Category Archives: Reading

Spooky Reads 2020 and a GIVEAWAY

Hey! Don’t forget to check out the GIVEAWAY at the end of this post.

When the Covid lockdown began, I craved comfort books. (See my recommendations here.) Lately, however, that old familiar yearning for Gothic horror has me in its grip. What a gluttony of horror fiction I’ve been enjoying! And I have this blog post to thank: ALL THE HORROR BOOKS WE’RE EXCITED ABOUT IN 2020 from Tornightfire.com.

I have offered spooky film recommendations for several years now. This year I’m adding recs for new (and newish) spooky novels. (Descriptions in bold are from the publisher.)


Follow Me to Ground (Simon & Schuster, 2020)
A haunted, surreal debut novel about an otherworldly young woman, her father, and her lover that culminates in a shocking moment of betrayal—one that upends our understanding of power, predation, and agency.
This quick read has the feel of a Southern Gothic, and it is so unique and enthralling. I devoured it in an afternoon.


You Let Me In (Tor, 2020)
A stunning tale from debut author Camilla Bruce, combining the sinister domestic atmosphere of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects with the otherworldly thrills of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.*
I have never read a spooky fairy story like this one. I could NOT put it down.


In the Night Wood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018)
In this contemporary fantasy, the grieving biographer of a Victorian fantasist finds himself slipping inexorably into the supernatural world that consumed his subject.
This is not a new release, but it kept popping up during my research. The cover and pitch are tantalizing, yes? It may be my favorite read of the bunch.


Mexican Gothic (Del Rey Books/Penguin Random House, 2020)
From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico. “It’s Lovecraft meets the Brontës in Latin America, and after a slow-burn start Mexican Gothic gets seriously weird” (The Guardian).
This is a very buzzy book, and now I know why! The story features familiar elements, but I’ve never read anything quite like it. If you crave stories about creepy Gothic houses and their even creepier inhabitants, you MUST read it.

Also consider:


Home Before Dark (Penguin Random House, 2020)
In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?
This will seem like familiar territory (particularly to fans of The Haunting of Hill House Netflix series), but the story is nonetheless absorbing and entertaining. Great setting, fast pace.


Out of Body (Tor, 2020)
A small-town librarian witnesses a murder at his local deli, and what had been routine sleep paralysis begins to transform into something far more disturbing.
I am fascinated by the notion of astral projection, and this story took the concept to a new level. What starts as a quiet and unassuming story turns darker and weirder. Another quick read.

Other spooky reading recommendations on my blog:
The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Geeked on Gothic

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

COMING SOON…

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Featured image credit: Photo 144820404 © Dreamstime.com

Quiet afternoons with Emily

My last blog post (written THREE MONTHS ago, yikes) was about Emily Dickinson, and today–once again–it is Miss Emily who inspires me.

A NEW BOOK:


From the publisher: An engaging, intimate portrait of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest and most-mythologized poets, that sheds new light on her groundbreaking poetry.

From The New Yorker: The Emily Dickinson who emerges in this vivid, affectionate chronicle is a complex and warm-blooded individual—as curious, defiant of convention, and passionate in life as in her poems.

Starred review from Kirkus: Radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet’s sensibility make this biography extraordinary.

I found These Fevered Days a very accessible and detailed presentation of key moments in Emily Dickinson’s development as a writer. The final chapter brought me to tears. If you are curious but can’t read the book just yet, do listen to this podcast interview with the author on CBC radio’s Writers and Company: The poet of solitude: How Emily Dickinson was fueled by the light of her brilliant interior world. (Many thanks to Danielle for alerting me to its existence!)

AN INTRIGUING Apple TV SERIES:


A dear friend recommended this show to me (thanks Angie!), and I confess I was skeptical at first. Modern language and music? Drug use and profanity? Brief and sometimes random scenes of sexuality? It’s NOT the familiar tale of a repressed and reclusive poet who scribbles in secrecy. This Emily is fierce and defiant, except in those moments when she’s terribly vulnerable. The writers clearly know a great deal about Emily Dickinson’s life and 19th century American culture, so anachronisms are utilized strategically and, in my opinion, effectively.


