Book review: ‘The Mischief Of The Mistletoe’ by Lauren Willig

Arabella Dempsey is in a quandary. Fearful of becoming a further burden on her aging father and three younger sisters, Arabella cannot return to the only home she’s known of late: her Aunt Osborne’s, which has recently become populated with a money-hungry young army officer — her aunt’s new husband, and a man half her age. No matter that this guy was once courting Arabella and fighting for her affections; and no matter, too, that her good friend Jane Austen is now warning her away from accepting a position doing the only thing that could offer her financial security: teaching.

Arabella has to do what she must.

Armed only with her few possessions and desire to make a living, our heroine arrives at Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies in Bath, England, where she soon runs smack into Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh, the older brother of young Sally, a curious and sparky pupil there. As Turnip visits to deliver Christmas gifts to his sister, he introduces himself to Arabella as if she’s a stranger — but she remembers him, even if he can’t place her. Suddenly bold, Arabella reminds him of the time they spent together in London, when she was nothing but a shy wallflower and Turnip, popular and handsome, flitted about to every lady in the ballroom but her.

Not so encouraging for Arabella’s ego.

After a kerfuffle with a Christmas pudding that lands Arabella flat on the street, Turnip flies to her rescue — the first salvation of what will prove many in coming days. Inside a soggy holiday treat is a note, scribbled in French: “Meet me at Farley Castle, tomorrow afternoon. Most urgent.” And thus begins a rollicking adventure that brings Turnip, Arabella and other members of the British ton closer together — and, hopefully, closer to solving a mystery that brings Arabella to the edge of danger.

Lauren Willig’s The Mischief Of The Mistletoe, the seventh book in her popular Pink Carnation series, is a wildly entertaining, funny and engaging holiday story that centered around two unlikely lovers and their unexpected entrance into the world of espionage. Arabella is about as far from a spy as one can get — pretty but not beautiful; tall, thin, unassuming; quiet and bookish, a teacher and wallflower. Conversely, Turnip is a boisterous companion: striking and talkative, wealthy but not snobbish. Infamous for his perceived lack of brains, Turnip still manages to intrigue Arabella for being exactly what so many other rich British bachelors are not: patient, kind, attentive and thoughtful. And fast on his feet.

I read the first book in Willig’s series years ago, pre-blogging, but couldn’t tell you much about The Secret History Of The Pink Carnation. Luckily, that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this one; any background I needed to enjoy the story was provided early on. What I loved best about this novel was Willig’s light, humorous tone; even when some Serious Stuff was going down, Arabella and Turnip’s witty banter had me giggling. Despite the fact that this is historical romance (or historical fiction, take your pick), Willig doesn’t take herself too seriously. The book is quick and engaging — a truly pleasant read.

And what a surprise to find our dear Jane Austen here, operating as the ever-present voice of reason (and sarcasm) when Arabella, motherless, needs guidance. Austen lived in Bath in the early 1800s, when The Mischief Of The Mistletoe takes place, but hated the tar out of it. Our fictional heroine, Arabella, wanted nothing more than to be free of the place — and her family’s strife — herself. They are long-time friends in Willig’s latest, and I loved Jane’s cameos. They really placed and anchored the story for me.

Of course, I couldn’t talk about this one without extolling the virtues of the romance happening here! Turnip and Arabella’s slow realization of their feelings for one another was wonderfully done, and the scenes in which they talk, dance and laugh together teem with romantic tension. Willig gave us just enough to whet our appetites but keep us wanting more, and I turned the pages hoping to get another taste of their blooming love affair. The story’s mystery came as a surprise to me, too, and was one I didn’t see coming. If I’d really tried to read the signs, I might have been able to uncover it — but I was too busy drooling over Turnip, who cuts a pretty dashing figure as a hero.

Lovers of historical fiction and romance will likely love this holiday tale, which sped by as I got lost in the world of Regency England — one of my most favorite places. And what’s not to love about that lush cover? I actually gasped when I pulled it out of the mailbox. Gorgeous!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525951873 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘It Happened One Autumn’ by Lisa Kleypas

happened_one_autumnWhen Lillian Bowman and Marcus, Lord Westcliff meet each other first in Lisa Kleypas’s Secrets of A Summer Night, their dislike for each other is palpable. Lillian finds Marcus arrogant, haughty and boring; Marcus views Lillian as loud-mouthed and improper. And Marcus doesn’t hesitate to quickly lump her in with friend and fellow wallflower Annabelle as little more than a “husband hunter” — one of the countless women on a quest to marry a rich, titled Englishman, no matter the cost.

But things change in It Happened One Autumn, the second book in Kleypas’s Wallflowers series. As Lillian — the daughter of a wealthy Americans who made their fortune in the soap industry, but lack the “blue blood” so demanded to be accepted in privileged circles — returns to Westcliff’s Stony Cross Park with her family, she begins to see Marcus more in his natural element . . . and, in turn, he begins to let his guard down. While the two first avoid one another in mutual annoyance, Marcus surprises Lillian and her sister Daisy by joining them in a game of rounders. Shocked that Marcus could have fun for even one moment, Lillian’s surprise gives way to interest . . . and quickly to infatuation. Marcus returns the sentiments, though he adamently refuses to acknowledge them. Until . . . one kiss from Lillian keeps Marcus up at night, wondering how he could possibly have feeling for someone he despised just days ago. Until . . . another wealthy suitor shows an avid interest in her — and she in him, hoping to get her parents’ demands that she marry a wealthy man off her shoulders. And until Marcus realizes he could lose her forever — if he doesn’t just lose that stodgy, straight-lipped English demeanor and do something about his feelings.

Like Secrets Of A Summer Night, I really got into this story. I never thought I would be so into historical romance, but this series has totally changed my opinion of what a great romance novel should be. I loved the interplay between sisters Daisy and Lillian, and so enjoyed the constant banter between Lillian and Marcus. Readers can see from the get-go that for all their feigned indifference to one another, they can’t help staring at each other sidelong from across any room. But the build-up was great and believable, and I loved getting to know all of the characters from Kleypas’s first novel better. I thought the dramatic turn of events toward the end was a bit odd . . . and had to chuckle a bit at the antics. But I guess it fit well into the greater whole, and I’m willing to suspend my belief a bit to enjoy a great story!

I’m looking forward to the next installment and seeing what’s in store for another dear wallflower . . . and can’t wait to see the progression of Marcus and Lillian’s relationship from here.

4 out of 5

ISBN: 0060562498 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Secrets Of A Summer Night’ by Lisa Kleypas

secrets_summer Here we go — my first serious foray into the romance genre! I picked up Lisa Kleypas’s A Wallflower Christmas this past December, wanting to read a holiday-themed novel to get me in the spirit. After some light research, I realized my sister andI had inadvertantly stumbled into a full-blown series — and just read the final book! That’s what I get for not looking it up on LibraryThing first. Regardless, I picked up Kleypas’s Secrets of a Summer Night, the first book in the Wallflowers series — and loved it!

Annabelle Peyton has a serious problem — after the death of her father and the collapse of the family’s finances, she, her mother and brother Jeremy are in a desperate situation. In her mid 20s, still unmarried and part of an illustrious group of “wallflowers” who seem to be shunned by the upper echelons of English society, beautiful Annabelle has some hard decisions to make: will she continue to attempt to snag the affections of a mawkish, geeky lord, or is she doomed to become the well-paid mistress — and unwed maid — of another?

Enter Simon Hunt — the wealthy, handsome and charistmatic businessman who remains on the outside of well-to-do British society himself. While Annabelle and fellow Wallflowers Lillian, Daisy and Evie hatch a desperate plan to win the attentions of a wealthy, if timid, lord at the estate of Lord Westcliff, Simon has plans of his own — namely, to finally win over Annabelle, a woman he’s admired for years. Annabelle is used to deflecting Simon Hunt’s attention, however — until she’s forced to admit there’s something tender to him she hadn’t perceived before.

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