Review: “Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility” by Hillary Manton Lodge

My Jane of AustinSisters. Tea. Texas transplants. Tacos. Music. Scones. A heroic yet humble veteran. BBQ. The crazy complexities of family…. ALL INFUSED WITH JANE AUSTEN. Hillary Manton Lodge’s new release, Jane of Austin, is a feast for the voracious reader and fan of contemporary romance and classic literature alike. A contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, this book delves deeper into the emotional complexities of Austen’s personas while maintaining a humorous and modern atmosphere.

FUN FACT: There are RECIPES at the end of some of the chapters of this novel! So, you won’t be hungry and bereft, as long as you have a functioning kitchen and small pantry nearby. Go ahead and buy some tea if you need it. And maybe the ingredients for scones or pie. You’ll thank me later.

 I read this book with some of my #bookbesties as an impromptu read-along on Twitter! If you’d like to see our Tweets and gushing, check out the hashtag #JofARAL.

About the Book

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience – or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”―Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Just a few years after their father’s business scandal shatters their lives, Jane and Celia Woodward find themselves forced out of their San Francisco tea shop. The last thing Jane wants is to leave their beloved shop on Valencia Street, but when Celia insists on a move to Austin, Texas, the sisters pack up their kid sister Margot and Jane’s tea plants, determined to start over yet again.

But life in Austin isn’t all sweet tea and breakfast tacos. Their unusual living situation is challenging and unspoken words begin to fester between Jane and Celia. When Jane meets and falls for up-and-coming musician Sean Willis, the chasm grows deeper.

While Sean seems to charm everyone in his path, one person is immune – retired Marine Captain Callum Beckett. Callum never meant to leave the military, but the twin losses of his father and his left leg have returned him to the place he least expected—Texas.

In this modern spin on the Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, the Woodward sisters must contend with new ingredients in unfamiliar kitchens, a dash of heartbreak, and the fragile hope that maybe home isn’t so far away.

Jane of Austin on Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I think it’s beneficial to know a few of the main points of Austen’s classic, Sense and Sensibility, a movie/series adaptation of it, or even some of her other works to fully appreciate the brilliant aspects of Jane of Austin. I’m not an expert by any means, but I greatly appreciated the nuances of the story more having seen the Sense and Sensibility film and read it a loooong while ago.

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With Jane of Austin, Hillary lends her own originality to the structure of a classic. She maintains the focus of a sisterly bond, the story of uncertainty in the face of circumstance. But a new light is shined, in many ways: what if Marianne was just as emotional and dramatic, but an introvert? Elinor, still as logical and caring, an extrovert? And, how had Colonel Brandon’s previous life experiences shaped him into the quiet hero? What hardships had he endured for such perspective? These are just a few of the ways Jane, Celia, and Callum Beckett are brought into focus through Hillary’s lens, sharpening formerly overlooked elements and delightfully expounding on others.

This novel is distinctly Hillary’s voice, though. Having read her previous AMAZING “Two Blue Doors” series, I recognize the slight humor, sarcasm, and honesty of her tone. It pairs unbelievably well with the natural wit of Austen’s story for laugh-out-loud moments, especially when conversations between the sisters involve the youngest, Margot.

On that note, the sisterly dynamic is BRILLIANT! The extremes of such relationships are accurately shown… from the camaraderie and familiarity stemming from a shared history to the clash of personalities and disillusioned disagreements. Most of all, the moments of care and support of one another, the bond of family, and even the rhythm of working together were my favorite parts of seeing Jane and Celia together.

And oh, the romance! Callum Beckett is the ultimate selfless and steadfast hero. The familiar juxtaposition of Jane caring for Sean (the Willoughby character) is there, while Callum and his unrequited love plays out in a very plausible way. Callum’s veteran status and penchant for reading aloud just up the attractiveness. Oh, and have I mentioned he’s tall, dark, and handsome!? I’m still not sure why it takes Jane so long to notice ;).

Jane of Austin is a fresh and original twist that delightfully emphasizes the strength of family and home, which can sometimes be people instead of a place. This is the type of novel that ends with a happy sigh and a craving for tea and scones. I’m enamored with the way the combination of Hillary’s skill and a contemporary setting reveal how absurdly interconnected life and relationships can be — in a very Austen-Esque way.

Sincere and hearty thank you to the publisher/author for the complimentary review copy. This review is my honest and enthusiastic opinion.

About the Author

HILLARY MANTON LODGE is the author of Together at the TableReservations for TwoA Table by the WindowPlain Jayne,  and Simply Sara. Hillary Manton LodgeA graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, Hillary discovered the world of cuisine during her internship atNorthwest Palate Magazine. Her next novel, Jane of Austin, will release June 13, 2017, from WaterBrook Multnomah. 

