Monday, April 04, 2011

My Jane Austen Summer by Cindy Jones (DNF)

My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park
by Cindy Jones
Copyright 2011
HarperCollins - General Fiction
324 pages
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.

My review:

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.

New arrivals:

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?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Thanks for your honest review. I am on the tour for My Jane Austen Summer mid-April but like you struggled through the book, but I think my issue was the fact that it was less about Jane Austen and Mansfield park and more about the innerworkings of a literary festival and not at all what I expected!

  2. That's too bad about the Austen book. There are so many Austen books out there now, they all tend to run together and I can't remember which ones I read anymore.

    Congrats on taking on Zumba! I'm interested but my coordination is such that I topple over while walking. There may be injuries to other people.

  3. Sorry the book didn't work for you - to be honest, I'm kind of tired of the whole Austen retelling thing.

    We got that storm last night and it was a doozy.

  4. I know just what you mean about a book just not working for you. Often for me, it's a matter of the wrong book at the wrong time, but some books don't get better, even when I go back to them later. And that's ok, because there is a book out there for every reader, and this one may not be the one for you. I do appreciate your honesty though, and would rather hear how you really felt than a bunch of platitudes. We also had a huge storm here last week, and it was more than a little scary. It's supposed to be bad here again today, which means I have to change my plans.

    Also, you have had a great reading month! I am very envious and hope to be getting back on the horse this month!

  5. Anonymous8:21 AM

    Nancy, don't beat yourself up about not finishing MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER. You gave it a good go and not every book is for every reader. Your review did not discourage me from trying it and happily, I already have a copy. Unhappily, it is packed away, so we are talking about fall reading I suspect.

    I'm so glad to hear that you are coming out of your shell - me too and I'm glad for that. Sometimes life takes us down paths that seem just too hard at times and then we move on to another place and things can change and become lighter.

    Gotcha on the red dress. Isn't it lovely? I'm not sure I knew that Colleen Coble wrote historicals. Doesn't she usually write suspense? Sounds good though.

  6. Stephanie,

    That may have been a part of it for me, too. I can't say reading about the meetings and people arguing about funding thrilled me. I was definitely expecting something different -- possibly more like Shannon Hale's similarly-themed book (can't remember the title).


    There are an awful lot of Austen-themed books. I'd told myself I was done with them but this one sounded more fun than a spin-off. I've tried to limit my reading of them so I know what I've read and what I loved but . . . really, I need to just stick with the real Jane.

    As to Zumba, there are times we have to move in circles and I have balance issues but so far, so good. I haven't killed anybody yet, self included. LOL

  7. Kathy,

    Me, too. I haven't yet managed to finish Mansfield Park and I've yet to tackle Northanger Abbey, so it's not like I'm done with the real Jane. I need to stick with her and give the Jane-themed books a rest, for now.

    Doozy is right. We were relieved when that storm was over.


    I think after 2 attempts I can definitely say I won't come back to this one for another try, but only because I'm getting old. I feel obligated to move on; my reading time is limited. :)

    Kiddo had to alter his plans, yesterday. He was massively disappointed. I just planned to read when the storm hit, so I was happy, apart from the fact that my crazed cats kept climbing over me with claws! Hope it doesn't hit you too hard!


    OK, I'll give myself a break. I hope you end up enjoying the book. I definitely feel like I gave the book a solid chance and it just wasn't for me.

    Isn't that fascinating, how we can go from being a happy hermit to ready to face the world, again? I think I just didn't feel like talking to people after my mother died, for a while. But, now I'm happy to be around people, again. Except in heavy traffic. :)

    I'm actually totally unfamiliar with Colleen Coble, so I have no idea what else she may have written, although this one does appear to be the third in a series. There's just something magnetic about those red dresses!!

  8. Anonymous10:26 AM

    You know, sometimes the timing is just off when it comes to a particular book ... and that's just the way it is. I know that for myself, I find it hard to read book that hit too close to home in some way.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. I hope your next book is a better fit.

  9. Heathertlc,

    Yes, I do believe the timing was off on this one. Maybe a few years down the road, when the sting of loss has faded a bit more. But, I think I'll find the book a happy new home and move on.

