“Hot takes” are popular these days. Everyone feels the need to add their “thoughts” to whatever topic is trending. Personally, I often prefer talking about hot takes that involve fictional characters. Plus, I’ve noticed that fictional characters towards whom I feel very strongly are frequently controversial ones. I’ve shared my hot takes on a few of them here before, namely, Lady Mary Crawley and Elizabeth Poldark. Read and feel free to send me your rebuttals. Always happy to discuss. But now it’s time for what is perhaps my hottest of all literary hot takes, and that is that Severus Snape was a whiny, bitter, sadistic bully whose noble acts did not redeem him.
Photo Credit: Joe.Co.Uk

Yes, after multiple readings of the Harry Potter series, much thought, and heated discussions, I’m still a Snape hater. I’d venture that it’s natural for anyone to dislike him on a first reading of the series, but the revelations about his background in the final chapters shed new light on his decisions as a whole, which then changes many people’s minds about him. Not mine, however. If you love him, I promise you are still welcome here. I will just passionately disagree with you and hope you’ll at least honestly consider this side of the argument.

First, let me establish that I agree with Snape fans on certain points, but these same points are often used (wrongly, I think) as evidence that he was a good person at heart and the hero of the whole story. So, here are a few broad ideas that I often hear in Snape’s defense.

1. He was so courageous in his double agent work and sacrificed everything, eventually his life, to protect Harry and make sure he won.
To which I say: Yes! Absolutely! I freely admit that no one had a harder job than Snape. I have total respect for his work and recognize that he probably did more than anyone to ensure Harry’s safety and ultimate victory. Even in his final moments of life, despite his gruesomely painful manner of death, he did everything he could to make sure Harry had the information that would be crucial to defeating Voldemort. I don’t think anyone who reads the series can deny any of that.

2. He was mistreated when he was young, so his unpleasant personality makes sense. He had been bullied, and that often leads to becoming a bully, which explains a lot of his behavior.
Again, all true. Those facts are indisputable after even a surface-level reading of the books. Snape had a terrible childhood, was an awkward and nerdy kid who never received much compassion, and James and Sirius were horrible to him. I understand and agree that all of that heavily contributed to the sad and conflicted person Snape became.

3. He loved Lily so much that he was willing to protect her son at all costs, even though he’d been bitter enemies with James.
Once again, yes. Snape’s love for Lily Evans Potter was all-consuming and drove him all the way to his sad and terrible end. Her influence and memory caused him to never once waver in his mission, and that was a good thing.

I say all of that to establish that my opinion of Snape starts with much of the same groundwork from which others who love him also begin. There’s no question that he’s the most complex character in the series and the necessary linchpin in Harry’s ultimate triumph over Voldemort. I respect him a lot. However, I will never like him, and I do not think the revelations at the end of Deathly Hallows redeemed his abominable behavior that carried on for the large majority of the books. Said revelations explained quite a lot about Snape and his decisions, but they did not suddenly create a “Reason” for why he had been a truly awful person to Harry and others for the entire series. J.K. Rowling herself has said that Snape was a bully who loved the goodness he saw in Lily, but he never emulated that goodness personally. That’s a good snapshot of why I still take issue with Snape, despite his determined work for the right side in the end. I’ve done my best to flesh out my problems with him under three big headings. Yes, these sections are long, but there’s a lot to discuss, so consider yourself warned.

1. He enjoyed bullying and abusing children and just being mean to people
I’ve noticed that some fans respond to comments on Snape’s abuse of students by pointing out that Harry was no model student, that Harry broke rules, and Harry wasn’t that brave or worthy of admiration. And on and on. My reaction to this is simply, really? Yes, Harry was a rule-breaker and got lucky often (which he’d be the first to admit, by the way). But that’s honestly irrelevant to my view of Snape. How is it fair to discuss Snape by putting him and Harry on an equal plane? Snape was a teacher, in a position of authority, not Harry’s equal. Harry was also an 11-year-old child, so how do you square with Snape humiliating and berating Harry literally from his first day of school? Don’t start with how Snape’s famous first question to Harry was a veiled reference to Lily and his regret over the loss of her. I know, and I don’t care. Harry didn’t know that history, and at this point, Harry was also still trying to get his head around the fact that he was actually a wizard and had all these weird new wizard things to learn. He was just a kid who needed helpful teachers like every other kid there, and Snape was a jerk to embarrass him (and to blame him for Neville’s mistakes in that same first lesson!).
Photo Credit: Wallpaper Cave

