Midnight in Austenland

*** (3 of 5)

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

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Midnight in Austenland is the sequel to Austenland.  I really really liked Austenland, buuuut unfortunately Midnight in Austenland didn’t live up to its namesake (Lets see how many times I can say “Austenland” before it gets old).

I was so excited to read this book.  Maybe that was part of the problem.  My expectations were too high going in?  Maybe if I hadn’t have been so excited I would have liked it better? Probably not.

The plot of Midnight in Austenland was a mix between suspense and romance.  It was a far stretch from the original Austenland, which was straight up romance. (Not steamy romance, but like a love story romance)

Time for a tangent …. I am a huge chicken when it comes to scary or suspenseful books.  And I refuse to watch scary movies.  Even scary commercials are too much for me.  One time at the movie theater they showed a commercial for one of those creepy doll movies (Annabelle maybe?) and my heart rate literally spiked.  I had a fitbit that kept track of my heart rate.  It thought I was exercising.  Thats how bad it was. And it was only a commercial.  My body physically reacts to being scared and I don’t like it. (Maybe everyone’s does? I don’t know, but personally its too much for me) I couldn’t imagine what my heart would do if I had to sit through a full movie.  Last time I went through a haunted house I had a panic attack and my mom had to take me out the way we came. (I was 12 ish) Another time on a school overnight retreat the upperclassmen made a “haunted house” and all the underclassmen “got” to go through it.  Everyone else had a ton of fun,  it definitely was meant to be fun, not mean, but I hated it.  Just thinking back I can feel my heart start to race. So, yea, I don’t do scary

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Back to the review … While Austenland was loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland tends toward Northanger Abbey.  The heroine has a very active imagination and she is thrust into a world that is not as it seems.  Her stay at Austenland is themed by a mystery. (think murder-mystery dinner but 2 weeks long and you are solving a really old mystery)  As she is searching for clues she finds more than whats intended and she can’t tell the game from real life.

At one point they play a game in the dark where one person is the “murderer” and everyone tries to find them.  The heroine is obviously flustered and unsure but everyone else presses her to play anyway.  This hit a little to close to home.  When I read I often get lost in the story and connect with the heroine, so them forcing her to play made me uncomfortable and brought back memories of makeshift haunted houses.  I did not like it at all.

So my biggest issue with the book was the plot.  I am sure there are tons of people who love the suspenseful plotline, but it ruined the story for me.

You may be asking “If she hated it so much why did she give it 3 stars?”

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Well I am glad you asked!

I didn’t actually hate it.  It just wasn’t my cup of tea.  I can tell that it is a good book, and that most people who enjoyed the first book would probably like it.  And there were parts I liked.  I liked the heroine, Charlotte.  I liked how she was introduced.  How she was described in the beginning.  It made her especially relatable.   I also liked how the story jumped back and fourth between present and past.  It made her so much more real, seeing how she handled different situations.  And it brought you there gradually.  Showing you what you needed to fully understand why she reacted the way she did.

So overall the book was just okay, if you like suspense and romance I would recommend it.  If you are like me and don’t like suspense then I would probably skip this one.

Austenland

***** (5 out of 5)

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland

Do you ever imagine scenarios in your head while you are trying to fall asleep? Like if you are reading a really good book and you replace yourself with the main character?You go through all the scenarios in the book and then make up new stories using the same characters? No? Then this book probably isn’t for you.

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But if you are like me, and especially if your scenarios tend toward the romantic side, then this book is just what you have been looking for.  (I don’t have a good word to describe these “scenarios” I play in my head.  The closest thing I can come up with is daydreaming, but that isn’t quite right) In the book Jane gets to live out her “daydreams” in Austenland.  Don’t you wish you could actually experience the romances that play out inside your head?

Jane is a perfectly normal Thirty-three year old New Yorker with a Pride and Prejudice obsession.  While she loves the book it was the Colin Firth DVD that did her in.  Every boy she dated she compared to Mr. Darcy.  She took it to the point where it interfered with her relationships.

When Jane’s Great-Aunt Carolyn arranges a trip for her to Austenland, Jane hesitates but ultimately decides to go.  At Austenland she gives up all her 21st century gizmos and clothing and submerse herself into the 1800s (with the added luxury of indoor plumbing and electric kerosene lamps).  Austenland contains a mix of guests and actors.  No one is allowed to break character.  For 3 weeks she lives and breaths as if she actually lived in the 1800s.

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I can’t say much more without giving any spoilers, but once Jane enters Austenland, her life changes forever.  She struggles with remembering that everything is just an act and she learns a lot about herself in the process.

The book is amazingly witty and fun to read.  I got sucked in and couldn’t put it down.  I loved all the references to the different Jane Austen books.  They were obvious enough that I could pick up on them without having read the books in years, but they weren’t forced either.  They fit naturally into the story.

Speaking of things fitting naturally into the story.  I really liked how the author set up the story.  It is hard to put 21st century characters into a 1800s type setting.  I liked that everyone knew they were being “transported” in time.  That they were all in on it.  I hate books and movies where a person is unwillingly transported to another time or when two character switch bodies.  (Freaky Friday, Its a Boy/Girl thing, Big, 13 Going on 30, Kate and Leopold, etc.) That whole story line makes me cringe.  It probably has something to do with a deep-seated fear of not fitting in and making a fool out of myself, but lets not get into that.  It is almost physically painful for me to watch people trying to fit into those situations.  I don’t find them funny at all.

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I almost didn’t read this book because I was worried that it would follow that path.  It sound just different enough that I decided to give it a chance, mostly because living in Austenland seemed to fit so perfectly with my “daydreams.”  I had no intention of finishing the book if it went into cringe-worthy territory, but, to my immense relief, it didn’t.  It was amazingly written, and there was no cringing!

I would recommend this book to any Jane Austen lover who has ever fantasized about meeting her “Mr. Darcy” (or his “Mr. Darcy”, no judgement here)

There is a sequel to Austenland called “Midnight in Austenland”  It is definitely the next book on my reading list.  They also turned Austenland into a movie!  It didn’t get very good reviews, but I am going to watch it anyway.  Even if it is only half as good as the book I know I will enjoy it.