Category Archives: Reading

Valentine’s Tea and a Book

ALERT: there’s a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post!

The other day I was making a mental list of the most romantic novels I’ve ever read. “This needs to be a blog post!” I thought. Interestingly enough, on this blog I only have ONE previous post related to Valentine’s Day, and it also featured my only use of the “romance” tag. That post was titled Swoonworthy Reads, and if you’re in the mood for romance it might prove interesting.

Today, however, I want to talk about my all-time favorite Romantic reads–one classic novel and one contemporary. I would love to learn your favorites, too. Take the challenge–can you narrow it down to one each? Do share in the comments and you’ll be entered in the giveaway! I managed it, and I’m pretty comfortable with my choices.

If those who know me were asked to guess my choice for most romantic classic novel, many would say Jane Eyre. I adore that book, and I do find it wonderfully romantic, but above all that story is about Jane and her growth into a strong, independent being. (Textbook bildungsroman, right?) There are swoon-worthy moments, to be sure, but it’s not really a Romance. For classic romance I must instead turn to dear Jane Austen, and NO, my top choice would not be Pride & Prejudice. Instead it would be Persuasion, which features a heroine who loved and lost but gets a second chance, and a dashing hero who, among other things, writes one of the most romantic letters ever composed by a fictional man:


You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

Persuasion is full of delicious yearning, and though I’ve enjoyed watching both the 1995 theatrical release and the 2007 BBC adaptation, I must confess a particular partiality to Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth (despite the fact that the “big kiss” at the end of this adaptation is flat out WEIRD).

It was rather easy to narrow down my contemporary Romance novel, too. It just has ALL THE THINGS I LOVE. Academics falling in love as they research two Victorian poets who might have known each other? Who might have LOVED each other? Secret alliances, clue-hunting in old houses, passion, betrayal? I’m pretty sure A.S. Byatt wrote this novel for me. Or perhaps this novel shaped me–I read it the year it came out and how could I ever be the same afterwards?


Possession has only been adapted to film once, and though it departs from the novel in many ways, I find it very satisfying to watch as its own thing. Now, if someone would just adapt the novel as a limited series, I would be tickled pink.

For my Valentine’s Day Tea I baked King Arthur gluten-free sugar cookies and frosted them with buttercream. For tea I enjoyed the Blood-Orange Tisane from Carytown Teas in Richmond, VA. Delicious combo!


My Valentine’s Tea Party for one. (I did share the cookies with Steve later.)

GIVEAWAY: I am offering the Annotated edition of Persuasion (Anchor Books) along with the UK edition of Possession (Vintage), and this giveaway is INTERNATIONAL. All you need do is enter the very simple Rafflecopter giveaway linked below. Get extra points for commenting with the titles of your favorite Classic and Contemporary romantic novels. A winner will be chosen randomly. GOOD LUCK!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wishing you lots of love today and always!

__________
Featured Image credit: 138413365 © Ekaterina Morozova – Dreamstime.com

A Tour of Three Indie Bookstores in Philadelphia

I’ve made it my mission–when visiting an interesting city, I will find the best tea rooms AND explore the independent bookstores, and then I’ll share my findings with you. My recent post on a lovely Philadelphia tea room is here. Today it’s all about the book stores!


You’ll find Shakespeare+Co on Walnut Street, not far from Rittenhouse Square. This store is NOT related in any way to Shakespeare and Company in Paris, but it is part of a small chain, for its two siblings are located on Lexington and on Broadway in NYC. The Philadelphia location is cozy and though there’s not a lot of space, they’ve somehow managed to put in a coffee bar and seating area, and both times I visited, most of the seats were full. (If you’re willing to put your phone/computer away, there usually is a tech-free table available.) There are a couple of tables in the balcony area, too–one of which could be yours if you get there early enough. It’s such a lovely place to browse! After leisurely poking around and then enjoying a tech-free hot cocoa, I left with a copy of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.


The next day–a very cold and windy day–I trekked across town to the Penn campus to find two other bookstores, the first being The Last Word Bookshop. The storefront is not particularly gorgeous, but once you’re inside it’s easy to see that this is a well-loved store. (There’s even a resident kitty named Lester.) I do love carefully curated used bookstores because there’s always a pleasant surprise or two, and I could have stayed here a long time if I didn’t have more stops on the agenda. Ultimately I found a collection of diary entries written by Quaker women and couldn’t leave without it.


The final bookstore I visited, A House of Our Own, made the strongest impression on me. First of all, the store resides in the gorgeous old house you see at the very top of this post and has been owned by a Penn grad since 1971. At first everything looks a bit chaotic, but then you’ll notice the careful, almost obsessive-compulsive, organization and labeling of all the books. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore! It’s the perfect place to lose yourself for half a day. This charming feature article summarizes the history and appeal of the store. In the end I chose two books, Summer in the Country by Edith Templeton (published by Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press), and an adorable Everyman’s Library edition of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Histories of the Kings of Britain.


Here’s my haul!

Friday Favorites: The Harbor Springs Festival of the Book

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 4th annual Harbor Springs Festival of the Book in Michigan–as a fan rather than an author. What a delight! Harbor is a lovely town on Lake Michigan, offering many restaurants and shops, including an indie bookstore. Turns out the town is full of friendly bibliophiles, too! For this post I’ll share a few highlights in hopes of attracting you to next year’s festival…


A high point for me was seeing Cathleen Schine in Saturday morning’s “Beautiful Messiness of Family” panel at the Lyric Theatre. (EVERY seat was full!) Back in the early 90s when I worked at an independent bookstore in Milwaukee, nearly the entire staff became obsessed with Schine’s The Love Letter. I gave it as a gift to just about everyone I knew–whether they wanted it or not! I so enjoyed chatting with Schine, and I’m very much looking forward to reading my signed copy of her latest novel, The Grammarians.


For lunch on Saturday we had tickets to “Sister Pie & Ice Cream with Lisa Ludwinski,” and no joke, each table shared a pie made from a recipe in Sister Pie: Recipes & Stories from a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit. Delicious! And now you know where to go for pie next time you’re in Detroit. (Above you see JK grinning at the prospect of tucking into our table’s Honey Lemon Meringue pie–wow, was it good!)


Sunday morning we enjoyed “Perspectives on the Female Voice” at the History Museum. This was a smaller, more intimate venue, and the panel felt more like a discussion group than a promotional event. All the panels were thoughtfully moderated, and no matter the topic or venue, everyone was friendly and helpful. I ended up chatting with so many charming people–and I’m a cranky introvert! There was just such a positive vibe at this festival.

Next we scurried back to the Lyric Theatre to see James Mustich talk about his new book, 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. I was delighted to learn that Mustich, a former bookseller, was the founder of A Common Reader. My mom and I used to read each edition cover-to-cover and add our favorites to birthday and Christmas wishlists. Mustich was a very engaging speaker, and later that night we enjoyed paging through his recommendations. (We spent more than an hour with the book and barely made a dent in his list.)


Our time at the Book Festival came to a stunning conclusion with a luncheon to celebrate Pria Krishna’s new cookbook, Indian-ish, with our meal prepared from Krishna’s recipes. Delicious food + inspirational talk from Krishna = a delicious and emotionally satisfying conclusion for this lovely festival.

AUTHORS! Keep your eye on this one–you may wish to submit your name for a panel at next year’s festival. You’ll LOVE it. Here’s the URL one more time: https://www.hsfotb.org

NOTE: the featured image at the top o this post is a photograph of my framed giclée of Mary Hramiec Hoffman’s “Lake Day,” which I purchased a few years ago in Harbor Springs. See www.hramiechoffman.com for more of her work.

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?***