2020 Spooky Film Recommendations — Part I

As I’ve said before, if you crave 500 jump scares per film, you will be disappointed by my recommendations. For more context on this, check out Chris Stuckmann’s YouTube video, The Problem with Horror Movies Today.

This year we begin with CLASSIC HORROR, and I arbitrarily decided this would include films from the 70s and earlier. Let me tell you, one of the fantastic things about watching films of this vintage was the total (and to me blessed) absence of computer-generated imagery. Directors and cinematographers had to be clever in suggesting a horror they did not have the means to show. All the more creepy!
(All synopses from imdb.com)

Enthusiastically Recommended!


The Wicker Man (1973) — Rated R
A puritan Police Sergeant arrives in a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl who the locals claim never existed.
I’ve had a crush on the late, great Edward Woodward ever since the TV series The Equalizer, but I’d never seen this movie until a month ago. The story starts as a rather ordinary noir-ish police procedural, turns trippy, and then really gets down to the business of horror, all in a very “early 70s” manner that I found rather charming.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 87


The Omen (1976) — Rated R
Mysterious deaths surround an American ambassador. Could the child that he is raising actually be the Antichrist? The Devil’s own son?
I have a vague memory of catching a bit of this as a child when my parents were watching. Back then I probably lasted about two minutes before I ran screaming. It’s a much better story and film than I expected. The female characters are either evil or useless, but aside from that it’s a darn good watch–well-paced with some very shocking scenes.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 62


Carrie (1976) — Rated R
Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.
Despite the strong dose of male gaze in the opening sequence (a shower scene, which arguably is an integral part of the plot), I found this a compelling film. The strong performances from Betty Buckley, Sissy Spacek, and others (you’ll find many familiar faces) give this twisted tale a heartbreaking authenticity. It also features the WEIRDEST “cute boy” hairdo I’ve ever seen.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 85


Rosemary’s Baby (1968) — Rated R
A young couple trying for a baby move into a fancy apartment surrounded by peculiar neighbors.
This film starts quietly and meanders toward a horrific finale, requiring a certain investment of time and patience. I thought I knew what was going on, then I questioned everything, and then the finale pretty much blew my mind. There’s a great 2018 Vanity Fair essay by Laura Jacobs that fans of the film should read: The Devil Inside: Watching Rosemary’s Baby in the Age of #MeToo.
Watch the excellent fan-made Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 96


The Exorcist (1973) — Rated R
When a 12-year-old girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her.
I have avoided this movie all my life…until this past Sunday. 45 minutes into it, I told my husband I had to walk away. I COULD NOT WATCH IT AT NIGHT. Reader, we DID return to it the next afternoon. We finished the movie, and it was brilliantly harrowing. For me, the most disturbing parts weren’t necessarily the paranormal bits. I mean, the hospital scenes! Poor Father Karras, carrying the burden of his guilt and grief, hit me the hardest. I really loved this film, but it’s no picnic.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81

Finished, not sure I recommend
The Haunting of Julia (1977)
After her daughter’s death, wealthy American homemaker Julia Lofting moves to London to restart her life. All seems well until she is haunted by the ghosts of other children while mourning for her own.
This premise appealed to me, and I do think waifish, vulnerable Mia Farrow is quite good in the role. The film meanders quite a bit, however, and I’m not sure the conclusion is earned. (Or maybe I was just being a lazy viewer?) You can watch on Prime or Youtube.

Watched at least 20 minutes and lost interest
Amityville Horror (1979) — obviously this is a horror classic, but I just didn’t care about the characters. James Brolin, in particular, seemed to be sleepwalking through his performance.
Halloween (1978) — I love Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, but this did not grab me. (Feel free to convince me to try again!)

Stay tuned for more spooky film recommendations. I’d love to know your thoughts about these films, and feel free to share your favorite horror movies from the 60s and 70s in the comments!

Spooky Reads 2020 and a GIVEAWAY

Hey! Don’t forget to check out the GIVEAWAY at the end of this post.

