Category Archives: Book Review

Jane Austen Reviews MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER

 Published on Austen Authors, 11/22/11

My Jane Austen sits in the wicker chair in the corner of my office most days.  She amuses herself listening to my phone conversations, “Getting a lot of work done,” she observes.  Reading email over my shoulder, she comments, “I don’t see a conflict on your calendar next Tuesday,” and swiping books off my TBR pile.  ”People pay money for this?” she snarks, reading to the last page of Madame Bovary nonetheless.

I know she’s read my book, My Jane Austen Summer.  And she knows I know she’s read it.  Whenever the subject comes up she appears not to notice, either zoning out or becoming deeply engrossed in her shoes, as if she’s taken a vow of silence on the subject of my book.  She waited six months before bothering to offer her thoughts and all she said was, “I read your book.”  I waited for the other shoe to drop but she had no further comment.  I certainly wasn’t going to ask for feedback.  You know what they say, if you have to ask…  She obviously didn’t care for my book so I let it go.

But weeks later the subject came up on a day when one more hit couldn’t possibly matter.  I cast dignity and self-respect to the wind and asked for her feedback.  ”Well…what did you think?”

She considered a moment, opening and closing her fan, and then offered, “I loved the way you talked about her car starting.”

I turned my chair to face her.  “The first sentence of my book?”

“Yes, I loved the way you invoke the car going backwards from the very start.”

“Thanks.”  I waited for more.

“Oh, and there was something else I really loved.”  She looked at the ceiling.  ”What was it?”

“The emotional truth?” I asked.  “The bittersweet ending?”

“No.”

“The original premise?”

“No,” she shook her head.

“The language?”

“No.”  She snapped her fingers, remembering.  “The cover.  I loved the cover.”

“Um, thanks.”  I took a deep breath and straightened papers on my desk.

“But I had a question for you.  And now I’ve forgotten.  Hmm.”  She scratched her head.

I prompted her, “Why did I decide to write a story about a young woman who wants to live in a novel?”

“No,” she shook her head.

“Where did I get the idea for a Jane Austen Literary Festival?”

“No, it wasn’t that.”  She pointed a finger in the air.  “Oh!  I remember what it was.”

“What?”

“I wanted to know how you found your agent.”

I raised an eyebrow in her direction.  “I met her at a writers’ conference.  Why do you ask?”

She assumed an innocent expression.  “I was just curious.”  And then, “Do you think she’s looking for new writers?”

“I don’t know.  Would you like me to say you asked?”

“Oh no, I was just wondering.  For a friend.”

“Right.”

“But you know,” she said, “this has really made me think.”  Her eyes narrowed as if she might actually say something positive and complex about my work.

“Yes?” I said, hoping she’d elaborate.  “My work made you think?”

“About The Help.  You know that book by…”

“Kathryn Stockett.

“Yes!  That one.  Did you not see parallels between The Help and Pride and Prejudice?

“No,” I said, scooting back my chair, preparing to leave the room and the interview.  “I did not see a single parallel between The Help and your book.”

“What about The Help and Emma?”

“None.  Zero.  Zip.  I’m leaving now.”

THE END

Other reviewers have said nice things:  Marie Claire said, Austenish charm dances through each chapter, The Chicago Tribune called the book literary solace, Romantic Times called it a fun, charming read, and the Deseret News called it a literary feast for Austen fans.  Follow Cindy Jones:

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Guest Blogger: My Sister

MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER:  A SEASON IN MANSFIELD PARK by Cindy Jones

A Book Review by her sister, Deborah Sundermann

Spoiler Warning:  This Review Keeps No Secrets

One of my favorite bars in college served their version of a drink called “Strip and Go Naked.”  It was part peach liqueur, part whiskey, part vodka, with a splash of beer on top.  And I was rather fond of it.  It was a little odd, but that’s what I liked about it.  I feel the same way about Lily Berry, the protagonist in Cindy Jones’ debut novel, My Jane Austen Summer:  A Season in Mansfield Park.  Lily is part Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, part Cinderella, part energizer bunny, with a splash of Cher.  She’s a little odd, but that’s what I like about her.

We join her as her world, which has been held together rather tenuously by a small string, is unraveling.  Her reality becomes fiction as her most recent boyfriend expresses his complete dissatisfaction with the relationship she thought was perfectly normal.  It is with some irony that we learn that her heart’s desire has always been to escape reality and live in a novel.  Her dependence on fiction as well as her dangerously low self-esteem are expertly combined in her remark, “If only Austen were still alive and writing, I wouldn’t have to stare at the walls of my bedroom, studying the Braille-like texture under the paint, as if the clues to my failure hid there.”

