Thursday, October 23, 2014

427 (2014 #55). The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

by Lauren Willig,
read by Kate Reading

I was looking in the library for a some historical fiction audiobooks, and this one came up in a catalog search.  It's really a romance and barely any historical fiction, and I didn't learn anything new about history (other than the fact that Napoleon's stepdaughter really had an English language tutor who was a suspected spy and ultimately dismissed), but it was still a fun read.

In the spring of 1803, Amy Balcourt is a 20-year-old half-French, half-British orphan (her father was guillotined, her mother pined away after) living with her aunt and uncle in England.  Her older brother invites her back to France during a truce in the ongoing hostilities between France and England, and Amy sails over with her cousin Jane and a spinster chaperone, Miss Gwen.  Since childhood, Amy has been obsessed with British spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and a member of his league, the Purple Gentian, who more or less takes over when the Scarlet Pimpernel is unmasked.  Amy is eager to go to France to find the Purple Gentian, learn who he is, and join his league to revenge her parents' deaths.

The Purple Gentian is really Sir Richard Selwick, 27, who just happens to be sharing Amy's boat to France.  Sparks fly between them, but (naturally) romance blossoms too.  Meanwhile, framing Amy's and Richard's story is the 2003 tale of Eloise, who is working on a dissertation on the mysterious British spy known as the Pink Carnation.  She contacts Selwick's living descendants and finds one who is helpful, the elderly Arabella Selwick-Alderly.  Mrs. Selwick-Alderly shares Amy's correspondence and journals with Eloise, much to the displeasure of her nephew Colin Selwick (and of course there we have another budding romance).

Amy is a rather foolish (and clumsy) amateur spy, and Richard behaves irrationally around her, while Napoleon and various other Bonapartes make cameo appearances throughout the book.  As I said, this book is more romance than historical fiction, and a lot of what happens is silly and implausible (and funny). Good chick-lit beach-read though - like all good romances, there's a bit of steamy sex.

This is the first of what will ultimately be 12 (full) books (there are also a novella and a bonus chapter) in the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig (whose bio sounds a bit like the Eloise character).  I thought it was interesting that the covers for many of the books in the series are based on real paintings - in this case, it's "Lady Holding Flowers in her Petticoat" by Augustus Jules Bouvier.

Kate Reading (real name:  Jennifer Mendenhall) does a fine job with American, British, and French accents and both male and female voices in the audiobook.  I might listen to a few more in the series when I'm looking for something easy and entertaining.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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