Tag Archives: tv

August Tea and a Book: Manderley Forever

I recently finished Tatiana de Rosnay’s Manderley Forever, a carefully researched and annotated biography of Daphne du Maurier that reads like a novel. Some of you might remember my scathing reaction to Rebecca back in 2012. In short, I despised the unnamed heroine of the novel for being a “spineless cipher” and couldn’t understand why people found this story romantic. Turns out, Daphne du Maurier couldn’t understand it, either:

Even while the sales figures mount, [Daphne] feels that her book is being misunderstood. No, it is not a Gothic romance; no, it is not a corny little love story; it is the tale of an all-consuming jealousy and its murderous consequences. Is it her publisher’s fault? Victor [Gollancz] has hyped the novel up as something very romantic and commercial. Behind the story of a house, a man, and two women lurks a much darker and more disturbing truth, that of a psychological war disguised by muted violence and suppressed sexuality.(146-47)

So the story is really about Maxim and his obsession with Rebecca (mirrored by Mrs. Danvers’ own obsession), told by a young, unsophisticated ninny woman who is rather obsessive herself? I can live with that.

While reading this biography, I found myself enjoying Daphne’s own history much more than her fiction. For instance, did you know that her father Gerald du Maurier was a highly successful stage actor, and her paternal grandfather George “Kicky” du Maurier was the novelist who created the character Svengali? Perhaps you had no idea that her sister Angela also published fiction (though not so successfully) or that Daphne’s husband Tommy Browning was the man who travelled all the way to Africa to tell the future Queen Elizabeth II that her father, George VI, had died.

All that is mere trivia, however. What really kept me glued to the page was the way de Rosnay portrayed Daphne’s passion for history, her obsession with place (something with which I identify quite profoundly), and her fascination with dark secrets and twisted psychology. According to de Rosnay, Daphne du Maurier lived life like a Romantic Hero, prioritizing her creativity over family and pursuing passionate relationships with both men and women. Every experience became fodder for her stories.

The narrative style of Manderley Forever might take some getting used to — at first it seems quite presumptuous for de Rosnay to place herself in Daphne’s perspective, but one grows accustomed fairly quickly. In Part V, in which Daphne leaves Menabilly for Kilmarth and subsequently goes into decline, de Rosnay’s narrative picks up pace, sometimes glossing over months or even years. Overall, however, I found this biography compulsively readable, and I particularly delighted in passages like this:

Daphne is one of those writers who prefer looking back to looking forward, who is capable of filling entire pages with what was, a place, a trace, putting words to a fleeting moment, the fragile memory that must be bottled like perfume. (176)

Now for tea:

I kept it simple because Daphne didn’t seem very fussy on the domestic front. (In fact, I don’t think she ever cooked at all.) For tea I chose something to honor her ancestry and abiding love for France: Mariage des Frères’ Vanille des Îles, a rich black tea flavored with Bourbon vanilla. To pair with the tea I baked Cornish Fairings, in honor of Daphne’s lifelong obsession with Cornwall. These ginger biscuits make for a simple but delicious tea snack, and the spiciness is more pronounced a few hours after they’ve cooled. (To me they tasted much better the second day.) You’ll find an English recipe with “American translation” at this lovely blog post:

Cornish Fairings – An English Biscuit


I’ll conclude with a couple of viewing recommendations:

Let’s Pretend: The Make-believe World of Daphne du Maurier, a 16-minute interview/documentary filmed in 1977 at Kilmarth in Cornwall which, among other things, features footage of Daphne and her children at Menabilly, the Cornish estate she leased for 25 years and that inspired Manderley, the setting for Rebecca.

The ITV adaptation of du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (see trailer below), starring the always brilliant Matthew Rhys (whom you may know from The Americans and Death Comes to Pemberley). Daphne hated the original 1959 adapatation starring Alec Guinness, but I think she might have appreciated this one. If you’re in the US you can watch it on AcornTV. A UK dvd (PAL format) is available to purchase at Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk.

Friday Favorites: Old Friends Revisited

Dear old blog o’ mine, I’ve missed you! I’m back from my travels (see my instagram for recent photos) and am eager to get back into the routine here.

Lately I’ve had cozy mysteries on the brain. To be honest, I’m always in the mood for cozy English mysteries–particularly those set in the 1920s and 30s. Lately, however, I’ve struggled to find anything new, so I turned to a couple of old favorites.


Mrs. Bradley Mysteries
When I saw it featured on BritBox, I was keen to revisit this five-episode series from 1999-2000. (The dvd set also is available for purchase from Amazon.) The episodes are fun and frothy, with a very manageable amount of menace and Gothic spookiness. Diana Rigg is marvelous, of course, and I happen to like when Mrs. Bradley breaks the fourth wall to explain things to viewers. It’s all good fun, though I rather wish I’d skipped “Rising of the Moon,” the traveling circus episode. (Why do traveling circus episodes–no matter the series–so often end up tedious and mildly offensive?)

You might be interested to know that Mrs. Bradley’s creator, Gladys Mitchell, wrote 66 (!!) books featuring this heroine, and was a member of the Detection Club along with many familiar mystery writers of the 1930s (including Dorothy Sayers & Agatha Christie). I’ve just started The Croaking Raven and it’s interesting to find the sleuth, referred to as “Dame Beatrice” rather than Mrs. Bradley, much less glamorous than her TV counterpart. Still a hoot, however!


Brat Farrar
When I was a teen my mom lured me into watching the BBC adaptation of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar on PBS. Though I was skeptical at first, I was quite smitten by the lead actor, Mark Greenstreet, and soon enough was thoroughly drawn into the mystery. This may, in fact, have been my introduction to cozy mysteries, for it wasn’t until the next year that the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane trilogy aired on PBS. (Note: I can’t find the Brat Farrar series on DVD or streaming, but apparently one can watch it on YouTube!)

Just last week I was facing a long solo drive to TN and was looking for a mystery on audio to help while away the time. You can imagine how pleased I was to find a well-reviewed audio adaptation of Brat Farrar on Audible.com. I was quite impressed by Carole Boyd’s vocal performance, and the mystery was even more compelling to Adult Sonia than it was to the teen. (Horsey people will particularly like this book.) If you’re a fan of audio books and Josephine Tey, you might try it. As for me, I probably need to read all the Inspector Grant novels, yes? (Daughter of Time is a favorite of mine.) I’d also like to find a good biography of Tey, so if you have one to recommend do let me know. I did listen to the first book in Nicola Upson’s series featuring Josephine Tey as a sleuth, but didn’t love it. Perhaps I should try reading rather than listening? This Q&A with Upson intrigues me.

How about you? What lovely books have you been reading lately?

Friday Favorites: a miscellany of female characters and creators

It’s nice to have regular topics on the blog, and with this post I recommit to discussing favorite books, films, TV shows, and whatnot in “Friday Favorites.” If anything on this list strikes a chord, do let me know in the comments. (I’m also very open to your suggestions for possible new favorites!)

On TV:


Alias Grace (2017) — In 19th-century Canada, a psychiatrist weighs whether a murderess should be pardoned due to insanity. (imdb.com)

I’ve never read the book (in fact, I’ve only read one Atwood novel–The Blind Assassin), but my friend Brandi insisted I watch this series. She knows me all too well! It features so many of my favorite things: a Victorian setting, Gothic and possibly paranormal elements, feisty women, unreliable narrators, not to mention oodles of scheming, passion, and obsession on the part of the characters. And it’s all based on a real case. Best of all, this mini-series was directed by a woman, based on a screenplay written by a woman, and adapted from a novel written by a woman. How inspiring!

Alias Grace is available on Netflix.

Books (& TV!):


After watching the 1979 mini-series of Testament of Youth (hard to find, but well worth tracking down), I wanted to read Brittain’s first novel, The Dark Tide, published in 1923. It’s a flawed book and yet still quite readable (particularly the bits set in Oxford). Brittain herself described it as “melodramatic and immature,” but the strangest part for me was that she obviously based the (quite fluffy) protagonist on her friend Winifred Holtby and, although Brittain claims this was unconscious, the (dark and sexy) antagonist is very much like the author herself. I don’t necessarily recommend this novel unless you’re very interested in Brittain. I’m glad I read it, however, not the least because it prompted a read of an early novel by Winifred Holtby for comparison.


The Crowded Street was Holby’s second novel, published in 1924, and I have to say it was much easier to love than The Dark Tide, for it relies more on tension than melodrama. In the midst of the Great War, Muriel Hammond searches for purpose and contentment in a world where the greatest success for a woman is a “good marriage.” The story meanders here and there, and one section could have been the inspiration for the setting of Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, but overall I found it a very worthwhile read.


If you read only one book by Winifred Holtby, however, it should be South Riding. Set in Yorkshire in the early 1930s, its political awareness and brilliant character development reminds me very much of Middlemarch by George Eliot. South Riding is a story of local politics, but don’t let that deter you–it’s so beautifully written, very accessible, and you will fall in love with the characters. This novel definitely numbers among my top ten favorite reads.


The mini-series starring Anna Maxwell-Martin–available to stream from Amazon and Vudu–is a much-condensed version of the story, but still worth watching, in my opinion.

And what about you? What have you seen or read lately that you would recommend?

Pretty Little Distractions

The world is too much with me these days, my friends, and thus I find myself searching for solace in story. When my aging eyes are strained from work, I’m less enthused about escaping into a book; luckily, there have been plenty of satisfying/distracting stories to be found on the small screen lately.

Once upon a time I received eye rolls and sneers when I mentioned Hallmark movies (and perhaps there was a time when I sneered), but these days more and more of my friends are watching right along with me. I’ve found this year’s “Winterfest” offerings to be pretty strong. Of course there’s a formula, and we all know who is getting together by the end of the movie, but there’s some comfort to be derived from that, right? The above two films were particular favorites of mine — the dialogue was snappy and the chemistry between the leads fun to watch. (Note: Hallmark finally is introducing more diversity into their productions, which is great, but I think we’re all MORE than ready for diverse romantic leads, okay? Can we get on that soon?)

DVR ALERT: All four of the Winterfest movies will run this Saturday (1/27) starting at 1 EST. And coming very soon from Hallmark — the Valentine’s Day movies!

Too sappy for you? Well, let’s do a 180 with these options:

Lately I’ve become obsessed with the horror films of Mike Flanagan. (And yes, HE is the writer/director for the forthcoming Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House!) My obsession began when one of my favorite YouTube film reviewers, Chris Stuckmann, included Gerald’s Game in his list of favorite films of 2017. His recommendation, along with the fact that it’s a Stephen King story, prompted me to track it down immediately. You guys, the TENSION! It’s excruciating at times. But that tension, along with the performances from Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, make this such a remarkable viewing experience. For me the film’s coda somewhat undercuts the overall effect, but your mileage may vary. Here’s what I love about Flanagan’s films — they are character-driven (always featuring strong women), thoughtfully cast, and do not rely overmuch on special effects or jump scares. Oculus, in my opinion, drags out a little long, but Karen Gillan gives an inspired performance as a young woman trying to prove, through a carefully conceived paranormal investigation (Eee, one of my favorite things in a horror movie!), that a cursed mirror killed her parents. Ouija: Origin of Evil started out so brilliantly with a widowed mother and her daughters adding a Ouija board to their seance scams. I was in horror HEAVEN. Things fell apart at the end, sadly, but perhaps this was due to the constraints of it being a prequel? I have quibbles with all three of the films, but I still enthusiastically recommend them to horror buffs. (Something to consider–Ouija: Origin of Evil is PG-13, but the other two are definitely more adult.)

ETA: Gerald’s Game and Oculus are available on Netflix, but I could only watch Ouija-Origin of Evil through a trial subscription to Cinemax (available through Amazon Prime).

Okay, so maybe you’re not quite up to a horror film at this moment. Don’t worry, I’ll mention the above films again in early October when I offer my annual horror recommendations. For now you might prefer something “in between” — not too sappy, not too dark and creepy.

How about this?

After mainlining the series Shetland, with angsty cutie-pie DI Jimmy Perez (played by perennial favorite Douglas Henshall), I thoroughly expected Vera, also based on novels by Ann Cleeves, to be “meh” by comparison. Well, I’m in the sixth season now and I think I love it MORE than Shetland. It all comes down to the performance by Brenda Blethyn. Honestly, I feel nearly the same about her as I do about Helen Mirren–I simply long to meet her and bask in her glory. Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is very real to me, and I adore her, and I love to watch the team come together under her somewhat cranky and impatient direction. There is darkness in the show, to be sure, and occasional moments of heartbreak, but Vera fights on and always solves the case. Bonus: we are treated to lovely shots of the Northumbrian moors and coastline.

ETA: Vera is available to watch through Acorn TV.

How about you? What have been your favorite TV distractions of late?

Mothers of Invention — A Tribute

Hello blog friends! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve missed chatting with you.

I should explain that my lovely and loving mother died on May 19 at the age of 71. Since then I’ve alternated between sorrow, anxiety, numbness, and a cautious cheerfulness. Many of you have been through this. No doubt you’d tell me there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and that I should give myself as much time as I need. I do appreciate that.

This post really isn’t about grief, however. It is about a legacy of love. To honor my mother (and grandmother) I’d like to share a specific example of their magical influence on my life.

I promise this will make you SMILE.

Like many young girls, I obsessed over the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. My fascination began when Mom read Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie to me at bedtime. As Laura and I grew older, I graduated to reading the novels on my own. Wishing to be as much like my favorite protagonist as possible, I demanded that my hair be braided, wore my ruffled calico dress until it burst at the seams, and begged to go to Grandma’s farm where I could practice baking, butter churning, and cow tending. (Working in the garden was less inspiring, but imagining myself as Laura helped make it endurable.) When Mom remarried I decided henceforth that she and my stepfather would be known as Ma and Pa. No one dared to disagree. Even my Barbie dolls were forced to hold down a claim under a tree in the backyard. In their little frame house they cooked on a miniature cast iron stove, slept on straw-filled mattresses, and fed fragrant grass seed to their (plastic) horses.

Mom and Grandma were well aware of my obsession. They shared it, after all. And thus one year they concocted a plan for my Christmas present–a plan so ambitious they must have been as intimidated as they were excited by the enormity of their task. They undertook to sew a complete wardrobe for my Barbie dolls based on Laura Ingalls’ wedding trousseau from These Happy Golden Years.

Each day, as soon as I was safely on the school bus, my mother collected my Barbies and drove to Grandma’s house. Together they pored over the text of the book, taking notes on her descriptions of fabrics and dress styles. They cross-referenced these details with a reproduction 1900 Sears & Roebuck catalog and adapted Barbie dress patterns to the old-fashioned styles. Once they knew exactly what they would be sewing it was time to plunder the ragbag for fabric scraps that closely resembled the dresses described in the book. Only after they’d exhausted that resource did they take out their pocketbooks and travel to the fabric store for the materials they did not already have.

They watched the clock carefully in the afternoons to ensure my mom would get home before the bus. Each day she returned my dolls to what she hoped was the exact spot where I’d left them. To her credit, I never had a clue of the costume fitting adventures my Barbie dolls had undertaken during the day…


At least, not until Christmas Day brought this box of MAGIC.

Would you like to see what was inside?

[Here’s where I confess to devoting an entire day to a Barbie photo shoot, just so I could show you the clothes that were packed in that box. Many thanks go to Disney’s “Belle” Barbie for standing in for my long lost dolls. And as always with my blog photos, if you would like a closer view, click the image to enlarge.]


First there was the brown poplin dress:

It’s smooth, long sleeves fitted her arms perfectly to the wrists, where a band of plain silk ended them. The neck was high with a smooth band of the plain silk around the throat. The polonaise fitted tightly and buttoned all down the front with small round buttons covered with the plain brown silk. Below the smooth hips it flared and rippled down and covered the top of the flounce on the underskirt. A band of the plain silk finished the polonaise at the bottom. (These Happy Golden Years, 162-63).

I loved that there were two parts to this dress, and that you can see the underskirt’s ruffle peeping out below the silk ribbon of the polonaise. Note: this was the dress Laura wore during the infamous buggy ride in which she shook the buggy whip and startled the colts, all because Almanzo tried to put his arm around her. Cheeky young man! (And “devilish” young lady!)


The pink lawn dress also came in two pieces and was gorgeously feminine. Grandma and Mom were particularly adept at recreating the tuck work that Laura described:

They made the waist tight-fitting, with two clusters of tucks down the back, and two in front…The skirt was gathered very full all round into a narrow waistband, which buttoned over the bottom of the waist to secure them from slipping apart. All down the full skirt, tucks went around and around it, spaced evenly a little way apart, and below the bottom tuck was a full-gathered ruffled four inches wide that just touched Laura’s shoe tips (243-44).


Laura’s black cashmere wedding dress was constructed of soft, fine-waled corduroy, complete with lace at the neck and a tiny wooden brooch painted with an even tinier strawberry. [See a closer view of the brooch.] Grandma and Mom sewed Laura’s straw poke bonnet out of roughly textured green fabric and lined it with blue cotton.

Laura was ready when Almanzo came. She was wearing her new black cashmere dress and her sage-green poke bonnet with the blue lining and the blue ribbon bow tied under left ear. The soft black tips of her shoes barely peeped from beneath her flaring skirt as she walked (279).

(For the record, I simply could not manage to tie that ribbon under Belle’s left ear without it looking ridiculous.)


Being very attentive to detail, Mom and Grandma did not forget Laura’s underclothes. Mom cleverly constructed a narrow hoop skirt of wire and tape–“the very latest style in the East” (161)–and even fashioned a tiny bustle that could be taped underneath for fullness or on top for modest backside enhancement. Knowing Laura preferred a small bustle, I usually taped it on top. (In the photo, however, it is taped underneath for maximum enhancement. Check the side view of the black wedding dress for the effect.) To cover the hoop they provided a soft white cotton petticoat with yellow ribbon trim. Their pièce de résistance, however, was a corset of white satin sewn with the tiniest of stitches to fit the fabric exactly to Barbie’s inhuman proportions.


Mom and Grandma even found time to sew a long-sleeved, flowing nightgown of white flannel sprinkled with delicate purple flowers for Barbie. They also made a girl-sized one out of the same material for me. Sadly, my gown is long gone, but Barbie looks quite cozy in hers, doesn’t she?

As you might imagine, I was thoroughly enchanted by this miniature and very complicated wardrobe, and I spent hours dressing and undressing my dolls. A few items didn’t survive the heavy use, and one dress (a blue calico?) was drastically retooled during my Medieval Barbie phase, but the rest were passed down to my baby sister when I went to college. (I honestly can’t remember how I felt about this. I wonder if I even knew?) Eventually my dear nieces played with them as well, and I’m certain the dresses enjoyed their varied adventures over the years. Their good condition today is a testament both to the care that went into their construction and the delicacy with which we played with them.

A few years ago Mom and I searched through the toy box and collected all the Laura Ingalls items we could find. Just last week I conducted my photo shoot–partly for posterity, but mostly as a way to celebrate Mom and Grandma. They were true mothers of invention, and it is such an honor (not to mention a balm to my sore heart) to share their industry and artistry with you!

I will close with a message for these dearly departed ladies: Thank you, Grandma and Mom, for taking time out of your busy days to enter a child’s imagination, for making her dreams come true, and for gifting her with your love of history and story. Thank you for the magic. You both will live forever in my heart.


Grandma and me (You can see I inherited her mouth) on Christmas Day, 1978? (Photo taken by Mom)


Margaret Ellen (Grandma) and Marcia (Mom), circa 1962

**Many thanks to my sister, Heather Miller, who searched the family albums for the Christmas photos!