Tag Archives: friday favorites

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?

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:


Image source
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!)


Image source
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.)


Image source
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: 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: Disney Magic


It’s been a week since we returned from a Disney World trip with my nieces, and it surprises me how much I miss the place. There was a time when I thought I was too old for Disney, but now I find myself already fantasizing about another visit. What is it about Disney that keeps calling me back? I had a little think about it, and here’s what I came up with:


1. There’s something deeply satisfying about hugging a large furry creature you recognize from childhood stories.
We booked several character meals — all for my nieces, right? Well, the grownups enjoyed them just as much. My very favorite dinner was at the Crystal Palace, where we met characters from Winnie-the-Pooh. How lovely to get a hug from Pooh Bear! Tigger was particularly cuddly, and we all had fun pulling mopey faces with Eeyore. One of my favorite pics of a character hug, however, is this one of Steve with Olaf. Doesn’t Olaf seem absolutely delighted? 😉


2. I still love Disney rides!
Above you see us riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and the camera caught me mid-scream. We’re all familiar with that rush of adrenaline–that fear/joy combination of losing control. But Disney also offers the opportunity to take control, at least in our imaginations. Interactive rides like Toy Story Mania, Test Track, and even Tomorrowland Speedway give you the illusion of control while being entirely safe and family-friendly. My favorite, Mission: Space, was utter fantasy — nothing I did affected the outcome of our journey to Mars, but IT FELT GREAT. I was Han Solo, you guys! Or better yet, Samantha Carter! I DID A SLING-SHOT MANEUVER AROUND THE MOON! I haven’t screamed or whooped that much in a long time.

(Note: I love the “green” level of Mission: Space. The girls wanted to try “orange,” which offers spinning and g-forces. They were perfectly fine, but I was a bit urpy afterwards. No more orange for me.)


3. Even old fogies like me still experience moments of “the flash” at Disney.
“The Flash” is the best phrase I could conjure, and I stole it from Lucy Maud Montgomery. Her character, Emily Starr, defined it as being:

very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside -but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond -only a glimpse- and heard a note of unearthly music.

As a kid at Disney, I would often have moments where I sensed the fairy world all around me and, at times, could almost see it. I felt “the flash” when walking through Cinderella’s castle and when riding “It’s a Small World” and other “little kid” rides. (I know some folks hate “It’s a Small World,” but as a kid it filled me with joy to see scads of beautiful children who, apparently, HAD ALL THE POWER. No adults necessary!) I even felt the flash as a teen in the World Showcase, when visiting the different countries and feeling, for a moment, like I was actually in those foreign lands. As an adult, I have a different sort of flash — that feeling of connecting with my younger self. I felt it on all the kiddie rides. I felt it when my nieces met Anna and Elsa and other characters. I certainly felt it during the Frozen sing-along. And it nearly overwhelmed me at the Beast’s castle (see above).

It seems “Disneyfication” is a bad word these days. People crave authenticity, and I for one love to visit real castles, cottages, villages, mountains, and lakes. But I am also a total sucker for Disney magic. Yes, it’s all a [very expensive] illusion. There are crowds, there is HEAT, there are meltdowns all around. But there also are moments of joy and wonder that take me straight back to childhood. I’m so glad we’ve been able to experience Disney World twice with my nieces. They definitely contributed to our sense of enchantment!

Okay, Disney fans — what have I missed? What do YOU love about Disney?

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?