Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cranberry Tea

One of the things I most look forward to about this time of year is homemade Cranberry Tea. My mom has made it for years so I have no idea where the recipe came from, but it is awesome!

Cranberry Tea

-1 10 to 12 oz bag of cranberries
-1 heaping Tbsp whole cloves
-1 cinnamon stick
-3 quarts water

Combine cranberries, water, cinnamon and cloves in a dutch oven. Set stove on high, and allow water and ingredients to boil. Wait for all the cranberries the cranberries to pop, then strain out cranberries, cinnamon stick and cloves. Mash in strainer to get out all juice. Then add:

-juice of three lemons
-juice of 2 oranges (or 1 cup orange juice)

Mix and serve. It is pretty tart, so keep some sugar handy so people can add to taste.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Birds and Baking

Thus far, I have only touched on one area of the title of this blog: books. But I (finally!) got a new computer today, so hopefully the other two elements (and maybe even a few more) will be showing up on here really soon.

Book 3: Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman

I don't care about the prizes a book wins, or the reviews it gets. What I want most in a novel is a great story. It is the reason I hate really stark, bare-bones type books. It is the reason I so enjoyed Alice Hoffman's Turtle Moon.

Turtle Moon takes place in Verity, Florida, a town chock-a-block full of divorced women from the northeast who are escaping not only from the cold, but also their sad pasts. The story begins in the month of May, which is considered by all the inhabitants of Verity, to be the most horrible month of the year. It is the month turtles crowd the streets and sidewalks and crunch beneath car tires. It is the month the heat and humidity make everyone's hair frizz and tempers flare. It is the month behaviors change and unusual things begin to happen. It is the month the unhappiest and unluckiest man in Verity was born, and also when an accident happened that changed his already tragic life. It is the month when a young mother, with a mysterious past is murdered, her baby girl kidnapped and their miserable twelve-year-old neighbor runs away from home. All of these circumstances come together to create a fantastic tale of love, loss, pain and redemption.

Hoffman is a masterful storyteller and legend in the field of magical realism. She deftly uses the magical elements, as well as the swampy, foggy setting to lend the story a dreamlike quality. Her characters are strong, well-developed and consistent. Once I started the book, I could not put it down. I rapidly became invested in the characters, their lives, and their futures. My only real criticism is that I feel Hoffman dropped the ball on one of the secondary character's threads. To go into much detail about it would ruin the resolutiuon of the book, but suffice it to say, the answer to a major question is discovered, then the thread is just dropped with no real punishment for the perpetrator. The only follow-up Hoffman offers is one word: "karma". In the end her story does not find all the characters totally happy, but they have all grown and changed, and in that way it feels right.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book 2: Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

This past week I have had the flu, and the week before my laptop died. So I have had a lot of free time on my hands. With this time I pretty much just slept, watched tv (46 episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" in two days!), played Tetris on my cell phone, and read. Since I was feeling pretty rotten, I did not have the attention span or energy to read anything terribly complex or serious. Over the summer, I spent a couple of weeks devouring Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse/ Southern Vampire series, now better known as the "True Blood" series, the HBO show is (loosely) based on.

I love a good mystery. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels. When on vacation, I still gravitate towards this genre. I previously hadn't read any other of Harris's novels outside the Sookie set, so I thought I'd give one of her other series a try. I selected the Aurora Teagarden series for a couple of reasons. 1) The protagonist is a librarian in a small southern town (just like I hope to be!) and 2) The first book in the series was available at my favorite used book store.

Real Murders
begins with the meeting of a group of people who enjoy studying famous murders from throughout history (such as Lizzie Borden or Jack the Ripper) with an academic eye. As the regular monthly meeting is about to begin, Aurora Teagarden notices one member is missing, even though her car is in the parking lot. Upon investigating the rest of the building Aurora finds the missing woman brutally murdered in a manner that replicates the murder the group was meant to discuss that night. A murder spree thus begins, all of the killings mimicking real life murders from the past. Signs point to different group members, leading up to a shocking finale. All the while, Aurora is trying to balance her job, two potential love interests, and her growing fear that she might be the next victim.

