Thursday, October 30, 2014

Clever Candy: Halloween Milk Chocolate

I wish I were going to get a free bag full of candy tomorrow . . . in costume, I could probably pass for under twelve, anyway, right? I should do that sometime, pretend I'm eleven and go trick-or-treating. Since, however, acting half my age is not in my plan for tomorrow, I have to get my own candy. One bar of chocolate that has come into my ownership is this milk chocolate from Clever Candy, distributed by Nassau Candy.

While the paper wrapper is standard Halloween fare, I'm pausing over the tagline at the bottom: "Milk chocolate to share with your dark side." On Chocablog, we used to talk about the Dark Side in reference to (usually very dark) dark chocolate. So maybe that's why it sounds odd to me to talk about the dark side in reference to milk chocolate. But I think what the line is supposed to mean is that it's sweet chocolate to bring out your good side and banish away the bad/dark side. A cute-style approach to Halloween.

The chocolate is a lovely bar of ten smooth squares. While the vanilla is artificial (why? why?), there aren't any added oils and such. It's perhaps less melty and greasy than Hershey's, but fairly akin in flavor. Those sweet caramel notes are there, but maybe accompanied by a little more of a nutty flavor than you get with Hershey's. 

Yes, it's still sweet and it's still candy before chocolate, but it's okay. It's okay as my version of Halloween candy since no one is going to be giving away a free bagful to me.

October Favorites

1) Green Purse - Another present, this purse is my oft-chosen accent color, green. Green leather, that is. It's a basic rectangular shape without frills, so that means that while it isn't quite as huge as some purses, it is big enough to hold a water bottle, a book, and a sweater all at once. It's like a miniature suitcase. Let the green take over.

2) Book Cradle - I know I'm probably a few decades too young to own one of these, but I've wanted one since college. I used to read while eating a lot (you have to when you have so many literature classes), and I still often do just because it's a nice time to pick up a book. But most books don't stay open on their own and you don't want to get food all over them, hence the book cradle to hold your book open for you while you read.

3) Dinosaur Earrings - The label called them pterodactyls, but I think they look more like pterosaurs. Either way, they're perfect. Vintage silver makes them good quality in addition to the quirky, unique style. This would be my third piece of dinosaur jewelry.

4) Chocolate Necco Wafers - Such a messy-looking picture of the corner of my desk. As you can see, in the bowl where I keep my chalk, some chalky Necco wafers also dwell. They're wonderful little things to keep at a desk.

5) Outremer Vanille Perfume - I have this brand's Rose perfume, which I love. I also tend to like vanilla, so why not get their vanilla scent, too? I may end up using it more as a room spray than a perfume, but it smells lovely. It smells just like Main St., USA in Disneyland--like nostalgia and candy and happiness.

6) Disney Vile Villains Jelly Beans - Last year, I think I got the Evil Queen packet; this year I chose Hook and Maleficent. I pretended they were decorations for most of the month, and now it is time to eat them. I do love candy.

7) Barr-Co. Honeysuckle Perfume - I also love perfume, apparently, though five years ago I didn't own a single bottle. The label says it's "honeysuckle nectar and herbaceous greens," but I wouldn't say it's a single scent Honeysuckle perfume the way that Outremer makes the Rose perfume. It feels like there's another floral scent in here besides honeysuckle, something that makes it less sweet and a little more, maybe woodsy? Still very pleasant.

8) Selfie - I don't watch a lot of (modern) comedies, but I had been seeing the commercials for Selfie and since I'd watched so much of Karen Gillan on Doctor Who, I thought I'd watch an episode just to see what it was like. Turns out, I kind of look forward to seeing it each week. It's quirky and cute and also thoughtful, commenting on social media/technology and social interaction. I love that it takes some inspiration from Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady, the botched-up musical version), a play with which I was rather obsessed for a while.

9) Carol's Daughter Cupuacu Blow Dry Cream - I used to use the Chocolat blow dry cream, but now it's only available online. It would seem, though, that this one is basically the same. It looks the same, smells the same, and works the same. Since I have such long hair, it only makes sense to use something to help protect it--and make the blow drying go a little bit faster. And since it's Carol's Daughter, the ingredients are a little more natural than with other brands.

10) Verona Six-Shelf Bookcase - I had been without a bookcase for years. Finally I made it a priority to get one, though of course one case is not nearly big enough for all my books. This one is from World Market, and it's a pretty good price/quality ratio. Though it comes with some sort of finish, it is at least some kind of solid wood. It's tall and wide, with six shelves (sometimes shelves of this size only have four). I had forgotten how nice it is to actually have books in a case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just One Last Comment

Click for my thoughts on Just One Day and its sequel, Just One Year.

