4 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback - Adult Contemporary - Goodreads Summary:
"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?"
If Agatha Christie and Jane Austen had a baby, it would... Okay maybe if Agatha Christie and Jane Austen co-wrote, it would be this book. A delightfully romantic, chick-lit novel that you could breeze through in a few days! I love these kinds of books. In the best way, they kind of cleanse the palette from more "heavy" reads or dark storylines. Granted this story did have a murder, attempted strangling, hostage-holding and a crime scene cover-up, but it was meant to be campy and quirky. And a great read for Halloween!
Which brings me to this: I don't know what everyone was so upset about on Goodreads. Sure, this isn't what I'd call Book Club Fiction (even though there is a "reader guide" in the back) or even smart, thought-provoking Women's Fiction. But it accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to be lighthearted and purely entertaining. When I kept this in mind, it put the scenes in perspective, particularly the ones where I was getting frustrated with the main character. The murder scenes weren't super serious, even though someone really is dead. I found it humorous and downright fun! Like a game of Clue set in Austen's world. And Miss Charming is possibly my favorite person ever!
The comedic voice is CONSTANT even when our heroine is literally about to die. Sometimes, I appreciated this and thought it clever. But toward the end, it just started to get annoying. The author threw cleverness and wit at us through Charlotte's "Inner Thoughts" (i.e. an inner dialogue with herself), which I could actually relate to most of the time because I also overthink things. But other times (like when it happened on every other page the last 50 pages...) it just got to be a bit much. Knowing everything that goes on in a character's head is not always a good thing. And in fact, it felt more like the author's head than Charlotte's- like Hale was thinking these things as she was writing and then decided to make them into an inner monologue. It was fine, but I wished it had been used in moderation.
Those Inner Thoughts did the opposite of what I think the author intended, and made Charlotte feel a little flat for me. Like, jeez Charlotte, you're in Austenland! Let it go! We know that you know they're all actors, but still- we don't need reminding that you need reminding every even-numbered page. Her issues with trust kept me from really diving in to her love interest and even figuring out the identity of the murderer because half the time, I was like: Is this even real? What if it's just a really elaborate murder mystery theater? And for the record, Charlotte didn't start off as a "nice" person (the one area-for-improvement she mentions throughout the book). She was a downright coward. I was happy to see her change, but I feel like Charlotte's growth is far from over. She went from a doormat to something slightly less resembling a doormat. Though I don't think we'd be friends in real life, her character was well written and carried the story.
Hale did a wonderful job inventing a place I SO wish was real! And I actually read this out of order. It's technically the sequel to Austenland, but I didn't feel any hiccups in the setting or plot. It all made sense to me, but I wonder if I missed out on some author/reader inside jokes by not reading in order. Oh well. It won't stop me from reading Book #1 :)