The Austen Escape

Engineer Mary Davies has long loved her work at an Austin, Tex., tech startup, coming up with innovative ideas and figuring out the math to make them run smoothly and efficiently. But she's in a slump and afraid she might lose her job if the new fast-talking consultants in the office have their way. When Isabel, Mary's prickly childhood best friend, invites her to a two-week immersive Jane Austen experience at an English manor house, Mary reluctantly agrees to take a break. Once they arrive, Mary thinks she might actually enjoy herself, until Isabel's memory takes a strange turn and she starts to believe the costume party is real. Katherine Reay explores the gap between illusions and realities--both Mary's and Isabel's--in her fifth novel, The Austen Escape.

Reay (The Brontë Plot, Lizzy & Jane) tells her story in Mary's voice, noting wryly that "Austen really had a thing against Marys." As Isabel slips farther into her own mental world, Mary calls on her fellow guests for help, finding connection and aid in unexpected places. The eventual resolution of Isabel's problem feels abrupt, but Mary's messier efforts to grow and change (unlike Austen's Marys, she gets the chance for both) feel much more authentic. Like Austen, Reay weaves love stories into her plotlines, but her main focus is the personal discoveries her characters make about themselves. Dripping with period detail but fundamentally a modern story, The Austen Escape is a clever, warmhearted homage to Austen and her fans. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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