Chick Lit, Spies, Bodice Ripper, Oh My!

Lauren Willig has written one of my very favorite fiction series called the Pink Carnation novels for short.  The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is the first novel in the series.  Don’t let the clever yet somewhat misleading covers fool you into believing these stories are your typical, run-of-the-mill historical ‘bodice rippers’.

I remember when the Pink Carnation first came out and I saw it lying on a table at my local Borders.  I picked up the book because the cover picture was kind of interesting but since I don’t typically read ‘bodice rippers’, no matter how handsome the Native American warrior with the heaving chest may be, I sat the book down and made my way to Sophie Kinsella’s latest.

However, every time I would past the novel in a bookstore, I would always give it a second glance because really I love historical paintings of women.  Three years passed (can you believe it?) before I would revisit the first novel in this series.  I’d just had my second child (usually known as Screaming Toddler) and was lying in the bed a few days later(recovering) and listening to audiobooks.  The audiobook section at my local library had very slim pickings so I had (against my better judgement) selected the Pink Carnation to listen to while I did my best impression of a human milk pump.  Any hu…

I began to listen to the audiobook and immediately fell in love!  It’s not your typical ‘bodice ripper’ at all.  Oh there is that, of course.  But it’s so much more!  The novel begins in the present day, in typical chick lit fashion with a cute, quirky protagonist named Eloise Kelly.  She’s a grad student researching a seemingly boring dissertation in England.  It is only when she begins her research that we delve into the ‘real’ story which includes the beautiful and inquisitive heroine from the past.

Each story involves a dashing and charming hero, espionage and yes, heaving bosoms.  But what I really love about this series is the dialogue.  Much of it is terribly witty and laugh out loud funny, even if this is not a traditional comedic novel.  Willig’s attention to detail is exacting and you feel that you are right there with the protagonist in swishing skirts on a carriage, at court…wherever they happen to be.

I would call this series chick lit meets espionage thriller meets historical romance.  I love chick lit and spies, so reading this series is a pleasure.

Another perk of this series is that each novel, while keeping the theme of the first novel is completely different from the other.  Each protagonist is very different, the love interests are distinct physically and personality-wise and each story features a different setting and unique plot.  And while each book can be read as a standalone the characters hop around in each others stories and are introduced before starring in their own story.

Eloise, the modern-day heroine of the story appears throughout the story with her own storyline.  So, it’s like a clever story within a story which runs throughout all of the novels.  Our titan-haired (not Nancy Drew) researcher has her own dashing hero and drama to contend with as she dodges gloomy weather in her favorite pair of Jimmy Choos.  You will be equally drawn into the world of both heroines.

Lauren Willig’s website is chockfull of great information about her novels, so if you like the Pink Carnation definitely check out www.laurenwillig.com

Her next release, The Orchard Affair will be available in January 2011.

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