Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy Tu B'shvat !

Posted by Simcha 4:53 AM, under | 9 comments

I just want to take a moment to wish a Happy Tu B'shvat to any of who are celebrating it today.

Tu B'shvat* is one of the more minor Jewish holidays and is strongly tied into to the land of Israel so it's not as widely celebrated everywhere else as it is here. I don't remember doing much for Tu B'shvat when I lived in America but in Israel most people celebrate by eating fresh and dried fruit, particularly from Israel's seven species, and school children are usually taken out to plant trees and flowers. My two-year old came home from his babysitter's house today with a small potted flower.

My husband likes to celebrate Tu B'shvat in a rather grand fashion by having a meal loosely based on the Passover seder (an idea that originated from the Kabbalists in Safed) with many different fruits and wines. Yesterday he went to the Jerusalem outdoor food market (aka the Shuk) and bought a whole bunch of fruits, nuts and olives, which we proceeded to enjoy last night, in between cups of red and white wines (and grape juice for the kids).

For some reason it has become customary to eat dried fruit on TuB'shvat and at this time of year you can find all kinds of interesting dried fruits. They are often also coated in sugar and so end up tasting more like candy than anything else. The platter below contains dates, figs, raisins, cranberries, candied cherries, peaches, sugared lemon peels, papaya and candied kumquats

My husband also brought back the pinkest looking apples that I've ever seen and which are really too pretty to eat.

And an assortment of olives with some crusty fresh bread

I had picked up a coconut at the local market and successfully drained the water from it, using a hammer and screw driver. I passed around the liquid which we all gagged on. Nasty stuff. I don't think you are meant to drink it. Then my husband smashed the coconut in half and now I have no idea what to do with it.
Any suggestions?

And then there was this interesting looking mystery fruit that weren't sure what to do with because we don't know what it is. So we left it alone. I'll try to Google it and see if I can identify it.

And here is my beautiful daughter who is sitting with us so nicely at the table (though I don't know why she looks so sober in this picture) after her brothers ran off to play soccer in the hallway (because I was too distracted to stop them)

So that was our Tu B'shvat celebration and now I'm enjoying all the leftover fruits and nuts, particularly this delicious back of pistachios that I'm snacking on as I write this.

* From Wikipedia:

Tu Bishvat (Hebrew: ט״ו בשבט‎) is a minor Jewish holiday, usually occurring in late January or early February, that marks the "New Year of the Trees" (Hebrew: ראש השנה לאילנות, Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot‎). Tu Bishvat is one of four "New Years" mentioned in the Mishnah. Customs include planting trees and eating dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds. In Israel, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu Bishvat.

A Wrinkle in Time in 90 seconds

Posted by Simcha 2:17 AM, under | 4 comments

I love this 90 minute version of A Wrinkle in Time which was put together by YA author, James Kennedy, for his 90-Second Newbery Video Contest.

"A Wrinkle In Time" In 90 Seconds from James Kennedy on Vimeo.

I can't wait to see the rest of the contest entries.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Posted by Simcha 4:03 PM, under | 3 comments

After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power-and fear-of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.
But when Mina uncovers the victim's identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans-and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen, as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.

Through a contaminated shipment of sugar, the Horde conquered England. Soon every citizen was a puppet in the hand of the invaders due to the naanoagents infecting their bodies. Using radio frequencies transmitted from a tower in London, the Horde was able to active the nanoagents and force any infected person to submit to their will. One of the Horde’s cruelest uses of their power was when they set off a “Frenzy" sending everyone infected into a state of uncontrollable lust that forced them to copulate with whoever was nearby. When the pirate captain Rhys Trahaearn, also called the Iron Duke, destroyed the tower in London, the people were set free from the Horde’s control and Rhys automatically became a hero.

Nine years later all the Horde in England have been destroyed, though signs of their occupation still remain. Hatred of the invaders still runs deep and Detective Mina Wentworth has often felt the brunt of it due to her own Horde-like features. The story about Mina's mother is well known, of how she had clawed out her own eyes upon viewing her daughter for the first time, seeing the results of her last Frenzy. And anyone looking at Mina could easily tell that Horde blood runs in her veins. Although her family and close friends provide Mina with unconditional love and acceptance, Mina still feels like an outsider relegated to the fringes of society.

