Tea and Books for Christmas

I come to you with tidings of tea and holiday reads!

For young (and young-at-heart) readers:


Christmas with the Savages, by Mary Clive: Seen through the eyes of a prim little eight-year-old, and based on real events and people, this novel perfectly recaptures a Christmas holiday of 100 years ago, and is effortlessly funny.

This delightful story, first published in 1955, brings to mind a “Downton Abbey” Christmas, only from the perspective of the nursery children. It’s episodic, lighthearted, and lots of fun! I purchased a used hardcover, but there’s a very pretty paperback available from Amazon and other places.

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, by Richard Scary: It’s the night before the night before Christmas, and Mr. Frumble wants to be helpful. When he stumbles into Santa Bear’s workshop and mixes up the dates, everyone thinks it’s the night before Christmas! Santa dashes off to deliver the presents, but then gets stuck in Mr. Frumble’s chimney! Find out how Mr. Frumble saves the day in this funny, topsy-turvy Christmas story.

I adored Richard Scarry as a kid and loved reading the books to my little siblings later on. I’m not sure how much Scarry actually had to do with this book considering when he died, but the characters are familiar and the story will entertain your young ones.

For fans of romance:


A Holiday by Gaslight, by Mimi Matthews: Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion–or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things. But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned…

This is just perfect for the holidays, particularly if you’re in the mood for a heart-fluttering yet chaste Victorian romance. The author is well-versed in the era, having published various non-fiction books and scholarly articles. Bottom line: this novella is fun, romantic, and free of cringe-worthy anachronisms.

For fans of “Literary” Christmas fiction:


Mr. Dickens and his Carol, by Samantha Silva: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in…

I’m right in the middle of this story and enjoying it even more than I’d expected. Samantha Silva brings to life the people and places of Victorian London and makes Dickens appealing even as she draws attention to his personal failings. It’s quite an absorbing read.

(I’d wondered if the book had anything to do with the recent film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, but that was based on a novel by Les Standiford. Anyone read that one or seen the film? Apparently there are several novels dealing with the creation of A Christmas Carol.)

And now for tea:


I made my usual ginger cookies and frosted sugar cookies, but perhaps you notice another item on the plate above. Yes, it’s a mince pie! Steve and I love indulging in these when we’re in England over Christmas, but they’re not ubiquitous here in the States. One year I made crusts from scratch and filled them with mincemeat I’d purchased at Chatsworth. This year, however, I found orange & cranberry mince pies from Walkers on Amazon! All you need do is warm them up in the oven (one at a time or all at once), and voila! Scrumptious.

As for the tea blend, I learned of Chado Tea’s Noel while reading the Holiday issue of Teatime Magazine. If you like black tea blended with cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla and almond, you’ll no doubt find this tea delicious and festive. Check out all the offerings from Chado Tea here.

***Remember that you can click the Christmas tag below for past recommendations for holiday reading, drinking, and eating!

What are you reading/brewing/baking for the holidays this year? I do love recommendations!

Tea and a Book and a GIVEAWAY for Thanksgiving: A Long Way from Verona

Quick take: Quirky and endearing.

From the book jacket: Jessica Vye introduces herself with an enigmatic pronouncement: “I ought to tell at the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine.” A revered author has told Jessica that she is, beyond all doubt, a born writer. This proves an accurate prediction of the future, one that indelibly colors her life at school and her perception of the world.

Jessica has always known that her destiny would be shaped by her refusal to conform, her compulsion to tell the absolute truth, and her dedication to observing the strange wartime world that surrounds her. What she doesn’t know, however, is that the experiences and ideas that set her apart will also lead her to a new and wholly unexpected life.

My thoughts: Such a delight! This was my second reading and I’m sure there will be many more. Jane Gardam somehow captures the awkwardness and alienation of adolescence while also managing to make her heroine thoroughly charming. It is a very English sort of book, just so you know. (Among other things I had to google “viyella,” which is a certain type of dress, and now I see why Jessica was in agonies.) I’ve very much enjoyed other books by Gardam, but I will read Long Way to Verona again and again.

Scroll to the bottom for a giveaway!

And now for tea: I was in the mood for something autumnal so I made pumpkin spice cookies from this recipe at A Family Feast. They were simple enough to make, but do keep in mind that the dough is sticky even after chilling overnight. The cookies turn out quite soft–not the same chewy texture as a ginger cookie–but rest assured the flavor is excellent. For tea, I’d recommend one that doesn’t compete with the pumpkin spice–an Assam, Ceylon, or perhaps a blend of the two. I chose St. James from Mariage Frères. The “Autumn Tree” cup and plate featured in the photo are from Pier 1–soon to go on sale, I’m sure!

Other books that make me thankful because they are endlessly re-readable:
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles
Gaudy Night (best if you read Strong Poison & Have His Carcase first), by Dorothy Sayers
High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Possession, by A. S. Byatt (tho I skim Ash’s poetry)
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher
+ practically anything by Jane Austen or L.M. Montgomery

GIVEAWAY — I have an extra brand-new copy of Long Way from Verona up for grabs! All you need do is share the title of a book you’re thankful for in the comments and briefly explain why the book means so much to you. The winner will be chosen randomly with the help of Random.org.Open to US/CA only, please!

2018 Spooky Film Recs, Part IV: Family Viewing

For my final “Spooky Films” post, I’m offering some suggestions for family viewing. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following PG/PG-13 options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


Spirited Away (2001) — Rated PG
During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.
You’re all probably way ahead of me on this one. I’d heard about it for years but didn’t think it was my sort of thing. Then I watched with a friend and her kiddos. Gosh! Such a lovely, haunting, and spooky film. “No Face” (seen above in the middle) now numbers among my very favorite film characters. Those in the know — are there any other spooky anime films I should track down?
Watch the trailer / available on DVD only (from various retailers) / Metascore: 96
(the highest IMDB metascore of any film I’ve recommended!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium-ish?


Down a Dark Hall (2018) — PG-13
A troubled teen named Kit Gordy is forced to join the exclusive Blackwood Boarding School, just to find herself trapped by dark forces around its mysterious headmistress, Madame Duret.
This one had me at “all-female boarding school.” Fans of Lois Duncan should get a kick out of it — the setting is properly Gothic and the cast (featuring Uma Thurman with a believable French accent) is strong. The atmosphere oozes with old-fashioned menace, but the students bring a modern edge to the “haunted boarding school” narrative. Lots of drama and even a little romance.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 56
Goth-o-Meter: high


Our House (2018) — PG-13
A young genius accidentally invents a device that amplifies the paranormal activity within his family’s house, possibly bringing back the spirits of loved ones, and unleashing things far worse.
I like a little technology with my ghosts, especially when accidental contact occurs. The pacing in this one isn’t without its problems, but I found the family very appealing and right away I cared about their safety. You might call this a “modern domestic ghost story,” and I like that it offers mystery and chills without going too far with jump scares or violence.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 45
(the lowest metascore of all my recs, but I really did think this was worth watching!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high


Beautiful Creatures (2013) — PG-13
Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.
I read this book when it first came out and quite enjoyed it, but the trailers for the film turned me off. It all just looked waaaay over-the-top. But when I was searching for films to watch this year, this one came up again and again as a strong option. After all, it does have an incredible cast–Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Eileen Atkins and Emma Thompson–but it’s Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert who make this movie work. If you can get past Ehrenreich’s Forrest Gump-voiceover at the beginning, you’ll see what I mean. They are both sympathetic and have great chemistry together. Yes, there are outrageous moments in this film, but overall I found it intriguing and satisfying — including the (somewhat abrupt) ending.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 52
Goth-o-Meter: high


Happy Death Day (2017) — PG-13
A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
As I’ve said before, I don’t enjoy slasher films unless they are quirky and/or funny. This horror spin on Groundhog Day was exactly what I was looking for. I’ve seen it characterized as “relentlessly violent,” but I assure you that there’s not much blood/gore at all, and though the film does get the pulse racing, the tone is playful. It’s along the lines of the SCREAM movies, but with much less blood.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 57
Goth-o-Meter: low

Here’s a list of other PG-13 Horror options, though I’m kind of horrified that The Ring is included. That one really got to me–I enjoyed it, but it’s more at the “disturbing” end of the spooky continuum. There are moments in that film I wish I could unsee.

