Tag Archives: tea and a book

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

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?***

Tea and Comfort with D.E. Stevenson

No doubt I’ve said this before, but lately the world is too much with me. More than ever I crave the escape of fiction, and today I’m recommending one of my very favorite “escape artists” — Dorothy Emily Stevenson.

I wrote about D.E. Stevenson a few years ago when I  recommended Miss Buncle’s Book. Little did I know at the time that I would get to enjoy TWO more books about those characters before moving on to Stevenson’s standalone novels. Since devouring the Buncle trilogy, I’ve happily consumed twelve additional Stevenson novels–some of them more than once–and I think there are 25+ more waiting to be read. It makes me feel quite spoiled for choice. Such luxury!

I’m very fond of my editions from Sourcebooks Landmark, which you can see in the featured image above. Furrowed Middlebrow, an imprint of Dean Street Press, also has released two Stevenson books with an introduction by bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith. Perhaps if I can’t convince you to give Stevenson a try, he will:

[Stevenson’s novels] are in a category of their own: clearly-written straightforward tales that take the reader through a clear plot and reach a recognisable and unambiguous ending. The appeal that they have for the contemporary reader lies in the fact that there is no artifice in these books. They are not about dysfunctional people. They are not about psychopathology. There is no gore or sadism in them. The characters speak in sentences and do not resort to constant confrontational exchanges. In other words, these books are far from modern.

Quite a few D.E. Stevenson books are available at Audible.com, and I can vouch that they are cozy entertainment for long drives. If you’d like to know a little (or a lot) more about Stevenson and her books, you’ll find plenty of information at this lovingly curated website.

To complete my bloggish offering of comfort, how about some tea and a sweet treat? D.E. Stevenson was born in Scotland and lived there her entire life (as far as I can tell), and thus I thought a Scottish treat might be just the thing. What could be more Scottish than shortbread? I searched for recipes online until I found this interesting variation: Jam-filled shortbread cookies. They were so easy to make and quite delicious–I had all the ingredients on hand already, including strawberry and black current jam. The cookie cutters were procured from JoAnn, and for tea I chose a Scottish afternoon blend from Brodies Fine Teas, a Fair Trade option available at Amazon. It makes a very strong cup, perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up, but I wouldn’t steep it for more than 3 minutes.

Listening Valley, a gift from dear friend Glenda, was my most recent read from Stevenson. Not my very favorite of her novels, but a pleasure to read nonetheless. Now that I think of it, it reminded me vaguely of L.M. Montgomery’s stories of Emily Starr — when you learn what “listening valley” means to the heroine, perhaps (like me) you’ll be reminded of “the Flash”?

Let us close with some final thoughts from Alexander McCall Smith:

These are gentle books, very fitting for times of uncertainty and conflict. Some books can be prescribed for anxiety–these are in that category. And it is an honourable and important one.

Yes, indeed!

What are your comfort reads? Do share in the comments!