Book review: ‘The Garden Intrigue’ by Lauren Willig

Drama, French society, a budding romance and lots of complications — the latest in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series delivers nothing less than the intrigue and snappy dialogue I’ve come to expect from this fun series, now in its ninth installment.

In this story within a story, widow Emma Delagardie flits through Parisian society as an associate of Napoleon Bonaparte’s family, hosting parties and enjoying her newfound friendships with powerful associates. One friend is Jane Wooliston, the subject of a poet’s ardor — Augustus Whittlesby’s ardor, in fact, though it’s undesired. Posing as a terrible poet so as to attract little suspicion in Paris, Augustus is actually a spy . . . and his awful verses are actually filled with clues for those in the know. His innocuous behavior allows him unlimited access to upper-crust French society — access he hopes to use to Britain’s benefit.

Though Augustus believes he’s actually in love with Jane, spending more time with the effervescent and outspoken Emma begins to change his mind — and when an opportunity to arises to gain access to Emporer Napolean through a play during a country weekend, Emma and Augustus are commissioned to work on it together. Their time in cahoots leads them to form new opinions about one another — but the masks they wear in public, and around each another, might not be what they seem.

Having read and enjoyed several of Willig’s Pink Carnation books, though not in order, I was happy to grab this latest installment — and it didn’t disappoint. The story was fun, light and very fast-paced, and I loved the setting of early 19th-century Paris. So much was happening here that, at times, it felt difficult to pin down — and I didn’t even mention the entire story-within-a-story plot of a modern-day grad student and her British boyfriend (Eloise and Colin, if you’re a devotee) above. The contemporary plot was less compelling to me, and I found myself flipping to return to the 1800s.

Zany, outspoken Emma was easily my favorite character. I loved her garish behavior — and the fact that she rarely seemed to give a fig what anyone thought of her. Disowned by her family because of an elopment to her now-deceased husband, Emma is definitely someone who cuts her own path. She stands in stark constrast to Augustus, a spy who uses terrible poetry as a cover. Though I appreciated Augustus’ cunning and the heavy dose of espionage happening in The Garden Intrigue, at times it felt a bit long. And I was a mite bored.

The push-and-pull conversations between Emma and Augustus had me grinning, though, and Augustus’ wordplay is fun for a word geek like me. Francophiles will love the Parisian setting and backdrop of Emperor Napoleon’s estate, and the romantics will enjoy the banter and budding romance between Augustus and Emma. Though I didn’t love this one as much as The Mischief Of The Mistletoe, it was a pleasant way to spend a few evenings — and I’d imagine Pink Carnation fans will gobble this one up.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062069284 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review

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