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Publisher's Summary

Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, an intelligent American who always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard's Widener Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: a secret history that begins with a letter dated 1803. Eloise has found the secret history of the Pink Carnation�the most elusive spy of all time, the spy who single-handedly saved England from Napoleon's invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, a wildly imaginative and highly adventurous debut, opens with the story of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a book within a book. Eloise Kelly settles in to read the secret history hoping to unmask the Pink Carnation's identity, but before she can make this discovery, she uncovers a passionate romance within the pages of the secret history that almost threw off the course of world events. How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?

©2005 Lauren Willig (P)2005 Penguin Audiobooks and Books on Tape, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Willig's story is a decidedly delightful romp." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Thoroughly entertaining

I really enjoyed this book. I'm not specifically a history buff, so I didn't notice the liberties the author took with her details. I work the graveyard shift and rely on audiobooks to keep me awake when I'm lacking sleep. I had no problem staying awake while being entertained by this book. In fact, I skipped most of my breaks because I didn't want to stop listening. As soon as I got home I bought the second in the series. Kate Reading is one of the BEST narrators I've heard and in all honesty, I chose this book originally because she narrates it. I was not disappointed. If you don't mind a little 'fluff' and an engaging love story (sure, not realistic at times, but I already have a real life, I don't need to listen to it too) then this book is for you.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Amy
  • Boise, ID, USA
  • 04-05-05

fun and entertaining

As I loved, the Scarlet Pimpernel, this book was right up my alley. the characters were interesting, fun, and the historical research compelling. I struggled at time to decifer fact from fiction! An excellent choice. Romance, adventure, and an ending that begs for the sequel.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Loved It!

I initially listened to one of the other books in this series. And, now that I'm starting with book 1 & listening my way to the rest of the series I have to say I'm so glad that I'm giving the whole series a chance!

I think you'll find The Secret History of the Pink Carnation surprisingly funny. The author has a great sense of humor. In each book you'll find two heroines--one contemporary, and one historical. Willig has written this (& the other books in the series) in a really smart way. It is easy to differentiate between the contemporary and historical fiction because the contemporary fiction is written in the first person, while the historical fiction isn't.

The other thing I liked about this book is that Willig's heroines are never stupid. You wil cheer, and sometimes cringe for them. But you never think, "Gosh, that woman is stupid." Willig has managed to make a sometimes stale and/or silly genre (historical romance) smart, funny, interesting, and incredibly enjoyable. Bravo to her!

P.S. No one could have narrated this book better than Kate Reading. She did a wonderful job.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


The worst of it is this: if I am to be given lengthy descriptions of sex play, it had better be original and erotic or possibly comic... or even realistic - (God knows "real sex" is interesting enough to warrant an HBO series of the same name). I felt embarrassed listening to these hackneyed scenes, because I felt as if I was eavesdropping on the writer's own rather immature fantasies, instead of being immersed in a world of idiosynchratic and characters. Literally (and literarily) embarrassed, I felt as if I was learning something about the writer's inner life that I was not meant to see. A Jackie Collins meets Barbara Cartland, masquerading as a serious, albeit playful, first novel. Herein lies the problem. Had it been marketed appropriately, I would not have had false expectations. For all it's apparent "naughtiness", the book was strangely antiseptic... None of the dirt and grit of the period - or much to ground it in a different time. In this way it was like a regency romance written during the 50's. Quite a few loose ends left loose as well. I was disappointed enough to take the time to write this critical review, because I think that the writer's underlying idea has great promise. She had a fairly real inner dialogue going for the main male character, and I applaud the notion that people are people in whatever time they live. I like Anais Nin's erotic fiction - it is really unusual: base and erotic at the same time - and some of this is directly from her life (key point: her life, not only - or even in spite of- her fantasies). And I like "Fanny", by Erica Jong: the point being that this criticsim is nothing to do with being offended by sex. To sum it up clearly, the words :"sheath", "scabard" and "Adonis" were actually used, in all seriousness, in a sexual context! Need I say more? Oh, well one more thing: the narrator was great...(which is why I give it 3 stars).

44 of 53 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • E
  • Chapel Hill, New Caledonia
  • 03-22-06

Engaging yet mediocre

Premise is absolutley engaging and original. Narration first rate, I thought. Makes a very nice distraction or beach read. It's a lot like Bridget Jones goes to Harvard - which could be bad or good depending on your perspective. I think the author is clearly a fan of Bridget Jones and Jane Austen and every romance where a sweet but somewhat ordinary woman attracts the mysterious, handsome male. Again, not a bad thing. I wish the characters had been a bit more developed, more interesting. Perhaps the historical romance part shortened up in favor of creating modern characters that have more depth. The modern leads were like chapter headings - I knew nothing of him, really - was he just another snobby cute guy. She had this amazing opportunity and I hadn't a clue about her feelings. The historical romance part was entertaining. I thought it went on a bit long. Loved the ending, however. I don't think it was completley true to the period in which it was set. Nevertheless, I wanted to know what happened in the next volume, so I've read that one as well...I suppose I wanted more to happen. Am I correct that there will be 6 (six?) volumes in this series?