Online Reviews:
The Verge: Dickinson is the wildest, weirdest, and most earnest show on Apple TV Plus

The New Yorker: Dickinson from Apple TV Plus is Deeply Weird and Dazzles Gradually

Vulture: All Hail Dickinson, a TV Show Made Specifically for Literary Weirdos

(Hmmm…do you see a theme emerging?)

There are negative reactions from humorless old fogies other reviewers, of course. The show is irreverent and downright bizarre at times, but Emily’s bittersweet epiphanies seem to temper the outrageous humor. Haven’t we all wished we could be that person who knew herself so well, who refused to compromise, and who didn’t worry about–in fact, embraced the notion of–going against the grain? We hesitate to be that person because we know the emotional and social costs. That’s one of the glories of Dickinson — we see her go there, defiantly and, at times, foolishly. She gets knocked down time and again, but she never gives up. (Hailee Steinfeld, who is wonderful as Emily, is also an executive producer of the show.)

I can’t stop thinking about this show, you guys. There’s even a scene where Emily stitches THE FASCICLES! (Verily, I did swoon.)


OF COURSE I made tea to celebrate finishing both the book and the first season of the TV series. The Emily Dickinson tea from Simpson & Vail, featured in my previous post, is a delicate blend of jasmine and rose petals recommended for those days in which you wish to dwell in possibility. The Cherry Scones were made from the EASIEST mix in the world–in fact, Emily Dickinson would probably be ashamed of you for using it–but they are so tasty and quick! See all of Iveta’s offerings here. (Folks with gluten or dairy intolerance may wish to try something different.)

Fall is coming! STAY TUNED. In September I’ll feature recommendations for classic and new Horror fiction. October, as always, will be a celebration of Spooky Films.
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Featured image credit: Photo 18834482 © Romanevgenev | Dreamstime.com

Tea with Miss Emily & a GIVEAWAY

There’s a new picture book about Emily Dickinson and it is marvelous. (Thank you, Best of Books in Edmond, OK, for shipping it so quickly!)


This book written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander is beautiful, inspirational, and quite poignant–I confess to crying a bit while reading. (In a good way!) Before I continue, however, I should direct your attention to Jama Kim Rattigan’s recent blog post, which alerted me to the existence of this book. Her review is delightful and you’ll be rewarded with lovely images and a scrumptious recipe. Thanks, Jama!

In my featured image at the top you see some of my favorite books related to Emily Dickinson, including her complete poems. Do you have a biography recommendation? I quite enjoyed White Heat, by Brenda Wineapple–it was such an absorbing read–but its focus was somewhat restricted. I have the Habegger biography and the one by Sewall, but they both look so ponderous that I haven’t had the energy to try them yet. Thoughts? Any other books related to Dickinson that you might recommend?

A more recent favorite thing in the featured image above is the Emily Dickinson paper doll–such a fun distraction! I paid my $6.50 and was immediately able to download and print the images on card stock. I didn’t expect to enjoy cutting out the pieces, but it turned out to be a soothing and almost meditative activity. The artist has many paper doll options on offer. You know I’ll have to get the Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen packets, at the very least!

And now, Tea with Miss Emily…


First of all, I actually found an “Emily Dickinson” blend of tea from Simpson & Vail. I am so pleased to tell you that it is delicate, soothing, and absolutely gorgeous to behold. Here is the description from the S&V website:

In the years she spent away from society, Emily Dickinson cultivated an extensive garden. In it, she grew jasmine flowers, cornflowers, roses, and many other flowers, plants and herbs. These flowers appear repeatedly in her poetry so our blend had to be floral. We created a delightful combination of jasmine tea and rose petals that brews to a light ecru cup with long green leaves and rose petal accents. This delicate tea hits you with a strong jasmine taste that’s sweetened and mellowed with the subtle flavors of the rose petals. Ingredients: Jasmine tea, rose petals, jasmine blossoms, marigold petals and blue cornflower petals.

