Disclosure: I am not a fan of chick-lit. Also not a fan of Jane Austen sequels or fanfiction, in general. In fact, I probably shouldn't be reviewing this at all, since I began reading this with prejudice. (But no pride). I used to read chick lit until I figured out that most of it is a waste of time. Clever, witty novels about young singletons in the big city are few and far between. Curse you, Helen Fielding, for actually writing a good Jane Austen knockoff! She has inspired multitudes of mediocrity after the success of Bridget Jones's Diary. Which she couldn't even duplicate herself, unfortunately.
Anyway, in a moment of weakness, I decided to make an exception after seeing this book amongst the multitudes of JA-inspired fiction at the recent JASNA meeting in Philadelphia (though I was not inspired to spend hard cash on it; I held out and got it from the library). Nevertheless, after seeing the melodromatic cover art and snarky title, I was hoping for something witty. But this was not to be. Basically, it's pretty standard chick lit with a Jane Austen connection, albeit one that is somewhat academic in nature, since the writer is trying to include some actual facts about JA's life.
The setup: Emma (of course! There's an Austen connection right there! Well, at least she isn't named Jane or Elizabeth), a thirtysomething career women, has fled from Texas to London after her nasty ex-husband and his mistress have ruined her academic career at a prestigious university. Conveniently, Emma has a cousin -- half-French, so she is tres-cool -- has a charming townhouse which is conveniently empty at the moment. Well, except for the convenient presence of her former male BFF friend from grad school, who is alsostaying there; is conveniently hot, and, naturally -- who was madly in love with her until she married their Casanova-esque professor. Conveniently! Anyway, Emma is trying to resolve her hurt pride and simultaneously resurrect her flagging career as a JA scholar by finding some priceless, super-secret Jane Austen letters, never before seen by the public. Awesome! Seems there is a mysterious eccentric Englishwoman who has (conveniently) decided Emma is potentially worthy of this enormous coup. She is sent on mini-quests all over England, following in Jane Austen's historic footsteps. She's also forced to make Big Decisions about her own career path, relationships with her family, and possible love with said hottie.
Although this book includes mildly entertaining theories about Jane Austen's missing letters and lost loves, the only thing I really liked about it was that it includes background about Jane Austen's life, which most fans could easily pick up in any decently written biography (I'm still working on that; hopefully some reviews will follow in the near future). Emma's pretty whiny and self-absorbed (but hey, so is Jane Austen's Emma!), but overall I found too many plot holes, too many contrivances, at least one major mistake -- she's supposed be an Austen scholar and there's a huge error about Mansfield Park! Not to mention the lack of well-developed characters, other than our heroine. It's a pretty easy read, and if you like chick lit and Jane Austen, this might be the book for you. Just not the book for me. I should really just stick with the real thing.