Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas

jane and 12

Thanks to NetGalley and Soho Press, I had the chance to read Stephanie Barron’s latest installment in her Jane Austen mystery series: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Jane Austen, her mother, and her beloved sister Cass are trying to summon up their holiday spirit to spend Christmas of 1814 with Jane’s brother James at Steventon Parsonage. All three are determined to enjoy themselves, but James’s tendency to see any sort of revels as paganism and his wife Mary’s constant nervous complaints are sure to put a damper on their celebrations. So it comes as a delightful surprise when all the Austens are invited to spend Christmas day at the Vyne, the beautiful ancestral home of the wealthy and exceedingly kind Chute family. When a snowstorm strands all the Chutes’ visitors at the Vyne for several days, everyone is prepared to relax and enjoy Mrs. Chute’s plans for fine dinners, parlor games, and a Twelfth Night Ball. But the atmosphere shifts from festive to tragic when a military messenger to the Vyne is killed in a fall from his horse. Jane finds the circumstances surrounding this messenger’s death suspicious, and when she examines the scene of the accident, she realizes that she and her family are snowed in with a murderer. It’s up to Jane to convince her host to take her suspicion seriously and discover the murderer in their midst, because Jane suspects that another guest at the Vyne is danger as well.

I’ve never read any of Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries before, and evidently this is the 12th book in the series. I do love Jane Austen though, and mystery novels are my favorites. Sometimes starting a series after so many books are already published can be a bad thing – you feel lost with all the characters or backstories referenced that you don’t really know. But that wasn’t the case with this book. I feel like all you need is the most basic knowledge of Jane Austen, and you can pick right up where this book begins.

The mystery was definitely interesting. There is a fair amount of political detail involved, and Barron does a nice job of summarizing Napoleon’s exile to Elba and the British occupation of Washington D.C. without belaboring them. There are incidents of blackmail, mistaken identities, and love affairs, which all make the resolution more interesting. The only thing that was missing for me was a sense of urgency – I never really could get myself too worked up about whether the murderer would strike again.

Narrating your book from the perspective of such a popular and beloved author is a risky choice. For those of us who have read Jane Austen’s novels (and probably read them more than once), we already know what Jane’s voice sounds like. I thought Barron did a fairly consistent job of staying true to Austen’s tone and style, and there were a few gems in her writing that could have come straight out of Emma or Mansfield Park. Here’s a great example: “The little fever of envy, once caught, is the ruin of all happiness.” Also, there are funny moments when Jane has a realization about the people around her that she knows will make her a better writer. For example, when Mary is describing their Christmas at the Vyne to others, she tells the story as though she was “hounded by violence from first to last” and in immediate danger of being murdered at any moment. Jane thinks to herself: “It was a lesson in writerly humility. We are each the heroines of our own lives.”

If you like Regency mysteries, or Jane Austen adaptations, you should give this series a try. The first book in the series is Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor.

And while we’re on the subject of Jane, this past Saturday, a crowd of more than 500 people turned out in Bath (where Austen lived for a few years) in Regency period dress.  Their goal: break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people in Regency costume.  It looks like they did it!

Pink Comics Giveaway and Other Pink Trivia

Good morning, and happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend.

Back in 2010, Lauren commissioned the artist Joanne Renaud to create a set of comics depicting 8 scenes from The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Have you seen them? They are posted here on Lauren’s website. A panel of one of these comics was actually used as the cover for the “Ivy and Intrigue: A Very Selwick Christmas” novella. If you go to Joanne’s site, you can take a look at her work. She’s done some illustrations for Sarah MacLean as well, for her novel Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, and I had a great time looking through her portfolio.

Getting back to the Pink comics, would you like to win a set of your own? Lauren has offered to give one away to a Pink for All Seasons participant! To enter, comment below and share your favorite moment so far from Pink I. You can enter until Thursday at midnight EST. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.