[NOTE: Simpson & Vail has an entire collection of author-inspired teas.]


I learned that Emily Dickinson was an avid baker, particularly of “cakes, cookies, and candies.” I love to bake, but when it’s something unfamiliar I’ll usually try a quality mix the first time around. For this Honey Almond cake, I used a Williams & Sonoma mix that turned out to be more complicated than expected, but I managed. The interestingly shaped bundt pan is also from Williams & Sonoma, and I was utterly beguiled by the Nordic Ware Magnolia design.


Here is my Emily Dickinson-inspired tea tray. I brushed a honey glaze on the cake and garnished it with fresh fruit. I also used a little honey in the tea, which paired beautifully with the cake. A hydrangea bloom from the back patio adds a nice flourish, eh?

THE GIVEAWAY: I have one copy of On Wings of Words to give away, and I’ll sweeten the pot by adding SIGNED copies of My Friend Maggie, written/illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison along with Suki and Sam, written by Dr. Lisa Marotta and illustrated by Dorothy Shaw. All you need do is comment with the first line of your favorite Emily Dickinson poem OR with the title of a favorite non-fiction book about Emily Dickinson. US/CA entries only, please! I’ll announce the winner next Wednesday, May 26, 2020.

April Tea and Three Cosy Books

Happy Wednesday! If you’ve been yearning for a comfort read, I have three recommendations. And TEA.


The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile — a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

I was so desperate for a sweet read, and I tried various things that just didn’t work. Then I turned to Modern Mrs. Darcy and found this truly comforting tale. (Actually, all three books in this post were recommended at MMD’s blog.) A bookish librarian in Birmingham is made redundant and decides to pursue her dream of selling books from a bookmobile…IN SCOTLAND. Such a sweet story! I ended up liking it so much better than the other Jenny Colgan book I’ve read–The Little Beach Street Bakery–which had its moments and was a quick, entertaining read, but wasn’t nearly so cosy.


The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, by Eva Rice

Penelope wants nothing more than to fall in love, and when her new best friend, Charlotte, a free spirit in the young society set, drags Penelope into London with all of its grand parties, she sets in motion great change for them all. Charlotte’s mysterious and attractive brother Harry uses Penelope to make his American ex-girlfriend jealous, with unforeseen consequences, and a dashing, wealthy American movie producer arrives with what might be the key to Penelope’s—and her family’s—future happiness.

This story is quite reminiscent of I Capture the Castle but it’s set in the 50s and is more focused on society life and pop idol obsessions. I truly enjoyed reading it–the novel offers a fascinating look at culture in 1950s England–but keep in mind that, for me, it wasn’t nearly as cosy or moving as Dodie Smith’s story. I’ll definitely try more of Rice’s books. (She, by the way, is the daughter of lyricist/writer Tim Rice!)


The Lost Husband, by Katherine Center

Life on Aunt Jean’s goat farm is both more wonderful and more mysterious than Libby could have imagined. Beyond the animals and the strenuous work, there is quiet—deep, country quiet. But there is also a shaggy, gruff (though purportedly handsome, under all that hair) farm manager with a tragic home life, a formerly famous feed-store clerk who claims she can contact Danny “on the other side,” and the eccentric aunt Libby never really knew but who turns out to be exactly what she’s been looking for. And despite everything she’s lost, Libby soon realizes how much more she’s found. She hasn’t just traded one kind of crazy for another: She may actually have found the place to bring her little family—and herself—back to life.

I never would have read this if I hadn’t seen it on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s blog. What a lovely discovery! This is a funny, poignant, and sexy (but not explicit) book about grief, letting go, and moving on. I enjoyed every word of it AND I rather liked the recently released film adaptation–available on Prime!)

