Review: The California Dashwoods

Author: Lisa Henry

Publisher: self

Rating: 4.5 stars

Buy Links: Amazon

Type: Novel

Received from Publisher

 

Blurb: Make a new future. Choose your true family. Know your own heart.

When Elliott Dashwood’s father dies, leaving his family virtually penniless, it’s up to Elliott to do what he’s always done: be the responsible one. Now isn’t the right time for any added complications. So what the hell is he doing hooking up with Ned Ferrars? It’s just a fling, right?

Elliott tries to put it behind him when the family makes a fresh start in California, and if he secretly hopes to hear from Ned again, nobody else needs to know. While his mom is slowly coming to terms with her grief, teenage Greta is more vulnerable than she’s letting on, and Marianne—romantic, reckless Marianne—seems determined to throw herself headfirst into a risky love affair. And when Elliott discovers the secret Ned’s been keeping, he realizes that Marianne isn’t the only one pinning her hopes on a fantasy.

All the Dashwoods can tell you that feelings are messy and heartbreak hurts. But Elliott has to figure out if he can stop being the sensible one for once, and if he’s willing to risk his heart on his own romance.

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

 

Review: When cancer claims Elliott Dashwood’s father, the sharks of the wealthy Dashwood Family (with a capital F to “distinguish it from the tiny offshoot” that was Elliott’s immediate family) quickly circle the family of the disgraced Henry Dashwood and his second wife. Elliott and his family – mother Abby, and younger sisters Marianne and Greta – are forced to deal not only with their grief, but with the clear understanding that they were as unwelcome as ever as far as the rest of the Dashwoods were concerned. John, Henry’s son from his first marriage, does have sympathy for his half-siblings and step-mother, but he has little sway over the wealthy Dashwoods, or his wife Francesca, in their bid to rid themselves of what they consider to be an embarrassment to the Dashwood Family. The arrival of Francesca’s brothers provides an unexpectedly friendly presence for Elliott in Francesca’s quiet brother, Ned. Their initial connection leads to a couple of increasingly romantic encounters and when Elliott and Ned are caught in the act, the horrified Francesca accuses Elliott of being a gold-digger, and they go from unwelcome to outcast.

Elliott, Abby, Marianne and Greta head to California, where Abby’s cousin has offered them a small place above the shop he owns. They slowly build a life there, but Elliott never really forgets the brief moments he shared with the kind and surprisingly passionate Ned.

I was never a fan of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibilty. I didn’t really care about the characters or found their story particularly interesting. However, The California Dashwoods drew me in right from the start. The story does closely follow the original, but with characters that I found a lot more interesting and three dimensional. Elliott was endearing and likeable, and sometimes felt like he carried the weight of making sure his family were looked after on his shoulders all on his own. Abby was dealing with the grief of losing the love of her life, but there was no doubt she found comfort in the love of her children and adored them with all her heart. Marianne was often off in the clouds, but could be extremely insightful at times. Greta was funny and snarky and trying to fit in even though she was still a young girl desperately missing her father and her old life. John was a nice guy and he did care about his half-siblings, and even liked Abby, but the pain of his father’s choices obviously left him feeling on the outside and unable to be as close to his brother and sisters as I think he longed to be. I didn’t understand why on Earth John was even married to someone as awful as Francesca in the first place, but I really didn’t get why he let her rule him so completely, because he didn’t come across as spineless, either. I could see that he really had no way of getting the rest of the Dashwood Family to be fair, yet he still let Francesca prevent him from giving them any personal assistance, knowing they’d had everything taken from them by the Dashwood Family.

Like the original story, The California Dashwoods isn’t a romance as such. It is more the story of Elliott and his family starting over with little more than the love they had for each other and determination to see the better side of life, even during times that were difficult. I won’t give away the twist for those who haven’t read Sense and Sensibility, but I loved that, unlike his original incarnation, Lucien was just beautiful and an absolute joy; he was definitely my favourite of the secondary characters and I delighted in every moment he was on page. It made me second guess where I hoped some aspects of the story would go, and curious in how it might be resolved.

I really enjoyed The California Dashwoods. I adored Elliott and his crazy, flighty, optimistic, delightful family. I liked Ned, I only wish I’d had a bit more time to connect with him so I adored him as much as I did Elliott. One thing is for certain, barring the Dashwood Family, the characters were all a whole lot more pleasant than their counterparts in the original story. All of them, including the antagonists, were complex and interesting and realistically portrayed. This modern retelling was masterfully done and I think will satisfy both those of us who weren’t such fans of Sense and Sensibility, as well as those who loved the original.

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