Tag Archives: Christmas

December Tea and a Book: No Holly for Miss Quinn (Christmas at Fairacre)

Quick take: So COZY.
(Special thanks to Laura B. for recommending it and to Glenda A. for gifting it!)

Goodreads synopsis: Miss Quinn, who cherishes her privacy, intends to spend Christmas on her own as she likes it. But before the holiday, her brother telephones to tell her that his wife has been rushed to the hospital, and would Miss Quinn come and stay with the children? Miss Quinn’s unexpectedly hectic Christmas has a significant effect upon her life.

(Above you see Christmas at Fairacre, an omnibus that includes No Holly for Miss Quinn. Check this Goodreads page for reviews and links to various vendors of the individual novel. Or check here for the omnibus.)

My thoughts: My mom has always loved the novels of Miss Read (a.k.a. Dora Jessie Saint, who died in 2012 at the age of 98). I read one or two of them when I was young, but at that time I didn’t have quite such a powerful craving for quiet and cozy books. Well, I do now! And amidst all the madness of late, this book certainly hit the spot.

I thoroughly empathized with Miriam Quinn’s preference for quiet and solitude. At the same time, it was great fun to see her thrown in with her brother’s somewhat feral brood of children. Oh, the appalling disorder! How satisfying to watch her organize them, and then how delightful to see her loosen up and enjoy various sweet moments of connection with each child. My favorite part involved the two nieces, one of whom knows “the truth” about Father Christmas and is aching to spoil her younger sister. Our Miriam deals with that in a lovely way.

No Holly for Miss Quinn is a quick read brimming with warmth and humor, and even a tiny bit of romance. Chime in if you’ve read it — I’d love to hear about your favorite moments!

Related favorite things:


I particularly enjoyed the illustrations by J.S. Goodall, which gave me the same cozy feeling as those of Garth Williams (the Little House books) and Pauline Baynes (the Narnia books).


LOOK AT THIS! I have listened to this Enya CD about a million times, and I never once associated this song with Miss Read. How delightful! Do have a listen.

Miss Read/Dora Saint wrote of her own childhood in Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered (now combined in a single volume entitled Early Days). Also, for more on her inspiration for the novels’ settings, see On the Trail of Thrush Green.

And now for tea:


I tend to make the same treats every year for Christmas, so this time I tried something different: Chocolate-Cherry Snowballs from the Betty Crocker website. Click the link for the recipe, which is pretty straightforward. I will say, however, that next time I’ll make the cookies smaller because they really should be bite-sized. (Otherwise, MESS.) Also, I would recommend you wait until they are quite cool before you roll them in the powdered sugar. They need time to set so as not to crumble when you roll, and they get stickier as they cool, which makes the sugar cling nicely. (I learned all this the hard way, of course!) I followed advice given in the comments and used maraschino cherries instead of candied, which worked quite well. (Where does one find candied cherries, anyway?)

Here is a closer view of the “snowballs”.

In the pot is Thé des Délices, a black tea containing citrus peel, candied mandarins, and cocoa nibs. So delicious, and only available during the holidays from Palais des Thés.

Don’t forget to check out my December Holiday Reading List, and do let me know if I’ve left out one of your favorites. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Friday Favorites: Holiday reading list!



The following is my first stab at an exhaustive list of December holiday-themed fiction for adults and kids. Books that I have read and recommend are indicated with an asterisk (*). I’ve linked each title to Goodreads so that you can see reviews and click through to your vendor of choice. (Amazon is featured most prominently, of course, but if you click “stores” you’ll find other vendors.)

I know I’ve missed so many titles. If you don’t see one of your favorites, please list the title in a comment and I’ll happily add. (There must be more MG, YA, and adult fiction involving Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, yes?)

