The Mayfair Affair

Mayfair

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that I am fiercely devoted to a handful of authors that I found through Lauren’s website and her “If You Like” posts. One of my absolute favorites is Tracy Grant, author of a historical mystery series set in Napoleonic France featuring the husband-and-wife spy team Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. The first book Tracy published with Kensington for this series, Vienna Waltz, is fabulous. If you haven’t tried it, add it to your reading list! I promise you won’t regret it.

Today, Tracy is a guest on Lauren’s website with an “If You Like” post of her own. We just finished talking about governess books, thanks to our re-read of The Orchid Affair. Tracy’s latest novel in her series, The Mayfair Affair, has a governess at the heart of the action – Laura Dudley, caretaker of Malcolm and Suzanne’s children, who is found standing over the body of the murdered Duke of Trenchard. In her post on Lauren’s site today, Tracy talks a bit about her newest release and then recommends a few governess books that she enjoys. Head over to Lauren’s site and take a look! And if you follow Deanna Raybourn’s blog, be on the lookout for a post from Tracy there as well. That post will be live tomorrow.

I’m also very pleased to say that Tracy will be paying another visit to the Bubble Bath Reader next week – on May 18th, she will be stopping by to answer a few questions and to give away a copy of The Mayfair Affair to a lucky reader. Make sure you check in for a chance to win!

Pink VIII: Ask the Author

It may be a dreary Thursday (not sure how the weather is where you are, but it’s pretty ominous-looking outside my window), but I’m going to focus on The Orchid Affair and keep visualizing a spring day in the French countryside!

Today, Lauren is returning for another round of Ask the Author.  What questions do you have about Miss Laura Grey, Andre Jouen, and the rest of the Pink VIII crew?  Post your questions in the comments section, and Lauren will pop by later this afternoon to answer them.

As always, the Pink Fairy has a gift for a lucky commenter today.  The prize is a Pink VIII mug designed by Miss Eliza.  Et voilà:

pink viii mug

Want to see the mugs for all the books we’ve read so far?  They are all available on Zazzle.

Go forth and ask your questions, good readers!  And happy last-day-of Pink VIII to one and all.

Pink VIII: Dream Casting

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.

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I admit that in my casting of Laura Grey I might have done a little typecasting. The thing is, I might actually be one of a few people who actually knew who Michelle Dockery was prior to Downton Abbey. Why you ask? Because of Terry Pratchett. With his recent death the world has lost one of the most amazing writers I have ever met, but luckily he lives on in his books and his few television adaptations. Hogfather was the first live action Terry Pratchett adaptation and was also Michelle Dockery’s second ever acting gig. She made quite an impression as Susan, the granddaughter of DEATH, so much so that she IS that character for me now. As it happens Susan was a governess. The same year Downton Abbey premiered Michelle was also the ill-fated governess in a new adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, ironically enough with Dan Stevens, her ill-fated Downton Abbey husband! Therefore she’s became kind of the go-to governess for me. But more than that, she has this ability to withdraw into herself that can mask her inner turmoil when needed. For some reason I had totally convinced myself that Downton Abbey didn’t play a part in Michelle being Laura for me, but looking at the fact that I first read this book only two days after watching the first season finale of Downton Abbey… I think that perhaps it played a little part.

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As for Jaouen, the first time I read The Orchid Affair his casting was a mystery to me. I couldn’t see anyone playing him. This frustrated me more than a little and might have been a tiny bit of the reason as to why I fell behind on my dream casting for Lauren’s later books. So, as my OCD nature demands it of me, I’d occasionally be watching a show and think, hmm, could he be Jaouen? Sometime last year I thought I had finally found my André while watching the newest adaptation of The Three Musketeers, The Musketeers with Doctor Who! OK, so it doesn’t REALLY have Doctor Who, it’s just that the show was better before Peter Capaldi was killed off for him to go be The Doctor. There was Santiago Cabrera, the heartthrob Sir Lancelot from Merlin, oh, and the comic guy killed on Heroes. I thought, yes, I have found him. I have found my Jaouen at last! And then I started to re-read the book and in walked Dominic West. Dominic West has hijacked my dream casting! Yes, he’s a fabulous actor, if you were ever in any doubt watch The Hour. But seriously, I don’t know how he did it, whether he’s been lurking in my subconscious since I watched The Affair last fall waiting to pounce, or what. But, aside from surprising me, I do have to say, he’d make a great Jaouen!

