My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
This book is set in the historical portion of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation Universe, which jumps back and forth between a contemporary young woman researching English spies in the Napoleonic Era, and the stories of those involved in the spy ring she is investigating. If you’d asked me before reading The Mischief of the Mistletoe which part I like better, the contemporary or the historical, I would probably have waffled a bit, then said the contemporary.
Now I wouldn’t hesitate. It’s the historical!
Summary via Goodreads:
Arabella Dempsey’s dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls’ school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face to face with French aristocrats and international spies…
Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh—often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation—has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble. When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, “Meet me at Farley Castle”, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens’ modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Dukes of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate 12-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? And is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella and Turnip’s hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?
I really didn’t remember Turnip Fitzhugh as a character, just that he was a bit dim, and seemed to have a knack of turning up at convenient (or inconvenient) times.
Now the dimness is downright loveable– he’s very sweet, even if the consequences of his actions aren’t always obvious to him.
Arabella is a more traditional romance novel heroine– smart and of a good family, but poor, ready to make her own way in life. She doesn’t have much patience for this foppish fellow with too much time on his hands.
The spy story was entertaining, fun edging towards silly, but it kept the plot moving along well. The secondary characters (those new to this book and those that carry over from the others) were fun to read. Jane Austen even has a bit part!
The strength of this book was the two main characters.
Arabella was everything that I typically like in romance lead, and I enjoyed reading about her coming to terms with her current life and with the attention Turnip paid her.
Turnip was the true star for me– watching his boyish enthusiasm in the spy hunt, his genuine affection for Arabella, his growing understanding of the implications of the differences between their positions in society, his falling head over heels for Arabella after he gets to know her.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read for me! I’m actually going back and listening to the historical portions of some of the surrounding books, just for the fun of it.
In general, I’d read this series in order. This book is an exception. It can be read at any time, although it’d be the most fun if you’ve already read books 1-4 of the series.
Although it has a Christmas setting, this isn’t one of those books best read in season. Pick it up any time.
Production: I downloaded this from Audible.com, and I have one complaint. There was a musical fanfare that played randomly, often in mid conversation. I’m guessing this is where the CDs begin and end, but it was just an occasional disruption to me. If you are listening on CD, you are already disrupted to change media, so it probably isn’t so annoying.
Audio or Print? I’ve always listened to these, and have enjoyed them in that format. I have a print ARC of the next book (which was just released), so I’ll be able to form a better opinion when I read it, hopefully soon!