Is this the best Pink Carnation yet?

Purple. The color of royalty. The hot color of red mingled with the cold color of blue.  So appropriately the favored color of Miss Gwendolyn Meadows,  middle-aged spinster, chaperone and assistant spy to Miss Jane Wooliston, AKA the Pink Carnation. She’ll never be mistaken for a queen but she is just that to a loveable rogue of a career officer, Colonel William Reid.  Finally, in “Pink X,” we are introduced to a heroine and hero who prove you don’t always have to be young to experience the thrill of a breathless, reckless romance.  This review assumes familiarity with the Pink Carnation series.  My apologies if you are still “un-pinked.” Miss Gwen would command you to “do try and keep up.”

 

What a time to leave Paris with rumors of an alliance forming between the Ottoman Sultan and Napoleon.  It seems the Pink Carnation’s little sister, as well as Colonel Reid’s youngest daughter, have gone missing from Miss Climpson’s boarding school for young ladies in Bath, which precipitates the immediate departure of Miss Jane and Miss Gwen.  Simultaneously, Colonel Reid retires from his military career in India to settle down in England with his two daughters and is blissfully unaware of his youngest daughter’s disappearance, along with Miss Wooliston’s younger sister.  Just why they have gone missing might be their unwitting involvement with an ancient Indian treasure steeped in superstition known as the lost jewels of Berar.

 

Two centuries later, Eloise and Colin are also beginning to believe that same treasure to be real and historical rumors place it somewhere on Colin’s ancestral estate of Selwick Hall.  Mrs. Selwick-Alderly, who has given Eloise total access to the Selwick family history, promises to reveal what she knows of the treasure only if her nephew Colin and Grandson Jeremy work together.  Easier said than done, Colin and Jeremy despise each other and Eloise is caught in the middle.  She is also vacillating between staying in England with Colin or flying home to a teaching position at the “other Cambridge.”

 

Two centuries earlier and thrown together out of necessity, Miss Gwen and Colonel Reid are polar opposites as they search for the missing school girls.  The Colonel is ruggedly handsome, likeable and attentive.  He could charm a basketful of cobras into submission where Miss Gwen would simply intimidate them for the same result.  She is English to the core while he wonders what his late and exiled Scottish Jacobite parents would think of him on English soil.  The more Miss Gwen tries to hold off the Colonel’s enthusiastic addresses with her caustic wit and chilling countenance the more her slumbering passion is aroused in his presence.

  

In a beautiful moment, Colonel Reid discretely admires Miss Gwen as they ride together in a coach:

 

“William snuck a glance at Gwen’s profile, the long line of her nose, the curve of her jaw, the surprisingly long sweep of her lashes, as black as her hair.  She was all bundled up again, primly braided and buttoned, but he knew that beneath that stern exterior was a lifetime’s worth of adventure for the man brave enough to win her. If he could talk her to a standstill first. Or kiss her into confusion.”

 

Each chapter begins with excerpts from Miss Gwen’s gothic novel, The Convent at Orsino, which she has been penning since first arriving in Paris.  Each quote is a clever portent to that chapter.  That very novel will be highly significant two centuries later for Eloise and Colin.

 

The mysteries posed by this tale are non-stop:  Selwick Hall appears to have been ransacked, but by whom?  Has the Pink Carnation actually fallen in love?  Is there finally some resolution (gasp) in the relationship between Eloise and Colin?    Who is the shadowy foe of the Pink Carnation known only as “the gardener?”  Will the partnership between Miss Jane and Miss Gwen be acrimoniously severed?  Is Colonel Reid’s son Jack a spy or counter-spy? Who were the men who attacked the colonel and Miss Gwen working for? Are the lost jewels of Berar in India or England or just a myth?

 

Along the way, Pink Carnation fanciers are treated to re-appearances by the infamous Hell-Fire club, Amy and Richard Selwick plus Henrietta and Miles Dorrington.  

 

While there is passion a-plenty between Miss Gwen and Colonel Reid, I waited patiently for something similar to happen between Colin and Eloise, but their relationship rolled on…..frustratingly too cool and clinical for this incurable romantic.  It was late in the book before any sort of emotional heat was generated.  However, I trust the author and assume she has something else planned out for these two, perhaps in Pink XI?

 

The story works for me on many levels.  The author’s format of shuttling the story between two eras is what makes the Pink Carnation series so absorbing.  The December romance is refreshing, unexpected, and risky.  I loved the glimpse behind the often comical side of Miss Gwen that reveals a tragic past and how those events color her world.  Colonel Reid notwithstanding, it is really Miss Gwendolyn Meadow’s story and how beautifully the author lays bare this most misunderstood but loved heroine with perfect proportions of humor, sorrow and sensitivity.

 

Is this my favorite Pink Carnation yet?  I think so and I hope it is likewise for you too, dear readers.

The Toymaker, by Kay Springsteen Tate

Seldom have I ever been so totally immersed into the lives of the characters as I have in this superlative Christmas story.

This is a ‘past meets present’ story which opens up with a contemporary mother and her two children discovering a box of 200 year old wooden toys at an antique shop.  Fascinated by the quality and workmanship they buy the whole box and discover a diary hidden at the bottom of the box that opens up the whole romantic history that takes place between Phillip and Lady Ivy. Here’s a short synopsis of the plot 

Enter Phillip Greenstone, the 12th Duke of Greenbriar, upon the death of his aged reclusive uncle.  It is nothing he had ever wanted having been orphaned as a young man and brought up by Jani, a master wood worker and toymaker. Lady Ivy Plumthorn is fast approaching spinsterhood as she refuses suitor after suitor, finding no one to her liking.  Our toymaker Duke, “Mr. Green,” meets Lady Ivy and the attraction is instantaneous.  But Lady Ivy and her parents insist she must marry into the peerage and Mr. Green is just a craftsman commoner.  But, they have so much in common with their kind and generous hearts and their love of children.  Our toymaker Duke must devise a plan to reveal his true identity to gently excuse his deception to Lady Ivy.