Laura Grey played by Michelle Dockery
André Jaouen played by Dominic West

Pink VIII Week 3 in Review

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.

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Chapters 18-26: “If he is playing a double game, it’s a very deep one.”

Paris and Surrounding Countryside 1804: Laura’s discovery of the Duc de Berry throws everything she knows into turmoil. If Jaouen was helping to hide him that means she and he might be on the same side, making spying on him a little more than unnecessary! But when Jaouen rushes into Daubier’s studio he is just as wary of Laura as she is of him. Jaouen doesn’t have time to work out if he should trust Laura, if he should confide in her that he has spent all his time in Paris trying to make a better future for his children, a future that was the original dream of the Republic, not what it has degenerated into, a culture of fear and death. That his plan to restore the monarchy was destroyed by incompetence and ill timing all while his neck was on the line is his burden to bear, not hers. They don’t have the luxury of time in order to work out the mess they are in as Delaroche has already sent two guards to the studio.

Laclos and Maugret stumble into the studio to find Jaouen brazenly out in the open, hoping to forestall a search of the premise as Laura and the Duc de Berry are hiding in the next room. Just when Jaouen thinks he has the two guards under control a loud crash from the other room looks to destroy their plans, but Laura saves the day. Stripping down to her chemise and wrapping herself in a red throw, she undulates into the studio pretending she has just woken up from Daubier’s bed. Her dishabille is enough to distract the men, Jaouen included, as she revels in a role that is so antithetical to whom she is. Hopefully her performance goes a little way to convince Jaouen that she is to be trusted as she sends the two guards on a wild goose chase to a warehouse supposedly used by Daubier for his Royalist activities. That should keep the guards busy for a little while at least!

The three of them return to the Hôtel de Bac where the Duc de Berry will watch over Laura while Jaouen goes into work and sees what he can do for Daubier. As Pierre-André appears on the steps having awoken from a nightmare Jaouen realizes all that he has risked. He is a stranger to his children and has now placed their lives in danger all for a plot that is quickly unraveling and to which his feelings were equivocal at best. At dawn he returns home unable to have helped Daubier, he realizes that to free the painter he has to play the only card available to him, claim to be transferring him on Fouché’s orders, while in reality releasing him. The only problem is that following this drastic step Jaouen’s life is over and he must disappear. This is where Laura offers to help, not offering up the Pink Carnation, but claiming it as a service needing to be rendered to Daubier as an old family friend. But Laura is placing all her hopes in the Pink Carnation not knowing whether Jane can deliver.

In the misty morning at the Jardins du Luxembourg, Laura and the Pink Carnation share a shelter as the rain conveniently falls. Laura recounts to Jane that Jaouen has really been a Royalist all along and that they had planned to get access to Napoleon through Daubier, who has now been arrested. Their plan is obviously destroyed with Daubier’s imprisonment, but Jane is delighted that Laura has found the Duc du Berry. It is imperative that the prince of the blood is removed swiftly from Paris, and Jane thinks she just might be able to help. But a person needing to leave a city whose gates are barred is hard enough, make it a party of seven people, and you’re talking serious planning with only 24 hours in which to do it. But the Pink Carnation isn’t a thorn in the side of the French without reason!

The next dawn finds Jaouen at the Temple Prison collecting Daubier prior to his rendezvous with the rest of his party at a rundown tavern. Daubier is despondent, Delaroche in his zealotry has shattered the old painter’s will to live by destroying his right hand, finger by finger, joint by joint. Despite this Jaouen gets the old man free and gets to the rendezvous where he realizes that his family, now increased by several members, will be hiding in plain sight as a travelling Commedia dell’arte troupe, the Commedia dell’Aruzzio! The troop of seven members “lost” two actors recently, and it is a stretch for five actors to properly put on a show, so they are grateful for the arrival of this motley family. Jaouen and Laura will play husband and wife, with Daubier and Jeanette as their parents as well as the new scene painter and wardrobe mistress respectively. Only one of the troupe is in on their secret, so they will have to act for their passage to the coast, both onstage and off, following the troops month long prearranged performances.

