Nenia Campbell's Reviews > The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
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Mar 06, 14

bookshelves: romancelandia
Read from September 13 to 14, 2011

To be perfectly honest, if I forced myself to slog through this book, I'd probably give it two, or even three stars. Usually, books with horrible openings tend to find their ground (usually) and present some sort of redeeming characteristics. Unfortunately for the author, and for me, I don't have time -- and these too-precious characters have gotten on my nerves. The Scarlet Pimpernel and its sequels are among my favorite books and, as with most of my favorite classics, I'm a bit protective of them. I'm not a purist -- I LOVE retellings, have an entire shelf devoted to them, in fact -- and a Pimpernel follow-up does need to be done. If it has a healthy dose of girl power, so much the better! I'm always up for female empowerment.

Unfortunately, this book falls short on a very excellent premise. The main character is some ditzy posh girl (who I kept picturing in my head as Anne Hathaway for some reason) who is determined to find out the identity of the Pink Carnation, a co-conspirator with the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. The fact that no other historical scholar has ever managed to achieve this does not daunt her at all. Why? Because she does the one thing that nobody else in the world ever thought to do: she calls up their surviving ancestors and asks if they have any helpful papers. All those silly scholars must be scratching themselves and saying, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Of course, the documents are in the keep of a delightfully eccentric old woman (read: in another genre of novel, she'd either be a wicked witch or a serial killer) who keeps these invaluable papers and journals in a trunk in the middle of her living room. For some reason, the excerpts from these journals and letters are written in neither epistolary nor journal form. Instead we get a running third-person narrative chronicling the accounts of Amy (who I'm guessing is the Pink Carnation or will be -- I stopped reading well before that point), and the Purple Gentian, who is such a blockhead, it's no surprise that his secret identity is no longer a secret. What surprises me is that the Pink Carnation's is, since it's clear that Amy (and all of her descendants) are blockheads, as well.

Maybe if I hadn't just finished Possession by A.S. Byatt which dealt with a similar concept only better, or if I didn't have a whopping big pile of books to read, I'd be more generous. I doubt it, though. The style it was written in screamed of the trashy romance novels I was so inordinately fond of in my early teens. When I want to read a romance novel, I'll read a romance novel, but if a book is going to market itself as a historical fiction novel, it had damn well better be a historical fiction novel and not some insipid account of a teenage girl who ought to be singing some Disney song about how some day her prince Purple Gentian will come.

I see the author is a Goodreads author and that always makes me feel guilty if I didn't like the book and write a negative review, because I'm always afraid that they might read my review and on the off-chance that they're bored enough to do so, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I write, too, and I know firsthand that an author's book is like their baby. I desperately want to say something nice -- I guess, the covers are gorgeous, and I like the concept? It's always nice to see a fan of the classics; we seem to be a dying breed (I blame high schools and they way they tyrannize their students on exams, asking what color shirt Sir Peter Blakeney was wearing in chapter six or what kind of flowers were growing outside Mrs. So-and-so's fence. Christ's sake! If you're trying to make children HATE reading, you're doing a fantastic job -- even if they do just read the Cliff's notes or watch the movies, at least they're getting the gist of it). Anyway, if you're into this kind of thing (i.e. historical romance, period romance), you should definitely give the book a go. It's not mind-explodingly horrible, mind, just not for me, but I can see why others would like it. It's cute. I'm not so into cute. If you're into those heavily researched tomes that feature intricate plots and long paragraphs describing the clothes, manners, and language of the times, put the book down and back away -- slowly.
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message 7: by Marina (new)

Marina Schulz im fifteen; i totally agree with the high school thing. i love classics (gone with the wind, little women, catcher in the rye, around the world in 80 days) but none of hte books they make us read has minimaly captived me. granted, im portuguese and our only famous authors have been dead for at least 200years. ever had of "the lusiads"? masterpiece. all ryhming for like 300pages, one story, an epic "epopeia". drop dead dull.

Nenia Campbell That's so great that you love reading the classics! I didn't really like any of my required reading until college - so stick with it, and maybe you'll discover an unexpected favorite, yeah? Have you ever read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or Edgar Allen Poe's works? I read those when I was about your age and really enjoyed them. :)

And no, I've never heard of the Lusiads. I can't imagine rhyming for three pages, let alone three hundred. Sounds like hard work!

message 5: by Misfit (new) - added it

Misfit I couldn't get past page 50 or something. I know these are wildly popular amongst the historical fiction set, but way too much sugar for my tastes.

Nenia Campbell Yeah, same. I like fluff, but it has to have substance. :D

message 3: by Misfit (new) - added it

Misfit I can handle brain candy if I'm in the mood and know going in to expect brain candy, but it drives me nuts when fluff is represented as a meaty historical novel, literary, etc.

Nenia Campbell YES. Exactly! And I think that was part of the problem here. I went into this book expecting something like Possession, or a chick-litty version of The Secret History.

message 1: by Misfit (new) - added it

Misfit There's never a right or wrong answer when it comes to fluff, just like with the older romances - some are wall-paper and some have very good historical details worked into the romance elements. Tastes vary, that's why reviews are so helpful so I can see if a book is a good fit for me or not.

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