Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge
Published by Waterbrook Press on June 13th, 2017
Genre: Contemporary, romance.
I was so excited for this modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility. There is a lot to like about Jane of Austin, and there are some things I really didn’t love. I’m not quite sure how to wrap up my feelings? So I think it’s time for my first book review in the form of a pro/con list.
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.
I love a good re-telling, especially when something I love gets remade into something more modern, and this aspect of the book I think is really fun. I thought the updated details were cute while paying homage to the original. For instance, rather than their father dying, he flees the country after having been caught up in a financial scandal. Instead of going on a trip to London with their new family, they go to South By Southwest (a music festival in Austin). It’s cute! And it stays very, very close to the original story. The only big difference being that in this, the girls own a tea shop, and move to Austin because they are evicted from the premises.
The Tea Shop
It’s hard to explain how cute this is, because yeah, it’s a shop. But I fell in love with the shop, with the sister’s passion about it, and even though it was early on, I was devastated that they lost it. Their search for a new shop in Austin is a big part of the story, and you really fall in love with Jane’s (the Marianne character) idea of what it should be. She grows her own plants and makes her own tea blends, and they’re intensely in love with pastries, and you find yourself wrapped up in that while you read. Especially because at the end of some chapters, there are recipes! It’s so cute.
Alternates between being told from Jane’s point of view and Callum Beckett’s (the Colonel Brandon of the story). I didn’t expect to, but I found myself enjoying his chapters the best.
Is a therapy dog with three legs. A therapist convinces Callum (who is missing half of one of his legs) to adopt him, and it’s amazing. Dash is a great character, and I love when a book has a family pet we actually give a crap about.
The book is pretty, and that’s worth mentioning.
But you just said you love the re-telling! I know, I’m sorry. I did. But when an old story gets a modern update, I expect a new story. I don’t mean I want them to stray from the original plot; I like how close this one is. I mean that I don’t want the new book to rest on the novelty of it. Maybe that’s unrealistic, considering a big strength of Jane of Austin is how much we like Sense and Sensibility. But I think it needs to appeal just as much to people who don’t love the original, and I don’t know that that is possible here. Mostly because of
I just… umm… I don’t know. I had a hard time, here. I really, really like Jane. She feels the most real and the most well-developed in every sense other than one, and it’s a big one, but we’ll get to that. She isn’t happy about their move, she is picky about their new shop, she is super passionate/particular about tea and her family, and she is altogether a real and relatable human. I had issues with every other major character, save their youngest sister Margot.
Callum is a great guy, he really is. And we get to see just how much of a good man he is, since part of this is first person narration from him. But he’s just a little too great. Zero flaws, really. He’s a veteran and he takes care of absolutely everyone and there’s not a lot more to him. It’s nice, yeah, but it’s also exhausting and hard to believe. We need flaws. We need depth.
The Various Love Stories
And then there’s fucking Sean. Now, okay. Sean is Willoughby, so we’re not supposed to like him. We know from the original story that he’s going to break Jane’s heart and leave a string of sad women behind him. I’m okay with all of that, because it’s a re-telling and that’s how that works. BUT. In this book, which has to stand on it’s own and not rest on novelty as I said previously, the love between Sean and Jane is not believable at all. We know Jane, we know she’s an intelligent, particular woman, and she falls in love with Sean based on nothing but good looks and musical talent. And I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. Now a lot is going on behind the scenes, here, it’s alluded to that Jane and Sean spend a lot more time together than we see. But we do see them together a fair amount, and we don’t see anything that great. Sure, their brief interactions are flirtatious and they obviously have physical attraction between them, but that’s honestly it. I didn’t care about Sean for even one second. What WOULD impress me is a re-telling that gets me to love the Sean/Willoughby character, so I actually give a shit when he’s gone.
Because I don’t care about Sean, I cannot connect to Jane as she goes through her break-up and resultant depression and illness. If our narrator hurts, I need to hurt with her. And I didn’t here. I would even have preferred if I had hated the Sean character, because then I would have felt something. But I was offered a character that is neither likable or unlikable. He is bland and boring, and I felt nothing through a good portion of the book because of it.
And then there’s Callum, the good-hearted Texan who picks up the pieces after Sean has abandoned not one, but two women close to Callum. He somehow falls in love with Jane, even though we see them together like… three times? And alone only once for about three minutes. I know he’s supposed to fall in love with Jane. I know Colonel Brandon falls in love with Marianne. But, again, (I know I’m a broken record here), this needs to stand alone, and the love Callum feels for Jane isn’t realistic, either. And it bothered me most because of this quote:
“I hadn’t realized until that moment how much I knew her, that even from hundreds of feet away I could see the way she stood, the tilt of her head, and know her at once.”
That quote is supposed to make us say aww. But I said uhh, what? Because we’ve barely even seen them together. How could he possibly know her this well?
In fact, in going back through the notes I wrote to prepare to write this review, I found this one:
Yeah. I write in books. Come at me.
When Callum says he loves Jane, I’m not excited, I’m confused.
Thanks to Blogging For Books for advanced access to Jane of Austin in exchange for an honest review!