Thursday, November 28, 2019

Comfort Read: The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (The Penderwicks #1)
Cover via Goodreads
The Penderwicks, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, The Penderwicks in Spring, and The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall are five books that are a delight! The series follows the Penderwick sisters and their friends, mostly Jeffrey, on their simple adventures and, in the last book, growing up. It's similar to the Little Women books, but even more comforting to me. 

Book description of book one via Amazon:

This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.

Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.

My series review: 

The Penderwick sisters are great characters. And I love the comfort of their world, where girls are at once smart, real, funny, and independent while hovering in the background are caring adults who let them be who they are. Really it's a quiet series of a family, yet it's so much more--about love, trust, friendship, talents, and honor--and a joy to read.

Overall ★★★★★ (5/5)

Comfort 🍵🍵🍵🍵🍵(5/5)

Romance ❤❤❤  (3/5)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Comfort Read: The Teashop Girls

The Teashop Girls (Teashop Girls, #1)
Cover via Goodreads

Book description:

The Official Rules of the Teashop Girls

1. Teashop girls are best friends forever.
2. Tea is held every week, no matter what.
3. All tea and scones must be split equally at all times.

Annie, Genna, and Zoe have been hanging out at the Steeping Leaf since elementary school. The Teashop Girls do everything together -- at least they used to. With the end of eighth grade approaching, Genna's too busy with theater, Zoe's always at tennis, and Annie feels totally left out. What happened to tea every week, no matter what?
When Annie convinces her grandmother to give her a job as a barista at the Leaf, things begin to look up. In between whipping up chai lattes for customers, and attempting to catch the attention of her Barista Boy crush, Annie is finally beginning to feel as grown-up as her best friends. But an eviction notice spells trouble for the Leaf and unless they can turn the business around, the teashop will have to close its doors forever. 

My review:

I enjoyed The Teashop Girls. It's a Tween/Early Teen fiction book (the heroine is thirteen) which can be enjoyed by adults as well. The relationships between Annie and her best friends, her grandmother Louisa, and her family are well-drawn and the characters are likeable. The setting (Madison, WI) made me want to visit there again, and the various recipes and tea-related pages were a fun addition, especially for this tea-lover. There are some subtle touches I appreciated, such as the behavior of the antagonists (or I interpreted them as subtle). There were a few things that threw me out of the story, like the teens sometimes speaking more like adults than some of the adult characters, but, oddly, this lessened as the book went on. Recommended for those who enjoy YA/children's fiction with whimsical charm, spunky heroines, and an emphasis on family and friends...and tea!

Overall ★★★★★ (5/5)

Comfort 🍵🍵🍵🍵(4/5)

Romance ❤  (1/5)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Comfort Read: Seeking Mansfield

Seeking Mansfield (Seeking Mansfield, #1)
Photo of cover via Goodreads

Today is another comfort read, and modern retelling of a Jane Austen classic, this time Mansfield Park, in this Young Adult novel by Kate Watson, Seeking Mansfield. Like Jane of Austin, Seeking Mansfield deals with some adult/teen topics, like sibling relationships, growth, love, and choices.

Book description via the Amazon Book Page:

Sixteen-year-old Finley Price has perfected two things: how to direct a world-class production, and how to fly way, way under the radar. The only person who ever seems to notice Finley is her best friend and godparents' son, Oliver Bertram. Since Finley moved in with her godparents after the death of her father, she and Oliver have grown close. If Finley could just take Oliver's constant encouragement to heart and step out of the shadows, she'd finally chase her dream of joining the prestigious Mansfield Theater. But when teen movie stars Emma and Harlan Crawford move across the street from the Bertrams, they shake up Finley and Oliver's stable friendship. As Emma and Oliver grow closer, Finley realizes that Harlan’s attention is shifting to her. She discovers she might have feelings for him too. Or, is she only interested in Harlan because Oliver is taken? Finley doesn't want to be won, and she doesn't want to see Oliver with anyone else. To claim Oliver's heart—and keep her own—she'll have to find the courage to do what she fears most: step into the spotlight.

My review:

Loved this modern take on Mansfield Park. The characters are likable and well-drawn (as is the setting), and the theater and movie references are fun. Though some of the "romances" seemed too quick (and we never get an update on Tate), overall I enjoyed the book and was rooting for Fin and Oliver. Looking forward to reading more by Watson.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Comfort Read: Jane of Austin

Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility
Cover photo via Goodreads

Going back into my Goodreads archives to bring you some favorite comfort reads. If you're new to me and my site, I'm a Jane Austen fan, though not a diehard Janeite, and I enjoy some modern retellings, and some continuations of her classic novels. One of my favorite modern Jane Austen retellings, this time of Austen's Sense and Sensibility, is Jane of Austin by Hilary Manton Lodge (I love her website--such pretty illustrations! And tasty looking recipes!) I think you'll still love this book, even if you haven't read the Austen classic, if you like stories of sisters and slow-growing romance, heroes and healing, and recipes too!