Also, on the topic of all things Pink related, did you know that Lord Richard Selwick is mentioned in Mary Blayney’s novel Traitor’s Kiss? This book is the first in Mary’s “Pennistan” series, and her hero is rescued from a French prison by an English noblewoman in 1813. Evidently, Lauren and Mary had a chat about writing post-revolution France and decided it would be fun if their worlds overlapped a bit. As soon as I found out about this, I rushed off to grab a copy of Traitor’s Kiss, anxious to see what kind of cameo appearance Richard would have. I wound up being slightly disappointed, because I thought I’d get to see Richard in action. Instead, his name is mentioned in a conversation where Mary’s hero is defending the scholarly interest that took him to France. But even though we don’t get to see Richard effecting any daring rescue attempts, it’s still a fun reference and makes you feel a little smug about knowing exactly who Mary is talking about. If you like books about this time period, and you appreciate books that fall more rigidly into the romance category than Lauren’s, Traitor’s Kiss could be a good read for you.

Pink I Week 2 in Review, and a Winner

Pink Card 1B

First off, congratulations to the winner of our first giveaway: Amanda! Amanda, if you will email me at ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com with your address, I will get your signed copy of Pink I in the mail to you ASAP. Thanks to all those of you who entered and shared the contest. Make sure you keep checking back with the blog, because more giveaways are on the horizon.

Thanks again to Sharlene for providing the excellent card for today’s post. I love this moment in the book for two reasons. First, I really enjoy Lauren’s depiction of Napoleon. From the way his shouting precedes him into the Tuilleries to the way he seems to have a significant case of Attention Deficit Disorder, he was not at all what I expected. Also, this was our first opportunity to see that Miss Gwen’s dragon persona isn’t just an act. She doesn’t just push around the people who seem like easy targets – she smacks Napoleon’s wrist with her reticule, just like she would do Amy if Amy slouched in her chair, and backs him into a corner demanding an apology for his treatment of the Italians and the Dutch. Miss Gwen establishes herself early on as a force to be reckoned with.

I don’t know about you all, but what struck me most about this section of the book when I was reading it was Amy’s blind determination to believe that Georges Marston is the Purple Gentian and that her brother is in his league. I felt almost sorry for her, watching her convince herself that Edouard’s horrific personality was all an ingenious cover for his work in the Gentian’s league. Granted, she does see Marston wearing a black cloak just moments after the Purple Gentian disappears, and there is that implicating fact of the injured footman in the Balcourt ballroom. All in all, it seems like Amy is making the classic mistake of trying to force the pieces of a puzzle into a shape she has predetermined rather than the shape they actually make. And if Richard’s eyes are really such a startling green, then why does she have trouble recognizing them, even though he is masked during their midnight encounter in Edouard’s study?

And then I realized I should probably cut Amy some slack. We only know that Marston can’t possibly be the Purple Gentian because we have the advantage of knowing at the outset that it’s Richard. Delaroche suspected Marston, and even Richard thinks that Marston might be up to something thanks to his suspicious behavior. So it’s not really such an unusual conclusion for Amy to draw – the problem is that, in classic Amy fashion, she decided to chase her impulse at full throttle rather than taking the time to confirm her hunch.

Back in the modern world, we get our first glimpse of Eloise and Colin unsupervised. Eloise’s conviction that she will find the man responsible for the Pink Carnation’s league is reminiscent of Amy’s belief that Marston is her Purple Gentian. One of the things I’ve grown to love about Eloise is just how imperfect and human she is. She is forever getting lost, misjudging distances, and ramming into things. She gets so carried away discussing Napoleonic spies that she spills hot chocolate everywhere. And she just can’t catch a break! She has come so close to discovering the identity of the Pink Carnation only to be told that, when she finds it, she won’t be able to share it.

What are your thoughts on the first half of Pink I?

Happy Friday, everyone.

