Category Archives: Reading

Friday Favorites: a miscellany of female characters and creators

It’s nice to have regular topics on the blog, and with this post I recommit to discussing favorite books, films, TV shows, and whatnot in “Friday Favorites.” If anything on this list strikes a chord, do let me know in the comments. (I’m also very open to your suggestions for possible new favorites!)

On TV:


Alias Grace (2017) — In 19th-century Canada, a psychiatrist weighs whether a murderess should be pardoned due to insanity. (imdb.com)

I’ve never read the book (in fact, I’ve only read one Atwood novel–The Blind Assassin), but my friend Brandi insisted I watch this series. She knows me all too well! It features so many of my favorite things: a Victorian setting, Gothic and possibly paranormal elements, feisty women, unreliable narrators, not to mention oodles of scheming, passion, and obsession on the part of the characters. And it’s all based on a real case. Best of all, this mini-series was directed by a woman, based on a screenplay written by a woman, and adapted from a novel written by a woman. How inspiring!

Alias Grace is available on Netflix.

Books (& TV!):


After watching the 1979 mini-series of Testament of Youth (hard to find, but well worth tracking down), I wanted to read Brittain’s first novel, The Dark Tide, published in 1923. It’s a flawed book and yet still quite readable (particularly the bits set in Oxford). Brittain herself described it as “melodramatic and immature,” but the strangest part for me was that she obviously based the (quite fluffy) protagonist on her friend Winifred Holtby and, although Brittain claims this was unconscious, the (dark and sexy) antagonist is very much like the author herself. I don’t necessarily recommend this novel unless you’re very interested in Brittain. I’m glad I read it, however, not the least because it prompted a read of an early novel by Winifred Holtby for comparison.


The Crowded Street was Holby’s second novel, published in 1924, and I have to say it was much easier to love than The Dark Tide, for it relies more on tension than melodrama. In the midst of the Great War, Muriel Hammond searches for purpose and contentment in a world where the greatest success for a woman is a “good marriage.” The story meanders here and there, and one section could have been the inspiration for the setting of Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, but overall I found it a very worthwhile read.


If you read only one book by Winifred Holtby, however, it should be South Riding. Set in Yorkshire in the early 1930s, its political awareness and brilliant character development reminds me very much of Middlemarch by George Eliot. South Riding is a story of local politics, but don’t let that deter you–it’s so beautifully written, very accessible, and you will fall in love with the characters. This novel definitely numbers among my top ten favorite reads.


The mini-series starring Anna Maxwell-Martin–available to stream from Amazon and Vudu–is a much-condensed version of the story, but still worth watching, in my opinion.

And what about you? What have you seen or read lately that you would recommend?

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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!

Favorite novels read in 2017

I only read 48 novels in 2017. Not a terrible total, but I can do better. I may never again equal the years when I read 100+ books, but I aim to improve in 2018.

Here are my favorites. (I purposefully didn’t include books from my Miss Marple re-read since I already discussed them at length here.)

Listed in the order that I read them:


Keturah and Lord Death (2006), by Martine Leavitt–a thoughtful and deeply romantic YA fairy tale.
Cluny Brown (1944), by Margery Sharp–a quirky romance with an endearing heroine. (I discussed it in more detail here.)
The Poet’s Dog (2016), by Patricia MacLachlan–a delightful and very affecting MG tale of love and grief.


A Woman of Independent Means (1978), by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey–an absorbing epistolary novel covering 60 years in the life of a very plucky lady.
Mariana (1940), by Monica Dickens–a captivating bildungsroman set during the 30s that might appeal to fans of I Capture the Castle. (And yes, the author was the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens.)
The Rector’s Daughter (1924), by F.M. Mayor–a quiet and somewhat melancholy character study, but oh how I loved it!


Their Finest Hour and a Half (2009), by Lissa Evans–a funny and poignant treat for those who love stories about WWII London and/or creative folk. (The film adaptation is pretty good, too.)
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), by John Fowles–a glorious re-read.
The War I Finally Won (2017), by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley–A captivating sequel to the bestselling and award-winning MG novel, The War that Saved My Life.

Some other “Favorite Reads of 2017” lists that I found intriguing:
Cosy Books
Beyond Eden Rock
The Captive Reader

Do you have a favorite read of 2017 to recommend? Or a list I can link to? Do share!