Friday, December 17, 2010

Dramatic, Delightful and Dorky Dialogue

Author:  Rachel Renée Russell

The Dish:  Middle School.  Sometimes it can be just as bad as high school, if not worse.  And if you’re the new kid in town, it can be disastrous if you make the wrong first moves.  Meet Nikki Maxwell, and this is her life.  The daughter of a pest exterminator, Nikki has been given an opportunity to attend Westchester Country Day Middle School thanks to a scholarship through her father’s bug business.  It’s not that she isn’t thrilled with the prospect of going to a new school, but there are standards that she must maintain as a fourteen-year-old girl.  Her first week doesn’t go so well and she has already attracted the annoyance of the most popular girl in school, MacKenzie Hollister.  What’s a new girl to do?  Write and draw about her days in school in her diary.

After reading not one but two reviews about Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries on, I was intrigued by the story and had to check out the first book.  It was the cover that really jumped out at me because it almost has the look of a graphic novel.  Nikki is just like the average middle school girl, wanting to fit in with the CCP (that’s Cute, Cool & Popular) crowd while also catching the eye of that secret crush.  And the readers are able to see just what every day is like for her through her diary.  Unlike other “diary novels”, Russell takes Dork Diaries further than merely a story told through a diary: 1) it appears as though Nikki has actually handwritten the entirety of the story, adding a more realistic feel to the story and 2) as she is an artist, Nikki also draws little scenes from her daily experiences just to illustrate (pardon the pun) the points she tries to make regarding her thoughts. 

Nikki’s life is full of what nearly every fourteen-year-old has.  There is the ultra-popular girl who everyone caters to just so they might be included with the popular crowd.  There are the “dorky” friends who make life much more bearable in an otherwise annoying existence, even though they can sometimes make it unbearable at times.  And there is, of course, that one guy that just makes the day even better just from talking with him.  All of the pieces add to the puzzle that is the life of a young teenager, and without any of those elements, life just wouldn’t be “normal.”  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Random Thoughts: Holiday Biz and Books

Title:  Holiday Biz and Books
Author:  DJL

The Dish:  It's that time again.  The time of year when chinook winds blow down upon the US from Canada and when the leaves are turning brown and leaving behind their sturdy trees to form crunchy piles just perfect for jumping.  Or raking, depending on how you view it.  Winter is upon us and already Christmas carols are playing through certain radio stations 24/7, and you just have to smile and think, 'Wow...where did the year go?' 

As hard as it seems, with the Thanksgiving holidays over and December already begun, Christmas, Chanukah/Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever winter holiday you celebrate will be here soon.  You know what this means, right?  Preparation.  When it comes to any major holiday, the key word is always preparation.  For some, this means preparing your house for out-of-town visitors and for others it means preparing to go on vacation.  There is an awful lot of planning that goes on around this time of year, and even I get swamped with getting things ready (which is also my excuse for not having a post in awhile). 

Take this week.  I have been working every day this week on a different set of truffles for a Holiday Bazaar this weekend and also for mailing out to family and friends.  So far, I've made 3 batches of about 30 truffles each, so I have 90+ truffles so far.  This evening will be devoted to the last batch of truffles and also mixing up rolled sugar cookie dough for tomorrow's decorating time following work.  Luckily, I'll have some assistance in that department so it should be fun to see how each of us decorate the cookies. 

Despite the busy-ness and the potential stress that comes from planning and purchasing and mailing and wrapping and decorating, this is still my favorite time of year.  Seeing the culmination of the planning take place whether it's on Christmas Eve or a chosen weekend to celebrate the holidays in December (or even November or January) makes all of the work worthwhile.  It always thrills me to see my friends and family enjoying any of the homemade goodies I gave them for the holidays.  And I look forward to getting a Cookie Swap started either this year or the next year. 