[books alphabetized by title]

For (so-called) adults
Burning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories, by Megan Hart et al.
Christmas at Fairacre, by Miss Read
Christmas at Rose Hill Farm: An Amish Love Story, by Suzanne Woods Fisher
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings, by Charles Dickens
*Christmas in Cornwall, by Marcia Willett
Christmas Journey, by Anne Perry
*A Christmas Party (Envious Casca), by Georgette Heyer
*Christmas Pudding, by Nancy Mitford
The Doctor’s Christmas, by Marta Perry
*An English Murder, by Cyril Hare
Festival of Deaths, by Jane Haddam
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie
*High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett
Holiday Miracles: A Christmas/Hanukkah Story, by Ellyn Bache
Lighting the Flames, by Sarah Wendell
An Informal Christmas, by Heather Gray
A Merry Little Christmas, by Anita Higman
A Midnight Clear, by William Wharton
Miracle and other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis
The Mistletoe Promise and *The Mistletoe Inn, by Richard Paul Evans
Old Christmas, by Washington Irving
The Old Peabody Pew, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Dogs, by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg
Shepherds Abiding, a Mitford Christmas Novel, by Jan Karon
*The Sittaford Mystery, by Agatha Christie
*The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen
Tied up in Tinsel, by Ngiao Marsh
*Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher

For teens, kids, and kids-at-heart
*The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
*The Box of Delights, by John Masefield
*The Children of Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston
*A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932 (Dear America), by Kathryn Lasky
Christmas Fairy Tales, by Neil Philip
*The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares and The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily, by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn
The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford
Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
*Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien
*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
London Snow, by Paul Theroux
*My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins
Nutcracked, by Susan Adrian (forthcoming in 2017!)
The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman
The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah, by Isaac Bashevis Singer,
What Light, by Jay Asher
When Christmas Comes Again: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer (Dear America),
by Beth Seidel Levine
Winterspell, by Claire Legrand

Picture books
Babar and Father Christmas, by Jean de Brunhoff
Bear Stays Up for Christmas, by Karma Wilson
Chanukah Lights, by Michael J. Rosen
The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot
The Christmas Mouse, by Elisabeth Wenning
Christmas Time, by Sandra Boynton
Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book by Laura Krauss Melmed
The Golem’s Latkes, by Eric A. Kimmel
*A Guinea Pig Nativity, by Bloomsbury Publishing
Hanukkah! by Roni Schotter
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel
Hanukkah Haiku, by Harriet Ziefert
The Hanukkah Mice, by Ronne Randall
Hanukkah Moon by Deborah daCosta
Kevin’s Kwanzaa, by Lisa Bullard
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola
The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story, by Kallie George
Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley
The Miracle Jar: A Hanukkah Story, by Audrey Penn
My First Kwanzaa, by Karen Katz
My First Kwanzaa Book, by Deborah Chocolate
*The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore
*The Polar Express, by Christ Van Allsburg
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis
Snowmen at Christmas, by Caralyn Buehner
The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler
*The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden
The Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatrix Potter
Together for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda G. Ford
The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Peek-Through Picture Book, by Britta Teckentrup

Books/series with lovely Christmas chapters
Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling
Little House in the Big Woods (& sequels), by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Next week I’ll feature one of the novels listed above for my December “Tea and a Book” post, so stay tuned!

Friday Favorites: Holiday reads


You know me — during this season I love to listen to Christmas music, watch Hallmark Christmas movies, and read Christmas-themed fiction. I have four books to recommend, two of which were intended for children (tho they certainly have appeal for adults, as well).

The Children of Green Knowe (1954), by Lucy Boston. Young Tolly is sent to stay with his great-grandmother over Christmas and soon learns that the looming, castle-like house is haunted (!!!). But these child ghosts are long-dead family members, and over the course of the story Tolly learns what happened to them, and eventually must face a dark force that threatens the house. There are more Green Knowe books, and I love the fact that the house is based on a real medieval manor in Cambridgeshire owned and restored by Lucy Boston herself. (It’s open to visitors by appointment!) I highly recommend the audiobook with its lovely voice performance from Simon Vance.

