We 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.
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?
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
Many thanks to author Katherine Reay for sharing this excerpt from Lizzy & Jane with us. Best wishes for its success.
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.
Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (352) pages
Cover image courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2014; excerpt Katherine Reay © 2014, Austenprose.com