Tag Archives: recommendations

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!

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!

Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part III (2017 edition)

The adventure concludes!

I tend to gravitate toward ghost films, but from time to time other forms of horror tempt me. So if you’re looking for a ghost-free option, here are three films for your consideration:


The Devil’s Candy (2015) — Unrated
A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas.
After finding this on several “best horror” lists I decided to branch out a little from my usual ghostly fare. Imagine my surprise when I recognized gentle Coyote Bernstein from Grace & Frankie playing the tormented hero! (Can we all get the name of the trainer who prepped Ethan Embry for his shirtless scenes, please?) A man’s struggle with artistic integrity clashes with his obligations as a father, and the way in which the conflict evolves makes for a very tense–at times gut wrenching–viewing experience. (BTW: I happened upon this youtube review and I agree with everything this guy says about The Devil’s Candy. But I can’t decide if I want you to watch the review before or after viewing the film. Maybe it’s better NOT to know too much before watching?) The Devil’s Candy is unrated but I’d give it a strong R for violence, gore, and disturbing content.
Watch the trailer (a bit OTT). Available on Netflix. Metascore: 72


The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) — rated R
A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.
I devoured (heh) M.R. Carey’s novel a couple of years ago, so of course I noticed the departures from the text and missed the character development while watching the film. Still, I think it holds up as its own thing, particularly because of the strong performances. (Special thumbs up for Sennia Nanua and the always brilliant Paddy Considine.) If you’re looking for a fresh entry in the post-apocalyptic genre, I recommend this film. And if you like it, please read the book!
Watch the trailer (or don’t — it’s spoils more than I’d prefer). Available on Amazon Prime and on Netflix (DVD only). Metascore: 67


The Invitation (2015) — Unrated
While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
This is one of those films where I think the less I say the better, so this will be brief. Two years after a terrible tragedy, old friends gather. But the hosts have a mysterious agenda, and our protagonist (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Hardy — I’m not complaining!) suspects a dark purpose lurks behind their seductive hospitality. Deliciously eerie and tense! The Invitation is unrated, but I’d give it an R for violence and adult content.
Watch the trailer. Available on Netflix. Metascore: 72

That’s it for this year. Feel free to share your Horror recommendations in the comments. Wishing you heaps of happy horror viewing this Halloween!

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs (which go all the way back to 2012), simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part I (2017 edition)

It’s that time of year when I voraciously consume recent (or new-to-me) horror films in hopes of sharing my favorites with you — oh what fun I have! If you are a horror fan, you’ve probably seen most of the recent mainstream options. However, there are plenty of lesser known films waiting to give you goosebumps, and I’ll feature a few of them today and next week.

Sadly, I’ve only seen two horror films in the theater this year: Get Out (huge thumbs up for this one–more about tension than horror) and Annabelle: Creation (Bleh–I’m not a fan of the “jumpscares on a platter” brand of horror). For a mainstream Gothic option, I highly recommend Sofia Coppola’s gorgeously haunting The Beguiled (a vast improvement upon the 1971 Clint Eastwood version, in my opinion, though perhaps not as true to the novel).

And now I offer some lesser-known horror films for your consideration:


The Blackwell Ghost (2017) — Unrated
A filmmaker tries to prove that ghosts are real but soon regrets his intentions after he finds himself being terrorized in a haunted house by a ghost with a dark past.

There is no IMDB listing for this, and therefore no rating or metascore. I’m convinced this is a mockumentary, but it’s realistic enough to have inspired at least one paranormal researcher to investigate it. (Although this investigation could have been part of the promo?) I happen to LOVE films about paranormal investigations, and I prefer fictional representations to actual ghost hunter shows, which alternately embarrass and bore me. This film is only an hour long, and I found it charming, funny, and legitimately spooky. It didn’t terrify me, but I experienced actual, sustained GOOSEBUMPS, and you know by this point I am terribly jaded regarding horror films. This is the kind of film I wish there were more of–engaging characters, spooky setting, and a reliance on tension rather than jump scares. I would give it a PG rating for a bit of profanity. No sex/violence/gore. (Teachers–this one could be fun to watch in a high school film class!)
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon (free for Prime members).


A Dark Song (2016) — Unrated
A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.

Found this recommended at Vulture’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So far). First of all, it was shot at a Welsh country house, so if nothing else you’ll enjoy the scenery. I appreciated how the film perfectly enacts the “emotional wound” sort of story journey–for that very reason, however, it’s not an easy film to watch. If something along the lines of “Extreme Bootcamp for Desperate Occultists” appeals to you, you might appreciate this. It is unrated, but I would give it a solid R for adult content, brief nudity, and mild gore. This isn’t a “fun” horror film, but it is beautifully shot, wonderfully atmospheric, and interesting as a character study.
Watch the Trailer. Available at Netflix and for rent at Amazon. Metascore: 71


The Possession (2012) — Rated PG-13
A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.

I found a reference to this while researching dybbuks and was surprised I’d never heard of it. It isn’t a great film, but it does spend a good amount of time on character development and offers nuanced performances from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, and the young actresses who play their daughters. Yes, there are hokey and/or predictable moments, but there are some truly spine-chilling ones, as well. Go in with low expectations, perhaps?
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon to rent or buy. Metascore: 45 (rather low, but Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 stars out of 4. And it’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick!)

Stay tuned — more recommendations coming on Tuesday!

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs (dating all the way back to 2012), simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Spooky Films for Younger Viewers


To conclude my 2016 “Spooky Films for Halloween” series, I offer suggestions appropriate for younger viewers (and those adults who aren’t quite up to the intense horror options I’ve previously recommended). Please mention your own favorites in the comments, and I will gladly watch. Always looking for options to feature in next year’s post!


ParaNorman (2012) — rated PG
A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

A good choice for young viewers who enjoy potty humor, mild body horror (e.g. zombie arms falling off), and extended chase scenes. The tone takes a more serious turn in the climactic scenes, which are really quite stunning to watch.
Watch the trailer. Rent at Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 72/100


Frankenweenie (2012) — rated PG
Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

This poignant and suspenseful homage to classic monster movies bogs down just a bit in the middle (in my opinion), but patient viewers will be rewarded when disaster and hilarity ensue! (Is it just me, or does Victor resemble Cillian Murphy?)
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 74/100


Coraline (2009) — rated PG
An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets.

I loved Neil Gaiman’s book, and this adaptation is eerie, odd, and totally endearing. Highly recommended!
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 80/100

Also recommended — two ghostly mini-series from the UK:


From Time to Time (2009) — rated PG
A haunting ghost story spanning two worlds, two centuries apart. When 13 year old Tolly finds he can mysteriously travel between the two, he begins an adventure that unlocks family secrets laid buried for generations.

Julian Fellowes’ adaptation of Lucy M. Boston’s Chimneys of Green Knowe is more mystery than horror. I love stories involving WWII child evacuees, and the setting of this film is wonderfully Gothic. Gently paced and at times a bit twee, this story will appeal to young fans of historical fiction.
Watch the trailer. Available to stream from Netflix. Rent from Amazon.


The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012) — unrated
A year after their son goes missing, a family moves to Crickley Hall. When supernatural events begin to take place, Eve feels the house is somehow connected to her lost son.
I’ve seen this twice now, and I liked it even better upon second viewing. Caution: It’s not for little kids, but I think it might work for family viewing with kids 12-up. Great setting, strong performances, and an interesting mystery. Please keep in mind its emphasis on loss and grief, and understand that there are many scenes involving children in serious peril.
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon.

[all synopses from imdb.com]