Book Review: Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

Title: Lizzy & Jane
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2014

Book Description (from publisher Thomas Nelson):

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

My Thoughts:

I’m happy to report that Lizzy & Jane lives up to the exceedingly high bar set by Katherine Reay’s fantastic debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley.  I must say, I wondered where this author could go after such a unique and wonderfully touching first novel.  After reading her second gem, I’d say she’s solidified her spot among my favorite authors.  More lovely books please?

I really enjoyed the beautiful quotable prose, complete with literary qualities including clever use of metaphors and symbolism.  These elements don’t feel forced or clichéd, but rather fresh and entirely appropriate to the characters and context of the story.  Here’s an example I highlighted while reading:

“I paused in the living room.  The sun’s rays shot over Lake Washington and ignited the room’s beige walls, warming them from ginger to gold.  New York had been cloudy this spring and I’d been cloudy with it, but in this moment all my cloudy spaces felt ablaze with light.” (from Chapter 10)  Beautiful!

Then there’s the heroine’s use of spice combinations to represent people and their characteristics.  I loved the cooking theme throughout, and the way even descriptions of colors and settings came through the lenses of the characters.  For example:

“The Infusion Center was painted a deeper shade of cream – vanilla extract added to milk, with huge plate-glass windows looking out onto the city.” (from Chapter 8)

Just as with Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane incorporates literary references to the novels of Jane Austen and other works of classic literature that carry emotional significance for the main characters.  I must admit I’d never really paid attention to the food references in Jane Austen’s books before, but after reading Lizzy and Jane, I’m sure they’ll be jumping out at me next time I read something of Austen’s and I’ll be reminded of Reay’s Lizzy.

What I loved most about the book was how the characters and their emotions rang so true to real life.  In opening themselves up to others they made themselves vulnerable to greater pain, but finally reaped the benefits of true emotional intimacy.  The gradual changes in the individuals’ behaviors and their relationships also felt more realistic and believable than a single moment of epiphany might have felt.

This book prompted laughter, tears, and yes, I found myself shuddering at the description of a particular injury sustained by one of the characters.  Cancer is a difficult subject, but this author’s treatment of the subject shows a real empathy for what the people going through it as patients and caregivers must face.

As an author, this is a book I want to re-read and learn from.  As a reader, I found this an enjoyable and thought provoking read that I would highly recommend.

Thank you to the publisher Thomas Nelson for providing an advance reader’s copy through Netgalley for review purposes.

This title can be pre-ordered now, and is scheduled to be available beginning October 28th.

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