Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Twleve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron 2014 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

The holidays make me nostalgic for past times I’ve never actually experienced, so I leapt at the chance to spend the Yuletide season with Jane Austen. Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the twelfth installment in a series that features one of my favorite novelists as an amateur sleuth, but so far I hadn’t managed to read one of them. It seemed high time to rectify that lapse, especially since author Stephanie Barron studied European history in college and then worked as a CIA analyst, highly suitable credentials for writing a story of intrigue set in the past.

The book opens on a blizzardy, bitterly cold evening with Jane Austen, her mother, and her sister Cassandra traveling by coach to the home of Jane’s eldest brother James and his family in Hampshire. Unfortunately when they reach the end of the public line the women find that James has sent an unlighted open horse cart for the last few miles of their journey, even though it’s dark outside and blowing snow. Both Jane’s mother and sister have their heads bowed to prevent the snow from stinging their faces, so it’s only Jane who sees the rapidly approaching carriage heading straight for them. There’s a terrible crash and the ladies are thrown to the floor of the now ruined cart, but almost as shocking is the language of the gentleman in the carriage. Raphael West comes gallantly to their rescue and certainly acts with consideration and grace, but he proves he must be some kind of freethinker by swearing in front of them without reservation. Jane is intrigued.

It’s Christmas Eve of 1814 and this trip is a homecoming of sorts because James lives in Steventon Parsonage where Jane grew up, but with James in charge it’s not the lively, loving place it was when their father was alive. James is stingy about lighting fires in the chilly rooms, contemptuous of Jane’s writing career, and broadly dismissive of most holiday traditions believing they aren’t Christian enough. Except for enjoying the company of her niece and nephew it might have been a dismal visit for Jane, but fortunately they are all invited to join a large party celebrating Christmas at The Vyne, the beautiful ancestral home of the wealthy, generous, and politically connected Chute family. The Vyne is also the place Raphael West was heading when his carriage crashed into the Austen’s cart.

Their hosts at the Vyne are William Chute, an amiable older country gentleman who’s been prominent in Parliament for two decades, and Eliza Chute, William’s energetic much younger wife who’s a longtime acquaintance of Jane’s. On being properly introduced Jane discovers that mysterious Mr. West is the son of a famous artist and is visiting The Vyne to sketch William Chute for his father. Or is he? Miss Gambier is another guest who interests Jane. She’s highly fashionable but being in her late 20’s is well on her way to spinsterhood and she has an almost forbidding reserve that suggests things hidden.

With Napoleon banished to Elba and the war with America going well there’s lots to celebrate, but festivities have only just begun when a nasty anonymous poem upsets Miss Gambier during a game of charades. Then a courier carrying an important political message for William Chute dies in what appears to be an accident, but Jane finds evidence to indicate it was murder. Since the storm has shut down the roads someone at The Vyne must be guilty, heightening the tension. As Jane quietly investigates she discovers that several among their party have secrets, including the enigmatic but appealing Raphael West.

Penned with evocative prose that allowed me to feel and see the story, I was shivering on my perfectly warm couch while Jane rode in an open cart through the blizzard. Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas has a rich and well realized historical setting with all the fun, food, and games of a pre-Victorian holiday celebration interrupted by murder. I love that the mystery includes several important issues of the day, and it gave me a thrill to hear characters discussing Jane’s recently published novels.

As in Austen’s books, Barron’s story is full of wit and wonderful company, but Jane is older than her heroines, romance is not a large part of the plot, and the story’s undertones are somewhat dark. Set less than three years before Austen’s death, Jane and her sister Cassandra are much how I imagine Lizzy and Jane Bennet would be if they had never married, and Jane’s sharp eye and well developed understanding of the human heart make her the perfect sleuth. Though I hadn’t read Barron’s earlier Jane Austen mysteries I had no trouble jumping into and thoroughly enjoying this one.

5 out of 5 Stars

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Soho Press (2014)
Hardcover & eBook (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1616954239

Additional Reviews:

Book cover courtesy of Soho Press © 2014; text Jenny Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour

Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour banner

Jane Austen, the holiday season and gifts go so well together that I am pleased to share the news that Austenesque author Syrie James is going on a holiday blog tour with her new novel Jane Austen’s First Love.

