The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

Reading two novels with racism themes running through them back-to-back was a bad idea, since I put a pin in writing this entry for two months. Oops!

42653795I’m usually a huge fan of Lauren Willig’s standalone novels, but this one was tough. Set in the Caribbean and told partly in flashbacks, it was hard to keep everyone straight – who exists in which time period, who is European and native, etc. But it’s clear that most of the characters suck, which is to be expected when it comes to white people and the exploitation of black people on sugar plantations.

I started out reading this in hardcover, but never wanted to bring the book with me anywhere, so I borrowed an ebook from the library. It was a lot easier to pick up on my Kindle app on my phone for a few pages at a time (though perhaps this contributed to my confusion about who and when things were happening. I did like a bit of the open-ended ending, but at that point, I was so confused and upset that I was mostly happy the book was over.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

34945222I had to finish this book quickly in order to not get another late fee from the library and for once, I really wasn’t eager to do so. I think this is the first Lauren Willig book where I’ve been #TeamNobody.

There are two stories being told simultaneously – one is Janie’s as she tries to find the truth about the death of her brother Bay and his wife, Annabelle – and the other is Annabelle’s a few years earlier as she meets Bay and starts a life with him. Nothing is as it seems and things are very confusing. Is Annabelle pretending to be someone else? What’s the real truth to Annabelle’s past? And of course, who killed Bay and Annabelle (assuming she died since they never found her body)?

Everyone is both obliviously awful and maliciously awful to each other, so it’s hard to root for another. Janie’s the most likely hero, but even she is wishy-washy and ridiculous a lot of the time. Plus, we don’t get find out important things like why she doesn’t have suitors or how she got be so meek. Why is her cousin so awful to her all the time? Does her cousin really support Bay in his chosen lifestyle or does she just like fucking with people?

In the end, Janie finds “love,” the killer is discovered and there’s a small measure of justice, but there’s so much left unanswered and Bay is still dead. I still want the questions answered, but I’d had enough of all the characters to last a lifetime.

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig

23398702Reader, I finished it!

Who knew when I picked up The Secret History of the Pink Carnation in 2008, that I’d still be reading this series 10 years later? This novel comes full circle, meeting back up with Jane, the Pink Carnation, in Portugal. She meets up with Jack, Colonel Reid‘s son, and of course, sparks fly. The mission they are on doesn’t really matter because we get some romance staples like, only one bed at the inn and road trip with your enemy, so it totally works. I wish there had been a bit more of the epilogue of Jane and Jack’s adventures after Portugal, but we left them in a good place, so I’m happy.

It’s also quite nice that Colin and Eloise FINALLY got married, even if it’s still 2005 for them. I could have done without all the meta Eloise = Lauren stuff with her writing a novel about the Pink Carnation, etc. It was also a bit weird to have such a serious kidnapping happening in like 18 hours before the wedding, but I guess it was a nice change from the usual crap that comes with planning a wedding.

In the end, everyone’s happy and I’m happy, so let’s call it a win!

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig

23014679I’m clearly not doing very well with my book challenge this year, but it’s only February!

As much as I’ve enjoyed Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, I’ve also enjoyed her non-series fiction as well. She’s become one of my favorite writers. Which is why I was so disappointed by this book. It was so formulaic that I almost felt like I had read it before.

Our heroine, Rachel Woodley, is a governess in 1920s France when she gets word that her mother is dying. By the time she makes it home, her mother has passed and her landlord is ready to kick her out of the family house. As she’s cleaning up, she finds that the father she thought died when she was four isn’t quite as dead as she thought. From here, it goes Pygmalion as she tries to worm her way into her father’s social circle through her half-sister’s group of friends. With an unlikely benefactor sponsoring her revenge plot, she tries to fit in while trying to figure out what she really wants if she gets into her father’s house.

The beats felt familiar, though perhaps that’s the Downton Abbey influence. Her romance seems like an afterthought and I felt like it was even a little unnecessary. I know I’m a “modern” woman reading about a lady a century before me, but I guess I’d love to read a piece where the lady doesn’t wind up with the man and does get that secretary job she’s been talking about all novel long. Maybe next time.

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

18693637This is one of the better Pink Carnation novels and it makes me sad that there’s only one more book in this series. It also made me want to start reading them again from the beginning to get a better handle on all these ancillary characters. I recognize their names, but can’t remember much more about them.

Anyway, this is Sally Fitzhugh’s story (little sister of Turnip Fitzhugh). She meet-cutes Lucien, presumed vampire of London, in his backyard after being dared by her friends to hop the fence. Oh those 1806 hijinks! Lucien’s back in London after being away for 12 years after discovering his parents’ murdered at their estate in Hullingden. (Oh yeah, Lucien’s a duke.) He’s ready to solve their murder (though conventional wisdom says that his mother killed his father and then herself) and Sally ropes herself into helping. There’s a lovely “we’re going to pretend to be engaged and then fall in love” storyline, which totally works, even though it’s completely predictable. I didn’t realize who the real killer was until it was being revealed, so that was an added bonus.

Eloise and Colin are still together in 2004 (so funny that it seems like so long ago even though it was pretty contemporary when the series started 10 books ago). As per usual, Colin is being weird and Eloise is freaking out about it, without talking about it. I used to love their romance, but since they are stuck in the same year for 10 books, I’ve grown a little tired of how slowly everything moves. But it looks like things are going to wrap up nicely with them all the same in the last book, so good for them!