Safely escaping the checkpoint to get out of Paris thanks to Gabrielle putting in a star turn as an actress, they trundle out into the countryside, living rough to save money, and to conceal themselves as best they can without arousing the suspicion on the rest of the troupe. Laura didn’t realize how hard it would be to be Jaouen’s wife, with all the intimacy that requires. At least she is able to take on that role far easier than that of Ruffiana. Laura, it turns out, is an atrocious actress. She can dissemble and become anything offstage, put her onstage and she can’t act to save herself. But that’s the crux of the problem, she is acting to save herself and her fellow travelling companions. If she can’t find some way to be convincing, or at least passable as Ruffiana, then how long before the rest of the troupe catches on and they are once again in imminent danger?

Paris 2004: The gallery opening cum birthday party of Caroline Selwick-Selwick-Alderly, or however she hyphenates her name now, has begun. Caro isn’t what Eloise expected, thinking that she was a belittling and abusive mother straight out of Mommie Dearest, resulting in her children’s issues, but it appears she’s more indifferent and distant; but lack of love can be just as bad as the wrong kind. Serena’s advice to Eloise that her mother wouldn’t even notice her because she had nothing she wanted was spot on, Eloise being dismissed in an instant from Caro’s personage. This leaves Eloise time to look at the paintings. They truly are beautiful, but they are devoid of portraits, Caro obviously doesn’t like to paint them, but she does like to surround herself with people, all of the Eurotrash variety. Speaking of the devil, Eloise bumps into Melinda, whom in fairness Pammy had warned her about as lurking in Paris. Melinda is there with her client, she is PA for the hot new actor Micah Stone. Melinda’s presence ties into the speech that Jeremy is currently making. He has eschewed all pretense that the night is about his wife and has made himself the center of attention as he ominously announces that Micah Stone’s new movie, a musical version of Much Ado About Nothing, is going to be filmed at Selwick Hall; Colin’s Selwick Hall.

The Commedia dell’arte

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.1_Commedia

The reason I became a theatre major is primarily because so many classes were cross listed with art. I took set painting and design, lighting, props, drafting, costumes, makeup, I took so many hands-on crafting classes that one day it came as a shock to me that I was only a few classes away from getting a second degree. So I decided to bite the bullet and take those few classes that remained: history, writing, and acting. Of all these, acting was by far the one I dreaded the most, and I also got an injury during it because of a tennis ball. The history classes were actually quite fun, except for all those Greek plays, seriously, ugh. Basically the history classes were reading plays. Yep, all it was was reading! Occasionally we’d have to act out screens, my group might not have been the best actors, but we always had the best props, and yes, there were sheep, and no, I’m not joking. Aphra Behn to George Bernard Shaw, Aristophanes to Eugene O’Neill, we studied the texts and the greater movements these plays fit within. Therefore it should come as no surprise that we studied the Commedia dell’arte.

The Commedia dell’arte is interesting though in that it’s based on stock characters represented by their costumes while the story itself is conventional plots revolving around certain subjects from sex to jealousy with completely improvised dialogue. Commedia dell’arte was the Whose Line is it Anyway? of the day, to a certain extent. Seeing as there’s no script to read you are studying the costumes and the archetypes, which fascinated me. Especially the costumes! Yes, I adore costumes, seriously, what fan of historical fiction doesn’t? The thought of slipping into the clothes and becoming someone else, it’s so liberating. So not only was the Commedia dell’arte covered in just my theatrical history class, but in my costuming class as well. If I thought reading plays was fun, costuming was watching movies like Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett and talking about beadwork! Bliss! But, one thing is certain, if you haven’t had a little primer on the Commedia dell’arte, you might be a little lost with regards to the characters, and that’s what I’m here for!

Because the Commedia dell’arte is based on stock characters, you can pick and choose which stock characters to use in the production of a travelling troupe. This is why when Jaouen says he sees himself more as a Scaramouche then as Il Capitano, Cécile says that if he really wants to be that character it can be arranged. But let’s just look to those characters that make up the Commedia dell’Aruzzio.

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Pantaloon (head of the Commedia dell’Aruzzio, no one knows his real name):
Pantalone is the metaphorical representation of money in the commedia world, having the look of a hunch-backed old man from protecting his money bag. Being based on currency and ego he is sinister and often inhumane in his treatment towards his fellow characters. Pantalone is presented either as a widower or bachelor; and despite his age, makes numerous unsuccessful passes at women. He regards intelligence highly but is the butt of every conceivable trick. He is usually the blustering father figure to one of the lovers, another stock character found in commedia, whom he strives to keep from their respective lover.

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Innamorati, The Lovers: Leandro and Inamorata (gawky youth and Rose, the lover of powerful men):
These characters sole purpose is being in love with one another, and moreover with themselves; being young, very attractive, and elegant, wearing the finest silks and jewelry, as well as being some of the only unmasked characters. Despite facing many obstacles, the Lovers are always united by the end, usually because of the help of other characters because they are too stupid to figure out anything on their own. But they are more in love with love then in love with each other. Overly dramatic, they fret and pout, but are shy in the presence of their lover, needing the help of servants as a go-between, think Cyrano de Bergerac. They are also aware of the audience’s presence, adding to the audience participation and mutability of the Commedia dell’arte. They can have any of a variety of names, Leandro and Inamorata are just two of many options available.

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Harlequin (the short, ferret-faced man):
The Harlequin is characterized by his chequered costume, this role being where the costume name comes from. While in essence a buffoon carrying a wooden sword or magic wand, his role is that of a light-hearted, nimble and astute servant, often acting to thwart the plans of his master. He spends much of his time pursuing his own love interest, Colombine, with wit and resourcefulness, while often competing with the sterner and melancholic Pierrot, Colombine’s husband. While Harlequin inherits his physical agility and his trickster qualities, as well as his name, from a mischievous “devil” character in medieval passion plays (here passion plays aren’t about romance, they’re about the bible and the life of Christ and might have sheep in them) he also embodies the prototype of the romantic hero. Therefore, he’s a bit of a Rake!

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Columbine (Cécile, aka, the only one in the troupe in “the know” whose onstage character mirrors this):
Columbine is a comedic maidservant playing the tricky slave type. She is married to Pierrot, who is oddly missing from the Commedia dell’Aruzzio, all while being Harlequin’s mistress. Her costume is a ragged and patched dress, appropriate to a hired servant, but occasionally she is in motley to mirror Harlequin. She’s often the only functionally intelligent character onstage, able to aid the lovers, carry on an affair and thwart the unwanted advances of Pantalone, who she often hits with a tambourine.

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Ruffiana (Laura’s assumed character, after the troupe’s Ruffiana “stayed behind” with Capitano):
Ruffiana is the older female of the cast, therefore being categorized as the shrewish matron or witch. She has a shady past and quite possibly used to be a prostitute. As a character she is associated with the older antagonistic male characters, Pantalone and Capitano, who are referred to as the vecchi. Ruffiana is most often romantically involved with Pantalone, though his love may easily be unrequited if it suits the plot.

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Capitano (Jaouen’s assumed character):
Capitano is an outsider, who often talks at length about made up conquests of both the militaristic and carnal nature in attempts to impress others, i.e. a blowhard and a pompous ass as well as a coward when not overcome by the fury of his passion. He is also extremely opportunistic and greedy. Handily for Jaouen, he wears glasses, although used to compensate for his poor vision, Capitano will insist that it is so the brilliant or fierce glint in his handsome eyes will not outshine the sun. Dressed in military regalia, with his sword at his side, if he were to ever work up enough nerve to draw it the comedy would ensue as it is usually too long to draw easily or too heavy or wobbly to wield properly.

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Scaramouche (who Jaouen sees himself as):
Is a combination of the characteristics of Capitano and a servant. Scaramouche entertains the audience by his “grimaces and affected language”. Scaramouche can be clever or stupid, as the actor sees fit to portray him. Jaouen probably wishes to play the character just so Lauren can reference the book by Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche, which helped to inspire The Orchid Affair and was about a young lawyer during the French Revolution who ends up in the Commedia dell’arte! A coincidence? I think not!

Who’s That Girl?

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.
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“Miss Who?”

“Grey,” said Amy, herding Henrietta into a small drawing room at the front of the house. “She was a governess. “

If you look at all the Pink Carnation books you will notice a trend. The hero or the heroine, or in some cases both, have been known to us for a while. They might be bit players that slowly started to inveigle their way into the plot, or, if they were very demanding, their own book. Culled from the ton, they were all part of the existing world Lauren had built. And then came Laura Grey. Never before or since has a book hinged on an almost unknown entity. This, more than anything, is what draws me to The Orchid Affair, this departure away from English aristocrats. While being a part of the larger whole, it is also its own little microcosm within this bigger series. If not for the Eloise and Colin chapters it’s almost a fresh start for the series, and it’s all because of Laura.