Inspiration is Contagious

Today on her website, Lauren is talking about how she developed her idea for a spy network run by a woman. I’m no history expert, so it was a surprise for me to read that there really were flower-named spies in the Napoleonic era.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I read Lauren’s comment that, after Pink I was published, she received lots of emails about Amy and Jane that started with “a young lady would never…” A few years ago, I saw Lauren and Deanna Raybourn at a historical fiction panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Deanna made a comment on this topic that I thought was absolutely perfect. She said that she gets emails and letters all the time from historical sticklers saying things like, “A woman in Victorian England would not have…” Deanna’s response was that it’s impossible to know how every single woman in any culture behaved at any given moment. She had a great analogy for why this way of thinking can’t possibly work. Imagine it’s 300 years from now, and historians are trying to decide what women were like in the early 2000’s. If all they had to go on was a Martha Stewart Living magazine, would they be able to make the sweeping generalization that ALL women in 2014 would:

  1. Brainstorm lists of 23 fun things to do with mason jars
  2. Buy only color-coordinated dog toys
  3. Spend a significant amount of time “upcycling” their last-season clothing into charming handbags

Nope. So anyone who starts out a criticism of historical fiction by saying “Women of that time period would never…” is already on shaky ground.

But getting back to Pink I, my goal is to be finished with chapter twenty tomorrow – that’s approximately the halfway point. I know several of you have already finished, and that is great! I’m trying to pace myself throughout the month, but everyone is free to read at their own speed. Drop by tomorrow and chat about the first half of the book with me. I saw a comment somewhere that referred to Pink for All Seasons as the “Pink book club.” I love that! It does feel that way, too. It’s much more fun to read through a book you enjoy when you can share it with others.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, make sure you enter the giveaway for the signed copy of Pink I! I’ll announce the winner here tomorrow.

In Which We Talk Inspiration

scarlet pimpernel

Last week on her website, Lauren gave us the scoop on how Colin and Eloise came to be. I thought it was so interesting that they weren’t part of her original planning, seeing as how (ten books later) I can’t imagine The Secret History of the Pink Carnation without them. But how did Lauren come up with the idea for Amy and Richard? What sparked her interest in Napoleonic spies?

The simple answer is The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy. Orczy originally wrote her story as a play, and it was such an immediate success, both in Britain and around the world, that she quickly adapted it into a novel for publication. The story follows the exploits of one Sir Percy Blakeney, a daredevil nobleman with the sword fighting skills of a soldier and a chameleon’s aptitude for disguise, who dashes around France rescuing their aristocrats from the guillotine. To protect himself, he keeps his identity a secret and masquerades by day as a dim-witted, fashion-crazed playboy. The Scarlet Pimpernel is credited by many literary critics as being the first “hero with a secret identity” story. In a way, that makes Sir Percy Blakeney Batman’s great-granddad. Sort of cool to think about.

Since we’re talking today about “where did you get that idea?”, here is an amusing excerpt from Orczy’s autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life: “I have so often been asked the question: ‘But how did you come to think of The Scarlet Pimpernel?’ And my answer has always been, ‘It was God’s will that I should.’” No arguing with that, folks.

Back in 2010, Lauren posted “The Author Bio Unabridged” on her website, sharing with her fans the story of how she developed her interest in history, why she wanted to write, and what her major influences were. It’s definitely worth a read – full of Lauren’s trademark humor, funny asides, and humble honesty. In case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ve scooped the two paragraphs where she talks specifically about how The Scarlet Pimpernel got her asking herself the questions that led to Richard, The Purple Gentian, and (of course) Miss Amy Balcourt.