For the most part, I enjoyed Gayle Forman's two book set, Just One Day and Just One Year. It was a love story, but also a story of self-discovery and identity. The two books complemented each other well and they told everything about the story that needed to be told. But at the same time, when you reach the ending, you want just a tiny bit more. You want confirmation of what will happen in just the next hour or day or so, just that.

So that's where this ebook-only novella comes in. Just One Night. Although that title goes along with the "Just One" trend of the two full books . . . I'm not a big fan of it. Again, it sounds not just like a love story but like a romance--which is maybe what this novella morphs into by the end. A tad too much, I would say. Amazon says it's about 43 pages, so it is short. I wouldn't call it so much a novella as an epilogue. You have to think of it as an epilogue, not as a stand-alone story.

Stylistically, it's a little problematic for something so short. Or maybe it is problematic because it is so short; I don't know. But while the two books were told from the first person, this one is from the third person and it switches (sometimes rather quickly) between persons. It isn't just Willem and Allyson, either; we also hear from the other characters, and it's kind of a lot for just one short space. The words don't always flow as naturally as Gayle Forman's writing usually does. And given that she has such a talent for beautiful writing and expression, that's a bit disappointing, even for "just a novella."

But all my complaints aside, it was nice to have just one last moment with these characters, just one last glance to see that they were happy and ready to move into the future. To know that they had grown throughout the space of pages and that they were going to continue to grow and to do and to live. After all, it is "just a novella."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Simon Coll: Cacao Nibs

I have a weakness for containers. I know this; I try to combat it. When I was choosing some tea at one of the gift shops in the Petrified Forest last month, I kept myself from getting the one that came in a (somewhat flimsy) little wooden box that I knew I didn't need. But when I saw this tin of cacao nibs from Simon Coll, well, I pounced on it.

Isn't it so gorgeous, though? A white base holds the trunk of a cacao tree on the back, with its vines spreading to the rest of the tin. They're all covered in red and yellow cacao pods, and there's even a green bird off to one side. The lid and bottom of the tin are dark brown. Perhaps even more than a bar of chocolate's wrappings, it matters that a tin like this be good-looking. Something like this you can carry/keep with you in your purse, briefcase, car, desk, or wherever. (I am a big proponent of keeping candy and chocolate at my desk, though I remain quite a thin person.) So if you're carrying something around, you want it to look nice.

I never have much new to say when reviewing nibs. They're either good or not, and then there is nothing more to say. These nibs are covered in 70% cacao chocolate grown in Ghana. While I realize that 70% isn't usually considered sweet, in terms of nibs, this chocolate gives sweetness to the overall effect. Nibs are, of course, pure cacao with nothing added to them, so they are not sweet and they are quite strong (not just in taste, also in terms of how much of a chocolate hit they give you). So they're more pleasant coated in chocolate. I want to say the ration for each piece is half nib and half chocolate; you really get a chance to taste both.

First your teeth softly sink through the chocolate, then they hit the cacao nib. Nibs have wonderful texture, absolutely distinctive and not quite like anything else. It's lighter than the crunch of a nut, but also more jagged. The result? A sophisticated desk or purse snack. And Simon Coll makes a nice tin of just such a chocolate hit. That makes my third product from this company a third success.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Just One Year

Click here to read my thoughts on the first book in this set, Just One Day.

I have one thing I must set straight before I proceed: I don't like the cover to this book. Gayle Forman's book covers tend to be nice-looking, but this one doesn't make sense. Besides the fact that I feel odd with a book that has two people kissing on the front (what is this? a dime store romance?), the picture doesn't match. Willem doesn't look like that. And Allyson isn't dressed like that. Just to get that out of the way.

As I mentioned last week, I enjoy Gayle Forman's writing and I enjoyed Just One Day. Now here is where I stand with its sequel, Just One Year. If I had read them with more space in between, I might have been tempted to compare them, to say which one I liked more. But I think the way I read them, one after the other, is the way that makes most sense: these are companion stories. Given that they cover the same timeline, that statement is more true than it is for many other books that come in pairs. The first third of Just One Day sets the stage for both these books and they both move on from there, complementing each other as they go over events that are both different and exactly the same. 

There are many of the same themes in this second book, themes about identity and projected identities. There is more about travel. But there is also quite a bit about loss and the aftermath of grief. The themes about family and friends are still in here--but they're a little different because they're applying to different characters in different situations. 

