Thursday, October 31, 2019

Another Sweet Fall Read (Christian Romance)

Though this book may be set in summer (I can't remember exactly; I read it in 2016), the cover is a bit autumnal, don't you think? Secrets of Sunbeams is the start of a series--Valerie Comer's Urban Farm Fresh Romance--that I rated five stars, saying:

 I loved this book! Another favorite from Comer. This series dovetails nicely with the Farm Fresh series, but can stand alone. I loved the sense of community, the varied characters, and the hero and heroine--always refreshing to read a sweet romance with likeable characters. Looking forward to reading the next book in the series. 

And I did, and enjoyed that book as well, though I'm now behind on the series. Though I read this three years ago, I still remember being delighted by Eden, Jacob, and Eden's goat! I recommend Secrets of Sunbeams if you enjoy sweet Christian romance.

Overall ★★★★★ (5/5)
Comfort 🍵🍵🍵🍵🍵(5/5)
Romance ❤❤❤❤❤  (5/5)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Sweet Fall Read (Christian Romance)

The cover for Plum Upside Down says "fall" to me--what about you? And the story is as comforting as a walk on a crisp fall day followed by a cozy read with a cup of tea. Plum Upside Down (Book 5) is my favorite of Valerie Comer's Farm Fresh series, and that's saying a lot, as I enjoyed the whole series. Here's my review of Plum Upside Down from 2015:

When this popped up in my Kindle last night (I'd pre-ordered it, which is very rare for me), I started reading and put off things today to keep reading. For me, that's praise. :) This book is my favorite in the series so far. I really identified with Chelsea, and Keanan was a different sort of hero, even a bit from the other men in the Farm Fresh series, exceptionally passionate for/in Christ, who falls for somewhat-conventional Chelsea. As usual, strong setting, strong characters, strong Christian message, all woven together by a wonderful storyteller. I look forward to book six of the series!

Though the book could stand alone, it's probably better enjoyed if you read the other books in the series first. You're in for a sweet treat if you haven't read the Farm Fresh series yet! Happy reading!

Overall ★★★★★ (5/5)
Comfort 🍵🍵🍵🍵🍵(5/5)
Romance ❤❤❤❤ ❤ (5/5)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Favorite Mystery Series (Books)

As I wrote on Tuesday, I love cozy mysteries. Not just to watch, but to read. I spent a lot of time in high school and college reading cozy mysteries. I think I started with Sherlock Holmes, but I can't remember clearly (it's been a long time!). Some of these series I haven't read in years, while others are becoming new favorites, and two I've recently been rereading. See how my list compares to yours!

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes (Laurie R. King): I really enjoyed the first five books of this series, but stopped. I'll probably pick it back up someday, as Laurie R. King's writing is superb.

Chronicles of Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peters): This is another series I read in college, but gave up on around book twelve (as I recall, I felt the plots became stale). Brother Cadfael is another memorable character--a mystery-solving monk in medieval Britain.

Dorothy Martin (Jeanne Dams--her other mystery series is worth trying too): Retired American Dorothy Martin moves to England in this enjoyable series. There's a bit of seasoned romance that also adds a lovely touch to the series.

Benni Harper (Earlene Fowler): Quilts and quilting feature heavily in this series set in a fictional San Luis Obispo, California. Fowler's world-building is memorable. There's also a bit of romance (and mild adult content).

Jane Austen Mysteries (Stephanie Barron): I've left off at book ten, so the series started to get a bit weary for me (though I'll come back to it), but those first seven books or so are wonderful. Barron's characters and mysteries are worthy of Jane Austen.

Lady Sherlock (Sherry Thomas): I'm enjoying this new series about a female Holmes, Charlotte, and the view of Victorian London the books show. Thomas crafts solid mysteries and memorable characters. (Mild adult content)

The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter (Susan Wittig Albert): Wittig Albert brings Beatrix Potter to life in fiction with a touch of fantasy and light mystery. Lovely setting and characters, including the animals of the village.

The Darling Dahlias (Susan Wittig Albert): Set in Depression-era small town Southern US, this heavy-on-historical details, light-on-mystery series is a favorite for the group of characters--the Dahlias--who work together to solve mysteries, and more. Fun tidbits are also found at the end of each book.