So why is it that I am so drawn to a heroine who had quite literally the least amount of time previously on the page? I think it just comes down to the fact that she’s a clean slate. With series you can get bogged down in extensive character histories. There’s a reason that series like Outlander end up having companion books or need to be continually re-read, one brain can only hold so much. Also, there’s so much time recapping and going over the same ground to catch people up to speed that as a reader you’re either bored or lost. By having Jaouen and Laura both be almost completely self-contained within this one volume it creates a more individual book. Yes, the appearances of old friends and foes in cameos are nice, but the book would still work without them.

So who is Laura? To Jaouen and me, she is a fascinating subject. Her outward appearance is nothing more than a well-constructed lie that she has been forced to live for sixteen years. Laura is the perfect governess in every way, because she’s made sure that’s how she looks. She then was approached by the Pink Carnation and enrolled in the Selwick’s Spy School where she perfunctorily played the piano at Henrietta and Miles’s ad hoc wedding. But as we and Jaouen are starting to learn she has amazing hidden depths. Raised in the salons of Paris she had a famous sculpture for a father and a famous poetess for a mother, her life was free. Her life was the exact opposite of the life she has to create for herself. Her parents died in a boating accident during a squall and I imagine that they would have gotten along quite well with Byron and Shelley as they experimented artistically and sexually. Laura is so far removed from the heroines we are used to I ask you this question, is she your type of heroine or would you prefer what we’re used to?

Pink VIII: A New Kind of Hero

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My Pink VIII reading over the weekend got me thinking about the heroes we’ve seen so far in the Pink series. I think Andre Jaouen represents a new kind of hero in the series, but Lauren’s been working on breaking her hero-mold for the last three books.

If you think about it, Richard, Miles and Geoff are fairly similar hero material. They are aristocrats, born and raised in the ton, motivated by patriotism and more than a tiny bit of desire for adventure. I’m not saying they are all the same hero (I know who my favorite is of the three), but their backgrounds are fairly similar.

I would argue that Turnip Fitzhugh, while he has a category all his own in my heart, falls pretty neatly in line with Richard, Miles and Geoff.

So we had a series of four heroes, all cut from a similar cloth (though fantastic in their own ways). And then along came Robert from The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Robert is the duke-by-accident. He’s not really at home in Girdings or in Charlotte’s familiar landscape of season entertainments and court duties. He’s accustomed to a rougher life than our previous heroes, and he has spent most of the later years of his life overseas. Quite simply, he doesn’t feel he belongs in Charlotte’s world.

In The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, Alex Reid takes a step even further afield. He frequently muses on the fact that he feels more Indian that British, and he’s certainly not a member of the aristocracy. In fact, at the beginning of their acquaintance, Penelope thinks of Alex more as a type of servant rather than an equal. I felt like their relationship was the first to really cross a social divide, which seems funny in retrospect, because Penelope has far more in common with Alex than she ever had with Freddy, her social equal.

But with The Orchid Affair, Lauren takes us into uncharted territory and gives us a hero who is from the other side. Andre is French. He was a revolutionary. He currently holds a position of power in Bonaparte’s regime. He is Laura’s assignment, as far from an ally as you could possibly get. And yet (without getting too far ahead of our reread), he and Laura turn out to be fantastically compatible.

Was this shift toward a new kind of hero something anyone else noticed? Does this seem intentional to you, or do you think it’s the happy accident of situations and times as Lauren continued her series? And who is your favorite hero so far?

Pink VIII Week 1 in Review

Happy Friday, one and all!  Before I turn this post over to Miss Eliza for our recap, let’s congratulate the winner of the signed copy of The Orchid Affair: Daniele K! Daniele, if you will send your address to ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com, I will get your prize in the mail to you ASAP.  Now over to Miss Eliza!

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Prologue and Chapters 1-7: “There was no such thing as a silver orchid”

Paris, 2004: You would think Eloise and Colin would be excited to get away to Paris for a long weekend; but sadly that long weekend is being organized by Colin’s step-father, and estranged cousin, Jeremy, as a birthday celebration for Colin’s mother. Yes, family gatherings with the Selwick family tend to run to the awkward, but as Colin says, it saves on Christmas cards when your cousin runs off with you mother on your father’s deathbed and eventually marries her. In an attempt to not let Jeremy micromanage every second they are in Paris, Colin and Eloise have cancelled their reservations at the George V, like they could afford that, and checked into the Minerve, which is certainly cute, and pink, and very very tiny.

The ostensible reason for their hotel change is that Eloise wants to get some research done on her dissertation while in Paris and the George V is too far away. What better place to research “Aristocratic Espionage during the Wars with France, 1792-1815” then the very hotbed of espionage, circa 1804? Colin wasn’t sure if this was a ruse for Jeremy’s benefit or not. But when a rather irate Eloise storms off to the Musée de la Préfecture de Police to look into their papers to corroborate information she found in Colin’s family’s archive, and in particular the spy the Silver Orchid, one of the first graduates from the Selwick Spy School, Colin isn’t left in any doubt. As to why Colin is still at the hotel and not walking arm and arm with Eloise down the Seine eating marzipan pigs? When Colin added his sister Serena to their hotel, he might have added them to their room, not to her own room.

Paris, 1804: Laura Grey has been a governess for half her life, sixteen long years. After seeing her latest charge married off she is given an interesting opportunity. She is invited to train at the Selwick’s Spy School by none other than that most famous of spies, the Pink Carnation herself! Laura has an innate ability to blend into her surroundings, coupled with the fact she was born and raised in France, she would be the perfect undercover operative. André Jaouen is the assistant to the Prefect of Police. All information about suspected spies and royalists, people the Pink Carnation hopes to save, flows through Jaouen’s papers as he works indirectly for the chief of police, Fouché, who happens to be his relative through marriage. Unfortunately Jaouen often has to work with the detestable Delaroche as well, who is none too happy with Jaouen, and in particular his connection to Fouché. With men like Delaroche circling, Jaouen knows that Paris isn’t safe with all his dreams of a republic dashed. It’s the last place that children should be, but what was Jaouen to do? His beloved father-in-law died and his children had nowhere else to go.

Seizing the opportunity of the arrival of Jaouen’s two children , Gabrielle and Pierre-André, Jane takes full advantage of this opening to place a spy in Jaouen’s house. Dubbed the Silver Orchid, this is the perfect job for Laura Grey, or Laure Griscogne as she is now known. Who better to pretend to be a governess then Laura with her sixteen years of experience? Surly she can suffer through the ignominy of being a governess one more time if it means that she never has to be a governess again; slowly hardening into the role and losing more and more of herself as each day passes. Hired after the most perfunctory of interviews, Laura leaves the crumbling Hôtel de Bac to collect her possessions while Jaouen, unaware of what he has done in hiring Laura, heads to the Abbaye Prison to draw out of an inmate a kidnapping plot against the First Consul, Napoleon, with Delaroche circling.

The next day Laura isn’t greeted by her charges with open arms. Well, Pierre-André did have open arms, but they were only open in an attempt to find candy about her person. Gabrielle, like the nursery maid Jeanette and the surly man of all work Jean, is almost openly hostile to Laura’s presence. Laura decides she must just get on with her work and to this end she takes the children out to a bookshop. To any outsider, taking her charges to a bookshop looks unsuspicious, little do they know that the bookshop is also her point of contact with the Pink Carnation. She feels invigorated that she makes first contact and gets the code word and knows to look for her message in a Latin copy of Aesop’s Fables she will receive later in the week and then everything goes pear shaped.

Laura isn’t caught, but into the bookshop walks the Pink Carnation herself with Miss Gwen and A BONAPARTE! They are loud and command attention, especially as Augustus Whittlesby, that most atrocious of poets, is there declaiming to the world about his Muse, Jane! Laura doesn’t know why they are there. Did she do something wrong? Why is Jane so friendly with a Bonaparte? But in amongst the conversation she notices there are certain words Jane is emphasizing to Laura, all without even looking at her. The Pink Carnation needs to know what Jaouen learned at the Abbaye Prison the night before as soon as possible, this message couldn’t wait to be encrypted and handed off, hence the break in protocol. More disturbing than the risk of searching Jaouen’s study is the mysterious man who solicitously offers them a ride back to the Hôtel de Bac, who turns out to be none other than Jaouen’s openly contentious co-worker Delaroche!

