A Sisters Book Flight

Many of my favorite classics feature sisters. Instead of including the Bennet sisters or the little Ingalls, I’m focusing on modern classics some of which give a distinct nod to the aforementioned sisters.

After choosing this flight and writing these reviews, all I can think of is Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye dressed up in sequins and boas singing, “sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters,” in White Christmas.

I’ll leave you with that image and these four fun reads about sisters.

Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

I’m a Katherine Reay fan! She writes emotionally driven novels with nods to Austen (and other great literature) without being straight up fan fiction. (Though there’s nothing wrong with a Mr. Darcy’s Diary or Lost in Austen, both of which are on my bookshelf next to Reay’s fantastic first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley.) Her novels have originality while maintaining the substance of classics.

In this, her second, novel, Katherine tells Lizzy’s story. Lizzy is a talented chef who has lost her food inspiration. Her sister, Jane, has cancer. Together, they have a messy sibling relationship that keeps getting more complicated. I love how Reay adds modern elements, like the importance of social media hype to new businesses, in a timeless fashion. Lizzy and Jane gives an intimate look at caregiving and what you can learn about others by what they read.

If any of this review piques your interest, check out the interview I did with Katherine on Kindred Grace. We talk about why classics are appealing, what she hopes her novels will be saying years from now, and the challenges of incorporating classics into her own work. 

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

A friend with excellent taste recommended this to me and I can’t resist her suggestions, rabbits, or a New England setting. The Penderwicks is a an absolutely heartwarming  middle grade novel about four motherless sisters who spend a Summer on the grounds of a sprawling estate in Massachusetts with their father. Adventures ensue and I loved every minute. Jeanne Birdsall captures the tipping of child into adolescence so perfectly with the oldest sister, Rosalind. I cannot wait to read these with my kids and to finish the series (four books altogether) myself.

Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility by Hilary Manton Lodge 

Jane Austen created several recognizable sets of sisters, two of which can be found in Sense and Sensibility, her novel about practical Elinor and fanciful Marianne. In Jane of Austin, Lodge has modernized the Dashwood’s story, putting the sisters in a Texas setting as tea shop owners. For me, Jane Austen retellings always have the potential to be too similar to the original (Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope) thus boring, or too convoluted that they miss the appeal of the original (The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine ).

Jane of Austin was the perfect fusion of contemporary and classic with a fun Southern twist. Here are a few things I loved: I’m not always a fan of quotes to start chapters, but these were diverse, contributed to moving the plot along and alternated in subject depending on the narrator of the chapter (clever!). The author is a foodie and she includes a few recipes scattered throughout the novel. They were actually things I’d like to make. Plus, her use of food in the novel is tastefully done, not excessive. Sweetly romantic AND clean. The 10 discussion questions included at the end went beyond plot-points. The cover is lovely.

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

The well-known set of sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is loosely based on the author and her own three sisters. One of those sisters, Abigail May (went by May), is the subject of The Other Alcott. May is plagued by the fictional reputation of Amy March in Louisa’s utterly successful novel and burdened by the underlying competition between herself and her older sister. The novel follows May as she wriggles out from under the control of her sister, trying to establish herself as an artist.

This book was such a pleasure to read. Elise Hopper brings the Alcott family to life. I learned so much about art in the nineteenth century and I loved seeing how May’s journey intersected with familiar painters like Degas and Cassatt.

What is your favorite book about sisters?

A book flight is a curated sampling of reading material that shares some defining quality: theme, setting, time frame, subject matter, etc. Like a beverage flight, the samples are selected with care and presented together intentionally with the purpose of expanding the sampler’s horizons, developing literary discernment, and encouraging reflection and analysis as she considers, compares, and contrasts each book.

Dear Mr. Knightley {a review}

Dear Mr. Knightley


This post contains affiliate links. Read full disclosure here.

