Saturday, February 12, 2011

More Non-Fiction Recommendations

Posted by Simcha 6:00 PM, under | No comments

A few weeks ago I had shared with you a list of some of my favorite memoirs (which I really hope that some of you tried) and here are a few more...

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir


A gripping memoir that reads like a political thriller--the story of Malika Oufkir's turbulent and remarkable life. Born in 1953, Malika Oufkir was the eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco's closest aide. Adopted by the king at the age of five, Malika spent most of her childhood and adolescence in the seclusion of the court harem, one of the most eligible heiresses in the kingdom, surrounded by luxury and extraordinary privilege. Then, on August 16, 1972, her father was arrested and executed after an attempt to assassinate the king. Malika, her five younger brothers and sisters. and her mother were immediately imprisoned in a desert penal colony. After fifteen years, the last ten of which they spent locked up in solitary cells, the Oufkir children managed to dig a tunnel with their bare hands and make an audacious escape. Recaptured after five days, Malika was finally able to leave Morocco and begin a new life in exile in 1996.


This is an extremely intense and moving account of an entire family that was arrested and kept secretly imprisoned in Morocco for twenty years. It's been several years since I read this book but it still haunts me. There is a hopeful ending though, as Melika and her family did manage to escape and make their way to freedom.

Muggable Mary: My Life with the Street Crime Unit by Detective Mary Glatzle

I have no idea where I picked up this book but I’m certainly glad that I did since it’s one of my favorite memoirs.
Muggable Mary is the first-person account of Detective Mary Glatzle, which tells her story of how she came to join the NYPD in 1969, as a single mother of a five year old boy, during a time when women were rarely active in the police force. In an honest and open manner Mary recalls her struggle to gain respect as a female police officer and how she came to join the newly formed Street Crime Unit. In the SCU Mary would use various disguises to attract and capture the predators and criminals who prowled the streets of NY.

This is book offers a fascinating look at the NYPD in the 1970‘s and what it was like to be female police officer at that time. I particularly enjoyed getting to know more about Detective Mary Glatzle, who I was not familiar with before I picked up this book, and reading of her colorful assignments with the Street Crime Unit.

A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is well-know for her popular Ramona books and in this memoir she shares her memories of growing up on a farm, and later, in Portland Oregon, during the Great Depression. Readers of Ramona will probably be able to identify familiar incidents from Cleary’s childhood as having appeared in her books, though even if you aren’t a Ramona fan you’s be hard pressed not to enjoy this book. Cleary talks in a candid way about her childhood and of growing up under her increasingly controlling mother, who kept trying to relieve her own youth through her daughter.

This is a beautifully written memoir that I’ve enjoyed rereading many times.



Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough
This is another book that I purloined from my mother’s bookshelf because I just enjoy reading it so much that I had to have it for my own.

Book Description: 
Nineteen-year-old Cornelia Otis Skinner and twenty-one-year-old Emily Kimbrough set out on the adventure of a lifetime, first on the high seas and then in England. From ships running aground, to hiding a case of the measles to avoid quarantine, to unwittingly taking lodgings in a brothel, the young women experience one madcap adventure after another.

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay is delightfully funny and entertaining book in which the girls' crazy escapades never fails to set me off laughing. You just can’t find books like this anymore and if you are able to get a hold of this one I suggest you grab it and run (which is what I did). And then find a corner to get comfortable in, and read it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

Posted by Simcha 3:01 PM, under | 4 comments

Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events. . .
Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician from Italy, who was sold by his uncle to work as a slave for an evil padrone in the U.S. But when a mysterious green violin enters his life he begins to imagine a life of freedom.

Hannah is a soft-hearted, strong-willed girl from the tenements, who supports her family as a hotel maid when tragedy strikes and her father can no longer work. She learns about a hidden treasure, which she knows will save her family -- if she can find it.

And Frederick, the talented and intense clockmaker's apprentice, seeks to learn the truth about his mother while trying to forget the nightmares of the orphanage where she left him. He is determined to build an automaton and enter the clockmakers' guild -- if only he can create a working head.

Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears.


Despite the fact that I’m quite a few years older than the intended readership for The Clockwork Three I still very much enjoyed this book, which I just finished listening to. The story was exciting, fast paced and imaginative and this audio book kept me wonderfully entertained while I took care of some rather boring work-related tasks.

I quickly came to care about the book’s young protagonists, Giuseppe, Hannah and Frederick although I was skeptical about their unusual maturity level. In particular, I had a hard time believing that Giuseppe was really supposed to be only ten years old considering that he behaves likes someone twice that age. But I don't suppose the readers who this book is intended for would notice or care about this, so I just let it slide.

