Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

As promised, here is my love letter to the wonderousness that is Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series.  As a History and French Grad, who wrote my dissertation on the effect of the French Revolution on the nobility of the Touraine* I have a real affinity (if not always affection – see the footnote) for this period of history.  Add into that the fact that I love time-slip novels (you know, books with two connected narratives in two different periods), romances, thrillers and humour, and there’s pretty much everything that I like in these novels that you can managed to combine in the same book.

Pink Cnarnation books
My Pink Carnation book collection (there are more on the kindle) in Book Central

To set the scene: American Eloise Kelly is history grad student working towards her PhD.  At the start of the first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, she has arrived in England to research her dissertation – which is on British spies.  She knows all about the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, but soon stumbles on a document that everyone has missed – one which contains the identity of the Pink Carnation – the most elusive and influential British spy of them all.  The books follow Eloise’s research as she uncovers nests of spies – on both sides – starting in 1803 and going all the way through til 1807.  The stories take in not just France and England, but Ireland, India and Portugal.  There are governesses, spy schools, double agents, triple agents, free agents, soldiers, privateers, ladies seminaries, exploding Christmas puddings, root vegetables, amateur theatricals, not so amateur theatricals, illegitimate children, drug smuggling, jewel theft, good poetry,very bad poetry and much, much more.

And then there’s romance, all types of romance: friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, employer/employee, (slightly) later in life romance, the list continues.  In fact I think the only one that is missing is accidentally/secretly pregnant – and that’s my least favourite trope, I’m good with that.  Although Eloise is always the modern day strand, the focus of the nineteenth century story changes each book – with the Pink Carnation hovering in the background until you reach the final book.  So if you don’t like one heroine, the one in the next book will be someone different (although you’ll probably have met her before).

Pink Carnation book covers
My distinctly non-matching collection (hardback, US & UK paperbacks) is hard to photograph neatly!

I’ve loved this series.  I borrowed the first book from the library, and, as is traditional, it sat in the library book bag for some time.  Then I read it and liked it, then the next and the next.  As the series has gone on, I’ve loved them more and more.  The early books got solid threes on Goodreads then it moved to fours, then fives.**

I don’t actually own the whole series at the current moment – the earlier books were published in the UK and I picked them up at the library or on Kindle.  Then they stopped and I started picking up the US editions because it was cheaper than the kindle editions (and we all know I love proper books).  So now I’ve read all of them, I want to go back and read again from the beginning and see if I can spot any clues more in the earlier books to what happens in the later ones – and I know they’re there, because I’ve read interviews with Lauren Willig where she says her subconcious puts bits in that she only realises later are key to later events!  But as I don’t own hard copies of them all (as you can see from the pictures) I can’t at the moment, so I suspect there’s some purchasing in my future!

Pink Carnation books in a pile
I tried to make a funky pile. It was harder than I expected. I’m not cut out for photography.

You can start your Pink Carnation journey with the first book on Kindle, Kobo or ePub, from Amazon or Waterstones or it may even still be in your local library. Foyles don’t have the first book – but they do have some of the later ones as well as Ms Willig’s standalone books. Go! Enjoy!  If you start this weekend you could be in Portugal in a few weeks…

* Using primary sources, spending weeks of the sunniest part of my year in France holed up in the departmental archive in Tours because I hadn’t got my act together to do the research earlier, and then discovering when I got home that really I could do with yet more information, not that I really knew where I would have found it or what to do with it if I had it. I still see my 2:1 as something of a miracle!

** It’s at times like these that I think I must either have been a really harsh grader back in the day, or I’ve got soft in my old age, or I’m reading more really good books.  In 2012, when I read the first Pink Carnation book I only gave out 7 five star ratings out of 205 books read (3 percent).  In 2015 43 from 368 – or 10 percent.  This bears investigation.  I smell a future post…

Authors I love, Book of the Week, historical

Book of the Week: The Orchid Affair

This week’s BotW is Lauren Willig’s The Orchid Affair – the eighth book in the Pink Carnation series. It’s been nearly two years since I read my last Pink Carnation book and I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoy them.  One of the really good things about this series is that Willig has come up with a way to generate plots that doesn’t involve breaking up couples that you love.

Orchid Affair book
My copy is the US hardback edition – which is pretty if very different from UK book covers

In part eight, we meet Laura, a governess for more than a decade, who has been recruited to the Pink Carnation’s spy network watching Bonaparte’s Paris.  She’s got a post in the household of Andre Jaouen – the right-hand man to the Minister of Police.  He’s part of an investigation is underway into a royalist plot – and Laura’s charged with reporting anything suspicious.  But, as always, things are more complicated than they seem.   Meanwhile back in the modern day, Eloise (the historian who is researching the Carnation’s network) is due to meet Colin’s mother.

This is a fun romp through Post-revolutionary France – with likeable characters and a gripping plot.  There’s a great balance of suspense and romance – and although I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Colin and Eloise, I appreciate that Willig is taking her time with those two and not rushing them into things – and that more of them might have slowed the pace of the rest of the book.

My only real problem with this book was that the copy that I got is the US edition and so it was in American English – not British English – which in books like this yanks me out of the narrative abit (sometimes to Google things – like AP French). But hey, when you have a backlog like mine, and strict rules about book spending you can’t be picky.  And it’s a very minor quibble really.

There’s another three Pink Carnation books I haven’t read yet – with a twelfth and final volume due this year.  I suggest you start at the beginning so that the Colin and Eloise thing works best for you, but really they all work quite well on their own.  Although you may not get the running jokes. The Orchid Affair is available from Amazon, Waterstones and Kindle – but I don’t think there’s been a UK edition, which can make the prices a bit.. high (hence why it’s taken me two years to get to the Orchid Affair).  But the earlier books in the series did get a UK release, so you should be able to get your hands on them – I got the first couple from my local library.

***Bonus content****

Regular readers know that I like matching books.  I have a couple of this series on my kindle (and the novellas), borrowed a few from the library, and then started buying.  But due to the vagaries of the book market, I have three different sizes and styles of books – out of three.  There isn’t a way to shelve this and make me happy.

I need to move these to the other end of the shelf, then they can be in series order at least…