Tag Archives: reading

Tea and Comfort with D.E. Stevenson

No doubt I’ve said this before, but lately the world is too much with me. More than ever I crave the escape of fiction, and today I’m recommending one of my very favorite “escape artists” — Dorothy Emily Stevenson.

I wrote about D.E. Stevenson a few years ago when I  recommended Miss Buncle’s Book. Little did I know at the time that I would get to enjoy TWO more books about those characters before moving on to Stevenson’s standalone novels. Since devouring the Buncle trilogy, I’ve happily consumed twelve additional Stevenson novels–some of them more than once–and I think there are 25+ more waiting to be read. It makes me feel quite spoiled for choice. Such luxury!

I’m very fond of my editions from Sourcebooks Landmark, which you can see in the featured image above. Furrowed Middlebrow, an imprint of Dean Street Press, also has released two Stevenson books with an introduction by bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith. Perhaps if I can’t convince you to give Stevenson a try, he will:

[Stevenson’s novels] are in a category of their own: clearly-written straightforward tales that take the reader through a clear plot and reach a recognisable and unambiguous ending. The appeal that they have for the contemporary reader lies in the fact that there is no artifice in these books. They are not about dysfunctional people. They are not about psychopathology. There is no gore or sadism in them. The characters speak in sentences and do not resort to constant confrontational exchanges. In other words, these books are far from modern.

Quite a few D.E. Stevenson books are available at Audible.com, and I can vouch that they are cozy entertainment for long drives. If you’d like to know a little (or a lot) more about Stevenson and her books, you’ll find plenty of information at this lovingly curated website.

To complete my bloggish offering of comfort, how about some tea and a sweet treat? D.E. Stevenson was born in Scotland and lived there her entire life (as far as I can tell), and thus I thought a Scottish treat might be just the thing. What could be more Scottish than shortbread? I searched for recipes online until I found this interesting variation: Jam-filled shortbread cookies. They were so easy to make and quite delicious–I had all the ingredients on hand already, including strawberry and black current jam. The cookie cutters were procured from JoAnn, and for tea I chose a Scottish afternoon blend from Brodies Fine Teas, a Fair Trade option available at Amazon. It makes a very strong cup, perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up, but I wouldn’t steep it for more than 3 minutes.

Listening Valley, a gift from dear friend Glenda, was my most recent read from Stevenson. Not my very favorite of her novels, but a pleasure to read nonetheless. Now that I think of it, it reminded me vaguely of L.M. Montgomery’s stories of Emily Starr — when you learn what “listening valley” means to the heroine, perhaps (like me) you’ll be reminded of “the Flash”?

Let us close with some final thoughts from Alexander McCall Smith:

These are gentle books, very fitting for times of uncertainty and conflict. Some books can be prescribed for anxiety–these are in that category. And it is an honourable and important one.

Yes, indeed!

What are your comfort reads? Do share in the comments!

A tour of Brooklyn Bookstores

In the second post of my “Brooklyn travel trilogy” I’m featuring Brooklyn indie bookstores.


Books are Magic is located in Cobble Hill on the corner of Smith and Butler. It is owned by author Emma Straub and her husband, Michael Fusco-Straub. I love this from the website: “Books Are Magic is their third child. Their two sons are very excited about the new addition to the family.” The store is small but cozy, with a staff that is friendly without being obtrusive. I couldn’t resist getting a New York Review Books Classics copy of Daphne du Maurier’s short story collection, Don’t Look Now, along with The Governesses by Anne Serre. So fun to browse the shelves here.


WORD Bookstore is located in Greenpoint at the corner of Franklin and Milton Streets. I knew I would love it when I saw the Audre Lorde quote displayed boldly on their window: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” According to their website their goal is to carry “a lot of paperback fiction (especially classics), cookbooks, board books, and absurdly cute cards and stationery.” They also like bookish events, so if you’re in the area keep an eye on their calendar. I browsed to my heart’s content and left with a copy of Brooklyn resident Ben Dolnick’s The Ghost Notebooks, which I read on the flight home. JUST my sort of thing!


Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab, located at 458 Bergen Street and situated “at the nexus of the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Boerum Hill,” is a sweet little store for children’s titles. (You can see their captivating storefront in my featured image at the top of this post–note all the strollers!) They sell board books, YA novels, and everything in between. The storytelling lab, located in the back of the store, hosts afternoon, weekend, and summer programming for kids. Check here for more information on story times and workshops. The MG section was pretty packed when I visited, but as soon as I saw The Wallstonecraft Detective Agency in the MG section I knew what I wanted. How could I resist Ada (Byron) Lovelace and Mary (Godwin) Shelley as young sleuths?


Here is my haul. Isn’t it a handsome collection?

Stay tuned for a final Brooklyn blog post featuring my TEA SHOP adventures!

Tea and a Book and an Art Installation: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I haven’t updated “Tea and a Book” since Christmas! I am determined, however, to mend my ways AND account for April with this post…

During a recent chat with my friend and crit partner Brandi, she recommended Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings. (I think we’d been talking about Quakers, early American feminists/abolitionists, and a story I’m revising.) What a fascinating novel!

Quick take: This creative retelling of the life of Sarah Grimké, a notorious abolitionist raised in a slaveholding South Carolina household, includes the perspective of Handful (originally “Hetty”), a young slave gifted to Sarah whom she later “returns” when unable to stomach the idea of owning another human. The novel is beautifully written and thoroughly absorbing but not necessarily an easy read due to the horror and heartbreak that shadow these women’s lives. Yes, this was an Oprah book and perhaps you’ve all read it already, but I still wished to celebrate it.

Goodreads synopsis: Hetty “Handful” Grimké, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

Two memorable passages:

Sarah: I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it. (130)

Handful: We’d leave, riding on our coffins if we had to. That was the way mauma had lived her whole life. She used to say, you got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth. (386)

I happened to be in Brooklyn when I finished the novel, and imagine my surprise when I learned from the author’s note that Kidd was inspired to write this story after seeing Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” at the Brooklyn Museum:

The Dinner Party is a monumental piece of art, celebrating women’s achievements in Western civilization. Chicago’s banquet table with its succulent place settings honoring 39 female guests of honor rests upon a porcelain tiled floor inscribed with the names of 999 other women who have made important contributions to history. It was while reading those 999 names on the Heritage Panels in the Biographic Gallery that I stumbled upon those of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, sisters from Charleston, South Caroline, the same city in which I then lived. (…) Leaving the museum that day, I wondered if I’d discovered the sisters I wanted to write about. Back home in Charleston, as I began to explore their lies, I became passionately certain.


I already was well acquainted with The Dinner Party because my stepmother experienced it soon after it was first exhibited (1979) and had shared her enthusiasm with me. I won’t lie–as a kid I found the concept rather weird. When I saw it in person this past Saturday, however, I was overwhelmed by its impact. I circled the table at least four times and took my time studying my favorite settings (which you can see at my Instagram).


I even crouched on the floor and searched until I found the inscription for Sarah Grimké, appropriately located near the Sojourner Truth table setting.

Now for tea:

This may be a cheat, but I still think it’s appropriate. After being dazzled by The Dinner Party I really wasn’t that interested in the rest of the museum. Instead I was HUNGRY. So I made my way to the museum restaurant (The Norm) and bellied up to the bar. As soon as I saw their brunch options I knew exactly what to order–the Horchata French Toast.

MY GOLLY. This crunchy french toast with blueberries, mango, strawberries and a spiced maple syrup was absolutely divine. The English Breakfast tea paired perfectly. Every bite/drop was consumed and cherished!

Recipes for Horchata French Toast:
Love and Olive Oil
Rick Bayliss at Men’s Journal
Kate in the Kitchen

Stay tuned for more from my Brooklyn trip!

Friday Flashback — a new “mini-series”

I’m introducing a new feature here on the blog in which I revisit my oldest blog posts from the archaic platform known as Livejournal. (Shout out if you started the whole blogging thing on LJ. I know you’re out there! Do you ever miss those days?)

Not so long ago, I sat down and manually copied/pasted my favorite posts from Livejournal into a Word document before deleting the account entirely. Not all of the posts are worth sharing here (perhaps none of them are), but I hope you’ll indulge me if, every month or so, I share an old favorite.

