Author Archives: SoniaG

A Tea for Spring

Years ago I hosted a few afternoon teas at our old house. The budget was very tight back then, and I’ve never been much of a cook, so none of those events felt like a proper tea. At some point I figured if I couldn’t do it right, I shouldn’t do it at all.

Recently, however, I’ve felt the desire to try again. I decided it would be okay if I “outsourced” the most intimidating items on the menu and gave myself plenty of time to plan and practice the other recipes. Turns out all that planning and testing was rather fun!

Some photos from the big day:


My 10+ years of collecting teacups came in handy because each guest could pick a favorite.


This photo brings back mouth-watering memories! I do believe the scones were the pièce de résistance of the tea. (Find the recipe and discussion of cream/jam at this blog post.)


Here you see the savories and sweets. I had intended to make mini-croissant sandwiches with a curry chicken salad & mango chutney from Whole Foods (outsourcing!), but sadly they were having difficulty obtaining the chutney. Instead I bought regular chicken salad and added bits of fresh mango. (Fine, but not great.) The mini-quiches were rather good, if I do say so myself, and quite easy to make (see recipe). The cucumber sandwiches, on the other hand, were somewhat tragic. I wanted to make a truly English sort of sandwich, with thinly sliced cucumber on heavily buttered bread (based on these directions), but the flavor was rather bland and the sandwiches seemed determined to fall apart. I’m afraid the cucumber slices became a little slimy, too. Ugh! Let us speak of it no further.

For the sweet course, I made frosted gluten-free cookies, but the rest of the items were store-bought. I found the Linzer torte cookies at Homegoods (!) and they were very fresh, tasty, and gluten-free. The chocolates came from Apple Tree Chocolate, a local shop. I had very high expectations for the chocolate-orange tea biscuits from Fortnum & Mason; sadly they were just so-so. (Perhaps they lost some of their freshness during the long journey to the states?)


The tea pairings required a bit of pondering, and in the end I was quite pleased with my choices. To go along with the scones and cream/jam/lemon curd, I chose Fortnum & Mason’s Afternoon Blend “from the higher and lower regions of Ceylon” (and easy to find at Williams-Sonoma) because it stood up quite well to all that sweetness. With the savory course I paired Mariage Frères’ Pleine Lune, a more delicate tea flavored with almond and sweet spices. And for the sweet course I chose Tea Palace’s Notting Hill, “a blend of the finest single estate black teas enriched with real pieces of organic Bourbon Vanilla from Madagascar and flashes of gold Marigold petal.” The overwhelming favorite of the three teas? The Pleine Lune.

Do you have any favorite afternoon tea recipes to share? If so, please link in the comments–I’d love to add your suggestions to my “Tea Party” Pinterest page. I’m already dreaming up the menu for the next Afternoon Tea…

Celebrating new web design with a GIVEAWAY

This past fall I decided to update the look of my website. As always I wanted something Gothic and a bit creepy, but I also yearned for warmth and color. Again and again I came back to this image:


It struck me as both bleak and beautiful. Moreover it reminded me of the Yorkshire moors (like you see here) and thereby brought to mind all the Gothic tales of the Brontës. My genius web designer Maddee at xuni.com boosted the color and added my name. I love the final result, which you can see simply by scrolling to the top of this page.

To celebrate my new website, I’m giving away the Brontë-related items featured in the photo at the top of this post, each of which I enthusiastically recommend to Brontë fans! Read on to learn more about them:


Praise for Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life:
“I thought that everything had already been said about the Brontës. But Samantha Ellis has looked at the family from a new angle, and in doing so brought Anne out of the shadows and placed her front and centre amongst her splashier siblings. I was wowed and moved” (Tracy Chevalier)
“A fascinating and compelling read… what Ellis does extraordinarily well is to convey the emotion of her own deeply personal voyage of discovery about Anne and herself… [makes] you long to rush off and reread Anne’s novels and poetry: what more could you ask for?” (Juliet Barker)
–my take: This book brought me to tears more than once, and my perception of the youngest Brontë is forever altered by reading it.


