Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the First Half of 2022


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the First Half of 2022. While one of my goals this year is to read the books I already own, I can’t help feeling excited about a bunch of new releases that will be coming my way too!

My 10 most anticipated new releases for the first half of 2022 are:

  1. Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children, #7) by Seanan McGuire (1/4 — my copy arrives today!)
  2. An Impossible Imposter (Veronica Speedwell, #7) by Deanna Raybourn (2/14)
  3. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle (3/1)
  4. Spelunking Through Hell (Incryptids, #11) by Seanan McGuire (3/1)
  5. The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (3/15)
  6. Reputation by Lex Croucher (4/5)
  7. The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth (4/5)
  8. To Marry and to Meddle (The Regency Vows, #3) by Martha Waters (4/5)
  9. Book of Night by Holly Black (5/3)
  10. Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean (5/31)

What new releases are you most looking forward to in 2022? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Book Review: An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6) by Deanna Raybourn

Title: An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A princess is missing, and a peace treaty is on the verge of collapse in this new Veronica Speedwell adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club—an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women—Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela’s chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves—and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica’s resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica’s own family—the royalty who has never claimed her.

Six books in, the Veronica Speedwell series shows no hint of getting stale or slowing down. In An Unexpected Peril, our intrepid lepidopterist finds herself once again embroiled in a murder investigation, putting her own life at risk as well as that of her hot, devoted, decidedly dangerous lover Stoker.

Veronica is Victorian-era spunk and determination personified. She’s a fearless explorer, a scientist passionately devoted to pursuit of rare butterfly species and the works of Darwin, a devoted sensualist, and a woman who does not back down. So when she and Stoker are commissioned to put together an exhibit dedicated to Alice Baker-Greene, a pioneering mountain climber who died tragically while attempting to summit an alp in the small (and fictional) country of Alpenwald, she finds herself unable to look past evidence that the death was murder.

Meanwhile, Veronica’s noted physical similarity to the princess of Alpenwald comes in handy when the princess disappears and the country’s diplomatic entourage to England recruits Veronica to act as a public stand-in. Naturally, nothing goes quite according to plan, and before long, Veronica and Stoker find themselves — yet again — in mortal danger as they pursue the truth.

The princess watched us in bemusement.

“Do you always take your own attempted murder in your stride?”

I considered this. “The first time is unnerving,” I admitted.

“But when it gets to be habit,” Stoker added, “one must adapt a rational attitude and make certain to eat to keep up one’s strength.”

An Unexpected Peril is a fun romp of a book, with royal glamour, risky adventures, misleading clues, and the deliciously passionate relationship between Veronica and Stoker. Their banter is always funny and outrageous, and their connection and relationship remain unconventional yet deeply loving.

The through-story of the series, related to Veronica’s background and her connection to the British royal family, remains simmering in the background, and I’m sure will be explored further as the series continues. (Book 7 should be released in 2022, and I hope there will be many, many more to come!)

This series is worth starting at the beginning. Veronica is a delightful character, and her adventures never fail to entertain. Start at the beginning (A Curious Beginning), and keep going!

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2021


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2021.

I highlighted some of the upcoming releases I’m most excited for in my winter TBR post from a couple of weeks ago — but it’s always fun to look ahead and make even more reading plans! So, here are ten MORE books releasing between now and the end of June that I’m super excited to read.

  1. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (2/2)
  2. A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel (2/2)
  3. Later by Stephen King (3/2)
  4. An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6) by Deanna Raybourn (3/2)
  5. Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman (4/6)
  6. Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian (4/20)
  7. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (5/4)
  8. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (5/11)
  9. The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren (5/18)
  10. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (5/25)

What new releases are you most looking forward to in 2021? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Book Review: A Murderous Relation (Veronica Speedwell, #5) by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Murderous Relation (Veronica Speedwell, #5)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian colleague Stoker are asked by Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk to help with a potential scandal so explosive it threatens to rock the monarchy. Prince Albert Victor is a regular visitor to the most exclusive private club in London, known as the Club de l’Etoile, and the proprietess, Madame Aurore, has received an expensive gift that can be traced back to the prince. Lady Wellie would like Veronica and Stoker to retrieve the jewel from the club before scandal can break.

Worse yet, London is gripped by hysteria in the autumn of 1888, terrorized by what would become the most notorious and elusive serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper–and Lady Wellie suspects the prince may be responsible.

Veronica and Stoker reluctantly agree to go undercover at Madame Aurore’s high class brothel, where another body soon turns up. Many secrets are swirling around Veronica and the royal family–and it’s up to Veronica and Stoker to find the truth, before it’s too late for all of them. 

Five books in, the Veronica Speedwell mystery series remains delightfully fun, with intrigue, arch dialogue, and an undeniable sexual chemistry between the main characters.

Veronica and Stoker have been through all sorts of hair-raising escapades by this point. They’re each strong, opinionated, and stubborn, but also fiercely devoted to one another and to helping those in need. Being highly intelligent natural scientists is just icing on the cake.

The story in book #5 picks up a couple of weeks after their latest adventure (A Dangerous Collaboration, book #4). Veronica and Stoker are looking forward to getting back to a normal routine and final consummating their relationship, but it’s not to be — at least, not yet.

They’re called upon to use their adept sneaky ways to save the royal family from a potentially explosive scandal… and since Veronica herself has a connection to the royals, she feels both an obligation and a resentment over this latest intrusion into her life.

Nonetheless, it’s Veronica and Stoker to the rescue, throwing themselves into a costumed ball at a high-end brothel and ending up in mortal peril themselves. Their adventures are, as always, fast-paced, full of danger and absurdly self-sacrificing moments of bravery, and plenty of snark.

There’s a tangential connection to the Whitechapel murders, and the disquieting threat of Jack the Ripper hangs over the story as a backdrop. Meanwhile, there are feats of physical daring, although ultimately it’s Veronica and Stoker’s smarts and instincts that make all the difference.

This series is so entertaining and delightful! It’s not terribly serious. And who doesn’t need a breezy Victorian romp every once in a while? Veronica and Stoker are terrific characters on their own, and together, they’re a powerhouse couple who can achieve just about anything without losing a hint of their devotion and attraction to one another.

I definitely recommend this series as a whole — but as with any good series, it’s always best to start at the beginning. Fans of the Veronica Speedwell books will not be disappointed by this book! And I’m happy to know that at least two more books in the series are planned. Excelsior!

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
A Dangerous Collaboration

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…


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

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

Take A Peek Book Review: A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3) by Deanna Raybourn

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.



(via Goodreads)

Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in a thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries. 
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

My Thoughts:

This series is so much fun! I’ve written lengthier reviews of the first two Veronica Speedwell books (A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking), so I’ll keep this one brief. Veronica Speedwell, a (mostly) proper Victorian lady with a penchant for butterflies, scientific expeditions, and hot men, once again becomes embroiled in solving a mystery in order to stave off potential disgrace for her partner Stoker. The plot involves a mummy’s curse, shady explorers, Egyptian gods… and perhaps most importantly, figures from Stoker’s dark past.

The mystery itself is quite fun, and it’s satisfying to get some of the answers we’ve been waiting for about Stoker’s dismal reputation and the scandal that haunts him. Veronica and Stoker still have that red-hot (but unfulfilled) chemistry between them, and the door is definitely open for further adventures and further romantic entanglement.

Veronica is a terrific heroine, and the books in the series feature just the right combination of danger, adventure, and witty dialogue. Highly recommended!


The details:

Title: A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: January 16, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Mystery/historical fiction
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!


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!




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


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.


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