The Monday Check-In ~ 3/18/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister: Powerful historical fiction. My review is here.

Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales by Tamora Pierce: A terrific set of stories set in and around the fantasy kingdom of Tortall. My review is here.

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn: The 4th book in the delicious Victorian-era mystery series starring Veronica Speedwell. My review is here.

Thanks to the Serial Reader app, I was able to fulfill one of my goals for this year: Read more Dickens! I finished The Old Curiosity Shop in a mad rush over the weekend. While the point of Serial Reader is to take a big, potentially daunting book and digest it in small, bite-sized pieces, I have a tendency to reading many days’ installments in a row as I get close to the end. The Old Curiosity Shop was a 75-installment serial on the app, but I ended up finishing it in five weeks. Serial Reader is a really fun way to tackle bigger books, and I had a great time reading this work by Charles Dickens, which — to be completely honest — I hadn’t even heard of before I went looking for Dickens options.

Pop culture goodness:

Over on Netflix, I watched the first episode of The Umbrella Academy. Seems like a promising start! I’ll definitely be continuing over the next week or so. Anyone else watching this?

Fresh Catch:

Once again, no new books! Except for the Kindle variety, because I can never resist a good Kindle deal.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Inspection by Josh Malerman: I’ve only read the first chapter so far. Man, is it weird! But in a good way, so I’m buckling in for the ride.

Now playing via audiobook:

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin: My current audiobook is my book group’s pick for March. It’s pretty hard to take because of the subject matter — a school shooting. At the risk of sounding insensitive, the POV was kind of off-putting at first. The book is told from the perspective of a six-year-old, and while it’s moving and tragic, having a child narrate an entire novel got on my nerves a little at the beginining. Now that I’m past the halfway point, I’ve gotten used to it. It’s a brutally emotional book, but so compelling.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: We’ll be finished with this Lord John novella this coming week.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read — such beautiful language.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4) by Deanna Raybourn

Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée–much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…

The house party with a twist is such a trope in old-timey feeling mysteries… and with good reason. Take a remote location, preferably in a house with some grandeur or mystique, add in a motley assortment of house guests, all invited for a variety of reasons, most of which end up being pretenses, maybe mix in some gothic family secrets… and bam! You’re all set up for a slightly claustrophobic, atmospheric whodunnit.

In the case of A Dangerous Collaboration, while the set-up is reminiscent of Agatha Christie, with perhaps a hint of Rebecca too, it’s a trope that works extremely well. We pick up with our plucky heroine Veronica Speedwell, already a world-famous lepidopterist despite being only in her mid-20s, and her dark and dangerous colleague Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, known as Stoker. The two have chemistry galore. When we last saw them in A Treacherous Curse, Veronice and Stoker had just solved a mystery involving plundered Egyptian tombs and Stoker’s notorious past… and were on the verge of a long-awaited lip-lock and possible confession of feelings, when they were interrupted by Stoker’s older brother, the Viscount Tiberius Templeton-Vane.

In A Dangerous Collaboration, we continue mere moments later. Tiberius arrives with a proposition for Veronica — to accompany him to a gathering at his friend Malcolm’s Cornish island castle, where she’ll be able to collect specimens of a rare butterfly previously thought extinct. Naturally, Veronica jumps at the chance, despite Stoker’s objections. So also naturally, Stoker shows up at the island too, where the two brothers and Veronica join Malcolm, his spinster sister, his widowed sister-in-law, and his nephew for a social gathering. At which point Malcolm informs them all that he needs their help — he wants to learn the truth of what really happened to Rosamund on their wedding day. Did she flee? Did she die? Was she murdered? There are some dark and disturbing possibilities, and all of the assembled guests, apart from Veronica and Stoker, seem to have much more at stake than is initially apparent.

The Veronica Speedwell books are utterly delightful, with their arch humor, constant sense of adventure, and layered mysteries to solve, all of which are enhanced a thousand times over by the sparks continually flying between Veronica and Stoker. While A Dangerous Collaboration felt at first a little tamer than the previous three books, probably because Veronica and Stoker did not appear themselves to be in mortal peril this time around, soon the danger grows and before long they’re once again risking life and limb to learn the truth.

