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

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

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 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

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

In the Pink Today with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

© Austenprose. In honor of today’s debut mass market release of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, by Lauren Willig, I am wearing pink with the goal of introducing five of my customers at Barnes & Noble to this fabulous series. Since it’s initial release in 2005, the “Pink” series of novels have continued to enchant me with Regency-era stories of spies, espionage and romance a la The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Here is the publisher’s description:

Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, an intelligent American who always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard’s Widener Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: a secret history that begins with a letter dated 1803. Eloise has found the secret history of the Pink Carnation—the most elusive spy of all time, the spy who single-handedly saved England from Napoleon’s invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, a wildly imaginative and highly adventurous debut, opens with the story of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a book within a book. Eloise Kelly settles in to read the secret history hoping to unmask the Pink Carnation’s identity, but before she can make this discovery, she uncovers a passionate romance within the pages of the secret history that almost threw off the course of world events. How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?

I am so excited that it has been released in mass market for the first time today, introducing it to a whole new generation of readers. Once you are hooked, and I am quite certain you will be, the series continues with six more novels: The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily and the soon to be released, The Mischief of the Mistletoe on October 28th. Yes, just thirteen days away!

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, by Lauren Willig – A Preview

Tuesdays in the book world are like Christmas. It is the official release day for many new titles. They arrive like presents to be opened and savored. Today, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig was officially released. It is the sixth book in the Pink Carnation series set in England, France and now India during the Napoleonic wars. I have read and or listened to an audio recording of all in the series and fans of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Regency novels will enjoy the escapades of Willig’s heroes and heroines as they employ espionage a la the Scarlet Pimpernel to thwart Napoleon’s crafty spies. 

Austen readers will recognize a few slight similarities in Willig’s characters and plots in homage to Jane Austen. The last book in the series The Temptation of the Night Jasmine had allusions to Austen’s gothic parody Northanger Abbey. Her young impressionable heroine Charlotte was as addicted to reading novels as Austen’s Catherine Moreland. Willig always offers great protagonists and compelling plots laced with wry humor. You can read my review of Temptation of the Night Jasmine at this link. It was one of my top 20 favorite Austenesque books of 2009. Here’s a description from the publisher of Blood Lily

The heroines of Lauren Willig’s bestselling Pink Carnation series have engaged in espionage all over nineteenth-century Europe. In the sixth stand-alone volume, our fair English heroine travels to India, where she finds freedom-and risk-more exciting than she ever imagined.  

Everyone warned Miss Penelope Deveraux that her unruly behavior would land her in disgrace someday. She never imagined she’s be whisked off to India to give the scandal of her hasty marriage time to die down. AS Lady Frederick Staines, Penelope plunges into the treacherous waters of the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where no one is quite what they seem-even her husband. In a strange country, where elaborate court dress masks even more elaborate intrigues and a dangerous spy called the Marigold leaves venomous cobras as his calling card, there is only one person Penelope can trust. 

Captain Alex Reid has better things to do than play nursemaid to a pair of aristocrats. Or so he thinks-until Lady Frederick Staines out- shoots, out-rides, and out-swims every man in the camp. She also has an uncanny ability to draw out the deadly plans of the Marigold and put herself in harm’s way. With danger looming from local warlords, treacherous court officials, and French spies, Alex realizes that an alliance with Lady Staines just might be the only thing standing in the way of a plot designed to rock the very foundations of the British Empire. 

The entire series to date includes: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Unlike the previous five novels in the series, Blood Lily’s characters have not been introduced in previous novels, so we have a fresh set of characters to discover and enjoy.

When this one arrives at my house – it will move to the top of my to be read pile and devoured as quickly as possible!

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