Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

Posted by Simcha 11:55 AM, under | 4 comments

Mysteries abound, especially in Two Castles.

A handsome cat trainer, black-and-white cats, thieves on four legs and two, suspicious townsfolk, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon. Which is the villainous whited sepulcher?

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but luck is against her. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sends her on a dangerous mission inside the ogre's castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid at an ogre's feast, she finds herself cast in the role of a lifetime and pitted against a foe intent on murder.

Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine weaves an entrancing tale of a fearsome ogre, a dragon detective, and a remarkable heroine, who finds friendship where she least expects it, learns that there are many ways to mansion, and discovers that goodness and evil come in all shapes and sizes.


Twelve year old Elodie is off to seek her fortune in the town of Two Castles. Her parents believe they are sending her to become an apprentice weaver but Elodie has her own plans- she wants to join the mansioners and become an actress.

But Elodie’s plans soon go awry and she finds herself in an unfamiliar city with no money and no job. Luckily for Elodie the intelligent, mystery-solving dragon has taken an interest in her and offers Elodie a position as her apprentice. And as the dragon’s apprentice Elodie has her first mystery to solve involving the local Ogre, who everyone hates, and his missing cat. But Elodie quickly discovers that this mystery is a lot more sinister than her and the dragon had at first suspected and it will take all of her skill to get to the bottom of it.

A Tale of Two Castles is a charming and enjoyable story with a delightful cast of characters that really brings the story to life. Levine has a knack for creating young protagonists that endear themselves to readers of all ages, and Elodie is no exception. She’s spirited and smart and eager for adventure, and soon Elodie has all the adventure she can handle. There is also M, an intelligent dragon that makes its living selling skewers of cheese and bread to the townspeople, and solves mysteries on the side. And finally, there is the shape-changing Ogre who just wants to be liked by the townspeople but is instead hated and feared because of his cruel father.

I enjoyed following along with Elodie as she works to unravel the mystery, using the lessons that the dragon had imparted to her. Along the way she makes some new friends and even gets a slight crush on the handsome cat-trainer, though Elodie remains unentangled by romance, which I found refreshing. Towards the middle of the book, as Elodie visits the different townspeople to question them, the pace did slow a bit too much for me and I had some trouble staying focused. I think this is something that Levine is going to have to work on when writing more children's mysteries. I was also a bit distracted by the fact that the dragon is constantly referred to as IT (since dragons keep their gender a secret). I don’t know why but my gaze kept snagging on those two capitalized letters, pulling me out of the story.

A Tale of Two Castles is a book that most kids will enjoy and which will appeal to many adult readers as well. After finishing it I was glad to see that Levine plans to follow it up with more books featuring this unlikely mystery- solving team and I for one will be looking forward to reading them, as well as sharing them with my own children.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New Scifi & Fantasy Releases: Week of May 9

This is a bit of a slow week for new genre releases and I can't say that there are any titles here that will have me rushing to the bookstore but there are a few books here I thought would be worth mentioning.

There are a couple of YA books that look cute, including
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente and Gail Levine's A Tale of Two Castles, which I have already read and really enjoyed (look out for that review).

I have heard good things about
The Quantum Thief, which does sound like a book I might want to try, if I can get past the intimidating title. (I still haven't recovered from The End of Mr. Y)

Hope you have a great reading week!




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A Tale of Two Castles
Gail Carson Levine
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: May 10

Mysteries abound, especially in Two Castles.

A handsome cat trainer, black-and-white cats, thieves on four legs and two, suspicious townsfolk, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon. Which is the villainous whited sepulcher?

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but luck is against her. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sends her on a dangerous mission inside the ogre's castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid at an ogre's feast, she finds herself cast in the role of a lifetime and pitted against a foe intent on murder.

Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine weaves an entrancing tale of a fearsome ogre, a dragon detective, and a remarkable heroine, who finds friendship where she least expects it, learns that there are many ways to mansion, and discovers that goodness and evil come in all shapes and sizes.

