Friday, November 30, 2012

I Could Pee on This

How's that for a title?  Imagine my delight when this little gem came through the library the other day. Naturally I snatched it up.

The Basics
Marciuliano, Francesco. I Could Pee on This. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2012. Print.

What's not to love about a book of cat poetry? This collection features poems all written from the perspective of furry, felonious feline companions (No. I could not resist that alliteration). The author also writes the comic strip Sally Forth and has worked for the Onion and various other outlets. Unsurprisingly, his book of poetry is hilarious.

The Book
No, really, did I mention it was hilarious? If you're a cat lover or have lived with a cat, you'll find something in this collection to satisfactorily drive you to giggles. From the titular poem on, this book had me in hysterics.

There's really not much else to tell, so I'll let the book speak for itself with a few excerpts, read to you of course, by Sebastian R. Gato:

     Oh Christmas Tree
     O please
     O come on
     O like you didn't know
     What you were getting for Christmas
     Before I ripped open all your gifts
     O by the way
     The tree looks better on its side
     O I really do think so

Right in time for the holidays, don't you think? Or this one: 

     Most Amusing

     Haha Haha Ha
     That dog is wearing a sweater

Accompanied of course with a photo of a dog in a sweater.

Or my personal favorite:

     Kubla Kat

     On the edge of a laughing teacup
     Did Kubla Kat decree
     That the corn fritter festooned with medals
     Shall make the brownies free
     And so the walls turned to water
     To let our sorrows drown
     And the chairs burned themselves for warmth
                                                               So they need not face the clown
                                                               Then the spoons burst into song
                                                               And all the forks they understood
                                                               As I stared at my now talking claws
                                                               Because this catnip is just that good

Hehheh. An important thing to remember is that poetry is meant to be read aloud. And this stuff really benefits from a bit of theatrical flair. I had great fun cracking my family up with dramatic readings of particularly pertinent selections. So, go grab a copy; it'll have you in stitches. Also, it's size makes it an ideal stocking stuffer.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Susan's Super Chicken Salad

I've been struggling with some technical issues here on the blog lately. I recently ran out of picture storage space and had to upgrade. The upgrade took 24 hours to take effect, however, which kinda nixed my timing on Friday's book post.

Anyhoo, today's recipe comes to you courtesy of my friend and coworker Susan (everyone say, "hi"). She makes the best chicken salad. The BEST. Seriously, I hate chicken salad and I could eat this by the bucketful. So, I was really happy when she gave me permission to share it on the blog. (If you make it, soon, you'll be really happy, too. Just saying).

What You'll Need
Large pot                                                                       Knife for slicing and dicing
Large mixing bowl                                                        Measuring cups
Cutting board                                                                Mixing spoon
18 oz cooked chicken                                                     4 boiled eggs
1/2 yellow onion                                                            Sweet pickle relish
Granny Smith apple                                                       Salt and pepper
1 cup chopped pecans                                                    Mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups cranraisins                                                  Bread

Now Let's Make Chicken Salad!
First note, you want to boil your eggs in advance. If you're new to this process, a great tutorial/ walk through can be found here. You can also buy hard boiled eggs in the deli or salad section of your grocery store.

You only need the large pot if you need to cook your chicken. 18oz of chicken is about 3 chicken breasts. Bring a pot of water to boil, add the chicken and cook until done (chicken should be white throughout). Shred your chicken and place in the large mixing bowl. I already had leftover chicken, so I just had to shred it. This recipe is a great way to use up leftovers.

Take your yellow onion, peel it and cut it in half. Set one half aside for another day. Mince the remaining half as finely as your streaming eyes will allow, and add it to the bowl of chicken. Susan's original recipe calls for grating the onion, so feel free to go with that option, too.

Next, you need to dice your apple. I like to go ahead and slice my apple, removing the seeds and core from each the slices. Then I slice along the length of the apple piece, turn it and slice perpendicularly across the cuts I just made. I find this to be the easiest method for me to dice apples. However, feel free to follow your bliss. Add your chopped apple to the bowl of chicken.

