High tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

High tea tiers

One of my only regrets about our 2011 trip to the UK was my inability to enjoy afternoon tea in the countryside. The signage, the sweets, the beverages at the tea rooms — oh, how they taunted me. Because we were with a tour (and on a schedule), I couldn’t pause to sip Earl Grey or nibble a scone. No how, no way.

The most painful place I had to leave — under complete duress — was in Kilkenny, Ireland, where they were serving a fantastic-looking spread at 4 p.m. I remember watching the minutes tick down as we drove away on our big bus, knowing I’d never be there again.

I’m a wee bit dramatic, I know. But there’s plenty of truth there.

The Jane Austen lover in me is just so enamored with the idea of high tea — and knowing how much I love beverages (and, you know, eating), I recently jumped at the chance to join my mother-in-law for the experience at the lovely Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The Victorian Drawing Room proved the perfect spot for our lunch and pinkies-out sipping.

Prince of Wales


Table and chair

Close tea

The days I have something decidedly fancy to do are, of course, when my hair simply will not cooperate . . . and my tender strands? Not a fan of Niagara water, friends. Not at all. I tried to gussy myself up for our reservation and act like the sophisticated traveler I desperately longed to be, but the reality is . . . well, I’m just a photo-snapping, frizzy-haired American tourist who likes sweets.

Lots of sweets.

The spread did not disappoint: sandwiches with cucumber, salmon, turkey and cranberry; savory scones studded with fruit; individual lemon meringue pies; tiny cupcakes; raspberry bars; shortbread so tender it actually melted in our mouths. We both went light at breakfast knowing this 12 p.m. date awaited us, and I was still stuffed — like really, really full — for the rest of the day.

We wound up requesting a box to take at least half of these treasures back to our hotel. I would pay a million dollars for one of those cookies right now.

Tea spread


Lemon meringue pie

Isn’t that the way with vacation? You dine out constantly, have all these awesome meals, and then you just . . . get tired of it. Take it for granted. After a week away, I long for a simple, light and home-cooked meal — especially these days. But a week or two later, visions of scones start dancing in my head . . .

And they are so dancing right now.


The food was delicious, the service impeccable, the location stunning . . . but the company was the best! Because my parents-in-law live two states away, we don’t see each other as often as we would like — and this weekend away was wonderful for catching up with them and getting some time to chat with my mother-in-law, especially. An avid tea drinker, Alex loved the experience, too — and we both adored having our own pots brewing while we enjoyed our time there.

Should you find yourself in Niagara-on-the-Lake, tea in the Victorian Drawing Room is served daily from noon to 6 p.m. with a variety of options to suit your tastes.

It was really fun to feel sophisticated . . . if only for an afternoon. ūüėČ

Book review: ‘Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots’ by Abby McDonald

For environmentally-active teen Jenna, a summer spreading out before her in Stillwater, British Columbia, Canada is equal-parts thrilling and nerve-wracking. Leaving behind her suburban American roots to spend several months with her godmother Susie, Jenna isn’t quite prepared for the rugged adventures that await her in the great outdoors — or the whims and tantrums of Fiona, Susie’s teenage stepdaughter and Jenna’s unwilling roommate.

Missing her best friend Olivia and with Fiona’s bad attitude attacking¬†her from all sides, Jenna¬†throws herself into making friends with the locals — especially the Johnson boys, a trio of good-looking and outdoorsy brothers who spend their time kayaking, hiking and hanging around bonfires. Though no one save Susie is overly friendly in Stillwater, Jenna is happy for the distraction that this “vacation” brings her — after years of fighting and indecision, Jenna’s parents seem on the verge of divorce. And that’s one conversation she really doesn’t want to have.

Abby McDonald’s Boys, Bears, And A Serious Pair Of Hiking Boots is a fun adventure centering around a strong-willed, sensitive and intelligent teen. Like other great young adult fiction I’ve read lately, Jenna is an assertive narrator who isn’t content blending into the pack — but isn’t a troublemaker, either. As a narrator, I appreciated her humorous and funny take on life in Canada, which is decidedly different from the halls of her New Jersey high school.