Along the way, we get to know Tiberius better and understand what makes him tick, as well as gaining insight on the highly charged relationship between the brothers. For me, the most delicious part of the reading experience was the mounting tension between Veronica and Stoker, as they creep closer and closer to the point where they’ll just have to finally admit their feelings and declare their intentions toward one another. Like I said, these two — chemistry, sparks, fire, passion… you name it. (But no, there’s no graphic physical stuff, just tension and attraction galore.)

As always, the language and dialogue in these books is so much fun. A little sampling:

“What in the name of seven hells do you mean you want to ‘borrow’ Miss Speedwell? She not an umbrella, for God’s sake.”

Her doglike devotion was appalling; any woman with spirit or strength could only feel revulsion at the notion of offering oneself up like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter of one’s own independent thought and feeling.

Men were a joy to sample, but a mate would be a complication I could not abide.

“Does this mean you will stop torturing me by displaying yourself in various states of undress?’

“Not a chance.”


At the end of A Dangerous Collaboration, we get a hint about what Veronica and Stoker’s next adventure will be in book #5. And now I’m jumping out of my skin, dying to read it NOW. This is really a terrific series, and I encourage everyone to start at the beginning and dive in!

Want to know more? Check out my reviews of the previous books in the Veronica Speedwell series:
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
A Treacherous Curse
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The details:

Title: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: March 12, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2) by Deanna Raybourn

perilous-undertakingBook the Second in the wonderful Veronica Speedwell mystery series by Deanna Raybourn!

Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries…

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed….

Victorian era? Check.

Intelligent, non-conformist heroine? Check.

Flouting of social niceties? Check.

Sexy, mysterious partner, and oodles of sexual tension? Check, and check.

Oh, and not incidentally: A ripping good murder mystery? Yup, big check.

Prolific author Deanna Raybourn released the first Veronica mystery, A Curious Beginning, in 2015. (I reviewed it, here.) In it, we met the irrepressible Veronica Speedwell, an accomplished lepidopterist in her mid-twenties who finds herself suddenly at the center of strange plots and attempted violence. Veronica is headstrong and unabashed, and while she has the gentility and manners of a lady, she is quite proud of her scientific accomplishments — and is quite blunt about taking lovers during her overseas expeditions and her general enjoyment of the carnal arts.

I blinked again. “Is it not possible to enjoy bed sport during one’s pregnancy? You mean women have to go without for the duration? Nine months without sexual congress? That’s monstrous.”

By some odd twists and turns, she finds herself under the protection of Stoker, a (gorgeously muscled) man of good family who is haunted by clouds of scandal and mystery stemming from his own natural history expedition which ended in disaster in Brazil.

Side note — a word on Stoker’s appeal:

When a gentleman of excellent breeding and perfect vowels assumes the guise of a ruffian, women are frequently reduced to a state of helpless infatuation.

The two end up on the run together, trying to figure out who’s out to murder Veronica and why. It’s absolutely fun, full of hijinks and smart, quippy dialogue. Veronica and Stoker quickly became one of my favorite non-couple couples in fiction!

In A Perilous Undertaking, Veronica and Stoker are somewhat in the doldrums after a planned expedition is cancelled, until Veronica is summoned by a mysterious upper-class lady to take on the task of absolving a condemned man of murder. Lacking much else to do and needing a challenge, as well as fueled by a personal motivation that I’ll leave unspecified (spoilers!), Veronica accepts her assignment. With Stoker as her sidekick/co-adventurer/protector, she sets out to explore the world of a bohemian artists colony, its patrons and participants, and the secret and slightly kinky goings-on that a whole slew of people might want to kill to cover up.

She fell silent, gripped by genuine emotion, and against my will, I found myself in danger of liking her. For a potential murderess, she was rather engaging.

