The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig 2014 From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

A new Pink Carnation novel is always the highlight of my reading season, though the anticipation for The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla was stifling. How could Lauren Willig’s eleventh addition equal or surpass her previous highly-successful novels seeped in Napoleonic spies, romance and burlesque comedy? Yes, comedy. They say “dying is easy; comedy is hard” and it is so true. There are few authors in the genre who will even attempt it. Willig excels.

One of the main reasons I enjoy the “Pink” series so much (besides the humor) is that they take me back to Regency England, and the characters are SO original. Willig started the series in 2004 with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Each successive novel features a new set of protagonists: a romantic couple thrown together by mystery, espionage and love. After ten novels I have never been disappointed.

Set in 1806 London, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla re-introduces us to the three young Misses from Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies in Bath, brought together in the seventh novel, The Mischief of the Mistletoe: Miss Sally Fitzhugh, Miss Agnes Wooliston and Miss Lizzy Reid. They are in Town for the Season, chaperoned by Lord and Lady Vaughn whose next door neighbor is reported to be a vampire. Yes, vampires are all the rage in London at the moment due to Lizzy Reid’s step-mother’s best-selling novel The Convent of Orsino. No one is above suspicion, especially aristocrats.

Bored by the soiree in progress, Sally takes up the challenge and enters the creepy, un-kept garden of the purported vampire next-door and immediately meets a tall, dark, pale stranger, Lucien, Duke of Belliston. Eeeek! Curiosity and sparks fly for the enigmatic duke and the adventurous Miss. After some witty repartee, Sally returns to her friends without any loss of blood or ego, determined to learn more about him. Her chance presents itself at the next ball, a coming out party for Lucien’s younger sister, who has been raised by their aunt and uncle at the family estate in England while Lucien escaped to his mother’s family in Louisiana. Their parent’s had died twelves year prior under a cloud of mystery. Was their death by poison an accident or murder? Haunted by scandal and his past, Lucien has returned to England to discover the truth. When Sally and Lucien re-connect at the party a mysterious note calls them to a midnight meeting in the garden only to discover a young woman dead on a marble bench—the blood drained from her throat. Shocked and horrified, Lucien and Sally are quick to notice that this is a staged murder in attempt to implicate Lucien. Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire slayings and uncover a decade-old murder of his parents.

Vampires? Really? I was skeptical. Haven’t vampires been done to death in novels lately? It didn’t take long for me to realize that this plot device was great fun – a way to bridge Gwendolyn Reid’s (nee Miss Gwendolyn Meadows) novel The Convent of Orsino, introduced in in The Passion of the Purple Plumeria and connect Sally Fitzhugh, sister of the famous Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh. Connections and creativity are what Willig is all about as a writer. Her historical research is also Nonpareil. Readers will be wowed by references to Gothic Fiction that Jane Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland was addicted to in Northanger Abbey and all other manner of social context to the era and modern times including Monty Python Flying Circus jokes and Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly vampire Edward Cullen.

What sets this novel apart in the series is its new direction away from its roots: historical romance/spy/comedy/ adventure. There is still all the Willig style of high-burlesque comedy, witty banter and suspenseful adventure, but those dead set on a Napoleonic vs. British spy espionage will be thwarted. Refreshingly, this is a Regency-era mystery with undertones of spy themes. We still have the tepid modern day story of Eloise and Colin popping in to delay the historical action, but her hunky hero Lucien is one of her most swoon-worthy and her spunky heroine Sally is down-right adorable. Vampire plot not-with-standing, I was totally glamoured and entranced by every word.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig
NAL Penguin (2014)
Trade paperback (496) pages
ISBN: 978-0451414731

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of NAL Penguin © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, by Lauren Willig (2013) From the desk of Christina Boyd

Acclaimed author Lauren Willig’s latest offering, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, is the tenth novel in her New York Times best selling Pink Carnation series. This historical romance series of Napoleonic era English spies, that fight for Britain and for love, is constructed within a modern day love story, told from the point of view of the American grad student Eloise Kelly who is writing her dissertation on the true identity of the Pink Carnation, the master British spy of the time.