But it didn’t stop with that first school day. Snape continued to use his position as a teacher to be cruel to students, and nothing excuses it. It was not an act, a bit of grumpiness, or a few ill effects of his sad childhood that were out of his control. From the very beginning, Snape purposely abused and humiliated his students, and sometimes adults too, and enjoyed it. A few incidents of proof for this include, but are not limited to, the following:

- Constantly taunting and insulting Harry in ways too numerous to count, including attacks on his character, his motivations, his academic ability, and people Harry loved.
- Perpetually insulting James from Prisoner of Azkaban and onward, often in tandem with punishing and/or mocking Harry. Zero excuse for mocking an orphan’s deceased father, dude, no matter who he had been to you.
- Trying to out Lupin’s werewolf identity first by stealth (assigning werewolf homework) and then by actually making it public, thus damaging Lupin’s chances of finding work again. And all when Lupin had been nothing but a respectful and grateful colleague.
- The fight in the Shrieking Shack at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban—Snape is truly the worst here. He raged and screamed at everyone, verbally expressed his desire to hand Sirius to the dementors, and outright refused to listen to Sirius and Lupin’s side of the story. And Sirius and Lupin were more than reasonable in this scene. Sirius may have looked daggers at him, but for a man who’d just spent 12 years in Azkaban, he handled the situation with decency, even saying he would come up to the castle as long as Ron brought his rat. But a vindictive, bitter Snape had no thought but to throw Sirius to the dementors, and he made clear he was above listening to the testimonies of stupid children like Harry, Ron, or Hermione.
-“I see no difference.” You’re a scumbag, Snape. That’s all.
- Reading Rita Skeeter’s bogus article about Harry and Hermione being in love out loud to the whole Potions class, playing it up and enjoying their humiliation.
- Often giving Harry zero marks for no reason or even after he’d seen Draco Malfoy mess up Harry’s work.
- Mocking Sirius when Sirius had to stay hidden in Grimmauld Place, which stoked Sirius’s restlessness and made him feel guilty while Snape was also making himself out to be a great adventurer and hero for the Order.
- He docked points from Harry after his arrival to Hogwarts with Tonks in Half-Blood Prince, gave Harry no chance to clean up even though something bad had clearly happened to him, and ridiculed Tonks’s change of Patronus here too. Then he mocked Sirius’s death as he and Harry walked to the castle. And Harry had been grieving for barely two months at this point.
- At the end of Half-Blood Prince, he gave Harry a detention that required tasks which threw James and Sirius’s deaths in Harry’s face, plus Snape verbally mocked their deaths in the process. Absolutely no excuse for this one, Severus. Harry was still grieving too.
- Couldn’t leave this list without bringing up Neville Longbottom. Neville was awkward and accident-prone, and Snape exploited this to an inhuman degree, making outright fun of Neville at every opportunity. He also attempted to poison Neville’s prized pet and even mocked him in front of other teachers. He bullied Neville relentlessly in Potions classes, making him dread the subject and in the process becoming Neville’s greatest fear. Again, absolutely no excuse for this. No child should ever have to cower in fear of a teacher, but Snape became Neville’s actual boggart.
Photo Credit: Wallpaper Cave

And on this note, I’d also point out that Snape is just a bad teacher in general. His favoritism towards the Slytherins angers most students, not just the Gryffindors, and even if there was a defense for that favoritism, the students he continually favors are not good students, academically or otherwise. Meanwhile, he constantly belittles Hermione for caring about schoolwork, including his own subject. Snape had ample tools and abilities to be an excellent teacher, but he simply chose not to be out of bitterness and spite. And this in turn had the potential to leave students unequipped for the future, which could have been detrimental to the cause he was ultimately fighting for. 

2. His love for Lily was selfish and obsessive 
But unrequited love! But his Patronus matched hers! But he loved her! Yes, I know. I think Snape’s love for Lily resonates with many fans because most of us know what it’s like to carry feelings for someone who doesn’t return them. But I really don’t understand the segment of fans who treat Snape like a pious martyr who lost the love of his life to a rich, arrogant cad. 

Because that is not what happened. The flashback in Order of the Phoenix gives us our first real-time glimpse of the Marauders at Hogwarts, and it reveals that James Potter was an insufferable show-off who viciously bullied an awkward teenage Snape. Lily comes to Snape’s defense, clearly disgusted by James’s behavior, but Snape thanks her by throwing “Mudblood” in her face. A justifiably angered Lily storms away, seeming to write off Snape. But she has some choice words for James before she leaves (i.e., “You make me sick!”). Once this flashback fades, we still only know that Lily and James somehow ended up married, and even Harry wonders how. There’s little given in the books to show us the process of it, but there’s certainly enough to know that James did not stay a jerk and that Lily did not marry him just to spite Snape. Nor did James conspire to steal her away from Snape as a final win over him. Sirius and Lupin tell Harry that James and Lily started dating in their final year at Hogwarts, which would have given James a few years to mature and Lily a few years to notice that. Sirius explains it succinctly when he says, “A lot of people are idiots at fifteen! He grew out of it!” I think we all can relate to that, surely. So, give adult James a break, guys. 

The next big information dump comes at the end of Deathly Hallows, where we learn that Lily and Snape were actually childhood friends and Snape had deep feelings for her almost from the day they met. But friction began arising between them when Snape started dabbling in the Dark Arts a few years into their Hogwarts studies. Lily was highly uncomfortable with this and clearly expressed it to Snape, and she also began realizing the depth of his prejudice against muggle-borns and half-bloods. The day he called her a Mudblood appears to be the final straw and is also the day that Lily tells Snape he’s too far gone for them to remain friends: 

“It’s too late. I’ve made excuses for you for years. None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you. You and your precious little Death Eater friends – you see, you don’t even deny it! You don’t even deny that’s what you’re all aiming to be…I can’t pretend anymore. You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine.” (Deathly Hallows, p. 676) 

And they do go those separate ways. Lily concentrated on her studies and other friends and eventually married James, and Snape buried himself deeper in the Dark Arts and joined Voldemort. It stands to reason that Lily and Snape had little interaction after that night that Lily broke rank. So for those who stubbornly “ship” them, note that there were a few years between that fateful evening and the first war with Voldemort, and Lily and Snape likely had no real communication during those years. What’s more, Lily never showed any sign of romantic feelings towards Snape before their falling-out, and there’s certainly no indication that Lily would have come to love Snape, even if James had been a non-factor later. She walked away from Snape because she fundamentally disagreed with his life choices, not because of anything to do with James.
Photo Credit: Pottermore

But Snape continued to carry a torch for Lily. I think many fans stop there because at first blush, it does seem terribly romantic and tragic. But I’d argue that it’s not. Given their falling-out, Snape’s continued feelings for Lily were built mainly on childhood memories, watching her from a distance, and long-held bitterness towards James. And more importantly, his feelings did not motivate him to change. I do believe Snape loved Lily. He eventually died to save Harry and the wizarding world because of her. But I also think that in the more everyday ways, his love for her was a selfish obsession, was not founded in reality, and did not prompt him to consider what was best for her while she was still alive. His feelings did not prompt him to try to make amends with her and James, to think twice about his life’s direction, to move on and love someone else later with a better attitude, or to think about what was important to Lily. And most glaringly, his feelings didn’t stop him from becoming a Death Eater and later giving Voldemort the prophecy about Harry, and he only backtracked enough to try to save Lily. He was still totally fine with letting James and Harry die, even though they would have been the people who mattered most to Lily. That’s not love, guys. It’s the opposite, in fact. Real love starts with prioritizing the well-being and happiness of the one you claim to love. And that’s the test that James clearly passed, because he died facing Voldemort in an attempt to protect Lily and Harry. That should be ample proof that he loved Lily deeply and grew into a good and honorable man. As for Snape, his obsession with Lily kept him from going completely over to Voldemort’s side, and thank goodness for that. It’s just too bad that it took her death for him to realize how far he had already gone, and it’s really too bad that he didn’t try to be a generally better person after her death, despite his new commitment to fight for Dumbledore’s side from then on. 

3. He held onto his bitterness and grudges and took it out on innocent parties 
Which brings us to this final point. This is probably what I find most unforgivable about Snape – he’s whiny. He’s eternally angry and heartbroken when it comes to Lily, James, Sirius, and Lupin. To Snape, Lily is forever the one he loved but who married his enemy, and Sirius and Lupin are complicit. And Harry is nothing but the physical reminder of all that to him. My reaction: grow up. Now that I approach the books with Snape’s full backstory in mind whenever I re-read them, I find his behavior not only infuriating and unjust, but incredibly annoying and tiresome. He’s completely eaten up with bitterness and refuses to man up about past disappointment, and I do not find it reminiscent of a longsuffering martyr or a tragic Byronic hero. I find it exasperating and childish.

Because, all things considered, Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts was the ideal opportunity for Snape to do right by Lily and set his past to rest by treating her son with respect. If his love for Lily was so strong, wouldn’t he have wanted to honor her memory by honoring her son? Plus, it would’ve made particular sense for Snape to grasp this since, like Snape, Harry came to Hogwarts from an abusive and neglectful home. But Snape chose to see only young James in Harry, and he purposely used every opportunity to take that old grudge out on Harry. There’s just no excuse for this. Sure, Harry strongly resembled James and had a bit of the same bravado, but Harry was also a child who had no knowledge of his family history, let alone Snape’s history. And if a grown man cannot separate a child from a past quarrel with that child’s father, that strongly suggests a need for a little more maturity and self-examination.
Photo Credit: Nicholas Kaufmann

What’s more, Snape’s refusal to let go of that quarrel with James (and Sirius and Lupin, by association) smacks of selfishness and immaturity on its own, especially since James and Harry came out of the first war with Voldemort far worse than he did. Snape and James may have been schoolboy enemies, but the war killed James and orphaned Harry, so stop moaning, Severus. James made the right choices a lot sooner than you did, and he died while courageously defending his wife and child. It’s pretty terrible form to only remember how James was mean to you all those years ago and then try to make his innocent orphan son pay for it by being even meaner to him, even if you are protecting said son in the background the whole time. In short, you have nothing to whine about. Lily loved Harry too, by the way, which should have been more than enough reason for you to be decent to him, no matter what he looked or acted like.

In sum, is it understandable that Snape feels the way he does? Yes. He made the wrong choices and it cost him dearly. But is it acceptable that he responds to his feelings and mistakes by constantly hurting other people who were no party to his demons? No, it is not. Severus Snape made his bed, and to his credit, he did lie in it in the end because he knew he had to. I respect him for that, but the hurt he caused other people in the process was inexcusable, and that’s why I will never like him.
I recently had the honor of writing a review of the film adaptation of a frequently mentioned favorite book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, for the online magazine Salt & Iron. I hope you enjoy! 
"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" (2018) (Photo Credit: Vintagemadchen)

“If books do have the power to bring people together, maybe this one will work its magic.” 

This sentiment is at the core of the recent film adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s charming novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. In this story, books establish romances, unlikely friendships, and new life directions.

The film’s heroine, London-based author Juliet Ashton, finds comfort in books and her writing career in the wake of World War II. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, a group of friends on the island of Guernsey takes comfort from their weekly book club, which had become their saving grace when Nazis took over their island during the war. The club members have dubbed themselves “the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” in reference to their love of literature and to a pie made from potatoes and potato peels, which they ate at their first meeting. Food scarcity during the war made real desserts scarce, but they found humor in it when they faced it together at their meetings.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society opens in the aftermath of the war and focuses on Juliet Ashton’s unlikely friendship with these book club members on Guernsey. Those relationships, which grow from perseverance during hardship and a common love for books, are the lifeblood of this screen adaptation and do excellent justice to the original novel.

As a devoted fan of the book, I approached the movie with cautious optimism and was pleased overall with the result. Though the film structures the story differently than it is presented in the book, the movie retained the joyful spirit of its source material and stayed true to the book’s themes of friendship, love for reading, and the power of books to enrich the lives of individuals and communities.

Continue reading here.

Happy spring, readers! At least, it’s spring where I am and I’m loving it for as long as it’ll stay. Spring is one of those seasons that reawakens me to the beauty of the world and encourages me to find joy in things that may seem small, but when I take time for them, they add a little more beauty, calm, and happiness to my days.

I’ve also been thinking more about the general concept of beauty in the wake of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. I’ve never been to Paris and I’m not Catholic, but I still felt weighty sadness as I watched the videos of the cathedral’s spire collapsing. The images of the damage are a bit haunting to me. I feel sad to think of the beauty and art that’s been lost in that fire. And I think that’s a good thing. Notre Dame has stood for more than 850 years and represents faith and resilience to many people. Its walls have witnessed the prayers, baptisms, marriages, and celebrations of millions through the years. Its bells have called people to worship for centuries and have signaled the end of world wars. I believe it is right to recognize that much has been lost in the fire and to grieve for it. In fact, the outpouring of solidarity and sadness has given me some hope – hope that we are still awake and sensitive to truly valuable and beautiful things. My prayer is that more people will realize that beauty in this world is meant to point us to the most beautiful One of all, the Giver of all true beauty. 