“The idea for the story emerged from endless years of overexposure to the Scarlet Pimpernel and his brethren (by whom I mean any dashing rogue, usually played by Errol Flynn, who delivers a witty line, jumps off a table, brandishes a sword, and defeats the perspiring villain with one hand held languidly behind his back). One would be hard pressed to find an old-fashioned swashbuckler I hadn’t watched to distraction—Robin Hood, Zorro, Ivanhoe—but the Scarlet Pimpernel received an extra boost in the dashing hero stakes when my school had the good sense to show the Anthony Andrews version as part of the eighth grade history unit. The eighth grade—forty giggly girls in plaid kilts—were enthralled. We broke into warring camps over whether Anthony Andrews was cuter, or the guy who played Armand (for the record, my vote is still in for Anthony Andrews as the Pimpernel). No sleepover party was complete without a late night viewing, and a rapturous repetition of “We seek him here, we seek him there…. Oooh! He’s so cute! Hey, that was my pillow! Give it back!”

There was, I reflected years later, after my five millionth “Scarlet Pimpernel” and Ben & Jerry’s evening, only one slight problem. The Pimpernel had it too easy. True, he had to worry over whether Marguerite was spying for Chauvelin, but he never let that seriously impede his progress. What would a spy fear most? Not an enemy, but… an unwanted ally. A man in a black cloak, and a strong-minded heroine set on unmasking him—so she can help him. Every spy’s worst nightmare. I even had a name for my spy! Back on the Chapin Varsity Badminton team (yes, I lettered in badminton, a source of much amusement to all the males in my freshman year dorm, who refused to be convinced it was a sport), I had a friend named Jen Chen, whom my best friend Nancy affectionately nicknamed Purple Gentian, because, if one says Jen Chen very quickly, it sounds like gentian, and, as everyone knows, all the best gentians are purple. It sounded right. It sounded like a spy in cloak and knee breeches. I had my hero.”

Lauren also has several “if you like” posts on her site recommending books you can read if you enjoyed The Scarlet Pimpernel. Here are a few of her suggestions:

  • The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
  • A Lady Never Lies by Julianna Gray
  • Scaramouche by Raphael Sabatini
  • The Accidental Duchess by Jessica Benson
  • Wings of the Falcon by Barbara Michaels

Also, there are sequels, y’all. LOTS of them. I haven’t read any of them yet, but I should probably add them to my (ever-growing) TBR list.

Does anyone have “if you like” recommendations for either The Scarlet Pimpernel or Pink I?

Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice

Let’s be clear about this right from the beginning – I love a good Jane Austen adaptation. I love the movies, the BBC productions, the audiobooks. I love the modern spin-offs like Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Jane Austen Book Club. I’ve read plenty of the Austen continuations (my personal favorite is Darcy’s Story by Janet Almer). I gobble it all up, but it never occurred to me that someone would take one of Austen’s stories and turn it into a graphic novel.

PPmanga cover

UDON Entertainment Production is evidently planning to release a whole line of Manga Classics. The first two books of the collection, both published on August 19, are Les Miserables and Pride and Prejudice. What a fabulous idea. Evidently, this isn’t even the first P&P adaptation of its kind. I poked around Amazon and found that Marvel Comics (you read that correctly) has a version of P&P as well. Mind blown. The only graphic novels I have ever read are Maus and Hyperbole and a Half, and my experience with manga is limited to a brief (though surprisingly intense) obsession with Sailor Moon as a child. But when I saw this title on NetGalley, I knew I had to try it.

The text was adapted by Stacy King, and the artist is Po Tse. According to UDON, these Manga Classics are intended for young adult readers, “with strong and accurate adaptations that will please even the toughest teacher or librarian!” As I was reading this one, it reminded me of the Great Illustrated Classics I read as a kid and loved so much. They really opened the door for me as a reader, and I think that these adaptations will do the same thing for kids who love comic books.

I have to start off my thoughts on the experience of reading this by saying that the artwork is absolutely beautiful. I have no idea how long it took to illustrate this, but the amount of detail included on each page is astounding. Take a look at this drawing of Elizabeth and Jane:

PPmanga elizabeth jane

I could have spent hours looking at the illustrations, just soaking up each facial expression and clothing detail. Really, really beautiful.