Over the years, Hillary’s novels have enjoyed critical success from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Romantic Times and have reached readers around the world. In 2010, Plain Jayne was nominated as a Carol Award Finalist, and Simply Sara was an ECPA Bestselling book. In 2015, A Table by the Window was shortlisted in the INSPY Awards.

In her free time, Hillary often finds herself experimenting in the kitchen, attending indie concerts, and finding new walking trails. Formerly a resident of the Pacific Northwest, she and her husband now live near Memphis, Tennessee, along with their Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shiloh and Sylvie.

Review: “A Portrait of Emily Price” by Katherine Reay

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Once again, author Katherine Reay has penned a contemporary novel with a complexity of skill not many in the genre can achieve with her newest release, A Portrait of Emily Price. And what a picture its pages holds! I would describe this as a family drama with a whirlwind (though always realistic) romance and a story of finding oneself in the middle of life’s chaos and joy. With a hint of whimsy, the story always stays realistic in a humidity-and-wavy-hairdo, too-much-espresso sort of way. And, in true Reay style, included literary references and nods to classic literature throughout (making this #booknerd very happy!)

About the Book

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

a-portrait-of-emily-priceEmily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Review

I was fortunate to read this one along with some awesome blogger friends and discuss it on Twitter along the way. You can find our discussions and major fangirling by viewing the hashtag #PofEPRAL

Reay’s style is romantic in many ways, from Emily’s observations, place descriptions, to the overall feel of the story. Not rosy and idealistic, by any means, but sweet in its outlook — the storytelling is cleverly as much about what happens “between the lines” as what’s directly told. Like the family history, the nostalgia, the courtship between Emily and Ben, and the food!

The characters are strong in the sense that their personalities are so established you can almost sense their reactions as much as read them. When Ben and Emily finally make it to Italy, you can feel the tension and belonging of home in how the scenes play out. And the supporting characters!!!!!! I loved them all, the brother, sister, parents, friends, aunts and uncles. It was fun to put the big picture together as the story progressed of how they are each integral, whether in a small or big way, to Ben and Emily’s lives. Connected, if you will, to their story, to influence, encourage, and sometimes pass on valuable wisdom.

Another way the characters are firmly established is through setting and culture. For instance, the “accents” of Ben and his family are expressed specifically, conveying notes on inflection so well it made me feel like I was listening to them. And, the descriptions of all of the different places, from the little Italian restaurant in Atlanta to the sunflower fields and Lucio’s library in Italy and everything in between practically, made me feel immersed in the culture. This book is a true example of the power of written words on a page!

The relationship between Emily and Ben is shown just enough – it’s not overly focused on the romance aspect (though there are plenty of those moments that show just how romantic Ben can be <3) but instead tells just enough you see their closeness and camaraderie. I think it’s safe to say the reader falls in love with Ben, too, from the first chapter’s description (as Rissi quotes here):

Random side note: interestingly, eyes go on to play an important means of communication and meaning in the story.

I could go on further about the intricacies of this story and how it pushes you to think deeply about the impact your choices have on those around you; or even its gentle reminder to seize the moment and find happiness in the little moments of everyday life. But I’ll leave you with the important stuff it showcases: truth, joy, and love (of all kinds…. romance, friendship, family/sibling/parent, even love of your work). With a style only Reay can achieve, this story is polished and engrossing with vivid, heartful characters.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and Booklook for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

Mini Review: “Of Dubious and Questionable Memory” novella by Rachel McMillan

This little novella by Rachel McMillan, book number 1.5 in her Herringford and Watts Mysteries series, deserves a mini review! So, read on for my thoughts.

Of Dubious and Questionable Memory (Herringford and Watts Mysteries #1.5)Of Dubious and Questionable Memory by Rachel McMillan

Yet again, a fun and cozy little mystery from Rachel McMillan. Classic Jem & Merinda antics. Sweet Ray. A chicken, motorized bicycles, & a trip to the US!!!! Specifically, Concord and Orchard House, with a nod to Little Women and other notable historical figures. Fans of mystery, history, or the previous books in this series will love this little glimpse into what’s going on with the Herringford and Watts girls.

My review of other in the series:

A Singular & Whimsical Problem (Herringford and Watts Mysteries #.5)

The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder (Herringford and Watts Mysterys #1)

 

 

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Read-Along, Chapters 18-24

I’m participating in the March Read-Along of Northanger Abbey hosted by Amber over at Seasons of Humility. I’m a little behind now, but I’m slowly but surely making progress! I am determined to go through with these discussion posts, too. This one covers chapters 18-24.

Northanger Abbey Read-Along Graphic 2016 (2)

Discussion Format: One favorite quote, some general impressions, and three questions for each week’s reading.

Favorite Quote

While this quote is talking about John Thorpe’s regard for Catherine (ugh, please, give me a break), I do like it because it is an interesting expression:

“You know he is over head and ears in love with you.” -Isabella to Catherine, chapter 18

General Impressions

These chapters, like Amber noted, dragged on a bit, even though a few important things DID happen. My favorite parts were probably Henry and Catherine’s discussions. Especially the one about hyacinths! Such exclaiming over a trivial thing is a sign of their relationship being comfortable and familiar, in my opinion.

Questions

1. If you were Captain Tilney’s sibling, would you say something to him about his behavior toward Isabella? Or if you were Isabella’s friend, would you try to warn or correct her? What do you think of Henry’s reaction to Catherine’s concern about the situation?

I probably would, privately, like I suspect Henry did. After all, siblings are needed for encouragement and the occasional prodding! Isabella NEEDS some advice, but I don’t think she would take it!

I think Henry is very discerning and good for Catherine! He can clearly see Isabella’s inconstancy.

2. After reading all about Northanger Abbey, what are your thoughts of the place? Is it anything like you were expecting? Would you ever want to visit or live there if you could?

I’m not sure….I think it is like I expected! I am all for visiting, but I don’t think I would want to live in such a large place even if I could.

3. How do you feel about Catherine’s thoughts and behavior in this section? Was it all harmless intrigue, or do you thinks it’s possible to be too caught up in daydreams and fictional worlds?

It’s definitely possible to be too caught up in daydreams. I thought her added anxiety was a bit much — especially concerning Mr. Tilney (the father). She doesn’t have any grounds to go on making assumptions or even accusations toward him. I think it will get her in trouble!

 

Check out Amber’s Week 4 post for everyone’s answers/links to other posts.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Read-Along Week 3

I’m participating in the March Read-Along of Northanger Abbey hosted by Amber over at Seasons of HumilityWe’re on to chapters 11-17 now!

Northanger Abbey Read-Along Graphic 2016 (2)

Discussion Format: One favorite quote, some general impressions, and three questions for each week’s reading.

Favorite Quotes

…it is very well worth-while to be tormented for two or three years of one’s life, for the sake of being able to read all the rest of it. -ch 14

Catherine…enjoyed her usual happiness with Henry Tilney, listening with sparkling eyes to everything he said; and, in finding him irresistible, becoming so herself. -ch 16

General Impressions

I’m somewhat concerned about John Thorpe’s comment that he would not drive his sister in a carriage to the country because “she had such thick ankles.” It’s almost comical in considering his remark with our modern vocabulary! His blatant rudeness is no surprise to me, though. Similarly, the insincerity of Isabella is starting to grate on my nerves.

Please don’t think I’m not enjoying this story, with my little observations! Perhaps I’m just impressed (again) with Austen’s ability to write such vivid characters. We KNOW the Thorpes are fickle, Catherine is impressionable yet starting to stand on her own, and Henry Tilney is charming.

Happily, I found a version of my name in chapter 17: Mr. Tilney (the elder) mentioned a General Courteney!

Questions

1. How do you feel about the way Catherine handled herself with John, Isabella, and James when they pressured her into ditching her walk with the Tilneys in favor of their own outings? How do you feel about the way she explained herself to the Tilneys?

I was proud of her! I’m so glad she showed some spunkiness in refusing to let them sway her. And, I’m happy she sought out the Tilneys to offer an explanation.

2. Henry, his sister, and Catherine have an interesting discussion about books and education on their walk. What was your favorite part of that conversation? Did any of their opinions on novels, history, or the difficulties in learning to read resonate with you?

I ❤ the whole conversation about books, reading, and education! Particularly that Henry was so proud of confiscating his sister’s book to read it himself! That showed a playful side of him. As I mentioned on Twitter, he is such a grammar snob, and I like him for it. 🙂 As for their opinions on education, I thought it was a wise observation of regarding the effort and lifelong benefits one can have by reading.

3. We’ve been given more glimpses into Henry’s character – as well as Catherine’s infatuation with him. Do you think Catherine has fallen too hard too fast? Or do you think Henry is proving himself worthy of such admiration?

Hmm. Because I know a little of how the story will play out, I’m going to say I don’t think she’s fallen too fast. So far, they have an amiable relationship which she would like to grow, I think. One way he is proving his character is by how he’s treating his sister (and in later chapters, how he speaks of his brother).

What are your thoughts? Head over to Amber’s Week 3 post for everyone’s answers/links to other posts & to enter the new GIVEAWAY !

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Read-Along Week 2

I’m participating in the March Read-Along of Northanger Abbey hosted by Amber over at Seasons of Humility. We’re already in chapter 10! This discussion post covers chapters 4-10. 

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Discussion Format: One favorite quote, some general impressions, and three questions for each week’s reading.

