Thursday, January 5, 2017

Read Harder Challenge 2016


In 2016 some dear friends and I participated in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Overall, it was a positive experience, encouraging me to read some truly fabulous books that I otherwise might have skipped. (Who'd have guessed I'd so enjoy a food memoir?) Thought you might like to see the list.

Horror book: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Nonfiction book about science: Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo
Collection of essays: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett
A book read outloud to someone else: Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick & Sophie Blackall
Middle grade novel: Summerlost, by Ally Condee
Biography (not memoir or autobiography): Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Jackson
Dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.R. Carey (EXCELLENT audiobook)
Book published in decade I was born (actually published year I was born): Enquiry, by Dick Francis
Audiobook that won an Audie: Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
A book over 500 pages long: South Riding, by Winifred Holtby (re-read)
A book under 100 pages: Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, by Gwendolyn Hooks
Book by or about person that identifies as transgender: George, by Alex Gino
A book set in the Middle East: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
A book by an author from Southeast Asia: Ghost Bride, by Yangze Choo
A book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands
The first book in a series by a person of color: The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton
A non-superhero comic that debuted in last three years: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
A book that was adapted into a movie--watch movie afterwards and debate which was better:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (A re-read, of course. I watched the Toby Stephens/Ruth Wilson adaptation. The book is better, duh.)
A nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes: A Serious Endeavour: Gender, Education and Community at St Hugh's, 1886-2011, by Laura Schwartz
A book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Celebrating Christmas with Jesus: An Advent Devotional, by Max Lucado
A book about politics in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): The Prince, by Machiavelli
A food memoir: My Life in France, by Julia Child
A play: The Weir, by Connor Macpherson
A book with a main character that has a mental illness: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

I'm taking this year off, but here's the 2017 challenge in case you're interested.

Other favorite reads of 2016:
Morpho Eugenia, by A.S. Byatt (re-read)
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (re-read)
The Radiant Road, by Katherine Catmull
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge
Astercote, by Penelope Lively
The Brontë Cabinet, by Deborah Lutz
The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, by Penelope Lively
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Daddy Long-legs, by Jean Webster
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Excellent Women, by Barbara Pam
Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers (re-read)
Amberwell, by D.E. Stevenson
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
The Moving Finger, by Agatha Christie
No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read

Here is my Goodreads Year in Review (which leaves out the re-reads, argh).

Please share your favorite reads of 2016 in the comments, or link me to your own "Goodreads Year in Review" or blog post!


[Crossposted at Livejournal]

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December Tea and a Book: No Holly for Miss Quinn (Christmas at Fairacre)


Quick take: So COZY.
(Special thanks to Laura B. for recommending it and to Glenda A. for gifting it!)

Goodreads synopsis: Miss Quinn, who cherishes her privacy, intends to spend Christmas on her own as she likes it. But before the holiday, her brother telephones to tell her that his wife has been rushed to the hospital, and would Miss Quinn come and stay with the children? Miss Quinn's unexpectedly hectic Christmas has a significant effect upon her life.

(Above you see Christmas at Fairacre, an omnibus that includes No Holly for Miss Quinn. Check this Goodreads page for reviews and links to various vendors of the individual novel. Or check here for the omnibus.)

My thoughts: My mom has always loved the novels of Miss Read (a.k.a. Dora Jessie Saint, who died in 2012 at the age of 98). I read one or two of them when I was young, but at that time I didn't have quite such a powerful craving for quiet and cozy books. Well, I do now! And amidst all the madness of late, this book certainly hit the spot.

I thoroughly empathized with Miriam Quinn's preference for quiet and solitude. At the same time, it was great fun to see her thrown in with her brother's somewhat feral brood of children. Oh, the appalling disorder! How satisfying to watch her organize them, and then how delightful to see her loosen up and enjoy various sweet moments of connection with each child. My favorite part involved the two nieces, one of whom knows "the truth" about Father Christmas and is aching to spoil her younger sister. Our Miriam deals with that in a lovely way.

No Holly for Miss Quinn is a quick read brimming with warmth and humor, and even a tiny bit of romance. Chime in if you've read it -- I'd love to hear about your favorite moments!

Related favorite things:


I particularly enjoyed the illustrations by J.S. Goodall, which gave me the same cozy feeling as those of Garth Williams (the Little House books) and Pauline Baynes (the Narnia books).


LOOK AT THIS! I have listened to this Enya CD about a million times, and I never once associated this song with Miss Read. How delightful! Do have a listen.

Miss Read/Dora Saint wrote of her own childhood in Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered (now combined in a single volume entitled Early Days). Also, for more on her inspiration for the novels' settings, see On the Trail of Thrush Green.

And now for tea:


I tend to make the same treats every year for Christmas, so this time I tried something different: Chocolate-Cherry Snowballs from the Betty Crocker website. Click the link for the recipe, which is pretty straightforward. I will say, however, that next time I'll make the cookies smaller because they really should be bite-sized. (Otherwise, MESS.) Also, I would recommend you wait until they are quite cool before you roll them in the powdered sugar. They need time to set so as not to crumble when you roll, and they get stickier as they cool, which makes the sugar cling nicely. (I learned all this the hard way, of course!) I followed advice given in the comments and used maraschino cherries instead of candied, which worked quite well. (Where does one find candied cherries, anyway?)

