Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

“It’s a universal truth that nothing spoils a postlunch game of croquet like suspecting the other players of murder.”

midnight in austenland

Synopsis from GoodreadsWhen 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?

Feelings: I read somewhere that the way to read this book is like how you watch a Hallmark Christmas movie. You think, That would never really happen, but you enjoy it anyway. You decide not to take it too seriously, and that works. That’s how you should approach this book. Imagine it’s playing out like a Hallmark movie and you’ll be just fine.

At first, when Charlotte asked about taking a Jane Austen tour in the UK, I thought…you just read her books and now you’re wanting to spend thousands of dollars to follow her footsteps around England? After she arrived in Kent, however, I understood. She was a woman marked by her husband’s affair, then became another statistic, a divorcee. Going to Pembrook Park allowed her to be somewhere else for 2 weeks: a different place, a different time, a different world. There, she wouldn’t be looked down upon or judged, she could just be. I’m sure the genteel world would be very appealing to me if I were in Charlotte’s shoes.

It’s a truth well acknowledged that I am a fan of Shannon Hale’s writing. Now, is this particular book a stroke of literary genius? Not exactly. But, I loved Charlotte’s voice and her humor. She was a little over the top sometimes and got a wee bit carried away, but I can skim those antics and be fine…like how I fold laundry while watching Hallmark movies, only paying attention 84% of the time.

I thought the pacing of this book was unique and I liked it. The reader is taken back and forth between Charlotte’s life before arriving at Pembrook Park, then we catch up with her whilst on her trip. I especially liked the sections from her “before” life that helped me to get to know Charlotte and to really see where she was coming from. They were almost anecdotal snapshots into the past, then the story moved on.

Issues: First of all, the prologue was really long. The purpose of a prologue is to open the story, give some info on the setting and maybe set up the main event. I can’t help but wonder how much of this prologue was actually necessary? Did she need to stalk her daughter’s boyfriend? No. It really did nothing for the story…it actually slowed it down.

I love a good foreshadowing, but not so much when it’s blatantly obvious. Murders happen in houses like this is basically what Charlotte said when she arrived at the manor. The colors were all white and yellow and “summery blue” but all she could think about was death and other morbid things? How? It’s like Charlotte needed someone’s life to end so that hers could begin again. I don’t know how I feel about that.

Characters: I was a little confused by Charlotte, at first. She got divorced, then went on all these dates like she needed a man…but then she reads Austen and says she feels like, “a girl who’d been wadded up and tossed aside.” I SO get that feeling, I just didn’t see that she was feeling that way until she said it. Maybe that’s because this was all packed into the prologue (see previous issue.) I couldn’t tell if she was actually lonely or just bored. I slowly began to realize that she was really just desperate – desperate to feel something. Austen’s writing had caused her to feel a teeny bit of hope for the first time in who knows how long, so she decided to chase that feeling…all the way to Europe…and backwards about 200 years. By the end, she was a changed woman. Maybe making some rash decisions, but still…very much changed. I liked how she seemed to find some strength in the Regency period, which was also somewhat ironic.

I liked that we had some returning characters. Mrs. Wattlesbrook, for starters, but then when she said Elizabeth Charming was still at the park I died a little. All I could picture was Jennifer Coolidge from the movie adaptation…hilarious. Then, Colonel Andrews showed up and I knew we were in for a ride.

The men in this book…the MEN. It was hard to figure them out! Now, I knew that someone would end up being in love by the time I reached the last page…but come one…falling in love over the course of 2 weeks while playing roles. How can you fall in love with someone before you actually know who they really are? Is that a thing? (Again…Hallmark movie, people!)

Comparisons: I really enjoyed the first Austenland book and thought the movie was a good time. While I liked the mystery element of this sequel, Charlotte isn’t my favorite character.

Final thoughts: This book was an easy read; I read it in a day. It was a nice change of pace from the books I’ve read lately and I’m glad that I read it. I think these two books are great for Austen fans because they fill your head with images of Regency living, etiquette, and a certain way of doing things. It’s not a stroke of masterful writing or any kind of literary masterpiece, but that’s ok by me sometimes. It was enjoyable!

Pick this up if you liked:

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo

Goodreads rating: 3.49/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.1/5

My rating: 3.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn


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