Once again, Deanna Raybourn creates a highly entertaining adventure that lets her characters shine. Veronica and Stoker are quite a pair, and you could cut the tension between them with a knife. They live and operate outside the bounds of proper Victorian society, yet they’re able to infiltrate into the upper reaches and still maintain their zest for scientific knowledge and experimentation.

Some rather comical incidents (including encounters with a large and inconvenient tortoise) lighten up the tension of the more dangerous escapades. There are injuries, life and death situations, narrow escapes, and acts of great daring. At the same time, we learn more about Veronica and Stoker’s inner lives and what makes them tick.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I loved the heck out of this book! The characters are just so delightful. I only hope that the author continues the series, as I want more! Veronica and Stoker clearly have plenty of adventures ahead of them and, at the risk of sounding completely voyeuristic, I want to get to see where their relationship goes, when and if they finally take the plunge and acknowledge their mutual attraction.

I suppose you could read A Perilous Undertaking on its own, as there are enough hints and reminders sprinkled throughout to cover the essential backstory — but why would you want to? Start with A Curious Beginning, then continue straight on to A Perilous Undertaking. You’re in for a treat!

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The details:

Title: A Perilous Undertaking
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Mystery/historical fiction
Source: Won in a Goodreads giveaway!

 

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Book Review: A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell, #1) by Deanna Raybourn

Curious BeginningA Curious Beginning is a delightful Victorian adventure romp that tells an exciting, mostly stand-alone story while setting readers up for an ongoing series. From the talented Deanna Raybourn, a pro at creating period settings that ring true, comes plucky heroine Veronica Speedwell, a no-nonsense young woman who very much knows her own mind.

Veronica is twenty-five years old, and so could be considered a spinster by the standards of that time period, but she truly doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Veronica has been raised by two elderly aunts who adopted her as a young orphan, and ever since she’s been grown enough to exercise some independence, she has set out to see the world while on expeditions to collect the finest and rarest butterfly specimens. A talented lepidopterist, Veronica doesn’t shrink from adventure, scientific or amorous, and has left a trail of lovers behind as well… but with stipulations:

Over time, I developed a set of rules from which I never deviated. Although I permitted myself dalliances during my travels, I never engaged in flirtations in England — or with Englishmen. I never permitted any liberties to gentlemen either married or betrothed, and I never corresponded with any of them once I returned home. Foreign bachelors were my trophies, collected for their charm and good looks as well as attentive manners. They were holiday romances, light and insubstantial as thistledown, but satisfying all the same.

The action kicks off with the death of the Veronica’s remaining aunt, leaving her on her own with no ties and no obligations. Almost immediately, however, she is thrust into danger, as a strange man ransacks her aunts’ cottage and appears on the verge of kidnapping her — which she escapes thanks to the assistance of yet another stranger, Baron von Stauffenbach, who whisks her off to London for protection and promptly stashes her for safekeeping with an associate, a young, dangerous-looking man by the name of Stoker. Stoker has wild hair and tattoos, wears an eyepatch, and is busy trying to taxidermy an elephant when Veronica is deposited into his care. Neither of the two are thrilled by their enforced companionship — but when the Baron is found murdered, they realize that they’ll be spending a lot more time together as they run from both the police and whichever mysterious villains are responsible for the Baron’s death.

Along the way, of course, the tension and hostility between Stoker and Veronica morph into trust, admiration, and perhaps something deeper too, although they’re too busy trying to outwit a host of pursuers and simply stay alive to have time to explore any feelings, romantic or carnal, that might pop up.

Veronica is a super-smart, nerves-of-steel, take-no-prisoners woman. She has a hatpin and isn’t afraid to use it! In temperament and repartée, she reminded me very much of Gail Carriger’s Alexia Tarabotti — proper, demanding, capable, and unafraid, and prone to the most delicious quips and arguments. Her back and forth with Stoker is quite fun:

He shook his head as if to clear it. “I smoked opium once. It felt like listening to you, only rather more mundane.”