In Purple Plumeria, (those of us who have been previously “Pinked,” often refer to the novels by the abbreviated Flower title…), the handsome Colonel William Reid, who we first encountered in Blood Lily (The Betrayal of the Blood Lily) has returned to his daughters in England from a lifelong military career in India only to discover his youngest has recently disappeared from boarding school with one of her classmates.  Soon we learn the other missing student is Agnes Wooliston, the sister of British spymaster, errr, ehm, spymistress, the Pink Carnation – generally known as Miss Jane Wooliston – recalling  her home from Paris to England. And where Miss Wooliston goes, so goes her caustically witty and straight-laced companion, and adroit, clever, parasol-wielding agent of the War Office, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. While conducting an interview with the headmistress, they meet the aforementioned comely, charming Colonel.

Gwen didn’t like any of this. She didn’t like it one bit. All her instincts, well honed over years of midnight raids, were shouting “trouble.” How much of the trouble was coming from the situation and how much from a certain sun-bronzed colonel was a matter for debate. Bad enough that Agnes had gone missing; worse yet to have to deal with the parent of the other girl, poking his nose in—however attractive a nose it might be—and posing questions that might prove inconvenient for everyone. And by everyone, she meant the Pink Carnation.  p. 55

Finding they must work together if they have any hopes of finding the two young ladies, the Colonel discovers his partner to be quite a delightful, refreshing conundrum and not only because of her dexterity while under attack. The lines at the corners of Colonel Reid’s eyes crinkled. “Do you ever allow anyone else the last word, Miss Meadows?”  “Not if they haven’t wit enough to seize it,” said Gwen. “That,” said Colonel Reid, ‘sounds remarkably like a challenge.” p. 92 She on the other hand, never expected to be partnered with such a man and is surprised by the thoughts and emotions he inspires.  He looked at her quizzically. They were close enough that she could make out the faint hint of a scar beside his lip, close enough to kiss. Where had that ridiculous thought come from? p. 93 Could our uptight, upstanding, paragon of virtue, spinster-heroine have passion simmering beneath that starchy, purple plumed facade?

We last left our modern day Harvard grad student Eloise in book #9, The Garden Intrigue, the story telling the story, (or is it the story in the story? much like the chicken or the egg?), researching the Napoleonic Wars, specifically, the Pink Carnation, while living with her boyfriend, Colin Selwick at his country family estate, Selwick Hall. As it would happen, she fell into this love affair while researching his very ancestors – and with only 2 months left until she is expected to return to Harvard, the American one on the other side of the pond – she is as anxious about leaving him as she is about discovering her research has come to an unexpected standstill.

No matter where I looked, I couldn’t find any reference to Miss Jane Wooliston or Miss Gwendolyn Meadows in my sources post 1805. Edouard de Balcourt went on merrily living in the Hotel de Balcourt, toadying up to the Emperor (until the Restoration, at which point he abruptly remembered that his father had been decapitated during the Revolution and he’d never liked that upstart Corsican dictator anyway), but his cousin and chaperone had left the building. p. 72

And when the Selwick family legend of “the lost jewels of Behar” stirs up the skulking about of Colin’s loathsome douche of a cousin/step-father, Jeremy Selwick-Alderly, their family’s matriarch demands the two men work together to find the treasure, or else.  Guided by childhood familial stories, a three-lined riddle, and a 200 year old book entitled, The Convent of Orsino by A Lady, the trio, embark on their own intrigue, which fortuitously re-ignites Eloise’s dissertation.

In the cunningly written Reader’s Guide, interviewing both the authors of The Convent of Orsino and the author of Purple Plumeria, Willig admits no little intimidation in pursuing Miss Gwen’s story and even wrote her Edwardian era stand-alone novel The Ashford Affair as a means of deferment. As much as I loved reading the fruits of her willful, blatant procrastination of this next Pink book, I am thoroughly satisfied with her win-win stratagems. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria has all the trademark characteristics of Lauren Willig’s previous Pink Carnation books: clever players and Napoleonic spy intrigue united with heart pounding romance. My only complaint: this book is not offered in hardback. In the spirit of Miss Meadows this reader snaps, “Hmph! It mars the look of the rest of my collection! The wrong trim on the wrong bonnet!”  *Sniff!* But since that is not the author’s fault and falls clearly to the publisher, Lauren Willig’s latest is still a 5 star read! Be certain to add it to your summer reading list. Added bonuses: Discussion Questions perfect for your book club, as well as an excerpt for her next in this series, due Summer 2014.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig
NAL Trade (2013)
Trade paperback (480) pages
ISBN: 978-0451414724

Cover image courtesy of the Penguin Group © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com.

Giveaway Winner Announced for Miss Lacey’s Last Fling

Miss Lacey's Last Fling, by Candice Hern (2012)22 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a copy of Miss Lacey’s Last Fling, by Candice Hern. The winner drawn at random is

  • Elsie who left a comment on July 26, 2013

Congratulations Elsie! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by August 7, 2013. Please tell me if you would like a print or digital version of the book. Print book shipment to US addresses, or eBook internationally.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013. It has been great fun. Our next review of “Lady Anne’s Excellent Adventure: A Regency Short Story,” will be on Wednesday, August 28th. I hope you can join us.

Book cover image courtesy of © 2012 Candice Hern; text © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Ashford Affair, by Lauren Willig © 2013 St. Martin’s PressFrom the desk of Christina Boyd

In a departure from her Napoleonic spy romances of the Pink Carnation Series, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig ventures into new territory with The Ashford Affair. Entwining one generation’s story with that of another, from post-Edwardian British society to modern day Manhattan to a coffee farm in Kenya, the long veiled secrets of a woman are unraveled.

Clementine Evans, a focused, driven law associate on the cusp of making partner in a large Manhattan firm, attends her beloved grandmother Adeleine’s 99th birthday and is accidentally enlightened to a family secret. At 34, Clemmie, feeling like her life is nothing but a 70-plus hour workweek, and a failed engagement, this intrigue becomes more than a distraction to the un-fulfilling, lonely details of her days.

Clemmie slid the picture back into the drawer. There was another underneath it, a studio portrait of a woman, her head tilted. Her pale hair was crimped in stylized waves around her face and her pale eyes gazed soulfully into the distance. She looked, somehow, strangely familiar, her cheekbones, the shape of her lips, as if Clemmie had seen her somewhere before.” p. 65.

But trying to get any information from her own tight-lipped mother proves difficult. And how is it that her ex-stepbrother knows more about the family histories than she does?

Adeleine Gillecote’s parents die when she is almost six and she grows up as the mouse-brown ward of her aristocratic aunt and uncle at Ashford Park, a grand English country house. Though brought up with her cousins, Addie never overcomes the status of a poor relation. Despite this, her best friend from almost the start is her vivacious, beautiful, golden cousin, Bea, who takes Addie under her wing, sheltering Addie from her unwelcoming mother, and earning her love and fidelity. As the girls grow and experience the pre-WWI balls and English society, Addie tries not to begrudge Bea’s beauty or her unaffected graces. But when a man comes between the two, it appears all loyalties come to an end, and, escaping to Kenya still isn’t quite far enough. “Addie pressed her fist to her lips, trying not to think what she was thinking. She closed her eyes, fighting a terrible certainty, the certainty that what she was hearing was true, that this was Bea, that Bea had, did, and always would do what she liked, regardless of the consequences, regardless even of Addie.”  p. 196.

Although this latest offering is a non-Pink novel, fans of Willig’s the Pink Carnation Series will be giddy with delight when they meet the handsome, cynical and witty descendant of Lord Vaughn. Yes! That Vaughn from The Masque of the Black Tulip.

“He looked feline himself, all boneless grace, with the measureless self-satisfaction afforded by knowing his ancestors had been dining off gold plate when others had still been scratching about in the dirt: the Honorable Theophilius Vaughn, the despair of the ancient line. According to his frustrated family, he had both the morals of a cat and all of its nine lives.” p. 248.

The spawn of Vaughn.”  Ha!! Her words from her website, not mine!

Some have described this novel as Out of Africa meets Downton Abbey. *sigh* Well, use those cinematic visuals if you must, but I can honestly attest, The Ashford Affair is so much more. Much more. This is the kind of the novel that will stay with you; keep you mulling over the vibrant characters and intrinsic detailing long after you’ve inhaled that satisfying last page. Lauren Willig’s The Ashford Affair is brilliant! Glittering brilliance.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig
St. Martin’s Press (2013)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1250014498

Cover image courtesy © 2013 St. Martin’s Press; text © 2013 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Giveaway Winner Announced for An Affair of Honor

Image of the book cover of An Affair of Honor, by Candice Hern © 2012 Candice Hern26 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a copy of An Affair of Honor by Candice Hern. The winner drawn at random is

  • sherrysbooks who left a comment on March 29, 2013

Congratulations Sherry! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by April 10, 2013. Please tell me which item you have won and if you would like a print or digital copy. Print book shipment to US addresses, or eBook internationally.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013. The challenge is open until July 1st, 2013, so please check out the details and sign up today!

Image courtesy © 2012 Candice Hern; text © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose