2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Book Review: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Happy Tuesday again, everyone. Today we’re going to travel to Austenland – a rather fantastic destination I stumbled upon in author Shannon Hale’s first book (titled Austenland) a few years ago. This journey was made courtesy of the kind folks at NetGalley. If you’re not familiar, NetGalley is a rather clever device by which publishers can readily make advance review copies of their books available to book reviewers. Basically, you sign up for NetGalley, complete a profile explaining who you are and why anyone should give you books (i.e., sell yourself via info on your audience, interests, web presence), identify books you are interested in reviewing, and then the system automatically notifies the publisher that you would like one of their books.

You get the opportunity to review a large selection of books for review in one spot; publishers get reviewers begging them for books and have all their homework on the validity/scope of the reviewers’ followings in one handy-dandy place. It’s a pretty clever system – even if it is disheartening to be informed, oh-so-politely, that a publisher isn’t interested in providing you with a copy of one of their books… Ah well, you win some, you lose some. This was one of the first ones I won, and I would like to acknowledge NetGalley and the good people at Bloomsbury Publishing for providing my review copy of Midnight in Austenland.

I was doubly excited when I learned that I would be able to review MIA for Bloomsbury. First, because I like making connections with new publishing houses. While I enjoy reviewing books, I’m more interested in writing them – which means that any contact I can make with a publisher is a good thing in my book (literally, teehee). But second, because I LOVED Shannon Hale’s first foray to Austenland AND her follow-up novel, The Actor and the Housewife. Why, you ask? Because she writes lovely stories, I reply. Stories that are full of realistic heroines who struggle and laugh and cry and work their way through drama (real, imaginary, and vastly over-blown). And they do it all with a sense of aplomb and style (often gracious, sometimes flat-footed, occasionally foot-in-mouth) that is just plain fun to read.

Which is why I’m oh-so-disappointed to write this review.

I was so excited about the promise of another trip to Austenland – and so disappointed when I got there. The story began alright – a new heroine-in-waiting looking for something that is missing in her life after her husband leaves her. Solution – a trip to Austen’s England. Things looked promising – there were a couple of returning characters (including the delightfully clueless and gauche Miss Charming, hooray!), new mysteriously handsome gentlemen callers, and a tish of star-struck drama. But then everything went rather off-kilter, and it did it mighty quick.

In short, things got weird. Weird as in odd and random – not as in quirky or interesting. There’s a mystery in this one, and mayhem too, but not the good Jane-Austen-farcical kind. This one actually has violence and criminal behavior and a Svengali-like surprise character shift. It might have been a fine piece of chick lit if it were written by someone else – in Shannon Hale’s hands, this material felt forced and uncomfortable, like Jane Austen being asked to write horror. I don’t know if her publishers wanted her to branch out or if she was responding to weird fan mail, but it seemed like this was a book that she was told to write rather than a book she chose or felt drawn to write.

Revisiting Austenland was a fantastic idea. The place was ethereal and well-mannered and perfectly prim and proper – in the best possible way. Bringing back characters like Miss Charming, Mrs. Wattlesbrook, and even the creepy then-gentleman-now-husband guy was a great idea – it tied the stories together without making the latest iteration feel derivative. But the “mystery” and the plot got way too far-fetched way too fast and I found myself wanting the book to end way too soon – something I wouldn’t have imagined I’d ever say about a Shannon Hale novel. This one felt like a stretch for her – and not in a good way.

Still, she has written wonderfully lovely stories before. I’m confident she will do so again, so this isn’t a “goodbye” Shannon Hale, simply a “later”… ๐Ÿ™‚

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