The Lure of the Moonflower: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig– A Review

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig 2015 x 200All good things must come to end. And so it seems must my favorite historical romance series, The Pink Carnation—offering us its twelfth and final installment, The Lure of the Moonflower. *deep sigh*

For eleven novels author Lauren Willig has enchanted us with Napoleonic spies, romance and laughter. It has been an amazing ride while it lasted. Now with one last fling ahead of me I started to read (and listen to the audio edition) this new novel. Pushing aside my deep lament, I came to the realization that I am a sappy sentimentalist. Honestly, how could I not be? I had been duly “Pinked”.

It is very fitting that this final book in the series focuses on Miss Jane Wooliston – the Pink Carnation herself, the infamous English spy who gave “the French Ministry of Police headaches” and “who had caused Bonaparte to gnash his molars into early extraction…” Let’s hope I have teeth by the end of the book.

It is 1807 and Napoleon’s army has invaded Portugal. At the urging of the British government, the Royal family has fled, sailing away to their colony in Brazil. Working as a British spy Jane is in Lisbon, the capital of a country that she is not familiar with nor does she speak the language. Her local contact is Jack Reid, aka the Moonflower, a rogue operative whose notorious turncoat antics are as fluid as the tide. The natural son of Scotsman Colonel William Reid and an Indian Princess, Reid is unaware of his connection to Jane through the marriage of her fellow spy Miss Gwendolyn Meadows to his father. She must convince Reid to assist her in discovering the whereabouts of the Mad Queen Maria who has been sequestered away by loyalists. The French are looking for her too in the hopes of using her influence to manipulate their cause. Besides the touchy family connection, Jane’s paring with Jack Reid is more than a bit awkward. He does not believe she is the Pink Carnation. She is very leery of his true loyalty. Continue reading

Giveaway Winner Announced for The Lure of the Moonflower

The Lure of the Moonflower, by Lauren Willig (2015)It’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway of one paperback copy of The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig. The lucky winner drawn at random is:

Lilyane Soltz, who left a comment on August 5, 2015.

Congratulations Lilyane! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by August 19, 2015 or you will forfeit your prize! Mail shipment to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and to author Lauren Willig for the excerpt and her publisher NAL (Penguin Random House) for the giveaway.

Cover image courtesy of NAL © 2015, excerpt Lauren Willig © 2015, Austenprose.com

The Lure of the Moonflower: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – Excerpt & Giveaway

The Lure of the Moonflower, by Lauren Willig (2015)It is release day for one of my favorite Regency-era series: The Pink Carnation, by Lauren Willig. Her latest and last installment is The Lure of the Moonflower. As you all gasp in shock over my last statement—yes—it is the last book in the series, now totaling 12 novels.

This week, we are honored to be among a group of select bloggers celebrating the release of The Lure of the Moonflower. Here is an excerpt and a chance at a giveaway of the novel. Details are listed at the bottom of the post. Just leave a comment to qualify.

DESCRIPTION (from the publisher)

In the final Pink Carnation novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, Napoleon has occupied Lisbon, and Jane Wooliston, aka the Pink Carnation, teams up with a rogue agent to protect the escaped Queen of Portugal.

Portugal, December 1807. Jack Reid, the British agent known as the Moonflower (formerly the French agent known as the Moonflower), has been stationed in Portugal and is awaiting his new contact. He does not expect to be paired with a woman—especially not the legendary Pink Carnation.

All of Portugal believes that the royal family departed for Brazil just before the French troops marched into Lisbon. Only the English government knows that mad seventy-three-year-old Queen Maria was spirited away by a group of loyalists determined to rally a resistance. But as the French garrison scours the countryside, it’s only a matter of time before she’s found and taken.

It’s up to Jane to find her first and ensure her safety. But she has no knowledge of Portugal or the language. Though she is loath to admit it, she needs the Moonflower. Operating alone has taught her to respect her own limitations. But she knows better than to show weakness around the Moonflower—an agent with a reputation for brilliance, a tendency toward insubordination, and a history of going rogue.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

That Summer: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:That Summer, by Lauren Willig (2014 )

After a successful divergence from her Napoleonic spy romances of the Pink Carnation series with the post-Edwardian The Ashford Affair, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig again embarks on another stand-alone narrative. Entangling one generation with the past is Willig’s trademark, and That Summer is of modern day Julia Conley as well as her ancestors in 1849.

In 2009, motherless Julia inherits an old family house in England from a great Aunt Regina Ashe, a woman she cannot even recall. One of the recently unemployed in the recession, she travels from New York City to Herne Hill, a district south of London, to view her inheritance and unload it as quickly as possible. Upon arrival, she meets her exceedingly obliging and maybe even presumptuous cousin, Natalie, who eagerly volunteers to help sort the old mansion and later even brings along the fine Nicholas Dorrington, if somewhat taciturn antiques dealer, to value the lot. Although they jest concerning hidden treasures, Julia cannot but wonder if in fact there might be some sort of riches her relations hope to unearth beneath the years of dust, dank oddments and papers. But what she had not expected was to exhume memories of her childhood.

Julia’s hand was on the knob of the door before she realized that she had retreated, step by step, ready to duck out and shut the door. She laughed shakily. Great. Metaphor made action. Her English professors in college would have loved that. Shut the door and shut the door. Just like she had been shutting the door all these years. Julia’s knuckles were white against the old brass doorknob. This was insane. Insane. What was she so afraid of? What was she so afraid of remembering? Maybe she was just afraid she would miss her. Her mother.” (87)

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Jane Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for Summer 2013

Summer is here — and it time to head to the beach or take that well-earned holiday and read great books!

Summer reads are always fun—and little light hearted and playful—and the Austenesque & Regency faire in the queue is so exciting that the Jane Austen Book Sleuth is thrilled to share what we will be reading and reviewing here on Austenprose in the coming months. Included are release dates and descriptions of the titles by the publisher to help you plan out your summer reading. Pre-order and enjoy! 

Austen-inspired Nonfiction 

Walking Jane Austen's London, by Louise Allen 2013Walking Jane Austen’s London, by Louise Allen (June 25) 

The London of Jane Austen’s world and imagination comes to life in this themed guidebook of nine walking tours from well-known landmarks to hidden treasures –each evoking the time and culture of Regency England which so influenced Austen’s wise perspective and astute insight in novels such as Pride and Prejudice. Extensively illustrated with full-color photographs and maps these walks will delight tourists and armchair travelers as they discover eighteenth-century chop houses, elegant squares, sinister prisons, bustling city streets and exclusive gentlemen’s clubs among innumerable other Austenesque delights.  

– During Jane Austen’s time, 1775 – 1817, London was a flourishing city with fine streets, fashionable squares and a thriving port which brought in good from around the globe. Much of this London still remains, the great buildings, elegant streets, parks, but much has changed. This tour allows the reader to take it all in, noting what Jane may have experienced while citing modern improvements such as street lighting and privies! 

ISBN: 978-0747812951
© 2013 Shire   Continue reading

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

The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation No 9), by Lauren Willig (2012)Guest review by Jeffrey Ward

Dear readers and fans I bring good news
Lauren Willig has shown her muse
In Pink Carnation number nine
The Garden Intrigue, most divine

Eloise Kelly is in England researching her dissertation on English espionage during the Napoleonic Wars; especially a shadowy figure known only as the Pink Carnation. Eloise’s friendship with Colin Selwick (whose ancestry included spies who worked with this secret agent) has permitted Eloise access to the family’s carefully guarded personal papers. Initially wary, the relationship between Eloise and Colin has blossomed into something more than professional. The “story-within-a-story” format shuttles between the present and the historic as Eloise strives to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation, the most elusive spy of all.