This particular narrator is one of my favorites. Really wonderful work here, I thought.

All in all, I'd recommend it for an entertaining read - if you have a long flight or train ride, and as long as you don't expect to be enthralled. But it's fun, moves quickly and is very very light.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jean
  • Buena Park , CA, USA
  • 09-01-05

I agree- Completely wasted potential -

Cheesy romance in the guise of a romantic adventure. This had such a great premise- Too bad it was full of cliche-ridden dialogue, an unimaginative plot, a cheesy formulaic romance, and a really annoying heroine. I was prepared to enjoy this book- that is before the heroine opened her mouth. I think the author was trying to make her cute and clever- but she sounded like a spoiled, vapid, immature brat who needed a reality check and maybe a paddling. The hero was was such an archetypal cookie-cut robot romance hero. Er..does that make sense? I guess it makes more sense than how a book like this got published. I hope the writer doesn't read this review- I'd hate to hurt her feelings- but seriously folks- if you don't like 'crappy' romance novels- (and there are plenty of non-crappy ones out there) don't buy this one.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

What a great time.

This is an easy listen. You can tell the characters apart by the great naration. Funny at times, serious at times, I really enjoyed listening to this one and hope the author writes the next so we can hear of the continuing exploits of the Pink Carnation.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Anachronisms, ahoy!

Given the author's background - a Ph.D. in history - I expected something showing a powerful knowledge of the period. This book gives the impression she did her "research" by perusing a few Regency romance novels.

The author commits anachronism after anachronism, inaccuracy after inaccuracy as her historical female lead, a misplaced Valley girl with barely enough brains to power a hamster, plays spy in 1803 Paris. The worst errors occur with the characters on board a packet ship -- where they are berthed in a spacious room (on a packet?!?) complete with windows (though passengers were more often stowed below the water line), where the entire crew goes to sleep at night - in a storm, no less (what, did they put the ship in "park"?), while the male and female leads flirt on deck. Worse, on the journey home, the male lead sends a ship's crew away, replacing them with his own household staff. As though sailing a full-rigged ship across the English Channel is like schlepping a delivery van across town. One might think the author doesn't know her topsail from her mizzenmast, and hopes her readers won't notice.

There are many smaller errors sprinkled throughout, from mentions of "blouses" (a term applied originally to military jackets, not female garments), slips, and the male lead's thought that cavemen had the right idea -- a very 20th century cartoonish idea.

The female characters are all drawn from modern models and are entirely out of place for the period. French characters both modern and historical are all hollow negative stereotypes, while the male English characters are mostly heroic caricatures.

The modern framing device is superfluous, and as for the romance scenes, they turn embarrassing in their gory detail, while one is altogether too public.

Lastly, I do wish the author had chosen some other flower than a pink carnation. Now I have the line from Don McLean's "American Pie" stuck in my head: "...with a pink carnation and a pick-up truck..."

35 of 45 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great entertainment

I personally found this book delightful. If you are expecting a great classic or historical accuracy, you might be disappointed but I only wanted to be entertained and this story certainly fulfilled its promised to do just that. The reader is one of my favorites and makes the characters come to life. It is so funny you will laugh out loud at some parts, cheer on the young lovers in others and has just enough suspense to keep it interesting. A lover of all things British, this was just up my alley. I was thrilled to find she had written a sequel to this which I enjoyed just as much.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

So much potential...

But it missed the mark. If not for the spectacular narration (switching seamlessly between English and American accents), I'd give fewer stars. Napoleonic heroine vapid and easily distracted by a bit of groping. Unnecessarily lenthy descriptions of sexual episodes that did little to advance the plot. For example, one account of a grope in a boat crossing the Seine lasted my full 35 minute commute to work! Pink Carnation scenes read more like Keystone Cops than Scarlet Pimpernel. Also, barely acquainted early 19th century men and women calling each other by first names throughout the book was just not credible. Authors of the period would have never used such liberties. Historically jarring.

For a piece of fluff read, not a complete waste; however, I expected much more. Stick with the real Scarlet Pimpernel instead.

17 of 23 people found this review helpful