When Mina is summoned to the Iron Duke’s property to investigate a dead body that was found there, Rhys is immediately intrigued by her and is determined to have her in his bed. Mina is just as determined to keep her relationship with the Iron Duke strictly professional, despite the attraction she feels in return. But Mina knows that if she gets involved with Rhys the consequences for herself and her family would be severe, plus she is still scarred from her time under the Horde and is not prepared for an intimate relationship with a man.

Mina is forced to spend more time with the Iron Duke then she had anticipated when the case takes an unexpected turn, pointing to a possible plot that could put all of England in grave danger. Together, Mina, Rhys and an assortment of other characters, travel across Europe and Africa to solve a murder and capture the villains behind it.

When I first came across The Iron Duke I had brushed it off as paranormal romance (which don’t really appeal to me), due to the bare chested male featured on the cover. I don’t think I had even bothered to read the book description. But after reading numerous glowing reviews of The Iron Duke my curiosity was piqued and I set out to find out more about this book. Despite the mention of zombies (*shudder*) the book description actually sounded pretty interesting and when soon afterward the book appeared in my library, I jumped at the opportunity to read it.

To my surprise I ended up enjoying the The Iron Duke immensely.

The Iron Duke contained a unique storyline that was rich and complex, with a wonderful cast of characters who I very much enjoyed spending time with. The world-building was fantastic and the steampunk additions really elevated the story to a whole new level

Although The Iron Duke has more meat to it than most romance novels that I’ve read it definitely
does fall into the romance category. Romance readers will easily recognize the familiar patterns: the arrogant and demanding alpha male, the strong yet vulnerable female who eventually gives in to the male, the obstacles that keep them apart and the requisite sex scenes. And while I enjoyed watching Mina and Rhys’s relationship develop I was disappointed in how closely their relationship followed these romance novel patterns since it seemed out of sync with the rest of the story. I felt like the author had forced Mina and Rhys into the expected roles of romance novel characters even though the the fit wasn’t quite right, especially for Mina.

While The Iron Duke was a bit weak in the romance department
the rest of the story was fantastic and I quickly tore through it, coming to the end faster than I would have liked. The Iron Duke ended up far exceeding my expectations and I very much look forward to the next installment in this series.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Do You Get Offended?

Posted by Simcha 4:44 AM, under | 9 comments

Several months ago I had read a science fiction book from the 1960's which I had very much enjoyed but which was marred for me slightly by the condescending attitude towards the book's female characters. If this were a recent book then I would have probably stopped reading it because of this or I would have completed it just so I could write a scathing review of it afterward. But instead I took into account the time period in which the book was written and allowed myself to enjoy the rest of the story, just occasionally gritting my teeth in annoyance.

After finishing this book I wondered how other readers react to books with content that would be considered offensive by today's standards although it was completely acceptable at the time the book was published. Last week's uproar about the publication by
NewSouth Books of altered versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn got me thinking about this question again.

NewSouth Books seem to feel that Mark Twain's use of certain offensive words, such as "nigger" and "injun," turn readers off from reading these classics. Their response is to publish edited versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, replacing these "politically-incorrect" words with more sanitized (though not completely accurate) versions.

Now I'm not judging if NewSouth Books is correct to do this or not but I am curious if there are actually people who are offended enough by Mark Twain's books to not read them. While I had easily enough brushed off the offensive behavior of the characters in the SF book that I read I'm pretty sure that if the content had been of anti-semitic nature I would not have been as forgiving. And perhaps if Tom Sawyer had included a Jewish character who was referred to in a derogatory manner that book would have been somewhat soured for me as well. It's hard for me to say but I do realize that my reaction to an anti-semitic slur in a book would be stronger than to an offense made against women, no matter when a book was published. And I'm sure other readers have their own sensitivities that affect where they draw the line, but does the fact that a book is older or a classic make it more likely to be forgiven for such offenses?

