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The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig

The Lure of the Moonflower

by Lauren Willig

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Sadly this is the last Pink Carnation book. Happily it is also the story of the Pink Carnation. This is the twelfth book in the series that has spanned over a decade. We have watched as grad student Eloise has hunted down the story of the Pink Carnation and uncovered many other spies and tales in the process. Her hunt led her to England where she met Mrs. Arabella Selwick-Alderly, an elderly woman in possession of family letters concerning the Pink Carnation. She introduces her to her nephew, the one third owner of Selwick Hall, and the only one staying there. The two immediately get off on the wrong foot. But now, all these books later, the two are getting married. It is the day before the ceremony and Eloise is sent the Pink Carnation's chest, filled with important information by Mrs. Selwick-Alderly. As she is looking at the chest, she gets a call telling her to bring the box to Donwell Abbey (a broken down building on the estate) at midnight, or harm will come to Colin's aunt. Colin and Eloise must put their heads together and come up with a plan to try get his aunt back all before the wedding with no one finding out. (Their wedding, by the way, is one of the funniest I've read in a very long time).

The Pink Carnation story starts off in Portugal. Jane is there to meet the agent Moonflower, Jack Reid. She has two objectives: To rescue the positively insane Queen Marie and get her on a boat to Brazil with the rest of the monarchs before the French completely take over Portugal, and to try to help reunite Jack with his family. When they meet Jack does not, for a while, believe that she is the Pink Carnation, which is understandable. This is 1807 and by now the Carnation's reputation is huge and no one would believe it to be done by a woman. He's also been around long enough to know not to trust too easily. Jane, who thinks she knows his life story, does not think too much of Jack. He is the son of Colonel Reid who was stationed in India. Jack is the product of his second wife, an Indian Princess, which the law, and her family, did not recognize. She was mentally ill and he ran away to the bottle to deal with it. Neither did very well by Jack, though they tried. He told him songs and stories of Scotland and she told him tales of his royal heritage. When he was three she died tragically and they both blamed themselves. His father saw that he got the best education and Jack dreamed of working in the government. The Colonel wanted to make that happen, even though Cornwallis made sure that no Indian, or half-caste, would be allowed in the military or to hold a government job. So Jack ran off to work for the French, and various others, including the English where he got some men killed. He also stole some jewels and sent them to his little sister back in London at her boarding school. Her roommate was Jane's sister and the two had an adventure over the jewels and were lucky they didn't get hurt, as someone came after them. Jane and Miss Gwen, now Mrs. Reid, were forced to leave Paris to find her sister and were unmasked in England by the French spy, the Gardner, or the Comte de Brilliac. She could no longer work in France, which crushed her. Of course the Gardiner could no longer work in England which was a sort of victory for their side. So, in a way, she lost everything because of Jack, and he seems to her, to be loyal to no cause but his own.

Used to taking the lead, even though she does not speak the language or know the country like Jack does, which is why she needs him in the first place, she insists on dressing as a French officer with Jack as her servant, and they will travel to Porto and try to intercept whoever has the Queen and take her to a British fort, where she can stay until a ship arrives to take her to Brazil. She really should have listened to Jack when he told her that traveling with the military would take them forever to get there and that going by themselves would be faster. Not only that, but if they had gone by themselves, Jane would not have met up again with the Gardner. Right now they have a truce in place. In 1805 they worked together, and had an intimate relationship in Venice but once Jane saw him for what he was she quickly left. He keeps chasing her hoping she'll marry him and go back to Paris to be a prize on his arm. The Gardiner does not fight for France. He hopes to regain the titles and lands of his "father" lost during the Revolution. While many will say the Gardner is a real bastard, the truth is he really is a bastard. His mother cuckolded the Comte, whom she had already given him two sons, and the Gardner was the result. He left the country when the troubles began and his family is all dead and he feels the whole kit and caboodle should belong to him now. Of course Jane's not the only one who knows the Gardner. Jack was ordered to kill his mentor and commander by the Gardener. When he didn't, the Gardner but out a hit on him, though he has no idea what Jack looks like. The knowledge that she had an affair with him does not inspire trust in Jack.

With the arrival of the Gardner, Jane admits she is wrong and tells Jack that they will try it his way now. So they sneak out and get a donkey and travel the rough country roads. Even though her feet are blistered and she can barely walk, Jane says nothing. It isn't her way. She is stubborn and proud and eventually Jack is forced to toss her on the donkey for worry that her blisters will get infected, which will cause more trouble for them. As they travel, they get to know one another more and find that they were both rather mistaken about the other. Of course, Jane does have a habit of changing plans at the last minute without letting him know, which she does at an Abbey they stay at that they believe the Queen may be. The clothing they are given to wear by the head of the Abbot is rather humiliating and hilarious. There are two other suspicious men staying there that they talk to at dinner, but dismiss, possibly a bit too carelessly.

Their search for the Queen will lead them back to the Gardner where Jane will have to face him alone and find a way to bring the Queen back to Jack and the Carnation "gang" who have a ship waiting. As usual, nothing is as it seems, especially where the Gardiner is involved. This is the absolute perfect book for Jane. By this point in her life she is weary and lonely. The joy she took in her work in the early years is lacking, but she knows of no other life she wants to live or one that she is more suitable for. She never expects to fall in love, even though Miss Gwen predicted it two books ago. She sees it as a weakness in doing spy work. The Gardner even accuses her of being unable to love someone and then Jack enters her life. The recurring theme of trying to name the infernal donkey in this book is hilarious. The names they come up with once Jack stops calling it Donkey and gets into the game, are funny. At the end of this book there is a section where Willig answers questions about the series. I won't give away all of them, just one. There were many stories she wanted to tell, but didn't, and while she has said that she is done with the Carnation series, she does say never say never. There do seem to be characters she would like to revisit at a later date maybe. I hope so, anyway, these tales she describes are quite tantalizing. Especially the Gardner's tale. I don't think he's capable of love. Now, I must go and start all over again from the beginning, since its been so long and I'm having a hard time remembering the first, I don't know, eight or nine books? This book was well worth the wait.


Jane Eyre didn’t have to plan a wedding involving three transcontinental bridesmaids, two dysfunctional families, and one slightly battered stately home. Of course, she did have to deal with that wife in the attic, so there you go. There might occasionally be bats in Colin’s belfry, but there were no wives in his attic. I’d checked.
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 1)
Spies tend not to use their real names. Unless they’re Bond, James Bond. I’d always wondered why, with such a public profile, no one had succeeded in bumping him off between missions.
-Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 4)
People, he had learned, would tell the town drunk what they wouldn’t to their confessor. The confessor might impose penance; the town drunk offered absolution for nothing more than the price of a carafe of wine.
-Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 52)
We shape ourselves, not the circumstances of our birth. We chose our own course—for good or for ill.
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 134)
“I’d like to set you an exercise, princess. Imagine, if you will, that you live in a country—your own country, mind!—where you have no rights at all. The law forbids your entering the army, the government, any profession that might suit your interests or talents. And why? All because you were born to the wrong mother. Well? Can you picture that?” “Picture it?” A slightly hysterical laugh rose in Jane’s throat. “I’ve lived it. I’ve lived it these past five years….What do you think it is to be a woman? If I had been born a man, I might have served my country in the normal way. I might have stood for Parliament or commanded a company. Do you think yourself had done by, Mr. Reid? You can walk down the street unchaperoned. You can rent a room or sit a table in a tavern without everyone assuming that you must be a whore.”
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 139-40)
As far as I could tell, Jeremy was behaving exactly as usual, but it was hard to be certain. A force field of smarm surrounded him like the shields of the Death Star (Spaceballs edition). I wasn’t sure what would shake that cool exterior, short of squirting his black cashmere sport coat with raspberry jam. Hey, it had worked for Lone Starr.
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 213))
Why did he have to be so maddeningly kind? It made it so very difficult to go on despising him. And if she stopped despising him, she might have to admit that she liked him. Rather a lot.
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 233)
There were times when it was deeply unpleasant having a logical mind.
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 282-3)
Love was terrifying. It brought with it the uncertainty of trying to please another person, trying to understand another person, the mechanisms of whose mind were by their very nature, opaque. In the end, it just wasn’t worth it.
-Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 286)
I have never been entirely sure there is anything gentlemanly about duels. It’s merely a temper tantrum by more civilized means.
-Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 329)
All of us are creatures of both dark and light. If one does a good deed for a dark motive, does the motive matter?
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 422)
Happiness isn’t a gift you can give. It’s a task you work on together.
-Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 432)
Jillian, whose bouquet was larger and whose dress was longer to mark her elevated status as both maid of honor and Great and Mighty Younger Sister (which ranked a few steps higher than Oz and well above grand poobah)…
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 454)
Acknowledgements Section: Also, to my husband, who helped me puzzle out the Portuguese, plotted distances on maps, and generally dealt with the practical bits. (And only once suggested just sticking everyone in a TARDIS as a much easier travel alternative to donkey.)
--Lauren Willig (The Lure of the Moonflower p 462) ( )
  nicolewbrown | Mar 7, 2018 |
A fitting end to the Pink Carnation series! ( )
  Elizabeth088 | Dec 23, 2017 |
The final story in the Pink Carnation series, which centers on the woman at the center of the carnation spies, the Pink Carnation herself, Jane. I have liked Jane's character since she was introduced in the first novel, a foil to her ebullient cousin Amy who is the heroine of that book. Jane was the quiet and common sense friend, who didn't draw attention to herself, but was clever and cunning and the intelligence behind all of Amy's exploits. Jane took on the identity of Pink Carnation after Amy's brief run ended in her marriage to the Purple Gentian, and she has been quietly pulling the strings behind the whole enterprise ever since. I was therefore very eager to read about Jane's romance, and also sad, because I knew that her story would be the one to conclude a series which I have greatly enjoyed from start to finish.

I also wanted to see if the author could provide a romantic interest that deserved Jane's love and affection. Lauren Willig again provided, giving us the delightful Jack Reid, who is one of those rough and handsome rogues who seems like a bad boy but is quite the opposite once a person gets to know him. Not only does his commitment to the spying life and adventure equal Jane's own involvement, but he respects women and has an open-minded tolerance that is out of keeping with most of his peers. (Hey, this is fiction, so I can accept a man like that might possibly have existed during the Napoleonic wars.) Jane and Jack don't hit it off immediately, which is not too surprising, considering that Jane is dressed like an elegant prostitute and forces Jack to "save" her from an angry mob. When she reveals that she is none other than the Pink Carnation herself, and not one of the regular foot soldiers, Jack is highly suspicious, and annoyed. He isn't totally pleased to be working for the Pink Carnation in the first place, and has a complicated relationship with both sides of the war, and moreover, he resents Jane's condescension and the fact that she was able to so easily fool him. Jane, for her part, isn't thrilled to work with him, either; she still remembers that Jack's gift to his sister caused the great adventure that led to her outing and removal from home and family.

The two leads, therefore, instantly fall into the hate-that-will-turn-into-love relationship, a particular favorite of mine (it has to be done well, the dislike must clearly be based on misunderstanding and suppressed romantic chemistry, but yeah, I like that trope). The novel also immediately begins with a darker tone than some of the earlier entries in the series. After all, a lot has happened to Jane at this point. Recent events have pushed her to the conclusion that the only way to continue doing her job is to cut all ties with family and friends, she feels exiled from her home, and she has just realized that she doesn't actually love the man that brought about a lot of these painful changes. Jack's back story is also grim, and together they have a lot of past baggage to overcome. Fortunately, they also share something much more positive, a love of adventure and making the world a better place, as little hope as they have left in it. While working in Portugal to find the mad Queen Maria before the French do, they will be forced to face their demons and work through their issues, together.

Willig finished her Pink Carnation series with a solid novel that fully justifies all the fun that came before. Jane and Jack are amazing and adorable, with chemistry that crackles through every page. Their happy ending was perhaps the best one of the series. It also didn't close the chapter on the Pink Carnation saga; rather than Jane retiring from the spy business to be the doting wife, she and Jack continue their espionage adventures together as equal partners. While readers know that the series is over, we can console ourselves with thoughts that while we aren't reading them, Jane and Jack are still fighting the good fight, and the adventure continues. I am sorry that Pink Carnation is over, because I felt so many more stories could have been told, so many more couples brought together, but I am delighted that it ended on a high note, with a great story. From her blog, it sounds like Willig is working on stand alone novels, but I hope she embarks on another romance/adventure/mystery series in the future, because I will be reading it. ( )
1 vote nmhale | Jan 4, 2017 |
Jane, the master spy known as the Pink Carnation, is in Lisbon to rescue the kidnapped Queen Maria of Portugal, with the assistance of Jack Reid, the spy known as the Moonflower. Their mission takes them all over Portugal with the master French spy known as the Gardener behind them (or is he ahead of them)?

