Saturday, February 6, 2016

"Lizzy & Jane" by Katherine Reay

Um, yes.  Two reviews of Katherine Reay books in just over a week.  Because I got this from the library last Saturday and began devouring it immediately.  And I do mean "devouring" -- this book's protag, Elizabeth/Lizzy, is a chef.  And while I like learning about interior decorating now and then, which featured prominently in The Bronte Plot, I love to cook and adore baking, so that's one reason I liked this book even better than that one.

Now, I don't consider myself a "foodie" because I'm not into gourmet food, I don't grind my own herbs and spices (unless I've grown them myself), and I don't make up my own recipes very often.  But I do have a recipe blog, and I truly enjoy preparing and eating food.  Reading this book made me hungry.

So anyway, about this book.  Lizzy is a chef and runs an expensive restaurant in New York City.  But she's been thrown off her groove lately because her sister Jane has cancer.  Their mom died of cancer, so she's pretty freaked about this.  She takes a sort of stress break from work and flies to Seattle to see her dad and sister, with whom she doesn't have exactly a close and warm and loving relationship.  And then she meets a guy, and she cooks a lot of food, and she works through her relationship problems with her sister and figures out stuff about her past and gets to know her niece and nephew and brother-in-law better, and that all sounds kind of boring and/or depressing, but it's not.  It's beautiful.  I liked The Bronte Plot, but I loved Lizzy & Jane.  

I also cried a lot over it, but in a good way, if that makes any sense.  Not happy crying, but more "what if it was me facing the potential of leaving her kids for good."  I'm going to be flying most of the way across the country without my kids this summer, leaving them for almost a week for the first time ever (well, we left 2 of them at Grandpa and Grammy's overnight once...) and I'm kind of wigging out over the idea that what if I died on that trip and they had to live the rest of their lives without me?  Something I'm doing a lot of praying about already, even though my trip is six months away.  So somehow, reading this book helped me kind of figure out exactly what was concerning me the most about that impending trip and know better how to pray about it.

Anyway, good book.  Also, in case you can't tell by now, this is not a retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  Jane Austen's books do figure into the story, but if you haven't read them, you'll still enjoy this book.  If you have read them, you'll get what the characters are talking about when they discuss the books, but it's not a prerequisite.

One thing did bug me about this, though.  It's supposedly a work of Christian fiction, and it does contain more discussions of God and living a godly life than The Bronte Plot did.  A Bible verse reference here and there.  But they were all about how God makes our lives better or helps us endure things.  Nothing about Jesus.  No law, no Gospel.  Nobody in this book ever goes to church.  Nobody says, "Hey, you know, because we're forgiven by God for our sins, we need to go forgive other people too.  Maybe you should think about that."  It's nominal Christianity only, vague and more Deistic than anything, and that bugged me.  

I'm not a fan of Christian fiction that has sermons sandwiched into every third chapter, an obligatory conversion story line, and a required quotient of Jesus references.  But if characters are supposed to be Christians, I expect them to act more like God truly matters in their lives.  "By your fruits, you will know them" (Matthew 7:16), in other words.  However, if you don't think of this as "Christian fiction" and instead "fiction that Christians would be comfortable reading," then it works well.

Particularly Good Bits:

Without ever losing sight or diminishing Anne's reality and social limitations, Austen gave her and all of us the soft, steady hope of second chances, happiness, true love, and the promise that life might be better close to thirty than it was at eighteen (p. 241).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a brief discussion between sisters about how cancer affects your hormones and sex life.  It's not salacious, it's matter-of-fact and minor, but it's there.


  1. Yes, you noticed the same thing I did, the whole nominal Christianity thing. I think possibly she wrote it that way so it would appeal to secular readers too, which I get, but I could have done with a little bit more faith-based story telling too. It's kind of the singular flaw in the novel, if it has one. Otherwise, it's brilliant. I'm so glad you loved it! I'm still on hold for The Bronte Plot. I'll be waiting 'til the cows come home, I'm sure!

    1. Carissa, yes, I assume that's why she did it. And with The Bronte Plot, the story itself didn't necessarily lend itself so easily to including a discussion of faith. But this one, with all the stuff about facing death and forgiving people... and we don't once have a mention of going to heaven? Of being forgiven and in turn forgiving others? Nothing? It didn't ring true to who people I know live and think and speak.

      But otherwise, brilliant indeed. I have Dear Mr. Knightley on hold now.

  2. It's difficult to strike a good balance in Christian books isn't it? Some books have, as you so aptly describe 'a sermon sandwiched into every third chapter', which often doesn't even match well with the storyline of the novel. But also, you quite often read books from Christian publishers which have no mention of God at all. I was always impressed by how well Francine Rivers could write faith-filled stories without coming over preachy. I miss her books, I hope she writes a new one soon

    1. Birdie, so true! I struggle with this in my own writing -- trying to make the inclusion of faith in their lives natural and not forced, serving the story and not just wedged in.

      I like Jan Karon's books for the same reason. Father Tim, being a minister, thinks and talks about God a lot, but never in a pushy way.

  3. I'm pleased you liked this one as well! Reay certainly has a way with words, doesn't she? :)

    I didn't really notice the lack of discussions about God on my first read through, but after I finished and was thinking back on it, it became apparent. It didn't bother me, but I did notice it. As Birdie said, it's a fine line between just the right amount of Christianity mentioned and too much sermonizing. So as you said, if one goes into Reay's books with the idea that it's a really clean and wonderful story that has godly themes, then it'll work. Just don't go expecting overt mentions of God. I've seen this complaint on her books several times, so we're not the only ones who've noticed. But that has never taken away anything from my enjoyment of her stories! :)

    1. Kara, I kind of forgot to mention this in my review of Dear Mr. Knightley, but I did think it had a more natural blend of faith and fiction than her later two. I'll be interested to see what she does with her next book. Barnes & Noble had them shelved with Christian Fiction, which kind of makes me want more from them, if that makes sense.


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