Readers will remember that Austenprose is a big fan of Syrie’s work and have reviewed many of her books here including:

In celebration of the holiday season and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love there will be over 40 stops on the virtual blog tour featuring an assortment of fun, including interviews with Syrie, excerpts from the novel, reviews, spotlights, and unique guest post by Syrie on a variety of topics–such as the true story of the remarkable Edward Taylor (who stole Jane’s heart), Jane at fifteen, wacky parlor games in the Georgian era, the research for and challenges of writing Jane Austen’s First Love. And, to top it off there are 5 incredible giveaway prize packages available for international shipment.

GRAND PRIZE PACKAGE

Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour Grand Prize

Just visit any and all of the stops along the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour and leave a comment to qualify. Additional images and details of the five Austen-themed prize packages are listed on Syrie’s website. Good luck to all.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, by Jane Odiwe – Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

Mr Darcys Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe 2014 x 200I have often thought of Pride and Prejudice as the ultimate fairy tale. While it does not have the traditional folkloric fantasy figures such as dwarves, fairies or giants, Jane Austen did create iconic romantic characters that have become prototypes for modern writers and a plot that includes the perfect happily-ever-after ending. It is easy to see why we want to return to that fantasy and live in the era with her characters again and again through new stories.

Austenesque author Jane Odiwe has written two Austen-inspired novels with strong fantasy elements: Project Darcy and Searching for Captain Wentworth. She has a particular talent for time-slip novels where a modern heroine, like her fairy tale compatriots—Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella or Belle in Beauty and the Beast—are touched by a magic that changes their lives, setting them on a course of discovery and romance. Her latest is a novella, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, is set during the holiday season in modern day and Regency England. Jane has generously supplied an exclusive excerpt of her new work. I hope you enjoy it.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description)

A novella for the Christmas holidays – Lizzy Benson visits Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, and buys a special advent calendar in the gift shop, but strange things start to happen when she opens up the first door and finds herself back in time with all the beloved characters from her favourite book, Pride and Prejudice. As she finds herself increasingly drawn into an alternate reality, Lizzy discovers not only is Mr Darcy missing from the plot, but Jane Austen has never heard of him. All Lizzy can hope is that she can help to get the story and her own complicated love life back on track before Christmas is over!

EXCERPT (from chapter 4)

When Lizzy awoke next morning, she couldn’t think where she was at first. And then she remembered that she was lying in Jane Austen’s bed, and that the whole reason she was there was because she’d bought an Advent calendar in the shop at Jane Austen’s house. The memories of the day and evening before slowly returned. None of it seemed to make any sense, and the idea that she’d somehow passed into some unknown and strange reality was a growing concern. Ever since she was a little girl Lizzy had always felt there was a fine line between what she imagined and what was real. Spending a good amount of time in her imagination, whether daydreaming or in reading books meant that reality and fantasy were often blurred in her mind. But nothing had ever felt so real as the strange episode she was now experiencing. Never before had her mind co-operated quite so much with bringing to life the worlds she’d often visualised. Every detail had been thought of, but she could not think her brain quite capable of summoning up the mended patches on the curtains, or able to supply a darkening stain on the ceiling by the window where it seemed ice water was seeping in through a hole in the roof. It would probably be better if she didn’t think about it too much, Lizzy decided, and she really would have to make an effort to get home today, she thought, her mother would be worried to death. But, one glimpse at the window told her there’d been no cessation in the weather. Snow was falling thick and fast, and pulling at the bedclothes to trap in the warmth, she hoped she wouldn’t be stuck there for another whole day.

As she lay there familiarising herself with every last feature of the room, she heard the sound of a pianoforte being played. It must be Elizabeth or Jane practising, she thought, and Lizzy remembered reading that Jane Austen loved to play before breakfast. Whoever was playing sounded very accomplished to her ears, and the tunes were very pretty, some longer concertos, and others quite short songs. When it stopped, she decided it must be time to get up, but wasn’t quite sure whether she should attempt to do that herself or wait for the maid to come in. Swinging her legs out of bed, she sat on the side and listened to the sounds of the little clock on the mantle, a soothing sound that made her feel as if she might easily be hypnotised.

