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.

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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!

That Summer by Lauren Willig

18404166Lauren Willig is an author that I just know that I’m going to love. Like all of her books, one of our heroines is modern and the other is from days past. Julia, our modern heroine, has been left a house in London by a distant aunt, so she goes to England to get it ready for sale. While there, she discovers a family secret, a mysterious painting and the truth about her mother’s death when she was a small child. Julia also meets a dashing young Brit, who helps her sort through the junk her ancestors left behind, and helps her find herself too.

In between, we flash back to 1849 and the plight of Imogene Grantham. Trapped in a marriage to a man who likes to collect pretty things and not much else, she finds real love with an artist commissioned to paint her portrait. Unlike like most of Willig’s other books, things don’t go quite as planned in the nineteenth century romance, but it feels more real that way.

This book was a quick read and I definitely didn’t want it to end. I hope Ms. Willig will revisit this universe again in the future.

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig

15768463I usually grab the next Pink Carnation book as soon as it comes out, but since I knew this one was about Miss Gwen, I wasn’t as enthused. So far, Miss Gwen has been a snarly, sharp-tongued old lady who likes to hit people with her parasol while making sure that The Pink Carnation does what she needs to do. Watching her fall in love with whatever old man Ms. Willig would dream up just didn’t sound like a good time. But I saw that Katia has enjoyed it and I figured I’d try it out.

Turns out Miss Gwen is only an old lady by Napoleonic terms being all of 45. She has a tragic back story that makes clear why she acts the way she does and most of the surliness is just a part she plays while with Jane and the youngsters. It was nice to see that Gwen doesn’t give up her chirpiness with Colonel Reid and they have a nice repartee, reminiscent of those 40s and 50s screen couples. And because of their advanced ages, we actually get some bedroom scenes in the way that we don’t usually because it’s 1804. Much more satisfying than longing glances and fleeting touches on the arm.

There was some development in the Pink Carnation organization as well, and it really set the stage for the next book, which I’m now eagerly awaiting. It was nice to see some of the couples from the previous books coming together at the end of this one, though I do still have a hard time keeping everyone straight.

The modern-day plot with Colin and Eloise was charming, though I could have done without it as well. They used to be my favorite thing about these books, but their relationship moves so slowly that it’s hard to go back to 2004 every time. They took a nice step forward here, but with Eloise heading back to the States in the next book (likely), I’m curious how that relationship will shake out.

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

15701533Lauren Willig is one of my very favorite authors and this book is exactly why. It’s similar to the Pink Carnation series as there is a modern plot to go along with the historical plot and the modern folks are related to the historical folks. But the historical folks are set in the 1910s and 1920s instead of the days of Napoleon. No spies here either, just women trying to deal with the circumstances of their lives as best they can.

Being so obsessed with Downton Abbey, it was quite easy for me to fall into a world of the daughters of an Earl, preparing to do the Season and all the expectations that come along with that. But even without that, I would have naturally fallen for Addie and Bea because the characters are so well-drawn. Willig paints things so vividly with her words that it almost seemed like the script for a movie instead of just a novel. There were definitely plot twists in this part that I had not expected and though I wasn’t entirely on board for how things wrap up, that’s the thing about history. Unless you lived it, you’ll never know exactly what happened out there.

Clementine was also delightful and I was immediately drawn to her story as well. Her love interest is rather predictable (especially if you’ve seen Clueless as many times as I have!), but still realistic and well-done. She wasn’t the typical chick-lit heroine and she dealt with very real issues with depth instead of glossing over them. The ending wrapped up a bit too quickly for me, but I understand the need for resolution.

I’m always sad when I finish a Lauren Willig book because I just want to read another one. But this was a fantastic read and I couldn’t put it down, so there was no way to stretch it out over a period of days. Grab it if you can; it’ll be worth your while indeed!