Rumpole (John Mortimer): I've recently listened to the first five books again in audio, and they're as much fun as ever--if you like crusty, Wordsworth-quoting English barristers who always stand for the defense, and call their wives "she who must be obeyed"--though there is only one Rumpole.

No 1 Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith): Light on mystery and heavy on memorable characters who are kind and wise, this series is always a comfort, mostly because of detective Mma. Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only PI. I'm waiting for the twentieth book in the series to come in at the library (and then I'll be writing a full series review!)

What books or series have I missed from your list of favorite cozy mysteries?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Favorite TV Mysteries

Since last Thursday's post about Angela Lansbury, I've been thinking of favorite TV mysteries. Cozy mysteries are favorites, both in book and show form (I'll be back with favorite books on Thursday). There's something oddly comforting about many of these amateur sleuths (or PIs, or even a police detective, when they don't show a lot of gore or graphic scenes) and the eventual justice that's meted out. (Oops! After writing this, I realized I forgot two old favorites. So, honorable mentions to Cadfael, starring Derek Jacobi as a mystery-solving monk in Norman England, and The Navajo Mysteries--Leaphorn and Chee, starring Adam Beach and Wes Studi--two shows worth watching!) Here are my favorite TV mystery shows:

Photo via IMDb

12. Frankie Drake Mysteries: Frankie Drake is a fun series (so far) that follows female PI Frankie and her associate Trudy as they solve mysteries in 1920s Toronto. Though it's not as polished as Miss Fisher, it's still enjoyable, and I especially like Trudy and her family. (Mild adult content)

11. Grantchester: Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester, started it off in this series, but I love the supporting cast and the newest addition this past season. This series sometimes shows a bit more graphic and adult content (and can get a bit dark) than is comforting, but it's a solid series.

10. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Follow Phryne Fisher as she solves mysteries in 1920's Melbourne with style, wit, charisma, a pearl-handled pistol, and help from a strong group of friends. The costumes alone on this show are stunning, but it's the cast that keeps me riveted. (Some graphic and adult content)

9.  Shetland: This isn't a cozy mystery, and it gets dark, but it's a wonderful atmospheric mystery that will keep you guessing. The scenery (it's set in Scotland) is stunning, and the cast is wonderful. I like the ongoing relationships between Perez, his daughter, her biological father, and Perez's work crew. (Graphic and adult content)

8. Father Brown: I love Mark Williams (Mr. Weasley in Harry Potter) as priest and amateur sleuth Father Brown. He's compassionate, caring, and observant in the midst of an almost campy show. The supporting cast is also fun to watch, but it's Williams that keeps me returning to see each season. (Mild graphic and adult content)

7. Hetty Wainthrop Investigates: Patricia Routledge is a gem. I first saw her in Keeping Up Appearances, a British sitcom, but also love watching her as retiree turned PI Hetty Wainthrop . The show can get dark on occasion, but Routledge is a joy to watch, and her interactions with her husband, Robert, associate Geoffrey (played by a young Dominic Monaghan--Merry in Lord of the Rings), and DCI Adams show her smarts, empathy, and strength. (Some graphic and adult content)

Photo via IMDb

6. Rumpole of the Bailey: Crusty criminal law barrister Horace Rumpole (played perfectly by Leo McKern) stands for the defense in seven seasons of this witty mystery/courtroom drama/comedy of manners. Whenever I see anyone from the cast, it's for their roles on Rumpole that I best remember them. This show has been a reliable watch (and rewatch) since the 1980s. (Some mild adult content)

5. Murder, She Wrote: If you read my post last week on Angela Lansbury, you know why I love this show. Though (as with many long-running shows) the quality of episodes varies, I find watching Lansbury as mystery writer and sleuth Jessica Fletcher comforting and entertaining. (Mild adult content)

4. Columbo: Peter Falk as seemingly bumbling detective Columbo never gets old for me. We see the murder first (some graphic content), and the fun is watching Columbo figure it out. Amazing guest stars add to the appeal of this long-running movie-format show.