Lizzy’s eyes were drawn to the Advent calendar propped up against the looking glass on the dressing table. Number four was shining with a bright white light bursting from its centre like a Christmas star, and it looked far too inviting to ignore. Lizzy fetched it and opened the door, gasping when she saw the picture inside. It looked rather like her, the painting of the girl who stood observing her reflection, and the longer she stared, and the more she thought about Miss Lizzy Benson depicted in a beautiful ball gown, the more she found herself drawn into the painting. And just moments later, it was as if, like Alice in Wonderland, she’d shrunk, closed up like a telescope until small enough to pass through the tiny door, but it was done so seamlessly and swiftly, in such a blink of an eye that it was impossible to know how it had happened at all.

Lizzy admired herself in the glass. She looked just as if she’d stepped out from a period production on television, rather like Elizabeth Bennet herself, she thought gleefully. The gown was quintessentially Georgian, made of fine cambric embroidered with a panel of whitework leaves and flowers tumbling down the front and along the hem. There were puffed sleeves, cut to show off her slender arms, and a white satin sash tied at empire height made her appear tall and elegant. Her hair was twisted up behind, and dressed in curls, garlanded with a band of white sarcenet and pale pink roses. A pair of elbow-length gloves, a fan of silk and mother-of-pearl, and a reticule on silken strings were the final accessories chosen to show off her dress, complementing the beautiful pendant round her neck.

It was getting dark outside, and though she felt quite excited about the turn in events, she also felt more than a little worried. Mrs Bennet had said she could telephone her mother, and at the very least, that was what she must do next. Lizzy could not find a single light switch, and resorted to picking up the only candlestick, whose candle was rather badly illuminating the room, as the light was fading. It really did make the place feel very authentic, but never before had she appreciated electricity so much. It was easy to see how the writers of the past were so inspired to write gothic tales of ghostly happenings and ghoulish goings-on. She thought how much more her senses seemed alerted in the dark with only the flickering flame lighting her way. Tiptoeing down the creaking wooden staircase, she frightened herself rather badly once or twice as her own shadow loomed and shrank against the walls like a cowering thief in the night, waiting to pounce.

She found the telephone in the hallway, an object she hadn’t noticed being there before and quite incongruous in this setting, which in every other respect made her feel as if she’d travelled back in time. An antique item that looked like a model from the 1930s, Lizzy didn’t feel very hopeful on picking up the receiver as all she could hear at the other end were crackling and clicking noises, certainly not like any telephone tone she’d ever heard at home. Inserting her index finger, she set about dialling the number, each turn of the black and white numbered dial swiftly whirring back into place. Then she waited to hear the ringing tone but heard nothing, not a sound, so she tried again thinking she must have dialled incorrectly. It was no use; the line was completely and utterly dead. Still, perhaps Mrs Bennet might know what to do and would help her.

‘Are you ready?’

Lizzy recognised the brusque voice that barked out of the darkness and she turned guiltily, as if caught out doing something she shouldn’t. He loomed out of the shadows, and for the second time Lizzy actually thought that if Mr Williams didn’t look so disapproving he might be considered almost handsome. He was dressed ready to face the cold night air, the cloak he wore made him appear taller than ever and his broad shoulders were just the kind she would admire on anybody else. She really didn’t want to ask him to help her, but if she didn’t telephone her mother soon, there wouldn’t be another opportunity.

‘I can’t seem to get the telephone to work … just wondering if it’s me.’

Mr Williams picked up the receiver and Lizzy saw him shake his head. ‘Nope, it’s not working … completely dead, in fact.’

‘Is there another? Or have you a mobile I could use? I really need to phone my mum, and mine’s run out of battery.’

‘No, that’s the only one, and I don’t use modern technology, I’m afraid.’

‘What about the others? Will anyone else have one?’

‘Absolutely not. Look, there’s nothing to be done, and if we’re not careful we’ll be late. It’s time to go.’

Lizzy really didn’t want to be left on her own with Mr Williams any longer, or have to travel with him by herself. ‘Oughtn’t we to wait for Mrs Bennet?’ she said, thinking that couldn’t possibly be the real name of the lady who’d arranged everything.

