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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