Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Author
After reading any thoroughly delighting in Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits, the first book in the Jane Austen Takes the South series by Mary Jane Hathaway, I knew her inspired retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma would combine elements of Jane Austen, southern cooking and living, and an inspiring, faith-filled message. As a transplant from New York, I dearly love seeing Jane Austen’s world and characters melded with the beauties and traditions of the south, the two worlds certainly do have a lot in common! In this inspired retelling we see the story of two dear friends, who against their will fall in love with each other, but because of fear, misapprehension, and misconstrued feelings hesitate to pursue a deeper relationship with each other.
Similar to Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits, this contemporary romance draws from the characters and events in Jane Austen’s, Emma. It isn’t a carbon-copy that updates each character and translates each event to our modern world. While there are characters similar to Emma, Knightley, Harriet, Jane Fairfax, Frank Churchill, and Mr. Woodhouse, readers will find some of the other beloved inhabitants of Highbury to be missing. In addition, some story-lines travel distinctly different paths.
Without a doubt, Brooks Elliott (Mr. Knightley) was what I loved most about this story. Talk about your southern gentlemen! Brooks is the epitome of a southern gentleman – well-mannered, considerate, protective, and principled. I loved how much time we spent with Brooks! He is a man who feels things deeply, and seeing him suppress his feelings for Caroline (Emma) and suffer pain because he believes her affections lie elsewhere made my heart melt again and again. Moreover, I loved that he was a journalist professor, dog-lover, and Civil War reenactor. Add to the fact that he has hang-ups about relationships and is scarred by his parent’s bitterly unhappy marriage, made him a well-rounded, developed, and interesting character. *sigh* (The cravat tying scene and their dance…you are forewarned readers!)
While I felt all admiration and affection for Brooks, I’m sad to say I can’t say the same for Caroline (and it is not for the reason you think!) I know Emma (Caroline) is supposed to be a heroine that readers don’t “much like.” But I’ve always liked her, she is one of Jane Austen’s most flawed heroines, but goes through one of the biggest transformations. In this story, Caroline isn’t so flawed, she has some misguided notions formed from her own narrow and ignorant perspective of the world, but nothing equal to the flaws of Emma Woodhouse. And while having less flaws may be a good thing, it left Caroline, as a character, feeling a little bit flat. I know she left her job and moved back home to take care of her mother (who seemed to keep to herself all day long) and it may be a little unfair to say this, but she felt like a character of very little action and drive.
Nonetheless, I still found much to enjoy in this tale…did I mention Brooks? (Oh yes…I did.) Other lovely aspects of the story include southern garden parties, Civil War reenactments, and of all surprises, a Jane Austen inspired Regency ball! The side story-lines of grieving and depressed spouses and a scheming antique dealer were interesting additions, but could have used a bit more page time, especially at the end. If you are fond of southern gentleman and enjoy stories about friends falling in love, I recommend you give Emma, Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs a try! Also, check out the other books in the Jane Austen Takes the South Series – Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits and Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornbread!