by Shannon Hale
First sentence: “No one who knew Charlotte Constance Kinder since her youth would suppose her born to be a heroine.”
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Since her husband cheated on her then left her and married his mistress, Charlotte Kinder has been completely numb. Sure, she still runs her very successful web business and takes care of her two kids, but in her personal life, she has no hope. No matter how many dates her friends set her up on, she figures she will never love again.
Then, she discovers an old bucket list of hers, which has “read Jane Austen” on it. She does, falls in love (just with the idea of falling in love, of course), and as a present to herself, goes on vacation to Pembrook Park. For a good, old-fashioned Regency Romance.
The best way I can think of to describe it is thus: if Austenland (which you don’t need to read before reading this one, but why wouldn’t you?) is Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland is Northanger Abbey. There are a couple of mysteries — both real and made-up — to solve; there’s a lot of running around at night; but most of all, there’s a Gothic feel. That, and the book just isn’t as light as Austenland is. It’s not only Charlotte’s hurt from her husband’s infidelity and betrayal, and the mysteries, there’s just a lot more brooding going on. The romantic interest, Mr. Mallery, is Heathcliff — okay, I know: not Austen, but it’s the best description — reincarnated. He attempts to do the Regency thing, but mostly he just skulks in the corner. Thank goodness there’s Charlotte’s “brother” (for the two weeks, not in real life) Eddie Grey, who lightens and mixes things up. Some of the minor players from Austeland are back: the formidable hostess, Mrs. Wattlesbrook (who is not quite as formidable), and the goofy-yet-vulnerable Miss Charming. There are new characters as well, including a starlet that’s using Pembrook Park as a place to escape not just from the press, but from real life.
The only complaint I have is that it’s not as funny as Austenland was (or that I’d hoped it would be). That’s not to say it isn’t good. Admittedly, I adore Shannon Hale, but I do think this one is worth reading (if only for this sentence: “But in life, rarely do we encounter an onslaught of beauty, enter a hive of handsomeness, find ourselves awash in an ocean of attractiveness, drowning ina miasma of hotness.”). It’s sweet and it’s tender; it’s light enough to be fluffy, but has enough weight so that it’s not a waste of time. (I need to say it: there was a moment when I needed to shout “GO CHARLOTTE!” Hooray for heroines who can save themselves!)
In other words: it’s another delight from a delightful writer.