What I also really love about this time of year are all of the holiday-related books and television specials published or shown for the season.  Some of my favorites include Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, an anthology of werewolf stories that take place around the winter holidays, Christmas Poems, an anthology of poems centered around Advent, Christmas, and winter by various poets, and of course A Christmas Carol, both in book and several film formats.  I will say that one of my preferred renditions of A Christmas Carol is with Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: The Musical mostly because of the musical factor and also seeing other actors that you don't normally see in holiday films.  Nostalgia is key when it comes to holiday specials because no matter how many times I watch the same specials in December, I never get tired of them.  There is a reason why television specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have withstood the tests of time.  It's because they are wholesome and heartwarming holiday animated specials that both young and old can appreciate.

Favorite Holiday Reads:

Title:  Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
Editors:  Charlaine Harris and Toni P. Kelner
Summary:  Let's Face it - the holidays can bring out the beast in anyone. They are particularly hard if you're a lycanthrope. Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner have harvested the scariest, funniest, saddest werewolf tales, by an outstanding pack of authors, best read by the light of a full moon and with a silver bullet close at hand.

Title:  Christmas Poems (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets)
Editors:  John Hollander and J.D. McClatchy
Summary:  An anthology of Christmas poetry, from Milton to Schnackenberg, that gives an appealing twinkle to many familiar ornaments by hanging them with a tasteful selection of contemporary pieces and older, often neglected works that deserve the fresh polish they receive here.

Title:  A Christmas Carol
Author:  Charles Dickens
Summary:  Cruel miser Ebeneezer Scrooge has never met a shilling he doesn't like. . .and hardly a man he does. And he hates Christmas most of all. When Scrooge is visited by his old partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, he learns eternal lessons of charity, kindness, and goodwill.

Favorite Holiday Films and Specials:

Title:  A Charlie Brown Christmas
Summary:  This television classic features the Peanuts characters in the story of Charlie Brown's problematic efforts to mount a school Christmas pageant. Everybody's on board: Lucy, Snoopy, Schroeder, Pig-Pen, but the biggest impression is surely made by Linus, who stops the show with his recitation from the gospels of the story of Christ's birth.

Title:  Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Summary:  The Grinch, whose heart is two sizes too small, hates Who-ville's holiday celebrations, and plans to steal all the presents to prevent Christmas from coming. To his amazement, Christmas comes anyway, and the Grinch discovers the true meaning of the holiday. (regarding the book, but same basic premise)

Title:  Beauty and the Beast The Enchanted Christmas
Summary:  This film takes place before the Beast’s great transformation at the end of Beauty and the Beast.  It was on Christmas Day that the heartless prince was transformed from his human self into his beastly state, and so Christmas has been a forbidden holiday among the castle servants.  Belle, who loves Christmas, chooses to bring it back into the castle against the Beast’s wishes as well as threatening the plans of Forte, the musical maestro who believes things are better with the servants as objects. - DJL

Title:  A Christmas Carol - The Musical
Summary:  A musical setting for Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a natural, and this holiday TV-movie (based on the Broadway version) generously crams music into its quick spin through the venerable story. Kelsey Grammer uses his musical pipes (and some of his "master thespian" style of acting) as Ebenezer Scrooge, the man whose miserliness needs no introduction here.

Title:  The Life and Adventures of Santa Clause
Summary:  A wizardly fairy named Ak helps the young Nicholas understand human misery and charges him with the task of serving mankind. Nicholas's talent for charming little children and brightening the lives of the poor--and poor at heart--soon turns into a lifelong career.

What holiday books and specials are traditions in your household?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Graphic Friday: Natsume's Book of Friends

Author:  Yuki Midorikawa

The Dish:  Natsume is not like other boys.  All of his life he's been able to see spirits and demons...and they're usually chasing him.  But this isn't his fault since the demons believe he is his grandmother, Reiko, from whom he inherited his spiritual gifts.  When she was alive, Reiko had taken the names of many different demons after spiritual battles, thus forming her "Book of Friends".  After releasing a demon he calls "Nyanko-sensei", due to the demon being trapped in the form of a lucky cat, Natsume finds the "Book of Friends" and vows to return the names to their proper owners.  Nyanko-sensei has promised to assist Natsume in this task on the condition that should the boy die while on his quest, the demon shall receive the "Book of Friends".

