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My Progress:

12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

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My Progress:

28 / 51 states. 55% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

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48 / 50 books. 96% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

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40 / 52 books. 77% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

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27 / 40 books. 68% done!

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15 / 40 books. 38% done!

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10 / 25 books. 40% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

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12 / 26.2 miles. 46% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

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26 / 100 books. 26% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

64 / 104 books. 62% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

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43 / 52 books. 83% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

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69 / 165 books. 42% done!
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Children's Blizzard Devastating, Deeply Impactful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In the late 19th Century, the Great Plains region of the United States was inhabited mostly by European immigrants lured to the area by exaggerated claims of lush, fertile land free for the taking.  In reality, living on the desolate prairie was tough.  The land was unyielding, the weather was harsh, and surviving it all was a daily struggle.  Far from the Garden of Eden promised to unsuspecting settlers, it was more like Hell on Earth.  Just as a new year, 1888, dawned, a number of unfortunate circumstances—including immigrants' ignorance of the fickleness and ferocity of winter weather on the Great Plains—combined to create a devastating tragedy known today as The Children's Blizzard.  

After a bitter cold spell on the plains, January 12 was a welcome gift.  The day brought unusually warm temperatures, prompting delighted homesteaders all over the region to shuck off their heavy winter gear and flock outside to handle chores and errands that had been put off because of inclement weather.  To everyone's shock, the pleasant day turned suddenly savage when a blizzard whipped in out of nowhere bringing freezing temperatures, blinding snow, and a chilling wind.  Because the storm descended just as schoolchildren were being dismissed for the day, dozens of kids became stranded in the melee, some freezing to death almost instantly.  Whiteout conditions meant many perished only yards away from safety.  Over 200 people, as well as countless animals, were killed that day, making the storm one of the deadliest in America's history.

Melanie Benjamin's newest novel, which tells the story of the devastating storm, will be published on January 12, 2021, the 133rd anniversary of the tragic event.  The Children's Blizzard focuses on three teenage girls, two of whom are schoolteachers.  All three of them make different choices on that fateful day.  Afterward, one will be lauded as a hero, one will be shunned by her community, and one will become a reluctant celebrity.  Every one of them will be forever changed by what transpires when a surprise storm ravages their lives.  

Although the trio of girls at the center of The Children's Blizzard are all fictional, their experiences are composites of what real people went through on January 12, 1888.  Thus, the tales are intimate, shocking, and heart-wrenching.  Benjamin's expert storytelling definitely brings the tragedy to vivid life, creating a moving and memorable tale that will stick with you long after you close the book.  While I found the novel gripping in many ways, I would have liked fewer narrators telling the story so that I could feel more connected to the main characters.  Not all of them are likable, but they're all complex, interesting, and authentic.  Plotwise, the novel loses most of its steam after the storm ends.  It seems to have nowhere to go at that point, which makes the story feel unfinished.  Despite these small irritants, all in all, I found The Children's Blizzard engrossing and enlightening.  It's a devastating book, but one that makes a definite impact.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Children's Blizzard from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Hannah Backlist Book Not My Favorite, But Compelling Nonetheless

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Meredith Cooper and Nina Whitson have never understood their cold, emotionless mother.  They know little about her, always having preferred the company of their warm, loving father.  On his deathbed, he pleads with his grown daughters to make a last effort to break through their mother's defenses and really get to know her.  Mired in grief, Anya Whitson is as impenetrable as ever.  Instead of reaching out to her children for comfort, she spins them a familiar Russian fairy tale that has nothing at all to do with Anya's past ... or does it?  As her story sweeps from grim, war-torn Leningrad to modern-day Alaska, unfolding shocking secrets, Meredith and Nina finally get a glimpse of what their mother has suffered and what it has meant for all of their lives.  Will that understanding finally enable them to forge some kind of a relationship with one another?  Or has too much damage been done to ever find reconciliation?

Because of rich, epic novels like The Nightingale and The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah has become an author I watch closely.  Her backlist books haven't impressed me as much as her newer offerings, but I've still enjoyed several of them.  Published a decade ago, Winter Garden offers the kind of intriguing, family-secrets premise that always grabs my attention.  Its execution is a little rough, though.  The characters are difficult to like, especially Anya, whose aloofness toward her children seems extreme even in light of the tragedy she experienced prior to their births.  Her daughters are both self-centered people, although they do experience clarity and growth throughout the story.  In addition, the novel moves at a glacial pace, without the suspense I expected to be woven through the narrative.  The pacing picks up toward the end as Anya's secrets are revealed, but it does become a bit of a slog before that.  I'm not much for fairy tales, so that element of the novel really didn't work for me.  Still and all, I found Winter Garden compelling.  It's devastating, heartbreaking, and touching.  While it's far from my favorite Hannah novel, I did enjoy it for the most part.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), mild sexual content, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Winter Garden with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

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