Photo Credit: www.historicalwallpapers.blogspot.com

In light of that, I’ve been trying to recognize the beauty around me, big and small. I’m fortunate to live in a city full of historic monuments, and this past week was a reminder not to take them for granted. I also believe in finding beauty in the small things, so I wanted to share a few of them with you.

Walking clears my head, gets me away from the neverending distractions of working on a computer all day, and gives me time with my current audiobook! I’ll take more reading time in any form. And in spring weather, a walk outside is truly good for the soul. Where I am, flowers are everywhere, and the sun is bright and warming without being oppressive yet. Can it stay?

I’ve always liked candles, but it’s only recently that I’ve realized how happy they make me when I really use them. Sure, they look pretty when they sit on a shelf, but the glow and scent when they’re burning have become some of my favorite things. I now try to light one every morning as I’m eating breakfast and reading. It’s now a part of my routine that’s truly soothing and helps me relax when I’m tempted to rush or stress. And since I can’t ever have enough literary references, I’ve gone literary even with my candles – thanks to Scent Pop Candles, my house smells amazing and I now have the occasional daydream of quitting everything and inventing scents for every fictional character and quote I’ve ever liked. Anyone with me?

Piano Music
Simple piano tunes have been doing wonders for my peace of mind lately. Whether I’m working, doing my makeup in the morning, or eating breakfast, a calming bit of piano in the background helps me slow down, focus, and be present. It also sets a great mood for leisure activities, like reading or a cup of afternoon tea. Speaking of which…

“what she says: would you like to have tea?
“what she means: would you like to share a moment of peace and quietude with me? Participate together in a ritual of sanity in a world of disorder? Defy the indignity of the modern world? Also, I have biscuits.”

This was recently tweeted by my favorite online presence at the moment, the inimitable Joy Clarkson. As it turns out, she also did a whole podcast on tea, which I highly encourage you to enjoy here. I agree with every sentiment Joy expresses about a good cup of tea – it’s more than just a nice drink that posh people made popular a few centuries ago. Slowly and surely, tea has become pretty meaningful to me over the years.

Shoutout to my dear friend Jolie for knowing how to lay a tea. I'm catching up slowly.

Unlike many from the deep south, I did not grow up with sweet tea, so my first real exposure to tea was during a trip to Ireland in high school. Thanks to Joy’s podcast, I now know that Ireland outranks every other country for most cups of tea per person in a day. I can easily believe that, because during my trip, it quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be drinking much of anything while in Ireland if I didn’t drink tea. Soon, I loved the ritual and communal aspect of it. Lingering after an evening meal over a cup of tea and stopping at various times throughout the day to enjoy tea and biscuits (or cookies if you’re American ;)) encourages you to slow down and breathe and take pleasure in your surroundings and current company. I’ve learned to appreciate these aspects of tea even more as an adult and think most people would do well to learn from it. I honestly believe that cultures that value tea are far more patient than others because tea is a ritual that requires time – you have to wait for the water to boil, wait for the tea to steep, take time to add your milk and sugar, and sip slowly so it doesn’t scald your mouth. Enjoy it all, friends!

That said, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of tea preparation and the time it takes to drink tea. My recent travels to England have endeared it to me all the more since the British obviously take it so seriously. I had several pretty grand teatimes between my two trips, and I’ve also been inspired to try more flavors and experiment with loose leaf. All that to say, anyone for tea? I’ve got peach, Royal Blend, Earl Grey, Wedding Breakfast, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, and there can only ever be more to try.

Have a beauty-filled week, friends. I'd love to hear about what helps you notice the beauty in your days too.

Y’all, it’s time to talk about Sense and Sensibility. I go on plenty about Pride and Prejudice around here – it was my first real introduction to Austen – but I’ve recently rediscovered just how fantastic Sense and Sensibility is. This was Austen’s first published work, it tells a tale of devoted sisters, and I’ve fallen in love with it all over again after listening to the audiobook narrated by Rosamund Pike, who played Jane Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie (she’s narrated a version of Pride and Prejudice too. Both are exquisite). After revisiting the story in this format, I have some new-ish/hopefully interesting reflections on my experience with Sense and Sensibility, especially when it comes to the two contenders for Marianne Dashwood’s heart. Here’s my Sense and Sensibility story, and I hope you’ll share yours. 