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Fuzzy Nation
John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: May 10

It's a classic case of good news, bad news. Independent contractor Jack Holloway helps cause a cliff collapse, which gets him fired from his partnership; but the accident reveals a vein of valuable jewels, which gets him rehired and promises to make him rich. Of course, there's a catch: To maintain the claim on his newfound wealth, the partners must be able to certify that the planet is not inhabited by any sentient beings—and that, of course, is the cue for the small, lovable, furry little creatures to appear. A superbly plotted spin across the fantasy floor by the author of Old Man's War.

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Central Park Knight
C. J. Henderson
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: May 10

Professor Piers Knight is the Brooklyn Museum’s very own Indiana Jones. His specialties include lost civilizations, arcane cultures, and more than a little bit of the history of magic and mysticism. What his contemporaries don't know is that in addition to being a scholar of all these topics, he is also proficient in the uses of magical artifacts.
Knight receives a chilling message from Tian Lu, a former lover and an agent for the Chinese government. Years ago, they made a frightening discovery at an archeological dig when out of the depths rose… a living, fire-breathing dragon. Now, the dragons are waking from their slumber before their scheduled time. And one particularly diabolical dragon is set on eliminating the others and taking over the world.
As civilization plunges into panic, Knight, Lu, Knight’s seventeen-year-old techie intern George Rainert, and an untrustworthy dragon ally must use all their resources-- magical and otherwise--to stop the destruction before it’s too late.

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The Chaos Crystal
Jennifer Fallon
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: May 10

The magical Tide has turned and the Immortal Lords once again have their full power. The Immortal Lord Cayal welcomes this power as a means to an end--his end, preferably. Cayal has wanted to cease his existence for longer than human history and it looks like he might finally get his wish. Rumors swirl that the Chaos Crystal, the mysterious prism that brought the Immortals to the world, has been found. Cayal is determined to seize the gem.
Among those who search for this long-lost object is Cayal’s former lover, the very mortal Lady Arkady. She’s been captured by Jaxyn, a Tide Lord who is decidedly against Cayal and is seeking the Crystal for his own nefarious schemes. Arkady escapes, and is off on her desperate search…for if the gem falls into the hands of the Immortals, what will become of humanity?
The stakes are high, with mortal and immortal fighting to grasp this ultimate prize. Whoever holds the Crystal can decide the fate of the world.

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Catherynne M. Valente
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: May 10

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

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Hell's Bells
John Connolly
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: May 12

Samuel Johnson -- with a little help from his dachshund Boswell and a very unlucky demon named Nurd -- has sent the demons back to Hell. But the diabolical Mrs Abernathy is not one to take defeat lying down. When she reopens the portal and sucks Samuel and Boswell down into the underworld, she brings an ice-cream van full of dwarfs as well. And two policemen. Can this eccentric gang defeat the forces of Evil? And is there life after Hell for Nurd?

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Mind Storm
K.M. Ruiz
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Dunne.
Release Date: May 10

The first in an exciting new sci-fi series that’s being described as Blade Runner meets X-Men
Two hundred and fifty years after the world was nearly wiped out by nuclear war, what’s left of society fights over the scraps of the Earth as the rich and powerful plan to ascend in secret to another planet. But the deadly new breed of humanity that the rulers have enslaved to protect their interests are about to change everything.

K.M. Ruiz’s Mind Storm is the rip-roaring tale of Threnody Corwin, a “psion” with the ability to channel electricity like lightning through anything she touches. As a solider-slave for the human government, Threnody is recruited by an unknown enemy: the scion of Earth’s most powerful (and supposedly human) family, the Serca Syndicate. But Lucas Serca is far from human and he intends to make Threnody and her fellow psions meet their destiny, no matter how many people he has to kill to do it.

Mind Storm is the first of two books chronicling the fight for survival by the psions and other “gene-trash” humans, before they’re killed by the racist world government, or left to die on a crumbling Earth.

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The Quantum Thief
Hannu Rajaniemi
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: May 10

Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist, and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy— from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. Now he’s confined inside the Dilemma Prison, where every day he has to get up and kill himself before his other self can kill him.

Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, where time is currency, memories are treasures, and a moon-turnedsingularity lights the night. What Mieli offers is the chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self—in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed.

As Jean undertakes a series of capers on behalf of Mieli and her mysterious masters, elsewhere in the Oubliette investigator Isidore Beautrelet is called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, and finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man named le Flambeur….

