As I mentioned in my post about my 2021 goals, I’ve decided to spend the year learning French in Duolingo, and reading books set in France.
After a month of daily Duolingo lessons, I can confidently say, “Le chat mange un croissant.” And more importantly, I have also learned “Ou son les toilettes?” So, I can now ask “Where is the bathroom?” in English, Spanish or French.
The list I am working from is chronological, and I did start with Candide and Dangerous Liaisons – both of which I recognize as classic literature. I can’t say I enjoyed either of them . Candide was a re-read, as I’d read it in one of the many lit classes I took in college. Dangerous Liaisons was new to me, but I found it tedious to read. Not one character in either book was the least bit likeable. I realize they were meant to be unlikeable, but mainly, both books annoyed me.
Just to keep things interesting, I’ve mixed in books I have on hand that are also on the list. Far more intriguing than either of the classics was A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. It tells the story of Marthe de Florian – a demimondaine of the 1890’s – and the apartment full of furniture and artwork that she left behind. And of April, who is dispatched to Paris to appraise and assist with arranging the auction, while struggling with a troubled marriage. A collection of diaries takes April through Marthe’s fascinating background. Loosely based on a true story – there really was a Marthe de Florian and her apartment was indeed closed up for more than 70 years.
I also read The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier and Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. Both interesting takes on life in a small town in France, especially for those who are a little “different” than the rest.
I’m starting February reading The Red and the Black by Stendhal (in the classics category) and listening to Juliet Blackwell’s Letters from Paris. And eating more croissants than I probably should…but they are so good! Obvious choice of tea for this project is Harney & Sons Paris. Will have to do a little research for other French teas as the year continues.
I was looking back over my 2020 books and realized there were two categories that a lot of books fell into – thrillers and World War II historical fiction. Watch for another post about the WWII genre…but for now, here’s a recap of some of the best thrillers I read in 2020.
The best of the bunch for me was Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone – Laurel’s daughter Ellie goes missing as a teenager and years later, Laurel meets a man with a young daughter who looks exactly like Ellie. I listened to this one and it kept me fascinated from the very beginning. I sometimes find my mind wandering with audiobooks, but that was definitely not the case here.
The Collector by Nora Roberts was another good read – echoes of Rear Window as it begins with Lila Emerson witnessing a murder across the way. She gets involved with the victim’s brother as they attempt to track down the killer. I also listened to Divine Evil by Nora Roberts which involved a small town and a satanic cult. Super creepy!
Last Day by Luanne Rice and Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris both struck me with the reminder that those perfect lives are not always as perfect as they seem. Last Day was another murder mystery that opens with the body of a pregnant woman abandoned in her air conditioned bedroom. And Behind Closed Doors told the story of a marriage that was not exactly what it appeared to be.
Anne Frasier’s Find Me begins with serial killer Benjamin Fisher volunteering to tell police where the bodies are buried – but only if his daughter (a former FBI profiler) will meet with him. As Reni begins to help the police, memories come back to her of the childhood “game” she played with her father. I read this one in bed on my Kindle and it kept me reading much later at night than I should have.
There were more, I’m sure, but these are the ones that stood out for me. As far as tea to go with them, I have to choose this Plum Deluxe Full Moon Chai (purchased as part of a set to commemorate the final season of Supernatural). I can’t say enough good about Plum Deluxe – they are my favorite tea company at the moment. I’m planning on making another purchase this month as they have Dessert Teas this month. I had a sample of their Red Velvet Puerh recently and will definitely be ordering some!
I’m always looking for a good thriller – have you read any good ones lately?
My favorite thing about starting a new year is getting a new planner. There’s something so hopeful about all those empty pages of unplanned activity. I like to sit down with my planner on January 1 and set my goals for the year.
I start pretty much every year with the same two resolutions – Write More and Stress Less. Last year I gave myself 16 goals for the year…I accomplished 2 of them. Not great, but considering the dumpster fire that was 2020, it’s better than nothing.
I do love that Goodreads gives a recap of your reading year. One goal that I did hit last year was to read 155 books. I actually exceeded that thanks to all the down time this past year.
