Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Five -- Tea at the Savoy

For my final English Christmas post, I offer five photos from our holiday tea at The Savoy in London.

The setting was elegant and inviting.

The tea tray included cranberry and plain scones (on top), raspberry ginger preserves, clotted cream, and homemade lemon curd (bottom), plus a collection of cucumber, egg salad, smoked salmon, chicken and duck confit, and ham sandwiches.

I chose the Christmas chai tea, and Steve enjoyed the Savoy afternoon blend. I ended up buying a canister of the latter.

Next . . . pastries!

And just in case we hadn't yet fallen into a sugar coma, the event concluded with dessert.

We could have fed Nicholas Higgins, his daughter, and all the Boucher children with that tea and still had some left over. It was delicious and decadent -- highly recommended for your London tea splurge!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, December 23, 2013

A little Narnia magic

During our time in the Peak District, Chatsworth offered a special exhibit on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Needless to say, this was a MUST SEE for me. Although Steve and I much prefer the grounds of Chatsworth to the house--extravagant Baroque interiors are not quite our thing--this exhibit turned the house into an unforgettably magical place.

[As always, click the photos to see a larger version]

After psssing through the wardrobe, we encountered a wintry corridor full of adorable creatures.

Next, we took tea with Mr. Tumnus. (The gentleman featured on his copy of Is Man a Myth? is the current Duke of Devonshire!)

The wolves tried to spook us along the way, but we soldiered on.

Though Steve did rest on the White Witch's sledge while the poor, tired reindeer took a drink.

My heart pounded at the sight of Evil Jadis and her throne.

And then it broke upon encountering the fallen Aslan.

But then . . . the risen Aslan!

Happy Christmas to all! I'll be back later this week with one last England post about -- you guessed it -- TEA.

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Five: English Christmas

Steve and I just returned from a trip to England, where we enjoyed quite an array of Christmas delights (and thankfully avoided having the Apollo Theatre ceiling collapse on us--my thoughts are with the injured). I hope you'll indulge me as I share five of my favorite photos from the experience.

We spent the first three days in the Peak District, and one busy day we shared a turkey & cranberry pasty in the quiet yard of Bakewell Parish Church. Afterwards we peeked inside and were surprised to find a busy project underway that involved lining the walls with lighted Christmas trees. It was so beautiful, and this picture just doesn't do it justice.

As soon as we'd moved on to London, Steve made it a priority to visit Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland. His favorite part was eating. Mine was watching the ice skaters. (Though I rather liked my banana & Nutella crepe, too!)

Here's the view along Regent's street. It's hard to beat London for Christmas light displays!

A return to Royal Albert Hall was certainly in order. Judging by my big ol' goober grin, I guess we were pretty jazzed by the Christmas carols and excerpts from Handel's Messiah.

Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral was quite an interesting experience, but my favorite part was exploring all the cathedral's nooks and crannies afterwards.

Bonus shot: The moon at Chatsworth.

Next week -- tea at The Savoy and Narnia at Chatsworth!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December Tea and a Book: WINTER SOLSTICE

For this month's post, I was determined to find a novel in which most of the story takes place during Christmas. I read several good candidates, but Winter Solstice was by far the most compelling. The story revolves around Elfrida Phipps, a former stage actress who has retired to a small cottage in Hampshire, England. There she meets the Blundell family, and is particularly drawn -- in a friendly way -- to Oscar Blundell, who married late in life and has a young daughter. When tragedy strikes (I don't want to spoil too much), Elfrida agrees to accompany Oscar to his childhood home in Scotland, so that he can avoid the festivities of Christmas and mourn in private. The house becomes a refuge of sorts, as more people from Elfrida's life arrive to escape their troubles and be healed by her nurturing attention.

This book is wonderfully cozy, and I hardly know how to express how much I loved Elfrida, so I'll just keep it general and brief. If you are fond of cozy domestic dramas that meander pleasantly, in which character trumps plot and the predictable outcome makes you grin from ear to ear, you'll love this book. If you like English and Scottish villages, happy dogs, lively chats, and lots of tea drinking, you'll certainly enjoy Winter Solstice!

Speaking of tea, here's a little excerpt that tickled me. Mrs. Snead, who cleans for Elfrida, has just met fourteen-year-old Lucy, Elfrida's latest refugee:
"You're Lucy, aren't you? Mrs. Phipps told me about you. What do you think of your room? We 'ad a lovely time doing it all up for you. It was just an empty old attic before."

"Have a cup of tea, Mrs. Snead," said Elfrida, and Mrs. Snead said that would be very nice, and proceeded to make herself a mug, with a tea-bag, and then settled down at the table to drink it.

Lucy knew that Gran would disapprove violently of such familiar carryings-on, and, perversely, liked Mrs. Snead all the more.

In honor of Mrs. Snead, and the casual, cozy nature of tea in Elfrida's household, I decided to have a mug and tea-bag myself. Elfrida often makes reference to "builder's tea" (strong, inexpensive tea brewed in a mug, with lots of milk and sugar), so I chose a bracing cup of Irish Breakfast. It's a mite too posh, having come from Fortnum & Mason, but it'll do.

And since it's Christmas time in the story, there are many mentions of mince pies. With that in mind, I bought a jar of mince meat and set about making my own! Now, a word on mince meat: apparently the pies used to be made with meat and suet along with the fruits and spices--a Middle Eastern-inspired combination of sweet and savory. But these days the pies you find at shops and cafes are usually just sweet, and that's how I like them! Read more about mince pies here.

Using this recipe, I made my own crust and ended up with a rather rustic-looking batch of pies. The recipe is supposed to make 18 mini pies, but I didn't understand how the dough was to be pressed into the pan, so perhaps my crusts are thicker than the recipe intended. But I'm glad I did it, because the pies are delicious.

See the wonderful fruity insides? This particular mincemeat contained currants, sultanas, raisins, apples, cider, orange and lemon peel, and of course, brandy and sugar. YUM.

Stay tuned for more Christmas merriment tomorrow and early next week!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Five

Even more random than usual . . .

1. Giveaway -- better late than never, but I'm finally announcing the winner of THE DARK BETWEEN blog tour contest. Congratulations to:

Heidi Davis -- a package of goodies will be coming your way very soon!

2. The Sound of Music -- I'm rather annoyed with myself for having missed NBC's live production last night. I've never seen the Broadway musical, and I've certainly never seen NBC do anything this risky or interesting. Seems like the reviews are mixed. What did you think? Did it put you in the Christmas spirit?

3. Speaking of Christmas -- my friend Shel has featured a stocking stuffer extravaganza on her blog all this week. Check it out! She has compiled roughly a bazillion ideas for filling your stockings.

4. SNOW!

It's not a blizzard, by any means, but it's enough to shut things down in these parts. The house is dark and quiet--even the cat is sleeping in--but I had to get out and have a tromp in the snow.

5. Death Comes to Pemberley -- here's the first trailer for the BBC adaptation:

I didn't really enjoy the book, but I'm certainly game for a TV adaptation. (Chatsworth! Anna Maxwell Martin! Cravats!) The tone seems terribly dark for Austen, but of course I'll watch whenever it makes its way across the pond. Will you?

Have a wonderful weekend!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Five

Oh, how I love autumn!

Haven't done the Friday Five in a while. Today I give you one alarming thing, and four lovely ones. (Actually many more than four lovely things!)

1. The Bechdel Test. Recently I was reading Michelle Cooper's blog (she's the author of the much beloved Montmaray Journals), and she mentioned this. You can read more about it here, but it boils down to the question of whether a novel, film, play, etc.: 1) has at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. As soon as I read that I thought HOLY MOLY, do my novels pass? And yes, they do, but I still appreciate the reminder.

Now, to the lovely things:

2. Author visits. I had a wonderful time talking to Choctaw High and Middle School students last week. They asked entertaining, thoughtful questions, and then they pretty much bought me out of books. (That never happens.) And this past Wednesday I met with a book group that has been meeting in Norman, OK, for several decades, and those ladies were so gracious, so fun to chat with, and at the end I was offered the most delicious petit four I've ever eaten. ALSO, during both visits I was told some hair raising stories of real life ghost encounters. Marvelous!

3. Middle Grade Books. Two in particular have warmed my heart lately, and they both were recommended by Caroline Starr Rose as part of The GreenBeanTeenQueen's So You Want to Read Middle Grade? series. With a Name Like Love, by fellow Elevensie Tess Hilmo, is an historical mystery featuring a traveling preacher's daughter who determines to clear the name of a woman who has falsely confessed to murder. Last night I finished Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, about a girl who has been in foster homes her entire life. She finds a loving home with Josie, but she yearns for the former family she betrayed. Beautiful books!

4. Feel good movies. This is the time of year when I transition away from that craving for spooky Gothic horror. Instead I want predictable, gooey romance and friendship in a picturesque setting! I already mentioned on Facebook that I'm rather a junkie for Hallmark Christmas movies. I'll pass on the ones featuring Santa's wife/daughter/elf/whatever on the loose, but I love the simple and sweet romances like The Christmas Ornament (new this year) and Trading Christmas (2011). Last night I re-watched Enchanted April--I think it's been over a decade since I've seen it--and it was just as magical as always. (Though I wonder how those ladies can endure sleeping on craggy rocks!) Do you have any recommendations for me?

5. Short story anthologies. Last week was the official cover reveal for GRIM, a collection of dark fairy tale retellings edited by the wonderful Christine Johnson. I am absolutely delighted to have a story in this anthology! By the way, I also received two GRIM ARCs in the mail -- hooray! I will be plotting their fate in the next few weeks, so stay tuned . . .

The cover, front and back:

My story, "Untethered," is a modern interpretation of a little known and very tiny Brothers Grimm story entitled The Shroud. If you read it, you'll probably understand why I picked it. :)

Look for the hardcover release of GRIM in March 2014!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November Tea and a Book: ANGELS & INSECTS

I love tea and I love books, so why not combine the two in a blog post? Each month I'll attempt to pair tea and something scrumptious with a good book. In some cases, the book will even reference tea -- bonus!

Let's start with my recent re-read of the two novellas that make up A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects.

Hmmm . . . how best to summarize them quickly? "Morpho Eugenia" is the tale of a working class English naturalist who falls in love with the fragile, tragic daughter of a wealthy baronet, Oh, is he in for many surprises! And "The Conjugial Angel" centers around a group of Spiritualists who, individually and as a group, take things a bit too far with a séance. (This one has real people as characters, including Emily Tennyson Jesse, the sister of the renowned poet, who was at one time engaged to Arthur Hallam, the subject of Tennyson's In Memoriam.)

By the way, some of you may know that "Morpho Eugenia" was made into a film entitled Angels and Insects, which features one of my very favorite actors--and former artistic director of The Globe--Mark Rylance (whom I saw play Pericles, and I was right up against the stage and so close that I could have touched his leg had I let myself do such an inappropriate thing). Anyway, Angels and Insects is one of my all-time favorite films, but I must warn you that it is very much rated R.

Back to tea -- happily, there are references to it in both novellas.

In "Morpho Eugenia," we learn that Eugenia's mother, Lady Alabaster, "seemed to spend most of her day drinking--tea, lemonade, ratafia, chocolate milk, barley water, herbal infusions, which were endlessly moving along the corridors, borne by parlourmaids, on silver trays. She also consumed large quantities of sweet biscuits, macaroons, butterfly cakes, little jellies and dariole moulds, which were also freshly made by Cook, carried from the kitchen, and their crumbs subsequently removed, and dusted away" (30).

In "The Conjugial Angel," following the final séance, hostess Mrs Jesse pours tea. "The oil-lamps cast a warm light on the tea tray. The teapot was china, with little roses painted all over it, crimson and blush-pink and celestial blue, and the cups were garlanded with the same flowers. There were sugared biscuits, each with a flower made out of piped icing, creamy, violet, snow-white. Sophy Sheekhy [the medium] watched the stream of topaz-coloured liquid fall from the spout, steaming and aromatic" (333).

For my tea, I chose this Golden Tippy Assam from Tealeaves, described as "a full-bodied cup with deep, copper liquor noted for its lively character and distinctly malty flavour."

For my tasty treat, I flirted with the idea of making butterfly cakes (see lovely recipes here and here), but even though that would have been so appropriate for "Morpho Eugenia," I decided the cakes would be much better for spring than fall. So I went with the idea of "sweet biscuits" and baked these easy iced pumpkin cookies, which are perfect for a Thanksgiving treat.

Then I dusted off my English china and put everything on a tray for tea on the patio. Hooray!

Now I'm off to find a book for December that will inspire a festive holiday tea. Any suggestions?

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Brontës on the Brain

I finished a first draft of my latest project, which had been dragging on FOREVER. The ending is a bit sketchy, but at least I have something to work with, so YAY!

I am very good at rewarding myself for finished tasks, and this weekend was no exception. Friday night, I re-watched Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre (2011), my favorite of all the adaptations.

It's no secret that I adore Michael Fassbender. He's probably too handsome for this role, but he has such a lovely intensity. And he can be ugly when the situation requires it. I love the early scenes with Jane in which his face tightens, his mouth flattens into a sneer, and his eyes flash with contempt for the world.

And Mia Wasikowksa is appropriately small and plain, but also projects the necessary fierceness. It is only in this adaptation that I fully experience the seductiveness of Rochester's attention to her, and the tragedy of having to walk away from the freedom, inspiration, and affection offered to her at Thornfield.

I also watched Les Soeurs Brontë (1979), which has become available on US DVD only recently, as far as I can tell. (I bought it on Blu-ray.) It's a beautiful film, shot partially on location in a way that capitalizes on the wide, bleak vistas of the Yorkshire moors.

I'd gathered in advance that the film was more about Branwell than the sisters, but I still found myself resenting the time devoted to his addictions and failures. In the documentary that accompanies the feature film, the director states outright that "in the final version of the film, it's like a vampire story, if you will, or virgin-vampires, in a way, who appropriate and accomplish the artistic destiny of their brother." BLECH! One could argue that Branwell was the one with the most external conflict, the most drama, and that his life translates better to the screen. As Claire Bazin says in the documentary, the imaginations of the sisters "were fertilized and developed by an interior richness, by their internal life." How do you represent that rich interior life on film? I don't know. What films have effectively represented the dramatic interior life of a writer?

(And anyway, the sisters did have dramatic lives--traveling to Brussels, opening their own school back in Yorkshire, governessing for crazy families, etc.)

Surprisingly, Emily Bronte was my favorite character in the film, and it wasn't just because (in this incarnation, at least) she liked to roam the moors in trousers and shoot guns. She was strange and passionate--a true brooding heroine. I never knew or had forgotten that the titular heroine of Charlotte's Shirley was based on her. I am not a fan of Wuthering Heights or Emily's poetry, but I think I would watch the heck out of a film that was mostly about her. Isabelle Adjani was absolutely mesmerizing to watch (and you can bet I'll be watching La Reine Margot and Camille Claudel ASAP).

I need to watch again, but for now my verdict on Les Souers Brontë is that it's a must-watch for obsessive Brontë fans, but may also be of interest to French film buffs. The cinematography is gorgeous.

In other news, I hope something comes of this notion of a BBC Brontë biopic (mentioned in 11th paragraph).

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween hangovers and giveaway WINNER

How can it be November already?

I'm still in a spooky mood, and I love these faux horror movie trailers:

Hee! So well done.

Though I haven't seen all of Wes Anderson's movies, Moonrise Kingdom is a favorite. (BTW, how did I miss Edward Norton on SNL?)

Finally, by the totally random power of, a winner has been chosen for last week's signed book giveaway:

Bev Kodak of Ola Middle School in Georgia!

Congrats, Bev! And thanks to all the teachers and librarians who entered.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Giveaway for librarians and teachers!

Wendelin Van Draanen, Gennifer Choldenko, Ruta Sepetys, and me!

Earlier this month, I had the honor of joining the above ladies for a series of school visits, talks, and signings that benefited the school libraries affected by the tragic Moore tornado. Thank you, Perma-Bound! I had such a great time. And now I want to pay it forward by giving away a prize pack of signed perma-bound copies of each of our books.

This giveaway is for LIBRARIANS AND TEACHERS in the U.S.

All you have to do is:

1) comment with your name and the school or library you are affiliated with

2) provide an email address

That's it! I will do a random drawing Sunday evening (11/3) at 10 pm Central time. The winner will be announced on Monday.

Click a cover for more information about each book offered for giveaway:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Favorites: ghost movies for your weekend enjoyment

It's that time of year when I especially crave ghost movies, so this past week I revisited some old favorites and tried a couple of new (to me) ones. I have two American and two foreign films to offer. All of them are character-driven, slow burn sort of horror films -- not the type to rely on cheap scares. Maybe you'll see something you want to try this weekend?

Old Favorites

The Changeling (1980), starring George C. Scott.
A grieving man rents a beautiful old house in Portland with the hope of moving on with his life and career. But something in the house disturbs his peace. Goofy murderous rocking chair aside, this is a very atmospheric story with an incredibly sympathetic protagonist. (Oh! If you don't feel for him after the first scene, you have no heart.) The camera work is gorgeous -- long tracking shots that make you feel as though you're wandering through the house. There's an excellent séance scene, too. I love the fact that Alejandro Amenábar, director of The Others, has praised The Changeling as one of his all-time favorite horror films. It is very dated, yes, but so lovely and eerie! (I'm not linking you to the trailer because it's pretty silly.)

El Orfanato/The Orphanage (2007), starring Belén Rueda.
A woman purchases the orphanage that sheltered her as a child, planning to turn it into a home for special needs children. Her son makes a friend within the house -- an invisible but very insistent friend -- and soon thereafter disappears. I saw this film in the theater when it first came out, and I remember screaming during one scene, but overall, it utilizes tension and dread rather than sudden shocks. It contains one of my favorite paranormal investigation scenes EVER, featuring the gloriously spooky Geraldine Chaplin. Like The Changeling, this one will pull at your heartstrings, and I defy you not to cry at the end. (Here's the American trailer, but I warn you that it's a bit overblown.)

New Favorites

Below (2002), starring Bruce Greenwood (and a gaggle of familiar actors)

Okay, all I have to say is this -- HAUNTED SUBMARINE. It gives me chills thinking about it even now, because I can't imagine a location more claustrophobic than a submarine. Anyhoo, this film starts with a WWII American submarine crew picking up survivors of a sunken boat, one of whom happens to be a female doctor. Disruption and spookiness ensue. This film is much more about suspense and tension than horror, and I'm shaking my head as to why I've never heard about it until now. It was directed by the guy who did Pitch Black and the screenplay was co-written by Darren Aronofsky! Plus it features LOTS of familiar faces, including the already mentioned Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike!), Matthew Davis (Alaric in Vampire Diaries), Scott Foley (Noel! Jake Ballard!), and the always spectacular Olivia Williams (who was lovely in Miss Austen Regrets, among other things.) Very cool film, very much over-looked. (Check out the trailer--same annoying voice-over guy. *sigh*)

Janghwa, Hongryeon / A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), starring Jung-ah Yum and Su-jeong Lim
I'm not sure I can be articulate about this Korean film. It is CREEPY. Definitely the most horrific film on my list. But it's also gorgeous, mysterious, and haunting on multiple levels. So difficult to explain the plot, so I will just tell you it's about two sisters with a history of mental illness, an evil stepmother, and a ghost. I need to watch again to fully comprehend the timeline and backstory of the characters because it's a subtle, complex film that leaves a lot of the work up to the viewer, which I appreciate so much. It shook me up more than any ghost film I've seen recently, but keep in mind that it is slow-paced and enigmatic. And so much better than the 2009 American remake, The Uninvited, which was fine, but not nearly so powerful. (Watch the trailer -- blessedly free of voice-over!)

