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?
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