So…my reading goal this year is 175 books. Don’t know if I will get there, but I’ll try. I’ve got lots of reading projects planned for the year.
My book club is reading our way through the 50 states – our first book this year is Come and Get Me by August Norman (set in Indiana). We’ll follow that up with a book set in Hawaii.
I am, of course, still working through the chronological Stephen King list – I’m up to 1979: The Long Walk and The Dead Zone. Both rereads, although it’s been years since I read The Dead Zone. If I remember correctly, it was my first Stephen King and I was somewhere around 12 years old.
While my book club tours the US, I’m diving into France on my own. I had been toying with the idea of learning French on the Duolingo app and accompanying it with a year of books set in France. So, I found this list of 100 books set in France on taleaway.com – and as it turned out 3 of the books listed are in my current TBR top 10, along with another book set in Paris that wasn’t on the list. (Synchronicity, for those of you who follow The Artist’s Way). I may not get to all 100 – to be honest, a couple of them are books I’ve already read and don’t want to read again (All the Light We Cannot See) and there are a few I read in high school or college that I may or may not get to (A Tale of Two Cities), but I’m going to give it my best effort.
If that’s not enough to keep me busy, there’s this blog and those handful of novels I’ve started. I’m really good at writing the first couple of chapters and then my characters start doing things I didn’t expect them to do and I never quite get to where I thought I was going. So one of my goals this year is to actually finish one of them. Not sure if it will be a Hallmark movie romance or a serial killer, but I’m getting through one. Maybe a Hallmark movie romance about a serial killer? Probably not, but you never know.
As for stressing less, well that’s easier said than done. But drinking more tea is always a start, and I’ve got plenty to keep me going there. I always save my vacation days for the time between Christmas and New Year’s – so I’ve had a week of relaxation and very little activity, besides reading, hanging out with my husband, and de-Christmasing our apartment.
Rather than make demanding resolutions about losing weight and drinking more water – which I never do – this year is about fun and interesting goals. What fun things are you looking forward to in 2021?
We all know it’s been a hard year. There’s no getting around it. It’s been tough to get into the Christmas spirit without feeling a little bit like I’m going through the motions. The struggle between wanting to spend it with family and wanting to keep everyone safe and healthy has been a hard one. Do I want to hug my family and open gifts together? Of course. Will I settle for a Zoom gift exchange instead? Absolutely, if it means we will all still be here come spring.
So this year, sticking to the traditions we can keep has been important for me. One of those is reading A Christmas Carol. Ok, I listened to it this year, but I’m counting that. It got me through one long gloomy afternoon of remote working, huddled at my desk at home like Bob Cratchit. When even Christmas music can’t shake a bad mood, you’ve got to call in the big guns. Having A Christmas Carol read to me by someone with a British accent totally did the trick.
A Christmas Carol was my Dad’s favorite book. He read a lot of Charles Dickens, but this was an annual read for him too. I know he read it to us when we were little at least once. Probably more than once. So, it was important to me to keep up the tradition, this year especially.
See, we’ve had a lot of loss this year. In the span of seven months, we’ve lost my dad, father-in-law, grandfather and uncle. It’s a lot for one year, and I know that my family is not alone in this. With more than 320,000 deaths in the US alone, it kind of makes Scrooge’s line about decreasing the surplus population a little more poignant this year.
But A Christmas Carol has always been a message of hope for me. Even a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous old sinner” can see the error of his ways and learn to care about his fellow man.
If you grew up in Rhode Island, like I did, you are now probably singing the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous” line, because you’ve probably seen Trinity Rep‘s version of A Christmas Carol. For years, attending was a family tradition. The first year we went, I think I was 6 or 7. The actor playing Jacob Marley flew across the stage and landed in the aisle next to my seat. I was terrified. I thought he was a real ghost. I was so happy to learn that Trinity Rep would continue the tradition, albeit in a slightly different fashion this year by offering a free, video version of the show filmed at various locations around Rhode Island. I can’t wait to watch!
