Review: The California Dashwoods by Lisa Henry

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.

This was everything I could have hoped for when I heard that Lisa Henry would be writing a retell of my favorite Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility. I know most love their Pride and Prejudice but I’ve loved the Dashwoods for years both in the written form and in moving pictures. This was such a beautiful homage to the original work while taking it and making it its own modern blend of Austen-esque romance with a strong family bond and a fresh queer take on the story.
“Know your own happiness.” – Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
It wasn’t hard for me to get lost in this story and I read it in two ways; one as a brand new story about a young man who carries the weight of his late father’s legacy and the responsibility of taking care of the women in his family all while trying to find himself and fall in love. And the other was seeing all the witty ways Henry twisted each character and place to make them become the players of her own author stage as she gives us the tale of Elliott Dashwood and his family.

Let me just take a fangirl moment and say how much I loved the name play in this book as well as the names that weren’t changed – like Marianne – because there was no need. Each time a character appeared on the page I let out a small squee at my desk because it tickled me in the best way. From Lucy becoming Lucien, Elinor becoming Elliot, Edward being Ned and when we meet Colonel Brandon, I was ridiculously happy seeing everyone show up and blend into a new beloved story.

“Dashwood? […] As in the Massachusetts Dashwoods?”
“That’s us, Well, that’s them. I guess we’re the California Dashwoods now […]”
The California Dashwoods.
It didn’t sound so bad.
Told entirely from the POV of Elliott Dashwood, we meet the 20 yr old as he is losing his father to cancer and having everything he’s ever known torn from him. Elliott and his sisters; Marianne and Greta are the children of his father’s second marriage, the second scandalous marriage where Henry Dashwood married his eldest son’s much younger au pair, Abby. The haughty side of the Dashwoods are known as the Family – with the capital F – and Elliott and his family are the more laid back side who found it normal to have an artist for a father who proudly displayed a nude painting of his wife, with her vulva front and center. Elliott and his sisters have spent their formative years living in Norland Park and routinely interrupting the business of the day to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the sunshine on the lush grounds of the estate. But family and Family don’t mix and when Elliott’s older brother John does what his wife wants and not what his father asked on his death bed, the lower case family is tossed out of the only home they’ve ever know without a penny to their Dashwood name.

I adored this book from the beginning. I loved each character with Greta and her stabbiness, Abby defending her babies and the memory of her late husband, Marianne being a hopeless romantic with a sharp wit and Ned Ferrars and his gentle ways of stirring up a stubborn and stoic Elliott. It was pure calamity as Elliott tries every way he can to basically beg John not to throw them out of their home and then it falls on Elliott and Ned to drive the final nail into the lid of nothing that has now become Elliott’s life. That sounds dour doesn’t it? Well, this is based on Austen and if you’ve read her work, you know all must fall to be uplifted once again.

This is truly a romance and goodness but I crushed on Ned and Elliott hard. It was difficult to read the story knowing what happens between the characters initially and I read this with so much angst that it made the story even better. Ned is so sweet and awkward when he lends an ear to a grieving Elliott that it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. The chemistry between the two was off the charts and each intimate encounter between them made me swoon hard. Elliott and his sisters have been raised with the epic love story of their parents and Marianne is a complete product of that, while Elliott wonders if it would ever exist for him. When the family moves to Barton Lake, California to stay with their mother’s cousin John, Elliott leaves all hope for what he feels and what he hoped Ned felt for him behind while Marianne and an unfortunate accident welcomes the insta-love of someone who will break her heart and find the one she never knew she’d want or need.
And that was love, wasn’t it? Maybe it wasn’t chemistry, or fate, or the adventure of a lifetime. Maybe love was, at its simplest, optimism. Maybe love was choosing to believe that it would all work out in the end.
I can go on forever with this review and just tell you what I loved because I loved this story almost as much as the original. For me, having read Sense and Sensibility so many times it is hard to separate the two timelines but I honestly love how Henry brought this into modern times and made everything work. This just proves that Austen is timeless and Lisa Henry is talented.

I will say though it may seem that Elliott and Ned are not together on page much, don’t let that deter you from thinking this isn’t a romance. This is more than a boy meets boy and falls in love story. This is a story about finding who you are through love, both the good and the bad, while coming out ahead of where you started. It’s a story about family, about acceptance, about seemingly sensible actions that can cost you what you desire most and the pure sense to do something about it.


This. Was. So. Good.

But I’ll stop rambling now.

I lied.

I have to add one last thing. The bit with Ned and Elliott made me feel exactly the way it did with Elinor and Edward and I may have made that extraordinary noise Emma Thompson did in the film when I read it. If you haven’t seen that bit, I recommend watching it and then watch the clip from The Vicar of Dibley as Dawn French makes fun of the scene and then has her very own Elinor moment with dreamy Richard Armitage.
“I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be...yours.” – Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

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