Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy holiday things -- a photo recap

Sweet nieces!

A cozy cabin in the Ozarks.

Gently falling snow.

And a Christmas wagon ride! (Aren't Gus and Woodrow handsome?)

Tonight we'll be snuggled up at home with our kitty, and I doubt we'll stay up until midnight. But that's okay!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Notable books for 2012

For a few years now I've written a monthly book review for Book End Babes. Actually, "review" isn't quite accurate--since I always feature a book that I loved, it's more a monthly book recommendation.

I thought it would be nice to collect all my '12 recs into one blog post, but please note this isn't a comprehensive list. Sometimes I read something really great but it doesn't quite jive with my blogging schedule, and I end up recommending something I've read more recently. Or I read an older book that excites me to no end, but I don't review it because it seems more appropriate to choose a newly published book for the blog.

So, this isn't my "best" books of 2012; rather, it's the 11 books that seemed best for recommending at Book End Babes. Click the links for full reviews!

January -- How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. (Contemporary YA)
February -- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. (Historical)
March -- The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell (Gothic historical/mystery MG) and Perception by Kim Harrington (paranormal mystery YA).
April -- Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand.(Time slip YA?)
May -- Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. (Fantasy YA)
June -- went on hiatus to get ready for Oxford trip
July -- Code Name Verity** by Elizabeth Wein. (WWII-era historical, spy drama YA)
August -- Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. (Excessively diverting YA Regency romance)
September -- The Diviners by Libba Bray. (Paranormal historical/mystery YA)
October -- Sparrow Road by Shelia O'Connor (contemporary MG) and Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull (fantasy MG).
November -- Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak. (Contemporary YA drama/mystery)
December -- Splendors and Glooms** by Laura Amy Schlitz. (Gothic historical/fantasy MG)

**I can safely say that Code Name Verity and Splendors and Glooms were my two favorite books of the year.

How about you? Any favorites to recommend?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Clinging to Christmas cheer

This past Friday was horrifying, I know. Others have shared wisdom and comfort much more eloquently that I ever could (including my friend Dr. Lisa Marotta, who offers thoughts on helping your child weather the storm of tragedy at her blog). My own form of coping is to refocus on the joy of the holidays.

First off, I wanted to thank people for their music/book/film recommendations. I'm excited to explore all your suggestions. For music, specifically, I've already added Dee Dee Chumley's recommendation of the Ware Patterson Duo's An Angel's Noel. XM radio's Holiday Pops inspired me to get Noels and Carols from the Olde World from Apollo's Fire and Joy to the World from the King's Singers. My favorite song from the latter is "What Child is This" -- you can listen to the audio on their Myspace Page, or you might check out their rendition of "Greensleeves" (same music, different lyrics):

Saturday was my crit group's annual Christmas tea at Inspirations Tea Room. It was wonderfully cheering to spend time with these amazing ladies, and you know I can't resist sharing a tea photo or two:

The tiered tray is always impressive . . .

and the company always divine!

I'm nearly done with Christmas shopping. This week I plan to buy those last few things, do some holiday baking, wrap presents, revise a short story, go ice skating with friends, and hopefully watch a few more Christmas movies. (Have already watch The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Holiday (the latter twice!).

What are your special traditions for the week leading up to Christmas? And those of you who celebrated Hanukkah -- was it wonderful? I hope so!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A tea for December

Last week I chatted about favorite holiday music, movies, and books. This week it's holiday tea!

As many of you know, my favorite holiday tea blend is from Harney & Sons and can be ordered online or found in Barnes & Noble cafes (as well as in many shops that stock specialty food items). You can order loose leaf OR sachets!

Described as "a black tea spiced with citrus, almond, clove and cinnamon," Harney's Holiday Tea is my favorite thing to drink on chilly December afternoons.

Some other options:
Adagio's Christmas Blend
Mighty Leaf's Holiday Blend (if you'd like something fruity)
Celestial Seasonings' Gingerbread Tea (if you prefer a non-caffeinated option)
Celestial Seasonings' Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride (another caffeine-free option, suggested by Jessica McCann)
Do you have another favorite to recommend for the holidays?

The Holiday Tea pairs perfectly with Swedish Ginger Cookies (see recipe below--yes, I rave about these cookies every year!) or sugar cookies with homemade frosting.