Grab a couple handfuls of pecans and place them on your cutting board. Begin chopping the pecans by rocking your knife back and forth across the pecans. Stop occasionally to gather them back into a pile and resume chopping until all the pecans are in pieces. You can also buy pre-chopped pecans, however, it's much cheaper to buy halves and do it yourself. Add the chopped pecans to the bowl of chicken.

(Guess what? That's right - more chopping!) Now you need to cut up your boiled eggs. If you've boiled your own make sure you peel them first (what's that? Duh? *shakes head* You'd be amazed). Gently slice the eggs, then turn your slices and cut the eggs into small cubes. Add the eggs to the bowl of chicken.

By now you should have a bowl full'o'ingredients. Add 1 1/2 cups cranraisins, and add salt, pepper and sweet pickle relish to taste (In my case, taste means no relish. blegh!) Using your mixing spoon, gently mix the ingredients together.

Now it's time to add the mayo.  You want the "salad to be moist but not mayonnaisey" per Ms. Susan. So, start by adding two heaping spoonfuls and mixing that in (I just use my mixing spoon to "measure"). I found that I had to add one more heaping spoonful and tiny bit more.

Pile the chicken salad onto a piece of bread. I find that a heavy, coarse bread like rye or pumpernickel is best.

Top it off with another slice and enjoy!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fresh Baked Dilly Bread

Well foo. A small bout of food poisoning (not from my own cooking; stop laughing!) put my good intentions to get back on schedule to waste. Bleargh. Oh well. Here's a recipe post a day or two later than planned. I hope you all enjoy it!

This particular recipe has been in the family for a while. My grandparents used to make this and my mom's been raving about it for years. I had never had it before, but I do have access to all my grandparents' old recipes. That, combined with some texting to my mom/consultant, enabled me to recreate their process.  She seems to think it turned out pretty well. It was certainly tasty and delicious. Fair warning, this is not a difficult recipe but it does require a significant time investment for rising of dough.

What You'll Need
Large mixing bowl                                                       Measuring cups
Small bowl                                                                   Wooden mixing spoon
Measuring spoons                                                        Plastic wrap
Mortar and pestle                                                         Round casserole dish
1 packet dry active yeast                                            1 tsp onion powder
1/4 cup warm water                                                   1/4 tsp baking soda
8 oz small curd cottage cheese                                    1 1/2 Tbsp dill seed, divided
2 Tbsp sugar                                                               1 egg
1 Tbsp butter, soft + some for greasing                     2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Now Let's Make Dilly Bread!
Start by making sure you have a warm, dry place around 85-90 F to place the dough while it rises.  If you don't (I live in an apartment that's generally cold and drafty), you can set your oven on warm and put it in there. I also find (if its not summer) that a car parked in the sun does the trick. Warm on my oven is about 100 F so I let it heat, then turn it off, then repeat until the dough has had enough time to rise.

Measure out 1/4 cup warm water and pour it into the large mixing bowl. Make sure the water is very warm but not very hot. You want to activate the yeast, not kill it (like a visit to the spa instead of the Sun). Add the yeast to the water, sprinkling it evenly along the surface and allow it to soften. Softening yeast is a fancy term for letting it foam (I like to picture a little yeast disco). Leave your yeasty water alone for about 10 minutes, and when you come back it should be nice and frothy. If it's not, throw it away, get new yeast, and start over.

Beginning to foam
While you're waiting for your yeast to froth, measure out 8 oz of small curd cottage cheese (at least 1%; none of this nonfat junk, please) into your small bowl. Heat it to lukewarm in the microwave; about 20 seconds out to do the trick.

Then, measure out and add to the small bowl 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp soft butter, 1 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda. Don't bother mixing it yet, this is just a prep bowl. If you're using a stand mixer, don't worry about having soft butter, but if you're doing it by hand it's a must.

Add 1 Tbsp of dill seed to the small bowl. Put the other 1/2 Tbsp of dill seed in your mortar and pestle and grind until partially crushed. You don't need to go for a powder, but you want all the seed to be broken up. This releases more of the dill flavor into the bread. Add the crushed dill seed to the small bowl.

Crush, crush, crush
By now, your yeast should be foaming. Add the small bowl of ingredients to the yeast. Crack your large egg into the bowl as well. Mix the ingredients together until everything is well blended. You'll especially have to watch that egg, as the whites will resist mixing with the other liquids (snobs).