Praise for The Glass Town Game:
“A throwback to classic children’s literature: it has the cleverness of The Phantom Tollbooth, the imagination of Alice in Wonderland, the whimsy of Edward Eager…A lovely, fanciful piece of middle-grade fiction about the worlds we make, and the lives they can take on.” (Booklist, starred review)
“The story’s real delights come from the wit and cleverness woven into every description and conversation, as well as the sharp insights Valente brings to the children’s insecurities, longings, and hidden desires, which burst to the surface in this magical and perilous world.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
–my take: A gorgeous tribute to the Brontës and the fictional worlds they created.

Also included:


Just for fun I’ve added a small Paperblanks journal decorated with Charlotte Brontë’s signature and lines from Jane Eyre. (These journals are no longer in production and are therefore pretty hard to find.) You’ll also receive a Brontë mug featuring Branwell’s drawing of the four siblings AND a volume of poems from all four Brontë siblings, along with a timeline and endnotes.

INTERNATIONAL ENTRANTS WELCOME!

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March Tea and a Book: A School for Brides

Patrice Kindl’s A School for Brides: A Story of Maidens, Mystery, and Matrimony is a delightful romp for fans of quirky characters and unusual conflicts, not to mention all things Regency. It’s a companion to an earlier favorite of mine from Kindl, Keeping the Castle, a much lauded novel about a young lady who must marry well in order to support her family. You really should read both, but I don’t think it matters which you choose first.

The official blurb for A School for Brides:

The Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy of Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, has one goal: to train its students in the feminine arts with an eye toward getting them married off. This year, there are five girls of marriageable age. There’s only one problem: the school is in the middle of nowhere, and there are no men. Set in the same English town as Keeping the Castle, and featuring a few of the same characters, here’s the kind of witty tribute to the classic Regency novel that could only come from the pen of Patrice Kindl!

Kindl is such an entertaining storyteller. I will warn you, however, that there are many characters, some with similar names. A handy character guide is provided at the beginning of the book, but if you tend toward e-readers–as I do with my increasingly wonky vision–it may prove difficult to consult that list. (It’s very likely, however, that you understand better how to navigate back and forth through your e-reader than I do!)

At any rate, I highly recommend both Keeping the Castle and A School for Brides, and I’ve heard there may be a third book set in Lesser Hoo. Oh, let it be true!

Now for a lovely cream tea . . .

Conveniently for this post, I’ve been testing recipes for a small afternoon tea I’m hosting next month. (Me? Organized enough to test the recipes? It’s a miracle!)


I tried a new-to-me scone recipe–this one from Allrecipes–and it was pretty straightforward for making traditional round scones that split easily. I used a cookie cutter from this Williams-Sonoma set, only mine had crinkled edges. Apparently the key is to cut swiftly and forcefully with a straight up-and-down motion. No side-to-side cutting or twisting of the cutter lest the scone droop to one side during baking.


As you can see, my scones rose nicely without too much drooping. And they split easily–no need for a knife! For more tips and tricks you might consult “How to Make the Perfect Scone” from both The Prepared Pantry and The Guardian.


For a proper English tea you need strawberry jam and clotted cream. As you can see, the jam came from Fortnum & Mason, which seems perfectly appropriate for a Regency story since they were established in 1707. (Ooh, look — here’s a blog post that includes details about about F&M in the Regency period!) Those not currently living in England can order online from F&M as long as you’re willing to pay international shipping. Another option for Americans is to peruse their products offered in Williams-Sonoma shops and online. But what about clotted cream? In England you can buy it at any grocery store; in the states, however, it can be tricky to find. I actually ordered mine from Amazon.com but it also can be found at The English Tea Store. Just keep in mind that it needs to stay cool, so mail-ordering in the hottest months might not be the best idea.


And here’s my little tea spread, complete with the Afternoon Blend from Fortnum & Mason (“a blend from the higher and lower regions of Ceylon delivering a light, refreshing flavour with real body”). As I’ve mentioned before, there’s some controversy over whether one should first spread ones scone with cream or jam. (I even blogged about this once.) But really, it’s entirely up to you!