Jenna is a member of the Green Teens, an environmentally-conscious and active social group at home, and she takes her responsibilities there seriously — perhaps¬†to the exclusion of other social activities. The Green Teens is a club she shares with Olivia, another assertive teen who is spending the summer with her boyfriend at a retreat-like place in upstate New York. Separated from the one person she believes understands her better than anyone, Jenna begins the summer missing Olivia terribly . . . but as the weeks go by and she gets to know others in Stillwater better, Jenna’s views on the things she once shared exclusively with Olivia shift greatly.

What¬†I loved most about the book was the progression of Jenna as a character. She wasn’t annoying or intolerant in the beginning — not exactly — but by the close of Boys, Bears, And A Serious Pair Of Hiking Boots, we can really see a change in who she has become. This all felt organic to me; I never felt like Jenna had suddenly morphed into someone new in the spaces between page turnings. The sweet love story that develops, centering around glances and barely-brushing fingertips, was really endearing, too.

I read this novel over the span of a few hours and really felt like I’d been dropped in a Canadian river alongside our narrator. I loved Susie and the bed and breakfast she and husband Adam were renovating, and I even came to love — shock of shocks — Fiona, our rebellious and fiesty friend. Each of the characters were well-drawn and, in addition to all the Johnson boys, I felt like I had gotten to know them well by the close of the book. And I have to make a special note of how much I loved and was satisfied with the ending! I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

Fans of young adult fiction will appreciate a heroine who isn’t a cookie-cutter cut-out of any other I’ve read, and the addition of environmental issues made this an interesting read without it becoming pedantic or heavy-handed. I never felt like McDonald was trying to pull one over on me by forcing me to change out my lightbulbs or recycle every can of soda I drink (though I do those things!). Basically, just a really fun and light summer story — a great read for lounging in the yard with a glass of iced tea. Or, in my case, huddled on the couch with a mug of cocoa.

Boys, Bears, And A Serious Pair of Hiking Boots will be released in hardcover April 16 from Candlewick Press.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0763643823 ‚ô• Purchase from Amazon ‚ô• Author Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program

Book review: ‘The Day The Falls Stood Still’ by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Bess Heath is 17 when her father loses his job at the powerful, successful Niagara Power Company and brings his family close to ruin. She arrives home from a nearby academy to find her¬†mother¬†has been¬†forced to take on sewing projects for her wealthy former friends¬†while Isabel — the bright, shining youngest Heath daughter — has locked herself away and stopped eating, haunted by a secret she cannot and will not name.

Unsure of how to help her family withstand their sudden fall from grace, Bess takes on the thankless task of coming back into Isabel’s confidences and mending the clothes her weary mother cannot tend to — just as Mr. Heath is drowning his sorrows daily at a nearby hotel. The only source of interest or comfort in Bess’s new life comes from daily sightings of Tom Cole, a handsome young riverman who knows more about nearby Niagara Falls than anyone else. Almost to a mythical degree.

Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day The Falls Stood Still is an atmospheric, heart-breaking look at family, love and industrialization — weighty topics that rarely come across as dense as they sound.¬†Told by Bess smack in the middle of World War I, the lives of so many on the Canadian side of the falls are touched by the battles happening thousands of miles away, and the war mentality hangs heavy over¬†our narrator¬†and her acquaintances. The novel felt thick, like soup, and once I’d fallen into it? I just couldn’t pull away until I’d finished.

One of the novel’s greatest strengths is its keen¬†sense of place; never for a moment do you forget how close you are to Niagara, that great and terrifying waterfall on the U.S. and Canadian border. Everything that happens in the story seems to revolve around or make mention of the falls — it is, in fact, its own character. Giant. Daunting. Powerful. And as I whipped through page after page of Buchanan’s story, I could almost feel the mist on my face — a familiar and awesome sensation.

It’s hard to pin-point what I loved about this book, and harder still to describe my favorite moments without spoiling any of the content. As a reader, I never felt like I had my footing — something ominous seemed to be hovering just on the outskirts¬†of Bess’s story, waiting to yank me out of a happy scene and push me beneath a current. Normally this would really bother me, that insecure feeling, but I have to say that it really worked for The Day The Falls Stood Still. The danger added a compelling element to the story that might not have otherwise been there!

Tom and Bess’s love story was convincing, romantic and heart-breaking. Those first love feelings were compellingly explored by the author, but it never lapsed into anything treacly. And thank goodness for that! Their love was the story’s anchor, but so much else was happening, too — including a powerful look at the loss of faith and maybe — maybe — how to get it back again. Also fantastic in the novel? The metaphysical way in which Tom relates to the river, a beast of its own; I can’t say there was actually “magic” happening here, but there isn’t any other way in which to really describe it.

I really, really loved the story, though I must confess to getting a little bored as I made my way through the final 60 pages of the novel. The pacing slowed down to a crawl just as time seemed to speed up. But don’t let that discourage you from reading this stunning story, a novel I’m happy to share with friends and coworkers. Anyone interested in the alteration of the natural world, industrialization, family dynamics and¬†what it means to have and be a sister, parent, or friend will find something to enjoy in The Day The Falls Stood Still, and I’m eager to relive that awe-inspiring walk by the Niagara again myself.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1401340970 ‚ô• Purchase from Amazon ‚ô• Author Website
Personal copy won from The Tome Traveller’s Blog

Where In The World Weds.: Niagara Falls

We’re heading north for this edition of Where In The World Wednesday — to Canada, in fact! Yes, friends, it’s time for us to wade into the fog aboard the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls. The Canadian side, no less, which is much prettier than the American side. Just sayin’.

I visited Niagara with my family in July 2004 — like our trademark blue rain slickers? — and was totally blown away by how big and scary it was. Seeing it in photos does nothing to demonstrate just how massive this waterfall is — so huge and kicking up so much mist that it’s often partially obscured. Like so many visitors before us, we took the tiny boat out and stood beneath the falls, looking up at the rushing water pouring toward us. I put up my hood and slung an arm around my sister. It was her sixteenth birthday.

The above photo doesn’t even begin to do justice to just how tiny and fragile you feel standing by something like the Niagara — something that’s been there so long, it’s hard to process what changes it has seen. Through what it has existed. The subject of countless books and novels, the falls is a thing of fear and majesty. And while reading Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day The Falls Stood Still? I couldn’t help but remember the moment I stood by the falls with my family, taken aback by the sheer force of it.

When my mom and dad planned our trip to Buffalo, New York¬†and Toronto, Ontario, Niagara Falls was — to me — just a stop on our way back to the U.S. I didn’t imagine we would have much to do there, just staring at a giant waterfall. How interesting could that be? Especially in the heat? But we stayed overnight in the small town and had a wonderful time.¬†I was delighted by the fact that in Canada,¬†nineteen — an age I’d just turned days before — allowed me to both gamble and drink. I didn’t really indulge in either, but the very fact that I could was intoxicating. I was growing up.

That was an important summer for me — the summer after I met M., fell in love for the first time¬†and then visited his hometown. But without him. Back then, Buffalo was just¬†the place M. grew up . . . it hadn’t yet become my arch-nemesis, the place that would eventually lure him away. That was before I learned not even I was strong enough to battle Buffalo — and¬†I’m glad I didn’t know. I have these memories —¬†crystal, perfect¬†— before I knew more about myself. And more about heartbreak. Looking at these photos now, that’s what strikes me: what I had yet to know.

And I’m glad I read The Day The Falls Stood Still with an on-pitch perception of what those falls can mean — for me and the countless other people who visit each year. And like riverman Tom Cole, one of Buchanan’s principle characters, I’ll never doubt the power of the river.