Book Review: The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig

16 Feb

Title: The Garden Intrigue

Author: Lauren Willig

Series: Pink Carnation, book 8

Genre: Historical Romance

Publisher: Dutton Adult

Published on: February 16, 2012

Source: NetGalley

Summary: Secret agent Augustus Whittlesby has spent a decade undercover in France, posing as an insufferably bad poet. The French surveillance officers can’t bear to read his work closely enough to recognize the information drowned in a sea of verbiage.

New York-born Emma Morris Delagardie is a thorn in Augustus’s side. An old school friend of Napoleon’s stepdaughter, she came to France with her uncle, the American envoy; eloped with a Frenchman; and has been rattling around the salons of Paris ever since. Widowed for four years, she entertains herself by drinking too much champagne, holding a weekly salon, and loudly critiquing Augustus’s poetry.

As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, Whittlesby hears of a top-secret device to be demonstrated at a house party at Malmaison. The catch? The only way in is with Emma, who has been asked to write a masque for the weekend’s entertainment.

Emma is at a crossroads: Should she return to the States or remain in France? She’ll do anything to postpone the decision-even if it means teaming up with that silly poet Whittlesby to write a masque for Bonaparte’s house party. But each soon learns that surface appearances are misleading. In this complicated masque within a masque, nothing goes quite as scripted- especially Augustus’s feelings for Emma.

Pink Carnation, guys!! Woot! I know that I usually review YA books here, but sometimes I DO read books for people my age, and Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series will ALWAYS be one of my go-to historical romance series. THE GARDEN INTRIGUE, the 8th book in the Pink Carnation series, is a fantastic addition to an already wonderful group of books. I cannot recommend all of them highly enough if historical romances are your thing, or even if you’re not sure that they are. I LOVE THEM.

Some background for the unfamiliar: The Pink Carnation series tells the story of an English spy during the Napoleonic Wars called the Pink Carnation. But one of the unique things about these books is that they also have a contemporary angle: In the now, the identity of the Pink Carnation is a mystery. Enter Eloise Kelly, a kind of bumbling, awkward Harvard history PhD candidate who decides that researching spies in tights is THE way to go when it comes to making her mark on the historical community and sets out to identify the elusive but largely successful Pink Carnation for her thesis. The stories are told in both the present and the past, alternating between each time period as Eloise does her research. Each book focuses on a different spy/operative and their romantic entanglements, with the continuing saga of Eloise and her love interest, hottie Brit Colin, keepin’ it fresh.

For regular readers, THE GARDEN INTRIGUE is about Augustus Whittleby, our favorite ridiculous poet who is, secretly, working for the English government in France. Guys, I always thought that Augustus was just kind of silly in previous books, but it turns out that he’s pretty fabulous. Smart, snarky, with a romantic’s heart, and becoming more and more eager to throw off the foolish poet shtick he’s got going on as his cover. UNFORCH, it’s this poetry that gives him an outlet for his real love for Jane Wooliston, basically his handler/spy mastermind (trying not to spoil!). Until, that is, he meets Jane’s friend, Emma Morris Delagardie, an American in Paris with her own baggage, and all of a sudden, a friendship is blossoming and things get TRICKY and EMOTIONAL and HOT. Business as usual with a Pink Carnation book, guys, which means that their relationship and the stakes for their being together are solid, they are likable both together and individually, and their story is breezy and wonderful.

One of my favorite things about these books in general is their humor. The characters are always so good at banter, and that is no exception here. Augustus and Emma throw barbs at each other lightening quick, and it’s such a pleasure to read. But one of my favorite things about THE GARDEN INTRIGUE in particular is that we see a bit more of Jane. I feel like we were missing her for awhile in some of the previous books, even though she plays an important role in each of the stories. Jane is definitely more present in this book and I liked that very much. IF ONLY more Jane had equaled MOAR MISS GWEN!! Guys, if you’ve never read any Pink Carnation books but perhaps you DO watch Downton Abbey, Miss Gwen is totally like the Dowager Duchess, aka Maggie Smith, aka hilarious older lady with no verbal filter. (I’m pretty sure Miss Gwen is not as old, though.) She’s great.

The story with Eloise and Colin is good as always, but I often find myself undecided on whether I want more of them or not. And if I was going to say “not,” it isn’t a knock on them or the more contemporary angle of these books, because I do like that part quite a bit; it’s more of an extra-big plus to the historical parts, which are always LEGIT. Eloise and Colin had some REAL LIFE things thrown at them in this book, and we got a bit more of a sense with how serious their connection is becoming. But sometimes, as many of us know, being a grown-up is a DRAG, and Eloise and Colin are starting to see that a little bit. But I have faith in them! They shall prevail!! Huzzah!

If you have never read any Pink Carnation books before, I can’t shove them in your face with enough well-meaning force. They’re light and fun, with good doses of relationship drama, historical facts, funny banter, and endearing characters. Historical romance fans would LOVE these books, even though the sexytimes in general aren’t as hardcore as in other romance novels. (They ARE there, though, so considered yourself informed.) For regular readers, THE GARDEN INTRIGUE is yet another awesome addition to an already fantastic series. All of the best elements are here, and are well-done. Because I’m always going to pimp YA books, I think Lauren Willig would write THE BOMB YA books. Until that day comes, though, her Pink Carnation books will always be must-reads for me, and I hope that, if they aren’t already, they become the same for you.

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6 Responses to “Book Review: The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig”

  1. Lucy February 16, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    This series sounds so great. I love historical fiction / romance and adding humor makes it even better. It’s intimidating to start a series that’s already on book 8, though I’ll certainly keep it in mind.
    Great review, Amy!

    • trippingbooks February 16, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      You should totally start this series. I know that 8 books is a lot of catching up, but these are so light and quick that I think they’re perfect for breaking a rut or just filling a little gap. Or for the beach in the summertime! Maybe I should stop FORCING YOU to read these books, lol. I hope you do give them a try, though. 🙂

  2. Candice February 16, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I’ve read The Pink Carnation – it was on the “hey, it’s a steal I must buy it!” table at Barnes and Noble – and really remember loving it. I haven’t read any of the others in the series but I know I keep coming across them and thinking that I should check it out. I’ll have to do so!

    • trippingbooks February 16, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      You definitely should! They’re all so good!

  3. Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books February 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    I only heard about this series quite recently – and I must say that your enthusiastic endorsement has got me itching to start reading them! I can’t wait to check out the first one 🙂

    • trippingbooks February 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      Oh my goodness, I think you would LOVE these books! They’re great historical romances, but they’re not stuffy at all and they’re funny and breezy with good romances. Let me know if you read them! 🙂

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