Swedish Ginger Cookies

Contributed to The Kansas Cookbook by Mrs. Ernest A. (Eunice) Wall

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup sugar

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar, butter or margarine, and shortening together. Add the molasses and egg, mixing well.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix well. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Roll the dough into 3/4-inch balls. Place 1/2 cup of sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll the balls in the sugar and place on a cookie sheet. Flatten each with a small glass or a smooth object. Bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes.

Makes 5 dozen.

**My notes. Maybe I make my cookies too big, but I've NEVER managed 5 dozen cookies with this recipe! Also, I boost the spice amounts a bit and throw in a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice for good measure. To ease the process of rolling the dough into balls, I separate the dough into halves and roll each half into a tube and chill it in parchment. Then I can just slice the dough to form the balls. (Maybe it's easier to use a scoop? I like the logs of dough because they're slightly obscene-looking. Fun times! Also, I bake about 9 minutes.)

(photos awesomized with the "leaded window" frame in Camera Awesome)

[cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Favorites: Christmas Edition

Hooray for Christmas!

As happens every year, my joy is tinged with panic. There's the panic of shopping lists and travel plans, yes, but there's also the fear that I'll let the season slip by without savoring every moment. With that in mind, I'd like to use this space to dwell on some favorite things and hopefully get your input, as well.

Christmas Music
I've never been a fan of the pop star Christmas albums, or anything too
contemporary (with the exception of Loreena McKennit or Vince Guaraldi, if you can even call the latter contemporary). I am more drawn to Rennaissance and Baroque music, or stuff that approximates them. Here's a sampling of what I've been listening to:

Mistletoe and Wine from Mediaeval Baebes (This is sort of a contemporary/Medieval hybrid, right?)
The Baroque Christmas Album
Baroque Christmas Masques
Renaissance Holiday, from Mannheim Steamroller (but not REALLY Mannheim, according to reviews?)

As mentioned above, I also love Charlie Brown Christmas, and many years ago when I worked for an indie bookstore in Milwaukee, WI (the now defunct Audubon Court Books), I bought Noel! by the Griffith-Hanser Duo (which isn't available anymore? Wah.). So I'm wondering . . . do you have any recommendations for me?

Christmas Movies
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe--the book and movie always put me in the Christmas mood!
The Holiday--the first time I saw this one, I scoffed a little at its sentimentality. What a jerk! I adore it now. (Though I still have to look away when Jude Law is crying at the end.)
You've Got Mail--not exactly a Christmas movie, but the holiday bits are nice, aren't they?

What am I missing? I'm not a huge fan of It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, or even A Christmas Story. I respect them as beloved classics, but I never personally connected with them. I know some of you would mention Love Actually, but the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman story is unbearable for me. And I prefer stories with a more restricted cast, anyway.

ETA: Here's an exhaustive "Roundup" of Holiday movies! I didn't know In Bruges had anything to do with Christmas--I'm not a huge Colin Farrell fan, but Bruges is one of my favorite cities, so perhaps I should check this out? Oh, and I forgot all about Bridget Jones' Diary! Love that one. And The Family Stone. I might be ready to watch The Dead again, too. What a great list!

Christmas Books
Other than the aforementioned The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I find myself at a loss. Little Women? Sort of Christmassy. I should probably read A Christmas Carol. (Performing in the play a 100 times is not the same thing.) Actually, the novel I'm reading now--the fabulous Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz--feels Christmassy because of its Dickensian orphans and villains. But what books am I forgetting? Anyone have Christmas related novels to recommend? Particularly COZY MYSTERIES? (Oooh, look at this! Seems like I've read Rhys Bowen before, but my memory is foggy . . .)

Next week: Christmas tea and baked goodies!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A tea for November

This month's post is inspired more by the tea treat than the tea itself. I was keen to make pumpkin scones from scratch, and for me a very flavorful scone pairs well with a traditional black tea. And thus I chose Adagio's Assam Harmony.

From the website:
Bold, powerful black tea from the Assam region of India. A deep, burgundy-red cup, textured spicy and roasted grain aroma, malty rich flavor with notes of raisins. Pungent, but smooth astringency, making this tea an ideal cup to pair with milk and sugar.

