Category Archives: Watching

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.

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

A Horror Interlude for February

This past week I visited Dallas for the Highland Park Literary Festival. The festival volunteers always put on a great event, and the highlight for me was spending time with the HPHS students who signed up for my presentation, “How to Build a Horror Hero” (a companion to last year’s “Building the Perfect Monster”). As you might imagine, I had a splendid time talking horror with these enthusiasts and eagerly scribbled down their recommendations.

They did not steer me wrong! Here are the three films I watched:


HOSTILE (2017)
Juliette, a lone survivor of an apocalyptic era, fights to survive against hunger, thirst, a broken leg and strange, disturbing creatures that only come out at nighttime.
When a student recommended this one, I’m afraid I confused it with Hostel, which I never want to see. Eventually, however, it got through my thick skull that she was describing something completely different, and I’m just flabbergasted that this film hasn’t shown up on my radar until now. If you like horror with character development, tension, and alternating timelines, give this one a chance.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


THE THING (1982)
A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims.

Why did I wait so long to watch this horror classic? It’s a clever sci-fi variation on the “And Then There were None” sort of mystery, and the old-school special effects (rather than CGI) make it all the more horrific. Kurt Russell is fabulous.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


CREEP (2004)**
Trapped in a London subway station, a woman who’s being pursued by a potential attacker heads into the unknown labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city’s streets.
This one will resonate for those who have spent a lot of time in Tube stations, particularly late at night. Franke Potenta (a favorite of mine since Run Lola Run) is appealing as a “party girl” who ends up locked in the subway station overnight. Guess what? She’s not alone down there.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing

**NOTE: there is a more recent horror film titled Creep with Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice, and it is well-reviewed, but I couldn’t make it to the end because I love Duplass and couldn’t bear him being so annoyingly evil.

Highland Park High School students–thank you for the great discussions and recommendations! Feel free to comment with more. 🙂

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Featured Image credit 89675574 © Tharin Sinlapachai – Dreamstime.com

Part II: Ghostly and Gothic SPOOKY films

Oh, how I love a good GHOST film! Ghosts and/or related paranormal entities feature in each of the following recommendations.

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Wind (2018) — Rated R
A plains-woman faces the harshness and isolation of the untamed land in the Western frontier of the late 1800s. This film, written and directed by women, is visually arresting and emotionally harrowing. It’s also non-linear and requires active viewing. I’ve long been captivated by pioneer narratives and the “romance” of homesteading, but this film really brought home how difficult such a life could be. It also added a lovely Gothic twist to the mix. I will watch this one again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66


Don’t Leave Home (2018) — Not Rated
An American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland. This one had me at “crumbling estate”! I’ve never encountered a story quite like this, and I can’t tell you too much about it without spoiling. It’d be better if you just watched so we can talk about it later. This is another one I plan to see again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65


Astral (2018) — Rated TV-MA
A detached university student faces the consequences of astral projection when he uses it to reconnect with his dead mother. This is not your glossy, high-budget sort of horror film, and all the user reviews on IMDB indicate that no one liked it. But I had to watch because I’m rather obsessed with the narrative potential of astral projection. Also, the lead actor played Tom Riddle and is the RADA-trained son of Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones, and much more). Viewing this required patience, but the story eventually builds into something rather dramatic. I thought it was worth watching and I enjoyed the fact that most of the action takes place at Royal Holloway. (Do I need to watch Fear the Walking Dead now?)
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Haunted (Hjemsøkt) (2017) — Not Rated
After her father’s death Catherine travels back to her old family estate in winter time Norway. When locals start telling stories of disappearances and possible murders, she is forced to confront her family’s mysterious past. There’s nothing particular ground-breaking about this ghost story–it doesn’t have any special bells or whistles–but I loved it all the same. The Norwegian setting is gorgeous. (Just look at that still above.) The lead actress is a pleasure to watch. The story held my attention to the very end, and I look forward to watching it again. I have one quibble that I’m longing to discuss, so do let me know if you watch.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Clara’s Ghost (2018) — Not Rated
Set over the course of a single evening in the Reynolds family home in suburban Connecticut, Clara’s Ghost tells the story of Clara Reynolds who, fed up with constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I started watching this. It features a hilariously dysfunctional family of actors who decide to gather in order to torment each other AND celebrate their dog’s birthday. Bad behavior ensues. This is another film written and directed by a woman, and I absolutely love the fact that it was a family project. I look forward to Bridey Elliot’s next film.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66

BONUS! Ghostly films I enjoy watching again and again:
The Haunting (1963) — Previously discussed here.
The Changeling (1980) — Previously discussed here.
The Others (2001)
The Eclipse (2009) — Previously discussed here (scroll all the way down)
The Awakening (2011) — Previously discussed here.
The Conjuring (2013)

Part I: Family Friendly SPOOKY Films

I’m launching this year’s festivities with a few movies the whole family might enjoy. Please check the Parental Guide for each title. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films, and don’t forget last year’s family viewing options. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

PLEASE NOTE: if you crave 500 jump scares per film, you may be disappointed by my recommendations. For more context on this, check out Chris Stuckmann’s youtube video, The Problem with Horror Movies Today–he makes a great point.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Hole in the Ground (2019) — Rated R (not sure why?)
A young mother living in the Irish countryside with her son suspects his increasingly disturbing behavior is linked to a mysterious sinkhole in the forest, and fears he may not be her son at all. This is a bit slow to start, perhaps, but your patience will be rewarded. You’ll also be pleased to see the ubiquitous and always delightful James Cosmo. This film is both familiar and unique, and I loved the setting.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide /
Metascore: 63


Wait Till Helen Comes (2016) — Rated TV-14
When a reconstructed family moves to a converted church in the country, 14-year-old Molly, must save her new troubled step-sister from a dangerous relationship with the desperate ghost of a young girl. Raise your hand if you loved this book by Mary Downing Hahn! I’ve read it twice, and I thought this adaptation was pretty strong–spooky and tense without being gruesome, vulgar, or gratuitously violent. Great family fare, but not recommended for the little ones.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No metascore


The Witch in the Window (2018) — Not rated
When Simon brings his twelve year-old son, Finn, to rural Vermont to help flip an old farmhouse, they encounter the malicious spirit of Lydia, a previous owner. And now with every repair they make – she’s getting stronger. This is my favorite of the family viewing options, and it’s one of my favorite spooky movies viewed this year. It’s so wonderfully character-driven and felt like I was getting a view into the world of a real family–a family I cared deeply about. Speaking of jump scares, there’s a well-earned one that made me squeak!
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore

Perhaps best for 14-up due to language & violence:


The Dark (2005) — Rated R
In mourning over the tragic drowning of their daughter Sarah, James and Adèle are visited by Ebrill, a young girl who claims she died 60 years ago – and bears a startling resemblance to Sarah. Maria Bello and Sean Bean (!) star in this dark and creepy mystery set on the Welsh coast (but shot in Ireland, of course). It’s a good-looking film with lots of cool Gothic trappings, and yet a bit darker than the options listed above. Based on the novel Sheep, by Simon Maginn.
Watch the Trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore


Summer of ’84 — Not Rated
After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous. Very reminiscent of Stranger Things, this film offers mystery and thrills without the paranormal content. Fair warning: crude language and teen boy humor abound, and the finale is grim.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / Metascore: 57

Stay tuned for ghostly film recommendations!