Dear English Majors, Literature Lovers, and Janeites,

It’s time to embrace your inner book nerd, to get down with your classics quoting bad self. You need to stop reading whatever you’re reading and pick up Katherine Reay‘s debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley. I conveniently started this book a couple days before my husband got food poisoning. The story was so good, my 8 hour vigil seemed like an afternoon by the pool. (Actually, the all-nighter was rough, but I was so glad to have a page-turner to keep me company while Tim was endlessly vomiting…)

Now, I know the title alone would convince most of you that this book was worth reading – because who among us can pass up a nod to Austen? – but, Dear Mr. Knightley goes beyond your average, albeit enjoyable, Austen sequel. Mrs. Reay cleverly integrates classic literature into a nuanced plot that is both charming and poignant. Plus, she gives a nod to the likes of Lady Susan, Clarissa, and Pamela by writing the story in epistolary form.

The story centers around Sam, a twenty-three year old orphan who is back at Grace House after getting fired from her desk job. When an anonymous benefactor offers to fund her continued education, Sam reluctantly applies to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. There’s a catch: on top of her doubts about the program, she must write regular letters to the mysterious donor who chooses to be addressed as Mr. Knightley. A unique relationship develops as Sam begins to sort through her painful past in the one-sided letters.

If Sam’s habit of quoting Dumas, Austen, and the Brontë sisters doesn’t engross you, the cast of supporting characters will keep you turning pages. The enigmatic writer, the sweet professor and his wife, and the brooding youth bring engaging complexity to Sam’s journey.

Veins of social justice, faith, and romance add to the literature steeped narrative. I learned more about the foster system, the importance of genuine relationships, and the process of forgiveness. I also appreciated the unexpected plot resolution and can’t wait for Mrs. Reay’s next book.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a rich and readable story with subtle spiritual themes. It is sure to get you busting out your college English syllabus and dropping your favorite Austen quips in everyday conversation. Even if you don’t catch all the literature references, you will thoroughly enjoy this novel.



(a fellow English major, literature lover, and Janeite)

P.S. Don’t miss the questions at the back to discuss with your bookish friends.

P.P.S. Any book that mentions both Jane Austen and Fletch is a winner.


Primitive Pleasures {May}

MayOne of the very best things about this May is having a mini family reunion this weekend to celebrate the marriage of my cousin. Since not everyone gets to enjoy such a fun gathering, here are some other good things trolled from the interwebs this month.


People who chronically multitask have lost the ability to focus on one thing – and they’re actually terrible at mutlitasking…. Interesting article on NPR (man I love public radio) about the myth of multitasking.

When -est should be -er and how that gives us the freedom to live simply.


I’m a book list junkie. Relevant Magazine has a great list of 10 books everyone should read by 25-ish. I think one of them might be our first book club book. Have you read any of them?

I love Heather’s idea to reinvent what classifies as classic literature for her 25 in 25 list.

Michael Hyatt’s podcast about how to read non-fiction was inspiring.


A New Kind of Sexy is honest and we need more of that when talking about marriage.

So we fought for it. We stumbled on redemption in the unlikely sexy acts of taking out the smelly-diaper trash, going to marriage counseling, and texting each other apologies for misspoken harsh words.

Beth of Red and Honey

And more honest reflection from Tyler Ward with 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married.


I’ve been there – wanting someone to fully understand why I left my heart overseas…

Because I’m a sucker for articles about the twenty-something stage of life – here’s a good one by Anne Bogel.

Hysterical iMessage version of Chapter 5 in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. 

I LOVE McGriddles. Can’t wait to try these.

Worst Case Scenario

We have consulted physician after physician in vain, till we are quite convinced that they can do nothing for us and that we must trust to our own knowledge of our own wretched constitutions for any relief.

{Diana Parker in Sanditon, by Jane Austen}

Jane Austen gave me my first look in to the mind of a hypochondriac.  I was amused by the Parker family and their ailing constitutions, on which they blamed just about everything.  It wasn’t until I began to recognize some of their behavior in myself that I gave their condition more than a laugh.

I may not be a Susan or Diana Parker, but I do tend toward medical anxiety.  My aches and pains speak loudly and they generally shout the worst case scenario.  Migraine?  I must have a brain tumor.  Chest hurts? Probably early signs of cardiac arrest, regardless of the five minutes I spent on the rowing machine yesterday.

The Unresolved

I’m in the throws of waiting on test results for symptoms that could be serious or could be absolutely nothing.  Having unresolved health issues is giving my anxiety levels a run for their money.  Some days I am confident that my symptoms are a product of stress and other days I’m sure they are life threatening. (Laughing is acceptable here.  I laugh at myself, too.  But if you’re a medically anxious person, you know that I’m totally serious about my train of thought no matter how ridiculous it sounds).

For whatever reason, God broke through my medically wound-up heart with this round of health anxiety.  He’s shown me the path to take and this time, I’m choosing to take it.

Live Like You Were Dying

I don’t really like the ubiquitous platitude, “live like you were dying”.  It just seems pithy, like a truth, but twisted.  The fact is, we all are in the process of dying, just, for some, it’s not as imminent.

However, internalizing the reality of death from life on Earth does help keep priorities straight.

Even though I’m probably exaggerating my near death state in my head, being forced to contemplate what really matters in light of how fragile this life is has been a good dose of reality and perspective.  I don’t like to think of the time I’ve wasted hating winter, feeling fugly (fat + ugly, don’t we all have those days…) or dwelling on any number of other unimportant things that can suck the joy out of life.

My hope isn’t in the here and now, but I marvel at the good things God has abundantly given us to enjoy while we are here.  Should I be distracted by the negatives and not enjoy the bounty and good set before me?

What a direct slap in the face to God if I let past relationships inhibit loving my husband, and receiving his love fully; to let winter weather stop me from enjoying the natural beauty of Northern Idaho; to let worldly beauty standards shape the way I think about and treat my body.

I believe the earthly pleasures found in love, community, and nature are but shadows of the pleasure we will have worshipping God in Heaven and the new Earth; but, the potential of losing these pleasures, however slim, makes me realize how easily I spurn them under selfish pretenses.

What does that say to the God who so lovingly provided them? How does that effect my relationships?

If medical anxiety is what it takes for me to not sweat the small stuff, then I guess, I’m more like the Parkers than I thought.


Missional Women

What Jane Austen Taught Me About Community

This.  This is one of the multitudinous reasons why I love my husband.  Tim is kicking off January’s Community series with a post involving Jane Austen.  I’m so proud!

Community Series

What Jane Austen Taught Me About Community

Little did I know that when I started to delve into the world of Jane Austen as part of a Christmas present for my wife, I was going to run in to an important theological concept, one that is at the cornerstone of human relationships with God and others.  In the movie Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford tries to woo Fanny Price using this profound truth: “There is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved.”

This profound statement rings true in fictional stories of far off lands and in the hearts and minds of every individual who ever lived.  Humans have an instinctive desire to love and be loved, to know and be known – to be in community.  And this stems back to, well, before Adam and Eve.


It starts with who God is.  We worship a God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we worship a God who is in community.  And humans were created in the image of God – in community.

Genesis 1:26 states, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (NASB).

Through most of human history, many thought that being created in the image of God meant that we looked like God; that this referred to some physical quality.  However, within the last few centuries, theologians have found that being created in the image of God most likely refers to the relational aspect of our beings: our capacity to be in relationship with God and with others.

Consider Jesus’ response to the lawyer when he asked about the greatest commandment of the Law:

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV).

We are called to love and community because our identity is tied up within our need for relationship.  Therefore, right from the beginning of time, we were made to be in community: to know others and be known by others, to love and be loved.

We find purpose in community.  We find love in community.  We find God in community.

Jane Austen knew it.  And God created it.


Tim is living the newlywed life in Northern Idaho with his best friend, Emily.  He’s a triathlete, coffee connoisseur, and trumpet/guitar/piano player.  Seeing families connect with each other and with God is his passion.  He currently serves as the Youth Pastor at Coeur d’Alene Bible Church.

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