her a drink of water. Kind-hearted Dirbani quickly rushes to give the woman a ladle of cool water and in return she receives a blessing. Upon returning home Dirbani discovers that every time she speaks, flowers and diamonds fall out of her mouth. Realizing that her daughter has encountered a goddess, Dirbani's mother rushes Tana out of the house in hopes that she too will encounter the elderly woman. Instead Tana is approached by a beautiful, majestic woman that requests a drink from her jug. Immediately realizing who the woman must be, practical, plain spoken Tana becomes fearful that she is not as deserving as her sweet sister for a blessing, though she receives one anyways. Soon every word that Tana speaks gives birth to snakes and toads.

Dirbani and Tana's lives are suddenly turned upside down as they are forced to leave their village due to the strong reactions their gifts have invoked in the villagers. A passing prince takes Dirbani into his home, where she lives in the lap of luxury and falls in love for the first time, even as she realizes the danger that her new gift has placed her in. Tana is forced to flee from the village because the governor, who hates snakes, has sent men to hunt her down for being a witch. For the first time in their lives the two sisters are separated from each other and they each must find a way to persevere against the challenges and dangers they face even as they attempt to discover the reason the goddess had chosen to bless them as she did.

I really enjoyed this retelling of the French fairy tale by Charles Perrault, and the interesting alterations the author had made. Rather than one sister being good and the other selfish and greedy, as in the original tale, in this story the sisters love and care for each other, despite their very different personalities. And even though one sister receives diamonds and flowers and the other toads and frogs, both sisters are viewed as having been blessed, as frogs and snakes are viewed as creatures of the goddess and are much welcomed by the villagers.

I also really enjoyed the romantic story lines which follow Tana's love for the jeweler's son, who she believes only sees her as a friend and Dirbani's growing affection for the prince, who she knows she can never have. The only fault I found with the book is that the story ends a little to abruptly for my liking, just short of the "happily ever after" ending, which was about to take place. Readers are forced to have to imagine it for themselves rather than getting to read it, which I was disappointed about.

Heather Tomlinson has succeeded in retelling a classic fairy tale in a delightful and engaging manner, while adding her own unique twists, and I enjoyed every minute of it. This was a wonderful book that I would recommend to readers of all ages, despite its YA status, and especially to those who enjoy fairy tales, strong female heroines and a bit of romance.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Scifi and Fantasy Releases: Week of August 22

Posted by Simcha 1:42 AM, under | 4 comments

I was going to skip this week's listing of new releases because I have a pretty busy day today, as I'm flying back to Israel this evening, but I just couldn't bring myself to do so since this is the week of two highly anticipated new releases, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. I also thought I would throw in a book from last week's releases that looked interesting, The Last Page by Anthony Huso. And since I had so thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Deas's The Adamantine Palace I was pleased to see that he has a new book coming out this week, The Thief-Taker's Apprentice, which I hope to get to read.

Hope you have a great reading week!


The Last Page
Anthony Huso
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: August 17

The city of Isca is set like a dark jewel in the crown of the Duchy of Stonehold. In this sprawling landscape, the monsters one sees are nothing compared to what’s living in the city’s sewers.
Twenty-three-year-old Caliph Howl is Stonehold’s reluctant High King. Thrust onto the throne, Caliph has inherited Stonehold’s dirtiest court secrets. He also faces a brewing civil war that he is unprepared to fight. After months alone amid a swirl of gossip and political machinations, the sudden reappearance of his old lover, Sena, is a welcome bit of relief. But Sena has her own legacy to claim: she has been trained from birth by the Shradnae witchocracy—adept in espionage and the art of magical equations writ in blood—and she has been sent to spy on the High King.
Yet there are magics that demand a higher price than blood. Sena secretly plots to unlock the Cisrym Ta, an arcane text whose pages contain the power to destroy worlds. The key to opening the book lies in Caliph’s veins, forcing Sena to decide if her obsession for power is greater than her love for Caliph.
Meanwhile, a fleet of airships creeps ever closer to Isca. As the final battle in a devastating civil war looms and the last page of the Cisrym Ta waits to be read, Caliph and Sena must face the deadly consequences of their decisions. And the blood of these conflicts will stain this and other worlds forever.

