Review: Whisper of Jasmine

WOJ-300Digital novella prequel to City of Jasmine

Notorious socialite Delilah Drummond won’t be deterred by the war. Instead, she decides to throw the event of the year, and she’s handing out invitations with an eye for wanton fun and wild abandon.

There is the dashing explorer and archaeologist Gabriel Stark, a man at a crossroads in his life. Brilliant and restless, he’s just committed to a secret enterprise that forces him to play a public role very different from the man he truly is.

And then there is the charming if flighty Evangeline Merriweather. Evie has dreamed her whole life of adventure. Little does she know, she’s about to get more than she bargained for. Especially after her vivacious Aunt Dove acts as fairy godmother, if a saucy one, providing a scandalous gown and a whisper of jasmine on her skin….

Evie will shake cool Gabriel to his core, but just how far are they willing to take love at first sight?

One seductive night will change Evie forever. Watch for her next adventure, in the City of Jasmine.

 (cover image and summary from Deanna Raybourn’s website)

Once again, Deanna Raybourn whets readers’ appetites with a delectable prequel novella. Just as Far in the Wilds serves as the appetizer to her delicious novel A Spear of Summer Grass, Whisper of Jasmine is the perfect aperitif for her next novel, City of Jasmine.

Stocked with tasty characters from previous books, Raybourn binds this romantic story with humor, a dash of poignancy, a hint of intrigue, and the slightest splash of magic. It leaves you craving to know what’s next for Gabriel and Evie–and even saucy Aunt Dove! Find out for yourself why Whisper of Jasmine is intoxicating. 😉

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.

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.

Oh Henry ! . . . No, I Don’t Mean the Candy Bar

Since I posted about Pinterest (here), I confess that I simply haven’t had time to browse and manage my pinboards. But I do get reminders that keep Pinterest on my radar. These reminders are in the form of emails to notify me that someone has repinned one of my pins. I have several pictures pinned—not a ton, but more than a few—so I find it fascinating that 99% of the repins have been of the same single picture: this divine shot of Henry Cavill taken by Lorenzo Agius for Men’s Health magazine London in 2008.

If you are not familiar with Henry Cavill, he played Charles Brandon in the Showtime series THE TUDORS. He seems well suited to play historical fiction characters, I think. But as much as I appreciate the young man’s looks and talent (and looks), I struggle to think of him as the next Superman (movie due in 2013).  I can imagine him as a Greek hero, however, and look forward to seeing him in IMMORTALS (to be released 11/11/11).

This summer, a picture of Henry was featured in this awesomely awesome blog post by Noa of the Paperback Dolls. I give my deepest thanks to author extraordinaire Deanna Raybourn for providing the link to Noa’s post on her fantabulous blog. Deanna’s character Nicholas Brisbane was featured in the post. Brisbane, dearest Brisbane, is my number one literary crush of all time. Do yourself a favor and read Deanna’s Lady Julia Grey series. You will thank me later. You will.

Okay, back to Henry. When Noa used a picture of Henry to illustrate C.S. Harris’s character Sebastian St. Cyr (another literary object of my affection), I had an Aha! moment: I should find a picture of Henry for the slot on the cover of my Nook . . . something that’ll represent the perfect historical fiction mystery/romance hero. Although I don’t imagine Henry as Brisbane (dearest Brisbane), I do think I hit the jackpot in finding this picture. And, obviously, a slew of fellow Pinterest junkies like the photo as well.

So, what do you think about the Oh Henry photo?  What types of books do you like to read?  Do you have a number one literary crush of all time?

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