Jane Austen Retellings (That Won't Make You Blush!)


Jane Austen's six completed novels have been around for two centuries, enough time for these stories to be endeared to throngs of readers and retold in just about every literary genre you can imagine. There are murder mysteries, bedtime stories, gothic thrillers, and trashy romances, to name only a few. I appreciate an imaginative spin on a beloved plot, but--call me crazy!--I prefer that no blood be drawn, and I like everyone to keep their clothes on. If you're on the same page and you're looking for a classy Austen retelling to throw in your beach bag this summer, read on! Here are my faves:

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!


Series: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman

Author: Pamela Aidan

Setting: Regency England

I read this delightful three-book sequence several years ago, and it has yet to be surpassed by any other Austen retelling in my esteem. In it the tale of Pride and Prejudice is retold from Mr. Darcy's perspective. The first book covers Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet's early days of acquaintance. The second shows what Mr. Darcy is doing--having some wild adventures!--while we don't hear much from him in P&P. The third portrays Darcy and Elizabeth's renewal of friendship and the exciting conclusion of the classic novel. I liked this series so much because it gives the reader an in-depth look into the character development of Mr. Darcy throughout the P&P story--his thoughts, motivation, temptations, and even a peek into his faith journey!


Series: Jane Austen Takes the South

Author: Mary Jane Hathaway

Setting: The Modern-Day South

From this series I read Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs. Who wouldn't want to meet up with Emma and Mr. Knightley--here named Caroline and Brooks--among garden parties, antique shops, and Civil War reenactments? The backdrop was appealing, the Austen-esque romantic tension was ever-present, and the characters were engaging--including a golden retriever with lots of personality and an affection for chili-slaw dogs!


Series: The Amish Classics

Author: Sarah Price

Setting: Modern-Day Amish Communities

I admit I gave this one the side-eye at first, having read so much Amish fiction back in the day that now I'm over it! So I was pleasantly surprised by Second Chances, a retelling of Austen's Persuasion. The author does a great job of educating the reader about the Amish way of life, and her descriptions of the countryside and farm houses were vivid and interesting. I have always loved Persuasion's theme--a heroine who's a natural pleaser learning to think for herself and put her foot down when needed--so it was entertaining to watch this play out in the midst of an Amish community.


Series: The Jane Austen Series

Author: Debra White Smith

Setting: Various Locations in Modern Times

This author has managed to create a retelling of each one of Austen's six novels. I read Central Park, a retelling of Mansfield Park set in New York City. Mansfield Park has never been my favorite work of Austen's, but I had a hard time putting Central Park down! Franny (MP's Fanny) and Ethan (MP's Edmund) belong to a pieced-together family living in a giant brownstone near Central Park. We get a glimpse into the early days of their relationship when they are just children, and then the majority of the book describes the exploits of them and their friends in young adulthood, building up to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.


Book: Jane of Austin

Author: Hillary Manton Lodge

Setting: Modern-Day Austin, Texas

Here we have a standalone novel that I hope will become a series. The story of Sense and Sensibility is retold in contemporary Austin, Texas, complete with a tea shop, a music festival, a chain of barbecue restaurants, and a lake house. Part of the charm of S&S is due to the unlikeliness of its hero (Colonel Brandon) and the deceptive allure of its villain (John Willoughby); that contrast is mirrored in Jane of Austin's Callum Beckett, a washed-up naval captain, and Sean Willis, a smooth-talking musician. This is a sweet love story, fun to watch unfold, and we get the added bonus of some great sister relationships.


There you have it! Pick up one of these books at your library or on Amazon, and let me know how you liked it! Are there any sweet, clean Austen retellings you'd add to my list? Happy summer, and happy reading!

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Wigs, Black Orchids, & The Only Thing That Makes Me Want to Exercise: 7 Fave Reads of 2017


My reading life at age thirty looks different than it did at age thirteen. Back then I'd lay on my bed all day long engrossed in a book. Not so much anymore! However, this past year my husband and I--doers by nature--recommitted ourselves to actually resting on Sundays (Revolutionary, I know!), and with that new focus came a revival of reading in our household! I read a variety of books this year, most of which were recommended to me by friends. I'm recommending to you the following seven, my most enjoyable and helpful reads of 2017:

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!


1. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl


Ruth Reichl tells her engaging story of the time she spent as the restaurant critic for The New York Times. Upon beginning this job, she soon realized that chefs hungry for good publicity were rolling out the red carpet for her and that she may not, in fact, be receiving the same treatment as the average diner. In order to be dealt with as a "normal" patron and thus give voice to the experience of "every man" in her reviews, she developed several elaborate disguises, complete with wigs and personalities to match. These disguises drew out different versions of herself and elicited various reactions--positive and negative--from others. This was fascinating to read about, and Reichl is a delightfully descriptive writer. I also enjoyed hearing how her stint at the Times ended and how her next opportunity providentially presented itself at just the right moment.


2. Spark by John J. Ratey, MD            

Health & Fitness/Psychology

My relationship with exercise has been on-again-off-again at best, so the fact that this one made it into my faves is no small miracle! My bestie told me that this book was blowing her mind, and soon I could see why--it's main premise is that exercise has a huge effect on the brain. It has been proven to be as effective as medication for treating anxiety and depression, and it helps the body and mind deal with stress. Of most interest to me is that exercise produces a chemical necessary for learning and the formation of new thought patterns. In other words, exercise is an effective weapon in getting mentally unstuck! I'm a bit of a mental health nerd, so while fitness solely for the sake of my physical health isn't moving me to action, the prospect of an infusion of power into my mental health efforts is! I know you're wondering--I'm not training for the Olympics over here, but I have resumed a regular jogging routine, and I'm feeling quite good, mentally and otherwise.


3. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino          

Biography & Autobiography

My husband and I enjoy watching Fixer Upper, the popular house-flipping show on HGTV, so I really liked hearing about how Chip and Jo got to where they are today. They had many ups and downs over the years, which was encouraging to read about--it's tempting to look at an adorable and ridiculously successful family on TV and think that they have and always have had it easy! Not so! Chip and Jo were in tough spots many times, especially financially, but they also experienced tons of instances of God's providence. Jo talked about the quiet but sure way that God led her to make several big decisions, and Chip talked about how he'd learned to trust her with those things--what a lovely blend of faith and marriage! Jo also described how her family thrived in a new way when she decided that beauty wasn't her only decorating aim; instead she began to assemble spaces that everyone could enjoy and in which kids could be kids. Others resonated with this as well, and this pivot in her business caused her following to skyrocket. 


4. Brenda Starr Reporter by Dale Messick


It's not often a comic book makes it onto my bedside table, but I'm glad that this one did! My mom and aunt had been talking about the Brenda Starr Reporter comics that enthralled them when they were young, so I grabbed this book, which contains several storylines from the Brenda Starr comics that ran in the early 1940's. Brenda is a larger-than-life heroine in the best way; she's constantly getting into and out of wild adventures in pursuit of a good story. She's smart, sassy, and self-sufficient. Men fall at her feet, and on occasion she's rescued by a mysterious man who sends her black orchids. What's not to love?


5. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown


What a timely message Brené Brown has written to us as individuals and to culture as a whole with this fantastic book. In Braving the Wilderness, she suggests that true belonging--something that all of us desire--requires being oneself while fitting in requires being like others. She talks about how sorting ourselves into groups of people who think mostly the same as we do is caused by fear and fosters disconnection, which in turn allows us to dehumanize our fellow man. Because of this crisis, leaning in to perspectives different than our own is more important than ever. I appreciate that Brown encourages all sides of the political spectrum to display empathy and kindness; she resists today's seductive temptations of blanket condemnation or condoning of one "side" or the other. People are complicated, and today's issues are complex, and Brown is willing to sit with the tension, giving the reader strategies to do the same.



6. The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson


I loved this book and can't wait to read more in the series! The main character, Jodi, is a female, white, middle class Christian (raising my hand here) who attends a women's conference at which she connects with a group of ladies who are ethnically, religiously, and in every way diverse. Jodi is intrigued by the powerful way that some of these women pray, and at the same time she raises an eyebrow at their family drama and regular smoke breaks. The group decides to continue meeting together after the conference ends. Their relationships deepen, and they pray for and support each other through a variety of circumstances.  Over time it becomes apparent to the main character and the reader that the ladies in the prayer group with the messiest lives are the ones who have the best understanding of grace. Jodi comes to a new realization of grace herself when she faces a personal tragedy. I loved this book's focus on heart-change as opposed to behavior modification.


7. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Self-Help/Personal Growth

This book is about habit formation, and the reason I loved it is because it argues that there isn't one right way to form a habit! This is a relief for those of us who've done something for the standard 21 days, only to find that the habit didn't stick. (Anyone else?) Gretchen Rubin suggests that how you form a habit should be based on you. She gives the reader numerous questions to ask in order to know oneself better, such as, "Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover?" (Familiarity for me, please, in case you wanted to know.) She then details many creative strategies for habit formation, such as monitoring, accountability, and convenience. Thinking outside the box about habits I'd like to form has helped me to get moving on my most important tasks in the morning, get back into a regular rhythm of posting on my blog (Ta-da!), and--I admit it!--finally floss my teeth regularly. 


Bonus recommendation: In Better than Before, Rubin introduces her Four Tendencies personality framework, which is detailed in her more recently released book, The Four Tendencies. The tendencies categorize people based on how they respond to both outer and inner expectations. This knowledge is extremely useful for motivating oneself and helping other people. I'm an Obliger; I easily meet others' expectations, but I have a harder time meeting my own expectations, so my secret sauce for accomplishing my own goals is outer accountability.


What was your favorite read this year? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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Farm Women Blogs

Several weeks ago I tagged along with an aunt-in-law and two cousins-in-law to a Women Managing the Farm conference. We enjoyed keynote presentations on the inspiring history of Kansas farm women and how to engage the culture-wide conversation on GMO's and other hot topics in ag in a way that diffuses conflict rather than escalates it. Other highlights included breakout sessions on cattle handling techniques that use less muscle, vision-planning for the farm, and marketing to millennial consumers.

The conference gave me an unexpected treat in connecting me with four amazing women who farm in Kansas and are telling their stories through blogs. I'm loving their content, and I think you will too. Won't you check them out?

Willow Springs Farm

Hannah is a first-generation farmer who produces quality grass-fed beef from her cattle operation near the Flint Hills.


Tales of A Kansas Farm Mom

Nicole shares about everything from farming with kids to recipes to a feature I particularly enjoy called "Flat Aggie."


Farming Grace Daily

Julie's honest and encouraging voice is refreshing as she weaves together farm life, faith, and everything in between.


Chef Alli's Farm Fresh Kitchen

Alli is on a mission to help people understand where their food comes from, and her recipes are both delicious and practical.


Let me know what you think of my new friends, and happy reading!


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Christmas Quick Reads

The cozy glow of a Christmas tree provides an ideal context for pajama-clad, cocoa-sipping reading. My favorite Christmas-themed literature, developed through years of just such tree-side reading, includes Clement Moore's famous poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas,"  the humorous and grace-filled book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and Charles Dickens' classic redemptive short story, "A Christmas Carol." This year I've been reading blogs, and I've got some quick but reflective reads for you. Enjoy!

Celebrating St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus

Tsh Oxenreider discusses the historical St. Nicholas at The Art of Simple.


Just Drop the Blanket: The Moment You Never Noticed in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Jason Soroski provides some clever insight into the classic Peanuts Christmas special via Crosswalk.


What We Get Wrong About Advent

Stephen Miller discusses the real significance of Advent via Relevant.


Naughty or Nice?

Duck Dynasty's Missy Robertson explains why we may think of God the same way our young selves thought of Santa.


How to Remember When You'd Rather Forget

Emily Freeman talks about what to do with the mixed feelings Christmas sometimes brings on the (in)courage Blog.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!

What are your favorite Christmastime reads?

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Thanksgiving Thoughts

In lieu of my usual weekly blog post I'd like to share with you a cornucopia of brief inspirational good reads for your Thanksgiving holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

History of Thanksgiving

Brush up on your Thanksgiving history with this refresher from History.


yada, yada, yada: a secret way to cope when you are pretty much sick of the world, the holidays & a crazy life

Ann Voskamp offers some deep thoughts on giving thanks in a world that's falling apart.


A Thanksgiving Reader

Seth Godin has compiled a wide variety of poems and quotes to read aloud with your family.


The ABC's of Thankfulness

Find out what the Pioneer Woman is thankful for, then make your own list!


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