Review – The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Chick lit in 1803?  You better believe it.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

~ Reviewed by Hillary Raymer

Lauren Willig has a wonderful chick lit voice despite the fact that her novels feature espionage, fantastic flower spies, run-ins with Napoleon, and men in knee breeches.  Her characters are a savory blend of everything we love: witty, humorous, charismatic, intriguing, and sometimes stubborn.  The men are dashing, the women are riveting and they’re perfectly paired with suspenseful plots and beautifully described history.

Willig begins in modern-day London through the eyes of Eloise Kelly, the narrator of the story and an admirable young woman who is working on her dissertation but somehow manages to unlock the mysteries revolving around the Pink Carnation, one of the most elusive spies of all time.  Willig highlights the quirky Eloise while writing in first person, and I quickly found myself bumbling along with Eloise throughout cold, rainy London and feeling embarrassed for her during her frequent bouts of bad luck.  But it is upon stumbling upon family letters and journals that had been kept secret for years that we are transported back in time to 1803 during the Napoleonic War, and from there the ride only gets better.

Lord Richard Selwick, the swashbuckling caper known as the Purple Gentian, who unravels Napoleon’s evil plots is thrown off-guard by the adventurous and strong-willed Amy Balcourt, a woman who is bound and determined to uncover the man behind the mask, though she finds Richard despicable for consorting with Napoleon not realizing the nature behind his reasoning.

Willig creates a delightful atmosphere, with her novel centering around Richard and Amy (though Eloise’s back to real life chapters are intermingled) and their comedic yet dangerous escapades and romantic interludes.  Willig’s voice is strong and unique, combining lovable characters whose flaws and personalities are the perfect mix of chick lit and historical romance.  But don’t just take it from me; Meg Cabot’s description of Willig’s Pink Carnation says it all.

“This genre-bending read—a dash of chick lit with a historical twist—has it all”


Chick lit, these days, comes in many packages. Yet fans of the genre instantly recognize it in any form.

What do you think classifies a chick lit voice? Do you have any “genre-bending” books with a chick lit voice you’d like to recommend?

If so, tell us in the comments!

It’s been a year since I fully committed myself to writing and realized that it is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  I am currently at work on my first paranormal romance and have fallen in love with it already.  I am from Virginia but currently live in North Carolina with my husband and my daughter.  I like drinking tea, curling up with a good book, and long walks on the beach. You can visit me at

4 thoughts on “Review – The Secret History of the Pink Carnation”

  1. Hi Hillary!

    I’m so excited to learn about this book. I’m trying to move out of my contemporary romance / chick lit comfort zone, and a book like this might be a great way to get started.


  2. Hello, Hillary, and welcome to our Chick Lit Blog!!!

    What a fabulous genre mash-up post!!!

    I just luuuvvv the sound of PINK CARNATION…from what you’ve said, it makes me think of a Historical Stephanie Plum…and OMG! does that sound like a ton of fun!!!

    I wonder what Stephanie’s sidekick Lula would have been like in Napoleon’s era?! LOL!!!

    Sexy Sassy Smart Chick Lit Mash-Up Wishes — D. D. Scott

  3. Pingback: Pink Carnation Follow-Up

  4. Lauren,
    Thanks for the review. At its genesis, we probably wouldn’t have considered historical chick lit possible. But the sub-genre is branching out to meet agent and editor and reader expectations.

    I recently discovered Rhys Bowen’s historical mystery series. “Her Royal Spyness” and its sequels definitely have a chick lit freshness. A flapper era member of the royal family uses her wits to escape the confines of conventional behavior–which, for her, include an arranged marriage to a deadly dull minor prince.

    In 1996, Bridget Jones enthralled us by giving us the heartbreak and hazards in the life of a singleton. I loved that she couldn’t lose ten pounds, just like me! Almost 15 years later, I’m seeking heroines who are like me, but also who inspire me to break out of the box. Without Bridget, we might not have an entire sub-genre, but the world has moved on, and agents and editors are demanding that our contemporary heroines address the times we live in.

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