Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Lizzy and Jane never saw eye to eye. But when illness brings them together, they discover they may be more like Austen’s famous sisters after all.

Lizzy was only a teenager when her mother died of cancer. Shortly after, Lizzy fled from her home, her family, and her cherished nickname. After working tirelessly to hone her gift of creating magic in the kitchen, Elizabeth has climbed the culinary ladder to become the head chef of her own New York restaurant, Feast. But as her magic begins to elude her, Paul, Feast’s financial backer, brings in someone to share her responsibilities and her kitchen. So Elizabeth flees again.

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her gift, Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

As she tends to Jane's needs, Elizabeth's powers begin to return to her, along with the family she left behind so long ago. Then Paul tries to entice her back to New York, and she is faced with a hard decision: stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane, or return to New York and the life she worked so hard to create?

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
Food, family, and relationships are ultimately at the heart of this novel, which shows the often overlooked link between the three subjects. Elizabeth's relationship with her father and sister is not comfortable nor easy, but the occasional rawness of it struck me as being highly realistic. Very real and very hard, yes, but nevertheless I think it's very true to life for some people in the midst of such difficult circumstances.

In addition to the family relationships there is also a romantic thread in the story, though it's not immediately introduced or obvious. I don't want to give any spoilers so I won't name names, but I will say that I liked how the relationship was approached--in spite of Elizabeth's time restraints--and it was quite interesting to watch it bloom.

I really admired the idea that Elizabeth could modify foods and think up flavors that would be palatable for someone with messed-up taste buds. This aspect was very cool and unique, and it felt appropriate considering her family history and profession. I admit that some of the fancy food names and descriptions went over my head--which was sometimes irritating--but they did seem spot-on for the knowledge a chef should have.

Though the novel is published in the Christian fiction genre, the overall religious elements are actually fairly minimal. Elizabeth and a couple other characters are searching, trying to figure out what they believe in the midst of life's struggles, but there isn't really a definitive gospel message. I had the impression their mother may have had faith, but as for Elizabeth and Jane, I'm really not sure. Regardless of all that, the novel is still appropriate for a Christian audience and has a good message.

Overall, the story is extremely well written and I enjoyed it for the most part, though it didn't give me the "wow!" feeling that Dear Mister Knightley (the author's first novel) did. The story is not one that I'd normally pick up--my love for Dear Mister Knightley wouldn't let me pass it by!--but I'm ultimately glad I had the chance to read it as it really is quite good. Even though I didn't always agree with Elizabeth's actions I did want to see a happy ending for her, and the author delivered this quite nicely even while taking a detour that I didn't expect. The author is still firmly on my favorite list, and I'm anxiously awaiting her next release.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Thanks to the publisher (Thomas Nelson) for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.