Dental floss, anyone?
Begin adding your flour to the liquid mixture 1/2 cup at a time. Beat well after each addition. I find that by the last addition I have to get in there with my hands because the dough begins to get stiff and hard to mix with the spoon. Make sure as much of your flour gets squished into the dough as possible. By the end, you should have a rounded floury ball of dough. If, for some reason, you find that your dough is too wet, you may add and addition 1/4 cup flour; just be careful.

 After addition 1                                                  After addition 2
 After addition 3                                                  After final addition

Place the dough ball in the center of the large bowl and cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap (ie attach the wrap firmly but don't vacuum seal the thing). Place the bowl in a warm place and allow it to rise for 50-60 minutes. The dough should double in size and be nice and light.

Bundled up and ready to rise
While you wait, grease the bottom and sides of your round casserole dish with butter. I use a 9", 2 qt. round dish.  Once the dough has risen, stir it down and turn into the casserole dish. Let it rise for an additional 30-40 minutes in a warm place until the dough is light.

First rise
Stirred down
Second Rise
Bake at 350F for about 30-40 minutes until bread is golden brown.

Extract carefully with butter knife and fingers
Cut, serve, and nom!


Friday, November 9, 2012

An Artful Dodger

Yep, it's another Young Adult book; this time from prolific fantasy author Terry Pratchett. More and more popular adult authors are beginning to dip there toes into the young adult market. In this case, at least, the result is well worth reading.

The Basics
Pratchett, Terry. Dodger. New York: Harper, 2012. Print

Terry Pratchett hardly needs introduction, given his prolific Discworld series. Nor is Dodger Pratchett's first foray into the world of young adult fiction: he wrote several children's books in the 90s and a couple of his Discworld novels have been classed as YA.  Born in England in 1948, Pratchett got his start in writing as a journalist. This transitioned into writing novels, and eventually in 1983 the first Discworld novel was published. In 2008, Pratchett was knighted. Sadly, Sir Pratchett (now that's just fun to write) suffers from a rare form of Alzheimer's disease; he has contributed heavily to the Alzheimer's Research Trust.

The Book
Dodger is set in Victorian England and is a somewhat historical novel (naturally, it takes quite a few liberties).  On a stormy night, Dodger, the hero (though he'd vehemently deny it), rescues a young lady from two thugs. The young lady, Simplicity, had been badly beaten and sets off Dodger's quest to prevent her being forcibly returned to her abusive (and politically well-placed) husband and his family.

The book was a little slow to start, but once things get going, you'll be hooked. Dodger is a fun character, full of street smarts and a delightful juxtaposition of intelligence and ignorance. Readers get to watch Dodger change and grow, molding himself to his new circumstances as they shift and bettering himself for the sake of Simplicity. But this isn't just the story of a street rat being elevated above his original station. Dodger elevates himself, both intentionally and unintentionally. Moreover, he keeps those street savvy traits that help him excel and ultimately save his lady love.

There's also great fun to be had with the cast of historical figures used as characters: Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Angela Burdett-Coutts, Robert Peel, Henry Mayhew. Being something of a Victorian nut, the appearance of these figures made me giggle with glee. And Pratchett uses them well. They flow into the story, becoming a believable part of it rather than a cheesy cameo that leaves readers thinking "Puh-lease." 

My favorite part of the book, however, had little to do with the actual story line and a whole lot to do with the appearance of one Charlie Dickens. I love Dickens; from Bleak House to A Christmas Carol, I love it all. Dickens' books are so ripe for literary analysis that I can hardly help myself. Pratchett clearly has a little Dickensian in him, too, because the novel is chock full of references. Some are blatant, but others are delightfully subtle references that only a well-read Dickensian would pick up on. Dodger himself is a reference to the artful Dodger of Oliver Twist. Then you've got the fog of Bleak House and so many more. They're fun to spot, and I loved it when Pratchett's Dickens would hear something and suddenly jot it down.