The Beginning
Like many of us probably were, I was first introduced to Sense and Sensibility through Ang Lee’s 1995 film version that starred Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, and Kate Winslet. I now think that I might have seen it even before I saw Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, which is the film I’ve long credited for introducing me to Austen. Either way, when I first saw Sense and Sensibility, I was unaware of the Jane Austen connection and had no idea how famous this story was.

And my sensitive, romantic-hearted little 12 or 13-year-old self was immediately captivated by the romance of the vivacious Marianne Dashwood and the charming… Willoughby. Yes, it was the handsome, roguish Willoughby who first turned my head. As a youngster, I frankly didn’t notice or understand Colonel Brandon’s generous heart and gentle, strong constancy. He was the older guy, sort of quiet and awkward, and definitely not as handsome (sorry, Alan Rickman groupies). Willoughby, on the other hand, was PERFECT for Marianne! Hello, he carried her home in a rainstorm after she’d sprained her ankle and then quoted her favorite sonnet to her! Swoon.

So, I was a goner. Such a goner, in fact, that even after all of Willoughby’s bad deeds were exposed, I was still convinced that he would come back to Marianne at the end with a full apology and explanation ready. I was utterly convinced of it right up until the ending scene in which Marianne walks out of the church on Colonel Brandon’s arm. Immediately, my jaw dropped, I uttered some exclamation of disappointed surprise, and I angrily stormed from the room. My emotional involvement in stories has clearly always been a thing.

Greg Wise and Kate Winslet as Willoughby and Marianne in Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" (Photo Credit: Book Snob)

These Years Later
Fast forward some years, and I’m now firmly in the Colonel Brandon camp. As an adult, I’ve now willingly joined the ranks of women who sigh contentedly over his steady strength, gentle attentiveness, and quiet protectiveness over Marianne and others in his care. That angry scene I made after my first viewing of the '95 film ended up leading into a valuable object lesson for my 12 or 13-year-old self, but I’ve come to believe that my early, short-lived infatuation with Willoughby was due to his portrayal in that particular film adaptation.

Who is Willoughby in Ang Lee’s film, which is largely carried by Emma Thompson’s phenomenal script? I recently read a fantastic blog post about Willoughby which actually argues for more merit in this version of Willoughby than many give him credit for. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I admit that even now, when I watch this Willoughby, played with ever-convincing charm by Greg Wise, I feel a little wistful. He is quite dashing, sweet, and thoughtful towards Marianne. If only he’d been less afraid to be poor. But I think that’s the major conflict that much of the plot comes down to for Willoughby in this version. The blog post linked above discusses this in detail – he’s portrayed as a bit of a rogue who made some mistakes, but in the end, still could have been a good match for Marianne if only he’d been willing to give up the promise of wealth. While this film is gorgeous and I love many things about it, I think this portrayal of Willoughby varies from the book in important ways. 

My conversion to Team Brandon, therefore, came when I read the book and watched the 2008 miniseries that was directed by Andrew Davies and starred Hattie Morahan, Dan Stevens, and Charity Wakefield. This miniseries was particularly important in my experience because it gives a more holistic portrayal of Willoughby’s character and Colonel Brandon’s thorough distrust of him. Dominic Cooper’s Willoughby in this version is perfectly charming and sweet, but he also has a definite edgy quality, and key scenes from the book that were omitted from the movie remain in this version. The unchaperoned visit to Allenham, Willoughby’s duel with Colonel Brandon, and his lengthy explanation offered to Elinor during Marianne’s illness are all lifted from the book and included in this version, and all of these are pretty vital to understanding Willoughby. Colonel Brandon’s young ward is also shown onscreen more than once, which gives cogent visual evidence to the audience of what Willoughby’s actions have done. He's a despicable scoundrel in this version without question, and even if he did truly love Marianne, his deceit and lack of remorse towards Brandon’s ward give ample evidence that he and Marianne probably would not have been happy in the long run. And I think this is what Austen had in mind when she wrote the book. Willoughby might be the more charming one to the eye on first impression, or even second and third impression, but Colonel Brandon is the truly honorable and good and faithful one. And I think that if I had seen this version first, I would have understood that better, even as a young teen.

Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in Andrew Davies's "Sense and Sensibility" (Photo Credit: Page to Screen)

And on that note, I admit that I do love David Morissey’s Brandon in the miniseries. Maybe even more than Alan Rickman’s. Sorry again, groupies. But Morissey’s portrayal brings a true military hero vibe from the beginning and I love the fierce protectiveness that undergirds every interaction with Marianne, or any of the Dashwood females, for that matter. More details are given about his tragic past in this version too, and I think Morissey brings the quiet grief needed for that part of the character beautifully.

But whichever actor you may prefer, I think most of us can agree that Colonel Brandon is a masterpiece of an Austen hero. It was after my recent listen to Rosamund Pike’s audiobook that I remembered how much I appreciate him. Currently, he and Mr. Knightley of Emma are close in my estimation for the most honorable, gentlemanly, and thoroughly good hero of Austen’s creation. That changes fairly regularly, so who knows how I’ll feel about it tomorrow, but that’s how it stands for now.

What are your thoughts? What’s been your experience with Sense and Sensibility? Which film version do you prefer and how do they compare to the book for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this lovely Austen novel and the film adaptations!

Happy 2019, friends and readers! It’s time to take a look back at the year gone by in favorite books and reading stats. Reflecting on what I read in a year and how it grew me has become an annual joy, and I hope you’re inspired to pick up a book mentioned here or to recommend something in the comments. I’d love to hear about your top 2018 reads and what you think I should add to my list for 2019! 

2018 was a strong reading year for me with many new favorites. I set a goal to read 50 books in the year and actually made it to 51! First, I have some fun breakdown to share for those of you who like bullet points and headings. 

Books read in 2018 (new to me)

Books re-read in 2018
4 classic favorites: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, The Angry Tide (Poldark #7), and the first three Harry Potter books

Format breakdown
  • Read the physical book: 31/51 – about 60% 
  • Read on Kindle/e-reader: 7/51 – about 14%
  • Listened to the audiobook: 14/51 – about 27% 
I’ve been so pleasantly surprised to see how drastically audiobooks have increased my reading time. I knew they were helping, but I never expected they would up my book count by almost a third!

Number of male and female authors
  • Male: 8
  • Female: 44 
(this takes into account that one book in the mix was co-written by a married couple, the wonderful Keith and Kristyn Getty)

So, interestingly, it turned out that my reading slanted very heavily and unintentionally towards women writers this year! I don’t really have goals when it comes to author demographics, but it was interesting to look back on how I gravitated.

Most books read by the same author 
8 books by Susanna Kearsley: Kearsley was my golden new author find of 2018 by a wide margin. I fell in love with the first book of hers that I read in the year and then made a point to work on reading everything by her that I could get my hands on. Some strong new favorites came out of it and I’m still working on reading all of her backlist!

Standout themes across 2018 reading
  • World War II stories
  • Books about books
  • Magical realism (this was down to discovering Susanna Kearsley’s work)
  • Biography/memoir/a real person’s story
Now for favorites! I normally wouldn’t list as many as twelve, but that’s where I am this year! I just read a lot of good books, y’all. Here are my very favorites from 2018, and the list could be taken in a rough two sections if I had to narrow it down further. The first five are the ones that really got into my system, that got their teeth into me, and that I still can’t stop thinking about. The next seven also left deep impressions, but I’d separate them by an ever so slight margin. Enjoy!

Favorite Books of 2018 

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter: Possibly a new lifetime favorite for me. This tells the incredible true story of a large family of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust. Any book about the Holocaust is bound to be heavy and emotionally impactful, but I can honestly say that this one has stayed with me like few others have. It is riveting, emotional, and an ultimately hopeful book about the strength and resilience and courage of the human spirit.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken: Vanauken wrote this in the 1970s in memory of his wife Davy, their conversion to Christianity, and his own bereavement in the wake of Davy’s untimely death. His reflections on faith, marriage, loss, grief, and the longings of the human soul are heart-wrenching in all the best ways. The couple’s friendship with C.S. Lewis also has a heavy influence in the book, so many of Lewis’s letters to them are transcribed within. I loved every word of this moving story and will be returning to it soon (and will probably cry again).

Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson: I shared recently about how this book resonated with me and it has remained a favorite since then. Sarah Clarkson loves books and expresses profound gratitude in this work for how books have shaped her while she also seeks to pass along the gift that a reading life has been to her. She is passionate, eloquent, and my new kindred spirit.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry: Obviously, much is known about C.S. Lewis, but Patti Henry seeks to draw back the curtain on his wife, Joy Davidman, in this lovely novel. It offers a fascinating take on how this meeting of minds between Lewis and Joy might have progressed into their devoted, passionate marriage. Mrs. Henry tells their story with such poignancy and emotional truth – have a few tissues handy when you pick this one up!

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley: My first Kearsley read that sent me on a happy mission to read all of her books, but this one has remained my favorite of hers. Scotland, romance, the Jacobite rising, a mysterious castle ruin, and a snug cottage on the coast made this a pretty near perfect winter read.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley: My other favorite Kearsley read that almost came even with The Winter Sea. Romance and the Jacobite rising still play major roles, but this one takes the reader on a journey through France, Italy, and ancient fairytales that give a magic bent to the story. Also contained in this book is one of my favorite literary proposals. Kearsley really outdid herself with that scene and with the hero for this one.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: The best children’s fiction book I’ve read in many years. It tells the story of Ada, a young girl whose cruel mother has kept her locked in their apartment her whole life on account of her clubfoot. When Ada’s brother Jamie is evacuated to the countryside during World War II’s London blitz, Ada promptly sneaks out to go with him. Their foster mom opens their eyes to a completely different life, and Ada and Jamie slowly begin learning the joys of childhood. A moving story about identity, community, and courage. And the sequel, The War I Finally Won, is an equally moving follow-up.

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel: If you’re a book lover, this is a warm hug waiting to happen. This charming collection of essays on the reading life will make you feel so wholly understood for all your reader quirks. Anne Bogel just gets it. She’s clearly a reader herself, knows readers, and takes joy in bringing readers together by inviting them to appreciate the various phases of a reading life, the book that first hooked them, and even the more embarrassing aspects of their reading lives. Take this journey with Anne and be delighted. I know I was.

On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior: Another bookish tour, this time through classic literature, that opens the reader’s eyes to how virtue can be cultivated through reading. One reviewer of this book described Karen Swallow Prior as the English teacher everyone wishes they could have had, and I totally concur. She introduces you to Dickens, Twain, Austen, and many more while showing you how all of them can make you a better reader and a better person.

Seasons of Waiting by Betsy Childs Howard: My favorite Christian living book of recent years. Most of us feel like we’re waiting for something, no matter what stage of life we’re in. Whether that something is marriage, children, a permanent home, or good health, you will find a compassionate friend in Betsy Childs Howard. She examines various areas of life that involve waiting and explains with gentleness and solid theology how all of our waiting points to our deepest longing for Christ and our waiting for His return.

Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston: I’m a Jane Austen snob and look askance at most retelling attempts, but I took the plunge with this reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, and I am SO GLAD I did. Honestly, I think it made me love the original and its characters even more than I already did, and I didn’t think that would have been possible. I listened to the audio version of this one and found myself looking for ANY excuse to turn it on. I laughed, cried, and giggled with delight throughout the whole 13 hours.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone: A few years ago, a film called The Imitation Game piqued my interest in stories about codebreaking in wartime. It’s odd, as I’ve never been a math person, but I appreciate that a bunch of nerds bent over crossword puzzles were just as vital to war efforts as those fighting on the frontlines. This book tells the unsung hero story of William and Elizabeth Friedman. Elizabeth in particular comes into focus, especially for her work to break into Nazi spy rings in South America during WWII. It’s fascinating, riveting, and has all the elements of a spy thriller.

Any of these catch your eye? What did you read in 2018? What should I read in 2019? I’d love to hear! Let me know and see my full 2018 book list below :) Happy weekend!

Full 2018 book list (in the order I read them)
The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay
Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund
The Stranger from the Sea (Poldark #8) by Winston Graham
Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery
Reformation Women by Rebecca VanDoodewaard
The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone
The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield
Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Emily’s Quest by L.M. Montgomery
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Finding Myself in Britain by Amy Boucher Pye
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Mariana by Susanna Kearsley
The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley
Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley
Beauty by Robin McKinley
I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
The Miller’s Dance (Poldark #9) by Winston Graham
Sing! by Keith and Kristyn Getty
Seasons of Waiting by Betsy Childs Howard
Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry
Remember Death by Matthew McCullough
The Dating Manifesto by Lisa Anderson
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson
The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
One Day in December by Josie Silver
On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken