Review: A Spear of Summer Grass

ASOSG-388x590Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides.
 
Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.
 
Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.
 
Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.
 

You know the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? Even in this case, it is true. A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS contains every bit the exoticism, beauty, and romance evoked in the picture above AND MORE. The beautifully composed story inside is breathtaking — beyond anything an artist could capture on canvas. Filled with decadence, danger, passion, and heartbreak, it is the tale of a glamorous and damaged woman’s journey of self discovery.

As the summary suggests, the notorious Delilah Drummond is not your typical heroine. In fact, when we first meet the thrice wed, sleek, sexy, make no apologies flapper, her conduct seems anything BUT befitting a protagonist. Delilah’s latest scandal has resulted in the threat of legal action and, desperate to avoid unwanted attention from the press and her grandfather’s snip of the purse strings, it is decided that Delilah’s best bet is to lay low for awhile… in Africa.

Delilah sets off for her former step-father’s estate in Kenya with her cousin, and dutiful chaperone, Dora in tow. A study in contrasts, Dora is as dull as Delilah is dynamic, and some of the wittiest moments in this novel occur at the expense of poor old “Dodo”. But like the yin and yang, there is balance in the contrast between the cousins; they are two opposites that co-exist in harmony (for the most part) and it is through Delilah’s interactions with Dora that we catch our first glimpse of what lies beneath Delilah’s powdered and painted party girl veneer.

Delilah and Dora are as different as night and day, but our headstrong heroine and our hero, J. Ryder White, are very similar indeed. Just like Delilah, Ryder has a commanding yet easy presence, and sex appeal that nearly lights the pages on fire. He is as mysterious as he is skilled at navigating the harsh and beautiful land of Africa. And to the surprise of the “Princess” who ‘… collected [handsome men’s smiles] like other women collected air to breathe.’(141), Delilah quickly discovers that she has met her match in the game of seduction.

As she adjusts to her temporary life in exile, Delilah finds that Africa holds many more surprises. With old acquaintances settled nearby, the creature comforts of Paris — champagne, gossip, and dalliance — are still very much within her grasp.  But as she is thrust into a role of responsibility, forming alliances with Ryder and people of neighboring tribes, Delilah can no longer ignore the pull of Africa and the things that truly matter.

One of the strongest characters in this novel is Africa itself; the harsh, relentless beauty of the land and its creatures, the diversity and strength of its people. In a beautifully poetic way, Deanna Raybourn paints a vibrant picture of Africa as grand and breathtaking as a Thomas Cole landscape: “The sun was dipping low to the ground, brushing the last of its warm rays over the shimmering surface, and turning the waters to molten gold. A flock of flamingos rose suddenly, flashing their gaudy feathers in a pink farewell as they departed. Across the lake a hippopotamus wore a crown of water lilies draped drunkenly over one eye and munched contentedly as a light breeze ruffled the lake water. I took a deep breath and saw, for just an instant, the Africa I had thought to find. Then, in a violent burst of crimson and gold, the sun shimmered hotly on the lake and was gone, sinking below the horizon, leaving only purple-blue shadows lengthening behind.”(80)

There are so many things I love about this book, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it would be the character Delilah. I found her anything BUT hard to love. She is decadent, confident, sexy, bold, and witty. She is vulnerable, caring, broken, and scarred. Deanna Raybourn did a wonderful job of constructing such a well-rounded, multi-layered heroine. As the crowning jewel, Delilah sits at the top of my list of favorite characters.

Of course, I must say that my affection for Ryder also runs deep and strong. Raybourn first offered us a taste of this delicious character in the prequel enovella FAR IN THE WILDS. Whether or not you read it before A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, rest assured, you will be left wanting more of Mr. J. Ryder White.

Known for her Lady Julia Grey series (one of my favorites), Deanna Raybourn has raised the bar with this stand-alone — which I desperately hope will become a series. No one brings words to life like Deanna does. Her novels are not the kind one simply reads, they are the kind one steps into and becomes a part of – breathing the same air as the characters. Reading A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, I was transported by Raybourn’s elegantly poetic prose. And if I look close enough, I just might see smudges of the red dust of Kenya on the pages of my copy.