I rather enjoyed this book. Harris is a fun and competent writer. I noticed it with the Sookie books, and I breezed through Real Murders in one afternoon. Aurora is a pleasant character. Not perfect, gorgeous or glamarous in anyway, but kind and intelligent. The story itself was nothing revolutionary, but kept me guessing. It was more grisly than I was expecting, though, since I usually tend to read older, less gory mysteries. Also, Aurora is not much of a detective. She happens upon the crime scenes more than she actually investigates. Despite those minor complaints, I would certainly pick up the second book in the series.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book 1: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I first read a Nick Hornby book in high school. As a sixteen-year-old girl living in the suburbs of a midsized southern city in the US, I could hardly be considered the target audience for Hornby's humorous sadsack variety of "dick lit." But I savored every word of High Fidelity. Perhaps it was because I was a sixteen-year-old girl that I identified so readily with such a melodramatic, romantic protagonist. I also really, really like lists.

Since then I have read all of Hornby's works, both fiction and non-fiction. As a whole, I find I enjoy his non-fiction more. The fiction tends to get bogged down in the characters' own sullenness and petty natures. Whereas when Hornby is writing in his own voice, he is generally more humorous, optimistic and warm, even when writing about difficult topics such as his son's autism.

As for his fiction, I loved both High Fidelity and About a Boy, enjoyed Slam!, and pretty much just wanted to shake all the characters in A Long Way Down until they got their heads out of their own asses. How to be Good was so wretched I prefer to forget I even read it. I suppose I continue to read and get excited about his books because I know that when he is on his game, he does realistic comedic novels better than almost anyone else out there. I can't help but hope for another About a Boy.

I picked up his newest work, Juliet, Naked, with some justifiable trepidation. It is a story of three pretty miserable people: Tucker Crowe, a once semi-famous musician who walked out on his career while it was at its peak with no explanation, and now finds himself with no career or ambition and half a dozen failed marriages and half-forgotten children; Duncan, a college professor who has been obsessed with Tucker Crowe and his music for nearly twenty years; and Annie, Duncan's longtime girlfriend who is beginning to wonder if she has wasted her whole life on a man she has little interest in, a career that bores her, and living in a town that is dying a slow death.

After a previously unreleased demo of Tucker's greatest album, "Juliet", finds its way to Duncan and Annie's doorstep, the cracks in their relationship become too clear to ignore any longer. Around this same time, Tucker begins communicating with Annie via e-mail after she posts a scathing (and in Tucker's mind, deservedly so) review of the new album now known as "Juliet, Naked" on the Tucker Crowe fanpage. From this point forward, the lines between the characters begin to shift, diverging and crossing where previously they had not done so.

It took me a couple of days to decide whether I liked this story or these characters. In a lot of ways I'm still not sure. Tucker's only true redeeming quality is his relationship with his six-year-old son, Jackson, the only one of his children he has not, nor will ever, abandon. I finished the book yesterday, and I barely remember Duncan. Annie, though, is the biggest puzzle to me. She yearns for a child, for a family, for something to prove that her life has not been a waste, but she seems to do little to change her situation. Well, I guess thinking back on it, that is not true. She makes some major changes to her life, and takes a few pretty substantial risks. The changes she makes just don't seem to move her all that far in any direction. None of the characters or plot lines are resolved by the end of the novel. This is both comfortingly realistic and totally frustrating. Hornby is one of those authors who likes to end with an ellipsis rather than a period. I like not knowing how it will all end up. There is something too artificial about having everything resolved and perfectly tied up in a little bow, but at the same time, after 400+ pages I want to feel as though I got somewhere, and with Juliet, Naked? I don't think I did.

Monday, November 2, 2009

RIP laptop

Well, after having my lovely little laptop for nearly 5 years, it quietly passed away last Thursday. This has not helped my starting this little project. Neither is it helping me to get my school work finished in a timely manner, nor keep up with my favorites websites. I am sad to see it go, especially since I did not have any of my files backed up.