Jane of Austin – A Review

In her newest novel, Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge puts a modern spin on Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Woodward’s life has been turned upside down in years past. Her mother was tragically killed in a car accident, and her father’s name has been defiled in the midst of an embezzlement scandal. Due to these familial problems, Jane and her older sister, Celia, have gained guardianship of their younger sister, Margot, and are running a vintage tea salon in San Francisco to support themselves. But an unexpected series of forces them to start life over. So, armed with her tea plants and a long list of playlists, Jane and her sisters leave the Bay area for Austin, Texas.

In Austin, Jane and her sisters move in the casita that belongs to their cousin Ian and his wife Mariah. While staying here, the girls meet ex-Marine Captain Callum Beckett, Ian’s old friend who has recently been discharged after losing a leg during a mission.  Jane, however, seems to overlook Beckett’s quiet strength, however, as her attentions are split among searching for a new location for the tea salon, trying out new scone recipes, and falling for the handsome Sean Willis, a charming rock musician. Jane finds her feelings for Sean are straining her relationship with Celia. Her older sister warns her not to get too close too fast, but how can Jane resist her knight-in-a-shining-Stetson?

This was a really fun read. I particularly enjoyed the characters of Jane and Celia. Jane is girly, but not frivolous. She loves good tea so much that she always carries loose leaf tea in her purse. Her spunky, yet practical, spirit nicely contrasts Celia’s quiet gentility. I also enjoyed drawing the comparison between the characters and events in the novel and Sense and Sensibility. I felt like I was like solving a mystery as I realized that such-and-such a character in Jane of Austin was really so-and-so from Sense and Sensibility. Another element I particularly enjoyed about this book is its symbiotic relationship to tea drinking. In order to enjoy this book even more, you must have an ample supply of tea at the ready, as I delightfully discovered. And, if you’re any good with the oven, you can use the recipes featured in this book to whip out some of the treats the characters enjoy in the novel.

Although I enjoyed this book a lot, I have to say it resembles a Hallmark Romance movie. That being said, the plot is a tad bit cheesy at time. I had a hard time envisioning a hardened marine captain admitting in casual conversation with an old crony that he may or may not be in love with a girl he hardly knows. When explaining these kinds of cheesy instances to my sister, we both found ourselves rolling in laughter. (We would not be enjoyable companions for a Hallmark movie marathon. We both crack up at the first sign of overtly dramatized rom-coms.)

Jane of Austin is now available for purchase in paperback or eBook versions through WaterBrook Publishers as well as Amazon. For more information about the book or the author, visit Hillary Manton Lodge’s web site.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

Windfall: A Review

Windfall

Photo from Amazon.com

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith is one young adult novel I will not be recommending to you, my readers. Before I explain why, though, I’d like to give you a brief run-down of what the book is about.

Alice is an orphan. Her parents died about 1 year apart when she was only 9 years old, so for the past 9 years, she has lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Chicago. During these years, she has spent many happy hours with her cousin (Leo) and their mutual friend, Teddy. Gradually, Alice has fallen in love with Teddy – the caring, happy-go-lucky, laid-back guy she jokingly calls Ted E. Bear.

For Teddy’s 18th birthday, Alice purchases him a coming-of-age gift – a lottery ticket. But not just any lottery ticket. The winning lottery ticket.

And suddenly Teddy’s (and Alice’s) life changes.

Since Teddy’s dad left him and his mom when Teddy was a child, he has lived in humble circumstances. So the $141.3 million lottery win opens endless opportunities. Unfortunately, these opportunities start to go to Teddy’s head. He’s no longer the caring, happy-go-lucky guy Alice knew. And now, she’s afraid he’ll never return the romantic love she has for him.

The book itself is typical of the YA genre. Fairly cheesy by my standards, but I can see where teenage girls would lap up this frustrated love story. So why am I giving this book a negative review?

I generally do a little background checking on the author of books I choose to review before I request the book for review. I found one of Jennifer E. Smith’s books for sale on Christian Book Distributors, so I thought Windfall would be a “clean” read. I was, however, very disappointed by the overt homosexual themes in this book. Leo – Alice’s cousin – has a boyfriend, Max, who attends college in Michigan. Leo is torn between pursuing his dream at the Art Institute of Chicago or going to college with Max.

I tried to ignore this in the beginning of the book, hoping it would just be a background “fact.” But as the story progresses, Leo’s relationship with Max gains more importance. He plans to visit him during spring break, and the conversation between Alice and him unquestionably exposes the immorality of this relationship:

[Leo to Alice]: “I still can’t believe my parents are letting me -”

[Alice to Leo] “Spend the whole spring break alone with your college boyfriend?…I can. They love Max. And they trust you.” (138)

By Leo’s plain proclamation on page 175 (“I love him”), I was done.

