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
Merry Christmas, friends! This will be short and sweet, but I did want to take a moment to acknowledge the joy of the season. I hope you have time to relax, enjoy family and friends, and reflect on the greatest Gift of all that came in the form of a helpless child, but who was the Son of God who came to rescue His people.

Now, I thought I'd share my Christmas break agenda here just in case anyone was needing inspiration.
  • Read books. Like, whole ones.
  • Drink lots and lots of cups of tea. 
  • Watch classic Christmas films.
  • Watch cheesy Netflix Christmas rom coms.
  • Watch Downton Abbey Christmas specials.
  • Do my best to stay in sweats as much as possible. 
  • Eat. 
Hopefully that gives you some good ideas. Also, here are a few of my favorite Christmasey things from around the Internet. I hope they bring you joy. 

Yes, Mary Knew: How the Question Behind the Recently Controversial Christmas Song Stirs Us to Worship

Gift Guide for Jane Austen Fans

All is Calm: The Soul-Soothing Significance of 200 Years of 'Silent Night'

What If I'm Not a Merry Gentleman? 

25 Days of Sense and Sensibility: Day 11 -- Christmas Newsletters

Also, not to be that person, but I'm totally going to be that person. HEIDA REED READ MY POST, Y'ALL.

Ok, fangirl moment over now. MERRY CHRISTMAS! :)