Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas glee part III: Tea and HIGH RISING

This month's "tea and a book" recommendation has such a Christmassy cover, doesn't it? Or perhaps it's just wintry, but that's almost as good. Angela Thirkell, granddaughter of Pre-Raphaelite phenom Edward Burne-Jones, published High Rising in 1933 and went on to write several more novels set in Barsetshire, a fictional English setting borrowed from Anthony Trollope.

This edition from Virago Modern Classics is particularly attractive AND free of typographical errors, unlike my older copy from Moyer Bell. Looks like Virago will be releasing more of Thirkell's books in the near future, and I look forward to getting my hands on Wild Strawberries in March.

High Rising centers mostly upon Laura Morland, a widowed mother of four who makes ends meet by writing best-selling suspense novels set in the fashion industry. Laura gets involved in several real-life village intrigues over Christmas and New Years, all while trying to survive the boundless energy and volubility of her youngest child Tony, who only wants to converse about trains. Allow me to share some favorite passges:

On motherhood:
Oh the exhaustingness of the healthy young! Laura had once offered to edit a book called Why I Hate my Children, but though [her publisher] had offered her every encouragement, and every mother of her acquaintance had offered to contribute, it had never taken shape.

Laura on the first church service of the new year:
Tony was an exhaustion to the spirit . . . and they had one of those psalms about Thy molars gnash upon me exceeding hard and my loins are spilled abroad on the ground, and I nearly got the giggles.

George Knox, after he and Laura leave King Lear at the first interval:
If there is one pleasure on earth which surpasses all others, it is leaving a play before the end. I might perhaps except the joy of taking tickets for a play, dining well, sitting on after dinner, and finally not going at all. That, of course, is very heaven.

(I certainly can relate to the last remark, having escaped an outdoor production of Lear at the interval last summer. I mean, it's not like the story takes a happy turn! And it was cold. And my bottom hurt.)

Aside from a few unfortunate anti-Semitic jabs (which baffles me because one of the romantic heroes--beloved by everyone in the book--is of Jewish descent), this is a jolly read that had me barking with laughter throughout. Can't wait to read more from Thirkell.

And now for tea...

This month's tea offering is a product of my curiosity and laziness. A few years ago my in-laws served toasted slices of panettone for breakfast, and I, fearing potential grossness but not wanting to be a jerk, ate a small slice. Glory be, turns out I love the stuff! My husband, however, is not such a big fan, so it doesn't really make sense for me to buy the usual cake-sized portion. But lookee here what Immaculate Baking Company has on offer -- mini panettones that you can bake at home. Huzzah!

They are as easy to make as canned biscuits, and quite delicious! Keep in mind, however, that they are only available during the holiday season. I found mine at Whole Foods.

For tea, I chose "Esprit de Noël" from Mariage Frères. Lucky for you, getting your hands on this tea does not require a trip to France. You can order it online from The Cultured Cup. It has a delicate nutty/fruity/spicy flavor that pairs well with holiday treats.

I cut the mini panettone in half and toasted it -- so delicious with butter. Don't let Rustic Santa's grim face fool you, he heartily approves!

And that about wraps it up for me in 2014. Happy Holidays and see you in the new year!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, December 15, 2014

GHOSTLIGHT release date, pre-order details, and COVER!

So . . . I have a release date for my next book: August 4, 2015

And now I get to share the cover with you...

Click photo to enlarge!

What is Ghostlight about? Well, we don't have final flap copy yet, but my own "Hollywood Pitch" would be:

Super 8 meets The Haunting.

If that doesn't resonate for you (as it wouldn't for most 12-year-olds), I would say that it's a story of three kids who are making a ghost movie in a derelict mansion -- a sad shell of a home that's harbored dark secrets for decades. Hijinks and spookiness ensue!

The book is already up for pre-order at these vendors (currently with a crap version of the cover, alas):

Did you know that pre-orders are LOVE? Lisa Schroeder explains it here.

I'm so excited about this book and can't wait to share it with you!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas glee, part II

In contrast to my craving for horror in October, I love a bit of holiday schmaltz at Christmas time. And Hallmark always delivers! Some of it is too sentimental and predictable even for my tastes, but this year I've encountered some very satisfying and poignant stories. Click the link to learn more AND to find out when this movie might repeat on the Hallmark channel so that you can watch!

A Christmas Wish (2011) -- this one features Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a struggling divorcée (!!!) who, despite being a hard worker and loving mother, can't seem to catch a break. Great cast in this one.

A Princess for Christmas (2011) -- oh, this looked like it would be so cheesy, but I had to watch for Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser in Outlander). I was pleasantly surprised! Even Sir Roger Moore did a nice job. I actually preferred this foray into fairy-tale-romance-in-a-castle to the newer A Royal Christmas.

Angels Sing (2013) -- the rare Hallmark movie without a budding romance at its center, this one really pulled at my heartstrings. Exceptional cast! (Was this even made for Hallmark? I can't tell.)

Nine Lives of Christmas (2014) -- Simply adorable! Charming and sympathetic romantic leads + CATS = Happy Sonia.

The Christmas Shepherd (2014) -- This one had a slow start, but it's one of the best Hallmark movies I've seen. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for the ones with animals. Highly recommended.

And for something a little different:
Fans of Martin Freeman and/or Christmas pageant stories really need to see Nativity! (2009). I purchased it from last year but never got around to watching and sort of forgot I had it. Oh, what fun! It's quite silly at times, and the actual pageant might seem a bit irreverant to some, but overall it has such a big heart and the finale (set among the ruins of the old Coventry cathedral!) is so satisfying. Check out the trailer, but keep in mind that it does tend to focus on the silliest bits:

For those not in the UK, this movie is available for download from Amazon ($2.99 to rent!) or on disc from Netflix. Not available on Hulu, sadly.

(I think I'll skip Natvity 2: Danger in the Manger with David Tennant, and you couldn't pay me to watch Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey? with Martin Clunes. *shudder*)

What about you? Any fun Christmas movie discoveries this year?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas glee, part I

I've been on the hunt for a miniature Nativity set for a while now. The problem is . . . the human figures in most Nativity scenes have given me a mild case of the creeps since I was a little kid. I don't mean baby Jesus, of course. I'm just more interested in the Nativity animals than the people. Perhaps C.S. Lewis would have understood?

Last week I found my dream Nativity scene in the little gift shop at Local in Norman. This "Gentle Friends" Nativity set came in a round wood box and contained the most delightful creatures! Of course they're not necessarily historically accurate, but they fill me with glee nonetheless.

Here you see a very bold-eyed cow along with the donkey and sheep.

We get a bit more fanciful with a goat (?), a pair of fowl (is one of them a rooster?), and, of course, a cat. NOT A DOG, FOLKS! A MAJESTIC GINGER CAT!

And here they gather in the hay to wonder at the new born king.

I called Local to see where they obtained this set, hoping to share that information with you, gentle reader. The only thing they could tell me is they bought their sets back in the spring from Portico Collections as part of some trade show in Dallas, TX. I can't seem to find any details about who actually makes the "Gentle Friends Nativity Set" (please don't let it be desperate third world children!). Google turned up a photo on Pinterest, but that's about all I could find.

Do you have a treasured Nativity set?

Just for fun: The Worst and Weirdest Nativity Sets. (Zombie Nativity???)

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]