Book Review: Jane of Austin

jane
Title: 
Jane of Austin
Author: Hillary Manton Lodge
Genre: Romance
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Pages: 312
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Friend
Date finished reading: April 6, 2020

Goodreads Description: 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.

My Review: I am a sucker for all things Austen, including retellings. Jane of Austin was no exception. I will admit that Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite Jane Austen, but I always loved the sisterly bond of the Dashwood sisters. That bond is prominently displayed in the relationship between the Woodward sisters in Jane of Austin. Their tale of love and loss is assisted with a great cast of interesting supporting characters, including a three-legged dog named Dash.

The Woodward sisters are founders of a tea business called Valencia Street Tea. When their landlords in San Francisco force them out of their location, the sisters decide to pack up and move themselves and their business to Austin. I am a proud coffee lover, but I really appreciated the care Jane Woodward gave in preparing her teas, and I loved all the recipes that were provided throughout the book, many of which included a special tea ingredient. These recipes included cakes, scones, kolaches, etc. This book definitely made me hungry for all baked goods.

Let me face the ultimate reason that I enjoyed Jane of Austin, because I am 100% biased. This is more than an ode to one of Austen’s classic stories, this is an ode to Austin, Texas, one of my favorite cities. As I now live in Texas, I got many of the Texas references. Before moving here, I had never tried a kolache or had brisket. I also just made my first Texas sheet cake a couple months ago. All these Texas dishes were mentioned in the book. I loved the shoutouts to Torchy’s Tacos and Amy’s Ice Cream too.

This sweat and enjoyable novel was exactly what I was needing in my life right now. Maybe I will now have to try some of those amazing recipes in the book, especially the Raspberry Cream Cheese Kolache!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Book Review: My Year of Rest & Relaxation

81q-2m7vwilTitle: My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
Pages: 304
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby App
Date finished reading:  January 26, 2019

Goodreads Description: A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. Blackly funny, both merciless and compassionate – dangling its legs over the ledge of 9/11 – this novel is a showcase for the gifts of one of America’s major young writers working at the height of her powers.

My Review: I don’t know where to begin with this book. If I could bring myself not finish a book that I started, this would be the one. Please someone explain to me what the actual point of this story is. It was upsetting and irritating right from the beginning. I’m glad it was fiction, because I really don’t want to believe that anyone could be so self-centered and just a downright nasty human being. I never for one minute sympathized with the main character (aka the narrator).

Maybe I would have felt bad for the way her ex-boyfriend, Trevor, treated her, but she is the one that kept calling (on the verge of harassing) him and convincing him to come over after their relationship was over. I was horrified with how the narrator treated her friend, Reva. She shows no signs of sympathy when Reva’s mom dies, and then later actually uses the phrase, “Good luck with the abortion.” Who says this??? I was just horrified. Is this really what good literature is now?

I was immediately turned off not just by the narrator’s attitude but by the fact that after getting herself fired from a job, she decides to spend a year in a medically induced hibernation. I guess I had assumed by the title that someone maybe be taking a year off of working to rest and relax – must be nice to have the financial privilege to do so – but nothing about this hibernation plan of hers seemed at all restful or relaxing.

I found this actually insulting to all those individuals who are dealing with mental health issues. I, myself, and some friends of mine have had frequent visits to psychiatrists’ offices, and those visits, in my experience and my friends’ have been constructive and a process of healing. I didn’t have a doctor not remember me or my story from visit to visit or do nothing but try to drug me. I realize that this might happen, but I think this book will give those struggling with mental health issues a negative perspective on psychiatrists, and they will not pursue the help that they may need.

Last, I understood that with the mention of the twin towers periodically throughout the story, that this was leading up to 9/11. 9/11 did occur at the end of the book, and I was horrified by that scene and the narrator’s continued lack of feeling.

This was an appalling and senseless book.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ 

Book Review: Unmarriageable

515pb4f3-ml._sy291_bo1,204,203,200_ql40_Title: Unmarriageable
Author: Soniah Kamal
Genre: Contemporary Fiction & Romance
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 22, 2019
Pages: 352
Format Read: ebook – NetGalley ARC
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley
Date finished reading:  January 24, 2019

Goodreads Description: In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.

My ReviewI am a fan of Jane Austen and have read quite a few modern retellings of Jane Austen novels. I have been a bit critical of the modern retellings, because many of them just don’t live up to how much I love the originals. As time goes by, I also get more and more skeptical, because there just cannot be a new way to tell a Jane Austen novel. However, I seem to be wrong.

Unmarriageable is a fresh and brilliant new portrayal of Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice. Author Soniah Kamal displays some of Austen’s main themes in modern-day Pakistan. She stays quite true to Austen, while making necessary changes. For example, she changes the names to more commonly used Pakistani names. The Bennets are the Binats; Kitty is Qitty; Darcy is Darsee; and more. You get an understanding of Pakistani food, dress and culture without losing Austen.

The author focuses on the first line of Pride and Prejudice:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.”

She spins this line to focus on gender roles in society. That women in many places around the world, including Pakistan, are expected to focus not on educating themselves but on finding the best husband for their social standing. The author manages to make connections between society in Austen’s 18th century England and 21st century Pakistan. These connections are astonishing when you think of how little gender roles and class societies have progressed. You see the continued racism and sexism in modern days that existed centuries ago.

The author also manages to tackle other important social issues like self-image. Qitty is constantly being criticized and teased because of her weight. She shows that Qitty is in fact beautiful inside and out.

Overall, Soniah Kamal stayed very true to Jane Austen. Mrs. Binat was just as spunky and irritating as Mrs. Bennet. She managed to make me dislike Wickaam, even more than Austen’s Wickham. I actually loved the author’s vision of Sherry, the main character’s best friend. She is even more fascinating than Austen’s Charlotte. I do wish the moments between Darsee and Alys were a bit more intense and romantic. The relationship between Austen’s Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is what many young women (and maybe some men as well) fantasize about. Yet, I did not feel that powerful love story as much in this book as I would have liked.

If you are a Jane Austen fan (and even if you are not), this modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful read, and one I will read again and again.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