Beyond the gorgeous artwork, Austen’s story that we know and love is still what keeps you turning the pages. The good stuff is all there – Mrs. Bennet is as irritating as a swarm of gnats, Mr. Collins is ridiculous, Lady Catherine is imperious, and Wickham is dangerously charming. Since this adaptation is geared toward a younger audience, King occasionally took some liberties with the story. These instances were rare though, and I understood how simplifying certain plot points or making the occasional small change could make the adaptation easier to follow.

Every once in a while, King will make a shift in the language that feels abrupt. The occasional exclamation of “No way!” doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the dialogue that King has obviously tried to keep as close to the original as possible.  But even these moments are not enough to distract you from plowing ahead.  I found myself itching to flip ahead a few pages to see how some of my favorite moments in the story would be illustrated.  For example, here is Sir William Lucas pairing up Lizzy and Darcy for a dance:

PPmanga darcy2

As a manga newbie, I appreciated the guide at the beginning of the book that explained to me how I should start at the back of the book and read the pages right to left. It wasn’t that hard to adjust to, and after the first few pages, I didn’t find it at all distracting. I think this is a great new medium for appreciating an old favorite story.

What do you think?  Would you be willing to give this a try?  What are your favorite Austen adaptations?

Pink Giveaway

pink carnation

Happy Monday, everyone!

To start the week off right, I’m posting the first of the Pink for All Seasons giveaways. The prize? A signed paperback copy of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Doesn’t this crazy lady realize we all have a copy of this book already?”  I know the majority of you probably own Pink I, but this is your chance to have a copy signed by Lauren!

If your copy is already signed by Lauren (lucky you!), wouldn’t this make a great gift? A signed copy of the first book would be a great way to bring new Pink readers into the fold.

To enter yourself for this giveaway, just leave a comment below. Don’t post your contact information! If you’re the winner, you can email me your mailing address. I will announce the winner on Friday, September 12.

Want to earn extra entries for this giveaway? You can enter up to three times. Here’s how:

  1. Leave a comment below.
  2. Follow the blog! If you are already a follower, just mention that in your comment. There are links in the top right corner of this page to become a follower.
  3. Post a link to this giveaway or to the Pink for All Seasons Announcement on Facebook or Twitter. Again, you can just let me know in your comment that you’ve done this. I trust you.

On Friday, I will use the Random Number Generator to pick a winner. Good luck! And be on the lookout for other giveaways coming soon.

Pink I Week 1 in Review

Pink Card 1A

I’ll start today by saying thanks to Sharlene for sharing the graphic cards she made for the Pink books with me. Now I get to share them with you! I love this one, and the quote comes from Chapter Four, in the unfortunate moment when Miss Gwen and Richard realize that the captain has promised BOTH of them exclusive use of his boat. (If you’d like to see Sharlene’s other work, feel free to visit her site).

I hope you all are enjoying the first chapters of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. I had forgotten so many things, particularly how nasty Colin is when we are first introduced to him. I knew he was protective of his family history, but I did NOT remember that he called Eloise’s work a useless waste of taxpayer money. Ouch. I also had somehow created a mental picture of Amy with blonde hair. I got the curly part right, and I remembered that she was short with blue eyes, but Lauren makes it abundantly clear that Amy has dark brown hair. Not sure how I managed to mix that up.

One of the things that several of you have mentioned already about this series is Lauren’s sense of humor. I laugh constantly when I’m reading, and I think it has a lot to do with the way she phrases things. For example, when poor Eloise is losing her balance on the Tube again, she thinks to herself, “To land in someone’s lap once is carelessness; to do so twice might be considered an invitation.” And then Amy, when she finds herself unable to explain to Richard why she’s heading over the Channel to live in France if the French are so terrible, thinks to herself, “Oh, to be a man, to be able to just punch someone when she didn’t know what to say!” Excellent.