‘No need for that’, he said, ‘she’s left already with her daughters. I’m to escort you, so hurry up before the coachman leaves. He must be thinking we’ve forgotten him. Here, you’ll need this.’

To her great astonishment he took a pink velvet cloak from the coat hooks and held it out so she had no choice but to allow him to place it round her shoulders. She turned and felt the warm silk of the lining envelop her and when she moved back to thank him and before she had a chance to register the fact, he was tying the ribbons at her neck. His fingers brushed her throat momentarily, and she started in surprise. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, but it disturbed her. When he wasn’t looking she rubbed at her neck as if to get rid of the feelings, but the sensations lingered, whatever she did to make them go away. 

END OF EXCERPT

Many thanks to author Jane Odiwe for sharing an excerpt from her new novella, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, with us. Be sure to check out Jane’s other recent publication, Mrs. Darcy’s Diamonds too.

ARTHOR BIO

Author Jane Odiwe (2014)Jane Odiwe is the author of seven Austen-inspired books, Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, Mrs Darcy’s Diamonds, Project Darcy, Searching for Captain Wentworth, Mr Darcy’s Secret, Willoughby’s Return, and Lydia Bennet’s Story.

Recent television appearances include a Masterchef Special, celebrating 200 years of Sense and Sensibility, and an interview for the 200 year anniversary of Pride and Prejudice on BBC Breakfast.

Jane is a member of the Jane Austen Society; she holds an arts degree, and initially started her working life teaching art and history. With her husband, children, and two cats, Jane divides her time between North London, and Bath, England. When she’s not writing, she enjoys painting and trying to capture the spirit of Jane Austen’s world. Her illustrations have been published in a picture book, Effusions of Fancy, and are featured in a biographical film of Jane Austen’s life in Sony’s DVD edition of The Jane Austen Book Club.

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Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, by Jane Odiwe
Whitesoup Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (190) pages
ISBN: 978-1502961068

Cover image courtesy of Whitesoup Press © 2014; excerpt Jane Odiwe ©2014, Austenprose.com

The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love, by Sinead Murphy – A Review

The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy 2014 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

When author Sinead Murphy chose to title her guide to modern dating The Jane Austen Rules it was guaranteed to generate a certain amount of controversy. In the mid-1990s, a dating guide titled The Rules became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for imparting to women “a myriad of tricks and schemes” (14) for finding Mr. Right.

Does Murphy seek to replace one set of arbitrary opinions with another, using Jane Austen’s name as a marketing ploy? Happily Ms. Murphy has not taken this approach. Rather than a narrowly focused “how-to” for dating, she takes readers through the novels of Jane Austen, examining the women and men Austen created and the way their character informs their actions, whether in the pursuit of love or in making other important life decisions.

As such this is not really a dating guide at all; its scope is much wider. In the introduction titled “The Real Thing” Murphy proposes that modern dating guides have a Regency ancestor in the conduct book, full of dos and don’ts for women wishing to succeed in society:

…the Regency conduct book tended to judge a woman by how she conducts herself–that is, by how she acts, by how she seems. The novel, by contrast, was concerned with what women are really like, admitting—perhaps for the very first time—that women too have a fulsome interior life, with thoughts and feelings that are as crucial to get right as the actions that follow from them…And Jane Austen was at the forefront of it all, presenting to the Regency world a host of real women—so determined to do so, indeed, that she invented her very own narrative style, which gives the reader almost unrestricted access to the internal life of her female characters. (4)

Readers unfamiliar with The Rules may be puzzled or offended by Murphy’s manner of presenting her “Classic Guide to Modern Love.” However, those willing to take it in a playful spirit similar to Austen’s own treatment of “horrid novels” in Northanger Abbey will enjoy the humor the author uses to support her argument: that Jane Austen’s rules are the kind worth following.