Favorite Quotes

Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been to meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the world. -chapter 6

Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter. -chapter 10

General Impressions

As Amber noted, Catherine seems to be drawn away or distracted from her desires at every turn in these chapters. I find it interesting that Catherine met Mr. Tilney in chapter 3 and didn’t have any real interaction again with him until chapter 10. Maybe Austen wanted the reader to miss him or cheer Catherine on with a little absence? Or it’s a lesson in patience for Catherine. Either way, I’m glad she has met with him again. 🙂

The Thorpes are proving to be a bother. While they are, at least, an acquaintance for Catherine to have in Bath, I’m thinking their motives are not for friendship and kindness but are instead self-focused. And is it just me, or does it seem odd that Catherine’ s brother, James, is staying with the Thorpes instead of spending time or lodging with Catherine? (I know he’s obviously infatuated with Isabelle, but still…)

Now for my even more random thoughts. In chapter 5, there is mention of the Crescent (I think referring to this popular Royal Crescent area). And, in chapter 11, we see mention of a castle and other place names. My question is this: did people of that era get excited about mentions of familiar places like I think we do today? Totally random, but I’d like to think they appreciated Austen including them and maybe thought: “oh, I’ve been there!”

Questions

1. Is Isabella a friend or a “frenemy“? Do you think there’s the seed of a genuine friendship between her and Catherine, or is Isabella only loyal to her own ambitions?

First impressions made me think she would be somewhat of a friend, but now I’m leaning towards frenemy. She is not sincere in her attentions toward Catherine (like ignoring her to talk with James Morland, etc.), and I think Catherine is just a means to get to James. Or, Isabelle is treating Catherine as a friend because she has no better acquaintance to spend time with. Poor Catherine! It makes me feel for her and wish she was not so trusting of Isabelle (because she is so innocent, I don’t think she comprehends the deceit or insincerity of the Thorpes).

2. Let’s talk about John Thorpe, whose presence is obviously a problem! How would you advise Catherine in her interactions with Mr. Thorpe?

Run. Away. Now. hehe 😉

All he talks about are his carriage, horses, and money. Really, Catherine doesn’t need to associate with him beyond acquaintance. Like I’ve said, he and his sister seem very self-centered and I don’t think they will be a good influence or example for Catherine.

3. Do you agree with Mr. Tilney’s comparisons between dancing and marriage? And do you consider dancing an important component of romance?

His comparisons are so interesting! I had not thought of connecting the two in quite that way. It’s definitely a passage to come back to and consider after the book’s over. As for the second question, I have to agree with Kara. I don’t consider it a priority today. For the Regency era, I’m sure it was an important part of a social relationship for many couples–  I will defer to another Austen heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, in suggesting that dancing is the best way to encourage affection.

Head over to Amber’s Week 2 post for everyone’s answers/links to other posts & to enter the fun GIVEAWAY !

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Read-Along Week 1

I’m participating in the March Read-Along of Northanger Abbey hosted by Amber over at Seasons of HumilitySo far, we’ve made it through the first few chapters with ease! This is a discussion post for Week 1 which covers the very beginning: chapters 1-3.

Northanger Abbey Read-Along Graphic 2016 (2)

Discussion Format: One favorite quote, some general impressions, and three questions for each week’s reading.

Favorite Quote

As for admiration, it was always very welcome when it came, but she did not depend on it. -Chapter 2, of Catherine

General Impressions

I’m impressed with the narrative voice of the story! The “omniscient” perspective of the writer addressing the reader in telling of Catherine is so humorous and witty! I’m also impressed with how different this story is from more well known Austen works. She really was a great author!

Questions

1. What do you find most endearing about Catherine’s character? Do you consider her to be good heroine material?

So far, I appreciate her innocence and what seems to be a kind demeanor. We don’t know much about her personality yet, but I think that will be revealed. I do think she will make a good heroine — after all, the “writer” has declared her to be the cheerful heroine of the story 🙂 .

2. What are your first impressions of Mr. and Mrs. Allen? What sort of impact do they have on Catherine?

Mrs. Allen has been hinted to be distressing to Catherine later. This made me think of her as an antagonistic woman like Austen seems to always include (like Lady Catherine in Pride & Prejudice or Lady Russell in Persuasion). Right now, they have offered Catherine a great opportunity, but they have a great deal of control over her situation and schedule. We’ll see if this proves a good thing.

3. Has Mr. Tilney already stolen your heart, or are you still forming your opinion of his character? Which of his positive or negative qualities stand out to you most? Do you consider him to be good hero material?

I’m still forming my opinions, though his first impression was close to perfect ;). His wit and kindness stand out the most, especially in his handling of Mrs. Allen and her muslin musings. From the movie adaptation and other readings, I know him to be a unique Austen hero because of his positive nature and general demeanor, so I’m excited to see how this is carried out in the book.

 

Well, there’s my thought process! Head over to Amber’s Week 1 post for everyone’s answers/links to other posts & to enter the fun GIVEAWAY !