Assam Harmony has long been a favorite of mine. (Apparently, it's a favorite of many others, as well, for it's out of stock at Adagio until the end of the month. Do check back if you're interested!) It's very versatile -- as pleasing for breakfast as it is for an afternoon pick-me-up.

You'll find the recipe for these pumpkin scones here (I halved the ingredients in order to make 8 scones). They truly are moist and delicious, and you control the sweetness with how heavily you drizzle the glaze. Bottom line -- if I can manage such gorgeous, tasty specimens on my first attempt, you'll have no trouble at all!

I enjoyed tea in front of the fireplace, making it a special event by employing my pewter tea service. Steve and I found this set at a charming shop in Clarksville, Missouri -- ASL Pewter. Their pewter is 100% lead-free and completely safe for the kitchen and table.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

October event recap

I'm behind on EVERYTHING, but that won't stop me from sharing three October event photos.

1. A visit to Choctaw High School!
Librarian Theresa Kluge, the cooperating teachers, and all the students made me feel very welcome. Please note the GHOSTLY ORBS in the above photo, not to mention the young man doing his homework (hee!) and the girl with the gorgeous strawberry-colored hair.

2. A visit to Houston County Public Library in Erin, TN!
You guys, they made a POSTER for me. And they served punch and yummy cookies. Before stuffing my face, I spoke to a very charming group of folks, some of whom were friends and even former teachers. (I grew up in the neighboring county.) What a great time! [Photo courtesy of Houston County Public Library -- and yes, I desperately need a haircut. #shaggy]

3. A group signing at Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN!
Can you spot Beth Revis, Tessa Gratton, Stephanie Perkins, Myra McEntire, and Victoria Schwab? I'm such a FANGIRL for these ladies, and it was an honor to sign with them in this lovely little store.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movie Monday: THE HAUNTING (1963)

My final ghostly offering from Martin Scorsese's 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time is the unforgettable and endlessly re-watchable The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise (who made the film between directing West Side Story and The Sound of Music -- not too shabby).

What Scorsese has to say:
“You may not believe in ghosts but you cannot deny terror!” was the tagline for this absolutely terrifying 1963 Robert Wise picture about the investigation of a house plagued by violently assaultive spirits.

So what's the story? As Dr. Richard Markway explains in the introductory voice-over: "It was an evil house from the beginning - a house that was born bad." Markway (Richard Johnson) sets out to gather "psychically-inclined" people to study Hill House. Only two show up -- fragile Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) and stylish clairvoyant Theodora (Claire Bloom). The young man who will inherit the house, skeptical Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), joins them as well.

Like all the films I've recommended, this is not a shock and gore fest. In fact, tension and dread build slowly as the four explore the house. One thing I love is how, unlike the claustrophobic tight shots of The Innocents, the 30mm wide angle Panavision lens of The Haunting often made the characters seem small and helpless, almost as if they might fall out of frame. (I wish I had a better example to show you than the one above.) Tilted shots and quick cuts also contribute to the viewer's disorientation.

The house is creepy enough by day, but the horror really kicks into gear at night. Every time I sit through these scenes of Nell and Theo in their bedroom -- scenes in which we see nothing but fear everything -- my heart pounds wildly. It's genius!

Is the house warping its inhabitants -- making them paranoid, fearful, unhinged -- or are their pre-existing neuroses feeding the house? Both? I love this off-center shot of Eleanor in high contrast lighting.

I first saw The Haunting shortly after reading Shirley Jackson's brilliant The Haunting of Hill House, and I could only focus on the differences between novel and screenplay. Now I appreciate that this film is quite wonderful on its own terms. If possible, get your hands on the DVD with commentary. I find it so interesting to hear how Julie Harris felt isolated and depressed during filming, and how she thought the other castmembers were buddying up and sometimes even making fun of the film, which she found disrespectful. The other actors all remark on how Julie Harris isolated herself purposefully, as if she were method acting. Richard Johnson has loads to say about his performance, Robert Wise's direction, and the differences between film and stage acting. (He's very charming and eloquent.) And the input from Robert Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding, each now deceased, is priceless.

And this concludes my Halloween ghostly film rec series. I do hope you will revisit at least one of these B&W classics. If you do, please let me know what you think!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, October 19, 2012

A tea for October

I had dreams of doing a fancy photo shoot for this month's featured tea. With so much going on, however, what I really needed was a simple and comforting cuppa. So today I'm featuring my go-to tea for days when I need some sweetness and warmth to drive away the blues.

Tea Palace is my favorite English purveyor of tea, and my preferred blend is Notting Hill. If you like black tea flavored with vanilla, this one is guaranteed to soothe and delight.

(As far as I can tell, there are no American distributors for Tea Palace. They do ship internationally! It's not cheap, but their teas are worth the splurge. And they offer sample tins for taste-testing. If you're in London, do check out their charming shop in Covent Garden.)

Isn't it lovely? Notice the marigold petals -- apparently they are known by herbalists to "comfort the heart and spirits." (Learn more here.) If you look closely (click to enlarge) you'll also find bits of Bourbon vanilla beans.

For comfort tea, I always use my big red mugs. The Notting Hill pairs nicely with Dr. Lucy's Gluten Free Ginger Snaps. It also pairs well with a good book -- currently I am wrapped up in the magic and mystery of Katherine Catmull's Summer and Bird.

What is your comfort tea? Do tell -- and share a photo if you like!

Also, if you have a favorite recipe for an Autumnal baked goodie, please share. Next month I intend to BAKE. From scratch.
(Alert the media!)

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Movie Monday: The Innocents (1961)

As we continue with ghostly B&W films from Martin Scorsese's 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time, I must confess how much I love Henry James' Turn of the Screw. I've read it several times, seen the play, seen the opera, seen (& taught) the 1999 BBC adaptation with Jodhi May and Colin Firth, and I never can get enough. Therefore I was eager to see this classic B&W adaptation starring Deborah Kerr.

What Scorsese has to say:
This Jack Clayton adaptation of The Turn of the Screw is one of the rare pictures that does justice to Henry James. It’s beautifully crafted and acted, immaculately shot (by Freddie Francis), and very scary.

The story: a wealthy man hires a young, inexperienced governess to educate his nephew and niece and to preside over the running of his remote country estate. The only catch? He will be elsewhere, and she must never bother him with questions or concerns. Despite this, our governess makes a good start. The house and grounds are beautiful, and young Flora seems a delightful girl.

(Notice the use of deep focus in the above shot--Flora is smiling sweetly, but the shot is a little creepy, isn't it? Overall there is a very claustrophobic feel to the way this film is shot, and it heightens the horror in a lovely way.)

Everything changes when young Miles is sent home from school. He's a charming boy, but Miss Giddens* suspects more is going on. The children sometimes behave oddly together and are suspiciously secretive. The more she learns about their past, the more certain she is that they are haunted . . . and perhaps even in danger of becoming possessed.

*The governess is unnamed in the original story

She is determined to save their souls, no matter the peril.

Like the previously discussed films, The Innocents features a slow build of psychological horror rather than sudden shocks or gore. Still, I'd rank this one a little higher on the fright scale. It's dark, tense, and at times, very disquieting. If there are any other fans of The Innocents out there, do share your favorite things about it (as long as they're not terribly spoilery)!

One thing that lingered in my mind long after the film was over -- the song "Willow Waly." We hear Flora singing it before the opening credits begin, and it continues as a refrain throughout. It beguiles and chills at the same time:

Next week we conclude with The Haunting (1963) -- one of my very favorite haunted house movies of all time!

P.S. I just learned of a 2009 TV adaptation of Turn of the Screw with Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens (Lady Mary and Cousin Matthew)! What what? By all accounts it is terrible, and yet . . . I might have to take a look.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Favorites: I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and journaling

My hardcover edition
Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle ranks among my top ten favorite books. Along with brilliant writing, it features the sort of characters and plot elements that make me giddy:

-- a brainy, bookish girl who wants to be a writer
-- a ramshackle castle setting
-- an eccentric, artsy family
-- a pair of handsome, rich American boys as landlords and love interests.
-- kissing and dancing
-- yearning and heartbreak, but also PLENTY of laughter.
-- English countryside, English manners, English vicars
-- did I mention THE CASTLE?

Cassandra and Simon--this scene always makes me cry!
I rewatched the 2003 film adaptation this past weekend, and it sent me into swoons of ecstasy. Yes, in most cases the book is better than the film, but I have to give this screenplay credit for condensing the plot without sacrificing the emotional core of the story. And the cast! Romola Garai is perfection, as always, but in addition there are admirable performances from Bill Nighy, Tara Fitzgerald, Henry Cavill (so innocent prior to all that rutting about in The Tudors), and even Sinéad Cusack (Mrs. Thornton!) as wealthy, straight-talking (and vulgarly American) Mrs. Cotton. Still not quite sure about Henry Thomas as Simon Cotton, but this doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the film. The point of it all is Cassie, and Garai nails it.

Bonus wonderful thing -- while watching I wondered if the gorgeous soundtrack could possibly be available on iTunes. It is! And it was composed by Dario Marianelli, who also brought us the lush soundtracks for Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement, and Jane Eyre (2011), among others. Oh, and how fitting that Marianelli is rather handsome in a thinky and soulful way, which has nothing to do with anything except that I like to swoon.

Cassandra, her journal, and her castle
Best of all (and don't laugh at me), watching this film has renewed my zeal for journaling. And by that I mean actual writing in an actual bound journal, where I can say anything because it's meant only for me. After watching, I was just itching to write, but my current journal did not inspire. I bought it a few years ago at a lovely shop in New Orleans (Papier Plume), and it's charmingly compact and leather-bound, but I NEVER WANT TO WRITE IN IT. My hand doesn't fit! The lines are too narrow. I've only managed to write insipid stuff in this little book, which is an insult to the careful, loving way in which it was crafted. I'd promised myself that I wouldn't start a new journal until this one was filled, but when I looked at the long, long gaps between entries, I decided enough was enough. The little leather book has been put away, and now I am writing each day in my teNeus CoolNotes journal. It fits me! My thoughts spill forth onto its creamy, wide-ruled pages!

(I'm too old, however, to write in it while sitting in the sink.)

Are you a fan of I Capture the Castle--book and/or film? Do you keep a paper journal? If so, tell me all about it!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Monday, October 8, 2012

Movie Monday: The Uninvited (1944)

My second ghostly recommendation from Scorsese's 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time is The Uninvited, based on a novel by Dorothy Macardie, featuring a screenplay by Dodie Smith (I Capture the Castle! 101 Dalmations!) and Frank Partos.

What Scorsese has to say:
Another, more benign haunted house picture, set in England, no less atmospheric than The Haunting [which I will feature later] — the tone is very delicate, and the sense of fear is woven into the setting, the gentility of the characters.

The basic plot: during a getaway to the coast, a brother and sister (played by Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) come across a gorgeous mansion overlooking the sea. They decide to pool their meager resources to buy it. As brothers and sisters often do. No, really! It's charming.

(As I've been reminded by the more sensible forum posters on, in that time an unmarried sister would keep house for her bachelor brother, so I shouldn't tease.)

Isn't the house beautiful? Or is that just a model? Sadly, The Uninvited was filmed in California rather than England, and most of the actors are American, but you'll still be swept up in the mystery. Something isn't quite right with the house, you see. The animals run away. Disturbing sounds and cold spots trouble the new owners, and the maid is threatening to leave. The pretty girl down the street, who happened to grow up in the house, tries to leap off the cliff when she visits. What can be done?

Have a séance, of course!

After a slow start (during which an awkward romance develops between the brother and the cliff-leaping girl--their scenes are guaranteed to make you giggle), things start to get truly creepy. There's at least one jump-in-your-seat moment, and the special effects are surprisingly effective. The Uninvited is a great film for an October evening by the fire -- if you can find a copy. I had to buy the VHS tape, but there are rumors of a DVD release in the near future. Or perhaps you can find it on TCM?

Next week: The Innocents (1961)

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Flashback -- Ontology in the Bathtub

Years before I had this blog, I kept a (mostly) friends-locked diary at Livejournal. I was teaching high school back then and thus had lots of stress to vent, but I also had occasional moments of joy and triumph to celebrate.

I still blog at Livejournal, and very occasionally I go back and read old entries. Many of them are silly, and sometimes a bit too angsty, but a few entries still make me smile. I miss that old Sonia sometimes.

With that in mind, I decided it might be fun to occasionally resurrect particular entries for "Friday Flashback." Yes this is self-indulgent, but it may be the only way to save favorite entries if/when Livejournal bites the dust for good. And again, there's the smile factor. I need more of these.

