The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

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The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Rollicking, bodice-ripping, and engrossing: a historical, yet contemporary, mystery romance. The 400+ pages flew by and I loved every moment!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Allison and Busby
ISBN: 978-0749007614

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I used to have months when I would gorge on chick lit before I got married. I lived in London and would wile away the tedium of the tube by escaping into easy, comforting reads of twenty-somethings who worried about shoes and shopping and men. It was reassuring to know that the girl, albeit after a series of highs and lows, would ultimately get the guy. I'm a different kind of person now, a stay at home mum more likely to be found playing in the park than shoe-shopping in London, and so it's been a while since I've felt like picking up a chick lit book. Something about this one intrigued me though. From the back cover blurb it's hard to tell if it's a historical novel, or contemporary chick lit, or perhaps some kind of mystery. I have a feeling that if you come to it with any particular expectations of it fulfilling one of these genres you might be disappointed. But if you see it as a fun, exciting, genre-less read then, hopefully, you won't be able to put it down.

Eloise Kelly is an American academic, trawling through archives in London for information about English spies during the Napoleonic wars. She fantasises about these masked crusaders - the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and the Pink Carnation. The first two were unmasked in their lifetime, but the secret identity behind the Pink Carnation has never been revealed. Eloise hopes to discover the truth by reading through old diaries and letters. Yet this book is not really the modern day story of Eloise. It's actually the story of Amy and Richard, two people that Eloise 'meets' through some previously private family diaries and letters. Eloise is merely the link to allow Amy and Richard's Napoleonic story to be told, and it is Amy, a feisty young girl, half French, half English, who is the real heroine.

Amy is small, stubborn, intelligent and ambitious. After her father is taken to the guillotine she longs to be able to join with one of the daring English spies to help rescue other prisoners and defy Napoleon. She and her cousin Jane practice and plan as children, dressing up in disguises, finding secret escape routes in their house, until finally they are old enough to be able to go over to France. However, they have no idea who the Purple Gentian is, or quite how to discover his identity in order to join his league. Amy leaps to conclusions, sometimes dangerously, as she uncovers mysterious goings on at her brother's home in Paris and infiltrates her way into French society life.

Historical purists should steer clear. The 1803 action is all very contemporary in flavour. The characters speak as we do today, and although there is some stab towards social conventions of the time they pretty much act as we do now too. Yet despite this I felt that Lauren Willig had captured the feel of the period, and there was definitely a flavour of Paris, of the Tuilleries, as well as some of the fashions of the time.

If, on the other hand, you're hoping for a realistic spy/mystery story or a swash-buckling action adventure then you're probably looking in the wrong place. There is action, even a little sword action, and there is adventure too, but a lot of it relates to Amy's desperate attempts to become worthy to be part of the Purple Gentian's band of merry men. The men, even our masked hero, do seem a little, well, silly. They spend most of their time ogling the women's heaving bosoms, or eyeing up their lithe figures beneath the long dresses of the time. I wondered how exactly the Purple Gentian had managed to carry out any of his daring raids at all.

And if, after reading the back cover, you're imagining a standard chick lit book all about Eloise and her dissertation and any young men she meets along the way then again, you might be disappointed that she's in very little of the book and instead all these historical figures seem to march in and take over the story! I think the thing that really made it work for me was the relationship between Amy and Richard. They're both so intelligent, and opinionated, that they clash beautifully and have some great spats. You can feel the electric tension between them and how they are constantly poised between scratching each other's eyes out or passionately kissing. Speaking of kissing, there are a few sex scenes scattered through the story, but although they made me blush a bit they weren't too hammy or cringe-making. They did seem a little reckless in their romantic clinches at times, and I'm not convinced a young well-to-do lady of 1803 would have let a man do quite all the things he did... Anyway, all of the characters are fun and lively, except perhaps for Eloise who I personally found a bit annoying. Fortunate then that she plays a relatively small part in the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and only docked it half a star because of not liking Eloise so much, and for a few too many foot-stamping tantrums by Amy that felt like overkill. Otherwise, this was a great, easy read that whisked me splendidly away from my world of nappies and left me with that old happy-ending glow.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Another recent bodice ripper you might enjoy is Duchess by Night by Eloisa James.

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Buy The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig at


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