Thursday, January 14, 2021

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Title:  Sense and Sensibility

Author: Jane Austen

Read by:  Alison Larkin

Publisher: Alison Larkin Presents

Length: Approximately 14 hours and 02 minutes

Source: Purchased on 

I love Jane Austen novels.  I’m not going to detail the plot of this novel as I have summarized it on my blog before (see this link and this link).  I reread Sense and Sensibility this time around by listening to an audiobook narrated by Alison Larkin.  I have discovered that I LOVE listening to Austen on audio.  It really brings the story alive and makes me think of Jane reading these stories to her family.  Alison Larkin is a great narrator with a pleasing voice.  She has a light British accent, and she makes the characters come alive.

I read Sense and Sensibility this month as part of the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) Northwoods Book Club that I just joined.  I had thought about joining JASNA for over ten years now, but it took COVID to finally make me take the plunge and join.  I was even more excited to find a group of like-minded ladies in Northeast Wisconsin with a Jane Austen Book Club.  I look forward to meeting them in person when things get back to normal.

This time around I was particularly struck by Eliza’s storyline.  I thought the storyline of Colonel Brandon and Eliza was so romantic and tragic.  I kept thinking about Eliza and how she was cast off from her unhappy marriage.  What did you do in the Regency era when you didn’t have a husband and you had an illegitimate child?  Luckily Colonel Brandon supported Eliza 2, but she was raised in the country.  Who loved her?  How could she marry stuck between two worlds and illegitimate?  I want a novel about this story.  I also wish Austen would have had more detail about Colonel Brandon and Willoughby’s duel.

We talked in book club about Willoughby and compared him to Wickham.  It was decided that I probably like the villain Willoughby better than the villain Wickham because Willoughby apologizes at the end of Sense and Sensibility and also seems to truly love Marianne. 

What do you love about Sense and Sensibility?  Do you have a favorite film version?

Overall, Sense and Sensibility is a timeless story that I will reread my entire life.  I love audio versions and Alison Larkin is a wonderful narrator of Jane Austen’s novels.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin


Are you ready to read a riveting historical fiction novel about one of the most devastating natural disasters in our history? 

 In January 1888, schools across the great plains had a reason to celebrate.  The weather was abnormally warm and pleasant.  Pioneers run errands and tend to outdoor items, while the kids go to school lightly dressed.  By early afternoon, the weather has taken a turn for the worse with a devastating blizzard striking seemingly out of the blue.  Most schools had little coal or wood to keep them warm, and zero visibility conditions made it impossible to leave.  What will the young schoolteachers (some as young as fifteen or sixteen) do to keep their young charges safe?

 One of my favorite books of 2018 was the non-fiction book The Children’s Blizzard by David Laski which told the true accounts of the pioneers that lived through this terrible event.  I recognized many of these stories retold in a fictionalized version in this novel.  What I really loved is that author Melanie Benjamin primarily told the story through the perspective of two different sisters, Raina and Gerda Olsen, and how they handled the crisis in completely different ways.  It really made me ponder the hard decision that these young women had to make on their own and the terrible consequences of these actions.

 Other viewpoints include Gavin Woodson.  Woodson was a reporter who used advertisements to lure pioneers to the area often with false promises of a land of wonder rather than hardship.  After the blizzard, he seeks redemption through his writing of the event.  Anette Pederson is an unloved servant girl whose main worry is getting home on time to prevent herself getting in trouble. 

 I especially loved that an African American family was included in this story.  Ol’ Lieutenant is rumored to be a Buffalo soldier and runs a saloon in downtown Omaha.  He is being forced out by city leaders who want him to move to the north side of town with other African American families.  When the blizzard hits, Ol’ Lieutenant has to save his own daughters.  When Gavin Woodson leaves his saloon to start his trek across the prairie to find stories of the blizzard, Ol’ Lieutenant tells him, “While you’re out there hunting for stories, make sure you talk about colored folk, too.  You know there’s a settlement west of Yankton – in Sully County – that’s mainly colored.  Maybe you can get up that way?  There are people here in town would like to hear about them, see if they made it through.”  My only sadness with the book is that Woodson never talks about this settlement or visits Ol’ Lieutenant again.  I love seeing historical fiction being more inclusive and showing the people that were actually there. 