Happily, the epilogue shows that Jane doesn't give up espionage once she is married, like the rest of the heroines in the series. I would love to read the further adventures of Jane and Jack in Russia and Brazil. ( )
  soraki | Sep 5, 2016 |
Knowing that this was the last book in the Pink Carnation series, and knowing that Jane was going to be the star, made me a little apprehensive. Jane has been a character in many of the previous books in the series but she was always the quiet, self-contained mastermind who kept her plots and plans really close to her chest. I had trouble seeing her let herself be vulnerable enough to fall in love. I was wrong and Lauren Willig is a rock star!

This story takes place in Portugal just as the French are invading and the Portuguese Royal Family is fleeing to Brazil. Rumor has it that Queen Maria missed the boat, literally, making her a pawn for whichever side manages to control her. The Pink Carnation is sent to try to find her and get her on her way to Brazil. However, Jane doesn't speak Portuguese and doesn't know the territory. She is set to make contact with the Moonflower - Jack Reid - who has been working in Portugal for a few years.

Jane has a good idea who Jack is both from knowing his exploits in India and from her family connections in England. After all, she is godmother to Jack's youngest sister Plumeria. Her chaperone married his father. But the written reports and even the memories of his father don't tell the whole story. Jane learns that there is much more to Jack Reid.

At first, Jack and Jane's relationship is difficult. Both of them are used to being independent operators and, if they are part of the team, they are definitely the leader of the team. So these two strong-willed people, besides not really trusting each other, are constantly butting heads. They do grow to know each other and trust each other through the events of this story which is complicated when the Gardener makes his appearance. He was Jack's boss until he ordered him killed in India. He and Jane also had a brief relationship in Venice after she was disowned by her family.

This story neatly ties up all the historical events. It also ties up the present story line which mostly takes place at the run-up before Colin and Eloise's wedding complicated by the kidnapping of Colin's great-aunt. I laughed hysterically as I was reading about Pammy's cell phone going off at the wedding and her fishing it out of her bodice to answer it.

This was a great series. I hope Lauren Willig does wind back and tell some of the stories that didn't fit into this series someday. ( )
  kmartin802 | Jul 15, 2016 |
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To my agents, Joe Veltre and Alexandra Machinist; to my editors, Laurie Chittenden, Kara Cesare, Erika Imranyi and Danielle Perez; to my publishers Brian Tart and Kara Welsh; and to everyone on the team in production, publicity and marketing at Dutton and NAL for seeing the Pink Carnation series through fro its inception in 2003 to its final chapter in 2015.

So many thanks to you all!
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Sussex, 2005

Reader I married him.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the final Pink Carnation novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, Napoleon has occupied Lisbon, and Jane Wooliston, aka the Pink Carnation, teams up with a rogue agent to protect the escaped Queen of Portugal.

Portugal, December 1807. Jack Reid, the British agent known as the Moonflower (formerly the French agent known as the Moonflower), has been stationed in Portugal and is awaiting his new contact. He does not expect to be paired with a woman—especially not the legendary Pink Carnation.

All of Portugal believes that the royal family departed for Brazil just before the French troops marched into Lisbon. Only the English government knows that mad seventy-three-year-old Queen Maria was spirited away by a group of loyalists determined to rally a resistance. But as the French garrison scours the countryside, it’s only a matter of time before she’s found and taken.

It’s up to Jane to find her first and ensure her safety. But she has no knowledge of Portugal or the language. Though she is loath to admit it, she needs the Moonflower. Operating alone has taught her to respect her own limitations. But she knows better than to show weakness around the Moonflower—an agent with a reputation for brilliance, a tendency toward insubordination, and a history of going rogue.
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Portugal, December 1807. Jack Reid, the British agent known as the Moonflower (formerly the French agent known as the Moonflower), has been stationed in Portugal and is awaiting his new contact. He does not expect to be paired with a woman--especially not the legendary Pink Carnation. All of Portugal believes that the royal family departed for Brazil just before the French troops marched into Lisbon. Only the English government knows that mad seventy-three-year-old Queen Maria was spirited away by a group of loyalists determined to rally a resistance. But as the French garrison scours the countryside, it's only a matter of time before she's found and taken. It's up to Jane to find her first and ensure her safety. But she has no knowledge of Portugal or the language. Though she is loath to admit it, she needs the Moonflower. Operating alone has taught her to respect her own limitations. But she knows better than to show weakness around the Moonflower--an agent with a reputation for brilliance, a tendency toward insubordination, and a history of going rogue.… (more)

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