Book Review: Jane of Austin

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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: 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: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

A Booklover’s Birthday – 2018

This is going to be a bit of a birthday brag, but this, my friends and fellow booklovers, is what I consider the best way to spend a birthday….surrounded by new books you were presented with.

I received some love from my #JustBecause (#JB) Litsy pen pal group with lots of cards, stickers, bookmarks, and the following packages.

My parents clearly understand my love of Jane Austen and coffee. Plus, who doesn’t love a good tote bag!

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I recently spoke to my BFF about my obsession with Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and my disappointment that I hadn’t read the book first. I also stated that I refused to see the Crazy Rich Asians movie until I had read that book. She decided to help me rectify this situation.

Last but definitely not least, my husband got my three books. He got me Proust’s In Search of Lost Time from my favorite bookstore in Paris – Shakespeare and Company. He also got me two amazing and beautiful first editions that include Dicken’s Nicholas Nickleby and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which is one of my favorite books of all time.

I am so grateful for friends and family that truly appreciate my love of books! Can’t wait to read all of these!

20 Years of Travel #8: England Road Trip

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a road trip I took with my girlfriend a year ago to England. As any follower of my blog knows, I love reading as much as traveling, so when I have an opportunity to combine my two favorite things, it is heavenly. This road trip through England was inspired by my love of literature, in particular, my love of Jane Austen. 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, so my friend and I decided we wanted to see Austen’s England.

Day One: Brighton

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After a very affordable and comfortable flight on Norwegian Air from Miami to Gatwick airport in London, we took a train to Brighton.DSC_0023

“If one could but go to Brighton!” observed Mrs. Bennet.” ~Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

We decided that a little seaside escape, which Austen loved, was the perfect way to begin our adventure. We lounged on the beach, ate cod and explored Brighton Pier.

Day Two: Winchester Cathedral, Jane Austen’s House & Chawton House Library

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We rented a tiny car in Brighton (see picture on right), which would be our main means of transportation forDSC_0045 most of the trip. My friend offered to be the driver and I was the somewhat adequate navigator. We left Brighton and headed for Winchester Cathedral (pictured above), which is the burial location for Jane Austen. As this was an anniversary year, her burial site was respectively decorated.

After a nice visit to Winchester, which is such a peaceful place, we picked up another friend of mine in Southampton and headed for a visit to the Jane Austen House in Chawton.

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We were able to look around the house and see where Austen would write and visit her garden in the backyard. This was her last place of residency, and some say her happiest, before her untimely death. Here you can also get your picture taken in period costumes.

Just a short walk down the street is the Chawton estate, now the Chawton House Library, where Jane Austen’s brother once lived. This is worth a visit if for no other reason then to just explore the vast grounds.

Day Three: Stonehenge & Bath

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If you are going to be traveling around the outskirts of London, you might as well stop at Stonehenge. While Stonehenge does not have a Jane Austen connection, it was featured in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, so there is at least that literary connection. My friend and I got up early and made it to Stonehenge just when it was opening, so we were on the first bus to get there, and that is why I was able to get the picture above with no people in it, as it is tends to be heavily packed with tourists on a daily basis. Also, after a bit of clouds and rain, the sun started to beam right down onto Stonehenge, which was glorious timing.

We moved onward to another hometown of Jane Austen – Bath.

“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place (pictured just below), a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.” ~Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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We were able to find plenty of parking just inside the town and walked to the main cathedral. From there, we decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus, to get a bit of anIMG_20170727_151433364_HDR overview of Bath and get our bearings. As we disembarked from the bus, we snuck into the tourist center just in time to avoid getting drenched in a sudden English downpour. This worked out marvelously, because we were able to find a Free Jane Austen Walking Tour at the tourist center that began as soon as the rain lifted (see picture on the right). While Bath has embraced Austen as one of their own, it is clear from her writings that Bath never quite felt like home to her. She often preferred the countryside or seaside to the city. Living in Bath consisted less of peace and quiet and more of social engagements.

“Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card table, with six people to look over, and talk nonsense to each other.” ~ Jane Austen writes to her sister Cassandra (May 13, 1801).20431214_469196570121574_8993274907938043534_n

After the walking tour, a stop at the Jane Austen Museum in Bath is a must for all Jane Austen fans. Here you learn more about Jane Austen’s Bath and what inspired her to write about this place in her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

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After the Jane Austen museum, we relaxed outside the Crescent (pictured above). From there we decided to take a bit of a Jane Austen break and explore the Roman Baths of Bath in the Abbey Church Yard. This was my friend’s idea, and I thought the Roman Bath museum, that displayed what life was like during Roman times, was fascinating.

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Day Four: Bath & Drive to Matlock

20376083_469654430075788_20054859827624028_nSince we enjoyed learning about the Roman Baths so much, we decided to go back into Bath the next morning and have a bit of a soak in a Roman Bath (see photo on left). It was just the kind of relaxation we needed before our 4-hour+ drive to Matlock. They limit the people allowed in the bath at one time, so there was never more than six people in there and for some of the time, it was just my friend and I. 20180702_115024We decided to eat a quick bite before leaving bath and found out about Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House & Museum. When I think back on this trip to England, I don’t often think of the food, but Sally Lunn’s buns and coffee (pictured on the left) was so delicious that I still dream about them.

20374269_469654833409081_2748795384544147043_nOur drive to Matlock in Derbyshire felt long, because there was a bit of traffic, and it rained the whole time, but we finally made it to the place that would be our accommodations for the next two nights, and it was even more adorable than I imagined. It was a family owned B&B called Pig of Lead (see photo on the right). We arrived pretty late, but the hosts were nice enough to provide us with some hot beverages by the fire before we retired for the night.

Day Five: Chatsworth House & Matlock

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This was by far my favorite day of the trip. The weather was just perfect with a lot of sun and comfortable temperatures. After having a quick homemade breakfast at the Pig of Lead, we drove into the Peak District to the Chatsworth House first thing in the morning. We parked outside St. Peter’s church and took a walk on a trail through the countryside. As the path curved around the hillside, the trees parted, and you could clearly see the Chatsworth House (pictured just above and at the very top of the post). For Jane Austen fans, the estate served as Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie. In reality, this estate belongs to the Cavendish family. Some Americans might be familiar with the Cavendish name, because John F. Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen Kennedy married William Cavendish. Just weeks after their marriage, William Cavendish was killed on the battlefield in Belgium during World War II. Not long after that, Kathleen Kennedy was killed in a plane crash. Her grave is near the Cavendish estate in St. Peter’s churchyard, which we visited once the we were done touring the Chatsworth House. We spent a couple hours wandering through the many rooms inside the Chatsworth House and learned a good deal about the Cavendish family, saw exhibits from a member of the Cavendish family who was a famous clothing designer, and marveled at the intricate statues, which were shown in the Pride and Prejudice movie. Then we spent even more time wandering around the grounds, which are extensive.

After our long trek around the Chatsworth House, we headed back to Matlock famished. However, as nice a town as Matlock was, we found it difficult to get a substantial meal and ended walking even more than we desired too, but at least we had pretty views.

Day 6: Oxford

We drove to Oxford and completed our driving portion of our trip. After getting settled at our Hotel, we headed toward Oxford University. No literary adventure would be complete without a stop Blackwell’s bookshop, a Harry Potter walking tour that included a stop at the Bodleian Library, and a beer at The Eagle and Child pub, where the informal literary group called The Inklings would meet on a weekly basis. This group included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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Day 7-9: London

As no trip to England is complete without a little stop in London, we took a train from Oxford to London, where we spent the last remaining days of our trip. As it was the end of our trip, we were pretty exhausted but continued our walking and exploring with some literary stops like the British Library, 221b Baker Street, Westminster Abbey (which memorializes many famous British authors, poets, and playwrights) and Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross.

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This was an amazing Austen-inspired adventure with some other literary stops. The English countryside is stunning, and I hope to visit it again soon. Many thanks to the friends that housed us, fed us, drank with us, and gave us a London literary pub tour. You are all awesome and we really appreciate it!

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!