Another example:

“Veronica, are you weeping?” he asked suspiciously.

“Don’t be ludicrous,” I returned tartly. “I do not weep. It is a symptom of the rankest sentimentality, and I am never sentimental.”

By the end of the novel, the two have joined a circus, escaped evil henchmen by jumping into the Thames, and burned down a warehouse, among other more sedate approaches to investigation. The mystery of the Baron’s death is resolved in a way that makes clear that while this chapter is more or less complete, there are plenty of loose ends and further threats to deal with in the future.

A Curious Beginning is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, and should particularly appeal to readers who like Victorian settings with plenty of action thrown in. Veronica is a wonderful main character, and Stoker is intriguing — in that dark, broody, mysterious way that just might win him a spot on the “book boyfriends” list of quite a few readers. Together, the two bounce off one another constantly, making it clear that their surface disagreements and irritation are covers for an attraction and connection that are likely to continue deepening as this series progresses.

I, for one, can’t wait to see what sort of adventures await these two. This is a delightful start to a new series, and I look forward to reading much more.

Want to know about some of Deanna Raybourn’s other novels? Check out my reviews of:
Night of a Thousand Stars
City of Jasmine
A Spear of Summer Grass

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The details:

Title: A Curious Beginning
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: NAL/Penguin
Publication date: September 1, 2015
Length: 337 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

Book Review: City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

City of JasmineLove, intrigue, and adventure are set against a backdrop of gorgeous desert vistas and an ancient Middle Eastern city in this new novel from Deanna Raybourn, author of A Spear of Summer Grass and the Lady Julia Grey series.

In City of Jasmine, lovely but broke Evie Merriweather Starke is gaining lots of attention as an aviatrix setting out to fly over the seven seas of antiquity — hoping to keep sponsorships coming in just a little while longer before her cash and stamina run out. Evie has spunk and daring, but she’s also still nursing the heartbreak of her failed marriage. Evie eloped with Gabriel Starke on the day she met him, ringing in the new year of 1915 together. But their marriage quickly soured, and when Gabriel was lost at sea with the sinking of the Lusitania, no one but Evie knew that she’d been about to divorce him.

Now, five years later, Evie is trying her best to move on with her life, with her eccentric Aunt Dove for companionship, when she receives an anonymous piece of mail containing a picture of Gabriel, dated 1920 and captioned “Damascus”. What does it mean, and why would someone send it to Evie? Seeing how she’s in the area anyway, Evie sets off for the ancient city to either find her presumed dead husband or to lay his memory to rest for good.

Adventure awaits. Damascus is dusty, confusing, and full of old-world glamor and mystery. Evie finds herself in the company of a group of archaeologists, who have apparently made a startling discovery way out in the desert at their dig site. Meanwhile, the Middle East is simmering with post-War political tensions, as the European powers attempt to carve up the former Ottoman Empire — which doesn’t necessarily sit very well with the Arab locals and the desert-dwelling Bedouin tribes.

City of Jasmine is at heart a romance, and that shines through despite occasional dives into historical politics that get a bit too dry at times. The love story is really what this book is all about, and it’s at its best when the mystery of Evie and Gabriel’s marriage and estrangement is explored. Why did the lovely man Evie married turn into a cold-eyed stranger so quickly? Why did he fake his own death? What is he doing in Damascus, disguised as an antiquities expert in dusty robes and a nasty beard? And why, even now, must he treat Evie with such aloofness and mockery?

There’s quite a bit of action in City of Jasmine, and at times it has a frantic, almost Indiana Jones-ish feel to it. There are double-crosses and triple-crosses, chases through the desert, gunfire, escapes via camel, truck and airplane, hostile tribes and friendly tribes, and all sorts of talk of relics, artifacts, and priceless treasures. This being a romance, though, there are also quite luxurious descriptions of Turkish baths and spa treatments, flowing robes, absolutely scrumptious-sounding food, and desert tents filled with lovely carpets and cushions.