Also keep in mind that two of the films mentioned earlier in my 2018 recs are PG-13 — A Quiet Place and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The Endless is unrated, but I think it would be appropriate for teens and mature tweens.

That’s it for 2018, folks! Happy Horror Viewing and REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.

2018 Spooky Film Recs, Part III: Ghost-free Horror

Today you’ll find paranormal, sci-fi, slasher, and post-apocalyptic films, but there’s nary a ghost in the bunch! (As far as I could tell, at least.)

As always, the brief synopses are from imdb.com.


The Ritual (2017) — Rated: TV-MA
A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that is stalking them.
Add a paranormal twist to Deliverance**, set the story in northern Sweden, and you have a very EERIE film! Great cast led by Rafe Spall, but also including Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey’s conniving Thomas) in a strong and sympathetic role.
**Those who have seen Deliverance please note: The Ritual is a freaky film, but not Ned Beatty-in-peril freaky, okay? I wouldn’t do that to you.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 57
Goth-o-Meter: medium


The Endless (2017) — Not rated
As kids, they escaped a UFO death cult. Now, two adult brothers seek answers after an old videotape surfaces and brings them back to where they began.
The director and writer of this film also play the two brothers, and their on-film relationship brought to mind Sam and Dean from Supernatural. I really, really enjoyed this story — so much that I sought out Benson and Moorhead’s earlier film, Resolution, featuring a pair of characters that have a cameo in this film. I’m kinda glad that I watched them in reverse order, and I look forward to more stories from this writer/director duo.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 80
Goth-o-Meter: medium


Better Watch Out (2016) — Rated R
On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion.
I expected this to be typical slasher fare, but there is a twist — that’s why I’m sharing a clip rather than the official trailer. I typically don’t enjoy slasher films unless they are quirky and/or satirical. This one definitely has its moments.
Watch a clip / Options for viewing / Metascore: 67
Goth-o-Meter: low to medium?


Train to Busan (2016) — Rated TV-MA
While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
This film has appeared on so many “best horror” lists, but I resisted due to zombie fatigue. (I blame The Walking Dead.) However, I finally decided to give it a try, and it might be my favorite spooky film viewed this year. With its nuanced characters, gut-wrenching tension, and impressive special effects, Train to Busan is a fresh and poignant take on the “zombie apocalypse” theme.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 72
Goth-o-Meter: low


The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) — Rated R
A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harboring dark secrets.
I can’t think of any other movie quite like this spooky mystery set in a morgue. The chemistry between Brian Cox and Emile Hirsche, playing father and son, was the most appealing thing about it. Since the plot revolves around an autopsy, you know it will be a special sort of gruesome. Consider that fair warning!
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65
Goth-o-Meter: medium

***You might also consider:

Wildling (2018) — Rated R
A blossoming teenager uncovers the dark secret behind her traumatic childhood.
A new spin on the werewolf story, but perhaps it goes a bit off the rails in the final act? If you watch, I’d be interested to know what you think.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 58

It Comes at Night (2017) — Rated R
Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.
This tense and claustrophobic story probably won’t appeal to those seeking monsters and jump scares. More psychological thriller than horror, this is another film from producer/distributor A24, which also brought us The Witch, Hereditary, and The Blackcoat’s Daughter.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 78

Check back on Monday when I’ll be recommending “family viewing” horror film options. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.