This is a thing that I know – Deanna Raybourn’s talent is a true gift, to her and to readers.

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Book Hungry Review: City of Bones

city of bones coverWhen fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .
Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end. (Summary source: Amazon)
 

There are many books I would love to reread, but because my TBR list is so long, I don’t often do so. Recently, I made an exception. As the newest member of the Book Hungry Book Club, I was initiated by having to choose the read for my first go round. No sweat! I had just finished CLOCKWORK PRINCESS, the final novel in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, and was considering going back to the book that started it all, CITY OF BONES (Mortal Instruments series). I ran that idea up the flag pole and was pleased it received salutes from all the Book Hungry gals.

My thoughts on CITY OF BONES are a bit different from the first time I read it. Both times I found the story to be engaging right from the start — colorful characters launched quickly into action in an interesting, otherworldly mystery. But unlike last time, I discovered a couple of things that bugged me a little. As a book of fantasy, I recognize the goal is to engage in suspension of disbelief, but I couldn’t help being a bit annoyed by how swiftly Clary and Simon (mundanes) embraced the existence of the Shadowhunter world. I would like to have seen their process of acceptance fleshed out a little. I also found myself being critical of the pacing of the story; perhaps because it was a reread for me and I already knew how it would end.

Those things aside, I did enjoy the book. It was great to revisit the characters. I had forgotten just how much I like Simon; my adoration for him only grows as the series continues. Magnus Bane is another favorite, a staple in both the Mortal Instruments and the Infernal Devices series. And having read this on the heels of Cassandra Clare’s latest release, it was interesting to see how her writing style and storytelling has evolved over the span of eight novels. Clare truly is a clever writer whose works keep getting better and better.

Final verdict: If you are a fan of YA paranormal and fantasy, CITY OF BONES is worth the read — especially if you plan to see the movie which is set to release in August 2013. Check out the trailer here.

What did my Book Hungry gal pals think of this book? Click their names to find out: Abby, Karla, Kelly, Patty.

Review: The Dark Enquiry

Last July, I participated in Sarah Wendell’s annual Rita Reader Challenge by submitting the following review of The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn. The review was posted on Sarah’s site, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, but I meant to share it on my blog (my poor, neglected blog) as well. Fortunately there is no time limit for when one can post a book review!

If you’ve not read Deanna’s Lady Julia Grey series — or ANY of her books for that matter — REMEDY THAT IMMEDIATELY… ahem… and know that this review is a bit spoiler-y.

Partners now in marriage and in trade, Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane have finally returned from abroad to set up housekeeping in London. But merging their respective collections of gadgets, pets and servants leaves little room for the harried newlyweds themselves, let alone Brisbane’s private enquiry business.

Among the more unlikely clients: Julia’s very proper brother, Lord Bellmont, who swears Brisbane to secrecy about his case. Not about to be left out of anything concerning her beloved—if eccentric—family, spirited Julia soon picks up the trail of the investigation. It leads to the exclusive Ghost Club, where the alluring Madame Séraphine holds evening séances…and not a few powerful gentlemen in thrall.

From this eerie enclave unfolds a lurid tangle of dark deeds, whose tendrils crush reputations and throttle trust. Shocked to find their investigation spun into salacious newspaper headlines, bristling at the tension it causes between them, the Brisbanes find they must unite or fall. For Bellmont’s sake — and more — they’ll face myriad dangers born of dark secrets, the kind men kill to keep….

The Dark Enquiry is the fifth jewel in the crown of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series. Built upon the rich foundation of the previous books in the series, this installment carries us deeper into the lives of the clever and curious Lady Julia, and her dashing and mysterious husband Nicholas Brisbane.

After negotiating ground rules, Brisbane has finally consented to have Julia as a partner in his investigating agency. However, Julia quickly learns that Brisbane still “holds his cards close to his chest”. When she discovers that her brother Lord Bellmont has surreptitiously met with Brisbane, and that Brisbane will not confide this to her, Julia inserts herself into the investigation, forcing Brisbane’s hand to include her in what ultimately becomes an inquiry into murder and political intrigue.

