Monday, October 11, 2010


Author: Lauren Willig
Publisher:  Dutton Adult, October 28, 2010

From the inside flap:  Arabella Dempsey's dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls' school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face to face with French aristocrats and international spies...

Reginald "Turnip"Fitzhugh-often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation- has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble. When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, "Meet me at Farley Castle," the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens'modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Dukes of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate twelve-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? Is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella's and Turnip's hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?

Like the characters in this novel, I will never look at Christmas puddings the same way again!  THE MISCHIEF OF THE MISTLETOE rests in between books 5 and 6 in the Pink Carnation Series and is a delight from beginning to end.  Its been awhile since I have enjoyed a book so much that I was sorry when it finished.  I wanted to continue to live in the world that Willig created.  THE MISCHIEF OF THE MISTLETOE is the perfect blend of comedy, mystery, romance and Christmas. My cheeks were hurting so much while reading this book because I couldn't stop laughing and smiling.  I confess that I haven't read all the books in the series, but after reading MISCHIEF they are all on my wish list.

Reggie "Turnip" Fitzhugh is no alpha male hero, he's more beta.  He admits that he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, that he doesn't think nearly enough about anything, but he's warm, loving, a good big brother and has a huge heart.  He bumbles and stumbles more than using his 'little grey cells' to quote another detective.  One reviewer likened him to Inspector Clouseau.  I like to think of Turnip as more like a golden retriever, big, blonde, loving, loyal and affectionate.  Not the greatest watchdog, but he'll certainly bark until help comes.  YouWatching him fall in love with Arabella is delicious.  There is a wonderful scene where he has a conversation with Miss Jane Austen where he finally realizes the truth of Arabella's circumstances and why she pushes him away.  He reminds me in many ways of Hugh Laurie as the Prince of Wales in the 3rd series of BLACKADDER.  In fact, I imagined a younger Hugh Laurie while I was reading the book.

It's no wonder that Arabella Dempsey and Jane Austen are such good friends.  Arabella is the quitessential Jane Austen heroine, sensible, not particularly beautiful, but kind with a wit that can be biting at times.  Willig writes in her author's note that she was inspired by Emma Watson, the heroine of one of Jane Austen's unfinished novels which she was actually writing in 1803 when she lived in Bath.  However, unlike Emma, Arabella gets her happy ending.  Arabella gets Turnip, she sees him for the wonderful man that he is underneath all the bumbling. What I also loved was that Arabella is waiting for a hero to rescue her, she rescues herself when she takes the job at the school as a teacher. As a reader, I had the feeling that Arabella would be fine even without meeting Turnip. Although they may not have a great deal in common, I was certain when I turned the last page that these two characters were going to be very happy together.

Jane Austen is a minor character and Willig wisely keeps her on the periphery of the action, just popping in when needed. Willig has clearly done her homework because this Austen sounds like the woman who could possibly write PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.  I liked the parallels between Arabella and Jane in that they were both daughters of clergymen but while Jane had the comfort of her family during hard times, Arabella feels alienated from both the Aunt who took her in after her mother's death and also her biological family.  It reminded me of the scenes in MANSFIELD PARK when Fanny goes back to see her family after living with the Bertrams for so many years.  Arabella just wants to fit in and finds that she can't.  It's only at the finishing school where she takes a teaching job that she feels that she has found her niche.

THE MISCHIEF OF THE MISTLETOE is filled with intriguing secondary characters, some of whom have appeared in Willig's previous novels.  I'm looking forward to seeing the hero who potentially tames Turnip's sister Sally in a future book.  Sally is a typical teenager even in the Georgian era, she plays pranks, sneaks out of school, and switches friends every other week.  The scene where she explains to her brother that she has new 'particular friends' is hysterical. One of the great things about this book is that you don't need to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy it. The romance in the book is relatively chaste, just a few kisses, so the book is suitable for tweens.

Another joy is that Lauren Willig perfectly captures the wit and cadence of her characters.  If I didn't know that she was American, I would think that a Brit wrote this book.

Gotham gives THE MISCHIEF OF THE MISTLETOE: 4 1/2 apples

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