**Do you have favorite comfort reads to recommend? Please share in the comments!**


For tea I chose Thé des Amants (the tea of Lovers), which seemed fitting since all three of these books are romances. (Learn more about the tea in this Instagram post.) For my tea treat I added delightful little dried Maine blueberries to this gluten-free Lemon scone mix from Sticky Fingers (which only seems to be available on Amazon? Egads!). There are other gluten-free options you might like.

Keep on keeping on, folks!

P.S. I’m officially shifting to the UK spelling of “cosy” (vs. cozy) because it just looks nicer.

Cozy distractions in the time of Corona

Even if you’re healthy and safe at home, you may be losing your mind right about now. I’ve put together a list of things (in no particular order) that might brighten your mood during this surreal quarantine from the rest of humanity.

— First of all, complete your 2020 Census! It may not be a cheerful activity, but it doesn’t take long and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when done.

— Please visit Sampy and friends in Finland. Seriously, CLICK THAT LINK! You can’t help but cheer up when you see Sampy, Hiskias, and Elmeri cavorting in the snow. They are magical creatures and they always fill my heart with joy.

— Pre-order The Jane Austen Society. Yes, there’s a new Austen-themed novel coming out, and Richard Armitage* is reading the audiobook! The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, with starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, is “a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works.” Doesn’t it sound lovely? Speaking of sound, here’s a snippet of the performance by Armitage. The novel releases on May 26 in the U.S.

*NOTE: If you’re a fan of Richard Armitage’s voice, check out all the Audible books he has narrated. I was gobsmacked!

— Listen to Shedunnit, “the podcast that unravels the mysteries behind classic detective stories.” The latest episode is about Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and thus of particular interest to me, but there’s much more you’ll wish to explore.

— If you’re a fan of Hallmark movies, particularly the Christmas ones, fill out the Merry Madness Christmas Bracket. You can create up to 10 brackets and maybe even win some cash. This form of March Madness may not be as exciting as the NCAA basketball tournament, but it’s a nice distraction.

–ALSO, Hallmark’s Spring Fling starts March 28. In the meantime try to catch a repeat of In the Key of Love or watch it online. We loved it.

— Reorganize your tea cabinet. (Or any cabinet/drawer that contains magical things but has become untidy.) Trust me, it feels SO GOOD. I started with my tea cabinet and then moved on to every cabinet in the kitchen. But really, I only moved on to the other, less interesting cabinets because I was still on a high from tidying my teas. Check it out:

–Watch Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. It’s adorable, but you do have to give it a couple of episodes before you connect to the characters. This show makes me so cheerful, and sometimes (more often in later seasons) it’s so poignant that it makes me cry. Another great option: Playing House. This is my ultimate comfort show. I have downloaded all three seasons to my phone, and I often watch it on airplanes when the turbulence is rattling me. Maggie and Emma are a lovable pair of friends, and the actresses are besties in real life.

— Read the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths, or download the audiobooks from Audible.com. This incredibly appealing series of cozy mysteries will distract you from the harsh realities of our world. (Or just save you from boredom.)

— Make cocoa with marshmallows. I love this recipe from Epicurious.

— Take a long walk. It’s good for your body and will clear your mind. If the quiet streets freak you out, go home and drink more cocoa.

— Work a puzzle. There must be at least one of them lurking in a closet somewhere.

— Meditate. I like the guided meditations on the Calm App. They have wonderfully soporific sleep stories, too, if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night.

— Learn. Surely you’ve seen the ads for a free month of “The Great Courses” online? Go here for more information.

— Start or end your day with journaling. I’m addicted to this practice, and it has become my morning therapy. If you have no idea where/how to start, google “journal prompts” and you’ll find endless lists of questions and suggestions. As I’ve mentioned before (here, for instance), I love the journals from Paperblanks. But any old notebook will do.

— ETA: If all else fails, watch this: Coronavirus Rhapsody

Have a suggestion for this list? Do share in the comments!

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Featured image credit: ID 85961367 © Stanislav Salamanov | Dreamstime.com