Happy almost weekend, my friends!
I’m excited to share some thoughts on The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay this afternoon. I love Katherine’s books. I’ve raved about her gorgeous storytelling and fun literary allusions in my reviews of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane (my personal favorite), The Bronte Plot, and A Portrait of Emily Price. Everything I read from Katherine, I love. You have got to check out her books!
Katherine Reay does it again! I was so excited to read her latest and loved the Austen connections especially. Once I started, I flew through this book in just under two days. It’s a great Jane Austen-centered addition to Katherine’s collection.
Her books are some of my recent favorites. Not just because they have fun stories and nerdy literary references (although I love those elements as well), but also because they show people at their best. These novels highlight the best of the human experience while also showing individuals overcome trials, fears, and pain. The characters in these novels feel real, human. They are people I know, and people I hope to become. And their many layers of experience create beautiful themes that leave me feeling changed for the better.
- Katherine makes going to a Jane Austen themed resort sound so fun! This novel reminds me of all I love about Austenland (book and movie). I loved all the Austen allusions to characters, quotes, storylines and manners.
- I love her book covers. This is another one that I hope to own one day!
- Any book that starts with a list explaining memorable Jane Austen characters is going to be good.
The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay takes readers inside a Jane Austen style resort in England where friendships are tested and happily ever after is not what you expect. Goodreads summarizes, “Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. . . . When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up. . . . Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.”
“I love books. The weight. The smell. The bigger the better. It’s a shame encyclopedia Britannica doesn’t print all those encyclopedias anymore. Weren’t those the best?”
“Jane Austen understood people, and she was funny. …. She wrote with such precision that a single phrase evoked an emotional response. She elicited laughter, warmth, and even a sense of awe. Across two hundred years, I recognized her characters in the here and now. She wrote about people I knew.”
The Austen Escape, page 29 & 30
Mary is a likable protagonist and not quite what I expected. Katherine always creates such engaging main characters. They have all sorts of interests that she expands on. For Mary, it’s engineering, inventing, and physics. None of these topics interested me before the story. But I found myself fascinated by them once I got into the novel. Mary begins the story a bit off balanced. She’s hard working and deserves more joy in her life. As the story progresses, we learn more about her deep fears and difficult experiences in her past. She is hiding from life and from joy, or at least she tries to hide (or avoid) emotion to avoid feeling pain. I can relate to that. I enjoyed the fun allusions to Marys in Jane Austen’s novels and how this Mary overcame her fears and insecurities. She becomes the hero of her own story which I love. I loved her journey to self confidence and discovery.
I really loved Nathan who is another complex and lovely Reay character. Again, her characters are so well developed. While they are certainly flawed, they are also people with beautiful ambitions with moral values and a deep belief in God. I love that. Nathan is sincere, innovative, and loyal. I love that he drops everything for Mary when he discovers that she is stuck in Bath with Isabel (who thinks she really is a Regency lady). Because we see him through Mary’s eyes, I was skeptical of him at first. But time and again he proves his worth. He flies across the ocean. He dresses up in Regency attire. He sorts out misunderstandings and misconceptions. And he dances (and kisses) like a true gentleman. I liked how he didn’t change through the different settings of the story. Whether they were in Texas or Regency England, Nathan was true to himself–a truly impressive characteristic worth emulating.
“I feel like I’m seeing you for the first time, this fuller version of you. The best version of you.”
“Kissing Nathan, really kissing Nathan, was everything I imagined. It was music–layered, nuanced, soul gripping, and open to endless interpretation. And much better than a fairy tale.”
The Austen Escape, pages 195 & 234
As with all her novels, Katherine gives us a face paced plot with fun and witty details throughout. I love all the references to Jane Austen’s books. I want to reread them all now–especially Northanger Abbey which I haven’t read in years! Mary’s almost obsession with big books with bookish smells reminds me of myself. Perhaps that’s why I connected with her. I laughed out loud several times as Isabel lost her memory or a quirky Regency tradition was poked at. And I loved the deep connections made between people at the resort, between friends, and, of course, the love stories. I especially loved the blooming love between Mary and Nathan. It is sweet and innocent but also deep and passionate. I love a Katherine Reay happily ever after! Katherine is a master at connecting people in her stories in meaningful, positive ways. And those connections make the plots all the better.
If I have one qualm about this story, it is only at the very end of the book. The ending was a bit rushed for me. Things fell apart and then tied up a bit too easily in the end. And I would have liked even more time in England. But those are minor concerns in light of the beautiful characters, fun storytelling, and nerdy Austen focus that I loved!
As with other of Katherine’s novels, I left this novel feeling empowered and hopeful. Themes of forgiveness, friendship, overcoming doubt, self confidence and self worth, and fighting for what you know is right flow throughout the novel. On the surface, this is simply a fun novel about a girl who finds love and reads Jane Austen. But there are so many layers beneath that lovely story–understanding friendship, loss, grief, family, and love. Those layers make this story truly remarkable.
Overall, another fun and nerdy story from Katherine Reay! If you love Jane Austen, if you love England, if you love books, if you love stories of friendship and love and being your best self, this book is for you.
Have you read any of Katherine Reay’s novels?
What are your favorite Austen inspired novels?