Here is a closer view of the "snowballs".

In the pot is Thé des Délices, a black tea containing citrus peel, candied mandarins, and cocoa nibs. So delicious, and only available during the holidays from Palais des Thés.

Don't forget to check out my December Holiday Reading List, and do let me know if I've left out one of your favorites. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Favorites: Holiday reading list!



The following is my first stab at an exhaustive list of December holiday-themed fiction for adults and kids. Books that I have read and recommend are indicated with an asterisk (*). I've linked each title to Goodreads so that you can see reviews and click through to your vendor of choice. (Amazon is featured most prominently, of course, but if you click "stores" you'll find other vendors.)

I know I've missed so many titles. If you don't see one of your favorites, please list the title in a comment and I'll happily add. (There must be more MG, YA, and adult fiction involving Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, yes?)


[books alphabetized by title]

For (so-called) adults
Burning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories, by Megan Hart et al.
Christmas at Fairacre, by Miss Read
Christmas at Rose Hill Farm: An Amish Love Story, by Suzanne Woods Fisher
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings, by Charles Dickens
*Christmas in Cornwall, by Marcia Willett
Christmas Journey, by Anne Perry
*A Christmas Party (Envious Casca), by Georgette Heyer
*Christmas Pudding, by Nancy Mitford
The Doctor's Christmas, by Marta Perry
*An English Murder, by Cyril Hare
Festival of Deaths, by Jane Haddam
Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by Agatha Christie
*High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett
Holiday Miracles: A Christmas/Hanukkah Story, by Ellyn Bache
Lighting the Flames, by Sarah Wendell
An Informal Christmas, by Heather Gray
A Merry Little Christmas, by Anita Higman
A Midnight Clear, by William Wharton
Miracle and other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis
The Mistletoe Promise and *The Mistletoe Inn, by Richard Paul Evans
Old Christmas, by Washington Irving
The Old Peabody Pew, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Dogs, by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg
Shepherds Abiding, a Mitford Christmas Novel, by Jan Karon
*The Sittaford Mystery, by Agatha Christie
*The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen
Tied up in Tinsel, by Ngiao Marsh
*Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher

For teens, kids, and kids-at-heart
*The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
*The Box of Delights, by John Masefield
*The Children of Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston
*A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932 (Dear America), by Kathryn Lasky
Christmas Fairy Tales, by Neil Philip
*The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares and The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily, by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn
The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford
Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
*Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien
*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
London Snow, by Paul Theroux
*My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins
Nutcracked, by Susan Adrian (forthcoming in 2017!)
The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman
The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah, by Isaac Bashevis Singer,
What Light, by Jay Asher
When Christmas Comes Again: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer (Dear America),
by Beth Seidel Levine
Winterspell, by Claire Legrand

Picture books
Babar and Father Christmas, by Jean de Brunhoff
Bear Stays Up for Christmas, by Karma Wilson
Chanukah Lights, by Michael J. Rosen
The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot
The Christmas Mouse, by Elisabeth Wenning
Christmas Time, by Sandra Boynton
Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book by Laura Krauss Melmed
The Golem's Latkes, by Eric A. Kimmel
*A Guinea Pig Nativity, by Bloomsbury Publishing
Hanukkah! by Roni Schotter
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel
Hanukkah Haiku, by Harriet Ziefert
The Hanukkah Mice, by Ronne Randall
Hanukkah Moon by Deborah daCosta
Kevin's Kwanzaa, by Lisa Bullard
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola
The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story, by Kallie George
Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley
The Miracle Jar: A Hanukkah Story, by Audrey Penn
My First Kwanzaa, by Karen Katz
My First Kwanzaa Book, by Deborah Chocolate
*The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore
*The Polar Express, by Christ Van Allsburg
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis
Snowmen at Christmas, by Caralyn Buehner
The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler
*The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden
The Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatrix Potter
Together for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda G. Ford
The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Peek-Through Picture Book, by Britta Teckentrup

Books/series with lovely Christmas chapters
Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling
Little House in the Big Woods (& sequels), by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Next week I'll feature one of the novels listed above for my December "Tea and a Book" post, so stay tuned!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Spooky Films for Younger Viewers


To conclude my 2016 "Spooky Films for Halloween" series, I offer suggestions appropriate for younger viewers (and those adults who aren't quite up to the intense horror options I've previously recommended). Please mention your own favorites in the comments, and I will gladly watch. Always looking for options to feature in next year's post!


ParaNorman (2012) -- rated PG
A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

A good choice for young viewers who enjoy potty humor, mild body horror (e.g. zombie arms falling off), and extended chase scenes. The tone takes a more serious turn in the climactic scenes, which are really quite stunning to watch.
Watch the trailer. Rent at Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 72/100


Frankenweenie (2012) -- rated PG
Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

This poignant and suspenseful homage to classic monster movies bogs down just a bit in the middle (in my opinion), but patient viewers will be rewarded when disaster and hilarity ensue! (Is it just me, or does Victor resemble Cillian Murphy?)
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 74/100


Coraline (2009) -- rated PG
An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets.