For example, where The Rules advises women to keep quiet to allow their dates to drive the conversation, The Jane Austen Rules counters with “Don’t Just Sit There, Say Something!” Of course, we think of Elizabeth Bennet here, verbally sparring with Mr. Darcy on any number of occasions, and Murphy includes several examples from Pride and Prejudice. But she does not stop there. While a conduct book or dating guide might say otherwise, all women are not required to act in a particular way. Murphy offers the example of a very different Austen heroine:

Consider Persuasion’s Anne Elliot: though perfectly good humoured, she is, on the whole, a serious person, even a grave person, for whom the sparkling repartee of an Elizabeth Bennet would be utterly out of character. Nevertheless, Anne Elliot is not silent, waiting patiently in the passenger seat while Captain Wentworth carries the day with his gregarious personality. (75)

Anne may often operate on the sidelines, but she does and says a great many things in the course of the story. Wentworth praises her capability when Louisa Musgrove is injured in Lyme. Overhearing her conversation with his friend Captain Harville, he writes, “You pierce my soul.” What finally recommends Anne to Wentworth is her demonstrated character, not her ability to make coy remarks or flatter his ego, as Louisa Musgrove does.

Other Jane Austen rules include “Be a Woman, Not a Girl,” “Find a Man, Not a Guy,” (this chapter is especially painful for Frank Churchill fans) “Listen to What They Say,” “Be Quite Independent,” “Prove It,” and “Have Great Expectations.” In the final chapter “Reader, Marry Him!” Murphy presents a take on the institution of marriage that may surprise some readers and also addresses Austen’s personal choice not to marry. Each chapter includes a black and white Victorian-era illustration from an Austen novel that ties in with the chapter’s subject and adds just the right touch of visual interest to the text. Whether readers ultimately agree with Murphy or not, she presents thought-provoking viewpoints on women’s lives today, including but not limited to building healthy relationships.

For me, the only strike against The Jane Austen Rules was its excessive use of non-standard punctuation and the overuse of exclamation marks. Editing these minor flaws would place this book firmly in five-star territory. Ms. Murphy has done an excellent job of blending light-hearted charm with reflections on the serious business of love and life.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love, by Sinead Murphy
Melville House (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (144) pages
ISBN: 978-1612193823

Additional Reviews

Cover image courtesy of Melville House © 2014; text Tracy Hickman © 2014, Austenprose.com

Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Preview and Exclusive Excerpt

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200We don’t run across new authors that we can rave about very often. We are very particular about our reading material, so when the planets and stars align, we like to gloat and boast “I told you so.” Such was the case with Katherine Reay’s debut novel Dear Mr. Knightley. We had the honor of reading it before publication and meeting the author in person. To say that the novel was as refreshing and elegant as its author is an understatement. When it won the ACFW’s Carol award for best Contemporary Novel and best Debut Novel, our head was as big as a pumpkin.

Now I am very happy to introduce you to her sophomore effort, Lizzy & Jane, just published by Thomas Nelson. Like Katherine’s first novel it is lightly inspired by Jane Austen and not a sequel or retelling per se. The two sisters are as different in personality as Austen’s Marianne & Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, but they also exhibit similarities to siblings Elizabeth & Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly, one character loves reading Austen and the other not so much. Like many of Austen’s heroines, Lizzy & Jane face big conflicts and challenges in their lives. Here is an exclusive excerpt chosen by the author which illustrates her endearing style and charm.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description) 

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

EXCERPT (from chapter 8)

“Shall I read to you?”

“I’d like that. Peter sat there and worked on his computer last time. I read some but hated it. I kept watching that . . .” She pointed to the IV line.

I dug into my bag for my Kindle, wondering how Jane and Peter could see the same scene so differently.

I looked up and found tears had gathered in her eyes again. Time to read.

“I’ve got about a hundred books on here. What would you like?” I started scrolling. “Oh, I’ve got The Weird Sisters. Have you read that?” Yikes, it could be about us. “How about a classic? I just reread Catcher in the Rye—so much better when you’re out of high school. Or what about a sweeping romance? I’ve got Heathcliff and Cathy just waiting to cross the moors together. And I’ve got—”

“Grab Emma from my bag.”

No Austen, please.

“It’s beneath your chair.” Jane pointed to her brown bag.

I leaned down and pulled out Tic Tacs, a wallet, and more receipts than I could crumple. “Do you ever clean this thing out?”

“Skip the commentary.”