As a child of the 70s, my all time favorite Scrooge is, of course, Mister Magoo. I never miss it and was super happy to find it on Peacock this year. George C Scott is my second favorite. We even watched the Patrick Stewart version last night, and I enjoyed that as well. One of these years I’m going to try to watch them all.
So, yes, 2020 has been a hard year. But Christmas is here and 2021 is just around the corner. There’s a new vaccine and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m going to take a lesson from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come and keep Christmas in my heart as much as I can this year and look forward to better days ahead.
To quote old Ebenezer Scrooge: “Heaven and the Christmas Time be praised…”
So, I drifted away from ghost stories in October and found myself entrenched in a vampire book instead. “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” audiobook popped up as available on hoopla and since I’d been meaning to read it, I jumped on it.
It begins with Patricia Campbell who, along with a handful of friends, leaves the boring, stuffy neighborhood book club. The group form their own non-book-club and read mostly true crime. Eventually, Patricia wishes for some excitement in the real world, not just in the books she reads.
Her wish is almost immediately granted when she is attacked by an elderly neighbor who she discovers digging through her trash. Soon after, she meets James Harris – a charismatic young man who is new to town. He quickly ingratiates himself into the neighborhood.
But, children are dying in the less affluent parts of town, and the women become suspicious. I’ll leave the story there, as I don’t want to give away the best parts.
It was both funny and scary in a way that I like a book to be. I laughed out loud at some points and lived the characters panic at others. Definitely recommend if you are a fan of vampire fiction. I believe I read that Grady Hendrix described his intent as writing what would happen if Dracula met his mother.
I’m definitely planning to check out some other books by Hendrix – I’ve added “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” to my TBR list to start.
Rating: 4 stars
Favorite line: “What’s the point of free love if nobody showers?” (As part of the book club’s discussion about Helter Skelter…another book on my TBR list)
Tea: You have to go with sweet tea for a book about a southern book club. My go to for iced tea these days is Bigelow’s Perfect Peach.
Continuing the October theme of supernatural books, I’ve just finished The Keeper of Lost Things, which also has a ghost. A ghost who is much less corporeal than Annie Van Sinderen, but a ghost nonetheless.
Anthony Peardew is the original keeper of lost things, collecting abandoned objects in hopes of someday returning them to their rightful owners. He does this because he has lost something precious and hopes it will some day be returned to him. He has also lost Therese, the love of his life, who died shortly before they were due to be married.
Anthony leaves his house and his legacy to Laura, his housekeeper and assistant, with the stipulation that she do her best to return all the lost items. Laura, along with Sunshine, a nineteen year old girl with Down’s Syndrome, and Freddy, the gardener, sets out to fulfill Anthony’s wishes and help Therese’s ghost reunite with him. Therese, in the meantime, fills the house with the scent of roses and the song “The Very Thought of You”, leaving clues that only Sunshine seems to get.
Intertwined with Laura’s story is the tale of Eunice and Bomber, who eventually figure in to the search for the owners of lost items. While not exactly the love story of Anthony and Therese, there is a love of sorts between these two film buffs. They both have a habit of quoting lines from their favorite films. (Something I am guilty of myself, frequently.)
We also get the stories behind the lost things – a blue button from a coat, a jigsaw puzzle piece, some green hair bobbles. My favorite is a white umbrella with red hearts left at the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. Not all the lost things have happy endings, but their stories fit perfectly with the rest of the narrative. It reminded me very much of Tom Hanks’ instagram photos of lost gloves and shoes.
There’s a lot of tea involved as well. Laura is initially drawn to Anthony and his house because of his use of a tray cloth when he serves her tea. Sunshine is fond of making anyone and everyone “the lovely cup of tea.” This is also the second place recently that I’ve seen the phrase “Shall I be mother” in offering to pour the tea. I’d never heard it before, but I love it. I may start using it myself.
Rating: 3 stars
Favorite line: It’s a toss up between these two:
“He made a pot of tea, finding more comfort in the making than the drinking…” This rang so true to me – I often find myself calm and centered just from the simple act of making tea.