Charlotte Fairlie (1954), by D.E. Stevenson (also known as The Enchanted Isle). Ever since enjoying Miss Buncle’s Book, I’ve sought out all the Stevenson books I can find, and this one, with its headmistress heroine who visits a pupil’s family castle in remote Scotland, certainly seemed right up my alley! The book is very difficult to find in print, but luckily there is a satisfying and readily available audiobook from Audible.com. I suppose it’s a bit of a cheat to include this one–the Christmas bit only comes in toward the end and seems a bit “tacked on”–but it’s a beautiful season for bringing everyone together. The romantic impediment strains credulity, but I didn’t care! I just enjoyed spending time with these people.

Christmas at High Rising (a collection of stories published in the 30s & 40s), by Angela Thirkell. Only two of the short stories in this collection have anything to do with Christmas, but I especially liked seeing Laura Morland and her son Tony during the holiday season. I also enjoyed the story from Thirkell’s own childhood experience of celebrating Christmas at the house of her grandfather, Edward Burne-Jones! If you’re interested in reading this anthology, I recommend first reading Thirkell’s High Rising, which is linked below (and is set almost entirely during the Christmas/New Year season).

Box of Delights (1935), by John Masefield. Having left boarding school for the Christmas holiday, young Kay Harker comes into possession of a magic box, which he must use to thwart a gang with evil intentions. This story brought to mind many favorites: C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Edward Eager’s Magic series, and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. (I wonder if Masefield was as influenced by E. Nesbit as Lewis, Eager, and Cooper were?) The story has been adapted into several BBC radio shows over the years, and also has a 1984 BBC TV adaptation that I’d love to get my hands on (though I shudder to think of the special effects). It’s available in a lovely New York Review Children’s Litarature edition (see link above) or on audiobook. My favorite thing about Box of Delights is the character Maria, a very young girl who talks tough and acts even tougher, and no one in the book ever asks her to behave like a lady or any of that rot–so refreshing in a book written so long ago! All in all, the story is not quite as magical as those of Lewis, Eager, or Cooper, but it is unique and charming, and from it I finally learned how to make a posset: fill a bowl with hot milk, an egg, a spoonful of treacle, a grating of nutmeg, “and you stir ’em well up, and you get into bed and then you take ’em down hot.” Supposed to revive the weary!

Previously featured Christmas reads:
High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher

How about you? Any Christmas reads to recommend?

Christmas glee part III: Tea and HIGH RISING

This month’s “tea and a book” recommendation has such a Christmassy cover, doesn’t it? Or perhaps it’s just wintry, but that’s almost as good. Angela Thirkell, granddaughter of Pre-Raphaelite phenom Edward Burne-Jones, published High Rising in 1933 and went on to write several more novels set in Barsetshire, a fictional English setting borrowed from Anthony Trollope.

This edition from Virago Modern Classics is particularly attractive AND free of typographical errors, unlike my older copy from Moyer Bell. Looks like Virago will be releasing more of Thirkell’s books in the near future, and I look forward to getting my hands on Wild Strawberries in March.

High Rising centers mostly upon Laura Morland, a widowed mother of four who makes ends meet by writing best-selling suspense novels set in the fashion industry. Laura gets involved in several real-life village intrigues over Christmas and New Years, all while trying to survive the boundless energy and volubility of her youngest child Tony, who only wants to converse about trains. Allow me to share some favorite passges:

On motherhood:
Oh the exhaustingness of the healthy young! Laura had once offered to edit a book called Why I Hate my Children, but though [her publisher] had offered her every encouragement, and every mother of her acquaintance had offered to contribute, it had never taken shape.

Laura on the first church service of the new year:
Tony was an exhaustion to the spirit . . . and they had one of those psalms about Thy molars gnash upon me exceeding hard and my loins are spilled abroad on the ground, and I nearly got the giggles.

