Book review: 'Austenland' sequel a great chick-lit read

Published: Saturday, Jan. 28 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

"MIDNIGHT IN AUSTENLAND," by Shannon Hale, Bloomsbury, 288 pages, $22 (f)

“It’s a universal truth that nothing spoils a postlunch game of croquet like suspecting other players of murder.”

So reads New York Times best-selling and local author Shannon Hale’s latest book, “Midnight in Austenland,” a sequel to “Austenland.” The new book brings the same modern twist to all things Jane Austen, with a dash of murder mystery for good measure.

This story has a new heroine in Charlotte Kinder, a mother of two seeking escape from heartache caused by divorcing an unfaithful husband. After finding some solace in reading an abundance of Austen literature, Charlotte stumbles across the perfect, albeit silly, adventure provided at Pembrook Park, the same resort visited by Jane Hayes in the previous book.

The sequel sees the return of a few characters, namely the flamboyant Colonel Andrews and hilariously dimwitted but, well, charming Miss Charming. Aside from that, the story is considerably different and surprisingly fresh, considering a setting that doesn’t seem to leave much room for imagination beyond a Darcy-entrenched plot.

There is, for example, a substantial amount of action in this telling. Hale manages to sneak thrillingly executed suspense in among the bumbling humor supplied by eccentric characters and Charlotte’s arguments with her “inner thoughts” that just about anyone can relate to.

Witty, matter-of-fact and slightly ridiculous, Hale’s storytelling flows easily enough and gives a proper glimpse of the phenomenon that only a female psyche plus Regency-era romance can create.

“Midnight” is not to be confused with Hale’s young adult hits like “Princess Academy” and “Goose Girl.” With some mild swearing and sensuality, it’s not a book meant for children — not that children would be drawn to this kind of story in the first place. Regardless, for adult literature, the content is extremely mild.

“Midnight in Austenland” is the kind of book to read on those days you just want to wrap up in a blanket and eat three pounds of chocolate. In fact, it’s the kind of book to read when you have an incredible urge to watch “Pride and Prejudice,” an urge that many women might readily classify as a mood.

The writing, admittedly, does not seem up to par with some of Hale’s earlier works. It lacks the depth and sophistication of books that literary junkies like to rip apart and analyze, but that's clearly not the author's intention here. It is, in the end, a very fun read.

It’s likely that “Midnight” will become a guiltily pleasurable, bon-bons-and-rom-coms chick-lit classic.

Related article:

Shannon Hale enjoys visiting set of upcoming 'Austenland'

IF YOU GO ...

What: Shannon Hale book signing

When: Saturday, Feb. 4, 2 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Also ...

When: Friday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m.

Where: Dolly's Bookstore, 510 Main Street, Park City

Web: dollysbookstore.com

Also ...

When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 11:30 a.m.

Where: Deseret Book, 754 N. Main, Layton

Web: deseretbook.com

Also ...

When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 2 p.m.

Where: Deseret Book, 135 N. 545 West, West Bountiful

Web: deseretbook.com

Also ...

When: Saturday, Feb. 18, 2 p.m.

Where: Barnes and Noble, 330 E. 1300 South, Orem

Web: barnesandnoble.com

Also ...

When: Saturday, March 3, 11:30 a.m.

Where: Deseret Book, 1110 Fort Union Blvd., Midvale

Web: deseretbook.com

Also ...

When: Saturday, March 3, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Deseret Book at University Village, 1076 S. 750 East, Orem

Web: deseretbook.com

Email: hbowler@desnews.com

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