The other made me laugh – from Sunshine as they were spreading Anthony’s ashes: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, funk to punky. We know Major Tom’s a monkey.” I love a good Bowie reference, even if it’s a misheard lyric.
Tea: I mean, it had to be English Breakfast, didn’t it? Having just received samples of teapigs morning glory english breakfast in my latest Sips by box, I decided to pair it with this book. It does indeed make “the lovely cup of tea.”
I can’t say enough good about Sips by. For $15 a month, I get a box of four different teas…and so far haven’t found one I didn’t like. I’m not getting anything in exchange for saying this…I just love it that much! Want to try it out for yourself? Save $5 on your first box with this link.
October is my favorite month, and not just because it contains my birthday. It’s also the time of year for all things supernatural. I love Halloween and I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s only October 6 and I’ve already watched Hocus Pocus. So, it seemed fitting to start this month with a ghost story. Although, as Katherine Howe says in her Author’s Note – it’s “a ghost story that never used the word ghost.”
Fair warning – I’m trying not to get too spoiler-ish, but a tidbit or two might sneak through. Just a heads up in case you haven’t read the book.
Young Wes Auckerman is attending a summer film program at NYU in hopes of being accepted into the college full time in the fall. While helping a friend with his student film, Wes attends a seance and meets two girls that night: Annie, who is gone before the night ends, and Maddie, who intrigues him and gets him to buy her a pizza.
Annie finds herself shifting between her “real” life in 1825 and the present day. She is reliving the week leading up to the opening of the Erie Canal and the Grand Celebration that accompanied it, a pivotal point for her.
While Annie struggles to understand what is happening to her, Wes and his friends join forces to help her move on. Maddie, who seems oddly familiar to Wes, also intrigues him and he soon finds himself torn between the two girls.
I found the history of the book fascinating, and the interplay between Wes, his friends, and Annie kept me interested straight through. Because I read so much, it’s hard to surprise me, but there were enough twists and turns to keep me entertained.
I’ve been a huge fan of Katherine Howe since I read “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” several years ago. I’m a sucker for anything to do with witches, and that was a great read. My book club read “Conversion” a few years ago as well, and while our group had mixed reviews, I enjoyed it very much.
Rating: Four stars
Reason for reading: Passed to me by Mom, and as I said, I’m a fan of Katherine Howe.
Favorite Line: “I’m a Rip Van Winkle”
Tea: Plum Deluxe Full Moon Chai Tea – purchased as part of their Supernatural Trio (three teas to commemorate the end of the series.) I’ve been on a bit of a chai kick lately and this is one of my favorites so far. Just the right combination of soothing and spicy.
Photo note: The statue was a gift from Uncle Art – I don’t know who she is or anything about where she came from, but she seemed like she might fit into Annie’s era.
Stay tuned for more spookiness as October unfolds. Especially since I’m continuing on my quest to read all of Stephen King. I’m moving very quickly through the 70’s and will have a blog post on those as soon as I’m done.
I’ve always been sort of resistant to audiobooks. I tried listening to them here and there, mostly while walking. My mind wandered too much and I would find myself losing large chunks of the narrative.
Working from home has given me a whole new appreciation of the audiobook. With two of us sharing our small home office for a good part of the day, I spend a lot of time plugged into earbuds. I have always needed music for reading, studying, working, doing the dishes, whatever. But one morning, just for a little variety, I downloaded an audiobook from Hoopla. I’ve been listening to books while I work most mornings since March.
If you’re not familiar with Hoopla, it’s fantastic. It links to your library card and they have everything – e-books, audiobooks, tv shows, movies and even music. You get 12 downloads a month. I’ve even been able to download movies and use Airplay to send them to my TV from my iPhone. The wonders of technology!
So, with the help of Hoopla, I’ve been chipping away at my to read list. According to my audiobooks shelf on Goodreads, I have listened to 21 books since we started isolating back in March. My favorites by far have been Rebecca (which has been on my TBR list forever) and Carrie (read by Sissy Spacek).
