Saturday, August 31, 2013

6 Campus Novels for Back-to-School Season

I love the fall! It's full of fresh starts, new clothes and the urge to buy books. As the weather turns crisp and the changing leaves rattle in the breeze, I want to pull on my favorite pair of super soft blue tights, splurge on a fancy coffee and take my time browsing at the corner bookstore. Here are six campus novel recommendations for your consideration when the same autumn urge hits you.

6 Campus Novels for Back-to-School Season

Moo by Jane Smiley

The setting is a Midwestern campus, at an agricultural college referred to as Moo U.  The weather, culture, and atmosphere of the Midwest is detailed so well I felt firmly planted in the middle of our country as I read. Moo is a satire on academia.  Students, faculty, staff and the animals are all main characters. I worked my way through grad school as the secretary to a provost, so I'm biased toward this character in the book. Smiley depicts her as the smartest person on campus -nice!

The best part: The funny bits and the depiction of working with animals as part of college education which is completely foreign to me.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep is a coming of age story set at the Ault School in Massachusettes, a prestigious private boarding school. (Some believe Ault is a stand in for Groton, which the author herself attended.) Lee Fiora is an freshman from the Midwest attending on scholarship. Away from her family she struggles as an outsider in a place where everyone tries to conceal what makes them different, be it religion, class, or sexuality.

The best part: The working class girl's view of a wealthy institution.

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Another story set at a New England boarding school, but Testimony takes a much darker tone then Prep. On this private school campus a sex scandal on the verge of breaking. It is a tense and compelling story. Each chapter is from a different character's point of view, students, parents, faculty, both male and female. The poor decisions made in one night have consequences that change the lives of all involved.
Currently only $2.99 for the Kindle edition on Amazon.

The best part: The suspense and Shreve's clear and emotional writing.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Warning: Must love baseball. The sport figures heavily into this story. I have to imagine if you are not interested in baseball this book might be a chore rather than a pleasure. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

The setting is Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan. Henry Skrimshander is a natural talent and star pitcher, who seems destined for the big leagues. But after one bad game Henry chokes and can't seem to recover. Everyone within Henry's circle is affected, the college President and his daughter, Henry's best friend, and his roommate.

The best part: The characters' desires to start over and their fears that make starting over such a struggle. I'm a sucker for any good starting over storyline. 

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

The setting is Dupont University, an amalgam of many ivy league universities, in central Pennsylvania. The title character is a brilliant young student from a poverty stricken town in North Carolina. A loss of innocence ensues as Charlotte discovers that money, athletics, sex, alcohol and social status rule at Dupont. The pursuit of the intellectual is an afterthought, if it's thought of at all. Throw in a plagiarism scandal, a political scandal, and Charlotte is changed forever in many ways, but it is for the better?

The best part: Charlotte's brains, sweetness and purity and the culture shock she experiences from day one through the rest of her freshman year.

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I was happily surprised to find that Admission was made into a movie staring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. The movie has a more light-hearted tone than the book and is worth a watch.

Portia Nathan is a Princeton University admission officer. The novel depicts the inner workings of the incredibly competitive admission process. It's details are complex, funny, a bit depressing for any underachiever.  Portia's straightforward, efficient and secure world was always on shaky ground given the secret she's been keeping for 18 years.

The best part: Portia's opportunity for a more authentic life.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

5 Books for a Long Weekend

Summer is not over yet. At the very least there is that long Labor Day weekend approaching fast. Here are 5 book recommendations to keep you entertained and help you unwind...and drink recommendations 'cause why not?

The Beach House by Jane Green
When faced with money trouble a woman turns her Nantucket beach house into a bed and breakfast. This is an easy, relaxing, feel-good read full of sympathetic and relatable characters. Goes well with a sparkling white wine.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I'm sure you've heard of it. I read this mid-west murder mystery while on vacation and deem it the perfect beach read. I couldn't wait to pick it up again and fall right to the craziness and suspense. If you haven't read it yet now's the time. Pairs very well with a gin and tonic and you just might need it.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Yes, that Lauren Graham. The one from Parenthood and the Gilmore Girls. Graham's book revolves around the struggles of a young actress in 1995 New York City. It is a fun and charming read. Goes well with an iced coffee.

Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose
A very modern book about a young woman who writes for a NYC-based gossip-obsessed pop culture website. (The author has worked for Jezebel and Slate.) I liked reading about a character that is very different from me - the nature of her work is frenetic and cut-throat and she is impulsive and doesn't take very good care of herself. Goes well with a green smoothie and a multi-vitamin.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Shopgirl is a sensitive and insightful little book. The protagonist is a shy, introverted, artistic and lonely. She tentatively begins a relationship with an older, much more financially well-off, man. It is refreshing to read about a relationship that is not a perfect true love romance but is an important relationship in the characters' lives nonetheless. Pairs well with a mojito.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Late Summer Blueberry Muffins

Late Summer Blueberry Muffins

I love the farmer's market in August! Fresh garden tomatoes, sweet corn, and berries, berries, berries. I loaded up this weekend in an attempt to make the most of what's left of the summer. I even froze some of my blueberries for the first time. It worked beautifully and now I can enjoy fresh blueberries next month also.

