Tag Archives: books

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!

Friday Favorites: Reading Nooks

Recently I was asked my opinion on what makes for an ideal reading nook. The first thing to come to mind was an image from my childhood copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women:

“Jo! Jo! Where are you?” cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.

“Here!” answered a husky voice from above and running up, Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over The Heir of Radclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was Jo’s favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by, and didn’t mind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into his hole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks, and waited to hear the news.
(pg 20 of my 1950 Nelson Doubleday abridged edition)

I used to study this illustration so intently that I eventually broke the spine of the book. It still appeals to me today. I love the cluttered Gothic/Romantic surroundings, the cushiony divan with sufficient back support, the fact that there’s plenty of light from the window and the overhead fixture (though is the latter strictly period?), and that Jo enjoys the company of a rat, who sadly is not pictured. This image features her writing rather than reading; nevertheless it is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of reading nooks.

I did a little image search on reading nooks, and found these particularly inviting:


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I see lots of window nooks like this, but I like this one particularly because the pillows actually look large enough for comfortable reclining, and the window offers light but isn’t so large as to make the area too hot in summer or chilly in winter. Having grown more claustrophobic with age, I could do without the curtain. As a kid, however, I would have loved to close myself up in that little space! (And now I’m having visions of a scary scene involving a curtained reading nook. Ooooh!)


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Oh, I do love this one! One could recline with back supported and legs extended. Plenty of light, and loads of books nearby. One could pull that table near and set a cup of tea on it. (One must be careful not to spill one’s tea on the upholstery, however.)


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This more modern option offers ultimate comfort and style, with a lovely view to boot (but not so close to the window as to feel a chill).


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I do love this child’s nook option, but the ladder makes me nervous!

Where do I read, you ask? (Or pretend that you did, anyway.) Actually, I have two favorite spots to share with you:


This chair, which long ago belonged to my in-laws, sits in a corner of my office. It is old and saggy, but it reclines and there’s a lovely footrest that pops out. So comfy. All I’m lacking is a table for my tea cup.


This is the Arhaus Landsbury sectional, which I chose specifically for the chaise. Here I can stretch out, my back supported and legs extended, and there’s a table nearby for my tea cup. (Take a peek at the other sectional sofa options at Arhaus.) Best of all, in cold weather I can contemplate the fireplace when I glance up from my book. And always, whether I’m on the saggy blue office chair or on the living room chaise, Cedric the cat is right there with me.

Where do you read? Do you have a nook? Or the perfect vision of a nook? If so, please share!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

[source for featured image]

Friday Favorites: Cozy Christmas Reads 2017

It’s that time of year when I crave cozy holiday stories! Here are three I enjoyed recently:

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


Eleven-year-old Nikolas—nicknamed “Christmas”—has received only one toy in his life: a doll carved out of a turnip. But he’s happy with his turnip doll, because it came from his parents, who love him. Then one day his father goes missing, and Nikolas must travel to the North Pole to save him.
Learn more here

This quirky Christmas tale would make for a great bedtime read-aloud, but it’s also perfectly appropriate for independent readers 8 and up. One might even pair it with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas.

Note–there are sequels!

For fans of romance novels (particularly of the Regency variety):


The very wealthy Edgar Downes has promised his aging father to finally take a bride—specifically, to wed a titled lady by Christmas. London is full of pretty, proper, and eligible misses, but it’s the widow Helena, Lady Stapleton, in a shocking red dress, who captures Edgar’s attention. Helena is intrigued by the seductive stranger—but he’s simply not in her class. Marriage, of course, would never do. But in a season of miracles, something wondrous is about to happen.
Learn more here

I stumbled across this title in a 2012 Publisher’s Weekly article recommending holiday romance and was drawn in from the first paragraph. I rather assumed it would be a gentle romance, but it turned out to be quite spicy! (Not in an overwhelming or distasteful way, in my opinion.) The love story still manages to be sweet and cozy, particularly when the cast of characters moves to a snowy country house setting for (Regency appropriate) Christmas festivities.

Note–if you order this edition, you get a bonus Christmas novel!

ETA: I am reading Christmas Beau right now and it is even cozier! Wish I could sit down with a cup of tea and read the day away…

For readers of contemporary fiction:


It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
Learn more here

This novel received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal and was touted by one reviewer as “perfect for fans of Love Actually and The Family Stone.” I ardently disagree with the comparison to Love Actually — this is not a rom com, nor does the story go as dark, weird, or hopeless as one finds in LA. The comparison to The Family Stone, however, is spot on. This is a humorous family drama, with likable and unlikable characters, but everyone grows in satisfying ways by the end. There is heartache, to be sure, but you won’t fall into despair. I wasn’t surprised to see that the novel has already been optioned for TV in the UK, and I think they should try for Bill Nighy in the role of family patriarch Andrew Birch. 😀

Note–I listened to the audio, but I recommend reading the actual book, especially if you’re American. Jilly Bond gives a solid performance for her English characters, but her American accents are pretty terrible.