2018 Spooky Film Recs Part II: Ghostly Favorites

In this post I hope to inspire you to watch some ghost films that flew under the radar during the past couple of years. I’ve come to appreciate lower-budget/independent ghostly films because there’s much less reliance on expensive special effects and, in many cases, more appreciation of characterization and tension. If you’ve already seen or plan to watch any of the options suggested here, please let me know what you think!

As always, the brief synopses are from imdb.com.


The Lodgers (2017) — Rated R
1920, rural Ireland. Anglo Irish twins Rachel and Edward share a strange existence in their crumbling family estate.
This was right up my alley in the Gothic department–haunting and atmospheric if not truly frightening. (Seriously, if you prefer a fast-paced story with lots of jump scares, don’t bother with this one.) Charlotte Vega is quite good as dominant twin Rachel, but the true star of this film is Loftus Hall, a centuries-old (and reputedly haunted-in-real-life) Irish country house. While there is a strong fantasy element to the story, the script also takes into account the social and political turmoil in early 20th century Ireland. I would watch this one again–it’s so lovely to look at!
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 52
Goth-o-Meter: very high


Marrowbone (2017) — Rated R
A young man and his three younger siblings, who have kept secret the death of their beloved mother in order to remain together, are plagued by a sinister presence in the sprawling manor in which they live.
Marrowbone offers so many of my favorite things: a gorgeous setting (supposedly the U.S. but actually filmed in Spain), a focus on characterization, moments of sweetness that balance the Gothic peril, and an ending that makes you want to go back to the beginning and watch all over again. (Random observation: this will only resonate with people of a certain age, but to me it’s almost like a horror version of Dear Lola, which was adapted to film as The Beniker Gang.) The film is not without flaws, but it’s very compelling overall and I will watch it again. Stranger Things fans will be pleased to see Charlie Heaton–and to hear his native English accent.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 63
Goth-o-Meter: high


Personal Shopper (2016) — Rated R
A personal shopper in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message.
If you’re looking for a very unique sort of ghost story/mystery, this might fit the bill. It does require patience and an open mind, but the film really is rather fabulous. I re-watched several scenes afterwards and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days–I hadn’t expected to find Kristen Stewart so compelling. (Reviews are all over the place with this one–so it was reassuring that my favorite YouTube film reviewer, Chris Stuckmann, liked it as much as I did).
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 77
Goth-o-Meter: medium (there are Gothic moments in this film, but overall I consider it to be more in the realm of Noir.)


The Keeping Hours (2017) — Rated PG-13
10 years after the death of their son, a divorced couple is suddenly reunited by supernatural events that offer them a chance at forgiveness.
This film must have gone straight to Netflix–it has no reviews from mainstream critics–so I went in with low expectations. You guys! It really got to me. First of all, fans of Lee Pace should watch–he is lovely and will break your heart in the best way. (He’s a native Oklahoman, y’all!) This film derives its eeriness more from grief and longing than jump scares. There are deliciously spooky bits, but nothing to give you nightmares. If you’re anything like me, you’ll cry and find it all very cathartic.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / No IMDB metascore — check Rotten Tomatoes
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high

***You might also consider:

Ghost Stories (2017) — Not Rated
Skeptical professor Phillip Goodman embarks on a trip to the terrifying after finding a file with details of three unexplained cases of apparitions. (Adapted from a play and featuring Martin Freeman in one of the vignettes.)
The three cases are interesting and spooky, but the frame narrative did not work for me.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 68
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high?

A Ghost Story (2017) — rated R
In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.
Not a “thrill-a-minute” sort of ghost movie. It is fascinating and quite moving, but perhaps a smidge pretentious? Your mileage may vary. (There is a cool tribute to Poltergeist at the mid-point. In fact, I was fascinated by this slideshow overview of the writer/director’s influences.)
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 84
Goth-o-Meter: medium

Check back on Wednesday when I’ll be recommending “under the radar” ghost-free horror films. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.