Pink XII: Location, Location, Location

We’re heading toward the end of Pink XII, and Jane and Jack are still making tracks through Portugal.  They’ve actually covered pretty significant ground since the book began – starting in Lisbon and working their way through the countryside, the Monastery of Alcobaça, Caldas da Rainha, and Peniche.  Miss Eliza actually created a Google Map with the book’s locations marked so you can see Jane and Jack’s route.

Portugal map

If you want to visit the page for the Google map, click here.  You can drag the map around, zoom in, and get Google street views of what these locations look like these days.

I think Lauren’s ability to create a setting is one of the best things about Pink XII. For most of us, historical fiction set in England hardly feels foreign anymore.  We’ve read so many books set in that world that it feels just as familiar own.  Each book in the Pink series is unique in its own way, but I think some of my favorites are the books set in other countries – particularly The Betrayal of the Blood Lily in India and this book set in Portugal.

What is it about a new and different location that gives a book extra sparkle?  I read M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions and went through a two-year craze where I couldn’t get enough books about India.  I’m still not completely over it – there is something MAGIC about  India in that book.  My first experience with Tracy Grant’s writing was Vienna Waltz, which (clearly) is set in Vienna.  Tracy does an incredible job with setting in that book.  And even though it’s not really “exotic,” my favorite book for about ten years was Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends, set in Dublin and a fictional small Irish town called Knockglen.  Reading these books really feels like traveling.

What are your favorite books with a setting that isn’t US or GB?  What is it that you like most about these books?

Pink XII Week 3 in Review

Please allow me to apologize for the radio silence on Wednesday.  I have fractured my wrist, which makes typing very difficult, and I have not been on my game with preparing this week’s post.  But Miss Eliza has taken care of our recap for today with her usual flair and efficiency.  I would also like to point out that, if you’re wanting another outlet for all things Pink, Miss Eliza is devoting the entire month of August to The Lure of the Moonflower on her own blog, Strange and Random Happenstance.  She’s calling it “An August Adieu,” and there have been several excellent posts about the Pink series so far.  Also, Abby (of Pink VII moderation) sent me a link to this NPR article about the end of the Pink series the night before it appeared on Lauren’s website – go forth and read, if you like. 

To wrap up from me, if you are interested in participating in the final Pink for All Seasons project, email me at ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com to find out how you can join in.  And now, over to Miss Eliza!

Week_3

Monastery of Alcobaça, Road to Peniche, Portuguese Countryside, Caldas da Rainha, and Peniche 1807: While Jack and Jane both feel a little absurd in their borrowed finery, bloody court clothes, Jack, even in his childish sulk, has to admit the borrowed dress does amazing things for Jane’s décolletage. Jack feels secretly smug when they learn they are not to dine with the monks in the refectory but with the monastery’s two other guests, an old roué, the Marquis de la Mare, and a belligerent glass manufacturer, Mr. Samson. Shut into this room and wearing this ridiculous getup, Jack’s chances to reconnoiter where slim. As their Christmas feast progresses, Jack begrudgingly admits that perhaps Jane’s plan has merit, even if he wasn’t consulted on it; though he will never reconcile himself to the plum velvet. Not only are they getting good information out of their fellow dinner guests about mysteriously closed sections of the abbey that contain marvelous works of art and wonder-working saints on the road to Peniche, but because of their “heretic” status they aren’t obliged to attend midnight mass; and what better time to snoop then when everyone is occupied elsewhere? While formulating their plans Jack is coming to realize not just how great an agent Jane is but also how below her he is. She might have fallen in her own eyes, but he was born low. Does one cancel out the other or are they forever on unequal footing? After the meal they sneak into the novice’s wing, which was supposedly closed due to water damage. There is no water damage, but there are signs that a large party of refined taste, just look at that bed linen, was recently in residence. But sadly they are too late and the “bird” has flown. It’s always birds. Jack is almost to the point where he can no longer deny his attraction to Jane. Illogically he almost wishes that the road to Alcobaça had been longer. But between them hangs the specter of Nicolas. Jack asks if she loved him. She responds, “How can there be love where there is no trust?” Jack wonders if this could include him and then he hears what he hoped to, that she never loved Nicholas. Then they hear what neither of them hoped to, the scrape of metal in a lock.

Jack and Jane snuff the candle and find themselves in complete darkness. Soon the Marquis de la Mare appears. Could it be he’s just looking at the artwork hidden away in the novice’s wing or is he looking for the Queen? He is actually looking for a chalice that has hidden symbols. Turns out de la Mare is more interested in the Philosopher’s Stone then the Queen of Portugal, being an alchemist himself, though he doesn’t mind sparing a minute to lend a lascivious eye to the monastery’s Titian. Speaking of sexual arousal, Jane never knew how seductive being in complete darkness with Jack could be, all sensations were intensified, even the protection he offered without thinking. Jane cannot seem to banish erotic thoughts of Jack. She never once allowed Nicolas to impede her concentration, yet here is Jack; and his finger against her lips is conjuring salacious imagery in her mind. She has been called an ice queen, incapable of true passion, whose self-containment wasn’t natural; she wasn’t feeling icy at the moment. She was painfully aware of her body. It’s been a long day and finally the Marquis goes off to bed. There might be something they’re missing, but they need sleep desperately, the same as the Marquis. But first they have a decision to make. Should they continue on their way to Porto or listen to what Mr. Samson said about the wonder-working saint on the way to Peniche? The island of Berlengas is just off the cost of Peniche and that was where Jane was to deliver the Queen. Peniche seems the safe bet, but it could also be a trap. Succumbing to their exhaustion Jane tells Jack to come to bed. Sharing a bed with their growing attraction doesn’t seem the wisest bet but Jack’s reaction to her suggestion makes Jane feel rejected; even if he does sleep beside here, protected by several layers of fabric.

