I hated it.
I hate-read every page of that book, the slow burn of Regency society wearing on me like a cheap gingham. Little did I know that Sense and Sensibility would start my long love affair with all things Austen in the future. After retiring Sense and Sensibility (may its pages forever gather dust on the shelf), I somehow stumbled into the rest of the Austen canon and found it delightful. Moral of the story, friends don’t let friends start their Jane Austen conversion with the Dashwood sisters.
That being said, Jane of Austin, a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility is nothing but pure, palate-cleansing refreshment. This book was exactly what I needed to re-approach the original after all these years.
Jane of Austin follows the Woodward sisters, a trio of smart, savvy, modern women rebuilding their lives after their father’s financial ruin (embezzlement) and subsequent abandonment (flight to the Caymans). The sisters start a tea shop with elder sisters Jane and Celia at the helm. After they are forced out of their location in the Bay Area, they relocate to Austin, Texas to stay with family.
Along the way, Jane gets romanced and jilted by a handsome musician while Celia tries to mend her heart after abandoning a steady relationship in California. Parallel to Jane’s story, a wounded war veteran, Callum Beckett, rebuilds his life after returning from active duty and gradually falls in love with Jane.
The story is a perfect translation of the Sense and Sensibility plot in modern day. It’s quite difficult to explain a ‘jilting scoundrel’ in modern terms and make it feel authentic, but Hillary Manton Lodge does it beautifully. Old-timey financial ruin? How about embezzlement? Social scandal? Try being the equivalent of Bernie Madoff’s daughter. A modern day scoundrel? He leaves you pregnant in Mexico without a passport, of course!
The book alternates perspectives between Jane and Callum to tell their romance, with a secondary focus on the relationships between the two elder sisters struggling to keep their business afloat. Each chapter ends with a recipe referenced earlier in the plot, which is a cute touch to a fun, summer read.
At times, I wish the book focused less on Jane’s romantic interests and more on the interpersonal relationships between the sisters. Celia and Jane’s relationship was strained throughout most of the book, and I could have used more establishing shots of sisterly affection and silliness before things turned frosty. The social satire angle isn’t played as heavily in the update as it is in the original Austen, but that’s easily forgiven. What’s not as easily forgiven is the repetitive opening quotes about Texas and tea that precede every chapter. I get it. They’re both the bees’ knees.
Another thing: I love love love tea and even I found all of Jane’s references and interactions with it a little tiring. It felt somehow inauthentic, like someone researched the details of a tea maker’s trade but regaled me book-report style with what they learned instead of conveying experiences and passion authentically to the reader.
Other than those minor detractions, Jane of Austin is a brilliant update on Sense and Sensibility, and I highly recommend it for any Austen or budding-Austen fans! So snuggle up with a cozy cup of chamomile and check out this easy, romantic read!