Dodger was a dense and well-crafted read that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of. I'll probably reread it soon, just to see if I can spot more Dickens references. I know... I'm a nerd.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blog Schedule

So, the blog has somehow gotten ridiculously out of sync of late. I'm skipping the usual recipe post this week to try to get back into the habit of my Friday/Sunday posting schedule. Regular programming should resume on Friday with a book post and Sunday with a recipe!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Nice, Cozy Fall(out Shelter)

I stumbled upon this little book while processing in new items at the library the other day. I love that perk! I see all the new stuff first. Mwahahahaaaa! This book is by no means my typical fare, either. I typically steer clear of anything (post)apocalyptic and/or depressing. I read for fun - emphasis on fun. ("but, nothing says 'happy, happy joy, joy' like an old fashioned nuclear winter," you say?) But the premise of this novel caught my eye, and it held my interest so thoroughly I finished it in less than 24 hours.

The Basics
Bodeen, S.A. The Compound. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2008. Print.

S.A. Bodeen started as an author of children's books, but upgraded to the Young Adult level with her novel The Compound. She has since written further YA books. Bodeen grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, which might explain her love of cheese (although, really, who doesn't love cheese?). Bodeen's YA endeavors seem to lean toward the incredibly cheerful dystopic genre, such as her novels The Gardener and The Raft (both of which look super interesting, by the by).

The Book
The Compound is the story of Eli, a young man who, along with his family, is forced to take shelter from a nuclear attack and its results in the titular Compound. Constructed by Eli's billionaire father, the Compound is a massive underground structure filled with luxury: just one problem - the food supply is starting to experience technical difficulties. Meanwhile, the family is getting a little stir crazy, and Eli's father has come up with a uniquely abhorrent method of extending the food supply. As the family grows suspicious of the father's motivations, Eli stumbles upon the laptop originally intended for his brother, who was unfortunately left behind when the family had to run for it. And then he finds an internet connection...

So, the premise of the book - family trapped in a underground compound hiding from an apparent nuclear winter with a seriously unstable head of house - very intriguing. I could not put this book down. It starts slow, with Eli waking up from his self-centered little fog of an existence and starting to question the situation. There's not much question over where the plot is heading, the appeal is in the suspense surrounding it all. As Eli gets closer to the truth the suspense builds and builds. Then all hell breaks loose as the family tries to escape. Bodeen manages her readers' building emotions very well, carefully building the tension until we finally (finally!) reach catharsis.  You get to that last twist, where you're thinking, "oh, come ON!" and she stops right there.

Eli is another intriguing component to the book. I hated him. He's a selfish little prig of a 15 year old who admires his muscles in the mirror, bullies his sisters, and willfully maintains a state of denial. I want to gouge his eyes out. But he nevertheless held my attention quite steadily. He develops quite well as a character over the course of the book, presenting a fascinating array of psychological issues that he has to work through. And, really, who wouldn't be a little messed up after 6 years in the Compound? I still didn't like him by the end of the novel, but I didn't hate his guts either.

All told, not my favorite book ever, but certainly one of the more fascinating reads. I highly recommend it. It's also chock full of issues, moral dilemmas, and strange characters, which provide ample talking points for use in a book group or classroom (*cough*AuntCaiti*cough*).



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Super Easy Sunday: Hot Chocolate

Okay, so its Tuesday! I worked the weekend. On the plus side I also got a cookie press this weekend, so you can expect some recipes involving that in the next few weeks.

This particular recipe I hold no claim to. I've been sorting through Christmas craft and cooking books lately, gearing up, if you will. I found this recipe in Christmas with Martha Stewart Living: Parties and Projects for the Holidays. It looked so darn easy, I thought I'd give a test run.  I'm now spoiled for that powdered gunk. And really, this recipe is so easy why bother with packets ever again?

The original recipe served 4, but I switched it up a bit since it's just me and the boyfriend around here. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled or quadrupled or.... you get the point.

What You'll Need
Cutting board                                                                     Whisk
Knife for chopping                                                              2 mugs
Small-medium saucepan
1 4.4 oz chocolate bar                                                        2 peppermint sticks
2 cups sweet acidophilus milk

Now Let's Make Hot Chocolate!
Unwrap your chocolate bar and place it on the cutting board. I used a Hershey's milk chocolate bar, but I suppose any brand would do. I wouldn't got too dark on the chocolate, since this recipe relies on the sugar already in the chocolate bar to sweeten it and darker chocolate tends toward bitter. Chop the bar into fine pieces. I pretty much minced my chocolate bar: cutting it into strips across the width, turning those strips and cutting them into small squares.

