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? (From Goodreads.com)
Bubby: I will admit right off the bat that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Shannon Hale’s books. The Princess Academy books? Love them. Books of Bayern? Not so much. Austenland, the companion book to Midnight in Austenland seems to fall between these two categories for me. I really wanted to love it. I did love parts of it. Overall, though, I found myself a bit dissatisfied. But then I saw the movie. And it was rollicking good fun. So I decided to give Midnight in Austenland a try. At worst, it would still be an enjoyable, clean, decent read. But it was so much more than that. It was hilariously funny in bits and deeply romantic in other bits and I so connected with Charlotte.
Sissy: Well, I do not have a love/hate relationship with Shannon Hale’s books. I have loved all of them (with the exception of The Actor and The Housewife which did not fully satisfy me). When I saw the movie Austenland, I had only read the first book and so I thought that they changed a lot. But I see that Midnight in Austenland, which was written before the movie came out, is a lot more like the movie. Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that I loved the movie Austenland so much that I went back 4 times and dragged every female friend I owned to it. So you can guess how I feel about Midnight in Austenland. Shannon Hale is to writing as Bill Murray is to comedy.
Bubby: Bill Murray? Really? How old are you, anyway? Maybe Tina Fey? Or Jimmy Fallon? Welcome to 2014, Sissy.
Sissy: Well I may be older than dirt and Shannon Hale but she actually refers to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day as “delightful” and can “make her laugh” in the very book we are reviewing right now. I am sorry that your short-term memory is so poor. So much poorer than mine that you didn’t recall that.
Bubby: I recalled fine. I was just trying to make your image more hip and current.
Sissy: It’s hip to be square. I think Shannon Hale is delightful and she makes me laugh. I laughed out loud when Charlotte follows her daughter’s boyfriend and is caught hiding in the bushes outside his cousin’s house and again when she explains to her Austenland hostess Mrs. Wattlesbrook how her husband has died in a “gruesome and exceedingly painful demise” (her husband is now her ex, after she caught him cheating with some young thing).
Bubby: I laughed out loud at those bits too. It’s rare that my favorite character in a story is the main character – I usually enjoy the quirky side characters more – but in this case, Charlotte felt like an old friend with whom I was reconnecting. She tends to let her imagination run away with her – when things take a decidedly scary turn, she lays in bed, searching the shadows and jumping at every noise. I do that when my husband is out-of-town or working late – often mistaking the shadowy outline of the vacuum for a rapist or murderer intent on ravaging my household while we sleep. Mayhap both Charlotte and I are just a touch overdramatic!
Sissy: There are two other things that I really liked. One, how in between scenes at Austenland, Hale inserts little paragraphs from Charlotte’s past giving us insight into what makes Charlotte the way she is now. Two, how Charlotte has conversations with her “inner thoughts” …
Bubby: I almost wrote “inner thighs” there. I don’t know why because that would have been awkward. I think I need medical assistance…
Sissy: Imagine having a conversation with one’s inner thighs. Hmmm. Anyway, that is the kind of borderline irreverence that makes Shannon Hale a lovely author and Midnight in Austenland a thoroughly entertaining read.
Bubby: One of my favorite of those conversations is this: “This scarcely qualified as a secret room-more of a secret hole, or nook, or niche even, perhaps a cavity or alcove… Come up with synonyms all you want, said her Inner Thoughts. It’s not distracting me from the fact that you’re stupid.” Just a sampling of the deliciousness you’ll find in Midnight in Austenland. 4.5 bubbles.
Sissy: Delightfully clever. Delectably romantic. Wonderfully witty. 4.5 quaint and corseted bubbles.
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© Bubble Bath Books 2014