I’ll start with an early offering from 2014, back when I was still teaching. At this point I was teaching half-time and trying to finish that first (terrible) novel. Oh, how I struggled!

Thursday natterings
DEC. 9TH, 2004 AT 8:44 AM

I’ve been out-of-sorts for a day now. Was very crabby with my students yesterday. I’ve just been feeling mopey. So this morning I picked up Madeleine L’Engle’s Circle of Quiet in hopes of shaking myself out of the doldrums.

I’d read this ages ago, but forgotten most of it. Now I see where my fantasies of the perfect house originated. Crosswicks, the L’Engle summer home in New England, is the ultimate artist’s retreat–a two hundred year old farm house surrounded by meandering paths, stone bridges, babbling brooks, rocky outcroppings, etc. AND, best of all, it has a Private Workroom above the garage. (I’ve always wanted a little room of my own for writing–not necessarily in the Woolfian sense, just a room separate from the “office”. That way I could have my stuff strewn all about and not have to worry about my husband frowning and sighing when it’s time to do something mundane, like pay bills.)

But anyway, here’s my favorite quote from the book so far:

When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first. This throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-conscious selves.

She says “a writer may be self-conscious about his work before and after but not during the writing.” I know this, but I still have difficulty pushing that self-consciousness out of the way as I write a first draft. Now I will endeavor to “throw myself out” the next time I sit down to write!

I feel a little better now.

I do think it’s about time to revisit A Circle of Quiet. L’Engle fans–what’s your favorite non-fiction book by her? How about your favorite book (by anyone) about writing or creativity?

Favorite books read in 2018

I read 54 novels in 2018, five of them re-reads (which I count because my memory is terrible and subsequent readings still manage to surprise and delight). Last year I was determined to raise my overall count and I managed to do that by 6 books!

Here are my favorites (excluding re-reads). Blurbs are excerpted from Goodreads, as are most of my quick takes.

Fiction

To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. Blurb: Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret. My take: I enjoyed Ivey’s debut, The Snow Child, but this epistolary tale captivated me even more. The characters were so vividly realized, and the epic scope of Allen’s adventure is beautifully balanced by Sophie’s artistic journey. In a starred review, Kirkus praises it as “an exceptionally well-turned adventure tale…Heartfelt, rip-snorting storytelling,” and I agree.

A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr. Blurb: Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. My take: This seemed a perfect read for Thanksgiving week — such a lovely story of healing through art and friendship. (The 1987 film adaptation, starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, is quite good, as well.)

YA/MG Fiction

A Sky Painted Gold, by Laura Wood. Blurb: Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, seventeen-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer – a handsome, dashing brother and sister – Lou is quite swept off her feet. My take: A very appealing Young Adult story set in 1929 Cornwall and reminiscent of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE.

Elizabeth & Zenobia, by Jessica Miller. Blurb: When Elizabeth and her unusual and fearless friend Zenobia arrive at Witheringe House, peculiar things begin to happen. Especially in the forbidden East Wing. My take: A deliciously Gothic story with a conclusion that defied my expectations. Looking forward to more from this author.

Non-fiction

Take Courage, by Samantha Ellis. Blurb: [a] personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. My take: A pure delight! This is NOT a straightforward/scholarly/detached biography of Anne Bronte by any means–more a personal account of Ellis’ interactions with the novels and subsequent revelations about Anne’s life, talent, and vision.

Manderley Forever, by Tatiana de Rosnay. Blurb: a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer. My take: This is such an unconventional biography, and yet so compelling. What kept me glued to the page was the way de Rosnay portrayed Daphne’s passion for history, her obsession with place, and her fascination with dark secrets and twisted psychology.

I offer these “Best of 2018” links for your perusal:

Top Ten Books of 2018 from The Captive Reader.
A Box of Books for 2018 from Beyond Eden Rock.
My Favorite Books of 2018 from Modern Mrs. Darcy.
My Favourite Books of 2018 from Michelle Cooper

What were your favorite reads from 2018? I’d love to read (and share) your list!