Book: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Title: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Chick Lit
Length: 400 pgs

Summary: Eloise Kelly is a PhD student chasing after the elusive Pink Carnation, a British spy during the Napoleonic Wars. Trekking across the Atlantic in search of primary sources to discover the identity of the Pink Carnation, Eloise discovers the biggest scoop of all time, one that the “finest historians” have missed–the secret history of the Pink Carnation. While reading journals of those involved, she stumbles upon a heady romance that leaves her aching for a little of her own. As from the front flap, “How did the Pink Carnation save England? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?”

pg 121 – “Miss Balcourt is not repugnant.” Richard twisted in his chair, and stared at the door. “What the devil is keeping supper?”
Geoff leaned across the table. “Well, if she’s not repugnant, then what’s the–ah.”
“Ah? Ah? What the deuce do you mean by ‘ah’? Of all the nonsensical…”
“You,” Geoff pointed at him with fiendish glee, “are unsettled not because you find her repugnant, but because you find her
not repugnant.”

pg 247 – Unfortunately, I knew exactly what I was suffering from. LIPID (Last Idiot Person I Dated) syndrome: a largely undiagnosed but pervasive disease that afflicts single women. […] As everyone knows, lipids are fats, and fats are bad for you, and therefore ex-boyfriends must be avoided at all costs.
This is what comes of having a bio major as a roommate for four years.

pg 279 – It wasn’t that I wanted Colin Selwick, I assured myself. Good heavens, no! I wanted what he stood for. I wanted someone who would drop a conversation when I appeared, who would worry if I said I felt sick, who would automatically shield me from being jostled without even stopping to think about it.

Why should you read this book?
First of all, just because the author has a PhD in history does not mean she got it all right. If you look at the Amazon reader reviews, you’ll find people bewailing such scenes as a young woman walking around at night, alone on the shipdeck, in her nightgown, talking to a man who had been a stranger not eight hours before. And in the time of Jane Austen! Please keep in mind that this is fiction, and it’s chick lit fiction at that, despite its historical fiction plot.

So, with that in mind, read this book for snappy dialogue, a fast plot, and some pretty funny characters. Pink Carnation has a creative little twist in taking a modern lead reading about a historical lead; the modern story is in first-person, and the historical fiction is in the third. I can’t say it’s an entirely new idea, but I was surprised in any case because I hadn’t realized the novel was written in such a fashion. I will say that I found the historical supporting cast more interesting than the historical romantic leads, Amy and Richard, and that the modern romance between Eloise and Colin should have been fleshed out a little more. But then again, that’s why there are books two and three, right? Another thing to look at when reading this book: the danger of using eye-catching words more than once. The fact that Willig used “stentorian” twice in the book had me laughing just for the fact that she must like that word. (FYI: stentorian is an adjective meaning extremely loud, and almost always describes someone’s voice.)

While I won’t claim this is high fiction, I also don’t think that was Willig’s intention. This is a feel good book to be read in a couple of hours with a certain suspension of disbelief. After all, she’s writing about a fake spy…I think we can give her a little leeway.

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