I keep on thinking about the "time is fluid" concept. That's how I feel when I'm reading these books. I forget what time it is. I forget where I am. I forget that these are books, characters. I feel like the months of their lives are a single moment, a single moment traveling away from and toward something, the same thing: resolution. Both books are about a single moment that sparks a journey toward resolution. It's the journey, really, that matters, but the resolution (that is, the love story part) is what helps make it enticing and come to a satisfying ending.

Well, sort of a satisfying ending. I am only satisfied by this ending because I know that tomorrow I will read the ebook novella that finishes off the story. Given the way that these two books work as a pair, it seems fitting for them to end with just one last moment, one last picture. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Little Miss Brontë?

So is this the kind of thing rich kids grow up with? BabyLit? "A fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature." This is not an abridged version of Jane Eyre, but rather a counting primer under the header of "Little Miss Brontë." The text is by Jennifer Adams and the illustrations by Alison Oliver.

I have no business owning a ten dollar, children's counting primer, but you know that I can't resist collecting copies of Jane Eyre--and a children's counting primer? That's so random that it's fascinating. 

The little blue book has twenty pages. On the left is the number and the thing(s) that it describes; on the right is a picture of whatever you're supposed to count. It starts off with one governess and goes on to count things like the towers of Thornfield Hall, the chalkboards that Jane uses to teach Adele, and the pearls that Rochester gives to Jane. It's strictly a counting book with no plot, but by using familiar things from Jane Eyre, it is almost like an extremely abridged version of the story--if you already know the story, that is. 

If you don't, then once you finally read it or watch a movie version of it, some of it will already be familiar. And that is, it would seem, the intention of this book series--to get children familiar with the characters and places of these classic stories. It's strange that something so very simple as a counting book can still bring back memories of one of my favorite books. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Just One Day

The best books exist both at surface level and at a deeper level--the best stories are enjoyable in the moment for certain reasons and are also enjoyable continually after for even more reasons. Just One Day, in a mild sort of way, fits into this category of double levels.

I suppose this is the fourth book by Gayle Forman I have read. If I Stay is, of course, her most famous book. She's a good author, and I enjoy reading her, though it did take me a while to get to Just One Day. You know what I think she does well? She has a talent for illustrating both the individual and groups, which in turn becomes an illustration of human interaction. If I Stay was about family. Sisters in Sanity was about friendship. Just One Day is about one-on-one relationships. 

From the title, the cover, and the summary, you would assume that this book is a romance. And it is, basically. But not really, not all the way. The first third is a love story, developing exactly as you would expect: two characters deciding to spend just one day together in Paris. But that's just the start, just the premise. What this book develops into is so much more. It's a story about the development of personal identity, which I always say is absolutely necessary for a successful relationship. (I like to talk about that a lot with Jane Eyre, about how it was only after Jane and Rochester spent time alone/apart and developed who they were that they could come back together again and really succeed together.) 

There are so many themes about identity in this book. Allyson's journey toward discovering who she has been, who she wants to be, and who she is becomes the most important thing about the book. And maybe because of this, I didn't get the basic love story I was expecting (and maybe kind of wanting), but what I got was so much better. One of the things that helped add this extra level of depth was the element of Shakespeare. In a way, the book begins and ends with Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is all throughout. His plays and his themes make their way in everywhere. For a book that is categorized as teen, it enters fully into interaction with Shakespeare, instead of dumbing things down or keeping it at surface level. (One particular set of books that I won't name did this, except with Egyptian myths instead of Shakespeare. The author seemed smart, but like she was holding back, like she could have written something better.) I was quite glad that I spent a good deal of time with As You Like It in my college Shakespeare class since that was one of the plays featured most. 

It's interesting that Shakespeare is the artist Gayle Forman chose to feature so much in this book. I said that she's good at portraying human interaction, and isn't that exactly what Shakespeare does? He sets up scenarios with a set of characters interacting, and it is the way they interact that creates the power of the plays. And it is the way that Allyson interacts with her parents, her friends both new and old, her coworkers, people she meets while traveling, and Willem that define who she is. How she acts toward them is who she is. It's like she's right at that melting point, where she can see directly how her actions affect the world around her. Sometimes she doesn't like what she sees, so she tries to change it. Sometimes she is successful; sometimes she's just confused. But whatever she is throughout, her journey is fascinating, with little facets of it being relatable and the ultimate climax of it all being what? Hopeful. Hopeful--just what I said I like to see in fiction. I like to see a character struggle and wonder and then look up with hope. 

(Admittedly, I'm glad the story doesn't end the way this book does. I have the sequel waiting for me on the shelf, and I can't wait to read it.)