I’ve just this week finished East Coast Girls by Kerry Kletter. It tells the story of four friends – Maya, Blue, Hannah, and Renee – who spent their teenage summers together at the beach. The novel takes you from the present day to a night twelve years earlier which changed all of their lives forever.
As their reunion unfolds, each woman comes to terms with her part in their terrible past, and faces her current struggle. Like The Oysterville Sewing Circle, East Coast Girls is a book about women supporting each other through hard times. Seems to be a common theme with the books I’m reading lately.
Rating: 3 stars
Reason for reading: I’m a sucker for a beach book, especially one about a reunion of old friends.
Tea: Miracle Tree Chai Moringa Energy Infusion — I got this in one of my Sips by boxes and love it. Tastes fabulous and has enough caffeine to keep me going on the mornings I don’t have coffee.
If you’re interested in a Sips by subscription, message me for a referral link that will save $5 on your first box. And look for me on Instagram at @acupofteaandmytbrlist for more tea and book content.
What would you do with six hours of time just to yourself? That’s a no-brainer for me. Read and drink tea.
We took a quick two-night trip to New Hampshire last weekend. Tom had a wedding to shoot on Saturday, which left me with six or seven hours of alone time in our Airbnb condo, and no responsibilities. I thought briefly about checking in to my work email, but quickly dismissed that idea.
Aside from a quick walk to the nearby plaza for gelato, I spent most of the afternoon and evening sitting on our balcony reading. I’d brought along the Zen tea as a companion to the book I was reading: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” I have to say, I didn’t love that one, and after a chapter, I put it aside in favor of “The Oysterville Sewing Circle” by Susan Wiggs.
After her fashion career hits disaster, Caroline inherits her friend’s two small children, and retreats from New York City to her hometown in Washington. Caroline builds a new life with the help of her family and friends, old and new.
Underlying everything is the shadow of her friend’s abuse and subsequent death. Caroline, in an attempt to understand and to help the kids, reaches out to other survivors of domestic abuse and the Oysterville Sewing Circle is born.
There is a lot about women supporting each other in this book, and that is something I have been fortunate to have in my life. Coming from a large family of pretty strong women, I have never felt like I couldn’t ask for help if I needed it. (Although not asking for help is a bit of a family trait.) It was nice to see Caroline both accepting support and giving it to the women in her family and community.
Overall rating for this book: 3 stars (out of 5)
Reason for reading: I’ve been a fan of Susan Wiggs for quite a while, and have read several of her books
This copy came from: my sister Erin, who is one of the major feeders of my book addiction. We swap books often.
Favorite line: “Ice cream is not as good as a shot is bad.” (I loathe needles and totally agreed with 6-year-old Flick.)
Tea: Tazo Zen Tea – perfect for an afternoon of solitude and calm.
The rest of our trip to New Hampshire was mostly focused on beer and food. Lunch at Schilling Beer Company in Littleton was our first time dining out since March. We sat outside and I had a Berlinerweisse with raspberry syrup. It went perfectly with the soft pretzel and poutine we shared for lunch. It may have been the best poutine I’ve ever eaten, but how can you go wrong with french fries drowning in brown gravy and chunks of Cabot cheese?
After checking in to our Airbnb, we hit up Aloto Gelato for coffees and took a sight seeing ride down the Kancamagus Highway, followed by dinner at the Woodstock Inn and a night of beers on the balcony. Despite warnings of bear sightings in the area, I am sad to say, we didn’t see any this trip.
Saturday brought a mellow morning with White Mountain Bagels for breakfast and a walk along the Pemigewasset River before Tom headed off to the wedding and I settled in for my afternoon of solitude.
It’s a little odd to be looking for solitude while we have all been quarantining for so many months. But as an introvert, I need my alone time to turn off my brain, not talk to anyone, and recharge my mental batteries.
Our attempts to hike on Sunday morning were thwarted by the weather, so we changed up our plans and made a lunch reservation at Stoneface Brewing Co in Newington. I was happy to just sit outside, drink a beer, and eat a burger and fries. Their Farmhouse Noir was my favorite beer of our trip.