I was introduced to this series by a friend of mine, though it was the anime, not the manga.  Oddly enough I didn't watch an entire episode despite my curiosity.  Then, when I saw the manga available here, I just had to really see what the story was about.  The overall story of Natsume's Book of Friends is that Natsume is basically wanting to undo what his grandmother did years ago in taking the names from the demons listed in the book.  What I really love is the episodic stories involving Natsume with the various demons he encounters such as when he first meets Nyanko-sensei, or Madara as he is called by other demons.  The most endearing story to me involves the "Dew God", a spirit that was treated as a god many decades prior.  However, with only one believer remaining and growing older, his stature had been reduced to a tiny spirit easily held in one's hand. 

The banter between Natsume and Nyanko-sensei/Madara is quite humorous, especially with Nyanko-sensei always taking into account that he could always just eat Natsume to gain the Book of Friends.  In fact, it was Nyanko-sensei/Madara that made me very interested in this series simply because his true demon form has the appearance like that of a wolf.  It is rare to see wolves along the side of the protagonist in manga.  In the Dew God's story, there was a prediction made that involved Nyanko-sensei/Madara that makes me very curious to read more volumes.  Overall, I can't wait to continue collecting more volumes and I'd like to revisit the anime when it comes to America. 

When reading a graphic novel series, do you prefer more episodic stories or the overarching storyline and why do you prefer that type of story?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Random Thoughts: Do you work here?

Title:  "Do you work here?"
Author:  DJL

The Dish:  How many times have you heard that question before in your workplace?  I can understand it if your workplace doesn't have a standard uniform or if you're out in the store with your back to a customer.  However, when you're sitting behind the Information Desk with your name tag in plain have to ask yourself, "Really?  You're asking if I work here?"

What makes hearing this question from patrons so hilarious are the inner comments and comebacks that employees come up with.  I've composed a list of my Top Five Favorite "Work here?" Comebacks:

1. No, I just needed a place to sit and this was the only free chair.
2. Actually, I'm a professional seat-warmer.  Here's my card.
3. I wanted to ask you the same question since I need to find this title.
4. Oh, did I forget my name tag again?
5. If you hum a few bars, I might get the tune.

In all honesty, I think it's because customers are so focused on their task at hand, they don't think to look at the name tag.  All they see is a body behind a desk of authority, and they want to ascertain that body is someone who can help them.  And truth be told, I haven't been asked that question in a long while before tonight, so I think we're doing good for the most part.

What witty comebacks would you say if someone asked "Do you work here?"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DJL Dishes Dessert!

Title:  Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
The Dish:  Fall is one of my favorite times of year, mostly because of 2 things: the change in the weather from hot to cool and the appearance of pumpkin products on the shelves.  I'm a big fan of pumpkin dishes, mostly in the way of desserts, but I wouldn't mind trying something savory with pumpkin sometime.  For now, though I'll stick with the sweet side of pumpkin.

Speaking of which, there is nothing quite as sweet or decadent as cheesecake, and when you combine that with the awesome flavor of autumn that is pumpkin, people get one amazing tour for the senses.  There is just something about using pumpkin in something as rich and sumptuous as cheesecake that just makes my mouth water.  I found this recipe on Kraft Foods and decided to make it for a special occasion at work, so here's hoping that everyone will enjoy it!

