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Review: Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay

Lizzy & Jane, a novel by Katherine Reay

Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2014)

A treat for foodies and Jane Austen fans, Lizzy and Jane brings together two sisters who’ve successfully avoided meaningful contact since their mother died years earlier. Now Jane is enduring chemotherapy for breast cancer. Elizabeth, a successful chef, has lost her edge. A flying visit home might be just what she needs.

If that sounds like the book’s a downer, let the artsy cover reassure you. There are tears, but there’s laughter, family comfort, friendship, and Elizabeth even finds a chance at romance. Plus there’s the food.

Initially I found it hard to engage, because Elizabeth begins as very self-focused. I’m glad I kept reading, because the story has lots to say about our need to truly listen to one another and discover each other’s true perspective instead of reading from the surface.

The contrasting vibes of Jane’s Seattle and Elizabeth’s New York City interested me. The faith thread encouraged me without feeling preachy. But what most caught my attention was the idea that a cancer patient’s chemo-tainted taste buds and appetite could be satisfied by food tailored to match the things they find most comforting—including their preferences in books. I don’t know if this has any basis in fact, but it’s definitely interesting.

Bonus takeaway: Elizabeth suggested using a pinch of cinnamon in tomato-based cooking (like spaghetti sauce and stew). I tried it. Yum!

The novel also provides some deliciously evocative lines. A taste, to let you see, as Elizabeth observes another character:

He was trying to do the impossible—carry the weight of all that was unable to be held and pull his energy from sheer frustration and anger. [page 143]

What I had thought was an angry stalk looked different now. It looked like a walk tinged with desperation—a suppressed, scared gait that was fast because slow would make him too vulnerable; he might get caught. [page 145]

This is my second Katherine Reay novel (see my review of Dear Mr. Knightley) and I look forward to reading more. You can find author Katherine Reay online at katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine ReayDear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Samantha Moore relates better to the characters in her favourite books than she does to the real people around her. Fired from her job for not “engaging,” she seizes one last chance: a master’s degree in journalism, funded by a mysterious benefactor.

The condition of the funding: she must write to “Mr. George Knightley” and keep him updated about her studies.

So begins a delightful story told through her letters and the occasional reply. It’s the story of Sam learning to let go of the walls she’s put up to protect herself, and discovering who she is.

It’s not as light and fluffy as the cover suggests. Sam’s past is very painful, and her struggle for identity can take hold of readers’ thoughts and not let go. There’s a lot of heart in this book.

It’s also well crafted and funny in places, laced with quotes from Jane Austen and other classics, and Katherine Reay adds plenty of quotable lines, herself, in Sam’s somewhat stream-of-consciousness delivery. Some of my favourites:

(Sam describing her new apartment) And it’s yellow. The way pale yellow should look, like sunshine and butter, mixed with hope and cream. [p. 73]

There are first moments when the eyes tell one’s real emotions, before the brain reminds them to bank and hide. [p. 176]

You can always talk more deeply when running because it feels safe. You can’t directly look at the person next to you. And you can’t hide much in so few clothes and so much sweat. Exhaustion also addles your inhibitions. [p. 232-233]

This is Christian fiction where the faith is subtle. There are Christians around Sam, but she doesn’t notice their gentle attempts to share “crumbs” of faith with her until about half-way through the book. She admires the love she sees in them, but she’s not convinced it would apply to her as well.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a heart-warming first novel from Katherine Reay, and it received multiple awards. For more about this and the author’s other novels, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]