It seems everyone in a relationship, past or present, arrives at a life-changing crossroad. All of the principal characters choose to, or are forced to, disguise their ulterior motives. Eloise and Colin are at Selwick Hall planning an honorary banquet with an unwelcome filming crew on-site. Among the unsuspecting invitees are Jeremy, (Colin’s Stepfather) Joan, (Colin’s ex) Serena, (Colin’s sister) and Dempster (Serena’s ex) who are all thrown together. Why? Perhaps it is the rumors of an ancient treasure hidden on the estate’s property.  “Everyone putting on a false face, playing a role, perpetually engaged in a masque without a script.”  p. 318

Eloise’s academic grant is also soon to expire and she must make the decision to accept a teaching fellowship back in the United States or impose on Colin to support her if she remains in England. Will there be a “together” future for Eloise and Colin?

Time-tunneling back, Napoleon plans for the invasion of England and will unveil a secret weapon during a masque at his summer residence at Malmaison, France. American expatriate Emma Delgardie is a favorite with the Bonaparte family. She attended Madam Campan’s school for young ladies with her close friend Hortense, Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter. A child bride at 15, widowed at 19, Emma is pixie-like-pretty, gaudy, and savvy.  Everyone is attracted to Emma, especially  her “men.”

Nobody is attracted to Augustus Whittlesby but England’s home office due to his impenetrable espionage cover as a dramatic but mediocre poet. Never being taken seriously is his lot since he is forbidden to reveal the clever, intelligent, sensitive man that he actually is. The only way for Augustus to gain entry to Malmaison and the secret weapon is by deceiving Emma into partnering with him to create the nautical-themed masque. While Augustus works with Emma he is infatuated with another woman: Miss Jane Wooliston. “She was like a moonbeam, a faint gleam of light across the sky, making the throat grow dry and the heart constrict, beautiful to contemplate, impossible to hold. No. It wasn’t right. He wouldn’t give up this easily.” p. 177

With just a minor shuffling of dates, Willig brilliantly interweaves verifiable historical events into this elaborate intrigue. There are famous guest appearances: Emma’s Cousin Robert Livingston, broker of the Louisiana Purchase; Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat’ and a very convincing Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr. Fulton sends to Malmaison, not one but TWO, inventions including the plans for each: one harmless, one deadly: “He should have noticed. “Another device?”  “That would be the logical conclusion” said Miss Gwen crisply.  “Another device. One he doesn’t want anyone to see. But someone knows about it.” p. 231

Poetry is the predominant theme of the story and fittingly the language of romance. Each chapter is headed by a whimsical verse from the masque and poetic quotes are in abundance. All of chapter 13 is cleverly epistolary as Emma and Augustus show a budding affinity for each other through their missives.

More character-driven than action-packed, I found The Garden Intrigue a stirring and deeply felt romance. Ms Willig confidently showcases her literary maturity with page upon page of scintillating, heart-rending, emotional dialogue as she draws the reader to the innermost souls of the principals who guardedly probe for love, trust, and honesty in a treacherous environment. “You have every chance in the world and you chose to be what you are.”  Augustus’s lips moved with difficulty. “What am I?” He could see Emma’s throat move as she swallowed. “A fain’eant. A do-nothing.” She blinked away tears, tossing her head defiantly back.” p. 276

Yes, I laughed often, (picture Miss Gwen as a pirate captain), but also wept as Ms Willig tenderly recounts the isolated loss and grief in the lives of the hero, heroine, and others. This complex mystery took me through more twists and turns than an amusement park ride. I was left captivated by the thrilling human drama that is The Garden Intrigue like no other in this series, and I’ve read them ALL.  Lauren Willig, already on top of her game, raises the bar once again.  Need I say more?

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig
Penguin Group (2012)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0525952541
NOOK: ISBN-978-1101560334
Kindle: ASIN: B005GSZZ2O

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Giveaway winners announced for The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig

The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig (2012)49 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win an advance reading copy of The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig. The winners drawn at random are:

  • Sally Michele Shaw who left a comment on September 24, 2011
  • Christina B. who left a comment on September 25, 2011

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by October 19th, 2011. Shipment internationally.