As always, let me know if you have any suggestions. I'm getting to the point where I feel like I've SEEN ALL THE GOOD GHOST MOVIES. It's a very sad state of affairs . . .

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Recent adventures

It's been a busy fall . . .

Right on the heels of the YA AdVANture tour, Tessa Gratton, Tara Hudson and I managed eleven library/school visits in five days. (The above photo was taken at the Blanchard Public Library.) We had a blast that week! It was hard to say goodbye at the end.

After appearances at OCTE and the Rose State Short Course on Writing, I moved on to Encyclomedia. The Brown Brothers of Perma-bound put together a series of appearances to benefit Moore schools impacted by the May tornado, and it was an honor to spend time with Gennifer Choldenko, Ann Hood, Ruta Sepetys, and Wendelin Van Draanen -- such incredibly classy ladies! (I enjoyed silly fun with them, too, as you can see above.)

Up next? My road trip to Tennessee. I enjoyed visits with friends and family (hooray for sweet nieces!), but also managed three library appearances. Many thanks go to Pam Ford at the Stewart County Library, Jean Nichols at the Clarksville-Montgomery County Library, and Kay French and Kaity at the Houston County Library. They all welcomed me so warmly, and the Houston County library even put on an English tea spread, with the added bonus of a spooky flower arrangement that matched The Dark Between (see above)!

The TN trip wrapped up with the Southern Festival of Books. My panel with Aprilynne Pike and Teal Haviland came off splendidly, and I had a great time visiting with my pal DeAnne, as well as Courtney Summers (who took the above photo), Carla Schooler, Myra McEntire and Sharon Cameron. (Here's Myra and I posing in front of some impressive buttocks.) And on Sunday night, I met up with DeAnne and friends (and eventually my brother) for drinks and snacks at a speakeasy! (Next time you're in Nashville, you simply must check out the Patterson House.)

This past weekend I enjoyed a relaxing and inspiring retreat by Lake Tenkiller in Tahlequah. My crit pals and I chatted, played word games, visited a Benedictine Abbey (!!!), critiqued, and set goals for our writing. My lovely friends also threw a little party for The Dark Between, complete with character cupcakes.

So . . . lots of travel and talking and fun. But now it's time to get back to my hermit hole and WRITE.

Stay tuned for giveaways featuring books from authors I've spent time with recently!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, September 23, 2013

Catching my breath

Gosh, it's been a whirlwind lately.

First, in case you missed it, I wanted to share the "Behind the Scenes" video Steve and I made in Cambridge this past summer with the help of Harry, a grad student at Corpus Christi College. Though the video is expertly edited by Flatline Films, it soon will become very clear to you that Steve and I are not professional filmmakers. (Brace yourself for babbling and shaky cam!) Still, I'd love for you to see the setting of The Dark Between, and I know you'll be charmed by Harry.

My favorite part is the Monty Python-esque "Huge amounts of land" moment! Of course, Harry also shares details on murder, brothels, punting accidents, and somehow even manages to work Beyonce into the conversation.

So what else has been going on? Well . . .

-- I went on tour with Tessa Gratton, Tara Hudson, and Myra McEntire.

We hit Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Tess recapped the trip for Publishers Weekly!

-- I had a wee launch party at Barnes & Noble in Norman, and a signing at Best of Books in Edmond.

We enjoyed a Dark Between cake at the "after party" in Norman, and at Best of Books there were Dark Between cookies created by Amber Loberg. :)

And this week, Tessa, Tara, and I will make 11 library visits in 5 days. Insanity, right? And yet, so cool! Here's a poster for our Blanchard stop (click to enlarge):

You can find all the details at the Pioneer Library System webpage or check the events calendar at my webpage.

Big Hugs to all of you who came to events! Hope to meet more readers in the coming days.

P.S. If you've read The Dark Between, would you please consider reviewing it at Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble? It doesn't have to be a long review or a 5 star review, just an honest assessment. (I've developed a thicker skin. Really.) This sort of thing helps tremendously, and I'd be ever so grateful.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]