Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review -
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Bestselling author Shannon Hale returns to Austenland, where bonnets are in vogue and gentlemen can waltz, and one player is planning something a little more sinister…

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?

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As mentioned in my preview post, in 2009 I read Shannon Hale's Austenland.  This was mere weeks before I began The Calico Critic, before I became aware of the plethora of Austen-themed novels and websites that so permeate my reading life now.  I was enthralled with Hale's work, reading the book at home and listening to the audiobook while playing taxi driver in my minivan. It was a delightful introduction to the world of Austenesque fiction.

Now Shannon Hale has written a follow-up novel,  Midnight in Austenland. Once again we are transported to Pembrook Park, where clients pay for a totally immersive vacation experience, taking on a fictional Regency persona for two weeks. Fellow residents are paid actors, scripted to portray certain personalities and to play romantic (yet Regency-appropriate) figures amongst the clientele. While Midnight in Austenland refers to the first book on occasion, it’s very much a stand-alone title that can be read independently.

The main character and focus of Midnight in Austenland is Charlotte Kinder, a divorced mom of two who has come to Pembrook Park for the first time.  In many ways she’s not just on a vacation, but she’s also running to escape the pain of her husband’s infidelity and the distance she’s beginning to feel between her children.  Two weeks in England, portraying a Regency character of her own design sounds like the perfect escape.

While in England Charlotte not only has an escape from her normal existence, but she has a few experiences that are surprising, frightening and life-changing.  She finds her heart and mind stretched in new ways, and in some respects is not the same person by the end of her fortnight at Pembrook Park. In short, her numb heart begins to thaw.

Perhaps because Austenland was my first foray into Austenesque fiction, and perhaps because I enjoyed it so much, it’s hard to imagine that Midnight in Austenland would ever live up to the same level of enjoyment that I experienced with the first book.  I can honestly say that this second title is not my favorite of the two, but trumping the first is a near impossibility in my mind.  That being said, there was much that I liked in Midnight in Austenland.

Hale frequently shifts from present-day to moments to moments in Charlotte’s past, as far back as her childhood to as recently as the last year as she was dealing with the disintegration of her marriage.  Through these flashbacks, we get to know Charlotte and see the process of growth and maturation that she’s going through as she vacations at Pembrook Park.  While Charlotte is frequently self-absorbed, we also see that she isn’t a selfish person, wanting to put her kids’ well being first before anything.

Without giving anything away, Charlotte literally stumbles across a dark mystery and is led to try to solve it, which takes up most of the Pembrook Park portions of the story.  She also becomes romantically drawn to someone at Pembrook. Personally, I wish more time had been given to her romantic relationship and less time to the mystery, but her quest to solve the crime was probably more chock full of interesting plot points than a romantic story line would have been.

While at times I found Charlotte’s self-absorption to be a little bit much for her mature age, I did enjoy seeing her grow as an individual. Near the end of the novel, she gives one character a piece of her mind in such a way that I was literally cheering her on, aloud.  I loved how she told this contemptible person off, and that she really seemed to grow a spine over the course of her time at Pembrook.  It’s said that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and in her case this was certainly true.

Overall I can say that Midnight in Austenland was a fun read, perfect for most Janeites, and for fans of Northanger Abbey in particular.  I loved returning to Pembrook Park, and hope that Shannon Hale is able to make her way back there again in the future.  I’m also looking forward to the upcoming movie version of Austenland, starring Keri Russell.  Shannon has created a delightful world and I can once again recommend that you take your own journey to Pembrook Park within the pages of this fun novel.

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If you'd like a taste of Shannon Hale's latest, below are the first 37 pages of Midnight in Austenland!

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Although I enjoyed Midnight in Austenland, I need to make room on my bookshelves.  So I decided to pass on my used copy, in addition to the giveaway copy I already had available.  So we have not one, but two winners!

Congratulations to Julie, who won for joining our Facebook page.  And congrats to Patricia, who won my gently-read copy of Midnight in Austenland as well, for tweeting about our giveaway! 

Thanks to all who entered.  If you'd like another chance to win Midnight in Austenland, check out these giveaways:

Paper Blog: Deadline to enter is Feb 7, 2012
Mundie Moms: Deadline to enter is Feb 13, 2012

And while you're here, you may want to enter my other giveaway, my ARC of Victoria Connelly's novel, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy.  This giveaway ends at 12:01am EST on February 5th.

Thanks to Bloomsbury USA for providing the review
copy and giveaway copy of Midnight in Austenland.



  1. This book sounds fabulous! Great review! I will definitely be putting it on my reading list! Lori

  2. I read the first book in this trilogy and look forward to reading this second one. Thanks for posting about the book and for the giveaway opportunity.

  3. I read the first book and liked it. I've wanted to read this one too. Love the review.

    2 Kids and Tired Books

  4. I too love Jane Austen and most JA fan fiction. I have this book on my TBR list and wasn't sure if I should wait to read it until after I read the first Austenland. But I think I could go ahead and read this one - then maybe I won't feel a slight let down as it seemed you did having the first book in mind. That doesn't mean I won't read the first, I will once I get it.

    Thank you for reviewing this book.

    1. Thanks for your comment! You'll be fine regardless of which book you read first. And yes, the first book was my favorite. Your experience may be different, but who knows?!



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