Scrape the chocolate into the saucepan and turn the heat to medium (that's straight down and a 5 on my stove). Add the 2 cups of milk and whisk frequently as the chocolate melts to prevent burning. Your milk should not bubble, so reduce heat if this begins.  

Once the chocolate melts whisk well to combine with the milk. Continue to heat, whisking occasionally, until the hot chocolate reaches the desired temperature (I used the oh-so-technical finger dip method. Hey, my hands were clean)

Pour evenly into mugs and add a peppermint stick as a stirrer. This will add a nice peppermint flavor, but can be skipped if you'd rather. A cinnamon stick is also nice. Serve and enjoy!


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

So, I've been in another reading funk of late. I realized the other day that my reading habit tend to be very cyclical. I'll go through periods of voracious reading, eating up novels by the handful. Then, one day I'll get sick of it and stop for a while. Sometimes I just feel like doing something else, others I've gotten ahold of a dud of a book and it puts me off. During this non-reading period, no book will appeal and attempting to read results in a whole lot of starting and stopping. Anyone else experience the same?

I was finally pulled out of my funk about a week ago, when my colleague, Melissa (for whom I'm still doing an adoption fundraiser until Nov 1!), pushed a couple YA books into my hands. One of these was The Girl of Fire and Thorns. (what is it with Girl of... title variations lately?)

The Basics
Carson, Rae. The Girl of Fire and Thorns. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2011. Print.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns was Carson first book and the start of a planned trilogy. Carson freely admits to being a nerd (as she should, nerds are the best) and has been writing since childhood. She bounced around careers for a while before she was finally able to realize a dream of becoming a full-time writer (*jealous*).  Her first book is set in time of horses, carriages and war. Princess Elisa, our protagonist, was chosen by God to bear a Godstone in her navel, marking her as a future hero from her naming day on.  On her 16th birthday she's married to the King of a neighboring land who desperately needs her to live up to the hype. Unfortunately, she's always been a bit of a screw-up: though wildly intelligent, she lacks interest in the duties of royal to a kingdom and she overeats to cope with her insecurities. Sound like a long shot? No worries even unlikely heroes save the day.

The Book
I loved this book. I read it with as little ceasing as possible in about 2 days. I find that it's one of those YA books that crosses the age divide from Young Adult to Adult quite well. The complexity of the world Carson creates and the excellent writing allows it to bridge that gap with ease.

Elisa is a great character. She's not your typical heroine. For one thing, she has a problem with weight, as she tends to eat any food within reach in a nervous habit for comfort. But there's a lot more to her than that (looking past the surface of things is part of the point). She's also highly intelligent and a genius at strategy. While her upbringing has left her a little self-centered, she's caring at heart. I'm inclined to disagree that with a few critics who claim the only noticeable character growth is Elisa's shrinking weight. Such critiques have missed the point. Elisa's eating is a symptom not the focus; she eats because she's insecure: she feels unworthy and unable to meet everyone's expectations and lives in her sister's shadow. Long before the weight loss starts to occur, Elisa's growth as a character begins when she starts to wake up to her surroundings. She leaves the comfort of home and opens her eyes as she does so. She starts to see the world and its problems; she begins to see the people closest to her and seeks to learn about them rather than what they do for her. When she reaches her new home, she begins to feel ambition, the first inklings of her wanting to start living up to her Godstone. The forced trek across the desert isn't a plot device to shed pounds (and really, what do you expect when you're walking for a month or more?), but rather a place for Elisa to begin to find her own strength. She no longer has the luxury of laziness and wallowing in the belief that she can't work towards anything, because now she has to. She continues to grow into a strong and worthy young woman over the course of the book; the weight loss is simply a physical manifestation of that process, a visible metaphor.

I also enjoyed how different the setting of this book was. It wasn't really medieval, as so many fantasies are. Instead, I would class it as more 17th century in terms of technology and social graces. But that's not even the best part. Carson moves outside of the pseudo-European scenery and sets the book in a more southern clime: think Spain and Morocco. The Spanish/Portuguese influence to the language, religion and culture is very evident throughout the book. Elisa's home country Orovalle struck me as very like the landscape of Spain and she moves from there to a desert country, which Carson describes beautifully. It all made for a refreshingly different sort of read.

The plot of the book doesn't disappoint, either. It moves along quite believably, with plenty of hiccups along the way to keep everything from seeming perfect. In fact, there's not a lot perfect to be had for our poor heroine. But, that's what makes this such a good read, Carson makes both her characters and her readers work for a decent ending. You'll want to smack Elisa into being better, but you'll root for her to win, too. She's very human: flawed but lovable. Carson also invests plenty of grit into the story. This is definitely a book for older teens, since it doesn't shy away from the realities of war and a harsh landscape.

So, seriously, go read this book already!


  • Visit Rae Carson's website for more information about her world and a peek at the sequels to this book.
  • In her FAQ, Carson interestingly points out that she is not the author of an extensive amount of Harry Potter fanfiction and directs you instead to this person. Heh heh.
  • Her husband is also an author. Pretty spiffy.


Friday, October 19, 2012

A Different Sort of Post - Adoption Fundraiser

So, a friend and colleague of mine, Melissa (everyone say "hi, Melissa") is trying to raise money to assist with her mother's adoption of two young foster children in desperate need of good, stable home. In order to help out, I've agreed to host a 31 Party / Fundraiser. I'll be hosting this as an online party for the next two week. Some of the proceeds (if there are any) from the par-tay will go toward the adoption fees, construction of a wall to create two bedrooms, and other financial needs that will come up during the adoption process.

Please, my readers, do not feel obligated to participate; just ignore this post if it's not your thing (though you might want to scroll down to my upcoming reading list).

However, if you're interested in helping out you can visit my Facebook event or go directly to my 31 Party website. I hope some of you can come join in the fun. 31 offers some really cool products: totes, purses, storage, thermal bags, accessories and stationary. If you can, please help provide a home for two wonderful children.

And, hey, you'll get spiffy gear out of the deal, too! Christmas is right around the corner....

Since I can't legally provide any pictures, I give you Sebastian R. Gato, who would very much like you visit the party website.

You know what's good for you, right, hooman?
And now, to keep this blog a little on topic, I thought I'd share with you a list of my upcoming reads:
  • Scorch - Gina Damico
  • Crown of Embers - Rae Carson
  • King of Thorns - Mark Lawrence
  • Nice Girls Don't Bite Their Neighbors - Molly Harper
  • Christmas with Southern Living 2012
  • Recommendations?


Friday, October 12, 2012

Super Awesome Comic Book Fun Time

Hi all. First off, this marks my 100th blog post! Tonight I'm turning the blog over to my boyfriend (don't worry, you'll survive... mostly). We're all learning stuff tonight: I learned that I (and my abused fingertips) hate basting quilts and you're going to learn all about comics. Fun, right? And now...

Let the Post Commence!

So, I thought a lot about what comics I would recommend for The Book Pantry's first ever SUPER AWESOME COMIC BOOK FUN TIME post but ended up drawing a blank, not because I had no idea on what to recommend, but because I had far to many awesome books. That's the great thing about introducing people to new medium of entertainment, you have the entire history of awesome stories to choose from. Unfortunately, that can lead to a bit of information overload. So, unable to decide what direction to take, I decided to focus on the most recent big blockbuster comic book movies from the previous summer. So, without further ado, here are my recommended reads for those of you who liked The Amazing Spiderman, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers.

If you liked The Amazing Spiderman, you'll like:

Ultimate Spiderman Vol 1: Power and Responsibility
The great strength of Spiderman, even from the very beginning, has always been that the life of Peter Parker is never overshadowed by the shenanigans that Spiderman gets up too.  Yes, watching Spiderman beat up giant robot Rhinos or guys with metallic octopus arms is all good fun, but there are literally thousands of comics of spandex clad crime fighters beating the crap out of bad guys. The real fun is watching the impact his double life has on his friends and family. While I'm only listing the first volume here, I can easily recommend the entire run, which consists of nearly thirty books. Over the course of this run, the story never falters, and it includes some of the most consistently good artwork I've seen. I can't stress the quality of this comic enough. It was the first comic I consistently followed on an issue to issue basis, and I still read it every month ten years after it was originally released.