The Quantum Thief is a crazy joyride through the solar system several centuries hence, a world of marching cities, ubiquitous public-key encryption, people communicating by sharing memories, and a race of hyper-advanced humans who originated as MMORPG guild members. But for all its wonders, it is also a story powered by very human motives of betrayal, revenge, and jealousy. It is a stunning debut.

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Queen of Kings
Maria Dahvana Headley
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: May 12


A thrilling, chilling reimagining of the story of the most famous woman in history.

Once there was a queen of Egypt…a queen who became through magic something else…

The year is 30 BC. Octavian Caesar and his massed legions are poised to enter Alexandria. A messenger informs Egypt’s queen, Cleopatra, that her beloved Mark Antony has died by his own hand. Desperate to save her kingdom, resurrect her husband and protect all she holds dear, Cleopatra turns to the gods for help. Ignoring the warnings of those around her, she summons Sekhmet, goddess of death and destruction, and strikes a mortal bargain. And not even the wisest of Egypt’s scholars could have predicted what would follow…

For, in return for Antony’s soul, Sekhmet demands something in return: Cleopatra herself. And so Egypt’s queen is possessed. She becomes an immortal, shape-shifting, not-quite-human manifestation of a deity who seeks to destroy the world. Fighting to preserve something of her humanity, Cleopatra pursues Octavian back to Rome: she desires revenge, she yearns for her children…and she craves human blood.

It is a journey that will take her from the tombs of the Pharaohs to the great amphitheatres of imperial Rome and on, to Hell itself where, it seems, the fate of the world will finally be decided.

Blending authentic historical fiction and the darkest of fantasy, Queen of Kings is a spectacular and spellbinding feat of the imagination that fans of Neil Gaiman, Diana Gabaldon, George R.R. Martin, Patricia Briggs, Philippa Gregory, and Ridley Scott's Gladiator won’t want to miss.

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The Rogue (The Traitor Spy Trilogy, Book Two)
Trudi Canavan
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: May 11

Sonea, Black Magician of Kyralia, remains deeply concerned about her son Lorkin, who has gone missing on assignment in the foreign land of Sachaka. Her problems at home remain as well, for there is a rogue magician on the loose, threatening the life of her friend Cery, leader of the Thieves.Lorkin, living among the Sachakan rebels, does his best to learn about them and their unique magic. But the Traitors are reluctant to trade their knowledge for the Healing they so desperately want, and while he assumes they fear revealing their existence to the world, there are hints they have bigger plans.
In Sachaka, Dannyl has lost the respect of the Sachakan elite for letting Lorkin join the Traitors. The Ashaki’s attention has shifted, instead, to the new Elyne Ambassador, a man Dannyl knows all too well.
And in the University, two female novices are about to remind the Guild that sometimes their greatest enemy is found within.

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Stonewielder (A Novel of the Malazan Empire)
Ian C. Esslemont
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: May 10

Greymane believed he’d outrun his past. With his school for swordsmanship in Falar, he was looking forward to a quiet life, although his colleague Kyle wasn’t as enamoured with life outside the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard. However, it seems it is not so easy for an ex-Fist of the Malazan Empire to disappear, especially one under sentence of death from that same Empire.
For there is a new Emperor on the throne of Malaz, and he is dwelling on the ignominy that is the Empire’s failed invasion of the Korel subcontinent. In the vaults beneath Unta, the Imperial capital, lie the answers to that disaster. And out of this buried history surfaces the name Stonewielder.
In Korel, Lord Protector Hiam, commander of the Stormguard, faces the potential annihilation of all that he holds dear. With few remaining men and a crumbling stone wall that has seen better days, he confronts an ancient enemy: the sea-borne Stormriders have returned.
Religious war also threatens these lands. The cult of the Blessed Lady, which had stood firm against the Riders for millennia, now seeks to eradicate its rivals. And as chaos looms, a local magistrate investigating a series of murders suddenly finds himself at the heart of a far more ancient and terrifying crime – one that has tainted an entire land....
Stonewielder is an enthralling new chapter in the epic story of a thrillingly imagined world that takes place in the timeline right after the New York Times bestseller Dust of Dreams left off.

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