I loved Neil Gaiman's book, and this adaptation is eerie, odd, and totally endearing. Highly recommended!
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 80/100

Also recommended -- two ghostly mini-series from the UK:


From Time to Time (2009) -- rated PG
A haunting ghost story spanning two worlds, two centuries apart. When 13 year old Tolly finds he can mysteriously travel between the two, he begins an adventure that unlocks family secrets laid buried for generations.

Julian Fellowes' adaptation of Lucy M. Boston's Chimneys of Green Knowe is more mystery than horror. I love stories involving WWII child evacuees, and the setting of this film is wonderfully Gothic. Gently paced and at times a bit twee, this story will appeal to young fans of historical fiction.
Watch the trailer. Available to stream from Netflix. Rent from Amazon.


The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012) -- unrated
A year after their son goes missing, a family moves to Crickley Hall. When supernatural events begin to take place, Eve feels the house is somehow connected to her lost son.
I've seen this twice now, and I liked it even better upon second viewing. Caution: It's not for little kids, but I think it might work for family viewing with kids 12-up. Great setting, strong performances, and an interesting mystery. Please keep in mind its emphasis on loss and grief, and understand that there are many scenes involving children in serious peril.
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon.

[all synopses from imdb.com]

In case you missed them: This year's Spooky Film round-up Part I and Part II.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Spooky film round-up, part II -- 2016* releases


The Witch -- Rated R
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Many fans of mainstream horror have panned this specimen of "cerebral horror" for being slow and hard to follow, but I was caught in its spell. If you have a passing familiarity with early American history and/or the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, you understand how Puritan paranoia could warp individuals and destroy entire communities. This film imagines the worst Puritan fears actually coming true for a family living in exile. Brilliantly realized, but not easy to watch.
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon (free for Prime members). Metascore: 83/100


The Boy -- Rated PG-13
An American nanny is shocked that her new English family's boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive.
I loved the wacky premise of this film, and the Gothic setting was right up my alley. Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) and Rupert Evans (star of The Canal, featured in my last blog post) offer sympathetic performances as their characters negotiate this bizarre situation. In fact, I was quite enjoying the film...until a certain frustrating reveal. As The New York Times said, "It still has enough scary moments to satisfy horror fans, but you're left wondering whether it might have been more disturbing had it stayed on its original path." I will watch this one again.
Watch the trailer. Available to rent on Amazon. Metascore: 42/100


Lights Out -- Rated PG-13
When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
I appreciated this film conceptually--light is used in interesting ways, especially in the final showdown. I never really cared about the characters, however, which undermined the tension considerably. (Note to self: backstory is no substitute for real-time character development.) Still worth watching, but I'd wait for the rental.
Watch the trailer. Available to purchase from Amazon. Metascore: 58/100.


The Conjuring 2 -- Rated R
Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by a malicious spirit.
Argh. I really loved the first Conjuring movie, particularly for its character development and thrilling paranormal investigation sequences. This "sequel" takes another real-life investigation of a haunting and casts the Warrens as saviors, even though they really only spent one day on the case. That wouldn't have mattered to me if this had been a good movie. Unfortunately, it seemed more concerned with showcasing computer-generated ghosts and ghouls. (I swear the Babadook made a couple of guest appearances--so jarring.) That said, I did enjoy most of the scenes involving the children, and young Madison Wolfe was impressive as Janet.
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Metascore: 65/100

[I think you'll find a more nuanced depiction of the Enfield Poltergeist in this UK mini-series starring Timothy Spall and Matthew Macfadyen as paranormal investigators Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair. Eleanor Worthington-Cox is excellent as Janet.]

*Bonus recommendations:


Ginger Snaps (2000)
Two death-obsessed sisters, outcasts in their suburban neighborhood, must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a deadly werewolf.
How did it take me so long to see this Canadian cult classic? I just LOVE lycanthropy as a metaphor for adolescence, particularly with a female focus. Excellent characterization and conflict, and the horror is tempered by humor in a way that reminds me of American Werewolf in London. This unrated film features adult content and is fairly gory, so perhaps not suited to pre-teen viewers?
Watch the trailer. Available on Hulu or rent from Amazon. Metascore: 70/100


The Eclipse (2009) (Rated R)
In a seaside Irish town, a widower sparks with a visiting horror novelist while he also begins to believe he is seeing ghosts.
I appreciated this film even more upon my second viewing. The Eclipse is a quiet, character-driven movie featuring a few carefully-timed jump scares that may, at first, seem incongruous. I can't adequately express how wonderful Ciarán Hinds is as the haunted widower. I can say that Aidan Quinn is perfectly awful as a self-involved author, and I mean that as a compliment--he is perfect in his awfulness.
Watch the trailer. Available free to Amazon Prime members. (If you buy the DVD, you get a wonderful "Behind the Scenes" documentary.) Metascore: 67/100

[All synopses from imdb.com]

Find part I of my spooky film round-up here.

Coming soon: spooky film recommendations for KIDS!


[Cross-posted at Livejournal.]