The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas

Written by Lauren Willig
Review by Ellen Keith

The Mischief of the Mistletoe is Willig’s seventh in the Pink Carnation series featuring turn-of-the-19th-century spies, whose tales are framed by the 21st-century scholar, Eloise Kelly, researching them for her dissertation. This latest is somewhat of a departure, as it foregoes Kelly’s present-day narrative and focuses on two 19th-century characters with only minor roles in the series up until now.

Miss Arabella Dempsey, feeling decidedly fifth wheel-ish when her elderly aunt marries a fortune hunter, takes a post as a teacher at a young ladies’ school in Bath. There she encounters Turnip Fitzhugh, visiting his savvier younger sister, and in Pink Carnation fashion, both get drawn into an investigation of spies.

Willig daringly rewrites her own history by making Turnip, previously a figure of fun in the series, into a leading man here. His cartoonish features have been softened by some self-awareness, and Arabella, described as a “wallflower” in her brief appearance in The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, finds that she and Turnip are made for each other. Of course, with Jane Austen as her confidante, the reader knows that Arabella must have something going for her. As with all the books in this series, Willig knows how to entertain while touching on 19th-century truths—a single woman dependent on making a living cannot be caught with a man in her room. While I enjoy Eloise’s narratives, I was so caught up in Arabella’s and Turnip’s story that I confess I forgot she was missing.