Tag Archives: recommendations

A Tour of Washington DC Indie Bookstores

I’ve made a resolution since returning from Brooklyn–when joining my husband on business trips I will endeavor to research, patronize, and publicize my favorite independent bookstores. (In case you missed it, you’ll find some wonderful Brooklyn options in this post.) On this trip our hotel was in Georgetown, so I picked bookstores within walking distance.

Perhaps the most famous indie bookstore in the District is Politics & Prose, but it was more than an hour’s walk away, and since I’d been there when we lived in D.C. it seemed appropriate to explore other options.


On Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe is a large, bustling store open from 7:30am to 1:30am, except on Friday and Saturday when it’s open until 3am. (Wow!) It has a hip and energetic vibe that encourages both leisurely, uninterrupted browsing and boisterous socializing in the cafe/bar. I appreciated how much space they devoted to recommended books, and when I saw Ghosted by Rosie Walsh on prominent display–and noted its blurbs–I had to have it.

Kramerbooks has so much to offer, but it isn’t a cozy sort of bookstore. Lucky for me, I found plenty of cozy in the two used bookstores I visited.


Also near Dupont Circle, Second Story Books is open 10-10 daily and offers a wonderfully ordered, inviting, and tranquil environment perfect for browsing. It also has a fascinating history of expansion and consolidation dating back to 1973. At one point they had six stores from Alexandria to Baltimore. These days there are two: the 16,000-square-foot warehouse store in Rockville (oooh!) and the Dupont Circle location, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2018. They offer so many interesting services beyond the typical appraisal/consignment options. Learn more here.

After a leisurely stretch of browsing, I came away with a neat edition of Jane Gardam’s Bilgewater and the ginormous Complete Old English Poems, translated by Craig Williamson.

(I really need a running list of obscure titles on my phone so that when I go to stores like this I can search with a purpose instead of wandering in a fog of overwhelmed delight.)


My favorite bookstore of the D.C. visit was this lovely shop in Georgetown. Founded in 1996, The Lantern is run entirely by volunteers and all the proceeds fund scholarships for Bryn Mawr student summer internships. I could have browsed this store all day, and perhaps I will actually spend a day there in the future, armed with that wish list on my phone, eh? I was tempted by so many books on their shelves but managed to walk out of there with just one–Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor. (How could I resist that title?) Of course I am a big fan of A.S. Byatt, and won’t it be interesting to read something written by her estranged sister? Drama!


Here are the lovely new editions to my library.

Stay tuned for a blog post about–you guessed it–TEA in Georgetown!

Tea at Thistle Farms

Note: I did not take the featured photo above, but it inspires me to more seriously pursue tea photography!

As I mentioned in a previous post, last week I had a wonderful visit with my friend Michelle. (Even strep throat couldn’t keep us apart!) If you know us at all then you understand when we get together we do our best to find a good afternoon tea.

We found that and more at The Café at Thistle Farms in Nashville!


Isn’t the tea tray lovely? To drink we chose the Firepot Breakfast black tea (which they described as lively, dried cherry, fresh oak) and the Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong (mineral, stewed peach, walnut). Both teas were tasty, but I actually preferred the Oolong, which was Michelle’s choice.


Here’s a closer view of the tea tray. We started in the middle with the scone, cream and jam before making our way to the sandwiches and other savories on the bottom tier. It all looked like a manageable amount of food, but I have to admit that the deserts (top tier) nearly, but not quite, did me in.

Before and after we ate, Michelle and I perused the lovely shop and its offerings of essential oils, jewelry, clothing, and body/skin care products. I found some lovely items for myself and a family member. It became clear to me there was a charitable purpose to this shop, but I was so wrapped up in all the good smells and cool things that I didn’t take the time to read carefully about their mission.

Later I decided to purchase a few more items from their online shop. The box arrived in two days.


This note greeted me upon opening. At that point, I finally read their mission in detail. I’ll include it for you here:

Thistle Farms is a social enterprise of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Thistle Farms houses the bath and body care company, The Cafe at Thistle Farms, and Thistle Farms Global. All proceeds support Thistle Farms and the residential program, Magdalene. The community provides housing, food, healthcare, therapy and education, without charging residents or receiving government funding.

WOW. We (or at least I) just stumbled into this cafe thinking to have an interesting tea experience with a dear friend. It turned out to be an amazing enterprise that I will continue supporting. If you live in or near Nashville, do consider visiting this lovely cafe. Or just visit their online shop–they have lots of gorgeous and nurturing products, and your items will be lovingly packed and shipped QUICKLY.

I’m so glad Michelle and I tried this place. (She did the work finding it, to her credit.) I hope to enjoy their tea many more times, and I’ll keep their online store in mind for my birthday and holiday shopping! I recommend the cafe and store enthusiastically and quite independently–no one at Thistle Farms suggested that I promote them on my blog.

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!

Tea and Books for Christmas

I come to you with tidings of tea and holiday reads!