So . . . let's take the Wayback Machine to: MARCH 23, 2005!

I just had to write about this moment I experienced recently -- a spiritual, transcendant sort of moment. I had one of those flashes of pure joy, during which I felt this overwhelming sense of connectedness, of awareness, of beingness. (It made me think of Madeleine L'Engle's discussions of "ontology" in A Circle of Quiet.) It was gorgeous. But here's the kicker. Do you wanna know where this experience took place?

*drum roll*

It happened when I was in the BATHTUB.

Seriously, though, the water was the perfect temperature, the bubbles smelled wonderful and were piled as high as my chin, and I was listening to the Mansfield Park soundtrack, which is just . . . so . . . amazing. And this burst of joy flooded over me.

It reminded me of a poem by Emily Dickinson. I've always adored this piece because it speaks of the holiness of our daily surroundings, the divinity of nature, the possibility of a direct connection to God, in a completely accessible and non-preachy way. And it always reminds me of that moment in the movie Black Robe, when the poor Jesuit priest, struggling to survive in the wild woods of the New World, suddenly perceives how the tree branches are forming a cathedral-like arched canopy. Oh, it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it all (and I'm not what you would call conventionally religious).

The poem:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church -
I keep it, staying at Home -
With a Bobolink for a Chorister -
And an Orchard, for a Dome -

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice -
I just wear my Wings -
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton - sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman -
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last -
I'm going, all along.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Movie Monday: Dead of Night

As research for a new story, I recently watched four B&W ghostly films from Martin Scorsese's 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time. Note to the scaredy cats: on a scale of heart-pounding,jump-out-of-your-seat horror, these movies rate fairly low, so even you might want to check them out!

The first offering is Dead of Night (1945), featuring stories from H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, and screenwriters John Baines and Angus MacPhail (the latter of whom wrote for Hitchcock and apparently coined the term "MacGuffin"):

In the words of Scorsese:

A British classic: four tales [my note: actually five] told by four strangers mysteriously gathered in a country house, each one extremely disquieting, climaxing with a montage in which elements from all the stories converge into a crescendo of madness. [...] it’s very playful…and then it gets under your skin.

The frame story for this film is so cleverly scripted and skillfully performed that it's easy to hand wave the preposterousness of how these people came together to tell their tales. Dead of Night also has a lovely Noir* feel to it. There are no sudden moments of screamworthy shock; rather, it's a slow burn of confusion, alienation, and psychological horror.

My favorite story within the collection, based on "The Chippendale Mirror" by E.F. Benson, features a very unique sort of haunting. A man's fiancée buys an antique mirror as a wedding present. One day when he's alone and checking his appearance, he notices that the reflection does not match the surroundings of his apartment. In fact, he sees himself in a darkly sumptuous bedroom with a four poster bed and fireplace, seemingly from another time. He's the only one who sees it, and it starts to drive him mad . . .

The most disturbing tale in the film offers Michael Redgrave as an unhinged ventriloquest whose dummy seems to be rebelling against him. Did any of you ever see Magic with Anthony Hopkins? I did, and I was too young to really understand what was going on. It haunts me to this day, and this story brought it all back. It's worth checking out the film for Redgrave's performance alone.

For me, the only unsatisfying part of Dead of Night was the story of the golf buddies fighting for the love of the same woman. There's a ghost, yes, but it wasn't enough to get me past the idiocy of the premise.

You science buffs might get a kick out of this little bit of trivia from the Internet Movie Database: Cosmolgists Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi, developed the (now discredited) Steady State theory of the universe, an alternative to the Big Bang, after seeing "Dead of Night". They said that the circular nature of the plot inspired the theory.

Next week: The Uninvited (1944)

*Speaking of Noir and circular plots, I saw Looper yesterday. LOVED IT. Such an ambitious screenplay is bound to have a few holes in it, but I appreciate Rian Johnson for taking risks and making me think. Lots of fine performances, too. I was totally swept up in the story.

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

A tea for September

I miss talking about tea.

In these stressful times, taking a moment to celebrate the soothing and fortifying ritual of afternoon tea seems a good idea, doesn't it? In fact, I'd like to start a tradition of monthly tea recommendations. Please feel free to join in with your own recs -- either in the comments or in a post of your own!