Delcroix Academy: The Candidates
Inara Scott
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
Release Date: Aug 24

Dancia Lewis is far from popular. And that's not just because of her average grades or her less-than-glamorous wardrobe. In fact, Dancia's mediocrity is a welcome cover for her secret: whenever she sees a person threatening someone she cares about, things just...happen. Cars skid. Structures collapse. Usually someone gets hurt. So Dancia does everything possible to avoid getting close to anyone, belieiving this way she can supress her powers and keep them hidden.

But when recruiters from the prestigious Delcroix Academy show up in her living room to offer her a full scholarship, Dancia's days of living under the radar may be over. Only, Delcroix is a school for diplomats' kids and child geniuses--not B students with uncontrollable telekinetic tendencies. So why are they treating Dancia like she's special? Even the hottest guy on campus seems to be going out of his way to make Dancia feel welcome.

And then there's her mysterious new friend Jack, who can't stay out of trouble. He suspects something dangerous is going on at the Academy and wants Dancia to help him figure out what. But Dancia isn't convinced. She hopes that maybe the recruiters know more about her "gift" than they're letting on. Maybe they can help her understand how to use it...But not even Dancia could have imagined what awaits her behind the gates of Delcroix Academy.

Bearers of the Black Staff (Legends of Shannara, Bk 1)
Terry Brooks
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: August 24

The Genesis of Shannara trilogy – Armageddon’s Children, The Elves of Cintra, and The Gypsy Morph – charted the fall of our own world into the hands of once-men and demons…and the escape of a few humans, Elves, and others into a remote mountain valley walled in by impenetrable magic. For five-hundred years the survivors have lived peacefully, learning to coexist and to build a new world with the limited resources and skills available to them. Now the magic that kept them safe for so many centuries is wearing down. Frightening creatures are penetrating the barriers and wreaking havoc on the valley within. It is time for the four peoples to stand together and create the new world of Shannara.

Mockingjay (Hunger Games, Bk 3)
Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Dystopia
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: August 24

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

A Crack in the Sky
Mark Peter Hughes
Genre: YA Dystopia
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 24

Thirteen-year-old Eli Papadopoulos is worried. Even though he’s a member of the most powerful family in the world. Even though his grandfather founded InfiniCorp, the massive corporation that runs everything in the bustling dome-cities. Even though InfiniCorp ads and billboards are plastered everywhere, proclaiming:


Recently, Eli noticed that there’s something wrong with the artificial sky. It keeps shorting out, displaying strange colors and random images. And though the Department of Cool and Comfortable Air is working overtime, the dome-city is hotter than it’s ever been.
Eli has been raised to believe that the dome-cities are safe, that the important thing is to keep working and consuming, and that everyone is secure and comfortable in InfiniCorp’s capable hands.
But now he begins asking questions.
All of a sudden, operatives from a dangerous band of terrorists keep contacting him. The Friends of Gustavo—or Foggers—want to tear down everything InfiniCorp has created. They promise Eli that they have the truth he seeks—if he’s brave enough to handle it.
Eli isn’t convinced. And he’s about to find out that in the dome-cities, being a Papadopoulos isn’t enough to save a rule-breaker like him from being sent far away to learn right-thinking. In his new home, the Tower, Eli meets Tabitha, once at the top of her Internship class, now a forgotten slave. Together, and with help from Eli’s beloved pet mongoose, Marilyn, they just might be able to escape . . . and try to make a life for themselves in the scorched wilderness outside the domes.

The Black Prism
Brent Weeks
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: August 25

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals.

But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he's willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

The Thief-Taker's Apprentice
Stephen Deas
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: August 26

Berren has lived in the city all his life. He has made his way as a thief, paying a little of what he earns to the Fagin like master of their band. But there is a twist to this tale of a thief. One day Berren goes to watch an execution of three thieves. He watches as the thief-taker takes his reward and decides to try and steal the prize. He fails. The young thief is taken. But the thief-taker spots something in Berren. And the boy reminds him of someone as well. Berren becomes his apprentice. And is introduced to a world of shadows, deceit and corruption behind the streets he thought he knew. Full of richly observed life in a teeming fantasy city, a hectic progression of fights, flights and fancies and charting the fall of a boy into the dark world of political plotting and murder this marks the beginning of a new fantasy series for all lovers of fantasy - from fans of Kristin Cashore to Brent Weeks.


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