I actually also let a few other unsatisfying aspects of the book slide, in an attempt to be more accepting of a book that isn't really meant for readers my age. For example, Giuseppe finds a violin which, the story hints, might contain some magic but this idea is never really explored. Several times it is also stated that Giuseppe has a Gift, for something other than playing the violin, but this is never fully explained. While the magical aspects of this story are minimal, those that are included are never clarified, which disappointed me. Though I didn't actually notice this until I finished the book and suddenly realized that quite a bit had been left unexplained

One of my favorite parts of the book was actually at the very end when the author talks about his inspiration for writing
The Clockwork Three, a newspaper article from 1873. This article was about a young boy, Joseph, who was kidnapped from his home in Italy and brought to New York, where he was forced to play music on the street to make money for his master, or "padrone". After years of neglect and abuse Joseph gathered the courage to run away from his padrone and eventually was taken in by a widow who found him starving on the street. Joseph later went to court to testify against his pedrone and media attention was finally brought to the tragic plight of the many children who had been kidnapped from their homes and forced into slavery on the streets of New York. The character of Giuseppe was closely based on Joseph and several events in the story were taken from real events in Joseph’s life. This historical basis for The Clockwork Three gave me an additional appreciation of the story and I'm now curious to learn more about the original Jospeh.

While I’m not sure if most adult readers would be fully satisfied with
The Clockwork Three I do think it’s a fantastic book for children and I look forward to giving it to my own kids to read when they are a bit older.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Posted by Simcha 5:40 PM, under | 7 comments

A boy hangs naked and shackled in a walled-off room, with no memory of how he had come to be there. A young girl races through the streets of Venice, fleeing from her uncle’s assassins and his dark plans for her. And in dark alleys, seedy taverns and lavish palace chambers, the political plots and schemes are constantly brewing.

With a tantalizing introduction to two of the story’s main protagonists, Jon Grimwood easily pulled me into The Fallen Blade, where the innocent often get caught up in the schemes of the powerful. Tycho and Giulietta are two central players in the story and, innocent or not, they quickly become pawns in the political game that is being played out.

Sixteen year old Lady Giulietta attempts to run away from the palace before she can be married off to a foreign king. But Giuliette’s opposition to the marriage turns to true horror when she learns of the role her uncle intentions for her.

Tycho has no memory of how he had come to be in Venice and why he is suddenly consumed with a strange hunger that he can’t seem to assuage. He also seems to have developed super human strength and speed, which will gain Tycho the unwelcome interest of Venice’s chief of assassins.

And in the streets of Venice roam the “demons,” humans who can take the form of wolves and who have their own plans for Venice, plans which involve the young Lady Giulietta.


But while the story starts off strong its tight grip on me soon slackened as I struggled to make sense of the confusing series of events that follows the introduction. It took me a few chapters until the story swept me up again, though this time it managed to keep me pretty much engaged until close to the end, where it kind of falls apart.

There was a lot that I really liked about
The Fallen Blade, such as the fast pace, the interesting characters, the atmospheric setting and the alternate fifteenth century Venice that includes witches, werewolves and vampires. But the story was weakened by the shaky plotting, inconsistent character behavior and some unsatisfying plot resolutions which kept The Fallen Blade from being as good as it could have been.

For example, Giulietta could have been a really strong and memorable character but instead came across as annoying and unbelievably naive. Her story-line, which was a central part of the main plot, was wrapped up too neatly to be satisfying and too early to keep me interested in the rest of the story. After her story was taken care of the rest of the book seemed to drag on for too long without any real purpose.

And while the story includes witches, werewolves and a vampire-like character, we get almost no background information about these magical beings or how they came to be part of Venice. I imagine there will be more explanations in the sequels but at least some explanations would have been appreciated here, especially in regard to Tycho. It was never clear if his abilities were ones that he was born with or if he just suddenly developed them, and this is just one of the basics bits of information that would have been nice to know.

I was also bothered by the way characters were sometimes made to behave or react in ways that didn’t follow the logic of the story, in order to keep the plot moving forward. Tycho gets captured, even though his abilities should have made it easy for him to evade his captors. A mad ruler suddenly becomes sane just at the moment when he is needed to save a particular character's life. The plotting just felt a little too contrived at times.

While I enjoyed reading The Fallen Blade I still felt that it had the potential to be a lot better and I probably will follow up with the sequel to see if Grimwood manages to bring that potential to light.