See Also:

My own Woefully Incomplete List of Holiday Reads (a work in progress)
Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 9 excellent books for gifting this season
Waterstones’ Christmas Gift Guide
Caroline Starr Rose’s Books to Give the Writer in your Life
Novel Novice’s Five New Holiday Picture Books to Gift and Enjoy and Best Books for Holiday Gifts 2017.
Bustle’s 11 Festive Book Club Books to read this Holiday Season
The Christmas Mystery Book List

[If you know of other helpful holiday reading lists/gift guides, please do share in the comments!]

Also, if you click the “Christmas” tag below or in the sidebar you’ll find book reviews, recipes, and tea recommendations going back several years on this blog.

HAPPY HOLIDAY READING!

October Reading Recs

For various reasons this has not been my best year for reading, but the situation seems to be improving of late. Today I have two books to recommend, and though they don’t have that much in common, they both celebrate female relationships.

A Secret Sisterhood synopsis: Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Coauthors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, thanks to their discovery of a wealth of surprising collaborations: the friendship between Jane Austen and one of the family servants, playwright Anne Sharp; the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Bronte; the transatlantic friendship of the seemingly aloof George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex friendship fired by an underlying erotic charge.

Through letters and diaries that have never been published before, A Secret Sisterhood resurrects these forgotten stories of female friendships. They were sometimes scandalous and volatile, sometimes supportive and inspiring, but always–until now–tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

If you know me at all, you understand how thrilled I was to hear about this book! I was especially delighted to learn that the co-authors have been close friends for years. That said, it took me a little while to sink into their narratives. Part of this stemmed from their “creative” approach — Midorikawa and Sweeney often convey details through reconstructed scenes, which I found a bit jarring at first. (When I reached the footnotes, however, I saw that all these “scenes” were carefully annotated.) Another challenge was balancing my expectations with what I already knew about the featured authors.

For instance, I’m a passionate fan of Jane Austen and feel like I know her characters well, but I haven’t yet read the author’s letters or a detailed biography. (I promise to read Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre le Faye, very soon! And doesn’t this book look good?). As I delved into the first chapter, I think I had unrealistic expectations regarding Austen’s friendship with the family governess, Ann Sharpe. As it turned out, their acquaintance was not as enthralling as I’d hoped, perhaps because the facts were a bit sketchy and for the most part originated from the journals of Jane’s young niece, Fanny Knight. I was glad to learn that Jane knew another writer, and of course I’m always interested in governesses — especially those who “scribble” — but for me this was the least fleshed-out friendship in the book.

On the other hand, I already knew a great deal about Charlotte Brontë’s relationships with Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor from reading biographies and letters (I particularly recommend Juliet Barker’s The Brontës: A Life in Letters), so the details revealed in the second chapter, though compelling, were mostly familiar to me. Your mileage may vary, but for me the first two “Secret Sisterhoods” were entertaining but not particularly revelatory.

That said, I truly enjoyed and learned much from the chapter on George Eliot/Marian Evans’ friendship with Harriet Beecher Stowe. Middlemarch ranks among my very favorite novels, but I never knew that much about its author and now feel compelled to find a good biography. (Perhaps I’ll start with My Life in Middlemarch and see which biography Rebecca Mead recommends?) Stowe was a vivacious personality and, lo and behold, an avid Spiritualist (much to Evans’ dismay). Though I don’t yearn to read her fiction, I think it might be interesting to read more about Stowe’s life.

The authors’ take on Virginia Woolf’s complicated relationship with Katherine Mansfield was perhaps my favorite part of the book. I’ve read To The Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own and have always felt intimidated by Woolf’s intellect, but Midorikawa and Sweeney presented her in a very accessible way. No longer will I automatically think of her as the tormented genius who drowned herself, for I have replaced that default image with one of a younger Virginia painstakingly setting the type for her Hogarth Press publications. Katherine Mansfield was the least familiar to me of all the published authors featured in the book, but she was such a vivid character in this chapter that I do intend to explore her short stories and perhaps read her letters and journals.

Now I turn to you, dear reader — can you recommend collections of letters or journals by favorite authors? I own and still need to read Dorothy Sayers’ letters, and I know there are multiple volumes of L.M. Montgomery’s journals to be had. What else?

Bonus book recommendation: The War I Finally Won

The sequel to Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life (which I recommended in this “tea and a book” blog post) was such a joy to read. I don’t want to say too much in case you haven’t read the first book, but the wartime setting is even more compelling in this book, especially because we learn more about Lord and Lady Thornton and are introduced to a new character who boards with Susan, Ada, and Jamie. All the clichés apply: I laughed, I cried, I couldn’t put it down, I didn’t want it to end, and though it all wraps up in a satisfying way I would love to have MORE. Of course, I’m not the only one who feels giddy about the book, for it has received umpteen starred reviews and is an Amazon and NYT bestseller. HOORAY!