The history feels somewhat shoe-horned in. There’s a lot of talk about the politics of the time and their implications, but this mostly just scratches the surface of the complicated issues involved. I suppose the political atmosphere of the day is necessary for the events and setting to make sense, but between that and the archaelogy and the action sequences, the romantic elements are often in danger of being buried by plot.

I did enjoy City of Jasmine, but felt that the relationship between Evie and Gabriel needed to be explored further. Interestingly, the publisher released a prequel novella entitled Whisper of Jasmine in early February, several weeks before City of Jasmine‘s release. Whisper of Jasmine tells the story of Evie and Gabriel’s first meeting at a New Year’s Eve party, their intense and immediate attraction, and their elopement. It’s all quiet breathless and passionate and very, very romantic. I have to wonder, though, if the overarching story might have been better served by including this prequel as a prologue within City of Jasmine itself. Without having read the prequel, it’s hard to see the marriage as anything but an impulsive decision that ended in failure, and we don’t see enough of Evie and Gabriel together to get a sense of the feelings between them. Of course, I can’t really judge since I did read the prequel first — but I wonder what impressions a reader might have who hadn’t read Whisper of Jasmine ahead of time.

If you’ve read A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn, then you’ll be happy to recognize a few familiar characters popping up here in City of Jasmine, kind of like encountering old friends unexpectedly. If you haven’t read A Spear, no worries. It’s nice to have the connection to the previous novel, but not essential to understanding the characters and events of City of Jasmine.

I enjoyed the flapper-esque sensibility and dialogue of Evie and her aunt, who is the quintessential elderly relative with a notorious, scandalous past:

“We’re travel-fatigued,” Aunt Dove pronounced. “It happens when one passes too quickly from one culture into another. I’ve always said trains were uncivilized. One ought only ever to travel by steamship or camel.”

Likewise, there are moments of prime bantering between Evie and Gabriel that are quite charming:

When I reached his side, he paused and gave me a penetrating look. “How much did you enjoy pulling that trigger at me?”

I thought a moment. “Less than I expected but more than I should have.”

He nodded. “That sounds about right.”

Overall, I found City of Jasmine — while overly hectic in places — an engaging, romantic tale of adventure and love. If you enjoy a light taste of history mixed in with your exotic locations and passionate pairings, give City of Jasmine a try!

And if you’ve read City of Jasmine, I’d also recommend:

  • A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn: A terrific historical romance set in colonial Africa in the 1920s, with a remarkable, memorable heroine.
  • Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell: For those wanting a deeper dive into the history and politics of the Middle East in the years following World War I, you really can’t do better than this brilliant historical novel.

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The details:

Title: City of Jasmine
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication date: February 25, 2014
Length: 354 pages
Genre: Romance/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Harlequin MIRA via NetGalley

Thursday Quotables: A Spear of Summer Grass

tq7Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

If you’d like to participate, it’s really simple:

  • Follow Bookshelf Fantasies, if you please!
  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now!
  • Link up via the linky below (look for the cute froggy face).
  • Make sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com).
  • Have fun!

tq5This week’s Thursday Quotable:

Don’t believe the stories you have heard about me. I have never killed anyone, and I have never stolen another woman’s husband. Oh, if I find one lying around unattended, I might climb on, but I never took one that didn’t want taking. And I never meant to go to Africa.

Source:  A Spear of Summer Grass
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Harlequin MIRA, 2013

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

Link up, or share your quote of the week in the comments.

Book Review: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Book Review: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Is this an awesome cover or what? I know, I know, don’t judge a book by its… but hey, this really is lovely. I love the white flapper dress, the image of a woman outside of her natural element, and the gorgeous African landscape. Aren’t you just dying to know what it’s all about? This is definitely what I would consider a successful cover — it draws you in, piques your interest, and makes you want to know more.

