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Midnight in Austenland

Midnight in AustenlandMidnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

In this stand-alone novel, a successful 30-something divorcee, Charlotte decides to treat herself to a much needed vacation — at Austenland, an estate in England where everyone dons Regency era clothing and playacts as if they are in an Austen novel. While there, she tries to distract herself from her personal issues by allowing herself to be taken in by the setting, by her designated, Mr. Darcy-like love interest, and by the mystery which is unfolding in front of her. In Austenland, though, it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not, in love and in her sleuthing.

Fans of Hale’s first “Austenland” book, or of chick lit in general will likely love this book. Just like every once in while, I like a good chick flick, sometimes I like to delve into the world of chick lit, and this was the perfect book for it, as the romance aspect, while still there, was subdued and not quite what was expected. Nor did I expect to find a mystery, which added some interesting twists to the novel, and kept you wondering how much of it was scripted for Charlotte and the other visitors, and how much was actual crime. I liked the Northanger Abbey tie-ins and thought Charlotte was a much more likable heroine than the main character in the first novel.

Whereas in the first “Austenland” book, the main character flashed back to previous relationships throughout the book, this one flashes back to scenes with her ex-husband through his infidelity and their divorce… not nearly as light-hearted or humorous. The whole part of her grieving her failed marriage, while realistic and emotional, was also kind of a downer — I felt like skipping all of those parts, though they are integral to Charlotte’s character and the reason for her hesitation to love again. And I’ll admit, some of the elements of the writing drove me a little nuts (some of the metaphors are a little out there), but none more so than Charlotte’s “Inner Thoughts” which argue back and forth with her in her head. It just ended up making her look a little crazy, when the same effect could have been achieved simply by making it a first-person narrative. I found it grating, rather than clever.

Overall: A cute chick flick for Austen fans, the mystery and intrigue keeping it fresh and original.

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