When the Covid lockdown began, I craved comfort books. (See my recommendations here.) Lately, however, that old familiar yearning for Gothic horror has me in its grip. What a gluttony of horror fiction I’ve been enjoying! And I have this blog post to thank: ALL THE HORROR BOOKS WE’RE EXCITED ABOUT IN 2020 from Tornightfire.com.

I have offered spooky film recommendations for several years now. This year I’m adding recs for new (and newish) spooky novels. (Descriptions in bold are from the publisher.)


Follow Me to Ground (Simon & Schuster, 2020)
A haunted, surreal debut novel about an otherworldly young woman, her father, and her lover that culminates in a shocking moment of betrayal—one that upends our understanding of power, predation, and agency.
This quick read has the feel of a Southern Gothic, and it is so unique and enthralling. I devoured it in an afternoon.


You Let Me In (Tor, 2020)
A stunning tale from debut author Camilla Bruce, combining the sinister domestic atmosphere of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects with the otherworldly thrills of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.*
I have never read a spooky fairy story like this one. I could NOT put it down.


In the Night Wood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018)
In this contemporary fantasy, the grieving biographer of a Victorian fantasist finds himself slipping inexorably into the supernatural world that consumed his subject.
This is not a new release, but it kept popping up during my research. The cover and pitch are tantalizing, yes? It may be my favorite read of the bunch.


Mexican Gothic (Del Rey Books/Penguin Random House, 2020)
From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico. “It’s Lovecraft meets the Brontës in Latin America, and after a slow-burn start Mexican Gothic gets seriously weird” (The Guardian).
This is a very buzzy book, and now I know why! The story features familiar elements, but I’ve never read anything quite like it. If you crave stories about creepy Gothic houses and their even creepier inhabitants, you MUST read it.

Also consider:


Home Before Dark (Penguin Random House, 2020)
In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?
This will seem like familiar territory (particularly to fans of The Haunting of Hill House Netflix series), but the story is nonetheless absorbing and entertaining. Great setting, fast pace.


Out of Body (Tor, 2020)
A small-town librarian witnesses a murder at his local deli, and what had been routine sleep paralysis begins to transform into something far more disturbing.
I am fascinated by the notion of astral projection, and this story took the concept to a new level. What starts as a quiet and unassuming story turns darker and weirder. Another quick read.

Other spooky reading recommendations on my blog:
The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Geeked on Gothic

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

COMING SOON…

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Featured image credit: Photo 144820404 © Dreamstime.com

Quiet afternoons with Emily

My last blog post (written THREE MONTHS ago, yikes) was about Emily Dickinson, and today–once again–it is Miss Emily who inspires me.

A NEW BOOK:


From the publisher: An engaging, intimate portrait of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest and most-mythologized poets, that sheds new light on her groundbreaking poetry.

From The New Yorker: The Emily Dickinson who emerges in this vivid, affectionate chronicle is a complex and warm-blooded individual—as curious, defiant of convention, and passionate in life as in her poems.

Starred review from Kirkus: Radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet’s sensibility make this biography extraordinary.

I found These Fevered Days a very accessible and detailed presentation of key moments in Emily Dickinson’s development as a writer. The final chapter brought me to tears. If you are curious but can’t read the book just yet, do listen to this podcast interview with the author on CBC radio’s Writers and Company: The poet of solitude: How Emily Dickinson was fueled by the light of her brilliant interior world. (Many thanks to Danielle for alerting me to its existence!)

AN INTRIGUING Apple TV SERIES:


A dear friend recommended this show to me (thanks Angie!), and I confess I was skeptical at first. Modern language and music? Drug use and profanity? Brief and sometimes random scenes of sexuality? It’s NOT the familiar tale of a repressed and reclusive poet who scribbles in secrecy. This Emily is fierce and defiant, except in those moments when she’s terribly vulnerable. The writers clearly know a great deal about Emily Dickinson’s life and 19th century American culture, so anachronisms are utilized strategically and, in my opinion, effectively.


Online Reviews:
The Verge: Dickinson is the wildest, weirdest, and most earnest show on Apple TV Plus

The New Yorker: Dickinson from Apple TV Plus is Deeply Weird and Dazzles Gradually

Vulture: All Hail Dickinson, a TV Show Made Specifically for Literary Weirdos

(Hmmm…do you see a theme emerging?)

There are negative reactions from humorless old fogies other reviewers, of course. The show is irreverent and downright bizarre at times, but Emily’s bittersweet epiphanies seem to temper the outrageous humor. Haven’t we all wished we could be that person who knew herself so well, who refused to compromise, and who didn’t worry about–in fact, embraced the notion of–going against the grain? We hesitate to be that person because we know the emotional and social costs. That’s one of the glories of Dickinson — we see her go there, defiantly and, at times, foolishly. She gets knocked down time and again, but she never gives up. (Hailee Steinfeld, who is wonderful as Emily, is also an executive producer of the show.)

I can’t stop thinking about this show, you guys. There’s even a scene where Emily stitches THE FASCICLES! (Verily, I did swoon.)


OF COURSE I made tea to celebrate finishing both the book and the first season of the TV series. The Emily Dickinson tea from Simpson & Vail, featured in my previous post, is a delicate blend of jasmine and rose petals recommended for those days in which you wish to dwell in possibility. The Cherry Scones were made from the EASIEST mix in the world–in fact, Emily Dickinson would probably be ashamed of you for using it–but they are so tasty and quick! See all of Iveta’s offerings here. (Folks with gluten or dairy intolerance may wish to try something different.)

Fall is coming! STAY TUNED. In September I’ll feature recommendations for classic and new Horror fiction. October, as always, will be a celebration of Spooky Films.
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Featured image credit: Photo 18834482 © Romanevgenev | Dreamstime.com

Tea with Miss Emily & a GIVEAWAY

There’s a new picture book about Emily Dickinson and it is marvelous. (Thank you, Best of Books in Edmond, OK, for shipping it so quickly!)


This book written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander is beautiful, inspirational, and quite poignant–I confess to crying a bit while reading. (In a good way!) Before I continue, however, I should direct your attention to Jama Kim Rattigan’s recent blog post, which alerted me to the existence of this book. Her review is delightful and you’ll be rewarded with lovely images and a scrumptious recipe. Thanks, Jama!

In my featured image at the top you see some of my favorite books related to Emily Dickinson, including her complete poems. Do you have a biography recommendation? I quite enjoyed White Heat, by Brenda Wineapple–it was such an absorbing read–but its focus was somewhat restricted. I have the Habegger biography and the one by Sewall, but they both look so ponderous that I haven’t had the energy to try them yet. Thoughts? Any other books related to Dickinson that you might recommend?

A more recent favorite thing in the featured image above is the Emily Dickinson paper doll–such a fun distraction! I paid my $6.50 and was immediately able to download and print the images on card stock. I didn’t expect to enjoy cutting out the pieces, but it turned out to be a soothing and almost meditative activity. The artist has many paper doll options on offer. You know I’ll have to get the Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen packets, at the very least!

And now, Tea with Miss Emily…


First of all, I actually found an “Emily Dickinson” blend of tea from Simpson & Vail. I am so pleased to tell you that it is delicate, soothing, and absolutely gorgeous to behold. Here is the description from the S&V website:

In the years she spent away from society, Emily Dickinson cultivated an extensive garden. In it, she grew jasmine flowers, cornflowers, roses, and many other flowers, plants and herbs. These flowers appear repeatedly in her poetry so our blend had to be floral. We created a delightful combination of jasmine tea and rose petals that brews to a light ecru cup with long green leaves and rose petal accents. This delicate tea hits you with a strong jasmine taste that’s sweetened and mellowed with the subtle flavors of the rose petals. Ingredients: Jasmine tea, rose petals, jasmine blossoms, marigold petals and blue cornflower petals.

[NOTE: Simpson & Vail has an entire collection of author-inspired teas.]