Book description (from the Amazon book page):

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience - or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.” ― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Just a few years after their father’s business scandal shatters their lives, Jane and Celia Woodward find themselves forced out of their San Francisco tea shop. The last thing Jane wants is to leave their beloved shop on Valencia Street, but when Celia insists on a move to Austin, Texas, the sisters pack up their kid sister Margot and Jane’s tea plants, determined to start over yet again.

But life in Austin isn’t all sweet tea and breakfast tacos. Their unusual living situation is challenging and unspoken words begin to fester between Jane and Celia. When Jane meets and falls for up-and-coming musician Sean Willis, the chasm grows deeper.

While Sean seems to charm everyone in his path, one person is immune – retired Marine Captain Callum Beckett. Callum never meant to leave the military, but the twin losses of his father and his left leg have returned him to the place he least expected—Texas. 
In this modern spin on the Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, the Woodward sisters must contend with new ingredients in unfamiliar kitchens, a dash of heartbreak, and the fragile hope that maybe home isn't so far away.

My review:

I really enjoyed this modern spin on Sense and Sensibility. Lodge creates characters that are like echoes of the Austen characters and are wonderful in their own ways. I love Callum and Jane, just as I do Colonel Brandon and Marianne, yet they are different. The relationship between the sisters was lovely, though I felt it could have been fleshed out a bit more in the narrative. I savored this book the way I would one of Jane's teas and scones. A wonderful read!

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Recipe: Easy Beef Hash

In September, we had dinner with some friends, who gave us some of the leftover pot roast to take home. I used it to make an easy beef hash that my older son loves. It's a quick, hearty breakfast (or dinner!) for a chilly day.

Start by making a pot roast (I used a recipe similar to this one but I didn't bother with the wine or tomato paste. I used 4 pounds beef tri-tip, trimmed, cooked half by flouring then browning it and cooking in the slow cooker on high for 8 hours with a couple of cups of water; chunks of potatoes, carrots, onion; and seasoning salt. I cooked another 4 pounds of meat--also floured and browned first--with just some chunks of onion, celery, and a few cups water and seasoning salt to use just for hash. Yes, there was a sale on tri-tip. :) And, you can save the stock it makes, if you have any left, to make a simple beef stew! Once you have some leftover roast, and some cooked potatoes (you need about two small to medium ones for this recipe) you can make hash. I got several batches out of the leftover roast. To have ready meals, I chopped all the leftover roast, used some for one batch, then froze the rest for future use.

This doesn't look pretty, but it tastes good! :) (Copyright 2019 Reina M. Williams)

Easy Beef Hash
Serves: 2-4 (This feeds my teen son and I with no other food in the meal, but would serve more if you serve with eggs or something else, or if you have smaller stomachs :)
Cooking Time: About 10 minutes

1 cup chopped cooked beef
2 cups chopped cooked potatoes
1 Tablespoon minced dried onion (or use half a fresh chopped onion if you prefer)
1 Tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Stir all ingredients together. Heat a 10-inch or larger skillet (I prefer enameled cast iron or cast iron for this, as it produces a crustier product). Add to pan 1 Tablespoon of oil and heat over medium high, then add hash and smooth out into pan. Cook about 4-6 minutes per side, flipping over halfway through cooking time, until browned and crusty. Enjoy for breakfast or any time of day!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Comfort Foods: Five Favorite Soup and Stew Recipes

A batch of Budget Bytes Lentil Stew--so delicious! (Copyright 2019 Reina M. Williams)
It's supposedly fall here in Northern California, and though we've been experiencing mostly summer weather, we've had a few chilly evenings when I could make cozy favorites like soups and stews. Often I don't follow exact recipes, but some are so good the way they are that I do. So, below are my top five favorite soups and stews that I enjoy on chilly evenings.

Lentil Stew from Budget Bytes: I love this stew! It tastes similar to beef stew, but is vegan, and feels healthier but with all the heartiness of beef stew.

Lasagna Stoup from Rachael Ray: This is one that I sometimes change, leaving out the beef and subbing with either ground turkey or lots of chopped spinach. Great if you like the noodles and sauciness of lasagna but not so much the extra cheese or crunchiness.