 She loses her job by misrouting payroll deposits because she was more interested in reading her stack of Jane Austen novels over lunch—a time period that is significantly warped in the land of fiction.  Lily observes,

As my boss explained termination benefits, it occurred to me that books should come with a warning from the surgeon general:  Literature can be dangerous to your mental health and should be indulged in moderation.  Read in excess, fiction may blur the line between fantasy and reality, causing dysfunction in personal and professional relationships.  Readers should refrain while operating heavy machinery or driving automobiles.  Or working in offices.

 Through a fellow reader who may be equally delusional, she gets an opportunity to go to England and participate in a literary festival where Jane Austen books are reenacted for tourists—this summer being Mansfield Park.  Impulsively, she liquidates life as she knew it—a complete failure in her eyes—and prepares to embark on a new adventure.

 As Lily prepares to start fresh, one observation struck me as a sermon in eight words.  “If I hadn’t failed, I’d still be failing.”  This was my first clue that this story is not just a fun summer beach read.  Important lessons about failure and letting go, determination, transformation, and rising from the ashes will be woven into a rich tapestry of classic yearnings and modern characters where nothing is obvious and little can be predicted.  That is not just a story.  That is literature.  But Lily’s quirky character does not allow the book to take itself too seriously.

 Lily realizes, perhaps too late, that she is utterly unprepared for the potential consequences of her rash choice to sell everything and go to England.  Standing in the airport, she envisions, “With one foot in Dallas, the other on a departing plane, I would do the big-time splits or splash into the Atlantic.  And be eaten by sharks.”  It’s the shark part that makes me laugh.  If you don’t get it, you need to lighten up or you might miss the book’s subtle humor throughout. 

 Jones’ writing glistens with saturated details that I especially enjoy when Lily is on the move.  “Ducking into a ladies’ room, I took my place at the end of the line, advancing to the rhythm of flushing toilets and banging Band-Aid-colored doors.”  Who among us has not had this ubiquitous experience, brought alive on the page in one beautifully crafted sentence?  Another series of amazingly vivid images comes through in this:  “I ran, but a family of five blocked my path:  a blond Texas Hair woman holding a map, followed by a man and three rambunctious children, progressing in a tangle of limbs and barks like naughty puppies.”

When she arrives at Literature Live, she learns that she doesn’t exactly have a part in this new fictional reality.  Thus the stage is set for conflict as we cheer Lily on through her adventures with a cast of characters that truly breathe.  I have to say that my favorites are Omar and Bets.  With his even nature and fondness for Lily, he brings a welcome warmth to every scene he inhabits.  As long as he is there, I know that everything will ultimately be okay.  And I still laugh out loud when Magda enters the room, they both flinch, and the diminutive Omar, who was leaning back his chair “fell off his toes.”  Bets provides an unexpected contrast to Lily.  While she has assumed a dark Gothic aura, Bets just sparkles in the story, adding spice to the entire experience.  I challenge any reader to compare and contrast Lily and Bets and not find a common thread.

 This book should be read at least twice so that you don’t miss Jones’ exquisite details, such as “On the opposite wall, floor to ceiling lace curtains dressed the windows like spinsters left over from the Depression.”  Or “He paused after each phrase to allow his words to float down and settle on us like snowflakes.”

 My heart beat with Lily as she leaned forward to soak up every detail about Literature Live like the geekiest, most obsessed Jane Austen fan.  And while Lily is very unlike myself with respect to her relationships with men, I could still identify with her desire to please the faculty of Literature Live, her awkward moments, and her difficult recoveries.

 I have read other reviewers who express one form or another of disapproval of The Scene with Sixby.  It caught me by surprise on my first reading.  But upon second reading, I saw the foreshadowing that led up to it.  That is not to say that it is not disturbing.  I think it is supposed to be disturbing.  It is part of the “rock bottom” that Lily must hit before rising up.  As Lily initiates it, she observes, “Plunging into disaster felt so much better than lame suffering.”  Personally, I have a hard time with that world-view.  I’m a lame sufferer to be sure.  So this scene has become a twist in the story that I want to discuss with friends over a good glass of wine—to ferret out this protagonist’s choices and any number of issues dealing with power, self-image, promiscuity, desperation—the richness of this intentionally wretched scene screams for analysis.  That is the challenge and reward of reading good books.

 When the book nears its end, Lily is in Randolph’s room musing to herself, “Do you crave love or pain and are they the same thing to you?”  The theme has returned to reveal the same question posed by The Scene with Sixby, but it is filtered through a stronger, more self-aware and less self-destructive individual.  It is dense, like a consummate red wine reduction for your filet mignon.  It conveys the heartbreak of every relationship in Lily’s life in one comprehensive, yet concise question.

 What I was least willing to accept in this book, on first reading, was the allure of Willis.  I really had no patience for his deception-by-silence and I was angry that Lily seemed so forgiving of it—as if she deserved no better.  But, again, this made me want to lift out that relationship from the pages and marinate with it in a good Zinfandel.   I wanted to understand it, through the eyes of my friends.  It was this that compelled me to re-read the entire book.  Paying more attention to their interactions and the place in his life where Lily made her entrance, I have to admit that his character was a difficult finesse that, once again, Jones pulled off in quiet understatement.  I get it now.  And I have that much more respect for Lily as she navigated her parting of ways with him.

 I am drawn to books in order to enjoy interesting characters and examine difficult relationships.  My Jane Austen Summer is steeped in both.  Lily Berry may appear at first blush to be rather pathetic.  But she has a belief in herself that even she cannot defeat.  She has a determination that is inspiring.  And her character survives an insanely wild adventure to emerge windblown and exhausted, but happier for it.

 The worst thing about this book is that its fanciful plot and contemporary setting might lull readers into thinking it is just a summer beach read.  It’s so much more.

Deborah Sundermann lives with her family in Corpus Christi, Texas where she practices law and meets occasionally with her wine tasting club.

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Launch Day: Here we go!

My Jane Austen Summer is released as of today.  If you have not yet ordered your copy, you can do so from the links on my website:  www.cindysjones.com  

If you are in Dallas, please come to the launch event:

My Jane Austen Summer Launch Day Event 
Tuesday, March 29 at 7 pm
Border’s Books and Music
5500 Greenville Avenue (facing Lovers Ln.)
214-739-1166
This event is free and open to the public and no reservation is required

Here are links to reviews:

My Jane Austen Summer celebrates publication today with a four-stop blog tour and giveaways on each blog. Visit and leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of the novel and a package of Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea, created by Bingley’s Teas, Ltd.  Each blog will hold a separate drawing, meaning four chances to win. Here’s where we’re celebrating:

 

 

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Husbands Allowed in My Book Club

My Book Club Gathered Around Amy Bourret (center, seated)

My book club includes husbands.  Which means we don’t serve quiche at our meetings or read angsty books by writers like Hemingway or Franzen.  We read gnarly non-fiction every other month and during fiction months we brace ourselves for discussion hijackers who take the first exit possible into business or politics.  Short novels are good.  Novels with a film in current release are better.  Imagine my concern when Amy Bourret, author of Mothers and Other Liars agreed to visit My Book Club.  What was I thinking?   The very suggestion of the nurture/nature debate would send half of our group on a terminal field trip to the beer cooler.  An email went out to all husbands two months prior to her scheduled appearance:  You Must Read This Novel

They all said they would.  

Not only is Amy Bourret a wonderful writer with a compelling book, she was a partner with a national law firm in a previous life.  So while she spoke about character and plot, she also shared information about contracts and sales.  She explained her deal with Target Stores (Amy is a Target Breakout Author).  She answered questions about the ins and outs of working with agents, editors, and St. Martin’s Press.  By the time she got around to nuances between hardcover and trade paper they were eating out of her hand.  One husband said it was the best book club, ever.        

We could ditch the husbands and read whatever we want.  But.  We love them.  And now we have to brace ourselves for next month’s testosterone special: Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward.       

To learn more about Amy Bourret and her debut novel, Mothers and Other Liars, click here.

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My Bodice Ripping Love Affair (with summer reading)

Still Life: Teenager With Book

Summer ended today as the last of my four sons surrendered his Xbox controller, packed up his summer reading files, and entered Middle School peacefully.  Structure, discipline, and progress for all.  But before completely buttoning up starry nights and car trips, I want to confess my summer reading affairs and relive the attribute that made me fall in love each time.   

And then I will move on. 

While adjusting to the freedom of no homework and children who sleep all morning, I had a fling with literature.  The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman was indeed original, perspective-altering, and a teensy bit heartbreaking for an old-fashioned reader like me.  (Italy was great).  Walks With Men by Ann Beattie was edgy for my appetite, but her photo-realistic characters taught me things a writer can use.  Solar by Ian McEwan was way better than the NYTBR led me to expect, the potato chip scene alone was worth the read.              

While children were away at camp, I slipped off to Nagasaki for a week with David Mitchell and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, 800 pages of action and adventure with a Dutch Trading Company official in the year 1799.  This novel was recommended by my aunt who maintains 18 unread books on her Kindle, a good summer reading safety margin in my opinion.  

Husband slept in my reading light while I indulged in romance:  Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian–WWII with a Russian twist, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, a Young Adult writer to watch, and Dracula, My Love by Syrie James, who writes like a native of the 19th century, a book that goes both ways: romance with a Romantic hero.  Which leads me to Young Romantics by Daisy Hay, non-fiction I read for research, but include here because it was just so good.  Keats, Shelley, and Byron’s 1814 summer of love: mad, bad, and dangerous to know.                    

But the dalliance that most often made me sneak away, stay up late, and decline the society of real people was the Stieg Larsson trilogy:  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I fell in love with Sweden, protagonist Mikael Blomkvist, and the gripping story that fulfilled all my summer reading desires.  

Goodbye novels.  We’ll always have the summer of 2010.

(Which books carried you away this summer?  I will be taking confession in the comment section of this blog). 

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