If you liked The Dark Knight Rises, you'll like:

Knightfall and No Man's Land, also every other Batman comic ever cause Batman's awesome. I mean, seriously, there is so much good Batman out there its hard to go wrong. Although, if you want more of what you saw in the movie, then the two books above will serve you well. Knightfall is the story BANE, THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BAT, as he will continue to tell you two decades after his most famous story. Bane deduces that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same, and concocts a plan to exhaust and demoralize Batman, before doing that one thing he's famous for, being BANE, THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BAT!!! (Sorry, I've read these words in giant bold caps so many times I have to type it that way. He has to bring up some version of those words almost every time you see him. "Hi, I'm Bane. I'm a Scorpio, and I enjoy long walks on the beach and BREAKING THE BAT!!!!!!!!)

No Man's Land was the inspiration for the second half of the film where Gotham is cut off from the rest of the world. In the books, Gotham is devastated by a massive earthquake and cut off  from the rest of the country. Believing the damage so severe that any attempt at rebuilding would be pointless, the US government abandons it, declaring it a No Man's Land outside US jurisdiction. Batman's various villians, including Joker, Two-Face, and others battle for control of the city, while Batman and friends try to bring things back under control.

Basically, its hard to go wrong. There are a few bad eggs, but Batman is generally such an interesting character to read that it's hard to mess things up. Batman Year One is lauded as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time and is the definitive Batman origin story (It was also the basis for much of Batman Begins, the first of the Nolan Bat trilogy). If you want to get caught up on modern Batman, I recommend starting with Grant Morrison's Batman & Son, since all current (good) Batman stories flow from there.

If you liked The Avengers, you'll like:

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted. What's that you say? I'm recommending an X-Men book for those who liked the Avengers? Yes yes, I may be cheating a bit, but there's a good reason. Astonishing X-Men, widely acknowledged to be one the best X-Men stories of all time, was written by Joss Whedon, who, as you may know, directed The Avengers.  His quality as a writer shows here as well, and his take on the X-men is full of all the elements that made The Avengers great.  Also, this story serves as a good gateway for new readers who have only a limited exposure to the X-men. Yes, references are made to several events from the X-men's decades long past, but these are either immediately explained or don't affect the overall plot.  The fact that the series features almost exclusively new villians instead of having everybody fight Magneto for the 1000th time helps as well.

As far as the Avengers themselves go, there are several places you could start. All Avengers stories of the last decade flow from The New Avengers: Breakout, in which Captain America and Iron Man assemble a new team of Avengers to deal with the aftermath of a massive super villain prison break out. This Avengers team is a lot different than what you got it the movie, including Spider-man and Wolverine, as well as some fan favorite characters like Luke Cage and Spider-Woman (a bit of a Spider redundancy, I know, but it works).

If you want something closer to the movie, you could try The Ultimates Vol 1 and Vol 2, which are set in the same alternate, more realistic version of the Marvel Universe as Ultimate Spiderman, and many of the story elements in the Avengers movie originated in these books. However, a slight warning; these characters are not the ones you know from the movie. Apparently being more realistic means characters behave less like super heroes and more like SUPER JERKS. (Note: I wanted to use slightly stronger language to emphasize that I do not approve of the characters attitudes, but have been informed that this post has to maintain "Safe for Work" language, even though this blog is usually about sexy scottish vampires who cook pancakes on each other's ripped abs or something). (Oh, he's totally going to pay for that; I'll be reading the next "scottish vampire" book aloud. Yeah, that's right, Magneto has nothing on me!)

I hope that helps any of you that liked some of these super hero movies who want to start reading some of the comics. I know it can daunting to try to jump into story with decades of character development, but I think these are some good starting point for newbies. If there were any other characters you're interested in reading, or if you want more suggestions for anything I talked about above, feel free to ask in the comments, and I'll be glad to give you more suggestions.  Happy reading!