Posts Tagged ‘shannon hale’

midnight in austenland

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★★

She sighed.  And decided it was okay to let her heart flit and flutter around, and for her breath to get caught in her chest like the ghost’s flowing headdress on a shrub.  It was okay to fall in love inside books and stories, and where was she if not inside a story?  And wasn’t this why she’d come, after all?  She felt certain she would be able to withdraw herself intact when the time came.  She felt certain she was not in too much danger.

(from Midnight in Austenland, page 151)

Shannon Hale’s Midnight in Austenland is the follow-up to Austenland, once again set at Pembrook Park in Kent, England — an exclusive vacation destination where guests adopt the manners, customs, and wardrobes of Regency England and experience a little romance with actors whose characters are reminiscent of the heroes from Jane Austen’s novels.  Charlotte Kinder still feels blindsided by her husband’s infidelity and their subsequent divorce, and in the midst of her friends setting her up on disastrous blind dates, she discovers the novels of Jane Austen.  With her two children spending the month with her ex and his mistress-turned-new-wife, Charlotte decides she’d like nothing better than to step into an Austen novel and make herself its heroine.

At Pembrook Park, she becomes Charlotte Cordial, the widowed sister of the handsome and charming Edmund Grey.  While she bonds easily with her pretend brother, she finds herself nervous under the watchful gaze of the brooding Mr. Mallery.  Charlotte becomes immersed in Colonel Andrews’ tales of murder and ghosts, especially when she finds a secret room, which may or may not have been hiding a body.  She is determined to figure out what she saw in that room — so determined that the romance of Pembrook Park is put on the back burner while she pokes around for clues.  This is no ordinary vacation, as readers watch the Charlotte Kinder who was merely nice and clever and never heroine material come to terms with the end of her marriage and discover her true self among the corsets and carriage rides, the darkened halls of an old estate, and her very own Gothic novel.

Midnight in Austenland alludes to Northanger Abbey and its naive heroine, Catherine Morland, who let her imagination get the best of her.  Like Catherine, Hale’s unlikely heroine is likeable and endearing.  I couldn’t help but laugh at Charlotte’s attempts at witty conversation in an effort to become a sort of real-life Elizabeth Bennet but sounding more like a less rambling but equally dull Miss Bates.  What saves this novel from becoming a mere rehash of the first is the mystery.  Was there a murder?  And if so, was it part of the script?  Or is Charlotte just overcome by a house that seems alive at night?  Hale also revisits characters from the first novel, and I loved how she gave more depth to the stoic Mrs. Wattlesbrook and Miss Charming, who enjoys Pembrook Park so much that she has almost become part of the furniture.

Midnight in Austenland is a fun, escapist novel, especially for readers who have longed to live in their favorite books for a short while.  Hale shows the dangers of being unable to separate fiction from reality and how the heart can easily be persuaded when real life is just too complicated to face.  Her heroines are realistic, strong women in need of a self-assessment and the ability to see their true selves.  I am hooked on Austenland and hope Hale takes readers back to Pembrook Park soon!  This is a completely standalone novel, but I suggest reading Austenland, too, just for the fun of it.

Disclosure: I borrowed Midnight in Austenland from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★★

Here she was at the beginning of something, her toes curled over the edge of the diving board.  She was ready to plunge.  Good-bye to her awkward list of numbered boyfriends and her mutated, Austen-inspired intensity that had pushed her from one ending to another.  She was determined that this vacation, this holiday, unlike any of her relationships, would have a very good ending.

(from Austenland, pages 30-31)

Jane Hayes is a 33-year-old artist working as a graphic designer at a newspaper in New York City.  She is obsessed with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, specifically the 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  Jane has endured a string of failed relationships, and none of the men she’s dated live up to her Mr. Darcy ideal.  Recognizing that Jane is living in a fantasy world, her great-aunt Carolyn leaves Jane in her will an all-inclusive, three-week trip to Pembrook Park, an estate in Kent, England, where wealthy women act out their fantasies of living in Regency England.  Jane decides to enjoy the trip, live out the fantasy, and return to a reality without Mr. Darcy…or any man.

At Pembrook Park, Jane dons Regency dresses and bonnets, plays Regency parlor games, adheres to Regency etiquette, and acts out a story in which she is Jane Erstwhile, the American niece of the estate’s owners.  Jane spends her days and evenings with other guests like herself (including Miss Charming, a 50-year-old American pretending to be a 22-year-old and adopting a horrible British accent) and the actors paid to charm and romance them.  Jane banters with Colonel Andrews, a happy-go-lucky, rakish second son of an earl (reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice‘s Colonel Fitzwilliam) and his friend, Mr. Nobley, a brooding, arrogant man who makes her question the attractiveness of her beloved Mr. Darcy.

As the lowest-ranking woman in attendance, Jane feels like an outsider and enjoys hanging out with the gardeners more than the gentlemen.  As the line between fantasy and reality starts to blur, Jane has to decide whether or not to play the game.  She has to confront her Austen obsession head on and find her true self.

The Girl (age 13) and I read Shannon Hale’s Austenland together in preparation for the movie, and we both thought it was a delightfully fun novel.  The Girl hasn’t read any of Austen’s novels yet, but she loves the movie adaptations, and we both were intrigued by the idea of basically becoming an Austen heroine for a few weeks.

Hale created a believable, likeable character in Jane.  I’m sure many bookworms can name some fictional characters who’ve made them swoon and have wished that real-life relationships all had happily-ever-afters.  Hale includes a short description of each of Jane’s relationships at the beginning of every chapter, and it’s easy to see why she’d want to hold out for her Mr. Darcy, although somewhere along the way (probably blinded by Colin Firth in the wet shirt scene) she forgot that even Mr. Darcy isn’t perfect.  It’s also understandable how Jane could get caught up in the magic of Pembrook Park, all the men in breeches, and all the Austen-ness.  And between the hot-to-trot Miss Charming and Jane’s numerous mishaps, there are plenty of laughs.

The Girl and I gobbled up this short book on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  We had an inkling of how it would play out, but we just couldn’t stop reading until we found out what happened to Jane.  Austenland is full of humor and fantasy, and it’s a must-read for Austen fans who want to go back in time for a little bit in search of their own Mr. Darcy.

Disclosure: I borrowed Austenland from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
The Girl’s Rating: ★★★☆☆

A review by The Girl (age 11)

Rapunzel’s Revenge is a graphic novel about a girl named Rapunzel with really long hair who lives with a lady named Gothel.  Rapunzel thought Gothel was her mother, until one day she gets over the wall and finds her real mom but is ripped away.  During the story, Rapunzel meets up with a man named Jack, and they work together to stop Gothel’s evil plan.

I really liked the illustrations in Rapunzel’s Revenge because they were so detailed you felt like you were in the story.  Even if you were reading a part that’s just talking or a part filled with action, it was always interesting, and you always want to know what happens next.

I thought it was interesting that this version of Rapunzel was set in the Wild West, but the one part I thought was kind of cheesy was when Rapunzel first got over the wall and almost right away found her mother.  Overall, this was one of my favorite graphic novels.

Disclosure: The Girl borrowed Rapunzel’s Revenge from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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