 Readers of my blog know that I am a lover of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the pioneer experience.  Poor Raina Olsen and her experience as a young teacher boarding out reminded me of Laura Ingalls as a young teacher awkward boarding with a family who did not want her there.  Raina Olsen’s experience also made me wonder how much inappropriate behavior happened when these young girls were boarded with unknown families.  It disturbs me to think about it.

 I enjoyed the note about the real history at the end of the novel.  This was a page turning book for me and I stayed up way too late last weekend reading it.  It was excellent.

 Favorite quotes:

“It’s still such a thin line, between good and bad here – success and failure, I mean.”

 “The blizzard that was, she realized, not merely a storm but also the physical manifestation of the torment of her own soul, the turbulent struggle for it bursting out and over the prairie.”

 “Like I said, this land chews people up and spits them out in pieces.  Even children.”

 Overall, The Children’s Blizzard is historical fiction at its best, a gripping account that explores the real terrors that were faced by the pioneers and the implications that trickled through time afterwards.

 Book Source:  Review Copy from NetGalley.  Thank-you!


Monday, January 4, 2021

The Amish Baker’s Rival (TLC Book Tour) by Marie E. Bast


The Amish Baker’s Rival is a delightfully sweet novel that I devoured quickly over this weekend. 

Mary Brenneman is a young Amish woman running her stepmother’s bakery, Amish Sweet Delights.  Finances are tight after medical bills for her twin sisters’ birth.  Her heart is also still broken from being left at the alter a year before by a man who decided he no longer wanted to be Amish.  Handsome Englischer Noah Miller arrives in the small town and opens a grocery, deli, and bakery directly across the street.  How can one small town support two bakeries?

 The annual fall festival is hosting a bakery contest with a $20,000 prize that is attracting bakers from across the country.  Noah and Mary both compete with the thought that if either one wins, they will be the baker that survives.  As they practice their recipes and get to know each other better, they realize there may be more there than just being rivals.  Who will win the contest and can an Amish woman and Englischer man have a future together?

I greatly enjoyed this sweet romance.  I love to bake and enjoyed the discussion of baking and the inner workings of a bakery.  I also really liked the story of Noah and his siblings returning to town to connect with their Amish grandparents.  It was interesting learning about Amish customs and beliefs.  The characters were well written.  I learned at the end this was part of a series, but it is very much a standalone novel. 

I also enjoyed the baking contest.  My Grandma Arlt was an apple pie baking champion in our small town and my Mom has won as well.  My Dad bakes excellent desserts, but the title has eluded him.  I don’t know if my home town has had any baking contests for a while.  I’d like to be in one myself!

Overall, The Amish Baker’s Rival is an excellent inspiration romance that was a true delight to read. 

Book Source:  A signed copy from author Marie E. Bast as part of the TLC Book Tour.  Thank-you!  For more information and to see the rest of the tour schedule, click on this link.

From the Publisher:

This exciting new Amish romance is from Publishers Weekly bestselling author of The Amish Baker and The Amish Marriage Bargain.

She’ll do anything to protect her bakery… no matter the cost to her heart.

Small-town, Amish baker Mary Brenneman is devastated when handsome Englischer Noah Miller opens up a bakery right across from hers. Now she must win a local baking contest just to stay in business. But somewhere along the way, Noah and Mary’s kitchen wars are quickly warming into something more…

Still mourning the death of his parents, Mary helps Noah search for the Amish grandparents he has never met. And when a crisis hits Mary’s bakery, Noah volunteers his assistance.

After Mary’s now ex-fiancé broke their engagement so he could go live in the Englisch world, she vows to stay away from men…especially Englisch men. Even though she likes Noah more each day, she keeps her distance.

With her heart packed with distrust, Noah hopes to soften her resolve and convince Mary of their undeniable love. But trouble brews at the baking contest when Mary thinks Noah has stolen her recipe. After the surprising result of the contest, Noah and Mary must face their feelings and decide what road God has set them upon.

Purchase Links: