This book is what I was worried of when I found out these were categorized under clean romance and Christian fiction. It could’ve been A LOT worse, but it was just enough to start to put me off toward the end of the novel. That being said, I know there’s a HUGE market for both clean romance AND Christina fiction, so I can’t really fault it too much because it was just a little too preachy for me at some points. I’ll talk more about this later.
I’m still not sure where to categorize this for my own references. I think they’d be more accurately described as inspired by Austen rather than the traditional fan-fiction/fanfiction. Reay does a great job weaving in the stories and characters from Austen’s works but doesn’t necessarily use them as frameworks or even plot outlines. I’ll read the other’s books in her oeuvre that are Austen/Brontë connected because they’re such quick reads, but I’m not sure I’ll follow her into the future.
What I enjoyed most about this book was Reay’s focus on the main character, Sam Moore. Having the story from her perspective in writing worked a lot better than I felt The Austen Escape did. Sam, and many of the minor characters in this novel, had more depth than the main characters in The Austen Escape. Reay also did a wonderful job writing about kissing and the intimacy experienced in kissing without having to go any further, which I can appreciate,
“I’ve heard of sorts of things about a kiss (melting, firework, music), but no one ever told me it’s a conversation: asking, accepting, deciding, inviting, giving… Questions posed and answered.” (93)
She kept revisiting this and it worked for me. Her descriptions and the callbacks made me smile and feel a little giddy. And then her love of Austen clearly comes through in saying that Barnes and Noble needs it’s own Austen+ section. And she pegged the universality of Austen perfectly, which I’ve noticed more and more as I’ve done my five-year daily Austen journal.
“We wandered a bit more. I confessed my obsession with Jane Austen. We agreed that Barnes and Noble could devote an entire section to Austen’s sequels, prequels, mimics, knock-offs, and add-ons… Last year I got the flu and went through about forty titles: The Darcys Give a Ball, The Watsons and Emma Watsons, The Darcys and the Bingleys, George Knightley’s Diary, Captian Wentworth’s Diary, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Diary, Austenland… I emerged with no aches and pains, but with a stilted language pattern that took a month to purge. My new favorite title is How Jane Austen Ruined My Life. I don’t have the courage to read it, though. I’m afraid to discover she’s ruined mine too.” (101)
“The window dressing my change, but as Austen shows us: human nature remains the same.” (238)
As you can see, I clearly agree with her. I’ve heard of all of them and have even read three of the eight she mentioned, even if the last one isn’t the actual title. What I found interesting is that the third title she mentioned, The Darcys and Bingleys, is almost the exact opposite of Reay’s writing style – I’m not sure if she read their synopsis but it made me laugh when I saw that one knowing that this was clean/christian fiction. Now on to what didn’t work for me. I emphasize for me.
I knew when I read this line that this book was going to be a little more “preachy” than the last book,
“As we headed to bed, Mrs. Muir prayed for me. No one has ever done that before, Sure, the Muirs made references while saying grace during my weekly dinners, but this prayer was only for me. As we got up form the table, she came over and hugged me. She then prayed that I would feel safe and loved forever, and that God would take away my pain and leave strength and compassion. Sometime during the prayer, I felt the professor’s hand rest on my shoulder.”” (149)
I’m not sure if this is because it was one of her earlier books, or if they’re all like this and The Austen Project was a bit of an outlier. This was just the first mention of prayer/religion and this one wasn’t even that bad, but there were a couple of passages that irked me very much because it definitely came across as evangelizing and/or holier-than-though. I’m not saying this is a bad thing and I try to keep my mind open and purposefully read bloggers who don’t have the same views as me, but this was off-putting for me.
My response wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to Reay for knowing about fundraisers and nonprofits, this line made me smile because it’s what I do for a living (at least the research aspect:
“I’ve tried. Once they learn my name, I never get past the development directors. They want my name and my money—and that’s important too, I’m not knocking it—but they don’t want me.” (253)
Recommendation: I’m sure this is wonderful read if you are religious/spiritual. It actually wasn’t too bad of a read if you weren’t, but that depends on how agitated you get with not-subtle religious plugging/evangelizing. I felt Reay had stronger characters in this novel than in the last I read by her, but am still not sure how good of an author Reay is. I’ve got two more of her books on my kindle (Lizzy and Jane and The Brontë Plot) and I’ll probably check out A Portrait of Emily Price later. They’re so quick to read that it’s not like I’ll stew over the religion!
Opening Line: “Dear Sir, It has been a year since I turned down your generous offer.”
Closing Line: “‘Ah…you’re cheating. That was from the movie, my darling Mrs. Darcy.’ ‘Yes, it was.’ This time Sam reached for Alex.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from Dear Mr. Knightley
“That’s not the problem; another reporter could make your topics leap from the page. I see no risk in your writing. You need to stretch so that your soul touches each topic. If you fail to connect, you fail the reader.” (53)
“A lot of things happen below the surface, don’t you think? A jab, a deflection, a hit, then pain—all hidden beneath exquisite manners and an aura of sophistication. There’s a litle of Edmond Dante in all of us, I guess.” (61)
“Through it, I found a new character. Me. She’s bold and fairly feisty, with serious timidity issues at times. Every step she takes forward, she glances back and even retreats. But she’s got courage. I think she’ll make it. I don’t know when she’ll be free to run—figuratively, that is. Physically she runs plenty, and that’s where she gets her courage. I hope to like this new character.” (151)
“Now I feel sick. There’s a reason I don’t eat sweets. No willpower. I watched some Downton Abbey episodes and ate the entire package [of Oreos]—loving every bite.” (221)
“But he sat back in his chair, and I could tell he drifted in time. Maybe all good writers do that: they don’t remember, they see. Alex can weave a story or describe a scene so distinctly that you feel you’re there. He went back and I followed.” (256)