Thanks to all who left comments! Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series is such a treat. I love her humor, high comedy and romance and I recommend them highly. Enjoy!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview of The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig & Giveaway

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation No 9), by Lauren Willig (2012)Regular readers of Austenprose will know that I am a huge fan of author Lauren Willig novels.  I absolutely adore her bestselling Pink Carnation series set during the Napoleonic Wars, filled with spies, humor and romance.

I was thrilled beyond words when Lauren agreed to write a short story for my upcoming Austenesque anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Her story “A Night at Northanger” was inspired by Jane Austen’s Gothic parody Northanger Abbey. In the spirit of Austen’s poke at the “horrid” Gothic fiction so popular in her day, Lauren has given us a modern-day comedy set in one of England’s most haunted homes, Northanger Abbey, where heroine Cate Cartwright meets a very familiar specter. Because Lauren had so much fun with Cate in “A Night at Northanger” she included her as a side character in her next novel in the Pink Carnation series, The Garden Intrigue. Due to be released on February 16, 2012, here is a short description from the publisher:

In the ninth installment of Lauren Willig’s bestselling Pink Carnation series, an atrocious poet teams up with an American widow to prevent Napoleon’s invasion of England.

Secret agent Augustus Whittlesby has spent a decade undercover in France, posing as an insufferably bad poet. The French surveillance officers can’t bear to read his work closely enough to recognize the information drowned in a sea of verbiage.

New York-born Emma Morris Delagardie is a thorn in Augustus’s side. An old school friend of Napoleon’s stepdaughter, she came to France with her uncle, the American envoy; eloped with a Frenchman; and has been rattling around the salons of Paris ever since. Widowed for four years, she entertains herself by drinking too much champagne, holding a weekly salon, and loudly critiquing Augustus’s poetry.

As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, Whittlesby hears of a top-secret device to be demonstrated at a house party at Malmaison. The catch? The only way in is with Emma, who has been asked to write a masque for the weekend’s entertainment.

Emma is at a crossroads: Should she return to the States or remain in France? She’ll do anything to postpone the decision-even if it means teaming up with that silly poet Whittlesby to write a masque for Bonaparte’s house party. But each soon learns that surface appearances are misleading. In this complicated masque within a masque, nothing goes quite as scripted- especially Augustus’s feelings for Emma.

A Grand Giveaway!

It is hard to decide if I appreciate Lauren’s historical detail, witty dialogue or her swoon worthy romantic characters best, but the combination is always one of my favorite books of the year.

You can be one of the first to read The Garden Intrigue months before it goes on sale! Even before ME! Lauren has generously offered two advance reading copies to Austenprose readers in a giveaway contest. Just leave a comment stating what aspects of Lauren’s Pink Carnation series you enjoy most, or if you are a new reader to the series (shocking) what intrigues you about reading The Garden Intrigue, by midnight PT Wednesday, October 5, 2011. Winners to be announce on Thursday, October 6, 2011. Shipment internationally. Yep, that’s right. Global shipment! Good luck!

Thanks again to Lauren Willig for her generosity in giving Austenprose readers this great chance to win a copy The Garden Intrigue. I can’t wait to read it!

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation No 9), by Lauren Willig
Dutton (2012)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0525952541

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

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

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig (2011)It is always a very special day when a new Pink Carnation novel is released. I had marked my calendar on January 20th with a big red X in anticipation. Lauren Willig is one the few authors that I just go nuts over. (How unprofessional to gush like a schoolgirl. I will be kind on myself and allow this one indulgence. Well maybe more than one, but that is another story.) The Orchid Affair is Willig’s eighth novel in the popular Pink Carnation series set during the Napoleonic Wars between England and France. They involve historical espionage, romance, swash, buckle and a fair dose of comedy and sardonic wit – neatly ticking off all the check boxes on my ideal historical/romance/comedy reading hit list.

