Tag Archives: tea and a book

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.

August Tea and a Book: A Gluttony of Gothic Mysteries

Quick take: After weeks of “comfort” reading (see more here), I had a sudden and powerful appetite for spooky Gothic. These four novels were just what I was craving, and I DEVOURED them in a matter of days. (Many thanks to Myra and Melissa for recommendations!)

Goodreads synopses:
The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware. On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.
My thoughts: I listened to the audio and Imogen Church’s vocal performance is terrific–just what I needed for a 10 hour drive from TN to OK. This story is very reminiscent of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, with an extra boost of Gothic atmosphere and tension.

The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths. Forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties and lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants—not quite earth, not quite sea. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach.
My thoughts: This story is a Gothic-tinged procedural mystery with an appealing heroine, told in a very engaging 3rd person present POV. (Really, it WORKED.) I could not put this book down, and I’m so thrilled to have been introduced to Elly Griffiths, who has written scads of novels under two different names. Huzzah!

The Stranger Diaries, by Elly Griffiths. Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she teaches a course on it every year. But when one of Clare’s colleagues and closest friends is found dead, with a line from R. M. Holland’s most famous story, “The Stranger,” left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with the storylines of her favourite literature.
My thoughts: As a former high school English teacher, I loved the premise, setting, and characterization in this standalone novel. The story is told through multiple narratives, both straightforward 1st person and diary entries, and I love how the reader is offered at least two different takes on most of the major events in the plot.

The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware. When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family. What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare… My thoughts: As you might have guessed, this is a modern take on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Very clever and creepy, though I should admit that I didn’t fall in the love with the protagonist. Perhaps that’s to be expected in this sort of story? As a former nanny, I could easily identify with Rowan’s stress and worry, and the “smart” house setting was skin-crawlingly creepy. Great read!


Now for tea:
Since these are the sort of books one stays up late reading, it seemed appropriate to offer an herbal option. I chose “Little Dickens” from Bellocq: “A chocolate-kissed blend that is loved by all, this caffeine-free tisane is blended from organic, fair trade South African rooibos, vanilla, soothing mint, and cinnamon. This treat calms jitters, settles tummies, soothes the soul, and does so especially well when served with milk and honey.” Find more details here.


Gorgeous, isn’t it? Very tasty, too.

***What fiction have you been devouring lately? Anything to recommend?***

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!

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!

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!