Monday, May 7, 2012

Midnight in Austenland - Shannon Hale

Summary:  When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies.

Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?

The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end? (Book image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Summary: What a fun return to Austenland.  Shannon Hale has created a great follow-up to her original novel, and somehow has done it with a completely fresh voice. One of the things I love about Hale is her talent for adapting her voice for each novel—this reads completely differently than her other novels.  Her voice in Midnight in Austenland pulls the reader into a camaraderie, inviting her audience into the slightly ridiculous idea of escaping problems in such an opulent fashion, and acknowledging the silliness (and the desire to do exactly that!) of such an indulgence.  It made for a refreshingly light read.

Midnight in Austenland brings back a few of the fringe characters from the original—the prim proprietress Mrs. Wattlebrook and her lush of a husband, Southern Belle Miss Charming (I think she’s even funnier this time around), and flamboyant Col. Andrews—fleshed them out, and woven a whole new story, complete with a murder mystery!  Our new heroine Charlotte enters Austenland to escape the heartbreak of a failed marriage and two very frustrated teenage kids.  Her “Inner Thoughts” are hilarious, and wholly relatable, and I found myself wanting to hang out with her.  Like the original, Charlotte's two weeks are full of self-discovery and revelation, and they are juxtaposed with the pre-Austenland/pre-divorce Charlotte flashbacks.  However, this time around, our heroine has to realize these things in the midst of mystery – trying to figure out new player Mr. Mallory…is he really Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy combined, or is there something more sinister afoot?  The mystery wasn’t Agatha Christie-level, but I didn’t pick up the book for that kind of story!  I wanted Austenland, and Hale delivered!

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There are a few discussions of extramarital affairs, and a few quick sentences that allude to a possible one-night stand.  But it doesn’t get any racier than a kiss.


Sum it up:  I don’t think either of the Austenland books are written for die hard Janeites, but if you (more casually) enjoy Austen’s novels, this really is a fun read.

4 comments:

Melissa said...

Great review! I was on the fence whether to read this or not. I wasn't excited about the mystery aspect of it, but Heathcliff/Darcy together in one person sounds too good to pass up.

Monica said...

I was really excited to go back to Austenland - but I was actually disappointed in this book. There were just too many moments where I thought, "Really? That was kind of lame." Glad others are enjoying it though as I love most of Hale's books.

Melissa Mc (Gerbera Daisy Diaries) said...

I'm glad someone likes Shannon Hale's adult fiction...because I sure don't!! :)

MindySue said...

@Melissa Mc - I don't think I've ever quite forgiven Shannon for The Actor & The Housewife...

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