Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Austen-Inspired Original
SETTING: Modern-day Austin, Texas and Bath, England
- Mary Davies: an industrial engineer for WATT who is introverted, processes things internally, is pragmatic, and thinks with a mathematical mind.
- Nathan Hillam: an intelligent consultant hired by WATT that has worked close with Mary this past year. Doesn’t know Mary is in love with him.
- Isabel Dwyer: Mary’s childhood friend who is completing her dissertation on Jane Austen by going on a two week “costumed Austen-style adventure” in Bath, England. Isabel has a terrible father, whose negligent behavior and indifference has left some scars.
Mary is coerced by Isabel and her father (who thinks of Isabel as a second daughter) to join Isabel on her Austen-style adventure in Bath. Even though Mary isn’t an ardent Austen fan herself, she goes because she knows Isabel needs her support. Also, Mary could use an “escape” from her work troubles and her new boss. She has a sneaking suspicion that her days with WATT are numbered… But what happens when Isabel “escapes” firmly into the the Regency period and doesn’t remember her present day life? And what will Mary do when discovers a secret about Isabel that devastates her? Can their friendship survive the past, the secrets, and the changing dynamics?
WHAT I LOVED:
- Some Austen Fun: The two immediate draws for me were that this book was by Katherine Reay (an author I’ve read and thoroughly and enjoyed before) and the connections to Jane Austen (I have a tiny fondness for stories about Jane Austen’s characters and novels ;)). And while the costumes, daily activities, and assumed identities harkened back a little to Shannon Hale’s Austenland, this tale is a little more serious as both Mary and Isabel deal their own issues and learn more about themselves and each other. I loved seeing how Ms. Reay would allude to Jane Austen’s characters, and the clever way some scenes would echo scenes in Jane Austen’s books. Seeing beloved characters like Mrs. Jennings, Admiral Croft, Catherine Moreland, and Mr. Bingley in Katherine Reay’s creations was lovely. And those moments where a character found a perfect Austen quote for the occasion always made me smile. 😉
- Hard Issues: One of things I appreciate most about Ms. Reay’s writing is that she isn’t afraid to tackle difficult issues and sad realities. Whether it is growing up in the foster system, watching a love one battle cancer, or having an emotionally abusive and negligent parent. Her stories tell of these hard times and personal struggles in a beautifully sympathetic, sensitive, yet honest way. However, these are not stories that will leave you feeling raw and wretched, they uplift and inspire.
- Important Messages: While on this trip, Mary does a lot of reflecting on her life, her work, and her relationships. She is struggling to figure it all out and stop the cycle of “letting things happen to her” and running away/retreating. I really enjoyed how this story showed that relationships aren’t set in stone and it takes courage to go after what you want. Mary’s actions at the end were truly inspiring!
- Nathan: Nathan Hillam wonderfully embodies a modern-day Jane Austen hero! He notices and falls for the quiet girl Captain Wentworth, is adorably charming like Henry Tilney, solves problems intelligently like Mr. Darcy, and hesitates to declare his love like Mr. Knightley. I absolutely adored the man! I love all that he did in this story – his tender attentions to Mary, his steadfast support, and above all, how he knew and understood Jane Austen! 😉
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- A Little More: I loved all aspects of this story especially the pivotal moment where characters evolve and relationships change. However, I did feel that some of this could have been drawn out a little more. With regards to Isabel’s relationship with Mary and Isabel’s emotional well-being, I wish we saw more. In addition, I wouldn’t have minded a more private/lengthy discussion between Mary and Nathan.
The Austen Escape is a delightfully immersive and insightful adventure that will be sure to enchant and entertain readers who are inspired by genuine heroines, have a fondness for adorable and compassionate heroes, and yearn for the chance to escape into Jane Austen’s world on a daily basis! 😉