Tag Archives: recommendations

Tea for One at the Boston Public Library

I’ve been longing to have afternoon tea at the Boston Public Library’s Courtyard Tearoom for years now. Due to various commitments and unforeseen conflicts, I haven’t had success in getting my husband or a friend to join me, so during this latest trip I went solo.

It was lovely!


The tea menu was presented in a charming old book. The loose leaf teas were from MEM Tea Imports in Watertown, MA. (There’s a retail shop in North Cambridge — something to explore during my next trip to Boston?)


I chose the Assam tea along with a “Tequila Mockingbird” cocktail made with Prosecco, Blood Orange Hibiscus, Tea-Infused Tequila, Lime, and Strawberry. Both were delicious.


I had no idea we would be treated to a fashion show during the tea! This was my favorite dress.


The tea sweets and savories were presented on a tiered tray, but I arranged the items on a plate for my photographs. Above you see the savory options: Roasted Portobello (at the bottom), Herb Chicken Salad, Smoked Salmon, and Honey Ham. (Not pictured because I ate them so quickly: the English Cucumber and Maine Lobster sandwiches.) Absolutely scrumptious.

The scone course included a plain and a currant scone served with Blood Orange Preserve, Lemon Curd, and Devonshire Cream. I heard someone at a neighboring table complain that the scones were too small, but honestly I was relieved because it left room in my tummy for the sweet course.


Starting at the bottom and moving left: Pecan Tartlet, Macaron, Linzer Bar, Eggnog Cheesecake, and Chocolate Truffles.

Everything was top notch. The setting was lovely, the service attentive, the food and drink delicious, and the fashion show was a nice distraction. I highly recommend this tea experience, and I hope to enjoy it again and again. (They’ve offered a Holiday Tea in the past, so keep your eyes peeled and book early!)

Part III: Ghost-free SPOOKY Films

Today I conclude my 2019 spooky film recs with some Ghost-free viewing options!

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


Cold Skin (2017) — Unrated
In 1914, a young man arrives at a remote island near the Antarctic Circle to take the post of weather observer only to find himself trapped in a watchtower besieged by deadly creatures which live in hiding on the island. If there’s a historical film that is spooky AND co-stars Ray Stevenson, I’m going to watch it. David Oakes is great as the newly stationed weather attendant who soon learns that he and the eccentric lighthouse keeper (Stevenson) aren’t the only sentient creatures in the neighborhood. Physical and ethical clashes ensue. The pace is a little pokey at times, but it’s a gorgeous film.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / No Metascore


Us (2019) — Rated R
A family’s serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.
I love Jordan Peele and am a fan of Get Out, but for some reason I resisted watching this film for a time. It is quite good, but it’s also the sort of film one wants to discuss afterwards and my usual film-watching buddies were unavailable. I love how Peele adds humor to the horror, and Lupita Nyong’o is a standout in a very strong cast.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81 (tied with REVENGE for highest metascore of my 2019 recs)


Revenge (2017) — Rated R
Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting – a violent lesson for three wealthy married men. This one consistently shows up at or near the top of “best horror films,” but I avoided it for a couple of years because of the content. I’m glad I finally watched. It’s not fun, but it’s deeply satisfying. It DOES NOT eroticize violence against women. In fact, according to one reviewer, it “gouges the male gaze out of our eyeballs.” Keep in mind there is a high level of gore in this film.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81


Midsommar (2019) — Rated R
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. This film is LONG and WEIRD. Like Hereditary it deals with the consequences of unrelenting grief and depression, but with an entirely different outcome. (So different that you almost forget about the grief–but maybe that’s the point?) I do think Ari Aster drags out the film with those long ritualistic sequences, but unlike some reviewers, I feel mostly satisfied with the ending. It made a certain sort of sense to me as a deliberate contrast to Hereditary‘s conclusion.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 72


Upgrade (2018) — Rated R
Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem. This is my favorite horror film of this year’s offerings. I would call Upgrade a “Tech Noir” in the vein of Blade Runner and other “near future” scifi horror. It stars Logan Marshall-Green (whom I loved in The Invitation) as a vengeful widower and Simon Maiden as the voice of Stem. Oh, how darkly fun this film is! I won’t say more — just watch it.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 67

That’s all from me for 2019–Hope you find something fun to watch. Do let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations. Happy Horror Viewing!

Part II: Ghostly and Gothic SPOOKY films

Oh, how I love a good GHOST film! Ghosts and/or related paranormal entities feature in each of the following recommendations.

