Some of Jane Austen's most beloved characters are sisters. Jane and Elizabeth Bennett. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. So in her latest book, Lizzy and Jane, Katherine Reay pays homage to the great author with a story of two sisters. Even though they are named after the famously close and loving Bennett sisters, Lizzy and Jane couldn't be more different than their fictional counterparts. Lizzy lives in New York City, and is the chef of a successful restaurant there. Jane lives all the way across the country in Seattle with her husband and two children. Although they were close as children, they grew apart after their mother died of cancer. Now it's been fifteen years since their mother died, and it's Jane who has cancer. Lizzy has her own struggles, both internal and external, but decides to take a vacation and go west to help out her sister for a few weeks, and also try to sort out her own problems. While she's there the two sisters fight, argue, laugh, cry and discover so much more about each other and themselves than they ever thought possible.
Lizzy realizes that the one thing she has to offer is food, so she gives it--to her sister, to her new friend, Nick and his son, to her niece and nephew and to other cancer patients that she meets along the way. Her life has revolved around food for so long, but she has forgotten the magic and joy that it used to bring to her. As she remembers her favorite books from childhood, Persuasion, Emma and Pride and Prejudice, she begins to find ways to incorporate people's favorite books into what she cooks for them. As a whole new world opens up to Lizzy, she'll have to decide if she wants to go back to her old, predictable, lonely life, or if she'll embrace something totally new and maybe a little scary.
I loved this book for so many reasons. First of all, I loved the food! Katherine does such a great job of describing food and flavors that I almost felt as if I could taste them while reading. Every meal was like an adventure and I was excited for every one, just to know what Lizzy would cook next. Secondly, I love the relationship between the sisters. They loved each other, but had so many differences, miscommunications and bad history between them that they had a hard time showing it. I loved how they found a relationship again, and I loved that food was such a contributing factor. Third, I loved how Katherine showed the battle that cancer patients and their families go through. She showed not only the emotions that Jane experienced, but also Lizzy and their dad, and well as Jane's husband and children. Fourth, I loved the romance between Nick and Lizzy--how it happened without either of them really wanting it. Their love story was complicated, but sweet.
When I read Katherine Reay's first book, Dear Mr. Knightly, I thought it was going to be a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Emma. It was not that at all. It was a just novel with many Austen references. For some reason, though, I forgot that when I started reading Lizzy and Jane and kept looking for characters similar to Austen's. It took me a while to remember that's not what Katherine's books are about. They are just about people who love books, and in this case food. The whole story centers on books and food. While this book didn't have as much suspense as the first one, I loved it just as much, and maybe more. I loved the characters and the settings. This author is obviously great at researching her topics. Her two books tell different stories, but each has the same message about opening ourselves up to new people, experiences and love. I can't wait to read more of her work. Every Jane Austen lover, sister and foodie should read this book. It's a beautiful story that made me laugh, cry and love my sister a little more.
I was given an advance copy of this book in exchange for my review.