I want to share this recipe for blueberry muffins that my mother has been making for as long as I can remember. It was probably originally from a 1960's ladies magazine. I have made this recipe with whole wheat flour and did not enjoy them. I now use white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour. I also use almond milk, but have used soy milk and skim milk to good results.

A few tips:
1. Be sure to stir very very gently. If you have a tendency to mix over-enthusiastically, be sure to just fold the ingredients together until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and you don’t have any big pockets of flour in your batter.

2. Gently toss the blueberries in flour before you add them to the batter. This will keep them all from falling to the bottom of the muffins.

Late Summer Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffin Recipe - Makes 12

1 3/4 C sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 well-beaten egg
3/4 C milk (whole, skim, soy, or almond)
1/3 C canola oil
1 C fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, & salt.
Combine egg, milk & oil.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add egg mixture.
Stir gently just until dry ingredients are moistened.
Gently stir in blueberries.
Fill greased or papered muffin tins 2/3 full.
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (optional)
Bake for 25 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
Tip muffins to one side while cooling to prevent steaming crusts.

These beauties are a great addition to a BBQ chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and potato salad dinner. Yum! They also freeze well. Enjoy!


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What to Read Next - Wednesday Book Links

Book Recommendations!

I cannot wait to get my mitts on the Treme cookbook. Treme starts up again in December, until then my culinary attempts at beignet, etoufee, dirty rice and po boys will have to suffice as New Orleans atmosphere in my home.

40 trashy novels - a must read list.  But they're classic trashy novels, not just trashy trashy novels (which also have their place bt-dubs).

The Today Show has relaunched their book club. The Bone Season by first time author Samantha Shannon is part of seven-book deal and the film rights have already been purchased. Did I mention Samantha's 21?

17 hidden gems from 2012. Still working my way through this list of quirky off-beat books.
And maybe I just think this is funny because I was the type of kid that made up a rap song to Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven and I hate the show That's So Raven.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Inspiring Work of Female Comedians

I tend to get a bit obsessive about a particular subject or genre. As a result I read, listen to and watch as much as I can. I read every night before I fall asleep, I listen to podcasts as I take my (almost) daily walks, and I rewatch favorite TV shows and movies as I cook and wash dishes and other tedious kitchen chores. I do not generally choose non-fiction books but lately I have been reading the work of female comedians. None of these materials is new on the market but I am just getting caught up with them.


Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch
Rachel Dratch writes about her career, dating, and having a baby at 43. She approaches everything with her amazing sense of humor. Because she is not a typical Hollywood beauty the only parts she is offered are for women 20 years her senior, grossly obese women, butch lesbians and sometimes 65 year old grossly obese butch lesbians. The book is a quick and entertaining read.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

 It has taken me quite some time to finally read this book. The only fault I can find with it is it's very creepy cover, it never fails to freak me out. She made me laugh out loud and do that embarrassing thing where I try to repeat what I just read and can't get it out, but I keep trying and just sound like a babbling/laughing idiot. I am inspired by her willingness to admit to and own all that is uncool and unpopular about herself.


Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler
This is my current favorite podcast that keeps me company on my walks. I love listening to this woman. She is so energized and engaged by her guests. She is sharp, articulate, funny, curious and insightful. Her interviews tend to be long, about 90 minutes. It usually takes me at least 2 days/walks to get through one interview. Aisha tends to have fellow comedians as guests, but has also had on rappers, actresses (some occasional girl on girl action) and one of my favorite episodes featured RuPaul.


There a ton of great movies by, for, and about girls and women but these are just two that I watch again and again.

Bridesmaids with Kristen Wigg, Melisa McCarthy, and Maya Rudolph
With the exception of that one scene (which I really wish ended up on the cutting room floor) I love this movie. I love Annie's journey out of rock bottom and her struggle with feeling left behind while her best friend plans a wedding. The supporting cast is one bad ass group of women and Melissa McCarthy could make a funeral funny. My favorite scene is when Annie, alone in her kitchen, makes one perfect cupcake. I enjoy watching her do what she loves and root for her for the rest of the movie.

Mean Girls written by Tina Fey

We all love Mean Girls. Where do I even start? This film has so many quotable lines. Lindsay Lohan was at her best. The mean girl pack is just a riot, Janis and Damian are just the best, and Amy Pohler as Regina George's mom is hysterical and pathetic at the same time. Cady's back story of growing up in Africa and being home schooled was always very intriguing to me and serves as a great foil to life as a girl in a modern high school. And of course the lesson on supporting other girls/women instead of tearing them down is the cherry on top of one of the best teen movies ever made. You go Glenn Coco!