Though several layers of fabric didn’t keep Jack from having a sleepless night. He prided himself on his ability to sleep anywhere. Apparently anywhere isn’t next to Jane. She has a peace in sleep he’s never seen in her before. Does she trust him? Does that mean love is possible? Love is terrifying. He saw what happened with his mother and father.  Her suicide proved to him that love wasn’t fair. Yet Jane is fundamentally fair. Perhaps he’s starting to see what love can truly be instead of what his parents had. As they set off before dawn just in case any of their dinner companions of the night before weren’t as they appeared, Jack is glad for the cold driving rain that stops his amorous and soppy thoughts about Jane and his growing feelings for her. Jane was also glad of the distraction that her blisters were giving her, until Jack came over all thoughtful again. Sitting on the donkey she has too much time to live in her head. Time to dwell on Christmas and all the Christmases past and all she has left behind. She knows that that life doesn’t exist anymore even if she had wanted it too. Everyone has moved on, scattered. Her thoughts are interrupted by a rapidly approaching horse. She tells herself that there is no reason for the Gardener to come after her, she doesn’t matter, Nicolas only wanted the Queen. Yet still they take cover in the verge.

Mr. Samson is the rider. Could his return along the round to Peniche be a coincidence or something more? Jane feels vulnerable, exposed. Jane and Jack had decided to take the main roads because they assumed there wouldn’t be many travelers on Christmas Day, but the unexpected appearance of Mr. Samson has them going once more into the rough countryside following nothing more pronounced than a goat trail. They go north, west, and south, on a non-to “brief” detour, finally coming to the town of Caldas da Rainha. Where there is a thermal hospital, or in layman’s terms, a hot spring. The Pink Carnation thinks it’s unwise to stop, but Jane really wants a hot bath, as Jack heard her gasp earlier in the day, and as he wisely points out it wouldn’t do for her to catch a chill and it’s on the way. Never had the word “hot” sounded so seductive. Jack bribes the gatekeeper for access, privacy, and a little food. The benefit of hiding out in this hospital founded by Queen Leonor is that not only did they confirm Mr. Samson’s story about the miraculous statue from the gatekeeper, but the Gardener would never think to look for them at a spa! The room looks like something out of one of Miss Gwen’s horrid novels, wreathed in mist. Oddly enough it turns out Jack has read Miss Gwen’s little roman à clef about Jane and Nicolas, not knowing that it was written by his step-mother or that it was about Jane. Jane is still hurt by the book, but it’s success is what now funds her missions. Now is not the time to think of Nicolas. The more she had known him the harder it was to convince herself that she might love him. He only loved the idea of her. Jack knew more of the real her. He had given her the present she most wanted for Christmas, a hot bath. It was her decision to share it with him. He had already seen her figuratively naked over the past few weeks and the dark created its own shield.

Jack tried not to look. But she was a goddess descending into the pool more tantalizing than any courtesan. He knew that Jane’s offer to share her bath wasn’t sexual, he now has to convince his body of this fact. It’s because of Jack that this is how she is spending Christmas, naked in water smelling of rotten eggs and not safely at home with her family. Their nakedness encourages these companions to finally reveal the secrets they have held back making them true comrades. Jane admits that the longing for people and places past hinges on the past. They don’t exist anymore. The exile’s dilemma, the home they yearn for is never the home to which they return. Miss Gwen had made a plan to bring Jane back from the dead as a long lost cousin, but Jane hates the idea as much as Jack. To live a lie forever is unacceptable. Jack tells her that he wanted to be a philosopher king, before his life went off course because of the laws in India. They just understand each other in way that is deep in their bones, they are the same, they are the dispossessed. That is when Jane reveals what she should have told Jack long ago, that she knows his family. Jack is shocked. From the story Jane spins of Miss Gwen, her chaperone, and her daughter Plumeria, and Lizzy and her conquests, and Kat and her marriage, it appears that Jane is more a member of Jack’s own family than Jack is. Jack accuses Jane of withholding this crucial piece of knowledge because she wanted the power. The Pink Carnation must always be smarter. While the Pink Carnation rejoinders he must always be more disaffected, he feels sorry for himself despite having people out there who love him and want him, unlike her. No one wants her, not even Jack. She would rather be alone than pitied. And then Jack reveals his biggest secret, which is that he is attracted to her and thinks she is wonderful in every single way. All the remaining walls between them have been torn down and they are both laid bare, in more ways than one. As she slips back into the water Jane wraps her arms around Jack’s neck.

