Bedtime Stories: To Hold the Bridge

hold the bridgePost by Mark T. Locker.

To Hold the Bridge: Tales from the Old Kingdom and Beyond by Garth Nix.

If anyone has been reading these book reviews for any amount of time, you will know that Garth Nix is one of my go-to young adult fantasy novelists. His Old Kingdom books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and now Clariel) are my personal favorites. Well, Garth Nix has just released a new collection of short stories, and I  couldn’t be happier. What’s more intriguing is that a few of these stories are set in worlds that fans of his novels will recognize and be excited to revisit. Others are surprisingly real-Earth based, but no less fun to read.

The first story, To Hold the Bridge is a great little story from the Old Kingdom, a place I’m always happy to revisit. A harrowing tale of a poor, physically imperfect but clever and well-trained joins a troupe that guards an important bridge. When a necromancer launches an attack, the young man finds himself the only thing standing between the undead and the village beyond.

Another story was first featured in Holly Black’s compilation, Zombies vs. Unicorns. Garth Nix’s story has both zombies AND unicorns, so we all win! My favorite story is a short, sweet story about a young man whose voice was damaged in a childhood accident so he doesn’t speak much. Where he really thrives is as the Quiet Knight, his live-action role playing (LARPing) character, in which he dresses as a knight and battles the forces of evil. It’s sweet.

Finally, fans of Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes will rejoice to see their beloved characters brought back for an encore after, in the case of Shade’s Children, nearly 20 years. Although a couple of these stories are not what I’ve come to expect from Garth Nix, they’re all fairly enjoyable. And that short stories can be read in their entirety before falling asleep makes these perfect bedtime reading.

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Movies in Bed: Monster House

monster housePost by Mark T. Locker.

With Halloween just around the corner, I have to up my game trying to find a movie that is “scary” but isn’t so scary that my seven-year-old can’t watch it. Basically, he has to be assured that everything will be okay in the end. I know, I know, the kid’s got too much empathy. Well, we watched Monster House this past weekend and managed to fit the bill nicely.

Thirteen-year-old DJ lives across the street from a crabby old man, the classic “Get off my lawn!” type, the kind of guy who takes your ball if it lands in your yard and won’t give it back. Well one day while DJ and his friend Chowder are playing ball, the basketball lands in Old Man Nebbercracker’s yard but this time DJ decides to get it back. The resulting confrontation leads the old man to have a heart attack  and to be taken off in an ambulance.

With the old man gone, strange things begin to happen. The house eats the basketball. The house eats an obnoxious teenager after luring him in with a kite he lost there as a child. Since no reasonable adult would believe them, DJ, Chowder, and their new friend Jenny take it upon themselves to take out the house. But what they discover inside changes their whole perception of what is happening.

Kind of scary, kind of funny, and full of action, this is a great movie for sensitive kids who insist they want something “scary” to watch this Halloween. The characters are fine, there’s nothing too offensive going on and it’s just scary enough to give a couple good scares without the risk of nightmares.

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Bedroom Design: Polka-Dotted Decor in a Bedroom

Post by Tracy Kaler.

When we talk about décor, polka dots usually sound juvenile. But in all honesty, they can be as mature and sophisticated as you need them to be. Polka dots work well on walls, as a fabric print, and even in area rugs. As a fan of dots myself, I’m fond of the following bedrooms, each of which has been graced with polka dots.

This polka-dotted ceiling looks like wall covering, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. The renter of this California apartment placed gold polka dot removable decals on three sides of the ceiling. That’s a more practical option than a permanent wallpaper.

This otherwise plain bedroom gets a punch of pattern with polka dots on pillows. If you’ll notice, a small piece of dotted art hangs above the nightstand as well.

This colorful bedroom uses dots on Roman shades, a large bolster pillow, and the vibrant area rug. The space should be overkill but the varying sizes of polka dots –– small on the windows, medium on the pillow, and large on the floor –– work nicely.

This space screams sophistication. Large black dots decorate the walls of the London bedroom, which feels like a luxury hotel suite. Modern photography and the right amount of texture complete the upscale design.

This handsome Austin bedroom comes with a small dose of polka dots on the accent throw at the foot of the bed. The color palette, use of pattern, and furniture selections give the bedroom a retro look.

Would you consider using polka dots in your bedroom?

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Breakfast in Bed – Barm Brack

Barm Brack 10

Post by Alison Hein.

Well Brian B, this is your cake!

Since I couldn’t think of anything new, I fell back to something old – Barm Brack – a colorful fruit-filled yeast cake traditionally baked at Halloween. It is customary to hide small metal charms in the brack. A coin means wealth in the coming year; a ring foretells upcoming nuptials; a thimble signifies spinsterhood; and a piece of cloth indicates poverty.  If you plan to bake anything into your cake (I did not), be sure to wrap the tokens in large pieces of foil, forewarn anyone having a slice, and do not serve to young children or people with dental problems!

Barm Brack 2

The word “brack” stems from the Irish “breac”, or speckled, due to the dried fruit strewn throughout the cake. The word “barm” means yeast.

Most barm brack recipes call for candied fruit peel in addition to dried fruit, but in this version I used a combination of currants, dark and golden raisins, and dried sweet cherries. Some people also like to soak the dried fruit in tea, cider or whiskey overnight before baking for intense flavors and to add moisture to the cake.

Barm Brack 3

So feel free to experiment. Bake your brack the night before, then slice, toast and butter it for a Halloween morn breakfast in bed.

I wish you good fortune in the year ahead…

Ingredients

1½ cups milk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 packet yeast
4 – 5 cups flour
¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups mixed dried fruit (such as currants, raisins, golden raisins, dried cherries)
Grated rind of one lemon (or substitute orange)

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Preparation

Add milk to small, heavy saucepan and place on stove over medium heat. Allow to heat, without stirring, until tiny ripples begin to form across the surface of the milk (scalded milk). Remove milk from heat and add butter, brown sugar and salt. Pour milk mixture into food processer. Allow to cool until tepid, then sprinkle yeast lightly and evenly across surface.

Let yeast rest about 10 minutes, until it begins to activate and resembles wet sand. Add 1 cup of flour, spices, and most of beaten eggs, retaining about 1 tablespoon of eggs to glaze the cake before baking. Gently pulse the food processer, adding flour about 1 cup at a time, until dough is compressed and begins to pull away from side of bowl. Stir in the dried fruit and lemon rind. Transfer to a well-greased 8-inch round cake pan. Cover with a light tea towel and set in warm, non-drafty place to rise. Let dough rise for about one hour, until doubled in size.

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Fifteen minutes prior to baking, preheat the oven to 400°. Brush the top of the barm brack with remaining beaten egg. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter.

NOTE: If adding charms, wrap them in foil and push them into the dough after mixing in fruit, but before dough is set to rise.

Barm Brack 9

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Bedtime Stories: Something Wicked This Way Comes

something-wicked1Post by Mark T. Locker.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Halloween is just a few days away! I don’t have much time left to share fabulous spooky stories with you! This one is something of a classic, though if you’re anything like me you have only been exposed to the movie version, starring Jonathan Price and some other non-Jonathan Price people. Oh, and Pam Grier. Pam Grier is in it!

Well, the movie is fantastic and is a staple of my Halloween viewing schedule. But recently I began reading Ray Bradbury’s short stories, as beautifully written as they are at times bizarre. Something Wicked This Way Comes was written in 1962 and takes on all the styles Bradbury does best: eliciting the feelings of childhood with eerie accuracy; taking on themes of darkness and creepy things; and talking about the autumn.

Jim Nightshade and William Halloway are best friends barely thirteen years old. When a mysterious carnival comes into town in the dark of night, letting fly an eerie whistle, the boys are excited and scared. There is something wrong about this carnival and cautious Will is worried but won’t let that stop him from following devil-may-care Jim to whatever lays ahead. Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Show, as the carnival is called, holds dark secrets that will test the boys as they discover what these attractions are doing to the unwitting adults of the town.

Gorgeously written and both scary and moving, this story of children growing into adulthood and dark and mysterious forces is a must-read any time of year, but especially at Halloween, which I’m pretty sure was Bradbury’s favorite time of year.

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