How about you? Are you less bothered by offensive content in a book if the book is older or would you judge it by the same standards as you would a modern book?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Scifi & Fantasy Releases: Week of January 16

Posted by Simcha 6:57 AM, under | 6 comments

Allison Hewitt Is Trapped: A Zombie Novel
Madeleine Roux
Genre: Post- Apocalyptic
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: January 18

Allison Hewitt and her five colleagues at the Brooks and Peabody Bookstore are trapped together when the zombie outbreak hits. Allison reaches out for help through her blog, writing on her laptop and utilizing the military's emergency wireless network (SNET). It may also be her only chance to reach her mother. But as the reality of their situation sinks in, Allison’s blog becomes a harrowing account of her edge-of-the-seat adventures (with some witty sarcasm thrown in) as she and her companions fight their way through ravenous zombies and sometimes even more dangerous humans.

Among Others
Jo Walton
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 18

Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable,Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead.
Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Lou Aronica
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: The Fiction Studio
Release Date: January 16

Chris Astor is a man in his early forties who is going through the toughest stretch of his life. Becky is Chris's fourteen-year-old daughter, a girl who overcame enormous challenges to become a vibrant, vital young woman - and now faces her greatest obstacle yet. Miea is the young queen of a fantasy land that Becky and Chris created when Becky was little, a fantasy land that has developed a life of its own and now finds itself in terrible, maybe fatal trouble. Together, Chris, Becky, and Miea need to uncover a secret. The secret to why their worlds have joined at this moment. The secret to their purpose. The secret to the future. It is a secret that, when discovered, will redefine imagination for all of them. Blue is a novel of trial and hope, invention and rediscovery. It might very well take you someplace you never knew existed.

The Children of the Lost (The Agora Trilogy)
David Whitley
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: January 18

Cast out of the city of Agora where they were left at the end of The Midnight Charter, Mark and Lily must now survive in a dense forest. The strange villages, terrifying nightmares, and powerful witches they find there are even more frightening than Agora with all its slums and secrets. In an adventure that expands with every turn of the page, David Whitley delivers a novel as thrilling and horrifying as his characters' darkest dreams.

Chosen Ones (The Aedyn Chronicles)
Alister E. McGrath
Genre: fantasy
Release Date: January 18

In this new fantasy from renowned theologian Alister McGrath, the land of Aedyn has been overtaken by mysterious lords who trust only in their own reason. Two children called from our world have the power to lead the revolution, but will they find the courage to face their own destiny?

New Spring: The Graphic Novel
Based on the novel by Robert Jordan, by Chuck Dixon, Mike Miller, and Harvey Tolibao
Genre: Fantasy/Graphic Novel
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 18

In the last few years before his death, Robert Jordan worked closely with Chuck Dixon and Mike Miller on the graphic adaptation ofNew Spring.

The eight full-color issues of New Spring, released between 2005 and 2010, tell the story of the search for the infant Dragon Reborn and of the adventures of Moiraine Damodred, a young Aes Sedai, and Lan Mandragoran, the uncrowned king of a long-dead nation. Adapted by noted comics writer Chuck Dixon with the full cooperation of Robert Jordan, and illustrated by artists Mike Miller and Harvey Tolibao, New Spring will delight any of Robert Jordan’s millions of readers.

Tor is proud to collect all eight issues of New Spring in a single volume, which will also include developmental art, script pages, and correspondence between Jordan and Dixon.

Cowboy Angels
Paul J. McAuley
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: January 18

The first Turing gate, a mere hundred nanometers across, is forced open in 1963, at the high-energy physics laboratory in Brookhaven; three years later, the first man to travel to an alternate history takes his momentous step, and an empire is born.
For fifteen years, the version of America that calls itself the Real has used its Turing gate technology to infiltrate a wide variety of alternate Americas, rebuilding those wrecked by nuclear war, fomenting revolutions and waging war to free others from communist or fascist rule, and establishing a Pan-American Alliance. Then a nation exhausted by endless strife elects Jimmy Carter on a reconstruction and reconciliation ticket, the CIA's covert operations are wound down, and the Real begins to wage peace rather than war.