A Spear of Summer Grass opens in Paris, 1923, with a young woman in a great deal of trouble. Delilah Drummond thrives on scandal. The quintessential flapper, she’s the life of the party, basking in male attention, always the center of the action, never known to turn down a drink, a cigarette, or a lover. But when the latest uproar refuses to die down and Delilah’s escapades threaten to embarrass not just her hard-partying mother but her moneybags grandfather, drastic action is needed, and Delilah is packed off to her stepfather’s Kenyan estate to cool her heels and wait for the media vultures to move on to the new scandal du jour.

Delilah is not one to go quietly — anywhere — and as she settles into life in Africa, she makes waves among the colonial government officials as well as among the upper class white settlers in her social mix. Yet at the same time, Delilah is charmed by the wildness and danger of her African surroundings and throws herself into the responsibilities of being mistress of an estate, treating the Kikuyu and Masai tribespeople with friendship and dignity.

Not that Delilah has abandoned her wild ways. She attracts the eyes of every adult male in the vicinity, and proceeds to wrap each and every one around her little finger, keeping them as objects of flirtation and sometimes more, but never letting anyone close enough to actually touch her heart. Only one man, enigmatic hunter Ryder White, seems immune to her wiles, and it’s this man who both captivates Delilah and is perhaps an equal for her strong-willed nature.

Delilah and Ryder have a bit of a Scarlett and Rhett vibe going for them. She’s used to being the belle of the ball, accustomed to having every man fall all over her to please and pamper her, hoping for just a bit of her attention and favor. Ryder is somewhat of a scoundrel; he’s respectable enough, but he goes his own way, society’s opinion be damned. They attract, repel, and frustrate each other. The physical attraction is certainly strong, and Ryder is perhaps the one man who can hold his own against Delilah. The outcome of the will-they, won’t-they dynamic is never really in question — it’s clear that these two are made for one another — but the getting there is tumultuous, to say the least.

There’s a lot to really like about A Spear of Summer Grass. The African landscapes and wildlife are described in lush detail. You can practically hear the wind through the savannah and smell the wildness in the air. It’s easy to see how the various characters, often against their will, get caught up in their lives in Kenya and can’t pull themselves away. I enjoyed Delilah’s transformation from spoiled party princess to something more, a woman of character. Delilah’s past is hinted at from the start, but over the course of the book we come to understand the suffering she endured as a result of world war, the losses that caused her to wall off her heart from any hint of vulnerability, and the slow evolution she undergoes as she starts, finally, to live and feel once again.

Ryder is, of course, a typical manly man with a heart of gold, quick to punish wrongdoers but dedicated to protecting the weak, whether people or animals, and righting wrongs wherever he sees them. Of course, he’s incredibly handsome in a rugged, Indiana Jones-ish way, and that doesn’t hurt in the least.

The author does a skillful job of portraying the flavor of expatriate life in colonial Kenya, showcasing the decadent lifestyle of the rich, white settlers, their loose morality, and their unwise indifference to the non-white majority of the country. The scandals, gossip, drinking, and sexual looseness all work perfectly to create a sense of a society adrift and out of touch with the world around them. Visually, there are some remarkable small moments, such as Delilah’s fine silks and delicate shoes falling victim to the blood and dust of Africa — details that convey deliciously the feeling of life lived on the edge of the wild.

What worked less well for me was the inevitability of the romance between Delilah and Ryder. The battle of wills notwithstanding, it’s obvious from the start that Delilah and Ryder are going to end up together, and there was nothing about their developing relationship that didn’t feel like something I’ve seen before. In fact — although this might be contrary to how these things usually go in popular fiction — I think A Spear of Summer Grass might have been a stronger story without the romantic subplot. In and of herself, Delilah is an interesting, strong-willed, trouble-making heroine, and I would have been perfectly content reading a novel that focused on her personal journey without the complication of her lovers and admirers.

That said, I did absolutely enjoy reading A Spear of Summer Grass, so much so that I stayed up past midnight to finish it and had dreams full of safaris and African skies. After finishing this book, I discovered that the author has also published a prequel, Far in the Wilds, as an ebook, and yes, of course I’m going to read it!

Review copy courtesy of Harlequin MIRA via Netgalley.