Kelly's Butternut Squash Soup: This originally appeared in a magazine (I think Woman's Day) but I lost my copy--then found it on the internet. This was by Kelly Osborne when she was doing a column about healthy foods and is one of my go-to soups that also happens to be vegan.

Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings from Budget Bytes: I really love Budget Bytes, as you may be able to tell. Her recipes always come through for me, and as someone on a budget, I appreciate that she tailors her recipes to fit the tightest of budgets. My younger son approves of this recipe. :) (But for him I leave out the parsley in the dumplings, and sub the onion in the soup with minced dried onion.)

Vegetarian 15 Bean Soup from Budget Bytes: This one takes me back to my childhood. My dad used to make soup like this, but with ham in it. Since I don't like ham, I'm happy to have found this vegetarian version that has the taste I remember but without the meat.

My friends also made a delicious broccoli cheese soup the other day, but it was in an intstapot, and I don't have one. So I'm still searching for the best recipe for that. If you have a favorite soup or stew recipe, please share it!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

If You Like the Mitford Series...

If You Like the Mitford Series... You might also like these books! Inspired by a post in the Facebook group of Mitford readers I'm in, I thought I'd share some books I recommend for those who are looking for more gentle comfort reads like the Mitford series. These books all deal with adult topics, but leave out adult language and scenes. All have Christian themes, or are Christian fiction. Links will take you to the Goodreads series page (all images via Goodreads). Happy comfort reading!

Fairacre and Thrush Green: Before I read the Mitford series, I loved the Miss Read books, by Dora Saint aka Miss Read. She has two main series, Fairacre and Thrush Green. I own all of these in paperback and enjoy re-reading whenever I need to feel the comfort of a fictional visit to the English countryside (the Cotswolds, to be exact). Everyday comforts and travails, nature, friendship, romance, and community are central to Miss Read's books.

All Creatures Great and Small: James Herriot's novels about a vet in England's Yorkshire Dales are beloved and entertaining. I also like the TV series, and am looking forward to the new reboot as well.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency: Alexander McCall Smith's series about Botswana detective Precious Ramotswe is a favorite. It's a series grounded in compassion and kindness. I've read the series multiple times, and will have a series review once I read the twentieth book later this month, I hope.

The Sugar Lake series: This new series by K.M. Jackson is sweet romance set in a fictional lakeside town in the American South. The memorable cast of characters and setting make for a comforting, entertaining series so far. I especially love feisty Aunt Joyce!

Trumpet and Vine: These two books by Judy Christie are Christian romance/fiction that have depth and are also engaging and sweet.

Ladies of Covington: I haven't read this series in some time, but I remember it as being like a sweeter Golden Girls, set, like Mitford, in North Carolina, about three older women who embark on new lives together.

Dearest Dorothy: A sassy older woman, Dorothy is fun and funny. I haven't read this in years, but I still remember being entertained by Dorothy's capers and caring.

Harmony series: Phillip Gulley's series contains his dry wit and compassion. It's similar to the Mitford series in that it follows the pastor of a small town, and has a large cast of characters who can be exasperating but also lovable.

Lake Emily trilogy: Traci Dupree's series is one I haven't read since before my sons were born (they're teens now). I recall it being both heartwrenching and heartwarming.

Hope Springs series: Lynne Hinton's series follows a group of women in a small Southern town whose friendships sustain and enrich them.

Do you have any gentle fiction favorites?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Comforting Christian Fiction Favorite Series in Audio

cover image of At Home in Mitford
Image via Overdrive

Now that I'm closer to fifty than forty, my eyesight isn't the 20/20 wonder it used to be. My good pair of reading glasses broke, so all I have is an inexpensive pair that doesn't work well. So, I've turned to audiobooks. You can get some good ones from the library--my system has both Overdrive and RB Digital .

Through RB Digital, I've been listening to the John McDonough narrated versions of the Mitford series. Though I've read the series (the twelve main books and the companion books) at least five times over the years, listening brings something new and comforting to the books. McDonough captures the characters and has a rich, soothing voice. As to the series itself, I'm finding it a comfort during this time that my own faith feels very wobbly and my sense of community diminished, to revisit the small, fictional North Carolina town of Mitford which "takes care of its own" and rector Father Tim's faith is central to each tale. There's tragedy and joy, multiple generations, family strife and togetherness, and even some romance, all in a gentle style. The cast of characters is large and I'm invested in their happiness, as I want to be in each person that occupies this world with me.

Have you read the Mitford series? Do you listen to audiobooks?

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