My sister-in-law got me hooked on Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series. True story. In October 2006 we visited my grandfather for his 80th birthday and I was reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield while she was reading Lauren's first novel, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. We spent a good portion of one afternoon trying to sneak looks at one another's books. We must have looked so silly. Her birthday was a few weeks later so I surprised my SIL with a signed copy of The Thirteenth Tale and followed it up with Willig's next two books, The Masque of the Black Tulip and The Deception of the Emerald Ring for Christmas (there are advantages to having booksellers in the family). My SIL had me hooked because I bought the first three Pink novels for myself and went on to stalk Lauren's website.
The sixth Pink Carnation installment, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, went on sale January 12...and I finished reading it at 3:30am January 13. There's something about Lauren's plots and characters that makes her books gobble-them-up good; both the modern and Regency characters are very likeable and that's always a good way to hook the reader. Blood Lily is particularly interesting because the Regency plot centers around one Lady Frederick Staines, nee Miss Penelope Devereaux, who engineered a marriage to "Freddie" by getting "caught" canoodling in a bedroom during a party in The Temptation of the Night Jasmine (Pink V); Pen and the dillettante Freddie have been packed off to India to let the scandal surrounding their marriage die down. Meanwhile, modern grad student Eloise begins to piece Colin's family history together as their first Valentine's Day approaches.
Well, like any good Pink Carnation book there's mystery, intrigue, murder, handsome officers (this time in the form of Captain Alex Reid, not that Freddie's ugly or anything), and French spies with flowery names - our friend the Marigold from Night Jasmine appears in person. There's also an amazingly strong central character in Penelope. Pen isn't your typical Society lady; she would prefer to ride than lounge, she has no patience for the "niceties" offered to "feminine sensibilities", and she has deadly aim with a pistol. Strong women are Lauren's best characters (oh, she does very capable heroes, too): Amy is passionate and courageous, Jane possesses unmatched intelligence and grace under pressure, Henrietta is fearless, Letty is practical, stubborn, and resourceful (she's my favorite), Mary has a calculating political mind, and Charlotte, for all her sheltered naievete, has the biggest heart (even Eloise, who isn't quite the heroine of her own story, yet, is a graduate student taking on quite a bit in her dissertation topic). Pen is a bit of a departure because she is easily the most flawed Pink heroine; she does not value herself as a whole person, having learned her ability to attract and tease can bring a bit of fun, and she learns how to be loved for herself as a person not just for the value of her dowry or her father's horse-breeding ability.
The only drawback to Blood Lily is the title - for the life of me I can't quite figure out how the Blood Lily ties in with the title. "Betrayal" and loyalty are big themes in the book (the modern and Regency plots mirror one another in theme), so I get that part, but I didn't catch any Blood Lily references so I guess I'll have to do a re-read. In truth, the last Pink book with a good title-plot relationship was The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, which was a very neat reference to a major character and you had to be reading close to catch it.
Now having devoured Lauren's latest offering I find myself reading back through the first five Pink Carnation books. My favorite still remains Emerald Ring because Letty is me (only I have dark hair) and I love how she becomes integrated with the activities of the Pink Carnation, her practicality earning her the respect, and eventually love, of Geoff. Running second is Crimson Rose, featuring Letty's older sister Mary and the enigmatic Lord Vaughn; I find that Blood Lily is right up there with Crimson Rose and only a re-read can decide who gets the #2 spot (Letty is stubbornly refusing to budge). I only have to worry about re-reading until about October or so when Lauren provides us all with a little Christmas cheer in the form of Turnip Fitzhugh and The Mischief of the Mistletoe - Pink VII should be arriving after the New Year in 2011 (no title as yet - this is why Lauren's website gets quite a stalking some days).