-25 NABISCO Ginger Snaps, finely crushed (about 1-1/2 cups)
-1/2 cup  finely chopped PLANTERS Pecans
-1/4 cup butter, melted
-4 pkg.  (8 oz. each) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
-1 cup sugar, divided
-1 tsp.  vanilla
-4 eggs
-1 cup  canned pumpkin
-1 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/4 tsp.  ground nutmeg
-Dash ground cloves

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix crumbs, melted butter, and pecans, pressing the mixture into the bottom of the pan.  Use   
either a 13x9 inch rectangle pan or a 9-inch spring-form pan.
3. Beat cream cheese, 3/4 cup of sugar, and vanilla using a mixer until just blended.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg until just blended.  Remove 1 1/2 cups of batter and set aside.  Stir in remaining sugar, pumpkin, and spices into remaining batter. 
4. Spoon half of the pumpkin batter onto crust, topping with spoonfuls of the plain batter.  Repeat layers, and then swirl with a knife. 
5. Bake for 45 minutes (with 13x9 inch pan) or 55 minutes to 1 hour and 5 minutes (with spring-form pan) until center is almost set.  Cool completely.  Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.  

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

(Belated) Graphic Friday: Yakitate!! Japan

Author:  Hashiguchi, Takashi

The Dish:  Battling...brawling...baking?  At the tender age of 6, Azuma Kazuma was introduced to the art of bread-making by a local baker with a dream to create a signature bread associated with Japan.  The French have a bread, the Germans have a bread, many countries have a bread associated in their country of origin.  And thus, Azuma's dream of creating such a bread for Japan, or Ja-Pan, was born.  

Why should people read this manga series?  Because it's a manga about a bread competition.  How many shonen series can boast this type of competition?  In most action manga, the competition is a battle royale in the sparring ring between two (or more) brutal warriors, as with Dragonball Z, YuYu Hakusho, and so forth.  With Yakitate!! Japan, it's still a battle...the ring just happens to be in the kitchen using an oven.  

This is one crazy manga starting off with Azuma competing for a position at Pantasia, the most prestigious of breadmaking brands in Japan.  While in the competition, Azuma meets formidable opponants in Ken Suwabara, a breadmaker with the heart of a samurai, and Kyousuke Kawachi, a young breadmaker with a secret past.  But Azuma has one advantage on his side in this bread competition...his "hands-of-the-sun", or palms that are warmer than normal temperature.  Azuma fairs well in the competition, but due to some scheming in part of some of the competition, he does not win the position at Pantasia's main branch.  Instead, he and Kawachi have both caught the eyes of Tsukino Azusagawa, owner of the the smaller south Pantasia branch.  How will Azuma fair working in a bakery that is in competition not only with other local bakeries but also with Pantasia's major rival, St. Pierre?  

Overall, I have enjoyed this manga simply because of the unique theme even if it does revolve around a competition.  It has the heart of the hero's journey as Azuma strives to achieve the perfect Ja-pan, or Japanese bread.  The side characters involved in the manga are what really make the story great, although I believe we dwell too much on Kawachi's "hair issues" later in the series.  Although I haven't been able to finish the manga yet, I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome of the final bread competition. 

What competition-based manga series capture your attention?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Forced into more.

Title:  Speak
Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson

The Dish:  Outcast.  Loser.  Freak.  These are terms that are always familiar with the ostracized teens in high school, those that everyone else seems to shun entirely for some reason.  Melinda Sordino is one such teen at her high school, cast out of the crowd because of calling the police at a party over the summer.  Those who were her friends have dropped her entirely while everyone else whispers about her, thinking she's a loser in breaking up the party.  But there was a reason Melinda called the police...a reason that she just cannot admit to, not even herself and thus locks her voice away. 

Everyone has seen something similar to this situation.  Someone is treated poorly for a shallow reason whether that person doesn't wear the "right" clothes or doesn't look the "right" way or doesn't behave in the "right" manner.  The person's peers either look upon them with scorn or don't even bother looking at them, let alone notice them.  That is Melinda's life in high school, and Anderson captures that high school mentality so very well in Speak.  Melinda has to go through all of the scorn and the lack of sympathy from her peers and even her former best friend.  And the teachers are really just a presence of authority as they don't take notice of how Melinda is treated, though there is that one teacher, Mr. Freeman, that seems to get it.  