This book contains all of the elements I’ve come to expect from Deanna Raybourn; a colorful cast of characters, an engaging mystery, and a palpable romance. Having read the previous books in the series, I’m delighted that, just as the others do, this one provides a good dose of the eccentric March family. There are several new characters as well – one in particular whom I am deliciously conflicted about; to love or to loathe, that is the question! Julia is clever yet reckless, Brisbane is competent yet headstrong, and I like how their common desire to protect one another initially puts them at odds. They face new challenges that could sever or strengthen their bond. The twists and turns of the complex mystery left me guessing until the end. Gasping at the reveal, the villain took me – and the Brisbanes – by surprise!

The Dark Enquiry’s nomination for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements, however, came as no surprise to me. Raybourn has a beautiful talent for putting emotions into words and creating characters that earn a reader’s affection. Her writing is eloquent and well rounded, containing just the right measures of humor and poignancy. I can only imagine the challenge an author must have in keeping romance fresh and exciting in a series. In this fifth book of the Lady Julia Grey series, Raybourn has maintained excitement and deepened the romance between her beloved characters Julia and Brisbane. Never has it been clearer that each is essential to the other’s happiness.

Soldiering On

superheros

Andy and me, circa 1980. Superheros at heart. Though I was humiliated by the idea, I posed for this picture for my pesky little brother. The things I do for him. Always.

We measure time in intervals such as seconds, minutes, hours, years.  We measure time by important events that occur in our lives – anniversaries of births, weddings, graduations, deaths. On April 24, 2002, I lost my younger brother and only sibling, Andy, to cystic fibrosis (CF).  This is not an anniversary to celebrate, but it is one that I cannot escape; one I feel is important to acknowledge.

Ask anybody and I’m sure they’ll agree that eleven years is along time to support a cause in someone’s memory. Yet for almost eleven years, family, friends, and many who never even knew Andy have honored his memory by supporting me and my walk team, Roo’s Crew, in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation‘s annual Nashville Great Strides Walk.

One might think that after many years of doing so, it would get easier for me to ask for support.  In fact it is quite the opposite — especially in light of recent tragedies in our nation and in these tough economic times.  Through these many years, some have asked why I continue to be involved when CF is no longer something my family and I have to face every day.   The answer is simple:  I carry Andy’s legacy of hope and faith that we will see a cure for CF in our lifetime.

Now more than ever, this dream is within our grasp.  Last year, the FDA approved Kalydeco® – the first drug to target the underlying cause of CF. This drug treats patients with a certain gene mutation which is present in roughly 4 percent of the CF patient population in the U.S. I am thrilled to report that patients who use this drug are seeing phenomenal results! In addition to helping that 4 percent of our patient population, Kalydeco® is proving to be a key partner to other therapies in the CF Foundation’s research pipeline. Phase 2 and Phase 3 studies of Kalydeco® in combination with two other compounds are  currently underway. The combined therapies are designed to treat the root cause of CF for patients who have the most common gene mutation. At the rate our therapies are progressing, the hope is that 65 percent of CF patients in the U.S. will have some kind of control for the basic defect by 2015. This is fantastic news, but we won’t stop until we have control for ALL of our patients.

Yes, we continue to soldier on. We continue to strive for a cure. But having drugs that will administer control over the symptoms and complications of CF will, in and of itself, be a miracle. When cystic fibrosis is no longer considered a life-threatening disease, our dream will finally be realized!

If you would like to support Roo’s Crew and the CF Foundation in our mission, please follow this link: http://www.cff.org/Great_Strides/BlakeLeyers8622.

To find out more about the Phase 3 and Phase 2 Kalydeco® combination studies, click here and here.

* WHAT:  2013 Nashville Great Strides

*WHEN:  Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 3:00 PM

*WHERE:  Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, Nashville, TN

Tribute to Andy 

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