One other highlight of our trip – we hit the NH Liquor & Wine Outlet to stock up on Cabot Trail Maple Cream Liquor. You can’t get it in RI, so a trip north always means stocking up on some maple cream, both for us and for the rest of the family. They only had 4 bottles (which I bought), and when I asked if they had more, the clerk’s response was “More? Is it that good?”
Yes. It’s that good. It’s nice on it’s own over a little ice, and it’s even better in coffee.
A quick trip, after so many months of being home, was exactly what we needed. And yet, we were happy to be back in our own space at the end of the weekend. We’re stocked up on beer and maple cream and I’ve gotten the motivation to restart this blog. So it was definitely a worthwhile trip.
It’s been a busy summer, and most of my writing time has been devoted to fiction. I am four and a half chapters into the novel I’ve been meaning to write for years. Is it the Great American Novel? Probably not. But I’m writing it anyway.
Aside from that, I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading goals. As of today, according to Goodreads, I’ve read 84 books so far this year, which puts me 11 books behind schedule to get to 155 by the end of the year. I’ve also been working on the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge – I’ve got 5 books left to go to finish that up.
In between reading and writing and working, there have been lots of other activities to keep me busy. June was mostly rain and more rain. But I did get a sunny vacation day hike at Black Point followed by lunch at Iggy’s. I ended my vacation night with “Dips and Del’s” – this month’s alternative to bunco. Everyone brought a different dip – savory or sweet – and we had a fun night of eating and game playing…many laughs as usual.
July started with a few days off over the holiday and a weekend trip to Boston with Tom to see Phish at Fenway. A visit to Trillium – and their Peanut Butter Cup Imperial Stout – kicked off the afternoon, followed by lunch at Row 34. A rain delay at Fenway held up the start of the show, but our grandstand seats were nice and dry and I enjoyed watching the lightning out beyond the park. It was a great show, including Wolfman’s Brother – one of my favorites. I’ll be honest, I’m kind of a Phish fan by marriage. I like them, but I’m not really a jam band girl…my mind wanders too much and next thing I know I’m writing a blog post in my head instead of listening to the music.
The following week brought a concert of a different kind – Mom and I headed to The Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid and knew him only as the guy who sang that Popeye song. He put on a two-hour show without a break. It got me thinking a lot about my taste in music and how much I really do love rock and roll. Stay tuned for a future post about that.
I had another vacation day in July – a summer pool day and bunco at Mom’s – another crazy day and night of family and fun. The bunco girls teamed up for a special gift of “16 treats” for my nephew Ryan’s 16th birthday. Always one of my favorite nights of any month. As usual, the food was fabulous and I helped myself to the Great Nana special – a little bit of everything at dessert.
Another highlight of July was Hamilton at the Providence Performing Arts Center. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack obsessively for ages so it was a thrill to be able to see the show. We had pretzels for dinner at Malted Barley before the show – it’s a quick and easy walk from the theater and the food is fantastic! I’m slowly working my way through “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, and hearing snippets of the soundtrack in my head as I read. (Photo of Ally and Ryan posted with their permission…not that any of their friends are likely to see it.)
Looking forward to August being a bit more mellow – although I’m missing this year’s trip to the Jersey Shore because I couldn’t get this week off. Hopefully next year we’ll finally get our pizza delivered to the beach, Jamie!
Tom has gone with his brother to visit their parents in Alabama, so I’m on my own this week. Reading, writing and eating all the food I know Tom doesn’t like while he’s away. I’m on a mission to clean sweep the house too…already have two bags of clothes to donate. We’ll see how long I drive them around in my car before I finally drop them at the St Gregory’s clothing shed.
It’s been a bit of an adjustment for me this year, not taking most of my vacation time in the summer. Not being tied to the high school calendar any more has freed up my vacation availability somewhat, so I took the week of Columbus Day in October, which just happens to include my birthday. That will be a nice break, but in the meantime it’s been a long hot summer with not much down time. I’ve got the last week of August booked for vacation and I’m very much looking forward to it. Stay tuned!