Photo via IMDb

3. Rosemary and Thyme: I surprise myself for placing this ahead of Columbo and Murder She Wrote, but I love this series about gardeners--and amateur sleuths--Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendal) and Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris). The quality of the show is great, and so are the gardens. Though I missed it on its first run in the early 2000s, I've since watched all three seasons several times. (Mild adult content)

2. Poirot: David Suchet is Poirot. This show never disappoints, and I've watched it many times, yet there's always something new to spot. Set mostly in the 1920s and 1930s, this long-running show is based on the books about eccentric, smart Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot, by Agatha Christie. (Some adult and graphic content)

1. Miss Marple: I love every iteration of Miss Marple on TV. Joan Hickson is particularly good, but I also like the two latest Marples. Based on the books by Agatha Christie, Miss Marple is a delight whose perception and wit rival a Jane Austen heroine, but she's as comforting as a good grandma or great-aunt. I've watched all the episodes many times; it's a companionable show. (Some adult content)

Photo via IMDb

Do you like mysteries? If so, what are your favorites?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Favorites Starring Angela Lansbury

Updated post from January 2019, in honor of Angela Lansbury's 94th birthday yesterday (10/16/19):

These feel like distressing times, and during those times, I tend to turn to comforting entertainment (when I have a chance to). Murder, She Wrotestarring Angela Lansbury, is one of those entertainments.
Picture via IMDb

From 1984-1996 (and subsequent TV movies), Lansbury delighted as Jessica Fletcher, novelist and sleuth, whose grace and smarts brought her through her many fictional mysteries. Sometimes, I check out whatever season is available from the library and watch, or just have the show on as I go about my chores (seasons 1-5 are also currently available on Prime Video). (This article neatly sums up Murder, She Wrote; warning for my gentle readers: the article does contain one F-word.)

Lansbury's career stretches back to 1944, when she appeared in Gaslight, a superb film starring Ingrid Bergman. I also enjoy Lansbury in The Picture of Dorian Grey and The Harvey Girls.

Picture via IMDb
Later, Lansbury gives a chilling performance in The Manchurian Candidate, proving once again her talent and range. On the more comforting side are her TV movies like The Love She SoughtMrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, and The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.

Picture via IMDb
Many also know her as the voice of Mrs. Potts in the animated Beauty and the Beast, and a new generation can see her charm in Mary Poppins Returns. I also enjoyed Lansbury in the 2017 adaptation of Little Women (though the adaptation itself isn't a favorite). But it's as Jessica Fletcher that Lansbury captured my affection and admiration. I saw this quote attributed to her on Twitter: “Bringing humour and bringing happiness and joy to an audience is a wonderful opportunity in life, believe me.” She's taken full advantage of those opportunities and has been entertaining us for 75 years! What's your favorite Angela Lansbury film?

Picture via IMDb

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Beautiful, Heartwarming Movie: Ladies in Black

Photo via IMDb

"Ladies in Black is an alluring and tender-hearted comedy drama about the lives of a group of department store employees in 1959 Sydney." (IMDb)

PG/2018/1 hour 49 minutes
Directed by Bruce Beresford

*minor spoiler alert*
Sometimes being on social media really pays off, like when you see a recommendation that turns out to be a hidden gem! Thanks to Joan of Rivendell on Twitter, who tweeted about Ladies in Black, I saw this beautiful, heartwarming, fun film. I need to watch it again soon, because being conditioned to have something at least a bit tragic happen in most films, I kept waiting for something like that to occur in Ladies in Black, but it didn't. The main characters of the ensemble cast were all likable, behave like adults, and are kind and caring--it is so refreshing and touching! There wasn't one missed element, from the outstanding cast to the costumes to the direction to the script.

Look at those costumes! Julia Ormond (remember her from Sabrina?) Photo via IMDb

Ladies in Black is simply lovely and will no doubt become a favorite of mine. There are even some nods to Jane Austen in this coming of age/romance/friendship film. Sometimes intertwined stories don't work for me, but Ladies in Black handles each with grace and a light touch. Do yourself a favor and watch Ladies in Black!

Overall ★★★★★ (5/5)
Comfort 🍵🍵🍵🍵🍵(5/5)
Romance ❤❤❤❤  (4/5)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Small Comforts and Self-Care

Picture via Canva
Here at A Cup of Comfort, we're all about the small comforts and self-care. Hygge anyone? :) Small comforts keep me going through hard times, and make joyful times sweeter, and self-care is the same. I feel it's so important to be your own best partner--of course, I'm still working on that! And, when we're our own reason to smile, it's pretty sure we'll be someone else's reason to smile as well, because joy is infectious!