But some people believe that it is the Real's manifest destiny to impose its idea of truth, justice, and the American way in every known alternate history, and they're prepared to do anything to reverse Carter's peacenik doctrine. When Adam Stone, a former CIA field officer, one of the Cowboy Angels who worked covertly in other histories, volunteers for reactivation after an old friend begins a killing spree across alternate histories, his mission uncovers a startling secret about the operation of the Turing gates and leads him into the heart of an audicious conspiracy to change the history of every America in the multiverse--including our own.

Col Buchanan
Genre: Steampunk
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 18

The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators.

Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Roshun, who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.

When the Holy Matriarch’s son deliberately murders a woman under the protection of the Roshun; he forces the sect to seek his life in retribution. As Ash and his young apprentice set out to fulfill the Roshun orders, their journey takes them into the heart of the conflict between the Empire and the Free Ports…into bloodshed and death.

God's War
Kameron Hurley
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release Date: January 18

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn't make any difference... On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there's one thing everybody agrees on-- There's not a chance in hell of ending it. Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx's ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war--but at what price? The world is about to find out.

Home Fires
Genre Wolfe
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 18

Gene Wolfe takes us to a future North America at once familiar and utterly strange. A young man and woman, Skip and Chelle, fall in love in college and marry, but she is enlisted in the military, there is a war on, and she must serve her tour of duty before they can settle down. But the military is fighting a war with aliens in distant solar systems, and her months in the service will be years in relative time on Earth. Chelle returns to recuperate from severe injuries, after months of service, still a young woman but not necessarily the same person—while Skip is in his forties and a wealthy businessman, but eager for her return.

Still in love (somewhat to his surprise and delight), they go on a Caribbean cruise to resume their marriage. Their vacation rapidly becomes a complex series of challenges, not the least of which are spies, aliens, and battles with pirates who capture the ship for ransom. There is no writer in SF like Gene Wolfe and no SF novel like Home Fires.

Never Knew Another
J. M. McDermott
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release Date: January 18

Fugitive Rachel Nolander is a newcomer to the city of Dogsland, where the rich throw parties and the poor just do whatever they can to scrape by. Supported by her brother Djoss, she hides out in their squalid apartment, living in fear that someday, someone will find out that she is the child of a demon. Corporal Jona Lord Joni is a demon's child too, but instead of living in fear, he keeps his secret and goes about his life as a cocky, self-assured man of the law. The first book in the Dogsland Trilogy, Never Knew Another is the story of how these two outcasts meet.

Warrior (Dragons of Starlight)
Bryan Davis
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: January 18

In book two of the Dragons of Starlight series by bestselling author Bryan Davis, the quest to rescue the slaves on the dragon planet of Starlight continues, as those from the human planet of Major Four attempt to overcome the dragon prophecy surrounding the black egg, while those on the dragon planet of Starlight work to fullfill what the prophecy foretold. As Jason and Koren, the Starlighter, arrive at the Northlands in Starlight, they continue to look for the one person who can help them free the human slaves. At the same time, Elyssa and a slave named Wallace try to free the slaves using brute force, and work to convince the other slaves freedom is possible. On Major Four, Randall and Tybalt encounter difficulties of their own, as the dragon Magnar arrives and begins to influence the new governor. Above it all, the dragon prince has hatched, raising the stakes for humans and dragons alike.

The Witch's Daughter
Paula Brackston
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher:Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: January 18

In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage in the woods, Gideon instructs Bess in the Craft, awakening formidable powers and making her immortal. She couldn’t have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he will be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life. In present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life. Her solitude abruptly ends when a teenage girl named Tegan starts hanging around. Against her instincts, Elizabeth teaches Tegan the ways of the Hedge Witch, in the process awakening memories—and demons—long thought forgotten. Part historical romance, part modern fantasy, The Witch’s Daughter is a fresh, compelling take on the magical, yet dangerous world of witches. Readers will long remember the fiercely independent heroine who survives plagues, wars, and the heartbreak of immortality to stay true to herself, and protect the protégé she comes to love.


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