Despite knowing it’s folly, they succumb to their growing passion for each other. To sleep would be to invite morning and this intimacy between them is too fragile and new, so they talk and bond over the long night together. They discuss weapons and missions, Jane admitting that this mission is the closest she’s come to war and was entirely unsuited for it had she been willing to admit her faults. But Jack has always been on the front line, not hiding in the shadows where decisions are made like Jane. They complement each other and their pasts make them perfect for each other. If she hadn’t taken this mission they wouldn’t be together. Jack wouldn’t like who Jane was in Paris just as she wouldn’t have liked the man Jack would have become had his life not been upended by colonial law. Their lives have made them for each other. Dawn comes too soon and they are awkward and don’t know how to tell each other that they don’t want just this one night. Jack defensively starts to put himself down because he doesn’t believe he is what Jane wants, but she doesn’t want lutes she wants a man who notices her blisters. Jane is in love with Jack and their time together is almost over and she has this nagging feeling that they have missed something. At least if something goes wrong Jack can get to the rescue boat, the Bien-Aimée, off the coast of Berlengas, helmed by Lord Richard Selwick. But why did the Queen go to Peniche and not Porto? Nicolas is sneaky and he might be infiltrating and exploiting the resistance’s own plans. What if Peniche isn’t a trap for Jack and Jane but for the Queen? Which gives Jane an idea; she can infiltrate the castle from within!

Jane is shocked by Jack’s compliance. That he completely trusts her and her plan of entering the fort alone without questioning makes her realize how much he gets her. Yes, he would like to single-handedly storm the fort, rout the entire garrison, and present the Queen on a platter to her, but he knows he doesn’t stand a chance, she does; and Jack is practical like that. The plan is to go to the French garrison in Peniche and Jane will enter pretending to be Nicolas’s mistress, the best plans after all have a kernel of truth. She will incapacitate him with an opiate in his drink, forge orders for the removal of the Queen to Berlengas, and pose as Nicolas and bring the Queen directly to Jack and her compatriots. The plan should work but that doesn’t mean Jack isn’t worried about Jane, he loves her. Damn. How did that happen? Where is the animus he first felt when they met? Where did all the time go? How is this the end of their mission? How can he help the plan? To stall for time Jack says that if there should be a child from their liaison then he will be there by her side, like his father. And when did he become his father? He shouldn’t be talking practicalities, he should be spilling his heart to Jane, but this is what comes out. Hearing the idea of a child, their child, makes Jane realize that this might be something she would want. They could conceivably have a future together but first Jane must confront her past and pull off the greatest ruse, making sure that Nicolas doesn’t realize he is no longer all to her. The kiss that seals Jack and Jane’s farewell wasn’t an admission of love, but it had certainly felt like one. Stepping up to the door of the of the fortress Jane announces to the French solider that Monsieur le Comte de Brillac’s fiancée has arrived.

Sussex, Donwell Abbey, 2005: This is really not how Colin and Eloise envisioned the night before their wedding. But at least they are together. Colin and Eloise are heading to the ruins of Donwell Abbey, though Eloise’s footwear is far more sensible this time. Their plan is to arrive there early and ambush the kidnapper, wresting Aunt Arabella from his clutches. More vague is their plan to scare him with a sheet with eyeholes and Eloise pretending to be the phantom monk of Donwell Abbey à la Casper the friendly ghost. If further proof were needed that Colin wasn’t in the secret service, this ramshackle plan completely eliminates any possibility. Unfortunately for Colin and Eloise Aunt Arabella’s kidnapper had pretty much the same plan as them, though better executed; he’s rocking quite the phantom monk ensemble, cowl and all. The gun is a little anachronistic though. It’s quite a shock when they realize that the kidnapper, the one waving the gun at them, is none other than Nigel Dempster! Serena’s ex, the curator of the Vaughn collection, and least we forget, a man totally obsessed with the Pink Carnation and dreams of book deals and BBC miniseries. But who would have thought he cared this much? It turns out it was never about the Pink Carnation! Everything he’s done was to get his hands on Aunt Arabella’s coded notebooks. Back in the seventies his father was a high ranking MP who killed himself after he was threatened with exposure because he was selling secrets to the Russians. He was exposed by none other than Aunt Arabella! Who graciously gave the elder Dempster the option of suicide over exposure. Dempster the younger wants reparations, even though Aunt Arabella was only doing her job and his father was caught red-handed. Dempster’s life was ruined and he has a fantastical plan wherein Aunt Arabella’s notebooks, artfully expurgated, will show the “truth” that his father, a man of sterling reputation, was hounded to death by an excitable woman who overstepped herself, who will be found dead. It is obvious that Dempster didn’t have any plan to return Aunt Arabella safe and sound, she was insurance to make sure he got the notebooks. When Serena stumbles onto the scene she becomes added insurance. And that’s when Eloise’s phone rings. Incongruously she gets the good news from her American agent that she has a two book contract. Her “fictional” story of the Pink Carnation is going to be published! Provided she survives the night. As she informs the motley crew of her book deal she is given a congratulatory hallo from the shadows as Aunt Arabella swiftly incapacitates Dempster, saving the day, and herself in the process! Dempster is foiled and there’s the little thing of a wedding in a few short hours!

In Which There Is a Misunderstanding

misunderstoodImage from Brainless Tales.

We’re about halfway through The Lure of the Moonflower now (or finished and rereading for the sake of discussion), and Jack and Jane are still dealing with trust issues. The biggest obstacle to their working together companionably is Jane. She just can’t let go of her preconception that Jack is a dangerous defector – a double agent unworthy of her trust.

Lauren really loves this idea of a hero and heroine who start off their relationship under the wrong impression about each other. It probably harkens back to The Scarlet Pimpernel, the inspiration for the Pink series, when Marguerite does not realize that her husband Percy is the masked crusader who is bravely rescuing aristocrats from the guillotine.

Think about it. In Pink I, Amy thinks Richard is a pathetic hanger-on in Napoleon’s court rather than the Purple Gentian, the very man she has come to Paris to find. In Pink III, Letty thinks that Geoff has taken off for Ireland to get away from her. She has no idea that he is working for the War Office. In Pink VII, Laura doesn’t realize that Andre’s work for the French Ministry of Police is just a means to protect his children and his friends. And Emma was certainly surprised to find out that Augustus is an agent in Pink X. I guess that’s one of the hallmarks of writing about spies – if everyone knew they were spies, they could hardly get any work done, could they? But it frequently creates conflict for Lauren’s heroes and heroines when a character finds he or she can explain themselves properly without revealing too much of the truth.

Inspired by Lauren’s “If You Like” lists, I went poking around the internet for lists of historical romances where misunderstanding or mistaken identity is key to the plot. Here are the most popular suggestions I found:

  1. Julia Quinn’s An Offer from a Gentleman
  2. Judith McNaught’s Until You
  3. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ A Rose in Winter
  4. Jude Deveraux’s The Raider
  5. Lisa Kleypas’ Because You’re Mine

I haven’t read a single one of these, but I recognize all five names as authors who constantly pop up on Lauren’s If You Like lists and in comments from all of you about books you like.

So what are your favorite books about mistaken or hidden identities?

Pink XII Week 2 in Review

This post was written by Miss Eliza.

pink 12 w2

Portuguese Countryside and Monastery of Alcobaça 1807: Jack is stunned and unnerved by the appearance of the Gardener, it’s not every day the devil strolls into camp. What’s worse is that Jack betrayed him, he’s a gatherer of information, not an assassin. Luckily the Gardener always used an intermediary so they have never met face to face. But Jack does wonder if he might have walked into a trap led by the so-called Pink Carnation. The Gardener clearly recognized her despite a disguise that would fool most. How can he be sure she is as she says? And what is this “understanding” she has with this killer? But her dismay at seeing the Gardener couldn’t be feigned, could it? The two of them decide to make a strategic retreat, aka flee into the night, crawling out the back of their tent; while leaving a few stumbling blocks if the Gardener should pursue them. The most effective of which is some ipecac in the claret, though Jane’s faux billet–doux should help as well. Jack should feel smug finally getting his way and incommoding the Gardener, but he had planned to be prepared for rough country with the proper supplies for a well-provisioned trek, not a night flit. Out on their own on a path that is barely more than a goat track, Jack wants to rail against Jane for the situation they find themselves in but she’s oddly cooperative, not complaining as he expected. He is learning that with the Pink Carnation it is best not to take anything at face value. They begin to grate on each other, but perhaps it’s more Jack’s jealousy that Jane had something with “Nicolas” who is a cold blooded killer yet she is unwilling to trust him.

Ironically Jane is also worried that by going off with Jack into the wilderness she is walking into a trap. But it would be folly to remain behind, Nicolas is obviously looking for Queen Maria and it would be foolish to stay. Jane is holding in so much loss, and it all dates to that day Nicolas walked into her life. But she can’t begrudge Miss Gwen her happiness, though she sometimes wonders what if things had been different. Breaking away from their fellow travelers gives Jack and Jane time to understand each other better as they warm their chilled bones around the camp fire. Jack feels that the constant accusations of being a turncoat need to be justified and he tells Jane the circumstances of his employment and subsequent defection from the Gardener’s employ. He had found a father figure in General Pierre Perron, who brought Jack to the French and then the French wanted Jack to kill him when Perron became a liability. To save Perron, Jack gave the British information, and a new alliance was struck. More than that he talks about what it was like growing up half-caste and how he was always less than, hindered by his birth. Jane counters that it’s no worse than being born a woman. Her ire is also raised, his reputation and attitude have put them in needless danger because he has made a career out of being provoking. If he had told her all this to start with she would have trusted him and his plans! Jack’s response is to stalk off into the wilderness. He spends the remainder of the night covering their tracks and musing on the fact that there are people in the world more hard done by than him, which is a new thought. He also muses on his temper, which makes him think of his mother. Near dawn he heads back to their camp with a stubborn donkey that reminds him more than a little bit of the Pink Carnation. But the camp is deserted. He curses his stupidity only to find that Jane hasn’t fled but hid up a tree for safety. She comes down and after Jack’s confession of the night before tells Jack about Venice and how she doesn’t trust Nicolas, she and Jack don’t have Nicholas’s stomach for assassination. She asks it they can start again, which is harder than she thought it would be. She’s unused to apologizing. The olive branch she offers Jack is her name, plain and simple: Jane.

Travelling through the Portuguese countryside Jane is quickly realizing how sheltered she has been. They are walking, endlessly walking. And she has a very painful blister. Talking nonsense is one way Jane is coping and the poor donkey is the recipient of this dubious honor. It is humbling to have to ask for help and more so having to ride astride a donkey. She had misjudged Jack and she didn’t know how to make amends. She’s somehow always in the wrong with him. But after a few home truths; trust is being built and Jack and her are rubbing along nicely enough as they travel through the cold hardscrabble mountains. They are exiles united. There’s a word in Portuguese, saudade, it means something like nostalgia, and they both suffer from it. And speaking of Portugal, isn’t it supposed to be warm? Apparently that’s southern Portugal. In the summer. Their first full night on the road they are lucky enough to have a roof over their heads provided by some of Rodrigo’s “friends.” What is better is news of a palanquin with a holy relic that passed through a week since on the way to the Monastery at Alcobaça. A talking holy relic!

The comfort of warm food, a stool and a hard floor will never again be taken for granted after a day on a donkey. While Jack and Jane curl up for bed they whisper to each other about how what they do changes them. Jane seems untouchable, but there’s a moment, a moment when Jane is flesh and blood and there night’s repose might have become a tumble in the hay. Literally. If not for the donkey acting as duenna. In the morning Jack pays for their lodgings, Jane thinks it’s a little generous, but she doesn’t know that the lady of the house is also his informant. They stumble out into the gray dawn with a new destination in mind, Alcobaça. It’s not far out of the way of Porto, and if Queen Maria is there it will save them a wasted journey to Porto. In the gray dawn Jane looks so fragile that Jack wants to protect her and bare his soul. But he should know her by now, she will soldier on. Life would be easier if she would live down to his preconceptions of her. He is confiding in her more and more. She finally hears about why he stole the jewels of Berar. They were to be his sister Lizzy’s dowry. She is a half-caste like himself and this wealth is her protection. Let her marry whom she wants, or stay single, it was all so Lizzy could be an independent woman as well as guaranteeing her safety. Jack says that Jane, of anyone, should relate to this desire. That is when Jane cuts him to the quick and reveals her secret, that it is because of Jack and his jewels that she lost everything. Thanks to Jack Reid Jane’s family declared her dead.

Jane unburdens herself to Jack, albeit in a redacted form. She’s always prided herself on keeping her own counsel and here she is telling Jake almost everything, because for once it’s nice to speak to someone frankly without reserve. Fate works in mysterious ways, as Lizzy rose in the world the wheel of fate dealt Jane a blow. She had prejudged Jack because he has inadvertently unmasked her to the Gardener and made unable for her to return to Paris and the organization she had established. Though Nicolas said she could return to Paris at his side, she’d just have to disown her principles and her country. She lost her standing and became what Jack sees now. Her family couldn’t accept her gallivanting around Europe unchaperoned, albeit in disguise. They thought that it was improper and she had lost her virtue, ironically it was the other way around. She didn’t lose her virtue until they cut all ties. What hurt most was her parents declaring her dead. Jack is shocked by this. No matter how much of an outcast he actually is or just felt himself to be he knew he could show up at any of his sibling’s homes and be welcomed. Here he had thought himself an exile when Jane is more of an outcast than he will ever be. This unburdening of pain leads to a release of the sexual tension that has been mounting between them and they share an amorous embrace. The bells of Alcobaça call a sudden halt to their canoodling. Jack is on his feet thinking that the bells must be an alarm and they are too late. Jane on the other hand hears them for what they are, a celebration. It is Christmas Eve!

Jane points out that they are oddly suited for Christmas, they are without shelter and even have a donkey. On the final push to the monastery Jane dwells on the fact that things are getting complicated with Jack. She had NOT meant that kiss to happen. This isn’t how things where with Nicolas. It was all thrust and parry and wits clashing but never any truth to what they said. She even planned her own seduction in Venice as if it where one of her missions! Her decision to succumb to his advances was a calculated measure. She no longer cared for Nicolas, so she lied with her body to keep up the pretense. They weren’t star-crossed, they were ill suited. But still, there was nothing unexpected. At all. She never acted on impulse, and that kiss was pure impulse. She is at sea with Jack, he confounds her expectations constantly. When they arrive at the monastery Jack is spinning a tale to the Abbot that is sure to get them food, but only in the kitchen, and if they are lucky an actual stable. So Jane decides it’s time to take back control, of the situation if not of her emotions. She spins a lavish fairy tale about an elopement and an enraged father and in the end, she gets her and Jack through the front door. Though Jack isn’t well pleased by this unexpected and undiscussed change in plans. They are given a lavish room with some very interesting outmoded court clothes of the color Jack’s stepmother would approve of, though he thinks he looks like a giant aubergine. If Jack would stop being so churlish Jane might just have to admit to herself that he cuts quite a dash in the ridiculous getup. As for his stepmother… how could she ever unravel for Jack all the tangled ties that bound her to his family?

Sussex, The Heavy Hart, 2005: With Aunt Arabella being kidnapped the rehearsal diner seen from Eloise’s point of view is more one of an Agatha Christie novel, wherein she is eying up the suspects, then a casual get-together. Jeremy is being a little too cozy with her grandmother as they bond over their distaste of the local pub as an “appropriate” place for a rehearsal dinner. But would Jeremy really endanger his own grandmother? Other than channeling Miss Marple it’s much what you’d expect of a rehearsal, people were being awkward, old family grievances were being aired, and the single members of the bridal party were getting drunk. Eloise’s parents are worried about her drastic change in her life goals. They don’t really approve of Colin; seeing him as the derailer of their daughter’s career, not the saver of her sanity and true love. She hadn’t really admitted it, even to herself, but her desire to have the wedding in England was to show her family how happy she was with her new life. Even if it did come with in-laws worthy of Peyton Place. Eloise is surprised by her mother-in-law to be as she gives them a fantastic painting of Selwick Hall, with all those Eloise loves captured in the finest detail on the canvas. But looking closer she sees Aunt Arabella almost ghostly in an upper window and wonders if this is an ill omen or even a threat! After all the toasts and speeches Eloise and Colin get everyone bundled off into their cars and prepare for their rendezvous. If they can make it through the next twenty-four hours the rest of their lives will be easy sailing. While everyone is snug in their beds they plan to beard this kidnapper in his den at Donwell Abbey! At least they have each other. And soon that will be forever and always!

More secrets! It’s getting mysterious up in here…

Tagxedo

I have another secret, but this time, I want YOU to be part of it!

As you know, we’re approaching the end of Pink for All Seasons. I was trying to decide on a spectacular send-off, and a way to celebrate Lauren for writing such awesome books. And then Miss Eliza and I hatched a plan.

We have an idea for a surprise for Lauren. I can’t post it here on the blog, because she checks in over here every so often. (Lauren, if you’re reading this, there’s nothing to see here!)

If you’d like to participate in this surprise activity, send me an email at ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com by August 26th. Your part would only take about 15 minutes, and I promise it would be fun.

Miss Eliza will be back on Friday with the next Pink XII recap. Meanwhile, Lauren is celebrating Eloise and Colin’s wedding all this week on her website. She’s also running a contest, so pop over and get yourself entered for a prize.

So, I’ve been keeping secrets…

Dear Pink Enthusiasts,

I apologize for my subterfuge. I have been keeping something from you. You know how Lauren celebrated the launch of The Lure of the Moonflower with an event at Word in Brooklyn last week?

Well…

IMG_2155

I was there.

Don’t throw things at me! I did it for you all. (Okay, admittedly, I did it for me – but I carried you all with me in my heart!)

I did not get any pictures from the event for two reasons:

  1. The event was basically in Word’s basement, and the lighting was not great.
  2. Lauren is like a hummingbird. If you’ve ever seen her, you know what I mean. She is tiny, super energetic, and continually in motion. Trying to capture her in a still moment proved completely impossible. So rather than trying to take pictures, I put my camera away and just listened. I knew you would want a report!

There was wine. There were pastries. Beth (of Pink III fame) was with me.  Lauren wore an awesome flowery dress, and Beatriz Williams and Sarah MacLean were there to help Lauren celebrate and to facilitate discussion. I think the event was planned to last an hour, but between reader questions and author shenanigans, we were there for two hours. I’d love to share every last juicy moment with you, but you probably haven’t got all day to read this, so I’ll try to stick to the highlights.

First of all, Lauren is by no means swearing off Pink projects forever. She was asked if her characters belong to her or to her publisher, and she was emphatic that Jane and the Pink crew are hers and hers alone. In the future, if she writes another Pink story, she would give Penguin the first opportunity to publish it, but if they chose to pass, she could take her characters and her new story and go wherever she wanted. She also said that she has another idea for a Pink book that she’s interested in writing someday. Don’t start digging out your calendars to mark down pub dates – “someday” is probably several years down the road. But it’s comforting to know that we could have an opportunity to catch up with our favorite flowery spies in the future.

If you’ve already read to the end of Moonflower (no spoilers, y’all!), you know that Lauren included various goodies at the end of the book. In one section of her Q&A portion of the Readers Guide, she talks about bringing the series to a close. But she brought up a really good point at Word that I hadn’t thought about. While her historical heroines have moved from 1803 to 1807, Eloise has been living in 2005 for quite some time, and Lauren said it was becoming increasingly difficult to write her there convincingly. Just think about how much our world has changed in the last 10 years! Could you even imagine the mess that Eloise would have made of Facebook or Twitter? Nightmare scenario.

One of the other things I had never heard Lauren say before was that, after her publisher convinced her that Pink I needed a modern frame in order to get published, they were trying to sweet-talk her into getting rid of Eloise by Pink III. Evidently, chick-lit was in its heyday for Pink I but died an agonizing death by Pink III, and historical fiction was on the rise. Lauren said that several different times over the course of the series she had to fight to keep Eloise and Colin a part of the story. At this point, several people at the event chimed in about how outraged they would have been. More than one reader mentioned that, when they got new Pink books, they read all the Eloise chapters first and THEN went back and read the book cover to cover. What? Did any of you do that? I know I’ve admitted this before (and again, please don’t hurt me), but it took me several books to get invested in Eloise at all. If she and Colin had disappeared in Pink III, I would probably not have cared. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very fond of them now! But it took a while. Was that just me?

There was also the inevitable question for Lauren – WHAT’S NEXT? Well, we already know that she has two projects being published in 2016:

  1. The Forgotten Room, a collaboration with Beatriz Williams and Karen White. I didn’t know this, but evidently each of the authors was responsible for one time period in the book, and they aren’t telling anybody who wrote what! According to Beatriz, even their editors have not been able to tell their sections apart. Do you think we’ll be able to tell? The pub date is January 19.
  2. A Fall of Poppies, an anthology of World War I novellas by nine different authors, obviously including a novella from Lauren. The pub date for this one is March 1.

In addition to these two official projects, there are two other things in the works – HOORAY! First, Lauren is working on something she calls her MGFS: a Multi-Generational Family Saga. She says it will be like The Thorn Birds, only not as depressing and not set in Australia, so on second thought, nothing like The Thorn Birds. I’ve forgotten each of the time periods she mentioned, but Belle Époque Paris and World War I Paris were definitely in the mix. The other project is a second collaboration with Beatriz and Karen. Nothing is set in stone yet, but Beatriz dropped a hint that she’s recently been reading Dead Wake by Erik Larson. If you follow Lauren’s Weekly Reading Round-Up posts, you’ll remember that Lauren just finished reading this too. While there was no “Here’s our plot!” announcement, Lauren and Beatriz did hint that the next book would have something to do with the Lusitania.

One of the most fascinating parts of the event for me was listening to Lauren discuss the divide that can exist between “passion projects” (writing the book that you are on fire to write) and writing what your publisher and editor tell you there is a market for. Lauren says The Ashford Affair was a passion project, and she was just lucky that a publisher wanted to take it on. Her next idea for a passion project was a gothic novel set in the Caribbean – but she was told that gothics don’t sell, and no one wants to read about the Caribbean. Seriously? I would read anything Lauren wrote – after 15 books, I totally trust her. Wouldn’t you? Lauren says that she has been incredibly lucky to have a publisher that encourages her to try new things, and that she is looking for projects that scare her. But she also said that “try new things” seems to be limited to “new books set in England.” Why would any publisher think we wouldn’t follow Lauren to the Caribbean, to Russia, or anywhere else she wanted to take us? We are small, but we are mighty, y’all. I say next time Lauren gets an idea for a book that doesn’t get approval up front, we start a letter-writing campaign.

At the risk of continuing on for another thousand words or so, I will leave you with those impressions. But to wrap up, when I spoke with Lauren briefly after the event, she mentioned that she’s been following along with Pink for All Seasons in a behind-the-scenes way – she said she has really enjoyed having the chance to see the series through all of your eyes. So thank you for all the ways that you have participated over the last year!

Pink XII Week 1 in Review

This post was written by Miss Eliza.

Week_1 (2)

Sussex, 2005: Colin and Eloise are setting up for their wedding, which happens to be tomorrow at Selwick Hall, and nothing is where it is supposed to be. The idea to have the wedding at the house that brought them together in a roundabout manner seemed like a good idea at the time; that is till relatives started descending on them from various parts of the globe and there are no port-a-loos yet. Oh, and Eloise’s face is covered in mud. At least the mud she can lie at the feet of her friend Pammy, but should beauty treatments itch? Why didn’t they hire a wedding planner? Orchestrating the event feels more and more like herding cats just to get Eloise’s Four Weddings and a Funeral moment when she sees Colin in his morning suit. Eloise abandons the thankless task of tying bows to chairs, complete with her little sister’s mocking commentary, upon the arrival of a mysterious chest in the front hall. Its placement smack dab in the middle of the hall is an accident waiting to happen, but then again a do-it-yourself obstacle course for the wedding guests might cull the herd and Colin’s ancestor Amy Selwick would approve, she made the house into a Spy School after all. The only person she can think it could be from is Aunt Arabella, but she already gave them a rather hefty silver tea service. But Arabella knows that this chest would be treasured by Eloise because it once belonged to the Pink Carnation.

Eloise feels her blood thrumming at the idea that she is finally in possession of an item that belonged to the Pink Carnation. She might have chucked aside her career in academia for more prosaic prose, turning the exploits of Jane Wooliston into fiction, but she has never lost her interest in Jane, despite the dead end she reached in her research. This trunk might just reveal what happened to Jane after she came to Sussex in 1805 and disbanded her league. Just as Eloise is about to open the chest she gets what she thinks is a prank call from the errant best man Nick on Colin’s cell phone. It’s not a prank. Someone has kidnapped Colin’s Great-Aunt Arabella and is holding her for ransom! Rushing through the house in a frantic need to find Colin as her mud flakes everywhere Eloise eventually locates him at the abandoned tower on the hill, which is always farther away than she thinks. She rushes to tell him everything she knows, the phone call, the demand for “the box,” and the rendezvous, that night at Donwell Abbey. Eloise thinks the only logical conclusion could be that Colin’s cousin Jeremy is up to no good again, after behaving so well. But she doesn’t want to think that Arabella’s grandson would kidnap her for nefarious reasons, more for Colin’s peace of mind than her own. But Colin then drops a bomb. Eloise might have been right thinking his family never left the spy business, though she was wrong about Colin, his inability to dissemble would have killed him, but the truth is Aunt Arabella is a spy.

Or rather was a spy. At first Eloise rebels at this thought but then everything starts to click into place and she realizes that this is not only entirely plausible but the truth. Together they realize that the likely candidate for “the box” is the wedding present just delivered to them from Aunt Arabella. With their rehearsal dinner in a few short hours they rush into the house to get a better look at this chest. There is a secret catch and the trunk pops open, it was designed to be a puzzle, much like the Pink Carnation herself. Eloise wants to savor each and every letter and garment in this treasure trove but realizes that time is of the essence. At the very bottom under a hidden panel they find notebooks. Modern notebooks. In code. This must be what the mysterious voice wants in exchange for Aunt Arabella. It looks like they have a rendezvous to keep. Why did this have to happen the night before their wedding?

Lisbon, 1807: The man known as a black sheep, turncoat, renegade, and occasionally the Moonflower, Jack Reid, is blending into the crowd. Currently working for the British his contact is to approach him in Rossio Square with the ludicrous phrase: “The eagle nests only once.” The French are making a big scene of lowering the Portuguese royal standard and raising the Tricolour at the pinnacle of São Jorge Castle and the crowd is getting restless. The French claim to be liberators, but the liberated don’t seem too happy with this public exhibition of dominance after their Queen and her Regent fled to Brazil and were replaced by the Portuguese Regency Council. The crowd is angry and danger is brewing. If his contact doesn’t appear soon Jack will have to leave; the reason he’s survived this long is his instinct for self-preservation. Jacks gaze lingers on one of the courtesans with the French soldiers. There is something striking about her. She has a stillness to her. The crack of a musket goes off and Jack is about to leave when this turned-out and ruffled girl approaches him and proceeds to strike him dumb by uttering “you know that the eagle nests only once.” He can’t believe this is his contact but she’s drawing too much attention to them, they stage a scene and depart Rossio Square. As he flings her over his shoulder he realizes that she’s not as she seems, or so the gun in her stays would indicate. Her lodgings are also the opposite of what Jack imagined, spare when he expected opulence for this fair princess. Yet she is more than astute as she rattles Jack with his personal history. He attempts to analyze her in return, logic warring with incredulity as she reveals herself to be the Pink Carnation.

Jane didn’t expect to be laughed at, yet Jack is finding her revelation of her nom de guerre very amusing. But telling Jack that she is the Pink Carnation is a calculated risk. She is hoping the myth that has grown greater than her will work to her advantage with this man who has a talent for defying expectations as well as orders. For her mission she needs Jack and his local knowledge and by sharing her secret she hopes to engender his trust. She has been sent to Portugal because, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Queen did not depart for Brazil and is still in the country. If Queen Maria, in all her insanity, were to fall into French hands it would be disastrous. Napoleon has his sights on more than just Portugal, all of the Peninsula is in his sights. Jack finds Jane’s theory incredulous and tells her to go home, this isn’t the kind of work he was paid for. His orders are purely observational, not babysitting a spy who claims she’s the Pink Carnation yet doesn’t even speak Portuguese. Jane is rankled that everything appears to come down to money with Jack. He doesn’t think of the outcome of his actions, such as sending a dragon’s hoard of jewels to his sister in Bath, he just thinks of the monetary advantages. He unknowingly turned her life upside down from a continent away. She is used to obedience not riposte, and Jack changing her plans will not work. But she will begrudgingly admit he knows what he is doing so she will let him go to the bar and apply libations to the Queen’s household that was left behind instead of storming the fortress of Queluz. Who knows? It might even work.

Jack is down at a bar in the port in his well-honed performance as Alarico the town drunk; when in doubt add a little vomit to your hair for verisimilitude. People will often tell the town drunk what they wouldn’t even tell their confessor and Jack is learning some interesting things from one of the Queen’s household, the undercook Bernardo, including the odd fact that the Queen had acquired a new confessor in the weeks before the French arrived. Of course it could all be false hope found at the bottom of a bottle, but there’s something about the talk of “when the Queen comes again” that has Jack going all nostalgic. And contemplative. He realizes that what makes Jane different and far more dangerous than him is that she actually believes in what she is doing. Yet through his nostalgia his mind starts to see the ploy in which Queen Maria could have been spirited away in plain sight with the help of the Bishop of Porto. It’s deceptively simple. As his informant relocates to the floor right below the table Jack realizes it might be time to move on as the French dragoons have rowdily taken over a nearby table. He recognizes one of the French dragoons as someone whom he conned the previous week in his other disguise as Rodrigo the horse trader. Sneaking out in a faux drunken stupor to answer the call of nature a young dragoon warns him there is about to be trouble. The young dragoon is That Woman, aka the Pink Carnation.

So far in their brief acquaintance she’d managed to fool him twice. Jack didn’t like those odds. The Pink Carnation gets Jack out of this sticky situation by the expedient of attacking him before the real French dragoon or his thug can. Jack is more than a little put out by her high-handed manner and he eventually deigns to return to her rooms to discuss their next move, after all, she might actually be the bloody Pink Carnation from all that he’s seen. He lays out what he thinks happens, that the Bishop of Porto is raising a rebellion and Queen Maria was snuck out of Lisbon in a religious procession, they are so common that no one pays them the least bit of attention. From Jack’s point of view the Pink Carnation’s decision to try to follow them to Porto is foolhardy, he cannot guarantee their safety. She has no idea what the terrain is like, she is an urban creature of the drawing room, and then it dawns on him. This had been her plan all along. The scene in the bar, the dressing up as French dragoon, all of it was just to prove her bona fides. She had planned all along to infiltrate the French ranks and go by river to Porto, or wherever the Queen looked most likely to be. But she hadn’t planned on Jack. He refuses to put on a uniform that is not his because he would feel the lie. They reach a compromise. Jack will be her batman on what he views as a crazy and dangerous excursion.

Jane isn’t used to her plans going wrong, but this one went wrong almost immediately. Posing as Lieutenant Jean de Balcourt her and Jack were to get a boat and travel the two days by river to Porto and rescue Queen Maria. Instead there are no boats to be had and they fall into a depleted group of French soldiers barely equipped and heading north lead by a Captain Moreau. Jack insists that they would move faster with just the two of them over the rough terrain, but Jane points out the two of them would be easy pickings for bandits and with her enemy uniform they have a target on them. Plus she doesn’t want to leave her fate in the hands of Jack, no matter how capable those hands might actually be, which prove very capable one night in their tent as he massages her leg. She is used to being lonely and self-reliant, she is not used to having an inconvenient man in her tent. Nor is she used to hours and hours in the saddle making almost no progress. By the end of the first week she knows she made the wrong decision. But she refuses to admit defeat, despite their snail’s pace. Jack has withdrawn into himself, he is compliant and competent, but not a comrade. There is no cooperation between them. If things couldn’t be worse the unthinkable happens. The Chevalier de la Tour d’Arget, now the Comte de Brillac, appears in camp and back in Jane’s life. Nicolas had always refused to behave as an enemy ought and that makes him dangerous. He had once had the power to disarm her, to fool her into believing that there might be something more between them. Nicolas and Moreau are fast friends bonding over love lost, but has Nicolas told Moreau that he is referring to Jane? Jane doesn’t know what Nicholas is up to or if he will unmask her. She must warn Jack of Nicolas’s probable intentions. Nicolas has been so much to her in her life, friend, enemy, lover, but Jack would know him as the Gardener.