Book Review: An Impossible Impostor (Veronica Speedwell, #7) by Deanna Raybourn

Title: An Impossible Impostor
Series: Veronica Speedwell, #7
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: February 15, 2022
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While investigating a man claiming to be the long-lost heir to a noble family, Veronica Speedwell gets the surprise of her life in this new adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

London, 1889. Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian beau Stoker are summoned by Sir Hugo Montgomerie, head of Special Branch. He has a personal request on behalf of his goddaughter, Euphemia Hathaway. After years of traveling the world, her eldest brother, Jonathan, heir to Hathaway Hall, was believed to have been killed in the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa a few years before.

But now a man matching Jonathan’s description and carrying his possessions has arrived at Hathaway Hall with no memory of his identity or where he has been. Could this man truly be Jonathan, back from the dead? Or is he a devious impostor, determined to gain ownership over the family’s most valuable possessions–a legendary parure of priceless Rajasthani jewels? It’s a delicate situation, and Veronica is Sir Hugo’s only hope.

Veronica and Stoker agree to go to Hathaway Hall to covertly investigate the mysterious amnesiac. Veronica is soon shocked to find herself face-to-face with a ghost from her past. To help Sir Hugo discover the truth, she must open doors to her own history that she long believed to be shut for good.

A new installment in the deliciously smart Veronica Speedwell series is always cause for delight, and book #7 is no exception.

Veronica and Stoker are a well-established couple at this point, but they’ve lost none of their spark or chemistry. Their passion continues to simmer, and they’re fulfilled by their work together on the natural history collection of Lord Rosemorran. But when Sir Hugo Montgomerie of Scotland Yard asks a favor, he’s awfully hard to ignore, and their peaceful moments are interrupted by a call to adventure.

Our fearless duo sets off to the Hathaway estate to discover whether the long-presumed dead eldest son has miraculously returned — which would have enormous ramifications for his surviving siblings, especially the brother who has legally inherited in his stead.

Veronica and Stoker discover a situation much more complicated than expected, further muddled by Veronica’s own distant past which included an acquaintance with the missing Hathaway son. While uncovering the truth, Veronica and Stoker once again end up in mortal peril, fighting for their lives, solving multiple mysteries, and using their wits to find solutions.

It’s all very charming, and the adventure itself is fun even while taking a while to build up stakes. Once our favorite couple are themselves in danger, of course it all escalates and becomes much more dramatic — but even then, the banter and sexy glances and innuendo continue.

I had a few qualms about a certain plot complication which the romantic in me found upsetting, but never fear, it’s more or less resolved by book’s end. The mystery is tied up nicely, although Veronica and Stoker are left in a status that’s less settled than in previous books… so can I have #8 now please???? (Sadly, no — I expect it’ll be another year’s wait for the next one).

As in all the books in this series, the humor is silly and fun, and Veronica is a treat — a fierce, intelligent woman of science who’s not afraid to follow her own path, including becoming romantically and physically involved with a man who’s very much her partner and equal.

And really, when else would we get to read a book that includes such delightful words and phrases as “fritillary”, “amatory arts”, “passamenterie”, “osculatory”, and “inanition”? Not to mention a quick little aside in which a character educates us on the origins of the bandanna?

An Impossible Impostor is just a super fun adventure. Each book in the series goes by too quickly, and I always tell myself to slow down and savor them… but I never do. An Impossible Impostor could potentially work as a stand-alone mystery. The key players and background are explained well enough to be able to follow along. But, I don’t really recommend this approach — you’d be missing out on all the delicious history of Veronica and Stoker’s relationship, as well as their individual backstories, and truly, those are too good to miss!

If you want to get to know Veronica Speedwell, I’d say start with book #1, A Curious Beginning. I’m pretty sure you’ll be hooked! And isn’t it nice to know that there are already another six books to enjoy after that one?

This series has become one of my favorites. Check it out!

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

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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:

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: Characters Whose Jobs I Wish I Had

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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 Characters Whose Jobs I Wish I Had.

My top 10 are:

  1. Alanna (Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce): She’s a knight! How cool is that?
  2. Alice Van Cleve (The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes): Pack horse librarian — I think it would be amazing to ride a horse through the mountains to deliver books.
  3. April Whittier (Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade): Secret fanfic writer by night, geologist by day… it’s actually the geologist part that really appeals to me, not because that’s what I’d want to be, but because I love seeing fab women in science take center stage.
  4. Emily Parker (Well Met by Jen DeLuca): Bookstore manager AND Ren Faire tavern wench!
  5. Veronica Speedwell (Veronica Speedwell mysteries by Deanna Raybourn): Intrepid lepidopterist and Victorian era sleuth. A girl can dream, right?
  6. Naomi Nagata (The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey): Because space adventuring would be awesome.
  7. Norma Kopp (Kopp Sisters series by Amy Stewart): She trains messenger pigeons! Again, not that I specifically want to do that, but I think it’s awesome that Norma does it.
  8. Meg Mackworth (Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn): A professional calligrapher, who actually makes money doing it. I wish I had the talent!
  9. Claire Fraser (Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon): OK, this is a stretch, but I had to find a way to sneak Claire in. No, I wouldn’t actually want to be stuck practicing medicine in the 18th century, but I do think it’s awesome that she finds a way to introduce modern medical practices like instrument sterilization and antibiotics to the time she’s in. She even grows her own penicillin!
  10. Mercy Thompson (Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs): I wouldn’t necessarily want to be a mechanic, but I love that Mercy is one! Again, it’s awesome to see a woman thriving in a traditionally male-dominated field. Go, Mercy!

What book characters’ jobs do you envy? Please share your link so I can check out your top 10!

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

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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:

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…

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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

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.

 

Synopsis:

(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!

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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

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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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