My Jane Austen Summer, by Cindy Jones

Full disclosure: Cindy Jones is a friend of my mother, who was one of this book’s editors, and has been kind to me also, giving me advice about writing queries, and of course sending up both presentation copies of the novel.  It also arrived with a handy bookmark containing a list of there heroine Lily’s favorite books, including the childhood book collection that gets tragically lost near the beginning(though I would think she was too old to have read the Harry Potter books as a child, but never mind; the novel’s not given an exact date anyway).

As can be imagined just from the title, this book is a tribute to Jane Austen, though one done with eyes open, the heroine doesn’t think much of those who sentimentalize Austen, even as she herself has a self-serving image of the authoress of which she eventually lets go.  Mansfield Park and its long suffering heroine Fanny Price are especially paid attention to, which is nice, because Fanny is so ill-treated by half the fanbase.  Though it does mean the book works much better if you’ve read Austen, and especially Mansfield Park(there’s a summary of said novel at the beginning, but unfortunately it’s not an accurate one).

But not just of Austen, of literature in general, with other famous works alluded to through the novel.  Also of writing and creativity; the plot involves Lily attending a summer-long Mansfield Park-themed literature festival, where she gets involved in amateur theatricals much of her own devising(and occasionally goes off script), and serves as muse to the would-be priest turned budding author she falls in love with.  Her most defining characteristic is her love of literature; her overindulgence in its ideals have led to her difficult situation in the beginning, and her love of it helps get her a good ending.  The ideal reader for this novel is definitely a bookworm, one who appreciates secret upper rooms in old houses with green cushions, and sometimes feels close to an author who’s been dead for centuries.  Oh, and can appreciate the value of vampires when they’re done well, even if the current trend induces eye-rolling.

Even those who aren’t quite so immersed in their books can appreciate the book’s various subplots, mostly involving the mess of Lily’s personal life, and her feeling of the world having no place for her, and of her and the others who love the literary festival struggling not to see it shut down are things that speak very strongly in our current time.  They also create a strong feeling of suspense; at one point I had such trouble putting the book down I risked running late to my Latin class.  At points it seems a little too optimistic that Lily has such successes as she does at the festival, but that’s a disbelief suspended easily enough.  And the ending is a very modern take on the happy ending, one that leaves you very satisfied.

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