Tag Archives: Katherine Reay

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.

Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre(s): Literary, Romance
Published: 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley has found a place among my favorite books. I was swept away by the characters and the emotions, and simply had to keep reading to see what might happen next. So much for the errands I intended to get done that day….

Here’s what it’s about (from publisher Thomas Nelson):

Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger.

Growing up orphaned and alone, Sam found her best friends in the works of Austen, Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. The problem is that she now relates to others more comfortably as Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre than as herself.

Sometimes we lose ourselves in the things we care about most.

But life for this twenty-three-year-old is about to get stranger than fiction, when an anonymous benefactor (calling himself “Mr. Knightley”) offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam’s program and peers force her to confront her past, she finds safety in her increasingly personal letters to Mr. Knightley. And when Sam meets eligible, best-selling novelist Alex Powell, those letters unfold a story of love and literature that feels as if it’s pulled from her favorite books. But when secrets come to light, Sam is – once again – made painfully aware of how easily trust can be broken.

Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.

And here’s why I loved it:

As I’m writing this review several days after reading the book, the characters are still with me, vivid and alive like cherished friends. And I’m tempted to dive right back into the book and read it again.  In fact, I already have read a few of my favorite scenes a second (and third) time.  The emotional resonance of those scenes is truly powerful.  I feel for the characters, their vulnerabilities and fears, and I want to see them find love, acceptance, and happiness.  Sam desperately wants to experience “normal” and I want that for her too.  It’s what drives her to grow and change and to confront her fears.

The format of the book is unusual in that it consists almost entirely of the letters Sam writes to her benefactor, Mr. Knightley.  Those letters are detailed accounts of the things that matter in her life, told in first person narrative format.  At times, it was easy to get swept up in the action, description, and dialogue Sam records, and forget that I was reading a letter.  And yet, the really great thing about the use of letters was getting to see Sam’s perspective on events more or less as they were happening rather than her perspective looking back from the conclusion of the story.  It gives a sense of immediacy, and allows the reader to see how her thinking changes as the story progresses.

The faith element in this story shows up in the subtle influences of Christian characters Sam encounters who love and accept her, and show her a reason for hope.  Given her fascination for literature, I loved the role her reading of CS Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader played in her growth and development, as well as her changing understanding of Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Framing her newfound understanding within a context of literature really seemed to make sense for her character, and provided a glimpse into the Christian worldview without becoming preachy.  I think this is a story that could be enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

This is a must-read debut novel, particularly if you’re into Jane Austen or romance or literary novels or loveably flawed characters trying to find their place in the world.  Please, do yourself a favor and give this book a try.  And if you enjoy reading it as much as I did, you’ll be on the lookout for Katherine Reay’s next book, Lizzy and Jane, due out in October.

To learn more about author Katherine Reay, visit her Web site at http://www.katherinereay.com/ where you can find links to connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and her blog.

Thank you to publisher Thomas Nelson for providing a complimentary copy for review purposes, via NetGalley.  This is my own honest review.

For more book reviews and other posts of interest to readers of Christian fiction, please subscribe to my blog at http://karencollier.com/.