The summary on the back cover of this book is rather misleading. It gives you the impression that this is a typical chick lit book set in modern day England with occasional references to dashing spies and romantic heros of the past. That is incorrect. The bulk of the action actually takes place in the past, focusing on the exploits of Amy and Richard in the time of the Napoleonic War, with modern-day grad student Eloise's chapters serving as a framing story. Eloise is the narrator. She speaks to us in the first person at the beginning and the end (and the occasional middle chapter interspersed throughout) of the book, but make no mistake, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is unquestionably Amy and Richard's story. They're the characters who we care the most about and who we're the most involved in. Which is not to say that we don't care about Eloise, because we do, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how her relationship with Colin progresses over the course of this new series, but she's not the focus. In a sense, she's almost a plot device to involve us in the historical story. But not completely. After all, if that was all she was, then the author could have cut her out altogether and just told a straightforward historical romance.
Okay, that was clear as mud, wasn't it.
I found this book to be a great deal of fun, one of the most purely enjoyable books I've read in years. The sheer swashbuckling intrigue of the noble and romantic spy the Purple Gentian running around France foiling Napoleons evil plans was utterly charming, and it combined in an odd, quirky, but very appealing way with the Bridget Jones-esque tone of the modern-day chapters (although Eloise is far more intellectual than Bridget would ever dream of being) -- creating a frothy, satisfying confection of a novel, fascinating, surprising, and wonderful. The ensemble cast was a thoroughly delightful touch, adding a zany charm to moments that would otherwise have been hackneyed and cliched, familiar from a thousand other romance novels. This time, when the Pink Carnation makes a daring rescue at the end of the book, Richard's mother is along for the ride -- a welcome breath of originality.
The only flaw in this novel is, I'm sorry to say, a common one to mystery novels. Eloise serves as a stand-in for the reader; her reactions on her search for the identity of the Pink Carnation mirror the reader's reactions. Unfortunately, the reader is one step ahead of her the whole way through.
That one blemish was not enought to mar the whole, though, and I recommend this book highly for anyone in the mood for a fun, romantic, original, and light but still intelligent read!
I was looking forward to some intelligent, historical, even academic chick-lit . . . to put it mildly, this book was dumb, predictable (you know who the Pink Carnation is immediately), and boring.
Pretty good, but I was expecting something different. This was much lighter and fluffier than I thought it would be - I thought there'd be a lot more suspense and drama. This was so powder-puffy that I'm surprised it came out in hardcover first!
Not to say that I don't like fluffy, 'cos generally speaking I love my fluff. I was a little disappointed though, probably just because I was expecting something different. That may be my own fault - the blurbs on the back of the book should have given my a clue if nothing else did! Once I got past my surprise this was a fun read. I've heard several people complain about the jumping back and forth between the present day and the past storylines, but that didn't bother me a bit. I can easily imagine myself in Eloise's position, thinking a sojourn to London sounds like a great idea and obsessively sorting through old papers!
This is one of the few books that I have ever wanted to burn, or at the very least throw hard against a wall. The book description led me to believe that the book was historical fiction centered around a female spy. Instead, I found it to be a very poorly (IMO) written romance, with an insufferable heroine who spent most of her time sniffing, and who couldn't spy her way out of a paper bag.
I absolutely LOVED this book! There were several parts that made me bust out laughing! I was glad it wasn't some stuffy history book. I literally couldn't put it down. I loved the characters, plot, scenery... I thought it was wonderfully written. I can't wait to read the other books in the series.