by Cindy Jones
HarperCollins - General Fiction
Did Not Finish
Tiptoeing carefully over uneven stone to a dark wooden pew, I sat, breathing the musty air deeply through my nose, exhaling through my mouth, a visitor in a quiet tomb. A narrow shelf built into the pew before me held the diminutive Book of Common Prayer, the English version, smaller than those back home. The regular size hymnal hung over the shelf's edge, too big to fit. A needlepoint cushion hung from a hook below. Near the front of the church, stone effigies, perhaps the First Baron of Weston and his wife, slept in a bed of marble, their hands clasped in prayer these many years.
--from My Jane Austen Summer, p. 52 of Advanced Review Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print version)
Description: Lily Berry is in a bind. After the death of her mother, she buried her grief by escaping into the world of Jane Austen, reading all six of Austen's novels and imagining herself in Jane's world. Her boyfriend, who didn't understand her, has moved on and found someone else. Her sister has suggested she needs therapy. Her father has found a new woman, already. And, reading during working hours has led to the loss of her job. Suddenly, a sly suggestion by a bookseller seems her only hope. She'll travel to England to re-enact Austen's Mansfield Park at the annual Literary Live festival hosted by bookseller Vera and her husband, Nigel. But, Lily's imagination goes places the world is not ready to take her.
I feel kind of bad not finishing My Jane Austen Summer, but I believe I've given it a fair shake and it's simply not for me, at least at this moment. The writing is lovely, yet there's something that doesn't sit well with me and I absolutely cannot seem to put a finger on it. Maybe it's the tone? Lily is really a lost soul and her grief hits a little too close to home, at times; of that much I'm certain.
I started reading My Jane Austen Summer just after I finished reading Home to Woefield and that alone is unfair. I haven't reviewed Home to Woefield (it's two reviews away -- hang in there) but it was by far the most fun I've had all year. I knew it it was going to be very, very difficult finding a book that resonated after leaving Woefield. After the first 50 pages of My Jane Austen Summer, I knew it wasn't the book to follow up with. In fact, I thought I'd never make it through the book at all but I still had that lingering sense that I wasn't giving it a reasonable chance. So, after 50 pages I fished around and found another book that did grab me, spent a couple of sleepless nights reading obsessively, took a day off to finish my final Bible study lessons and then returned to My Jane Austen Summer.
Did I skim the first time? Or was it not that memorable? I'm not sure, but when I reopened the book some 5 days later, I could hardly remember a thing. So, I started all the way back at page 1. This time around, I found that there were moments of humor that I loved and the book is really written with intelligence. There is still something that I don't like about it but I sense it may just be the sad vibe, the fact that Lily is stinging from her losses and there are too many nasty people out to get her.
One thing I dislike in My Jane Austen Summer is the way people don't seem to communicate effectively. They don't answer each other's questions or they don't make sense and she has to keep chasing around trying to figure out what they mean. That was also true in the book I read over the weekend, Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt, but for some reason Pictures of You worked for me in a way that My Jane Austen Summer refuses to do.
The bottom line:
I think it's just me, but I just don't know. If I'd finished this book, I might have eventually started to like it more. There are some lovely passages, bits of humor (brief but definitely fun moments) and the writing is at times erudite. But, at the same time, there were moments that I was confused -- when Lily reflected on some moment in the past and I couldn't tell where present segued to past or when a particularly nasty character bothered me so much that there wasn't enough positive happening to offset the unsettled, negative feeling that character gave me.
I stopped at page 125 the second time I attempted to read My Jane Austen Summer at the encouragement of my husband, who happened to come into the bedroom as I was preparing to dive back into it after an hours-long power outage. The fact that I'd not bothered to seek out a flashlight before the squall line hit -- casting both indoors and out into startling darkness -- forced me to read an e-book, instead. I must have made a fussy noise. "Do you want to read it?" he asked. I said, "Not really," and he replied, "Then don't."
Still, I think a lot of people will really enjoy My Jane Austen Summer and I would not say, "Avoid this book." I think it's a little bit bad timing, a little bit too close to home, a little bit of discomfort with the author's voice that kept me from loving it. Maybe if I hadn't lost a mother within the last few years it would have worked for me. Maybe not. There are hints that there may be romance at some point and the possibility that things are about to start working for Lily is beginning to peek out of the pages. I suggest flipping through the book or reading a sample, if you're interested. See if the writing pulls you in.
My thanks to TLC Tours and William Morrow for the ARC of this book and the chance to read it!
In other news: Boy, that was one heck of a storm. I know we're not the only folks who were forced to shelter in hallways, today. It's completely quiet outside, now, a marked contrast to the gusty, pouring, banging, roof-shifting noises of the afternoon. The cats were distressed. Kiddo, meanwhile, turned out the hallway light shortly before the power went out (if he was going to be stuck in a hallway, he figured he might as well nap), so I had to risk life and limb to grab my reader, Petunia, to find something to read.
I wouldn't have had much afternoon time to work on My Jane Austen Summer, anyway, since it didn't take all that long for the electricity to flicker off. I know because I left the microwave plugged in and it peeped several times (power off, power on, power off, power on) before finally descending into silence. Kiddo tested the lights to see if it was out for good. I might have uttered a little expression of frustration. By the time the power was finally restored, though, I didn't want to stop reading The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Another point against poor Lily.
Totally useless anecdotal aside:
I'm really enjoying re-entering the real world, such as it is, after several years of deliberately being a hermit. During the last 3 minute song at Zumba on Thursday, my thighs screamed, "Enough!" and I laughed myself through the entire thing. If my legs start to protest (and they do -- I've been pretty sedentary for quite a while), I just adapt the moves so that I can continue to move and not get in the way of others. Just keep moving for the full hour; that's my goal.
But those last 3 minutes . . . ohmygosh. There was a step-hop-step, step back, step forward, step-hop-step, pivot, step-hop-step thing that I couldn't do because I could no longer hop or pivot, the poor leg muscles were so tapped out. And I could not figure out how to alter the steps and get the heck out of the way but still end up facing the right direction. I felt like a fish flopping on the shore in the midst of a delightfully orchestrated crab dance. I didn't care. I love being there, sweating, knowing I'm doing something good for myself and hanging out with people I like.
It feels like my reading has been slow, this year. But, I read 12 books in March (update forthcoming, about 4 posts hence -- have to write the reviews to link back to, first) and I'm pretty sure the page count was about 3,800, which is fantastic for me. So, maybe I'm just delusional. It's possible. I do think my determination not to finish books that I don't really like or love is working well for me. I liked absolutely everything I read in March and many of them were, in my opinion, outstanding.
Just one: The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble. What? You think I was sucked in by the Red Dress Effect? Moi? Gosh, yes. There is just something about those long, gorgeous red dresses that makes you yearn to snatch up a book and press it to your chest, isn't there? I can admit it when I've been lured by a red dress. Fingers crossed that I fall in love with the story.
Apparently, it's the third in a series but that often doesn't faze me (some series books stand alone well -- we'll see about this one). The Lightkeeper's Ball is about Olivia, a socialite whose family has lost its wealth. Now, there is pressure for her to marry well. Olivia travels to California to attempt to snatch up her deceased sister Eleanor's wealthy husband-to-be. But, it turns out Eleanor's death may have been no accident. Doesn't that sound intriguing?