It’s not so much that this book features homosexuality. I would be OK if homosexual relationships were portrayed as sinful. But they are not only recognized as OK, but they are also given equivalent legitimacy with straight relationships.

I ordered this book with the intention of putting it in my classroom library (I’m a middle school education major). However, as a Christian, I feel responsible for the type of literature I endorse in my classroom. For this reason, I cannot endorse books, like Windfall,  that portray sin as “good.” With this in mind, I will not be recommending this book to anyone.

And this book will not be going into my library stash.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my  honest opinion as represented in this review.

 

English Lessons: A Review

What is it like to go from a Bible-Belt Texas home, where your father is a local pastor and world-renowned Christian author, to a historical, yet predominantly atheist, English town? Scary? Exciting? A little bit of both?

In Andrea Lucado’s first book, English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up, Andrea gives readers a glimpse into her time as a student studying English Literature in Oxford, England. In the 221-page memoir, she shares the challenges faced and conquered, the lessons learned, and the person she became while living in Oxford. This is a story of doubt, questions, loneliness, identity, and confusion penetrated by heavenly answers, comfort, and strength.

Andrea Lucado grew up with church as her life. Could you expect any less from the daughter of Max Lucado? Andrea’s life in her Texas hometown was centered around the Christian faith. She attended a Christian school. She went to church camp every summer. All of her friends went to church. So, when Andrea moved to Oxford for a study-abroad graduate program, the cultural barrier was only part of her problem. Andrea felt alone in her faith in England. What is more, this loneliness and constant bombardment by a secular, atheistic culture left her questioning her faith. Yet, in the midst of her questioning, Andrea found strength in God.

Although this memoir chronicles the serious issue of Christian identity in a lost world, the book is not without its light side. Andrea also details her trip’s some amusing perks. In the book’s 14 chapters, she discusses

  • Suffering caffeine withdrawal symptoms while fasting coffee for Lent (“In Oxford I resolved that if I could make it in life without coffee for forty days, I could do anything.” -Page 85)
  • Having one, only ONE, battery stolen out of her bicycle headlight
  • Meeting an Austrian-Korean soulmate
  • Surviving in an English cottage with no microwave
  • Experiencing a Thames River moment or two
  • Arguing with a statue of Christian martyrs
  • Visiting a variety of movie-worthy British pubs

Andrea’s story is a testimony of God’s faithfulness in the midst of doubts and weaknesses. Her coming-of-age story is not your typical self-reliance, be-yourself mantra we find in society today. Rather, it is a story of Christian identity, of finding faith beneath the doubt, of facing fears and overcoming them in the grace of our Savior.

Pros:

  • Illustrations – I have to admit, one of my absolute favorite things about this book are the illustrations. The cover of this book immediately led me to anticipate great things inside. The black and white, watercolor-esque headings of each chapter are distinctly British, yet feminine and modern. Illustrator Hannah George’s contributions to this book add a new dimension to the memoir.
  • Use of Metaphors – From bicycle front lights to field crickets, Andrea utilizes a variety of metaphors to connect more strongly with her readers.
  • Writer’s Humor – Although this isn’t a comedic memoir, the reader gets a nice taste of Andrea’s youthful humor. Not too much for the seriousness of the memoir, but enough to bring a smile to your face.
  • CS. Lewis References – Can you really write a Christian memoir about studying at Oxford and not mention him? Bonus points in my book for bringing one of my favorite authors in on the action!

Cons:

  • Imagery – Although imagery is employed, I would have liked to have been able to visualize Oxford a little bit better through the descriptions written in the book. I think the book’s cover and the blurb on the back had me setting my hopes a little too high in this department, so I was a tad disappointed that I couldn’t quite get a full “mind’s eye view” of Oxford. Imagery is definitely used in the book, just not as much as I would have liked.

English Lessons is set to release on May 2nd in both hardcover and e-book editions. For more information, visit Waterbrook Multnomah or Amazon. For more information on Andrea Lucado and to get some behind the scenes coverage of the book, visit her blog.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

Catching Up

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I thought I’d do a brief “catch up” on some of the things I’ve been up to.

Picnic Bread

Baking bread in the bread machine is always fun. Last week, I tried out a lovely recipe for Honey Wheat bread (not pictured), and the loaf turned out so tall and brown, like a masterpiece. Again, I can’t take credit for it…the machine did all the work.