This is the almost perfect Christmas story and it is impossible to read it straight through with dry eyes.  It is just so heart-warming and poignant as the old box of toys, diary, and history enchant the mother and her children once again. 

5 Stars                  

A New Year’s Holiday To Remember

Way back in 1966, I had fulfilled my year-long duty requirement as an intelligence analyst at Danang in Vietnam.  I had been overseas for almost three years straight without seeing my beloved USA.  My orders called for me to take a short-hop flight from Danang to Ton Son Nhut airport near what was formerly Saigon.  On the way to Saigon, we stopped at Cam Ranh Bay and Na Trang.  What was it that military personnel put on our flight? Body bags of soldiers who were also going home to families where Christmases would never be the same again………Names that would be eventually etched on the dark brooding granite walls of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /><o:p></o:p>

I got to Ton Son Nhut on December 30th and checked into the transit barracks to await my flight back to the states the next day: New Year’s Eve.  That night I was treated to another random barrage of Viet Cong mortar fire, flares, and Hueys flying low over the airport with searchlights blazing.  The next day, our flight was scheduled to depart Ton Son Nhut at 3:00 PM in the afternoon.  160 weary marines and a couple of Air Force guys lined up at the airport terminal to be processed out.  Little did we know at the time but a Thai civilian airliner had nearly crash-landed on the main runway, closing it for 6 hours to assess runway damage and tow the damaged plane away.  Personnel told us to return back to the transit barracks.  Not a single soldier budged.  We had come this far and weren’t getting anywhere but on that plane.  We finally boarded a shiny new World Airways Boeing 707 and took off at 9:30 PM on New Year’s Eve.  Since it was a MAC charter flight, no alcohol was allowed.  However, the resourceful Marines had smuggled aboard enough booze to give everyone a pleasant buzz.  Small bottles and flasks were discretely passed all over the plane and the Marines were kind enough to include the handful of Air Force guys in the merriment.  The flight attendants, bless their hearts, just looked the other way and went about their business.  Midway between Saigon and Yokota Air Base, Japan, we celebrated the New Year with hugs, high fives, and mirth.  We landed in Yokota Japan about 4:00 AM on Jan 1st, New Year’s Day, refueled, ate breakfast, nursed hangovers and departed for Travis Air Force Base, California, near Sacramento.  <o:p></o:p>

We landed at Travis (and this is where it really got interesting) about 7:30 PM on Dec 31st again, for our second New Years Eve!!  We had flown through the International Date Line on the way back and lost a day enroute!  As we got off the plane, one of the most emotional scenes I have ever witnessed took place.  Battle-hardened soldiers threw themselves on the tarmac, rolling around on the pavement, weeping, and kissing the asphalt!  The sense of relief among all of us was palpable.  We had made it home alive.<o:p></o:p>

Three other Marines and I hired a taxi, squeezed our gear into the trunk and headed for the San Francisco International Airport 60 miles away.  The cab fare divided among four of us was astronomical even for 1966 but no one cared.  The three other Marines had more flying in store but my home was only 3 miles away!  I stayed in the taxi, had him stop at a liquor store on the way so I could buy a couple bottles of champagne and then headed to the house I had not seen for two years and nine months.  My Mother was totally shocked because I wasn’t scheduled in for a couple more days.<o:p></o:p>

I’ve never forgotten that trip and the overwhelming sense of gratitude and relief to once again be back on the soil of the country I had served and loved as a military man.

Remembering my little ‘blind date.’

When I was 23, I bumped into a young student at school. As I was helping her pick up her belongings, I noticed two things about her: She was very beautiful and very blind.  I apologized for upsetting her and with great courage asked for her name and her phone number.  My curiosity overcame my extreme shyness with the opposite sex and I phoned her to see if she wanted to go out.  To my surprise, she said “yes.” I knew next to nothing about how to properly take care of and escort a woman, let alone a blind one!  She was of Northern Italian descent with olive complexion, honey brown hair, and green eyes. She was very petite, about five feet tall and maybe 90 pounds.  She was born prematurely and only weighed 3 pounds and back in the 1950′s she was a miracle to have survived at all.  The overly-rich oxygen concentration in her incubator destroyed her retinas and she told me her blindness was so profound that she could only distinguish lightness and darkness.

Well, my “blind” date turned into a six-month affair.  I found her relaxed, patient, flexible, adventurous, non-judgemental, sociable, and most of all - happy.  Briefly, I contemplated marriage and got the expected negative feedback from my Father, Mother, and others.  “Oh you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with a blind lady, would you? Just think of all the problems it would cause.”

I broke it off with her with great difficulty because I didn’t think I was good enough for her. She deserved someone better.  However, my little “blind date” was my introduction to the wonderful and different world of being with a woman and the added challenge of being with one with a profound disability. What I learned from our relationship together was the springboard to the love of my life: my wife of 42 years.

I have not seen my little “blind date” for almost 40 years, don’t know where she’s at, but I think of her often.  How I’d like to see her once again briefly and see how her life has been.  I learned a lot more from her than she did from me.  To wit: A relationship involving someone with a disability, whether slight or profound, takes effort, commitment, and tact.  Hmmmm….just like ANY other relationship!