The opening chapters of Orchid were an abrupt change after the high comedy of Willig’s last offering, The Mischief of the Mistletoe. Get ready to shift gears. No Christmas pudding capers here! It is 1802 post-revolutionary Paris. The tone is serious and somber; lots of cold rain, a prison interrogation and a visit by Madame Guillotine. Brrr!

Our heroine Miss Laura Grey is eager to do anything other than the governessing that has consumed her life for the past sixteen years. Recruited by the elusive flower spy, The Pink Carnation, she has just graduated from the Selwick Spy School and traveled to Paris on her first mission to, of course, do what she knows best, be a governess, albeit an undercover one, teaching young children and blending into the woodwork as a servant in the household of an important police official. Undercover as Laure Griscogne’s (code named The Silver Orchid), her assignment is to observe and collect information on the movements of her new employer Andre Jaouen who works at the Prefecture de Paris under Louis-Nicolas Dubois, Chief of Police and protégé of Joseph Fouche, Bonaparte’s Minister of Police. Jaouen and his arch-rival Gaston Delaroche, an agent of Fouche, are investigating a Royalist plot to overthrow the First Consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, and reinstate the Bourbon line.

Paris is grim and imposing – a police state – and not at all what Laura remembered from her childhood. Orphaned at sixteen by the untimely death of her artistic parents, famous French sculptor Michel de Griscogne and Italian poetess Chiara de Veneti, Laura has spent the last half of her life earning her bread in the oppressive governess trade in England. Her current employers wife Julie Beniet died four years prior to her arrival and their two young children have until recently been raised by a family friend in the country. Jaouen is suspicious that Laura is a plant in his house by Gaston Delaroche, the mad megalomaniac to sinister Fouche. He does not quite know what to make of this prim, matter-of-fact governess. She on the other hand, is as equally curious of him. Handsome and austere, this disheartened Revolutionist ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité are now a muddled dream after the coup d’état of Napoleon and his self-installation as First Consul. The age of revolutionary enlightened for both of them is now a regime of terror and fear.

Teaching Latin texts and Aesop’s Fables seem rather dull and un-spy-like to Laura until her employer’s secret meetings, suspicious doings and shocking reveal change the course of her mission. As Andre and Laura put aside their differences, they are forced to flee the city as husband and wife with the children under the cover of traveling performers in a Commedia dell’arte troupe. In hot pursuit is the evil Gaston Delaroche.

As in all of the previous novels in the Pink Carnation series except The Mischief of the Mistletoe, the parallel plot with contemporary scholar Eloise Kelly prompts the historical story as she conducts her own research for her doctoral thesis on the enigmatic British flower spies during the Napoleonic Wars. Her ongoing relationship with Colin Selwick, a direct descendant of the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation, brings them to Paris for Colin’s estranged mother’s weekend birthday party. As both plots unfold, will the Pink Carnation’s help be enough to assist Laura and Andre to safety and success, supply Eloise with enough footnotes for her dissertation and the reward of a marzipan pig?

What a fun adventure The Orchid Affair is. Since a ladies imagination is very rapid, I was guessing at plots left and right. Hmm? 1.) Stern widower in a dripping greatcoat and prim impoverished governess? Will there also be mad wife hidden in the attic like Jane Eyre? 2.) Brave widower and prim governess flee nasty government officials? Do they sing next and go mountain climbing like Sound of Music? 3.) Stoic widower and prim governess escape by disguise as actors in a comedy troupe a la Scaramouche? Oh, it doesn’t matter in the least because it is all totally original in the end. I just like playing these mind games. Readers will see the fun too and join in the hunt.

