“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
~ C.S. Lewis
Have you ever gotten to the point in a book where you knew you would stay up all night to finish it? Even though you knew how it would end? And even though you had to get up and work the next morning? That’s what “Jane of Austin – A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility,” by Hillary Manton Lodge, did for me. Could I tell the plot of the story right away? Yes. Could I see what was coming a mile away? Definitely. Did it matter? Not one bit. To me, “Jane of Austin” is the perfect summer read. Light, breezy, predictable and happy. And the subject matter was fun.
Before I get into it the book I have a confession to make. I have never read “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen. And the only reason I am making that bold admission is because “Jane of Austin” is billed as a modern day retelling of “Sense and Sensibility.” So if you have read it – and of course you have – then you will see the plot racing towards you even faster than I did. The Readers Guide at the end indicates “Jane of Austin” features characters and references from other Austen books, a bonus for avid fans.
As you can guess by the title, tea and Texas feature prominently in “Jane of Austin.” Each chapter begins with either a wonderful tea quote (who knew there were so many!) and down-home Texas quotes. And many chapters end with a delicious recipe based on what was discussed in the chapter. Cranberry Vanilla Scones. Shrimp Tacos with Cilantro Crema. Southern Skillet Corn Bread. And the info on tea is just enough to make everything interesting without feeling like a college lecture.
The Woodward Sisters – Jane, Celia and Margot – must leave their beloved San Francisco when the landlord of their tea shop passes away and his snooty daughter-in-law kicks them out for more money. Celia has just broken up with her long-term boyfriend and convinces the other two that they should move to Austin, Texas where their wealthy cousin Ian is happy to give them a place to live. So off they go with all their belongings and Jane’s beloved tea plants. Just outside of Ian’s home, the canopy falls off their truck in a heavy rainstorm and a handsome Texan stops to help. Jane is immediately smitten. I don’t need to tell you what happens next.
Another guest at Ian’s place is Callum Beckett, recently returned from active military duty where he lost a leg during a daring rescue mission. Callum is a big-hearted hero still acclimating to civilian life and his prosthetic. He meets the sisters and with one look at Jane, is immediately smitten. But Jane has already gotten together with the too-good-to-be-true hunk and so being an honorable Texan Callum curbs his attraction out of respect for the couple. You can probably see where this is going, too. Meanwhile, Celia pines away for her lost boyfriend Teddy and the sisters search high and low for the new and perfect spot for their tea shop.
There are memorable characters, both funny and annoying. Nina, Ian’s mother-in-law, is a hoot even though she’s a terrible gossip. But besides her and the sisters, the rest of the women all seem to be a bit shallow even though they are very nice. The men are big rambling puppy dogs with nothing but good intentions. Even when one of them ends up being not as great as you originally thought (guess who?), he’s still okay. Not great but not painted as horribly as he could have been based on what he did. The romances were chaste and the banter polite. But I wasn’t looking for 50 Shades of anything, so wasn’t bothered by the soft tone.
I suppose I could find fault in the story’s lack of gravitas and the overuse of the phrase “tucked in” to describe eating. And again, you don’t need a PhD to figure out where the story is headed. But if reading a well-written Hallmark Movie is on your summer book list, then you won’t go wrong picking up “Jane of Austin.” Besides, it will give you something fun to eat and drink through the dog days ahead.
Thank you for your time!
Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.