I dug again. “You sure it’s here? I’ve got plenty of others.” Then I felt it. “You must know this novel backwards and forwards by now. Don’t you want something else?” I looked up and gently shook my Kindle. “One hundred books, right here at my fingertips.”

“I’m working my way through Austen. I finished Sense and Sensibility a couple days ago.” Jane blinked her eyes, trying to clear them. “What’s wrong with Emma, anyway? You love Austen.”

“Not really.”

“Come on. You were as addicted as the rest of us. How many times did we watch all those Pride and Prejudice remakes? You were obsessed with Greer Garson in that 1940 one. Heck, you’re Lizzy.”

“Elizabeth.”

“That’s so formal. Was Lizzy not good enough for you?”

“I don’t like it, and I’ve told you that for years.” I started to put the book away. “Let’s just find something else.”

“I don’t have anything else.” Jane grabbed it. “Don’t read. Sit there or go to the cafeteria; I don’t care. I’ll be done in a couple hours.”

I yanked the book back. Jane was ticked—but she was scared too. I could see it in her eyes: her blood count, the central line, the Red Devil—everything boiled around her and it all glowed red. I sat back and held the book in my lap.

“I used to read to Mom that last year. At the end she only wanted Austen.” I shrugged. “Who am I kidding? The woman only ever wanted Austen.”

“She was singularly focused.” Jane offered a small commiserating smile.

“She started with Sense and Sensibility too. Then we read Mansfield Park, Emma, and Northanger Abbey. Pride and Prejudice was her last . . .” I couldn’t continue.

“Lizzy.”

I shrugged. “It just seemed good to leave the nickname behind when I went to college. Besides, New York doesn’t feel like a Lizzy sort of place.”

Jane sat silent for a moment, then took a deep breath. I cringed because I knew that breath—it was her prelecture launch. Don’t do it, Jane.

“That’s an excuse. You changed it to leave us all behind.”

“I’m not the one who left everyone behind,” I mumbled, but Jane was just getting warmed up.

“You can’t do that. Dropping your nickname and pretending Mom never existed won’t work . . . That’s why I want to read Austen right now. It reminds me of Mom and of one of the best parts of my childhood. Don’t you want to remember?”

“As if you know anything about me or about that time.” I leaned forward, angry. “Maybe I would want to read Austen novels and watch the movies and roll around in the romance of it all if it reminded me of Mom’s life, and of good and whole moments, but it doesn’t. I don’t have the luxury of your memories. Each word is a death knell.”

Jane snapped her mouth shut as if swallowing something bitter. I closed my eyes as the anger washed away and was replaced by regret. Jane was doing battle with cancer—a daunting opponent— and here I had picked another fight.

“I’m sorry.” I turned to the marked page and started to read. “‘An egg boiled very soft—’”

“Don’t. Please don’t read. Just go,” Jane whispered, her eyes again closed.

I spread my hand across the pages. “I can’t. Please, Jane. I’ve nothing else to give you. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t reply or open her eyes. I continued to read. “‘—is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than anybody. I would not recommend an egg boiled by anybody else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see—one of our small eggs will not hurt you.’”

I chuckled. “I’d forgotten all the food references in Emma. This could be fun.”

“Only you,” Jane mumbled.

I pondered her comment. When I first started to cook, around age twelve, Jane was my staunchest supporter. She’d call home and ask what I was making and how it tasted. But as I became more confident in the kitchen, her ardor cooled. I believe she thought I pursued cooking to gain attention and form a special bond with Mom. She never understood that, when working with food, I never needed extra attention—I was whole and complete.

END OF EXCERPT

Many thanks to author Katherine Reay for sharing this excerpt from Lizzy & Jane with us. Best wishes for its success.

Author Katherine Reay (2013 )AUTHOR BIO

Katherine Reay has enjoyed a lifelong affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. After earning degrees in history and marketing from Northwestern University, she worked in not-for-profit development before returning to school to pursue her MTS. Katherine lives with her husband and three children in Seattle, WA. Dear Mr. Knightley was her first novel.

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Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1401689735

Cover image courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2014; excerpt Katherine Reay © 2014, Austenprose.com