I learned that Emily Dickinson was an avid baker, particularly of “cakes, cookies, and candies.” I love to bake, but when it’s something unfamiliar I’ll usually try a quality mix the first time around. For this Honey Almond cake, I used a Williams & Sonoma mix that turned out to be more complicated than expected, but I managed. The interestingly shaped bundt pan is also from Williams & Sonoma, and I was utterly beguiled by the Nordic Ware Magnolia design.


Here is my Emily Dickinson-inspired tea tray. I brushed a honey glaze on the cake and garnished it with fresh fruit. I also used a little honey in the tea, which paired beautifully with the cake. A hydrangea bloom from the back patio adds a nice flourish, eh?

THE GIVEAWAY: I have one copy of On Wings of Words to give away, and I’ll sweeten the pot by adding SIGNED copies of My Friend Maggie, written/illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison along with Suki and Sam, written by Dr. Lisa Marotta and illustrated by Dorothy Shaw. All you need do is comment with the first line of your favorite Emily Dickinson poem OR with the title of a favorite non-fiction book about Emily Dickinson. US/CA entries only, please! I’ll announce the winner next Wednesday, May 26, 2020.

April Tea and Three Cosy Books

Happy Wednesday! If you’ve been yearning for a comfort read, I have three recommendations. And TEA.


The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile — a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

I was so desperate for a sweet read, and I tried various things that just didn’t work. Then I turned to Modern Mrs. Darcy and found this truly comforting tale. (Actually, all three books in this post were recommended at MMD’s blog.) A bookish librarian in Birmingham is made redundant and decides to pursue her dream of selling books from a bookmobile…IN SCOTLAND. Such a sweet story! I ended up liking it so much better than the other Jenny Colgan book I’ve read–The Little Beach Street Bakery–which had its moments and was a quick, entertaining read, but wasn’t nearly so cosy.


The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, by Eva Rice

Penelope wants nothing more than to fall in love, and when her new best friend, Charlotte, a free spirit in the young society set, drags Penelope into London with all of its grand parties, she sets in motion great change for them all. Charlotte’s mysterious and attractive brother Harry uses Penelope to make his American ex-girlfriend jealous, with unforeseen consequences, and a dashing, wealthy American movie producer arrives with what might be the key to Penelope’s—and her family’s—future happiness.

This story is quite reminiscent of I Capture the Castle but it’s set in the 50s and is more focused on society life and pop idol obsessions. I truly enjoyed reading it–the novel offers a fascinating look at culture in 1950s England–but keep in mind that, for me, it wasn’t nearly as cosy or moving as Dodie Smith’s story. I’ll definitely try more of Rice’s books. (She, by the way, is the daughter of lyricist/writer Tim Rice!)


The Lost Husband, by Katherine Center

Life on Aunt Jean’s goat farm is both more wonderful and more mysterious than Libby could have imagined. Beyond the animals and the strenuous work, there is quiet—deep, country quiet. But there is also a shaggy, gruff (though purportedly handsome, under all that hair) farm manager with a tragic home life, a formerly famous feed-store clerk who claims she can contact Danny “on the other side,” and the eccentric aunt Libby never really knew but who turns out to be exactly what she’s been looking for. And despite everything she’s lost, Libby soon realizes how much more she’s found. She hasn’t just traded one kind of crazy for another: She may actually have found the place to bring her little family—and herself—back to life.

I never would have read this if I hadn’t seen it on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s blog. What a lovely discovery! This is a funny, poignant, and sexy (but not explicit) book about grief, letting go, and moving on. I enjoyed every word of it AND I rather liked the recently released film adaptation–available on Prime!)

**Do you have favorite comfort reads to recommend? Please share in the comments!**


For tea I chose Thé des Amants (the tea of Lovers), which seemed fitting since all three of these books are romances. (Learn more about the tea in this Instagram post.) For my tea treat I added delightful little dried Maine blueberries to this gluten-free Lemon scone mix from Sticky Fingers (which only seems to be available on Amazon? Egads!). There are other gluten-free options you might like.

Keep on keeping on, folks!

P.S. I’m officially shifting to the UK spelling of “cosy” (vs. cozy) because it just looks nicer.