Fans of the series will be pleased to be back in the “Pink” again. As a standalone novel, The Orchid Affair is an historical triumph. Willig is known for her romances, but this really is heavier on the historical fiction than romance aside. It hearkens back deeply to The Scarlet Pimpernel for espionage and swash. A true Anglophile, I didn’t know much about this period of French history until I read For the King this past summer. This novel covers a later period in Napoleon’s reign as First Consul by a few years, but I did recognize many of the same names. Thankfully, less Googling. The research alone must have warranted many trips to the actual Musée des Collections Historiques de la Préfecture de Police in Paris. The detail is quite stunning.

One of Willig’s trademarks is to interlink characters from one novel to the next. It gives the reader a sense of continuity, like one big happy “Pink” family. She has successfully achieved this by introducing a character, albeit briefly, in novel and then highlighting them in another. We meet some old acquaintances here too: Lady Selwick, the Pink Carnation appears, and one of my favorites, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows, Our Lady of the Sharp Umbrella, but the two new protagonists, Laura Grey and Andre Jaouen take up the majority of the narrative, and I could not be happier. They are delightful: both guarded and reserved, they are hiding their real personalities that come to life because of circumstance and association. Their romance is well wrought and touching. Willig’s writing is just, well, awesome. There are few who can surpass her in witty dialogue and imaginative plots. She is top on my list of contemporary authors.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, (The Pink Carnation series No 8), by Lauren Willig
Dutton, Penguin Group (USA)
Hardcover, (400) Pages
ISBN: 978-0525951995

Merry Christmas! Winners Announced in The Mischief of the Mistletoe Grand Giveaway

Santa has arrived and selected two winners of The Mischief of the Mistletoe Grand Giveaway and a special ornament from the author Lauren Willig! And the lucky winners are…

Jen X & Ruth!

Congratulations ladies. You are in for a treat. Please contact me with your full name and address by January 01, 2011 to claim you prize. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only.

Merry Christmas and enjoy your novel & ornament & Christmas pudding.

Cheers, Laurel Ann

Author Lauren Willig filmed during a reading of The Mischief of the Mistletoe at Lady Jane’s Salon. December 2010

© 2007-2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Regency-era English Christmas Pudding: American Fruitcake’s Kissin’ Cousin

Mrs. Beeton's Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding circa 1890s

I recently read the delightful Regency-era Christmas novel The Mischief of the Mistletoe, by Lauren Willig. Our hero Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh and heroine Arabella Dempsey are brought together by a Christmas pudding! Yep. A very creative ice-breaker to introduce and spark a romance, right?

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas, by Lauren Willig (2010)In 1803, Arabella is an instructor at Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies in Bath, where “Turnip’s” sister Sally is a pupil. He is delivering her Christmas hamper to her and she in turn gives him a small muslin-wrapped and beribboned Christmas pudding which he proceeds to drop after barreling into to our heroine in the making in the hallway of the school. After profusely apologizing, he bounds out the door with Arabella in pursuit in an attempt to return the pudding to him:

“Mr. Fitzhugh?” she called after him, holding the small, muslin-wrapped parcel aloft. “Mr. Fitzhugh! You forgot your pudding!”

Blast. He didn’t seem to have heard her. Lifting her skirts, Arabella hurried down the short flight of steps. Mr. Fitzhugh, his legs longer that hers, was already some way down the street, making for a very flashy phaeton driven by a team of matched bays.

“Mr. Fitzhugh!” she called, waving the pudding in the air, when the second man in one day knocked the breath out of her by taking a flying leap at the pudding she held in her hand.

It must have been pure stubbornness that caused her to keep her grip, but as the man tugged, Arabella found herself tugging back. Harder.

“I need that pudding!” her growled. “Give it over.”

“No!” gasped Arabella, clinging to the muslin wrapper with all her might. People couldn’t just go about taking other people’s puddings. It was positively un-British.

Indeed! “Turnip” comes to her rescue, fending off her assailant and hauling her off the ground for a second time in a day. The Christmas pudding is slightly askew from its original round shape, but what puzzles her most is a piece of paper attached to it written in French. Is it a cryptic message? A clue? A joke? It is this mystery that draws them together and the catalyst to their adventure and eventual romance. Continue reading