Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review #10 The Orchid Affair + Interview with Author Lauren Willig

The Orchid Affair
by Lauren Willig
Review and Interview

Genre: Historical Romance
Ages: 14 and up. However, some of the earlier books in the series are more of a 15 and up.
Book 8 in the Pink Carnation Series by Lauren Willig

Laura Grey has been a governess for sixteen years, and wanted to get her feet wet before she got old. However, when she joined the League of the Pink Carnation, she did not know that she would be right back at her old job of watching other people's children, albeit the children of an agent of the French police. The plan is simple, spy on Andrè Jaouen, teach his children, and report back to the Pink Carnation. However, nobody is as they seem and things rarely go as planned... Meanwhile, in the present, Eloise and Colin are in Paris, and Colin is having more difficulties with his rather dysfunctional relations while Eloise is still determinedly researching new material for her ever-expanding dissertation.

The Orchid Affair has the same brilliant humor that has characterized Lauren Willig's other novels. Where else would a spinster governess get to wield a sword? Where else would you find lovers of marzipan pigs? The Orchid Affair is a pure, fun, swashbuckling, adventure romance with great characters who are always managing to get themselves into the most complicated, and often ridiculous, situations, and one never knows how they are going to get out or what they might do next.

There is only some rare usage of profanity in this novel, but one use of the f-word means that I rate it a 5.10.

There are a couple of scenes of violence and some references to torture, but there isn't anything very graphic so I give it a 4.10.

There are some sexual innuendos and references, as well as one scene between an unmarried couple that fades away before it gets beyond touching, so it gets a 6.10.

This book was so much fun that I read through it in a single afternoon. On an impulse, without letting myself think long enough to get nervous, I e-mailed Lauren Willig and asked her if she would like to do do an interview, and I was absolutely thrilled when she wrote back and said that she would! Without further ado, I would like to welcome Lauren Willig to the Songs and Stories blog, and here are seven questions and her answers...

Lauren, how did you come to be interested in the French Revolution? When did you first decide to write a book set in that time?

Blame it on 80’s TV mini-series!  When I was ten, a Napoleon and Josephine miniseries aired on one of our local television stations.  Before that, my two historical obsessions had been Eleanor of Aquitaine and Queen Victoria.  After that, it was all about the Bonapartes.  I nagged all the adults in my life for Bonaparte-related books and even named the guppies from my 5th grade science experiment after Napoleon’s numerous relations.  It wasn’t much of a surprise when Napoleon ate the rest of the guppies, but my interest outlasted the fish.  In my senior year of high school, I managed to persuade the History and English departments to let me research and write a novel about Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense de Beauharnais, my very favorite of the Bonaparte clan.  It wasn’t a very good novel, but it did mean that I became very, very familiar with the private lives of the Bonapartes.

I wandered away from the French Revolution for a bit.  I majored in Renaissance Studies in college and then toddled off to grad school to pursue a degree in Tudor/Stuart England, dismissing anything after 1714 as just hopelessly modern.  But Napoleonic France was still there, waiting for me.  When I decided to write a novel for my own entertainment, at the end of my second year of grad school, I wanted to pick an area far enough away from my dissertation topic to feel like vacation but near enough to my own areas of expertise to be familiar.  And what better time period than my old stomping grounds, Napoleonic France?  I set the book in 1803, because I needed to have an English heroine in Paris, and the Peace of Amiens was the one time that would be realistically possible—and the rest all followed from there!

The characters in The Orchid Affair are somewhat different than in your previous novels, Laura and Andre are older than your other characters, and there are two children involved. How did you like writing about older and younger characters than you usually do?

Historical romance tends towards ingénues—but I was thirty-two when I began writing The Orchid Affair.  I’d written a couple of slightly older heroines, with all the usual excuses—the years on the marriage market, the family that couldn’t afford to pay for a Season, the villain who had locked the heroine in a box—but even that meant that my oldest heroine was twenty-five.  I decided it was time to write about a different sort of heroine, one who wasn’t part of that structured social world, one who had been around the block—or, in Keats’ more elegant phrase, much had she traveled in the realms of gold and many goodly states and kingdoms seen.  The result was thirty-two year old governess Laura Grey, a woman with a lot of life under her belt. 

Making my heroine older meant that I could write about an older hero without worrying that he should be on a sex offender registry somewhere.  My hero is thirty-six, and, like my heroine, he’s not your standard aristocratic dilettante.  He’s a hard-working former lawyer, now employed by the Prefecture of Paris, working eighteen and twenty hour days, seven days a week.  As a lapsed lawyer with lots of friends in the fields of finance and law, I know many thirty-something workaholics.  Having seen them navigating the shoals of work and family life, often with great difficulty, I had many excellent models to use for my hero as he struggles with the problem of being a single dad with a demanding job and two young children.

Since I don’t have any children of my own, I was very nervous about tackling children as characters.  Children in fiction are tough; I didn’t want to make them too sickeningly adorable or too mind-numbingly precocious, since those are the major pitfalls in trying to write convincing child characters.  Fortunately, I have two much younger siblings, who, while they’re all grown up now, provided excellent research opportunities back in the day, as well as an old friend who has two fabulous kids who just happen to be about the same age as Gabrielle and Pierre-Andre (um, not like there was any overlap there or anything).  She was lovely about loaning them out for tea parties, even though they are (a) sickeningly adorable, and (b) mind-numbingly precocious,

Augustus Whittlesby seems to keep popping up, will he be starring in his own book soon? Maybe alongside the Pink Carnation?

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Augustus Whittlesby will be starring in the next book, Pink IX, which comes out in January 2012.  There’s been a great deal of speculation about Augustus’ relationship with Jane, so I’ll tell you this right out: although Jane plays a large role in Pink IX, she is not the heroine.  We meet Augustus’ heroine, Emma Delagardie, briefly in The Orchid Affair.  Don’t be fooled by the French last name.  She’s actually an American, from upstate New York.

Here’s the Pink IX blurb:

As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, English operative Augustus Whittlesby gets wind of a top secret device, to be demonstrated over the course of a house party at Malmaison.  The catch?  The only way in is to join forces with that annoying American socialite, Emma Morris Delagardie, who has been commissioned to write a masque for the weekend’s entertainment.  Even so, it should leave plenty of alone time with Augustus’ colleague (and goddess), Jane Wooliston, who has been tapped to play the heroine.  Or so Augustus tells himself.  In this complicated masque within a masque, nothing seems to go quite as scripted… especially Emma.

I’ve been posting bits and pieces about Emma and Augustus (and bits and pieces of the new book) on a new feature on the News page of my website called Teaser Tuesdays.

Warning: each chapter of Pink IX begins with a snippet of Augustus’ poetry.  If you can call it poetry.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Do you think Eloise and Colin will ever get their own full-blown adventure?

Eloise and Colin are certainly off for more adventures after Orchid Affair… but as to whether they’ll ever get a full-length book, I can’t say.  It’s an idea with which I toy from time to time.  Right now, I’m itching to write a mystery novel—in which Eloise and Colin are the suspects in a murder case.  We’ll see if that happens.  I have some other ideas for them, as well.

In your acknowledgements, you name Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche as a source of inspiration. Out of personal curiosity, have you read his other works? (My favorite of his books is the Sea-Hawk.)

Although I do love Captain Blood, my favorite Sabatini has always been Scaramouche.  I hate to say it, but the movie version of The Sea Hawk spoiled me for the book.  I’d grown up on the Errol Flynn swashbuckler, so was terribly disappointed to read the book and find it so very different from the movie.  I’ll have to give it another go one of these days.

What is your favorite time period other than the French Revolution?

My real scholarly field, the one in which I was working when I began writing The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, is Tudor/Stuart England.  I started as a mid-Tudor girl, with a sideline in Renaissance Scotland, and wound up specializing in the English Civil War.  But my favorite time period, the one in which I most like to vacation, is the early eighteenth century.  Jacobite rebellions, broad-skirted dresses, men in elaborate frock coats, poems by Pope and scandalous theatrical performances—what’s not to love?

Is there a new novel that you are working on? What flower are you considering for it?

Now that Pink IX is all done (see above), I’m just getting going on Pink X.  For those of you who have read the past books, this is Tommy Fluellen’s story.  While it deals with a missing Indian treasure, the book has surprised me by wanting to be largely set in Wales.  I’ve been learning all sorts of interesting facts about Welsh history… and about Tommy! 

I’m dreadful with the flower-picking, so if anyone has any good suggestions, let me know….

Thanks so much, Natalie, for having me here on your blog!  And if anyone wants to know more about the books, you can always find me on my website,, or my Facebook author page,!/pages/Lauren-Willig/10504674644.

Happy reading!

Thank you so much for answering my questions and being my first interviewee, it was great to have you here! I am looking forward to Pink IX and I hope we can do this again sometime!

                                                      Natalie (Lieder Madchen)


  1. Gotta love Lauren...she's my favorite author. Not only because she's a great writer, but because she's a great person.

  2. You did a wonderful job, especially considering it is you first Q&A, which I would not have guessed. I thought you came up with some interesting and different questions which really received marvelous responses from Ms. Willig. I also applaud you for taking the leap and sending that impulsive email, and here's to many more!

    I like your review system for language, violence and sexual content. Keep up the great work. I hope this has given you the personal expression you were searching for that a diary was unable to fulfill.


  3. Thank You. :) I was really nervous at first, but I just asked the questions I was curious about and Lauren was great, so it was all a lot of fun.

    My rating system is mostly so people might know what they are getting into, I have accidentally picked up a few books that were not at all what I expected! I base the ages on how old my little sisters would have to be before I hand the book to them. :)

    Lieder Madchen

  4. What a great and simple way you are using to figure your ratings! Do you have an explanation or breakdown somewhere on your blog to help your readers understand your system?

    I met Lauren last summer at a signing event for literacy with 100's of authors. I felt like I could have sat down with her and talked for hours. I had gone to Deanna Raybourn's table first and she saw my Lauren Willig books in my tote. Deanna got so excited and asked if Lauren was at the event and then went on to explain they were scheduled to do an event later that year in Texas. I said I was going to her table next, Deanna asked me to pass on a message that she was excited to meet her and I wish you could have seen Lauren's reaction when I told her about Deanne. That made my day!

    Sorry that took so long, but I just wanted to say I could totally understand your apprehension mixed with excitement in sending that email. Meeting a favorite author for a book lover is a major event.

    I officially became a follower of your blog today. I have been considering doing a blog for months now. What is the best and worst thing in doing your blog? And what, if anything, did you find easier or more difficult than anticipated in setting up and running your blog?

  5. Thanks for deciding to follow me! I haven't posted a rating explanation yet, but I will see what I can do. :)

    I am entirely jealous that you got to meet both Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig, I love both of their books!

    I think the hardest part of having a blog is the fact that I share a computer with a big family, and we are constantly vying for internet time. :) I don't think anything is harder than I anticipated, and I have found some things to actually be easier! As for running the blog, I think the hardest thing is to make everything different from everyhting else. It is also a lot more fun then I expected, and it is great to be talking to new people. :)

    Best of luck on your blog, I hope it works out well!
    Lieder Madchen