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Wind (2018) — Rated R
A plains-woman faces the harshness and isolation of the untamed land in the Western frontier of the late 1800s. This film, written and directed by women, is visually arresting and emotionally harrowing. It’s also non-linear and requires active viewing. I’ve long been captivated by pioneer narratives and the “romance” of homesteading, but this film really brought home how difficult such a life could be. It also added a lovely Gothic twist to the mix. I will watch this one again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66


Don’t Leave Home (2018) — Not Rated
An American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland. This one had me at “crumbling estate”! I’ve never encountered a story quite like this, and I can’t tell you too much about it without spoiling. It’d be better if you just watched so we can talk about it later. This is another one I plan to see again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65


Astral (2018) — Rated TV-MA
A detached university student faces the consequences of astral projection when he uses it to reconnect with his dead mother. This is not your glossy, high-budget sort of horror film, and all the user reviews on IMDB indicate that no one liked it. But I had to watch because I’m rather obsessed with the narrative potential of astral projection. Also, the lead actor played Tom Riddle and is the RADA-trained son of Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones, and much more). Viewing this required patience, but the story eventually builds into something rather dramatic. I thought it was worth watching and I enjoyed the fact that most of the action takes place at Royal Holloway. (Do I need to watch Fear the Walking Dead now?)
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Haunted (Hjemsøkt) (2017) — Not Rated
After her father’s death Catherine travels back to her old family estate in winter time Norway. When locals start telling stories of disappearances and possible murders, she is forced to confront her family’s mysterious past. There’s nothing particular ground-breaking about this ghost story–it doesn’t have any special bells or whistles–but I loved it all the same. The Norwegian setting is gorgeous. (Just look at that still above.) The lead actress is a pleasure to watch. The story held my attention to the very end, and I look forward to watching it again. I have one quibble that I’m longing to discuss, so do let me know if you watch.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Clara’s Ghost (2018) — Not Rated
Set over the course of a single evening in the Reynolds family home in suburban Connecticut, Clara’s Ghost tells the story of Clara Reynolds who, fed up with constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I started watching this. It features a hilariously dysfunctional family of actors who decide to gather in order to torment each other AND celebrate their dog’s birthday. Bad behavior ensues. This is another film written and directed by a woman, and I absolutely love the fact that it was a family project. I look forward to Bridey Elliot’s next film.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66

BONUS! Ghostly films I enjoy watching again and again:
The Haunting (1963) — Previously discussed here.
The Changeling (1980) — Previously discussed here.
The Others (2001)
The Eclipse (2009) — Previously discussed here (scroll all the way down)
The Awakening (2011) — Previously discussed here.
The Conjuring (2013)

Part I: Family Friendly SPOOKY Films

I’m launching this year’s festivities with a few movies the whole family might enjoy. Please check the Parental Guide for each title. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films, and don’t forget last year’s family viewing options. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

PLEASE NOTE: if you crave 500 jump scares per film, you may be disappointed by my recommendations. For more context on this, check out Chris Stuckmann’s youtube video, The Problem with Horror Movies Today–he makes a great point.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Hole in the Ground (2019) — Rated R (not sure why?)
A young mother living in the Irish countryside with her son suspects his increasingly disturbing behavior is linked to a mysterious sinkhole in the forest, and fears he may not be her son at all. This is a bit slow to start, perhaps, but your patience will be rewarded. You’ll also be pleased to see the ubiquitous and always delightful James Cosmo. This film is both familiar and unique, and I loved the setting.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide /
Metascore: 63


Wait Till Helen Comes (2016) — Rated TV-14
When a reconstructed family moves to a converted church in the country, 14-year-old Molly, must save her new troubled step-sister from a dangerous relationship with the desperate ghost of a young girl. Raise your hand if you loved this book by Mary Downing Hahn! I’ve read it twice, and I thought this adaptation was pretty strong–spooky and tense without being gruesome, vulgar, or gratuitously violent. Great family fare, but not recommended for the little ones.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No metascore


The Witch in the Window (2018) — Not rated
When Simon brings his twelve year-old son, Finn, to rural Vermont to help flip an old farmhouse, they encounter the malicious spirit of Lydia, a previous owner. And now with every repair they make – she’s getting stronger. This is my favorite of the family viewing options, and it’s one of my favorite spooky movies viewed this year. It’s so wonderfully character-driven and felt like I was getting a view into the world of a real family–a family I cared deeply about. Speaking of jump scares, there’s a well-earned one that made me squeak!
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore

Perhaps best for 14-up due to language & violence:


The Dark (2005) — Rated R
In mourning over the tragic drowning of their daughter Sarah, James and Adèle are visited by Ebrill, a young girl who claims she died 60 years ago – and bears a startling resemblance to Sarah. Maria Bello and Sean Bean (!) star in this dark and creepy mystery set on the Welsh coast (but shot in Ireland, of course). It’s a good-looking film with lots of cool Gothic trappings, and yet a bit darker than the options listed above. Based on the novel Sheep, by Simon Maginn.
Watch the Trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore


Summer of ’84 — Not Rated
After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous. Very reminiscent of Stranger Things, this film offers mystery and thrills without the paranormal content. Fair warning: crude language and teen boy humor abound, and the finale is grim.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / Metascore: 57

Stay tuned for ghostly film recommendations!

