Category Archives: Reading

Cozy distractions in the time of Corona

Even if you’re healthy and safe at home, you may be losing your mind right about now. I’ve put together a list of things (in no particular order) that might brighten your mood during this surreal quarantine from the rest of humanity.

— First of all, complete your 2020 Census! It may not be a cheerful activity, but it doesn’t take long and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when done.

— Please visit Sampy and friends in Finland. Seriously, CLICK THAT LINK! You can’t help but cheer up when you see Sampy, Hiskias, and Elmeri cavorting in the snow. They are magical creatures and they always fill my heart with joy.

— Pre-order The Jane Austen Society. Yes, there’s a new Austen-themed novel coming out, and Richard Armitage* is reading the audiobook! The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, with starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, is “a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works.” Doesn’t it sound lovely? Speaking of sound, here’s a snippet of the performance by Armitage. The novel releases on May 26 in the U.S.

*NOTE: If you’re a fan of Richard Armitage’s voice, check out all the Audible books he has narrated. I was gobsmacked!

— Listen to Shedunnit, “the podcast that unravels the mysteries behind classic detective stories.” The latest episode is about Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and thus of particular interest to me, but there’s much more you’ll wish to explore.

— If you’re a fan of Hallmark movies, particularly the Christmas ones, fill out the Merry Madness Christmas Bracket. You can create up to 10 brackets and maybe even win some cash. This form of March Madness may not be as exciting as the NCAA basketball tournament, but it’s a nice distraction.

–ALSO, Hallmark’s Spring Fling starts March 28. In the meantime try to catch a repeat of In the Key of Love or watch it online. We loved it.

— Reorganize your tea cabinet. (Or any cabinet/drawer that contains magical things but has become untidy.) Trust me, it feels SO GOOD. I started with my tea cabinet and then moved on to every cabinet in the kitchen. But really, I only moved on to the other, less interesting cabinets because I was still on a high from tidying my teas. Check it out:

–Watch Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. It’s adorable, but you do have to give it a couple of episodes before you connect to the characters. This show makes me so cheerful, and sometimes (more often in later seasons) it’s so poignant that it makes me cry. Another great option: Playing House. This is my ultimate comfort show. I have downloaded all three seasons to my phone, and I often watch it on airplanes when the turbulence is rattling me. Maggie and Emma are a lovable pair of friends, and the actresses are besties in real life.

— Read the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths, or download the audiobooks from Audible.com. This incredibly appealing series of cozy mysteries will distract you from the harsh realities of our world. (Or just save you from boredom.)

— Make cocoa with marshmallows. I love this recipe from Epicurious.

— Take a long walk. It’s good for your body and will clear your mind. If the quiet streets freak you out, go home and drink more cocoa.

— Work a puzzle. There must be at least one of them lurking in a closet somewhere.

— Meditate. I like the guided meditations on the Calm App. They have wonderfully soporific sleep stories, too, if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night.

— Learn. Surely you’ve seen the ads for a free month of “The Great Courses” online? Go here for more information.

— Start or end your day with journaling. I’m addicted to this practice, and it has become my morning therapy. If you have no idea where/how to start, google “journal prompts” and you’ll find endless lists of questions and suggestions. As I’ve mentioned before (here, for instance), I love the journals from Paperblanks. But any old notebook will do.

— ETA: If all else fails, watch this: Coronavirus Rhapsody

Have a suggestion for this list? Do share in the comments!

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Featured image credit: ID 85961367 © Stanislav Salamanov | Dreamstime.com

March Tea and a Book: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

After a long drought, I finally found a book that captivated me, kept me glued to the pages until the end, and only took two days to read because I could hardly bear to put it down.

Goodreads synopsis:
In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago.

My thoughts
I am always drawn to “moving to the country/living off the land” sorts of stories because they are inherently full of conflict–internal and external–even without ghosts. In the case of this book, I loved the notion of building a haunted house, for that’s what Helen ends up doing as she incorporates historical artifacts and materials into her home design. (The fact that the home site lies near a rather mystical and creepy bog makes it all the better.)

The cast of characters is rather large, but each individual is distinct and, in most cases, seamlessly woven into the story. I really appreciated that the characters’ behavior–be it thoughtful, reckless, or downright avoidant–pushed the plot forward, and though there were surprises, everything made sense in the end. Some horror stories show characters driving themselves insane and wrecking all their relationships in pursuit of “the truth,” bringing catharsis through spectacularly messy implosion. That can be interesting, of course, but I appreciated how the characters in this story learned from mistakes, clued in to nuances, and generally tried to be their best selves once they knew what was at stake.

Now for tea:
To pair with spooky books, I prefer simple, cozy snacks. I baked easy, delicious Irish White Scones from a mix by Odlums, “Ireland’s favorite home baking brand.” Do check the link–they have such a wide variety of scrumptious mixes. I happened to find this mix at World Market, and I do hope Odlums will make more of their products available in the U.S. For tea I chose Paris Breakfast from Mariage Freres, containing “notes of honey, malted-chocolate, vanilla, buttered brioche, and candied tangerine.” I added a splash of milk and just a bit of Turbinado sugar.

I ate my scone with fresh berries but they’d also be perfect with fruit jam and butter or clotted cream. The scones were very light and fluffy, not too sweet, with a nice crunch to the crust. Best of all, they were SO EASY to make.

A final mystery:
Readers, 2020 has been a struggle for me so far, as it’s proven well nigh impossible for me to finish a book. I started several promising stories, but with each one I lost interest by the halfway point.

The hardcover of The Invited released at the end of April, 2019, and I have no idea how it ended up in my possession. I never ordered it. I didn’t put it on any wishlist. I never sought it out at a bookstore, as far as I can remember. It simply wasn’t on my radar. One day, however, I looked up and saw it on my shelf. SPOOKY.

If one of my pals out there sent it to me, or was with me when I bought it, would you let me know? If no one responds, I’ll just have to assume that the universe took it upon itself to end my reading drought by delivering the right book at the right time. 🙂

Friends, what do YOU do when stuck in a reading rut?

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Featured image credit: File ID 126446344 | © Dabisik | Dreamstime.com

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!

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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.