Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Mischief of the Mistletoe

By Lauren Willig

You’ll have noticed the “secret” clause up there in the blog tagline, no doubt. Maybe you’ll even have wondered about it. (Have you?) Well, agonize over the secret no longer, readers. The clause refers to the periodic appearance of tomes so ambitious in scope, so universal in theme, so majestic of prose that they are seldom discussed save in select company, sotto voce. Yet I, your devoted and audacious reviewer, have made a commitment to go where few literarians* own up to going, and bring these most furtive of volumes out into the light.

I’m talking, of course, about chick lit.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “Why such secrecy?” I do I have an image to uphold, after all. I’m an English major. I read books like Anna Karenina for fun (fact). My tastes are far too sophisticated to be satisfied by fluffy chick lit disguised as historical fiction and mystery. Right? Right. Ish. The fact is, it’s the holiday season. Fluffy novels are as standard of fare as warm cookies, hot cocoa, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Holidays are a package deal, my friend. A package deal! Anyway, I just finished my first round of college semester exams; I deserve a little fluff reading, if you ask me.** (And no, Aristophanes does not count, funny or not.) Which brings us to The Mischief of the Mistletoe.

The gist: Against her dear friend Jane Austen’s advice, Miss Arabella Dempsey takes on what she anticipates to be a tame, respectable position – schoolteacher at Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies. Never would she have expected to be proven so wrong. One day on the job finds Arabella embroiled in an decidedly unconventional investigation spanning castle ruins, drawing rooms, Yuletide balls, and grand estates with the help of a dashing, if somewhat bumbling, young gentleman. But nothing surprises this former wallflower more than the possibility that in the process of nabbing the elusive culprit, she may just nab herself a romance, too. (What did I tell you about holidays and package deals?)

Okay, so… what exactly does The Mischief of the Mistletoe have to offer, you ask? What doesn’t it have to offer would be a better question. Covert messages transmitted via Christmas pudding (inscriptions penned on the inside wrapping – ingenious, no?), schoolmarms held at fake-sword point by rogue Christmas pageant wise men, a lavish twelve-day Christmas celebration riddled with overwrought waistcoats and intrigue, a thorough versing in authentic British slang (‘bloody’ is just the beginning; read this and you’ll soon be spouting off such genuine Briticisms as ‘bally,’ ‘jolly good,’ and ‘deuced’ with ease), a music master with an Italian accent as dubious as the mustachios adorning his lips, an elaborate and dangerous plot spun by an infatuated schoolgirl in pursuit of an ill-gotten pseudo-dowry to compensate for her impending disownment on the grounds of scandal and elopement (try saying that in one breath, I dare you), extensive vegetable-related humor at the expense of the male lead, Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh, and said male lead scaling the trellis of a girl’s school at midnight with his reliable groom Gerkin standing watch.

Phew. That was exhausting. Did I miss anything? Oh, but of course – how I could I forget the deft, effortless linguistic stylings of Lauren Willig? The Mischief of the Mistletoe will wow you with such innovative wordplay as “deep, shallow breaths” and “in accord as an accordion.” Before you ask: No, your eyes aren’t fooling you; those exemplary feats of figurative language really are preserved in print. The noble endeavor of better exhibiting the elegance of the English language is one no author can resist.

That being said, I can’t rag on Lauren too much. I’ve been enjoying her Pink Carnation series since it debuted so many years ago*** with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, despite the fact that they’ve gone steadily downhill since. After all, what’s not to like? Intrigue, feisty heroines, floral spies, romance, Britain… they’ve got it all. I relish a new Carnation installment the way one relishes sleeping in, a Starbucks pick-me-up, or re-watching a favorite movie: it’s comfy, familiar, and a little indulgent. Whatever else one could say about it (the words ‘silly,’ ‘farcical,’ and ‘over-the-top’ come to mind), reading The Mischief of the Mistletoe was a fun, frivolous, and festive way to unwind after finals.

*Literarian, n. One who engages in literary pursuits.
**The blogger doth protest too much, ye thinks? Okay, okay, I confess: I like my occasional chick lit. There, I said it. Now can we get back to the review?
***You know, back when I was a wee little pre-teen and we read books on paper, not screens. (I'm looking at you, Kindle. You too, Nook.) And walked to school uphill both ways through several feet of snow, of course. Oh wait, I do that now. *I love Minnesota. I love Minnestota.*

Happy reading and happy Christmas!

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