Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Austenland by Shannon Hale

How long has it been since I read a book like this? Ummmm...over a year. I'm not kidding. At all.

This year I made a goal to focus on fun books, which works out perfectly with a book club I joined. (I finally joined a book club!) Some of the other members of the club are students as well, so most of the books we're planning on reading are short, easy, and fun.

Austenland was the first pick. I was excited about it because I've been interested in Shannon Hale since I read Princess Academy as a teenager. But I also felt a little weird reading YA for the first time in a long time. I felt even weirder when I got totally hooked, blowing off studying and housework and other important things in order to read it. Of course, I finished it within a couple of days, after carrying it around with me and reading it in spare moments.

How about a summary for those who haven't read it?

Jane is a thirty-three-year-old graphic designer who is bored with dating. She has a secret Pride and Prejudice obsession (aka Colin-Firth-in-a-wet-shirt obsession) and has begun comparing all her boyfriends (and non-boyfriends) to Mr. Darcy. A distant relative dies and in her will, instead of leaving Jane money, she leaves Jane a vacation to Pembrook Park, a weird resort where you get to dress up and play Regency. Jane goes, with a determination to kick her Darcy obsession for good. (Yes, that amazing summary was written by yours truly.) 

I liked the book a lot. It was loads of fun, which is exactly what I need in the middle of a tough school semester. It wasn't too dense. It was completely indulgent, especially for an Austen fan.

On the other hand, I was hoping for something more like Princess Academy, which I remember being more thought-provoking. (Of course, I might find it a little less interesting now--I don't remember it all that well.) I kept thinking some dramatic twist would happen that would turn the book into something less indulgent and more real. Well, that didn't happen. It was pretty predictable and felt like reading a romantic comedy. Truth is, while I like to watch rom coms, I'm not sure I like to read them. I was kind of disappointed.

I don't think it was as bad and unrealistic as some rom coms; I do think it had a somewhat meaningful message about true love. Much better than some YA books I've read.

I guess it's not so much that I didn't like the book, just that I felt a little strange reading something so fluffy. It was really fun though, and I'm glad I read it.


  1. I didn't realize Hale sometimes wrote YA books! Might have to check those out. I wouldn't really consider this a YA book, since it seems to be written for a much older audience. At times it even felt a little old for me, since the main character is in her thirties. I'm not referring to the style, of course, because it's definitely a breezy read. I would say (if you weren't just trying to find something indulgent to read and take a break from your school stuff) that there's more to the book, as well, especially if you examine it with a psychological turn on the characters. Maybe when you have more time try it out that way and see what you think?

    1. I guess I assumed it was YA from the way it was written, but I didn't find it in the YA section or anything. I can see there being more to the book, but I didn't think it lent itself to analysis. (Of course any book can be analyzed, but with this book, I think I would just feel like I was reading more into it than was really there.)

    2. I can see what you mean. There were a few times when the main character's decisions bothered me, and I think it helped to start analyzing motivations. Like you, I don't read much chick-lit, but this was a nice reprieve from other things I was reading at the time.

  2. I would call this more chick-lit than YA, as the protagonist is over the age of 20. YA tends to focus on younger protagonists, though not always. You said it felt like watching a rom-com, and that's absolutely how most chick-lit books feel to me. (And I must admit I've read maybe six or seven.)

    I do love reading something lighter now and then -- like Amanda Grange's books about Austen heroes, or Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mysteries, and especially Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. My brain needs to play as well as work, and sometimes it's so delightful to finish a book in just a day or two!

    1. That makes sense, although it did seem to avoid more mature elements of romance, which made it feel like YA. (Not to mention the protagonist seemed to act and think like a teenager most of the time.) I guess I'm just not that familiar with the chick-lit genre. But yeah, it's always good to have brain candy now and again.