Book ReviewMidnight in Austenland

Reviewer's Rating: 
Don't you hate a fence sitter, and yet, this is where this book falls, not bad but not great.
Bloomsbury, 2012

BOOK TWO: AUSTENLAND SERIES.  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?

I was looking forward to this second installment in the Austenland series by Shannon because I so very much liked the first, Austenland.  But sadly, this second novel is nowhere near the perfection of the first.

Shannon mixes a few aspects of Jane Austen's novels into each of her own.  In Austenland we had the play - much like how the characters in Mansfield Park performed a play.  In Midnight in Austenland our main gal Charlotte is much like the shy, vulnerable Fanny in Mansfield Park.  Charlotte is even given a 'brother' actor named Edmund which is exactly a mirror of Fanny having a cousin named Edmund at Mansfield Park.

What's my point?  Well, I never counted Mansfield Park as a favorite among Jane Austen's books so I'm not a prime reader for Midnight in Austenland to begin with.  My problem with Fanny/Charlotte is their self-doubt, inner criticisms and hesitant manners.  I was unable to connect to either of these 'heroines' because when I read, I want strong women - not forceful or mean, just firm and funny.

This book's plot also had some disconnectedness for me.  There was a murder - or was there?  Charlotte doubts herself immensely and what she saw.  Her wishy-washy ways finally gave way to a greater curiosity and general boredom at Austenland that finally pushed her into finding out the truth.

The romance was also substandard and I can't say more without giving it away but I was disappointed in it as well.

The one great light in all this downslide was Mrs Charming.  She shines bright and furious and funny.  She is a scene stealer on whatever page she appears and is the one character that took me through to the end of the book.  I laughed out loud at her antics and thanks to the golden character that she is, she saved the book for me.

Again, I will stress, I was not a fan of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.  If you are, you would probably enjoy Midnight in Austenland much more than I did.

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