At her dad's request, Mary Davies allows herself to be dragged away from the tension at her engineering job and a romance that was over before it had even begun to a Jane Austen Regency experience in Bath, England, with her best friend--and occasionally worst enemy--Isabel. Her friendship with Isabel has always been a little tense, not the least because Isabel adopted Mary's family as her own to replace her own neglectful family. And when tensions shoot sky-high between Isabel and her father, Isabel shuts down, becoming the character Emma Woodhouse to the point where she physically remembers no other life than that of a Regency-era woman. Mary is frantically trying to take care of her friend when she finds out their lives have intersected more than she had realized, and now she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them.
I realize I've gotten a bit behind the times, and this is the first Katherine Reay book I've ever read (even though I've heard many, many good things). And of course, I wonder what took me so long.
The Austen Escape reminds me of Shannon Hale's Austenland, with its Austen-esque, Regency experience, but it is much kinder--a place of healing rather than disillusion. I appreciate the truly welcoming atmosphere of guests in a friend's home, and it feels down-to-earth and real, offering guests the freedom to go as deep into the Regency experience as desired without requiring they give up any more modern technology than they wish. And though there are moments of humor, it never feels silly--it's far more thoughtful.
I enjoy how different Mary is from the norm--an engineer, brilliant with electricity and gadgets, who, for all her less than typical pursuits, is still plenty feminine. In some respects it feels like we're getting the story of the sidekick rather than the heroine, a role Mary has been relegated to too often in her life, yet she crawls out of that role to become a heroine of her own making. There's a strong focus on friendship through the story, probably equal to that of the romance (which, really, is more like real life than the average romance novel). Her struggles with her job, with the loss of her mom, with her feelings as a sidekick rather than a heroine in her own right--all make her very real and relatable. All in all, a very enjoyable Austen experience.
Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.