The night isn’t done with mysterious men though. After getting a drubbing down from Jaouen about taking the children outside the house, Laura solicitously makes a cup of coffee, sleeping draft included, for Jaouen. At this juncture a mysterious stranger arrives at the study door as Laura is attempting to leave, disgruntled by the coffee going cold and the wasted sleeping draft. It happens to be Jaouen’s handsy cousin Philippe that she was previously warned of. The two men go off into the house and Laura takes the opportunity to find out the information that Jane so desperately needed from the interrogation at the prison the night previously. Could the conspiracy against Napoleon be royalist in nature? Well Jane will never get Laura’s message if she is trapped in the house at all times, because who could rely on Jean to get a message out, though she gamely tried.

Girding her loins, Laura decides to just be the governess she is supposed to be until such a time that she sees fit to temporarily flee her prison and make contact with the Pink Carnation. In order to entertain the children she decides they should explore the massive and extremely empty house they live in. It will appeal to any child with the least bit of imagination and will hopefully win some points with Gabrielle, whose love of dreadful novels will easily find something of interest looking for hidden chambers in the monstrous mansion. What the children finally stumble on in one of the rooms is all their possessions from Nantes, still boxed up. And in one of the boxes Laura finds something from her own past, a book her mother had written back when Laura was a child and her home was made up of the fashionable salons of authors and artists. But in the margins she finds drawings that at first she finds as a desecration, but soon realizes are just another artistic expression of the longing of the poems. Laura comes to the startling realization that the children’s mother and Jaouen’s dead wife is the famous artist Julie Beniet. Artists aside, she has spycraft to worry about. Laura has a rendezvous with an agent of the Pink Carnation on Sunday! Surprisingly Jean can deliver messages, he’ll just get them to you days late and read by everyone in the household.

Making Marzipan Pigs

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.

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This experiment I am about to undertake is completely a labor of love for Eloise, and in turn her love of marzipan pigs. Because to Eloise, Paris and marzipan pigs are inseparable, and we are spending April in Paris with The Orchid Affair, so there must be marzipan pigs! Whenever I hear marzipan I think of two things simultaneously.  One is icky Turkish Delight, which for some reason I associate with marzipan, I seriously don’t know why, and all I end up doing is thinking of Narnia, or when Vyvyan accidentally found Narnia on The Young Ones. The second is my friend Huyen who would buy roles of plain marzipan from World Market and just eat it straight. So yes, in my mind marzipan is a little gross, despite the fact I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it, to my knowledge. Also, interesting fact, marzipan pigs are both a German and a Norwegian tradition, so I think my ancestry is also telling me this must be done.

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The first thing I did was find out if this was feasible. I mean, even if it was slightly hard I was still going to do it, I made up my mind to make Plum Pudding from scratch once and I surprisingly succeeded despite the horrid smell it made while cooking. The main problem to making marzipan pigs was the pig part. Did they use a mold? Did they loosely shape it by hand? Thankfully Amazon is where I go to answer all these questions and I found this delightful mold! It was well priced at $5.99 including shipping and handling! I know you want it to just to have novelty ice cubes or chocolate pig faces! Sadly, it’s only the pig’s face so I couldn’t eat them in the approved Eloise manner, tail first to prolong the pig’s agony. Personally I’m a head first girl, so this mold is for me.

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As for the recipe, it was deceptively simple, what with only three ingredients! Four if I decided to color it. I spent some time looking for a recipe without eggs, mainly because if, like me, you didn’t know that marzipan isn’t cooked, it’s just all mixed together and then done, well, raw eggs, no thank you. So I found this recipe by Emeril Lagasse that looked easy enough, 8 ounces of almond paste (of course it comes in 7 ounce tubes), 1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, 4 tablespoons of corn syrup and red food coloring for the pinky pig hue. Supposedly only twenty minutes to prep it… I was cursing Emeril and his twenty minutes for the next ninety plus minutes.

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Weird thing about almond paste, those aren’t handy twist ties, they are metal staples that have riveted the tubing shut, so I had to break them free of their prison with a knife. Also if you don’t use all the paste, well, then you end up wasting cling film trying to re-cover the remainder.