September Tea and a Book: A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild

Have you noticed how I tend to ping-pong between Gothic and Cozy stories? After last month’s gluttony of dark mysteries, I craved comfort, and thus I turned to Noel Streatfeild‘s fictionalized account of her childhood, A Vicarage Family.

Streatfeild is best known for her “Shoes” books–Ballet Shoes, Tennis Shoes, Circus Shoes, and more. The first time I heard of her was in the iconic scene from You’ve Got Mail in which a former indie bookstore owner (played by Meg Ryan) comes to the rescue of a clueless Fox Books employee by explaining what the “Shoes” books are. Prior to that, Streatfield was NOT on my radar. A few years ago I finally read (and loved) Ballet Shoes, but A Vicarage Family has possibly sparked a new obsession.

Goodreads synopsis:
A Vicarage Family is the first part in a fictionalized autobiography in which Noel Streatfeild tells the story of her own childhood, painting a poignant and vivid picture of daily life in an impoverished, genteel family in the years leading up to the First World War.

In the story there are three little girls – Isobel, the eldest, is pretty, gentle and artistic; Louise the youngest, is sweet and talented – and then there is Vicky, ‘the plain one’, the awkward and rebellious child who doesn’t fit in at school or at home. Growing up in a big family Vicky feels overlooked but gradually begins to realize that she might not be quite as untalented as she feels.


Noel Streatfeild in 1945. (I want an author photo like this!)

My thoughts:
In many ways A Vicarage Family, first published in 1963, reminded me of Little Women, but with a distinctly English flavor. The family is respectable but rather poor and a bit eccentric. The middle daughter, Vicky, is the author’s representation of herself as a child, and Streatfield pulls no punches in characterizing this younger self as moody and difficult. Vicky also is clever and creative, but she has a chip on her shoulder as the “awkward middle child” who is neither pretty nor sweet.

Lest you fear this will be a saccharine story, rest assured there is plenty of dramatic tension. The children squabble amongst themselves, of course, but generally band together against the grown ups. There’s animosity between Vicky and her mother, as well as with her teachers, because she is so very headstrong and equates compliance with shameful capitulation. One of the more fascinating tensions for me was between those of “high” and “low” leanings in the Anglican church. The children’s father is quite comfortable with pageantry and ritual, whereas their mother prefers a plainer style of worship, and this tension seems to strain their relationship throughout the story.

Above all, I wish to express that this book is quite lovable but also, in a very fascinating way, a bit prickly. I also want to mention that my copy is a 2018 Puffin edition with an introduction by Laura Clouting, historian at the Imperial War Museum in London. I obtained my copy from The Book Depository through Amazon.com.

I’m still trying to track down the sequels, Away from the Vicarage, and Beyond the Vicarage. In the meantime I plan to get my hands on Streatfeild’s Tea By the Nursery Fire.

Speaking of tea…


To pair with this book I’m suggesting an herbal tea that both children and adults might enjoy. Carytown Teas in Richmond, VA, offers a lovely organic/fair trade Blood Orange blend with “citrus fruits, tart hibiscus, rose hips and calendula petals.” (I visited this store last year and the owner was very knowledgable and helpful. Do peruse their offerings–there are so many lovely blends to choose from!) For the tea snack, I thought something simple would be nice–toast with sour cherry jam from Stonewall Kitchen, along with a side of fresh berries.

BONUS: Other novels featuring daughters of clergy:
The Pastor’s Wife (1914), by Elizabeth Von Arnim
The Rector’s Daughter (1924), by F.M. Mayor (featured here)
A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), by George Orwell (Interesting, huh?)
The Four Graces (1945), by D.E. Stevenson (featured here)
Excellent Women (1952), by Barbara Pym
O Ye Jigs & Juleps, (1962) by Virginia Cary Hudson (recommended by Dee Dee Chumley)
A Long Way from Verona (1971), by Jane Gardam (featured here)

Any others you’d recommend?

Coming soon: 2019 Spooky Film Recs! Click here to browse offerings from previous years.