Some of my favorite small comforts are hugs from loved ones, trees and flowers, baking, reading, watching a comforting movie or TV show, snuggling up with a cup of hot cocoa or tea, meeting a friend for a chat at a favorite cafe, or enjoying a good meal or outing with my sons. But in order to be able to enjoy these small comforts, I need to practice self-care. Besides the basics like sleep, good hygiene, and moving my body, here's what I try to do daily:

~have a cup of tea (currently either green tea or cinnamon spice with a splash of milk)
~meditate (I use the Calm app)
~cook my own meals (and for my sons)
~practice compassion (especially self-compassion)
~do something creative (right now, writing, but it could be crafting, baking, cooking, or any number of things!)
~yoga and gratitude (I love Yoga with Adriene and Gratefulness)

Especially on this, World Mental Health Day, it's important to remember that we all have struggles, and sometimes these struggles will last a lifetime, but regular self-care, awareness, compassion, and keeping in mind your small comforts can help. If you're struggling, I hope you'll reach out to someone kind, know you're not alone, and that there are many resources for mental health out there that can be of support. Or, as Adriene of Yoga with Adriene says: "Hug yo'self!"

What are your favorite small comforts? Wishing you a comforting day!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book: Other Words for Home

Such a beautiful cover, too!
One my favorite books this year is Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga. It's a beautiful, touching, wonderful, uplifting, poetic book. I love it so very much--if I could I'd buy a bunch of copies and give them to every school library and every little free library in my town. Other Words for Home is practically perfect in every way. I highly recommend it and it'll definitely be in my upcoming list of my favorite books of 2019! I'll leave you with two of my favorite quotes from the book:

“There is an Arabic proverb that says:

She makes you feel
like a loaf of freshly baked bread.

It is said about
the nicest
The type of people
who help you

“Mama says the word cake like it's just an ordinary food

which is strange since everyone knows that cakes are
made of magic.”

Happy reading!

Overall: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Comfort: 🍵🍵🍵🍵 (4/5)
Romance: ❤❤ 
(2/5 for friendship and marriage depictions)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Recipe: My Sons' Favorite Pumpkin Bread

This chocolate chip pumpkin bread is perfect for fall baking, and makes a delicious snack or even breakfast! I like that it bakes two loaves, so I can slice, portion out, and freeze some for school snacks for my sons. It's adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, but is no longer "light" exactly--it is easy, tasty, and kid-approved.

Makes 2 loaves

3 cups flour (sometimes I use up to half whole wheat)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin (I use canned--make sure it's pumpkin, not pie filling)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or canola oil)
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I usually use sour cream)
4 large egg whites
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a bowl and whisk to mix. Combine next five ingredients (sugar, pumpkin, oil, sour cream, and egg whites) in a large mixing bowl. Whisk. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir to combine. Add chocolate chips and fold in. Spoon batter into pans. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pans, remove from pans, and cool completely on cooling rack.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Movie: This Beautiful Fantastic

Photo via IMDb

2016/PG/1 hour 40 minutes
Directed by Simon Aboud
"A young woman who dreams of being a children's author makes an unlikely friendship with a cantankerous, rich old widower."

Watching This Beautiful Fantastic is a pleasant way to spend an evening, especially now that fall is here. It's a modern fairy tale of sorts, with a orphaned young woman who dreams of writing a children's book, a grumpy neighbor, an even grumpier boss, and a charming cast of secondary characters. There's coming of age, friendship, challenges, flowers and food, books and a library, romance, and heartbreak, which all ends relatively happily. I love the cast (many of whom are also in some favorite shows/films), including Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Tom Wilkinson (Sense and Sensibility and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Anna Chancellor (Caroline Bingley in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice), Jeremy Irvine (whose performance as a younger Colin Firth in The Railway Man is spectacular), and Andrew Scott (Sherlock), and the cinematography plays up the fairy tale and garden aspects beautifully. It's a charming film.

Overall ★★★★ (4/5)
Comfort 🍵🍵🍵 (3/5)
Romance ❤❤  (2/5)