The Shattering the Glass Slipper competition finalists

Posted by Simcha 5:33 AM, under | No comments


This is it, the final stage of the Shattering the Glass Slipper writing competition. After much deliberation, Stephanie and I have selected the ten finalists and now it's time to vote for the best retelling of the Cinderella story.

I have to tell you, all the entries we have received are really fantastic. We really hadn't expected that so many of the entires would be of such high quality, both in the writing and the creativity of the stories. If you haven't yet read through them than you must go over to the contest site and do so at once. I'm sure you will find at least several stories that will delight you.

But we did have to choose just ten stories to be voted on, and these are our selections:


Masque by Amy Allison:

Something glittered deep inside the trunk. I reached for it, and shivering, drew it up from the bottom. “It’s a diamond necklace,” my mother said as she fastened it around my neck. I screamed. Its freezing grip terrified me.

Perspective by Chris Longhurst:

He decides he will name himself ‘Clarence’. It is a serviceable human name to go with his serviceable human shape, and he likes the sibilance at the end. Before tonight he did not have a name; did not even understand the concept of names, did not think of anything but warm sun on his back and the crunch of small bones between his teeth, inasmuch as he thought at all.


Just Outside the Closet by Mandy Manning:

“Again with the damn shoes?” Cinderella stood just outside the closet. “I can see you, you know?”

Prince Charming sat on the floor with Cinderella’s glass slipper in his hand. He licked the toe of the shoe. When she burst in, he almost dropped it.


Cinder Elvis by Becky Kyle:

Why is it they always tell the girl’s stories: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and oh yes, Cinderella?

Palace PR will always have the final word. If they ever released the real story, the Charming family might not appeal to the mainstream.

To Be Queen by Hollan Lane:

“A scullery maid? No! Absolutely not!” the King said.
Cindy was lucky the Prince left the door open a crack or she might not be able to hear their conversation at all.

“But father, she’s so beautiful. I’m sure she’ll-“

Full Circle by P. L. Blair:

She ran. Faster, faster, fleeing down the stairs into the night, tripping over the gown as it fell away in tatters leaving her in her scullery maid's garb – relief when the glass slipper came off her foot.

She kicked free of the other slipper as well. Almost threw it away. Then hugged it to her.

The crowd in pursuit, the Prince chief among them. “Girl!” he cried. “Girl!”

Dark and Fair by Brian Gray:

Once there was a great Sea Captain who had sailed the seven seas and had visited many exotic lands. But as with many great seafarers that pace their heaving decks the squally winds blew salt and brine through his ears and addled his brains, so much so that he decided it was time to take himself a wife and settle down.

Toe to Toe by Yaddi Shaw:

He thinks I am lily. Or orchid or daisy. Or some other such sweetly affected, delicate flower, here for his pleasure. He thinks I am here for him to pluck from the weeds, sniff a few times then place in a plain crystal vase, plain less it outshine my radiance, then place high on a dais overlooking the royal throne where all who enter can see and admire and think him so lucky and duly blessed. He has never once asked me my real name.

Best Foot Forward by T. L. Sherwood:

As the boot flew across the room, Manford wondered if the job market was truly as horrendous as his employer had informed him that it was. Personally, he didn’t know of anyone without a job that wished to have one. In fact, Mr. Charles had asked Manford if he knew of anyone else who would be suitable for the footwear position.

Diamond Tear by Jane Buffham:

There was once a lady who had a daughter so beautiful and sweet-tempered the best of creatures could not hold a candle to her. The knowledge that she had brought this wonder into the world filled the lady with such exquisite happiness, she died.

The little girl grew lovelier with every passing day. Her flaxen hair sparkled as sunlight, her ruby lips grew wanton and plump, and in the corner of her eye a frozen tear sparkled with the brilliance of a diamond.


The voting for the stories begins today, over at shatteringtheglasslipper.blogspot.com, and will end on February 28th. I would really appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to vote for your favorite story by simply leaving a comment with the title and author, at the Shattering the Glass Slipper blog.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Scifi & Fantasy Releases: Week of February 6

Posted by Simcha 11:13 AM, under | 6 comments

After spending quite a bit of time on last week's lengthy list of new releases I have to admit to being rather relieved that this weeks list is much shorter. But despite the brevity of this week's list, all of the titles on it actually look really good to me, which is pretty unusual.

This week's most anticipated title is probably Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes
though I have also been seeing a lot of The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney, which is already on my wish list. Though everything else here looks just as good and I would happily add them all to my bookshelf.

How about you? Are any of these books ones that have been on your wish-list?

Hope you have a great reading week!




************************************************************************************


A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: February 7

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.


