BOOK DESCRIPTION: A down on her luck woman goes on an Austen-inspired journey of self-discovery in Jones's middling debut. After Lily Berry loses her mother, gets dumped by her boyfriend, and is fired, she finds in her passion for all things Jane Austen (Jane, indeed, is Lily's imaginary friend) an escape route: she travels to England to participate in a Jane Austen re-enacting festival. Full of enthusiasm—but not acting talent—Lily is not embraced by many of the Janeites, but this doesn't prevent her from meeting a charismatic actor, contending with an impossible roommate, and struggling with dark family secrets, all while trying to find the courage to be the protagonist of her own story. While Jones does a credible job of creating a heroine in transition, Lily's process of self-realization isn't nearly as involving as the subplots, which is quite unfortunate, considering how much time is devoted to sussing out her issues.
I chose Cindy Jones' new novel, My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, due to the Austen connection and the overall storyline. Although Mansfield Park is not my personal favorite of Jane Austen's works I thought the concept sounded like Austenland by Shannon Hale, which I loved reading.
While there were similarities to Ms. Hale's work, in the end My Jane Austen Summer didn't gel for me. Perhaps the initial, and main, problem was that I didn't connect with Lily, the main character of the book. I wanted to and I kept waiting to feel a kinship with her that just didn't come. I felt as though every time I began to make that tenuous connection, the chapter ended.
Likewise, Lily's potential love interest - - her Henry Crawford or Edmund Bertram,depending on how you view it - - seemed a shell of a character that I just couldn't get behind. Much like Lily, even after pages of reading about him, I felt I really didn't know him.
The supporting characters were equally as mystifying to me and other than Omar, I really didn't like them. They appeared selfish, greedy and utterly self-obsessed. None of the characters, Lily included, seem to have genuine and real interactions with others. I didn't feel love or affection, nor did I feel any strong bonds of friendship.
Sadly, the ending of the book felt very much like a letdown for me and I was disappointed with it. I appreciated that Lily had grown and changed for the better but being a Jane Austen themed book, I wanted a clear romantic resolution and My Jane Austen Summer did not provide one.
On the upside, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Literary Festival. The descriptions and actions were so vividly written by Ms. Jones that I could easily and quickly see it in my mind and wish that I was there, either as a participant or a patron. I also enjoyed reading about the daily life at Newton Priors, the hustle and bustle of the Janeites and English country life.
It's obvious from the many chapters devoted to the Literary Festival and Mansfield Park in general that Cindy Jones is a devoted fan of Jane Austen, as well as a talented writer. Ms. Jones' writing is what saves this book, bottom line. Despite the fact the book itself didn't fully work for me, the writing is top notch and Ms. Jones is an excellent writer. For that reason I would not hesitate to read another book by her.
While I can't fully recommend My Jane Austen Summer without reservation to all readers, I won't say it's not worth reading. I was expecting more of the lightness and joy that I had found in the aforementioned Austenland and that I think would have made the book more rewarding for me. As stated, Ms. Jones' writing is superb and perhaps fans of Mansfield Park may appreciate My Jane Austen Summer in a way that I did not.
My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park is available for purchase now at major booksellers, including Amazon. I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.
For information on author Cindy Jones, please visit her website here.
For information on the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), please visit their website here.
Review copy of this book provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for a fair and honest review. In no way did the provision of the book affect the outcome of my review.
This book qualifies toward my JANE AUSTEN IS MY HOMEGIRL READING CHALLENGE.