Happy reading and Afternoon Tea-ing!

Swoonworthy Reads

To celebrate Valentine’s Day here on the blog I searched my bookshelves and Goodreads reading list for stories that struck me as delightfully romantic. I’m leaving out category romance and trying only to include books that feature a pairing or a moment that really stayed with me–books that were unexpectedly or hauntingly romantic, where I melted into a puddle of yearning, blushed, or gasped “oh my!”

Young Adult Romance


Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt. One of my favorite reads of 2017, this gorgeous fairy tale inspired LOTS of yearning as I read.
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. This fantasy starts slow with a chunk of world-building, but your patience will be rewarded. The romance was unexpected and very swoonworthy.
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I do love a good boarding school story, and this may be the most delightful YA contemporary romance I’ve read!

Yearning Romance


Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. It’s really not fair to include this one because you must have at least read the two prior Peter/Harriet books to fully appreciate it, or ideally have read all the Peter Wimsey books. I had to include it, though, because the romantic bits are so incredibly SWOONY.
Possession, by A.S. Byatt. Two romances–one between Victorian poets and the other between the modern scholars studying them. I’m getting myself worked up just writing this summary. So. much. yearning.
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. This often harrowing story of a Civil War soldier on a journey back to the girl he left behind beautifully epitomizes romantic yearning.

Sizzling Romance


Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. This Dickensian tale of a young swindler who meets her match totally took me by surprise with its SPICY romance, and ever since reading it I’ve been a diehard fan of Sarah Waters.
Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen. I’ve enjoyed all of Allen’s books, but this was my first and remains the most memorable. The emotional and physical intensity of the romance definitely inspired a few “Oh MY!” moments as I read.
The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James. For some reason, I didn’t see the romance coming in this ghostly mystery. I fell for the misdirection, and I’m glad I did because the first sexy scene was a STEAMY surprise.

Just for fun, I’ll add my husband’s offerings to the list: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger; Atonement, by Ian McEwan; and The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks (although he really means the movie for the last option, and he says in particular he’s thinking of Rachel McAdams, but I know he’s really thinking of James Garner and Gena Rowlands.

So what novels have made you yearn, swoon, or blush? I’d LOVE to know!

Finding Community at the SCBWIOK Spring Conference

The 2018 Spring conference for SCBWI Oklahoma, “Striking at the Reader’s Heart,” will be held on April 6-7 at the OKC Embassy Suites on S. Meridian. If you write/illustrate for children and young adults, I highly recommend you check it out. You’ll certainly gain useful information about the craft and business of writing, but perhaps even more importantly, you’ll find community.


Attending a writing conference is a great way to connect with other writers who are working in the same genre and/or looking for a critique group. I met my writing group at an OWFI conference well over a decade ago, and it didn’t take long for three of our group to realize we were particularly interested in writing for children. We knew that SCBWI was the best organization for kidlit writers, and thus in 2007 we made a trip to the national conference that takes place every winter in NYC. What an eye-opening experience!


It was only after attending a national conference that I attended our Oklahoma regional events. (I do things backwards sometimes.) Since these local meetings and conferences were a little smaller, the prospect of “networking” was much less daunting, especially for a somewhat socially anxious person like me. The above photo actually was taken at the 2008 SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, but how nice it was to find my Oklahoma tribe whilst there. The national conferences can be a bit overwhelming, but connecting with affiliate members makes everything more manageable.


And when, after countless rejections and heartbreaks, I finally got a book deal, my Oklahoma SCBWI buddies celebrated right along with me. No matter where you are in the process, there’s always someone in your regional affiliate who has been there, too. A conference like SCBWI can help you connect with people who understand the particular challenges of this path.


More often than not, these new connections help boost mood and confidence, sometimes even leading to DELIGHTFUL SHENANIGANS. (Writers are weird in the most wonderful ways!)

Hope to see you in April!