Deep State
Walter Jon Williams
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: February 7


Dagmar Shaw is back at it again. She is the Puppetmaster and this time thousands of gamers are dancing on her strings. But when the game she is running in Turkey comes into conflict with the new, brutal regime, she realizes that games have consequences.
When an old friend approaches Dagmar with a project so insane, so ambitious, she can’t possibly say no, she is plunged into a world of spies and soldiers. Dagmar is a Puppetmaster, but when the bullets are real and her ‘puppets’ start dying, is any cause worth it? A nation hangs in the balance and in a world of intrigue and betrayal, Dagmar needs to figure out just what part she plays.


The Floating Island
Rachel Neumeier
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 8

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself. The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin. Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths. But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .

Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read.

The Heroes
Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: February . 7


They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.
Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he’s far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it’s his own.
Prince Calder isn’t interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he’ll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn’t have to fight for it himself.
Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?
Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail…
Three men. One battle. No Heroes.


The Iron Witch
Karen Mahoney
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Flux
Release Date: February 8


When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed Donna Underwood’s father and drove her mother mad. Her own nearly fatal injuries were fixed by alchemy—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. Now seventeen, Donna feels like a freak, doomed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. Only her relationship with her best friend, Navin, is keeping her sane.
But when vicious wood elves abduct Navin, Donna is forced to accept her role in the centuries-old war between human alchemists and these darkest outcasts of Faerie. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous guy with faery blood running through his veins and secrets of his own, Donna races to save Navin—even if it means betraying everything her parents fought to the death to protect.


Kindred
Tammar Stein
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 8

The first time I meet an angel, it is Raphael and I am eighteen.

Miriam is an unassuming college freshman stuck on campus after her spring break plans fall through. She's not a religious girl--when pressed she admits reluctantly to believing in a higher power. Truth be told, she's about as comfortable speaking about her faith as she is about her love life, which is to say, not at all. And then the archangel Raphael pays Miriam a visit, and she finds herself on a desperate mission to save two of her contemporaries. To top it all off, her twin brother, Mo, has also had a visitation, but from the opposite end of the good-evil spectrum, which leaves Miriam to wonder--has she been blessed and her brother cursed or vice versa? And what is the real purpose behind her mission?


The Scar-Crow Men
Mark Chadbourn
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: February 8

The year is 1593. The London of Elizabeth I is in the terrible grip of the Black Death. As thousands die from the plague and the queen hides behind the walls of her palace, English spies are being murdered across the city. The killer's next target: Will Swyfte.
For Swyfte--adventurer, rake, scholar, and spy--this is the darkest time he has known. His mentor, the grand old spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, is dead. The new head of the secret service is more concerned about his own advancement than defending the nation, and a rival faction at the court has established its own network of spies. Plots are everywhere, and no one can be trusted. Meanwhile, England's greatest enemy, the haunted Unseelie Court, prepares to make its move.
A dark, bloody scheme, years in the making, is about to be realized. The endgame begins on the night of the first performance of Dr. Faustus, the new play by Swyfte's close friend and fellow spy Christopher Marlowe. A devil is conjured in the middle of the crowded theater, taking the form of Will Swyfte's long-lost love, Jenny--and it has a horrifying message for him alone.
That night Marlowe is murdered, and Swyfte embarks on a personal and brutal crusade for vengeance. Friendless, with enemies on every side and a devil at his back, the spy may find that even his vaunted skills are no match for the supernatural powers arrayed against him.



Thirteen Years Later
Jasper Kent
Genre: Alternate History
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: February 8

Aleksandr made a silent promise to the Lord. God would deliver him--would deliver Russia--and he would make Russia into the country that the Almighty wanted it to be. He would be delivered from the destruction that wasteth at noonday, and from the pestilence that walketh in darkness--the terror by night...
1825, Europe--and Russia--have been at peace for ten years. Bonaparte is long dead and the threat of invasion is no more. For Colonel Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, life is peaceful. Not only have the French been defeated but so have the twelve monstrous creatures he once fought alongside, and then against, ten or more years ago. His duty is still to serve and to protect his tsar, Aleksandr the First, but now the enemy is human.
However the Tsar knows that he can never be at peace. Of course, he is aware of the uprising fermenting within the Russian army--among his supposedly loyal officers. No, what troubles him is something that threatens to bring damnation down upon him, his family and his country. The Tsar has been reminded of a promise: a promise born of blood...a promise that was broken a hundred years before.
Now the one who was betrayed by the Romanovs has returned to exact revenge for what has been denied him. And for Aleksei, knowing this chills his very soul. For it seems the vile pestilence that once threatened all he believed in and all he held dear has returned, thirteen years later...

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