 

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The only way to make homemade bread even better is to eat it with homemade butter…and in the great outdoors. I tried my hand at “churning” butter (i.e. putting cream in a mason jar and shaking the heck out of it). The results were pretty standard. I mean, how fancy can butter get by itself? But eating it with homemade bread on a breakfast picnic was super fun.

 

Bible Cover

A few weeks ago, I noticed my Bible cover was getting a little banged up. So, I decided to turn a piece of patchwork I had done into a “quilted” Bible cover. I used the tutorial written by Amanda at Simply Homemade, highly recommended!

 

Peacock Embroidery In Progress

This peacock is just a random design I found online. I traced it onto my fabric and am doing the outline in a stem stitch with royal blue thread. I’m thinking about adding in the Chinese characters for peacock next to the bird’s head to give it a more sophisticated look. Any thoughts?

 

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And another trip to the library yielded another stack of pretty books. I haven’t been in much of a reading mood for the last week or so, hence the stack of coffee table literature. Pictures are worth 1000 words, they say, so I’ll tell myself I’m “reading” the equivalent of War and Peace. 🙂

Happy Monday!

 

Curb Appeal

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Remember those herbs I planted several weeks ago? They are still alive, amazingly. The basil came up pretty fast. After thinning it out, I ended up with five plants. Four of them went into the bed by the curb, along with some Vinca flowers for decoration. A little bit of curb appeal, and bonus points for edibility (the basil, that is)!

Basil seedling.jpg

The thyme has also come up nicely. I’ve wound up with four plants and have gone ahead and transplanted them into a larger pot along with the extra basil seedling.

The parsley is doing pretty well. I might give it a few more days before transplanting. Ditto for oregano.

The rosemary…

I hold onto hope.

I actually thought it wasn’t going to come up at all. All of the other seeds had sprouted very quickly, but the rosemary pot was still just dirt. Then, I went to water them one morning and saw one tender shoot unfolding from the soil.

I didn’t know I could get that excited over a plant. The neighbors must think I’m crazy.

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I am really enjoying the little bit of gardening I have done this year. It’s really satisfying to see the fruits of your labor, literally, growing before your eyes. And, it’s a miracle that these plants have done so well. If they have survived me this far, I think everything is going to be OK.

 

Sparrows

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Last summer, I saw a documentary that detailed the lifestyle of individuals living under the oppression of North Korea’s communist regime. Amidst the information regarding smuggled USB drives, phony department stores, and communist propaganda, one segment of the film really stuck with me. I’ve been thinking about it for almost an entire year.

Watching the film on my computer, I saw the innocent faces of North Korea’s forgotten children. They are alone, dirty, hungry, scared. These are the street children of North Korea.

Many of them have been abandoned. They have no conception of what love really means. And what’s most heartbreaking is that they have no idea that there is Someone who loves them more than they can imagine and who sacrificed Himself to draw them unto Him.

This has really been weighing on my heart the last week or so. North Korea is the most isolated country in the world, and the fact that these children – who are at the bottom of the pecking order of who’s important in NK – are starving physically, emotionally, and spiritually…it’s heartbreaking. And it leads me to ask myself the question:

“What can I do?”

I can’t just hop a flight to Pyongyang and set up an orphanage next to the Juche Tower. So what can I, a gal in the country most hated by North Koreans, do to help these precious children?

I can pray. And that’s what I’ve been doing.

But do you ever get the feeling that sometimes “just praying” isn’t enough?

I was reading Blaine Harden’s book, Escape from Camp 13, this week. The book chronicles the life of Shin, a North Korean man born in a NK gulag. He escaped the camp when he was in his early 20s and defected to South Korea. He now travels in the US and South Korea, giving speeches to raise awareness for what goes on behind the walls of communist North Korea.

In the book, Harden talks about the street children Shin met while running through North Korea towards China. These children, like the ones in the documentary I saw, were starving and struggling to survive. They banded together to find or steal whatever food they could get. Shin says these children are known as “Wandering Sparrows.”

And that’s when it hit me.

God’s eyes are on the Sparrows.

I may not be able to spoon rice and fish onto plates before these kids. I may not be able to hold them in my arms and whisper that everything is going to be OK. I may not be able to wipe away tears or tell them I love them. But I know the One who can.

I know the One who holds each of these “Wandering Sparrows” in the palms of His hands. I know the one who “loves the little children of the world.” I know the One who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).

My arms can’t extend across the Pacific. My income can only support so many charities. But my prayers are limitless in their reach. God hears me.

And He hears the Sparrows’ cries.