Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs
About This Book
From the bestselling author of Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits comes a new and comical contemporary take on the perennial Jane Austen classic, Emma.
Caroline Ashley is a journalist on the rise at The Washington Post until the sudden death of her father brings her back to Thorny Hollow to care for her mentally fragile mother and their aging antebellum home. The only respite from the eternal rotation of bridge club meetings and garden parties is her longtime friend, Brooks Elliott. A professor of journalism, Brooks is the voice of sanity and reason in the land of pink lemonade and triple layer coconut cakes. But when she meets a fascinating, charismatic young man on the cusp of a brand new industry, she ignores Brooks’ misgivings and throws herself into the project.
Brooks struggles to reconcile his parents’ very bitter marriage with his father’s devastating grief at the recent loss of his wife. Caroline is the only bright spot in the emotional wreckage of his family life. She’s a friend and he’s perfectly happy to keep her safely in that category. Marriage isn’t for men like Brooks and they both know it . . . until a handsome newcomer wins her heart. Brooks discovers Caroline is much more than a friend, and always has been, but is it too late to win her back?
Featuring a colorful cast of southern belles, Civil War re-enactors, and good Christian women with spunk to spare, Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs brings the modern American South to light in a way only a contemporary Jane Austen could have imagined.
With a huge smile—and sigh of relief!—I am thrilled to say this book not only lived up to my hopes and expectations, but exceeded them. The overall writing style and author voice felt much improved in this second book. The balance between dialogue and description was excellent, and the language never felt over the top or too prosaic.
Caroline and Brooks were outstandingly well-written, and very true to their Emma inspirations. It was particularly fun to dive into Brook’s point of view, since the male mind is the one place Jane Austen never let her readers venture, preferring instead to keep her semi-omniscient voice in the heroine’s mind. But here we have an excellent exploration of how and why Brooks’—and through him, Mr. Knightley’s—feelings toward Caroline/Emma change as the story progresses. Emma has never been my favorite Austen novel because Knightley’s profession of love at the end always felt a bit out of the blue; here, however, I got to see Brooks’ awareness of how his relationship with Caroline was changing, and it was so much fun!
I loved the tension of Caroline’s mother being scammed out of the family heirlooms, and was quite emotionally connected to that storyline . . . so I was naturally disappointed when it turned out to be one of the story threads that just didn’t get resolved well enough for my taste.
The southern charm of big old houses and all their quirks, nosy neighbors, social reputations, and social spheres was very well developed. While I am personally not a fan of anything or any place south of the Mason Dixon Line (me + heat + humidity = disastrous combination!), I did feel this story was firmly grounded in its setting.
But the romantic tension was STELLAR! Brooks and Caroline absolutely ignited every page. Once again, I felt the inclusion of the hero’s point of view made this adaptation in many ways superior to Austen’s original. The miscommunication over who likes whom and when was all handled extremely well, and that first kiss? HOLY. COW. I literally shouted with glee when the T-word appeared instead of the usual euphemisms of “deepening” and “angling.”
This book will appeal to women readers who enjoy spicy contemporary romances that still keep the bedroom door closed. While nothing immoral happens, some content may be too suggestive for younger readers. I would happily recommend this book to my non-Christian family and friends, especially those who think all Christian fiction involves bonnets and buggies. This was a delightful, highly entertaining read that is definitely going on my Keeper Shelf.
The story structure and pace felt a little off to me, mainly because some storylines and suspense elements were either dropped altogether or not tied up to my satisfaction. And I would have preferred a longer glimpse of the denouement, how Caroline and Brooks reconcile their relationship with the needs of their ailing parents, how their friends react, etc.—something Austen was always good at, but which was lacking for me here.
As one who likes her Christian fiction on the edgy side, it is a very rare book indeed that makes me say this, but . . . I actually felt the spiritual thread was too subdued in this story. Brooks and Caroline barely acknowledged having any kind of personal relationship with God, let alone seeking His will as they lived out their daily lives. I also could not detect any overarching spiritual theme of the book. It read like a secular novel from first to last, so some inspirational readers will no doubt object to how non-Christian this book appears.
In terms of potentially questionable content, some reference to drinking is made, and someone spikes a punch bowl at a party, causing Caroline to get a bit tipsy. The aforementioned kissing scene does get a little “heavy,” with Brooks and Caroline ending up horizontal on a sofa.
Hold on to your hearts! Mary Jane Hathaway revs up the romance in this modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved Emma, and the result is a sizzling tale of two best friends who discover just how much more they mean to each other. While some plotlines felt a bit unresolved in the end, and the lack of a spiritual message may be a turn-off for some conservative readers, this story is an excellent example of just how fun and passionate Christian fiction can be.
Available July 8, 2014 from Howard Books