Maddie brushed the wrinkles out of her apron then stood up again. “It’s just a matter of time, Lanie. Just a matter of time. They’re all putty in my hands, you know.”
Lanie smacked her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Not again. Maddie, when are you going to learn? Reading Emma does not qualify you as some sort of love guru. I hate to break it to you, but girl, you are not a matchmaker.”
(from Tea With Emma)
Tea With Emma is the first in a series of novellas by Diane Moody that are inspired by particular teacups. It’s set up as a story-within-a-story. Lucy, a bestselling author suffering from writer’s block on the cusp of a deadline, finds inspiration in the teacups she inherits from her recently deceased Aunt Lucille. The first teacup (featured on the cover) reminds her of the summer she stayed with her aunt and was introduced to Jane Austen when her aunt bought her a copy of Emma.
Lucy sits down to write “Tea With Emma,” which is set in Austin, Texas, and centers on Maddie Cooper, who fancies herself a matchmaker à la Emma Woodhouse — no matter how many times she’s reminded how Emma’s attempts went horribly wrong. After returning from a Jane Austen tour in England with her best friend, Lanie, Maddie decides to open an English tea room in the home she shares with her nana, who needs constant care following a stroke.
While she prepares for the opening of the Chawton Tea Room (named after Austen’s home), Maddie occupies her time by trying to set Lanie up with Brad the hot contractor, ignoring Lanie’s feelings for Jeff, a cyber friend she met in a Jane Austen chat room. Without having met him, Maddie is convinced he is a computer geek and not right for her best friend.
Maddie also tries to befriend Dr. Ian Grant, a visiting English professor living across the street — and the grumpy Brit she and Lanie annoyed (and later injured) on their flight home from England. Maddie is struck by his good looks and thinks bringing a little love into his life would finally bring a smile to his face. But first she has to soften his heart toward her, since he can’t stand her attempts to become friends (though he is captivated by her red hair).
Tea With Emma was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. I enjoyed the similarities to Emma and liked all of the characters, though they were not as well developed as they would have been in a full-length novel. Maddie made a good, modern-day Emma, likable but annoying at times. Nana was much more loveable than Mr. Woodhouse, and Lanie was much less flighty than Harriet Smith.
However, Ian was supposed to be the Mr. Knightley equivalent, yet he definitely wasn’t the perfect gentleman one encounters in the original novel. He was the most intriguing character, with his tortured romantic past, but all of that is resolved too quickly. It would have been great to see him verbally spar with Maddie like Emma and Mr. Knightley in Austen’s novel. The development of the romantic relationships also happened too fast to be believable.
As for the framing story with Lucy, I don’t think it was necessary — not even to introduce the teacups that form the basis for the series. Lucy is supposed to be a bestselling author, but the novella doesn’t read like something a bestselling author would write. In that context, it was a bit amateurish to be honest, but on it’s own, it’s fun and charming and some nice light reading for Austen fans. Lucy flirting with the UPS man and dancing to “Thriller” after she finishes the novella just seemed a bit silly and detracted from the real story.
Tea With Emma is a light-hearted, modern-day nod to Jane Austen, with endearing characters, Southern charm, and yummy tea room recipes at the end. I wanted to love it, though, and really get to know the characters. Everything was resolved so swiftly, and opportunities for a richer, more developed story were missed. I do hope Moody will revisit these characters again or flesh out this novella into a novel.
Disclosure: Tea With Emma is from my personal library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.