I particularly enjoyed what we’ve read so far from Richard’s perspective. His dread of Almack’s assembly rooms (harboring fortune-hunting mamas and necessitating knee-breeches), his exasperation with his mother, and his affection for Miles and Henrietta are all fun to read. It also tugs at my heartstrings to see how much guilt he lives with. He’s doing such important and risky work in France, but he can’t really tell anyone about it or defend himself when people like Amy attack his honor. I felt particularly sorry for him when he slipped into nightmares about what happened to Tommy.

I love all the references to classical mythology. If Amy spent her childhood reading the Illiad and the Odyssey (and Herodotus in the original!), it makes sense that she and Eton-educated Richard would be able to carry on conversations together. It puts them on a more equal footing than they would have been otherwise, and Richard is less likely to mentally refer to Amy as “girl,” “child,” or “chit” when she’s theorizing about whether Greek authors use ancient Egypt for a setting in the same way that Shakespeare used Italy.

Within the first few chapters, Lauren has already mentioned the Alsworthys, Geoff, and the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale. You have to wonder if she knew that these people who were just names in the first book would turn out to be important characters later in the series.

Wasn’t it fun to go back and meet Jane and Miss Gwen again for the first time? Did you notice anything in particular this time around?

In Which Something Unexpected and Awesome Has Occurred

Have I mentioned lately how thrilled I am to have you all for company as I reread the Pink books? Yes? Good.

Allow me to share with you another thing that thrills me.  Lauren announced yesterday that she intends to do a weekly post on her website inspired by what you all are talking about over here in Pink for All Seasons. Lauren has chosen Thursdays for these posts, which means she is starting today! So head on over to Lauren’s website and check out the first of her “Read Along Blog Along” posts. Today, she is discussing the creation of Eloise.

If you’ve read through Chapter Nine of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by tomorrow, stop by and chat about it with me.

Alison: How I Found the Pink Carnation

Doesn’t the title of this post sound exactly like the secret manuscript Eloise is searching for in the Pink prologue?

Today, I am hosting a guest blogger: Alison, from Hardcovers and Heroines.  When Alison learned about Pink for All Seasons, she volunteered to write a post for the project about how she became a fan of the series.  Without further ado, I will give you Alison in her own words:

My aunt picked up the first Pink Carnation book based on the cover and the staff recommendation at Barnes and Noble. She quickly was telling everyone how fantastic the book was, and decided to invite Lauren Willig to attend The Annapolis Book Festival (an event that my mother and aunt started when I was in high school). She even invited Lauren to stay at her house. Despite still being in law school and near finals time, Lauren said yes.

I was given the exciting task of picking Lauren up at the airport and showing her around Annapolis with my mother before the festival events began. I had long been interested in writing and spending time with a real, published author felt thrilling. Plus Lauren was just about the nicest and most understanding person ever, asking me about what colleges I was looking at and the kinds of stories I liked to write.

Lauren was so funny and clever in person that I bought the first two books and devoured them. I’d been a long-time fan of romance novels, chick lit, and historical fiction. Both The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and The Mask of the Black Tulip blended these genres together seamlessly. They also contained just as much intelligence and humor as Lauren displayed in person. Reading a book that contained both Shakespeare allusions and an almost-sex scene on the floor of a dirty boat felt like a revelation. I especially identified with Henrietta and developed one of the biggest literary crushes of my life on Miles. Who doesn’t find knee breeches and ginger biscuits a winsome combination?

I made most of my friends, who were much more into classics and literary fiction, read the books. Somehow I even convinced my librarian to order the books for our small school library. When I went to college, I brought my two signed books with me to put with just a few other favorites on my tiny shelf.

I’ve been a loyal Pink reader (and reader of Lauren’s more recent standalone books) ever since.

Thanks for sharing, Alison!  For all you other Pink Enthusiasts, tell me – how did you find the Pink books?