What I found intriguing in the overall story was the journal style in which Anderson writes through Melinda.  There are no set chapters, instead it is written in pieces throughout the different high school terms starting with the fall term.  This makes Melinda and those she writes about in her day-to-day life all the more realistic and much more empathizing.  It feels somewhat like a tragic triumph when she finally confronts those who have shunned her and when she is able to tell her story to the one who seems to understand her.  Sadly, the realism that Anderson has written into this story is all too real, and though that makes the story even more powerful, it is also a sign of how important such a text like Speak is to both teens and adults.  As one of the most challenged books of its time due to controversial subject matter involving adolescent issues, I feel that as a librarian and a reader it is a book that needs to be read now more than ever.  

What banned/challenged books speak to you and why do you think they are challenged?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Graphic Friday: Lone Wolf and Cub

Title:  Lone Wolf and Cub, Volumes 1-14
Author:  Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (artist)

The Dish:  Honor, betrayal, disgrace, vengeance…Lone Wolf and Cub chronicles the story of Ogami Itto, the Shogun's executioner who uses a dotanuki battle sword. Disgraced by false accusations from the Yagyu clan,he is forced to take the path of the assassin. Along with his three-year-old son, Daigorō, they seek revenge on the Yagyu clan and are known as "Lone Wolf and Cub".

I was started down the path of Ogami Itto and his son, Daigoro, by one who thought I would appreciate the merits and the journey of this father and son seeking vengeance and justice within Japan.  After reading the first 14 volumes, I would have to say he was right simply because although Ogami and Daigoro are the protagonists within the story, it is rather hard to state their story is a 'hero's journey'.  Because of what Ogami does (which at times involves Daigoro in the grand scheme) as an assasin, one cannot really call them "heroes" though in many cases, Ogami has managed to save side characters we meet within their long quest even if saving them often at times means releasing them from pain/dishonor/distress.  Their story is more of a quest to clear the honorable name of Itto and to punish those who had betrayed them. 

What I also admire about the writing of Lone Wolf and Cub are the notes written regarding the time period.  Koike helps set the story in a more historical sense in allowing the reader to see more through the eyes of the characters and understand a different culture's manners and behaviors.  He also supplies a glossary of main terms used throughout the volumes (some with additional terms) in the index area of the books while words used less frequently are explained within the text itself.  Kojima's art style is definitely unique and recognizable among other Japanese graphic novels.  Although at times disturbing, I believe it helps set the mood for the times, giving a more realistic view of how things appeared and were dealt with in this era of Japan.  I would almost liken it to Rurouni Kenshin only more gritty, violent, and rough through and through rather than just the edges. 

What graphic novels grab you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Turning Darkness into Light"

Directors:  Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey

The Dish:  Brendan is a young boy living within a stronghold on the island of Iona, namely Ireland, during a time of siege by barbarian raiders.  He has only ever known life within the stronghold, yet Brendan often has visions of the outside world.  When he attempts to confess these visions to his uncle, Abbot Cellach, leader and a former illuminator, the Abbot merely reiterates the importance of completing the stronghold against the raiders.  However, it is with the arrival of Brother Aidan, a remarkable and celebrated illuminator carrying an unfinished ancient book, that Brendan begins to realize what is his true task.  Wandering outside of the stronghold, he meets Aisling, a faerie/wolf-girl, who guides him through her forest eventually leading him to where his personal battle will take place.  This is the story about a boy who would complete one of the most important and beautiful books in the world...The Books of Kells.  

