Windfall

December 23rd. 2010

Just turned the last page on a British soap opera entitled, Windfall, by Penny Vincenzi. This novel set in pre WWII England tells a compelling story of a woman handed an unexpected windfall of money and how the gift impacts her life and those lives around hers. British writers are more internal than external and there’s a lot of worrisome narrative in these 500+ pages, but Ms. Vincenzi certainly knows how to capitalize on family angst/saga. I can’t say that I loved this story because for me, the characters were completely without hope and had little to redeem them. But the critics raved about it. I thought it was sad.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe, A Pink Carnation Christmas

December 12th. 2010

Ah, the Pink Carnation series. . . has any one writer done more for pre-Victorian British spy circles than Lauren Willig? I think not. Although from the first book, tribute is paid to the infamous Scarlet Pimpernel–but, remember, he was a one-book wonder. Ms. Willig has embellished this mysterious segment of British history in manufacturing a stylized and extensive aristocracy spy network. Beginning with the first novel (where we meet the mysterious Pink Carnation) Ms. Willig interweaves dual stories of the British ton (both male and female) in daring escapades with dastardly Napoleonic sympathizers beside a modern story of young grad student desperately trying to compile her research into the Pink Carnation society for her Harvard thesis. There are some very nice juxtapositions between the ongoing events. But this is not a review of Willig’s stories in general. For the Mischief of the Mistletoe, was quite honestly, a gift to readers. I’ve lost count of the memorable characters that pop in and out of the Pink Carnation books, but few were as memorable as Turnip Fitzhugh. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my opinion. Per the notes in the back of the book, thousands of fans had hounded the writer to know more about Turnip. I think they worried for him. So to satisify those fans, she wrote a a Christmas caper about Turnip, a poor school teacher and a Christmas pudding. In previous books he came across as a bumbling buddy that I often wondered if he wasn’t the most expert of all the male characters for the clever charade that might in fact qualify him as a disguised super-spy. His outrageous fashion issues aside, Reginald Fitzhugh aka Turnip, is revealed to be a consenting ruse to distract the enemy,  a devoted friend, a fan of Shakespeare, and a man of great warmth and character. And then there’s the whole matter of Christmas puddings, but you kind of have to be in a British mode to appreciate that significance. In a novel writing coup, the heroine of this story is a close friend to Jane Austen. JA fans will find this delightful. Because history has so little to go on regarding Ms. Austen, I doubt there are those who will take exception of Ms. Willig adding JA in as a character, borrowing from one of JA’s unfinished manuscripts, The Watsons, and otherwise making this novel–in addition to a vindication of a secondary character–also a love letter to Miss Jane Austen. I know I didn’t mind at all.

Now that I’ve seen this most capable author do the unexpected–that is go back to one of her previous stories (or two) and take scenes already in the published world and revisit them from other characters perspective, I’m itching to reread the whole series again–in order–so that I can enjoy seeing the layers unfold.  Bring on the mistletoe.