Thursday, July 16, 2015

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Having read Austenland a good four or five times and loved it, I was hesitant to read the sequel. The sequel is never as good as the original, right? But during this year’s Summer Reading Program at my local library, I’m reading pretty much anything and everything, especially stuff I’ve been putting off or have been nervous about for one reason or another. And this read definitely paid off.

We return to Pembrook Park, and run into some of the same characters – Mrs. Wattlesbrook, Colonel Andrews, Miss Charming, and Sir John. But there are plenty of new characters to keep you interested, and the plot is completely new, fresh, and interesting. I was afraid this was simply going to be Austenland repackaged – you know, the same set-up, the same run-ins and climaxes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

While Austenland was a straight up “romcom,” this had so much more going on. Things have gone wrong in the Pembrook empire. But why? Why have Pembrook Park’s sister estates closed? And are all the guests what they seem? Recently divorced Charlotte Kinder, was aiming for a peaceful vacation all her own. Instead she drops into the middle of a dark drama she wasn’t expecting – maybe even a potential murder. The only problem? There’s no victim. As she tries to sort out reality from the game that is Austenland, she becomes more confused, even doubting her own senses.

I was surprised to find that I ended up enjoying this one even more than Austenland. It was a longer book, covering a shorter amount of time, and felt much less rushed. The plot was much meatier (although I’ve always loved mysteries, so I might be prejudiced) and drew me in immediately. The characters were fleshed out better, and there was even more backstory for the characters from the first book. And the romance, in my opinion, was less cliché and more natural…but that could be argued. I liked it better.

I’m hesitant to say too much. I don’t want to give anything away, but the plot was dark and twisty, with scenes of action that kept everything really gripping. It had me up past 1am, one night. Like Austenland, there was no cursing, some innuendo, and quite a bit of kissing, but nothing graphic. And best of all, it was just as funny. In spite of the darkness, Shannon Hale managed to keep things light whenever possible, and I found myself chuckling throughout. It had a tidy ending, but not quite as ridiculously dramatic as Austenland’s. I found this ending more plausible.

If you like mysteries in period-settings (granted, this is a modern-day imitation of a period setting), that don’t get too heavy and have just a smattering of romance, this book is definitely worth a try. You’ll get the most out of it if you’ve read Austenland, but I liked it even better. If you hated Austenland, don’t bother, because it’s written in the same voice, with a similar self-proclaimed-damaged-goods heroine. That said, Charlotte is very different from Jane, and I found her more confident, steady, and enjoyable to read. And by the end, she had grown much more than I felt Jane did.

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