So without further ado . . . September's tea recommendation is Pleine Lune, from Mariage Frères.

Inspired by that heavenly body and the realm of dreams, this poetic blend combines fragrances evoking the feast of the full moon: fruits, rare spices, and the sweet taste of honey.

Don't the cornflowers make it gorgeous? For me, however, it's the honey and spice, and that hint of almond, that give this tea an early fall taste. (I also love that reference to "the feast of the full moon" in the description.) Best of all, you don't have to go to France to purchase this tea. It's available from various online merchants, including Dean & Deluca.

Chocolate chip scones from Iveta make the perfect companion to the Pleine Lune tea. These scones are a cinch to make -- just add heavy whipping cream and shape into a six-inch disk. Cut into six wedges and bake! (Order the scone mix directly from Iveta.)

Because I'm a tea nerd, I lke to be fancy and drink my French tea out of a French tea cup. In this case, it's the Gien "Raphael" set that Steve gave me as a gift many years ago.

How about you? Any tea recommendations for September?

*The above photos were taken with my iPhone using the CameraAwesome app and the "More Cowbell" filter. Christopher Walken would approve!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TV Tuesday: it's FALL!

If you've tuned into my blog today in hopes of finding meaningful content . . .


That's because I want to talk about Fall TV. Shall we compare notes?

I'm definitely watching:
Homeland: Just finished season 1 and I NEED MORE CLAIRE DANES. And Mandy Patinkin. And yes, Damien Lewis (argh, argh argh!).

American Horror Story-Asylum: Loved the first season, so I gotta see how they're rebooting it.

Fringe: Bittersweet that it's ending, but how nice to have proper closure. Loved what Joshua Jackson had to say at Comic Con.

I'll give these a chance:
Elementary: I am quite fond of Jonny Lee Miller and actually have heard great things about this. There's plenty of room in my life for multiple incarnations of Sherlock Holmes.

Last Resort: I still carry a torch for Ben Scott Speedman (check out the military 'do!), and you gotta love a premise that involves a rogue nuclear missile sub, right? RIGHT?

Revolution: Steve wants to watch, so I'll give it a go even though I'm feeling a bit of post-apocalyptic fatigue right now.

Will you be watching any of the above with me? What have I left out?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

All the lovely creepy things

Sorry it's been rather quiet here on the blog lately. My days have been all about writing/revising, with occasional breaks for DVD viewing to feed the muse. This morning I turned in a final draft of my next book, The Dark Between, and I've been told it's going straight to copy-edits. Huzzah! It's so close to being an actual BOOK. Before long I'll be able to share the cover and all that fun stuff. I'm very excited about this story, you guys!

I've been craving ghost movies lately, partly because of another story I'm working on, so I indulged in some of the B&W classics featured on Martin Scorsese's Top 11 Horror Films. Great stuff, but I'm going to blog about that later . . . as we get closer to Halloween. (*cue maniacal laugh*)

For now I'll talk about current ghost movies. When David Edelstein recommended The Pact on CBS Sunday Morning (see recap here), I knew I had to see it. (It's available for rental at iTunes and Amazon, or perhaps it's at a theater near you?)

The trailer for The Pact makes it seem more like a slasher film, and yes, the poster says "scream out loud scary," but it actually falls along the psychological end of the horror spectrum. Low on cheap scares and gore, high on dread and goosebumps. (Also, it features one of the best uses of hair in building tension--you'll see what I mean if you watch!)

Speaking of ghosts, it also has come to my attention that the lovely British film The Awakening is in theaters in the U.S. (Very limited release, I'm assuming.) I own the DVD, but I'd definitely go see it on the big screen, if only it were in a theater closer than Dallas. Argh.

Check out the trailer for The Awakening. Sadly, it's not getting great reviews. Entertainment Weekly was rather "meh" and Ebert gave it 1.5 stars, which just befuddles me. Then again, he gave 4 stars to Knowing, which I found vacuous and over-acted. (I give it credit for high production values, and that's about it.) Ebert and I agree less and less these days.

I certainly wouldn't claim the film is perfect, and I'll go so far as to confess mild disappointment after the first viewing because the final reveal was underwhelming. After subsequent viewings, however, I saw how carefully it was put together, and I grew to love it so much more. But I understand that you can't ask film audiences to watch a movie several times before they decide whether or not to like it. [Are there any films that improved for you upon subsequent viewings? Like at first you were just "it's okay" and then you became obsessed? Spill the details!] In the meantime, if you do come across The Awakening, check it out for the gorgeous setting and atmosphere, and for the endearing, nuanced performances from Rebecca Hall and the always-delicious Dominic West. Man, I'm jonesing to see it again myself!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, August 17, 2012


It premieres Sunday night on BBCAmerica!

Will you be watching?

View the longer trailer here. Looks like things could get pretty dark and nasty, which I confess puts me off just a little*, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how they handle 1860s forensics.

*Not sure why I'm put off. I loved the dark and nasty of THE WIRE. Why should I expect a 19th century crime show to be prim and proper? Why should I be bothered by a detective who isn't exactly cerebral and celibate? This isn't Sherlock Holmes. In fact, it looks a heck of a lot more like Gangs of New York. Maybe that's what's bothering me?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Home. For real this time.

A few days after returning from England I drove out to TN to see family. My baby brother York, who lives in Japan--and whom I haven't seen in person for years--was in town with his lovely new bride Fumiyo and her niece and nephew. Of course I was more than happy to zoom across the country to see them! The trip was a whirlwind, but I did get a chance to visit with most of the members of my oddly fragmented family, so this counts as a win. :)

I haven't sorted through all the photos yet, but here's a nice one of me with big brother Ernest and baby brother York. Those of you who haven't seen York since he was a child will be SURPRISED.

We're all grown up now!

One thing I love about driving trips is listening to audio books, and I have a few recommendations for you:

Wicked Autumn -- A pretty solid cozy mystery, but I might have enjoyed it even more had I read it myself rather than listening. (So in this case, I'm recommending the story more than the vocal performance.)

Horton Halfpott -- sold it to me as a very, very silly Downton Abbey, this was an amazing voice performance by Ron Keith! Highly entertaining and highly recommended. (I really don't understand the single 3-star rating on the Audible site.)

Odd and the Frost Giants -- a charming adaptation of a Norse myth written and performed by Neil Gaiman. Short and sweet, and Gaiman does a wonderful job differentiating all the voices.

Oh, and I also read Keeping the Castle on my Kindle. What could be better than a YA Regency romp?

(Thanks to Caroline Starr Rose, Dave Wall and Jennifer Laughran for the recs!)

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The end draws nigh

Things are winding down in Oxford. :(

Tonight is our closing dinner, final exams are Thurs-Sat, and we leave Sunday. Can't believe how this summer has flown. This probably will be my last post from England.

That means MORE PHOTOS!

Click here for photos taken in and around Henley-on-Thames (including Greys Court -- those of you who've read bits of my twin story may recognize this place.)

Click here for a small batch of photos from Stratford-upon-Avon, including Anne Hathaway's Cottage (where we spent a magical morning).

Apologies to everyone whom I owe an email -- I hope to pull myself together once we get home.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wales is in my blood...metaphorically at least

This past weekend Steve and I celebrated our 21st anniversary in Powys, Wales near the Brecon Beacons National Park.

We stayed at the Gliffaes Country House Hotel, which was surrounded by dense forest and had splendid views of the Usk River.

On our first day of walking, we took the Usk Valley path. Here's a shot of me as we walked along the canal tow path. (Still trying to get the hang of the automatic functions of this camera. *sigh*)

For more photos from that day (including CHICKENS, RIVERS, CUDDLING SHEEP & more!), check out my Flickr set for Friday.

On Saturday we took the Beacons Way walk, which gave us spectacular views but muddy terrain.

It was worth falling in a mud bog to see views like this!

For more photos from Saturday (including PONIES, LAMBS & CASTLES!), check out this Flickr set.

As far as I know, I don't have a drop of Welsh blood, but Wales always feels like home to me -- it's so green and gorgeously rugged, with friendly people who really know how to feed you up. I can't wait to explore more of this fine country!

ALSO, if you want to see a few photos of Thursday's climb to the top of Magdalen Tower in Oxford, during which I had a few minor panic attacks, check out this quick photo set.

And thus ends the photo spamming. How are you, my friends?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]