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Step one, throw almond past into mixer to “break up the almond paste some.” Beware, the almond paste is hard and shards of it will shoot out at you as your mixer bucks. Perhaps I shouldn’t have cranked it up to eleven. Or had it on the uneven part of the counter.

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Once the sugar has been added “the mixture will look like coarse bread crumbs.” Was it still supposed to look this crappy once I added the corn syrup? Emeril kept reassuring me that “the mixture will still be very crumbly.” Seriously, it was nothing BUT crumbs! I was in complete disbelief that this could turn into any kind of dough like substance. I tried a little, rolling it around in my hand and it did seem to slowly come together into dough… eventually. So I guessed I’d give it a go, what was there to lose?

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Ok, so after quite a while, let’s say in the ten to twenty minute range, perhaps more, I had this. It was like the driest dough you’d ever seen. Like biscuits gone to the bad. The very very bad. It didn’t taste nasty, it just looked it. At this point my hands were already tired, my counter had a layer of marzipan remains that I had to use a knife to remove, and it still wasn’t in a workable condition. I threw out half the dough as unusable, I found adding a little water to the surface of my hands helped a little with the lack of moisture issue. But I kept at this little bit that was starting to come together.

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And at it. Slowly it actually started to hold a shape, and oddly it also went from its kind of whitish color that it had in its “crumb” stage to a warmer more dough like tan. I was feeling slightly optimistic; slightly. Though I had noticed the marzipan had a strange greasy residue that it was leaving all over my counter and my hands; great, even more to clean up besides trying to find all the places the mixer had shot the almond paste to. Also, the faster I rolled it the more grease! What the heck?

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Adding the food coloring is when I really got grossed out by this process. To not dye my hands and my counter red I put on latex gloves and worked on wax paper. This just made it look even more like an abattoir. My first impression of adding the red food coloring to the marzipan was that it looked just like that scene in the movie The Golden Child where the blood seeps up through the oatmeal, otherwise known as why I didn’t eat oatmeal for about a decade. Once the dye got a little more worked in it started to look like meat and I felt a bit as if I was making set dressing for Hannibal. And yes, I actually did form it into a human heart, but I was too freaked out to even take a picture of that experiment.

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Finally after about thirty minutes of just working the dye into the marzipan I had an even color that looked freakishly like really vibrant bubblegum.

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The molding of the pigs started out challenging but quickly became easy. At first I was worried I’d have to spray the mold, but it was springy enough that the marzipan didn’t stick so long as you didn’t leave it in more than a few minutes (if you left it in more than a few minutes, well, ears and snouts got damaged). I was also worried that the marzipan would be too soft and might have to be thrown in the freezer before being popped out of the mold so that the piggies wouldn’t have smooshed faces, but again, this wasn’t a problem. The main problem was that the mold is soft silicon and it would go wonky if I wasn’t paying attention. I found that a small amount of marzipan pushed only into the four center pigs worked best, popping them out immediately and doing the next group. This quickly got me a piggy army.

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My porcine army in all its glory! If I hadn’t tossed some of the dough I probably could have gotten another five or so more pigs. They really are so stinking cute, I almost didn’t want to eat them. Almost.

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As for my first “official” taste of marzipan? Kind of tastes like bubblegum, not sure if that’s its normal taste, or if the food coloring added the flavoring. The main thing this whole process taught me was that I shall never make marzipan again. It takes far longer and is far harder than you’d think, just buy yourself some already made at World Market or do what Eloise does and just buy a pre-made pig, preferably in Paris with your hunky boyfriend. But my arms got a really good work out and I did something incredibly bookish and nerdtastic, and that is a win in my book any day.

Pink VIII Giveaway

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It’s time for our monthly Pink for All Seasons giveaway!  Today, I’m putting a signed copy of The Orchid Affair up for grabs.  But let’s switch it up a bit this time, shall we?

I will give you two opportunities to enter your name in the drawing.  First, as usual, comment below to enter.  For a second entry, in honor of Laura Grey and Rachel Woodley (the heroine of Lauren’s upcoming release The Other Daughter), share your favorite governess books!

You will have until midnight EST on April 9 to comment below to enter.  I will let the Random Number Generator work its magic and announce a winner on Friday.  Good luck, everyone!