Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale


Midnight in Austenland
Shannon Hale

In Austenland, actors play courting gentlemen and cater to fantasies of Mr. Darcy and other Austeneque heroes for rich female customers. Austenland was about a reporter working on a story about this place, and I enjoyed it, so I was excited to see that Shannon Hale was releasing a follow-up, Midnight in Austenland. This is a review based on an eARC copy.
The Premise: Charlotte is a nice and practical woman who is also rather clever. She has two children, a nice husband, and a flush retirement account, thanks to her business sense. Then her husband James became not-so-nice. He slowly pulls away from their marriage until one day, Charlotte finds herself divorced, older, and a little bit lost. With her kids staying with their father and his new wife for three weeks over the summer, Charlotte decides to book a vacation. Admitting to the travel agent that she’d love to be in an Austen novel, Charlotte finds herself with a booking at the exclusive Austenland.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, she can’t stop her clever mind from chugging along. Worrying about her kids is driving her crazy, so instead she focuses on the people around her. Wondering if Miss Gardenside’s sickness is real or feigned, what is stressing out Mrs. Wattlesbrook, and if Mr. Mallery is sexy or sinister keeps Charlotte busy until she discovers a dead body. At least, she thinks that’s what it was, but she can’t prove it. Suddenly everything and everyone in Austenland is suspect.
My Thoughts: Charlotte is a very likable heroine –  successful in her online landscaping business, a protective mother, and just a little bit of a over-thinker (in an endearing way). For a long time, she felt her husband moving away from her, but no matter what she did to try to mend their marriage, nothing worked.  I felt for her as the only person trying, while James had already checked out. When she finds herself single again, her self-consciousness about not knowing what to do with herself. She worries about what the divorce will do to her teenage daughter and her young son, and she tries to date (and fails miserably). Even in Austenland, where Charlotte can pretend that she’s someone else, she realizes that she can’t stop being the person she is.
So to distract herself from her usual worries, Charlotte begins to look at the guests and actors she’s surrounded by in Austenland. These characters are sketched quickly but distinctly.  The gentlemen/actors courting the three guests are her friendly pretend brother, Mr. Edmund Grey (Eddie), the affable Colonel Andrews, and the dark and broody Mr. Mallery.  The guests: repeat visitor Miss Charming, the sickly Miss Gardenside (who Charlotte recognizes as a pop singer her daughter adores), and her nurse, Mrs. Hatchet.  Then there is household staff, including Charlotte’s lady’s maid, Mary. And finally Mr and Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owners of Austenland. With all these personalities before her, and with the parlor mysteries that Colonel Andrews devises, Charlotte has plenty keep her imagination going. That is, until one of the games takes a dark turn and the story becomes less about Charlotte on vacation and more about Charlotte solving a mystery.
Because of this mystery, Midnight in Austenland was a very different story than Austenland. If Austenland is chick lit with shades of Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland is a suspense-comedy reminiscent of Northanger Abbey.  Charlotte’s thought process is a funny thing, and she can’t decide at first if she really felt a dead body or not. Was it part of the game? Was it her imagination? Or was it a man’s corpse? There’s no way to say for sure until she gets to the bottom of things, so she uses her clever mind to investigate. In the meantime, Charlotte finds herself extremely aware of the dark and mysterious Mr. Mallery (and the feeling appears mutual). This is a man so at home in Austenland, Charlotte can’t imagine him anywhere else. If Mr. Mallery is the bad boy of the place, Eddie, her ‘brother’, is the nice guy.  While Mallery exudes danger, Eddie is safety, even if Eddie seems to treat Charlotte’s strange behavior as a joke or product of his ‘sister’s’ overactive imagination.
This is a fun romp with some humor and suspense, and an interesting cast of characters. I enjoyed that Charlotte was not the typical chick lit heroine (twenty-something young working girl), but a older, divorced suburban mom with a brain she can’t stop from churning. But it’s also not a story with huge surprises. It’s clear early on who is behind things and who Charlotte should be with. The mix of the Gothic mystery in the modern day makes the story humorous for some, possibly too farcical for others. For those who want a romance, the mystery leaves less room for the relationship to develop. This also felt like a really short book. Now, my nook has 189 pages for the eARC, while the publisher says the hardcover is 288. Maybe my ARC is missing some scenes added on later? I enjoyed what was there, but it all ended a little quickly for me.
Overall: Charming but not what I expected. Don’t expect this to be your typical chick lit or to be the same type of book as Austenland was. This is more Northanger Abbey than it is Pride and Prejudice, but it was a nice little romp. I wished for a little more romance and a little less farce, but I also went into this book expecting something in the same vein as Austenland. If I hadn’t had this expectation, I think I would have fared better. If I reread this book knowing what I now know, I’d like it more.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Searched but didn’t find reviews within my blogging friends circle. Let me know if I missed you and I will link your review here.

16 thoughts on “Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

  1. I’ve learned I never know what to expect with her books anymore. This was a DNF for me. Like you said, nothing felt developed enough, and I had trouble summoning up any emotions at all. I liked the idea of Charlotte, too. But she never went anywhere.

    • I felt most disappointed that it wasn’t like AUSTENLAND, but once I remove that expectation I felt better about it. I just wish I had started it knowing that this was more like a mystery comedy, not a chick lit/romance.

          • Lol, that sounds perfect!

            After talking to Angie I decided not to pick this up. I, too, have had a bad track record with Shannon Hale since The Actor and the Housewife – a book I wanted to throw across the room before I was finished. I may pick up MIA now though, at least knowing what to expect. Thanks for the review. I’m excited for Impromptu Austen Week! I love the button. You did a great job on it. 🙂

  2. I am so glad to know that it’s not the same type of book as Austenland going in! Like you, I was expecting something similar, and I think if I hadn’t realized this before picking it up I would have been disappointed, particularly because I was sort of saving it for when I was in the mood for a romance. It does still sound like something I’ll really enjoy, but now I’ll know the right sort of mood required before starting.

    • I’m glad to help! The murder and sleuthing in this one were a big surprise. I still liked it, but I think I’d have enjoyed it more going in without expecting just a nice romcom type story and then finding out it wasn’t. It’s weird how that expectation can really impact my response, you know?

  3. Glad I read your review, I was expecting it to be similar to Austenland as well! Hmm not too excited to read it based on your feedback but we’ll see. Maybe one of these days, I’ll be in the mood to pick this up. I have grabbed the Kindle copy from NetGalley and the formatting isn’t that great (I think that’s another reason why I put off reading this).

      • Most NetGalley copies are like that when you transfer them to your e-reader, it’s frustrating. That’s why I don’t read a lot of NetGalley books (that and I don’t always get approved for the titles I want or they get archived before I can download them).

        • Really? This was the first case for me. But I don’t read that many Netgalley books I think.. (yeah, I hear ya on not being approved, titles getting archived.. *shakes fist*).

  4. I’ve never read any of Shannon Hale’s books but I do own a copy of THE GOOSE GIRL… so I really have no excuse, lol. But I’m sorry to hear that MIA wasn’t what you expected :/

    • THE GOOSE GIRL is a favorite, but MIA is really in a different style. Well, it was not like I expected but I didn’t hate it. I just wanted to warn people about it because if you read the first book, AUSTENLAND, you’d be pretty surprised by MIA.

  5. Pingback: Impromptu Austen Week Wrap-up | Janicu's Book Blog

  6. Pingback: Review: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale « Bunbury in the Stacks

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