    Thanks! My next book is a better fit, already. I'm halfway through The Goose Girl. Apparently, I needed a bit of a fantasy break. :)

  10. Wow, a storm? We've been having summer-ish weather.

  11. Carrie,

    Yep, a whopper. There were apparently a couple tornadoes in Mississippi. Tennessee got socked. Kentucky had a tornado. North Carolina was walloped. Whalloped? Nope, spell-check says walloped. You missed it. Lucky you. :)

  12. Bummer that you couldn't finish it. I've been wanting to read it and missed the tour.

    I totally relate to the fact that sometimes a book is so fantastic that anything subsequently read falls short. There are also books that just seem to need their own time and place for reading and it can't be forced!

  13. I think you and I were on the same page with this one. I kept waiting for it to get better. I kept waiting to like the characters more. And it just didn't happen. So we might not be in the majority, but you're not alone! You can read my review on The Calico Critic.

    I also am going to be reading The Lightkeeper's Ball, and I too, was sucked in by the red dress!! Now I need to go read Books 1 and 2 first, if I can. Book 1 is on the way from, so here's hoping...

    Laura Hartness
    The Calico Critic

  14. Holly,

    I've already offered my copy to a friend or I would have sent mine to you. The more I reflect on it, the more I think the problem is what Stephanie mentioned; it was less about Mansfield Park and more about the workings of a literary festival. Well, that and the fact that the dialogue was often confusing because people were rude and wouldn't explain things to Lily. It did suffer for following Home to Woefield on the first attempt but I think the fact that I gave it 2 chances means it just wasn't for me.


    I'll pop over and read your review in a bit. I'm glad you felt the same way I did. There were far too many obnoxious characters for my taste. I think if she'd softened a few of them (so many characters and all of them seemed to have at least one moment of blatant rudeness) I might have continued.

    I'm trying not to bring in too many more books, so I won't go back to the first two of the series The Lightkeeper's Ball comes from unless I fall in love with it, but I do prefer to read books in order. So funny that we were both sucked in by that gorgeous red dress!!!! :)

  15. That kind of stormy weather sounds very scary! I'm glad you were finally able to find some books to lose yourself in, even if it wasn't the Austen one.

  16. Alyce,

    The Goose Girl really was the perfect book for reading on a stormy day. It captured me so thoroughly that I'm still catching up on sleep, even though I finished it early, last night, and went straight to bed because I was wobbly with fatigue. :)

  17. Sorry to hear the book didn't quite work for you. I really liked your review and I don't know, I may give it a go one day. I like that someone posted it's not so much about a retelling of the story as about a literary festival. That actually appeals to me. I'm kind of burnt out on the whole Jane Austen spin offs.

    And, glad to hear you are still enjoying Zumba! I've never tried it but would love to check it out. Looks fun - well if exercise can be fun! :)

  18. Iliana,

    Yes, it really is more about the workings of a literary festival than anything else. It's not a spin-off, more a book about a person who has become a Janeite and is trying to escape her life by becoming a part of a Mansfield Park reenactment. The writing is really quite good but there were just too many icky characters for me.

    Exercise can be fun!! You just have to find what you love. I love biking and running but I can't do either in my own neighborhood because of the dogs, so I've always walked or run in the military park. I just haven't felt up to that, in recent years, so I'm thrilled to have found something else I enjoy. I love Zumba so much I even made it up in time for the Saturday morning session!! Believe me, I don't get out of bed easily. LOL You should try it. One of the the great things about Zumba is that it's done as a group and you're so busy focusing on trying to move the right way that you don't have time to be self-conscious. Plus, at least in my group there are so many people that everyone's at a different level. Some just stand still and stare ahead, now and then, when they get lost. I keep moving, no matter what.

  19. If I'm not enjoying a book for whatever reason, I usually put it aside after 20 to 50 pages, so you hung on longer than I normally do!

    I'm reading My Jane Austen Summer right now, and I'm enjoying it. Then again, I'm reading it after some depressing books, so the lightness is what I need. I do agree that the characters don't communicate well and it can be annoying at times.

  20. Anna,

    I usually go with 30-50 pages, max, but I thought My Jane Austen Summer had potential so I gave it a bit more than most. I do think there's a lot to like about it -- I just didn't like the negativity and the way characters didn't give each other complete answers. A little of that is okay and really very realistic to life; people often talk in a circular way. But, there was just too much of it for me. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book. :)


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