Bookworm gushing on Lauren Willig

Grown-up alert! Grown-up alert! Not-for-the-classroom entertainment! 😉 

So, this summer I’ve drifted away from my “read what my kids do” tendency, because let’s be honest, I needed a break from YA fiction.  A few years ago, while goofing off in B&N, I was drawn to Lauren Willig’s debut novel The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.  I’m normally cheap, but I bought it on the spot and fell in love.  It became a series, and I became slightly obsessed.

Basic plot: A grad student Eloise searches for information on the Pink Carnation and has to make nice with the Selwicks– descendants of another spy– to get dissertation information.  The novel flips back and forth to modern Eloise’s trials and triumphs and Napoleonic Era France/England/British Empire. The novels are a mesh of historical romance/spy mysteries with a dash of chick lit.

I have a lot of things I love about these books, and a lot of things that I don’t. Let’s start with the positive and go from there, shall we?

  • I love the genre mesh. I was a history major, and I love digging up research. This book makes me want to look things up. It falls into the chick lit genre, but I don’t feel so guilty enjoying it since it’s got the mystery and history aspect.
    • Also, if you’re going to pick a historical era to have spies, Napoleonic era seems like an awesome time to do so.
  • The feel of the books are Austenesque. Quick wit, great characters, lots of vivid scenery. Great stuff on the societal norms.
  • Sometimes it feels like six degrees of separation when it comes to characters, their relations to other characters, and how they fit in the books’ schemes. Sometimes, minor characters get their own books!
    • This includes some of the more unsavory characters that everyone likes to hate and the unlikely bumbling hero, along with a few wallflowers or two.
  • The author Lauren Willig seems like a sweetheart. Her novels are all the more impressive because she was a Harvard Law student when she began writing this as a stress release. She also has a blog and is extremely active on it.  She wrote a Christmas novella that you can read free on the site. She has lots of giveaways.  You know when the book is at the publisher ready to go. I like how she stays connected with her fans.

I only have a few complaints. Let’s be honest, I need to get better at being more objective on this blog, so here’s some downsides:

  • Sometimes, Ms. Willig is a bit ADD in dialogue and writing style. I notice that the characters talk like I do:  I switch topics at the drop of a dime, and  no one else sees the connections that make me think of what I’m talking about.  This drives my family, friends, and coworkers crazy. Realistic conversation style? Perhaps. Easy to follow? Nope.   On occasion, a tangent will last long enough that you may have to go back a few paragraphs to remember what was originally happening, especially with earlier books.
    • I actually emailed her one time about the abrupt ending of her second book.  I was genuinely confused. It flipped from historical setting to Eloise  waking up, saying the bad guy got away.  One line explained it, but I totally missed it. (She didn’t email me back, which I understand.  I just had to re-read five times to go, “oh, that’s what happened?” Also, we were dealing with a narrator who was half asleep, so it’s not entirely unlike real life.)
  • Lots of things are repeated in the books, and I don’t know how intentional it was, especially in the first two or three books. (She WAS a student, after all.) The  examples I have off the top of my head include:
    • The first three books have similar “losing virginity” scenes. (I know the heroes are close friends, but close enough to share move-by-move?)
      • While we’re talking about sex moves (did I just write that?), her love scenes do vary by the character. She actually posted a question a couple days ago about “open or shut doors” on sex scenes.  She has a few racy ones, but there are other very chaste scenes. They fit the tone of the book.
    • Back to repetition (remember I have ADD? anyway), she has a favorite joke about temptation:  “I don’t suppose you have an apple to offer me?” (Yay Eve allusion! Boo reusing the joke in more than one book.) I don’t think that deja vu was intentional…
      • The more I think of the Eve joke, was this a common joke that got passed around? It’s said by characters that are only vaguely connected: Amy in the original, and…??? I can’t remember, but it was one of the more recent ones, maybe Blood Lily? Was there a “chain letter” system back then similar to forwarding bad jokes?  THAT would be something I’d want to know about! 😉

Even with my complaints, I love this series. It’s a fun, genre-bending series that fulfills my nerdy girl desires in a book.

I’m being lazy and not writing the full titles for all of the books, but this is the order that she lists chronologically for the modern story: Pink Carnation, Black Tulip, Emerald Ring, Crimson Rose, Night Jasmine, Blood Lily, {Mischief of the Mistletoe}, The Orchid Affair.   Mischief  actually has nothing on the modern story, but it’s a nice little Christmas story that recently won a regency book award. Pretty cool!

What other “grown-up books” should I check out?

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Filed under Historical fiction, Just gushing!, Not for the classroom, Romance, Uncategorized

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