When I viewed this movie, I was immediately captivated by the unique animation used in conveying both characters and landscape.  Although not as pristine as other animation styles, it still manages to breathe life into the whole of the story while also sharing something new.  I enjoyed the characters of Aisling, Pangur Ban, Brendan, and Aidan the most and in that order.  As one of the fae, the viewer can definitely see that Aisling, despite her spryness and childish nature, is well beyond her years.  She has seen much, yet it is this intruding boy that draws her out to assist and save him on numerous occasions.  Pangur Ban is Aidan's cat and has probably been through more experiences in the first of her nine lives than any other cat before her.  She is very much a cat especially in the way she treats Brendan, at first ignoring and even running from him before befriending the boy and accompanying him on his journeys in the forest.  Brendan is...not entirely a typical boy, at times playing but always meek before his uncle the Abbot.  Being raised behind walls will probably do that to any child especially under such heavy scrutiny.  But it is Aidan who helps bring out the best in Brendan while also bringing out a more rebellious side in him, too.  

The story in itself is fiction, but The Book of Kells is a real work, an artfully decorated version of the Four Gospels of the Bible on display in the library of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.  If ever there was a book worth seeing, I would definitely think this is one for the ages.  And if there ever was a story that could capture the life of the boy behind this famous book, a story of legend, cultural lore and fantasy, The Secret of Kells is perhaps one of the finest renditions. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quick Death or Slow Poison?

Title: Poison Study
Author: Maria V. Snyder

The Dish: "A quick death or slow poison"...these are the options given to Yelena, a prisoner of the militaristic country of Ixia.  Imprisoned for murder, Yelena is the next in line to be hanged.  However, all that changes when she is approached by Valek, the chief of security to Ixia's Commander Ambrose.  His offer is to allow her to live but only as the new food taster to be trained in detecting the deadliest of poisons in the food prepared for the Commander.  Seeing no real choice, Yelena takes Valek up on his offer and begins her training by being given a dose of "Butterfly's Dust", a poison that requires her to receive daily antidotes from Valek which keeps her from escaping.  But soon, Yelena learns that there is a plot within the land of Ixia, and only she and Valek can uncover the details before it is too late for Ixia. 

The Study Trilogy has been out for awhile, but I wanted to renew my experience with Maria Snyder's first trilogy, especially the book that introduced the lands of Ixia and Sitia.  Snyder's style of writing is clearly exquisite as she weaves words into a world the reader can easily visualize.  Although the novel is told entirely from Yelena's point of view, the reader learns more details about other main characters through Yelena's eyes and thoughts even though sometimes her judgments about characters are made too early.  Snyder breathes life into all of her characters, making them so much more realistic in the eyes of the reader.  I became attached to several characters including the headstrong Yelena, the dark and mysterious Valek, the jocularity of Janco, and logical and well-grounded Ari.  Clearly, Poison Study is one of those books that readers will either love or dislike, depending on how one views first person point-of-view and a strong-willed main character. 

What I really loved about Poison Study was a plot full of secrecy, deception, mystery, and Snyder knows how to keep the pages turning.  I was very amazed with the way Yelena described both the settings and her fellow characters. Along with Yelena, the readers learn not to judge people by their appearances or at least by first impressions.  On a personal note, I had such a yen for a cinnamon roll while reading Poison Study, how sweet it is.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

DJL Dishes Dessert!

Title:  Pecan Truffles
The Dish:  Now, I'm a huge fan of truffles, of course what gal doesn't love a smooth chocolate ganache coated in a chocolate shell?  I have tried a variety of different truffles from many different confectionary stores and chocolateries, and one day I decided to try making them myself.  After finding a simple recipe (which most truffle recipes are fairly simple at least when it comes to a basic chocolate truffle), I and several friends found them to be a delicious success.  Even my beau, who originally thought all truffles tasted like liquor and thus didn't like them, loved these truffles and made a white chocolate variation. 

Recently, I began thinking about how I could possibly do a twist to the recipe to see what new flavors I could create.  Being from the south, I first thought about pecans.  I realize that most truffles are supposed to be smooth in texture, but with pecans I thought it would make a nice nutty flavor that people would like.  So I came up with a means to do pecan truffles.  They were well-received at my library, and I cannot wait to make them again. 

8 ounces of Neufschatel cream cheese
18 ounce package of Oreos
1 cup chopped pecans (make sure not to chop them into coarse pecan butter)
10 squares Baker's chocolate
30-40 pecan halves

- Cover a cookie sheet with wax paper and set aside.
- Crush the Oreos into fine crumbs either using a food chopper or placing them in a large Ziploc bag and using a meat tenderizer or your hands.  A rolling pin works wonders too.
- Combine the Oreo crumbs and chopped pecans with the cream cheese until all are combined into a thick ganache.
- Scoop out a spoonful of the ganache and roll into about a 2-inch ball, placing the ball onto the cookie sheet.  Repeat until the ganache is gone.
- Unwrap and melt the Baker's chocolate squares according to the instructions on the box.  (I use the microwave since I don't have a double-boiler.)
- Drop the ganache balls into the melted chocolate and roll until coated.  Remove the covered balls and place back on the cookie sheet.  You can remove them either by hand if you have plastic gloves or using two forks to help drain the excess chocolate from the truffles.
- Take the pecan halves and set one on the top of each truffle, pressing down to make sure the pecan will stick to the chocolate.
- Place the truffles into the refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour or until the coating has hardened.

You can use these as gifts or just enjoy them among family and friends.  The texture of the pecan truffles is almost similar to a moist brownie bite, so bon appetit!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Graphic Friday: Magic Knight Rayearth

Author:  CLAMP

The Dish:  When the world as we know it is falling apart, when those sworn to lead it have turned against the realm, who will rise up and stand against the enemy?  Three teenagers from Japan.  Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are three girls visiting Tokyo Tower on school trips when the floor opens up beneath them, sucking all three into Cephiro, a world that is shaped and molded by the strongest of wills.  Once there they meet Guru Clef who informs the girls that they must save Cephiro and rescue its Pillar, Emeraude, from the once loyal priest, Zagato.  At first hesitant, each girl must find her own inner strength to draw out the power of her guardian beast, Selece for Umi, Windam for Fuu, and Rayearth for Hikaru. 

Magic Knight Rayearth is one of the older manga series and also one of the first series I read when I became interested in manga.  There is something remarkable about this series despite its familiar and perhaps clichéd plot.  Let me start off by saying this: CLAMP = Beautiful.  There is no doubt when one reads a CLAMP novel that the artwork will be gorgeous, sometimes too much so.  The detail the artists put into creating not only the characters but their very world is impressive, and it is one feature I love about Magic Knight Rayearth.  That detail is also shown in the personalities of the girls.  Granted, it is a tried and true plot device to bring together people possessing different skills in order to accomplish a task.  This doesn’t take away from the story, instead adding greater warmth to it as readers travel with Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu.  Each of the main characters has something favorable, and one cannot help but like the girls and hope for the best end result. 

Another great point of this series is meeting all of the side characters, which isn’t a large amount.  In some series there are so many side characters, a reader would need to keep a list of each one for characters who appear once and then again farther into the story.  Within Rayearth, every character that the girls meet on their quest has a reason to be there whether it’s to test Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu in some means, or to befriend and assist them; sometimes both are done in the process.  However, it is the final test that will make the girls look back on their journey and ponder the “what if?”

Overall, Magic Knight Rayearth is one manga series that I could read over and again.  With a great story, likeable characters, and beautiful art, it is one series I intend to keep in my collection. 

What manga/graphic novels do you remember from your past?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bloodshed, Battle, and "Beasts"

Title: Orcs
Author: Stan Nicholls

The Dish: "Look at me.  Look at the Orc."  Nicholls immediately opens the story of Stryke, captain of a warband of about 20 orcs, and his officers in a battle.  As it is in their world now, there is a battle between two types of humans, those who believe in one god (Unis) and those who believe in the old gods (Manis) just as the elder races believe.  However, even though they fight on the same side, orcs are still viewed as "lower beings" in the eyes of the Manis they fight alongside especially in the opinion of their oppressive queen, Jennesta.  While on a mission to retrieve a special "instrumentality", Stryke and his comrades discover there is more at stake than the battle between the Unis and Manis.  They undertake a journey to retrieve the other "instrumentalities" and in doing so find allies and enemies alike, those either willing to aid or determined to destroy the warband on their search not only for the "instrumentalities" but the search for truth.  

Orcs is one of those novels that can capture readers but also runs the risk of losing the interest of the readers.  One of the features I really love about Orcs is the character development.  I empathize with Stryke and his officers because they are shown as real, almost tangible characters.  Each of the main characters possesses a personality that breathes life within them, bringing the story off the page.  The problem I have with the novel is the dragging pace of the plot.  Sometimes, I felt I had to force myself to read just to get back to part of the story that interested me.  Nicholls hopped around among the different groups of characters, including Stryke's band, Queen Jennesta, a group of bounty hunters in pursuit of Stryke's band, and the zealous leader of an army of Unis.  Although this would usually provide more perspective of the overall story, it seemed to bring the flow of the story down to a crawl rather than putting me on edge to keep reading to find out what would happen next.  

Overall, I did enjoy the story despite the slow points in plot, but I felt the ending lacked that sense of amazement and accomplishment.  I thought that Nicholls really rushed through the ending just to get the characters where he wanted them to be rather than allowing the flow to continue.  There is a sequel called Orcs: Bad Blood which I suppose is the reason Nicholls left the ending rather open to interpretation.  But still, I thought there would be more closure than what was delivered.  Even if Nicholls was already planning a sequel, I felt it unnecessary to leave the story hanging in the air as I believed he did. 

What books of battle fuel your blood?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Howlin' Good Times in the City

Editor:  Darrell Schweitzer and Martin H. Greenberg

The Dish:  These are not your dreamy werewolves that are driven to protect what is theirs whether it's a mate, pack, or territory.  If you devour stories that depict werewolves as the snarling, hungry, and tortured creatures of the lunar cycle, then you're in good company.  Full Moon City is a collection of short stories by such authors as Holly Black, Peter S. Beagle, Carrie Vaughn and others.  I had heard about the book through Peter Beagle's newsletter, and with it being that time of year, I believe it was appropriate reading material. 

The first story, Lisa Tuttle's "The Truth About Werewolves", is close to my heart as it takes place in the southwest area of Houston.  Mel is a young woman that has had nothing but trouble with all of the men that she's dated in the past and has determined that this is because of her needing someone more than human.  However, this proves more difficult as Mel discovers she knows very little about werewolves and the disease of lycanthropy.  Tuttle definitely showed a means of transformation that is both believable and unique. 

In Carrie Vaughn's "Kitty Learns the Ropes", Kitty Norville enters the world of boxing when it seems that a contender of supernatural abilities has entered the ring.  This is the second short story I've read of Vaughn's, and I can't help but like Kitty as one of the first celebrity werewolves to come out in the open.  Vaughn has a way of setting up conflict without there necessarily being direct physical confrontation, and it inspires me to check out her Kitty Norville novels

One of the most different stories is Esther M. Friesner's "No Children, No Pets" mostly because of the point of view.  It isn't often that readers find a werewolf story told through the eyes of a six-year-old werewolf, but Friesner manages to establish that mindset through her narrator, Emmeline.  The language definitely reflects Emmeline's age especially when she spells out words as they sound as a child would.  However, the lore in the story is a bit farfetched, but for a six-year-old to be telling the story, one must keep an open mind, or at least take it with good humor. 3 is the magic number for anthology dishes, so check out the book to see more stories.

What books with bite give you the shivers?
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