George Knox, after he and Laura leave King Lear at the first interval:
If there is one pleasure on earth which surpasses all others, it is leaving a play before the end. I might perhaps except the joy of taking tickets for a play, dining well, sitting on after dinner, and finally not going at all. That, of course, is very heaven.

(I certainly can relate to the last remark, having escaped an outdoor production of Lear at the interval last summer. I mean, it’s not like the story takes a happy turn! And it was cold. And my bottom hurt.)

Aside from a few unfortunate anti-Semitic jabs (which baffles me because one of the romantic heroes–beloved by everyone in the book–is of Jewish descent), this is a jolly read that had me barking with laughter throughout. Can’t wait to read more from Thirkell.

And now for tea…

This month’s tea offering is a product of my curiosity and laziness. A few years ago my in-laws served toasted slices of panettone for breakfast, and I, fearing potential grossness but not wanting to be a jerk, ate a small slice. Glory be, turns out I love the stuff! My husband, however, is not such a big fan, so it doesn’t really make sense for me to buy the usual cake-sized portion. But lookee here what Immaculate Baking Company has on offer — mini panettones that you can bake at home. Huzzah!


They are as easy to make as canned biscuits, and quite delicious! Keep in mind, however, that they are only available during the holiday season. I found mine at Whole Foods.


For tea, I chose “Esprit de Noël” from Mariage Frères. Lucky for you, getting your hands on this tea does not require a trip to France. You can order it online from The Cultured Cup. It has a delicate nutty/fruity/spicy flavor that pairs well with holiday treats.


I cut the mini panettone in half and toasted it — so delicious with butter. Don’t let Rustic Santa’s grim face fool you, he heartily approves!

And that about wraps it up for me in 2014. Happy Holidays and see you in the new year!

Christmas glee, part II

In contrast to my craving for horror in October, I love a bit of holiday schmaltz at Christmas time. And Hallmark always delivers! Some of it is too sentimental and predictable even for my tastes, but this year I’ve encountered some very satisfying and poignant stories. Click the link to learn more AND to find out when this movie might repeat on the Hallmark channel so that you can watch!


A Christmas Wish (2011) — this one features Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a struggling divorcée (!!!) who, despite being a hard worker and loving mother, can’t seem to catch a break. Great cast in this one.


A Princess for Christmas (2011) — oh, this looked like it would be so cheesy, but I had to watch for Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser in Outlander). I was pleasantly surprised! Even Sir Roger Moore did a nice job. I actually preferred this foray into fairy-tale-romance-in-a-castle to the newer A Royal Christmas.


Angels Sing (2013) — the rare Hallmark movie without a budding romance at its center, this one really pulled at my heartstrings. Exceptional cast! (Was this even made for Hallmark? I can’t tell.)


Nine Lives of Christmas (2014) — Simply adorable! Charming and sympathetic romantic leads + CATS = Happy Sonia.


The Christmas Shepherd (2014) — This one had a slow start, but it’s one of the best Hallmark movies I’ve seen. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for the ones with animals. Highly recommended.

And for something a little different:
Fans of Martin Freeman and/or Christmas pageant stories really need to see Nativity! (2009). I purchased it from Amazon.co.uk last year but never got around to watching and sort of forgot I had it. Oh, what fun! It’s quite silly at times, and the actual pageant might seem a bit irreverant to some, but overall it has such a big heart and the finale (set among the ruins of the old Coventry cathedral!) is so satisfying. Check out the trailer, but keep in mind that it does tend to focus on the silliest bits:


For those not in the UK, this movie is available for download from Amazon ($2.99 to rent!) or on disc from Netflix. Not available on Hulu, sadly.

(I think I’ll skip Natvity 2: Danger in the Manger with David Tennant, and you couldn’t pay me to watch Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey? with Martin Clunes. *shudder*)

What about you? Any fun Christmas movie discoveries this year?