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


Christmas with the Savages, by Mary Clive: Seen through the eyes of a prim little eight-year-old, and based on real events and people, this novel perfectly recaptures a Christmas holiday of 100 years ago, and is effortlessly funny.

This delightful story, first published in 1955, brings to mind a “Downton Abbey” Christmas, only from the perspective of the nursery children. It’s episodic, lighthearted, and lots of fun! I purchased a used hardcover, but there’s a very pretty paperback available from Amazon and other places.

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, by Richard Scary: It’s the night before the night before Christmas, and Mr. Frumble wants to be helpful. When he stumbles into Santa Bear’s workshop and mixes up the dates, everyone thinks it’s the night before Christmas! Santa dashes off to deliver the presents, but then gets stuck in Mr. Frumble’s chimney! Find out how Mr. Frumble saves the day in this funny, topsy-turvy Christmas story.

I adored Richard Scarry as a kid and loved reading the books to my little siblings later on. I’m not sure how much Scarry actually had to do with this book considering when he died, but the characters are familiar and the story will entertain your young ones.

For fans of romance:


A Holiday by Gaslight, by Mimi Matthews: Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion–or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things. But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned…

This is just perfect for the holidays, particularly if you’re in the mood for a heart-fluttering yet chaste Victorian romance. The author is well-versed in the era, having published various non-fiction books and scholarly articles. Bottom line: this novella is fun, romantic, and free of cringe-worthy anachronisms.

For fans of “Literary” Christmas fiction:


Mr. Dickens and his Carol, by Samantha Silva: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in…

I’m right in the middle of this story and enjoying it even more than I’d expected. Samantha Silva brings to life the people and places of Victorian London and makes Dickens appealing even as she draws attention to his personal failings. It’s quite an absorbing read.

(I’d wondered if the book had anything to do with the recent film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, but that was based on a novel by Les Standiford. Anyone read that one or seen the film? Apparently there are several novels dealing with the creation of A Christmas Carol.)

And now for tea:


I made my usual ginger cookies and frosted sugar cookies, but perhaps you notice another item on the plate above. Yes, it’s a mince pie! Steve and I love indulging in these when we’re in England over Christmas, but they’re not ubiquitous here in the States. One year I made crusts from scratch and filled them with mincemeat I’d purchased at Chatsworth. This year, however, I found orange & cranberry mince pies from Walkers on Amazon! All you need do is warm them up in the oven (one at a time or all at once), and voila! Scrumptious.

As for the tea blend, I learned of Chado Tea’s Noel while reading the Holiday issue of Teatime Magazine. If you like black tea blended with cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla and almond, you’ll no doubt find this tea delicious and festive. Check out all the offerings from Chado Tea here.

***Remember that you can click the Christmas tag below for past recommendations for holiday reading, drinking, and eating!

What are you reading/brewing/baking for the holidays this year? I do love recommendations!

Tea and a Book and a GIVEAWAY for Thanksgiving: A Long Way from Verona

Quick take: Quirky and endearing.

From the book jacket: Jessica Vye introduces herself with an enigmatic pronouncement: “I ought to tell at the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine.” A revered author has told Jessica that she is, beyond all doubt, a born writer. This proves an accurate prediction of the future, one that indelibly colors her life at school and her perception of the world.

Jessica has always known that her destiny would be shaped by her refusal to conform, her compulsion to tell the absolute truth, and her dedication to observing the strange wartime world that surrounds her. What she doesn’t know, however, is that the experiences and ideas that set her apart will also lead her to a new and wholly unexpected life.

My thoughts: Such a delight! This was my second reading and I’m sure there will be many more. Jane Gardam somehow captures the awkwardness and alienation of adolescence while also managing to make her heroine thoroughly charming. It is a very English sort of book, just so you know. (Among other things I had to google “viyella,” which is a certain type of dress, and now I see why Jessica was in agonies.) I’ve very much enjoyed other books by Gardam, but I will read Long Way to Verona again and again.

Scroll to the bottom for a giveaway!

And now for tea: I was in the mood for something autumnal so I made pumpkin spice cookies from this recipe at A Family Feast. They were simple enough to make, but do keep in mind that the dough is sticky even after chilling overnight. The cookies turn out quite soft–not the same chewy texture as a ginger cookie–but rest assured the flavor is excellent. For tea, I’d recommend one that doesn’t compete with the pumpkin spice–an Assam, Ceylon, or perhaps a blend of the two. I chose St. James from Mariage Frères. The “Autumn Tree” cup and plate featured in the photo are from Pier 1–soon to go on sale, I’m sure!

Other books that make me thankful because they are endlessly re-readable:
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles
Gaudy Night (best if you read Strong Poison & Have His Carcase first), by Dorothy Sayers
High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Possession, by A. S. Byatt (tho I skim Ash’s poetry)
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher
+ practically anything by Jane Austen or L.M. Montgomery

GIVEAWAY — I have an extra brand-new copy of Long Way from Verona up for grabs! All you need do is share the title of a book you’re thankful for in the comments and briefly explain why the book means so much to you. The winner will be chosen randomly with the help of Random.org.Open to US/CA only, please!