Tag Archives: deanna raybourn

Amy Snow

Amy Snow

Title:  Amy Snow
Author:  Tracy Rees
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-5011-2837-0

Book Summary:
In 1831, Aurelia, eight-year-old daughter and only child of Lord and Lady Vennaway, once again disobeys her governess and rushes out to play in the newly fallen snow on her family’s English estate.  Headstrong and spoiled, but also compassionate and inquisitive, Aurelia is shocked to discover an abandoned infant left in the snow.  Although her parents disapprove of the child, they are unwilling to deny anything to their only child.  And so, Amy is raised in the household.  She spends most of her time below stairs and out of the Vennaway’s sight, but Aurelia is ever diligent and stops in very frequently to be with Amy and comfort and guide her.  As Amy grows older, she provides a comforting balm to Aurelia’s flighty personality.  Grudgingly, the elder Vennaway’s allow Amy into the schoolroom to take lessons with Aurelia when the tutor recognizes the effect Amy has on the young heiress.

Although Amy has Aurelia’s love and devotion, life at Hatville Court is challenging.  She helps the servants with the chores, but Amy learns quickly that it is best that avoid all contact with Lord and Lady Vennaway.  She isn’t able to make a connection with the servants, because they think she is above them.  The bond however between the girls is as close as sisters and eventually, Aurelia makes Amy her personal companion.

Aurelia’s parents push for a marriage which would eventually give them the heir they so desire, but these plans are cancelled when Aurelia is discovered with a terminal illness.  Amy serves Aurelia in her final days as a nurse, but immediately following her death, funeral, and reading of the will, the Vennaways make it clear that Amy is to leave Hatville Court.  Prior to her departure, Amy is secretly visited by Mr. Clay who presents Amy with a letter from Aurelia that he was charged to deliver to her before she left Hatville.  Even in death, Aurelia is taking care of Amy and sets her on an adventure that would change her life.

The coded letter starts Amy on journey that enables Amy to discover not only who she is but also who she wants to be.  Her quest takes her to various locations around England and she meets a cast a characters, including a warm and welcoming family, a cantankerous old woman, and two dashing gentleman who vie for her heart.  The end result of the clues, puzzles, and hidden signs leads Amy to a conclusion that could threaten no only herself, but Aurelia’s legacy.

Book Commentary:
What a delightful story!!  I was intrigued by the puzzles and clues that were left to Amy, and the author does a wonderful job at allowing the reader to solve the mysteries along with her.  The story is truly a coming-of-age story with a great deal of mystery and subterfuge.  The author alternates the story between Amy’s present day situation and the story of her life with Aurelia though the memories.  Although the memories often help Amy solve the clues, they also provide so much insight about Aurelia and the relationship between the girls.

Amy is an admirable character and the reader enjoys watching her growth and discovery; however, even though Amy is the title character, I felt the story was really that of Aurelia.  Her depth of compassion, rebellion, and understanding of the world around her is evident through the quest she devises and I really felt she grew into herself posthumously through Amy’s own self-discovery.

The story is rich in detail about clothing and social mores and conventions; the reader feels Amy’s own spark of surprise and delight as her knowledge of the world grows.  The story is also full of entertaining and memorable secondary characters who help Amy on her journey.

Who might like this book:
Although a completely different type of story, I was reminded of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Darby series and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, in that the main characters truly learn the story of someone’s life after their death.  In all three cases, the story of the deceased character is told through letters, mementoes, and remembrances of other characters.  It is a really interesting way to tell a story.

The novel includes a wonderful interview with the author and a collection of book club discussion questions.  I really enjoyed the author’s writing style; she has one other book published called Florence Grace.  It is currently sitting in my Amazon wishlist!

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Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday

Book Hooks

Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday
Book Hooks . . . also known as, the things that attract me to a book before I read the synopsis teaser.  There are so many books on the market, and even though you can narrow down your choices by interest and reading the backs of the books, the sheer number is still rather daunting.  As I have mentioned previously, I love to wander bookstores to see what might strike my fancy, and I started to think about what attracts me to pick up one book to peruse the back synopsis and not pick up another.  To use the old cliche, I guess I do check out books by their covers.  So, here are four things that I look at BEFORE I read what the book is about.  A shout-out to my youngest for coming up with the title BOOK HOOKS; thank you, peanut!

Author
I almost always look first at the author of a book . . . of course it helps that most stores arrange their books alphabetically by author!!  Although, I noticed recently, that a local Barnes and Noble separated cozy mysteries from other mysteries.  Hmmm.  “Cozy” mysteries is somewhat of an ambiguous term and I don’t like that they are telling me what is cozy and what isn’t.  Rather annoys me; kind of like when they pushed the mysteries to the back of the store.  Kind of gets my goat . . . but I digress.

I have a list . . . of course I have a list . . . of about 50 favorite authors that I follow and read regularly. Sometimes I add new ones and sometimes I have to break up with them, but if I see a book by one of “my” authors, I am going to pick it up.  Now, I don’t always read every series by each of the authors, but I am more likely to try something new from an author I like.  I do this with movies too; I follow certain actors, regardless of the film itself.  Richard Armitage is in a movie . . . yup, I’m gonna see it.

Cover Art
I suppose this is the cliche at its finest, but if a book has a castle and a character in period clothing, I am going to pick it up!  I know that was how I found both of my two most favorite authors – Anna Lee Huber and C. S. Harris.  Huber’s first cover indicates a period mystery set in Scottish Highlands (uh, yeah!) and Harris’ cover shows a darker, more gothic environment.

I will admit that the cartoon-y, cutesy covers tend to turn me off though and some books covers just don’t give the right feel for the book.

Title
I appreciate a good play on words and enjoy a creative title.  Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile series attracted me with the title Homicide in Hardcover, and I enjoyed the contradiction of Anne Cleeland’s Murder in Thrall.  A newer series by Loretta Ross (check out my review next week!) has Death in every title, but it is the name of main character.  Most of Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries are Irish phrases and song titles – In Like Flynn and Oh Danny Boy.

Because I tend to be a bit detailed oriented . . . you kind of figured that out, right . . . I really enjoy titles that have a pattern.  C. A. Belmond’s series all starts with “A Rather . . .,” as in A Rather Lovely Inheritance and A Rather Curious Engagement.  Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series titles all have clothing references in the title: A Toxic Trousseau and Hexes and Hemlines.  When I see a series of titles on the shelf that seem to follow a pattern, I will pick them up.  Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery series and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series appeal to my sense of organization.

Endorsements
Finally, I look at endorsements.  I figure that if an author that I enjoy likes the book, there is a reasonable chance that I might also enjoy it.  I will get especially excited when more than one of my favorite authors comments on the book!  Both Anna Lee Huber and Deanna Raybourn commented on the Simone St. James books and that was clincher for me to try her out.  I have often wondered though how an author is asked to comment on another author’s book; is there an insiders secret code?  Hmmm.  Might have to research that.  Finally, once I have found a possibility based on one of these four draws, I will then read the synopsis.

Of course the real challenge starts next; how do I choose which to purchase from the stack that I have assembled?!  Ah, the life of a reader!  How about you?  What attracts . . . or detracts . . . you from picking up a book?

Four on Friday: BOOK SOURCE IDEAS

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Four BOOK SOURCE IDEAS on Friday
Today, let’s talk books.  Specifically where to get new ideas.  There are thousands of ways to get ideas for new books to read.  Friends give advice, some celebrity endorses it as part of his/her “book club,” your receipt from Barnes and Noble states “if you like this . . . , you might also like this . . .”  This last one always annoys me a bit; how can you understand my reading tastes based on this one purchase.  So what if I bought five Regency Era mysteries . . . it doesn’t mean anything.  And of course, it isn’t like I don’t already have a few a lot of books to read. But as I have told my husband numerous times, if there is a zombie invasion tomorrow and I can’t get to the bookstore, I need to be prepared.  Anyway, here are some of the ways I find new things to read.

Online
Let me start by saying that I am not on Goodreads.  Okay, get your shock and horror out of the way.  I have been informed by many . . . including my daughter . . . of the utter travesty of this lack of participation.  In my defense, I have looked at Goodreads and intentionally opted NOT to participate.  I akin Goodreads to Pinterest.  You know what I am talking about.  It is like a vortex that sucks you in and you can’t ever escape.  I am sure that I would like it; I am sure that I would read about lots of new and interesting things; I am sure that I would feel compelled to make comments and lists and recommendations; and I am sure that I would never get out of my bathrobe for days!  However, if your willpower is greater than mine, go for it!

There are many places online that I do use to find books.  Book blogs are a great starting point . . . I happen to like one in particular!  A wonderful woman I met at a book signing has another great blog – SmartGirlsRead.  It is nice to see what different people think and I often find that reading commentary about a book that I was interested in will help convince me to either purchase or pass on the book.  I also enjoy authors’ websites and blogs, as they often give up-to-date information that allows me to get an inside view of their stories and the writing world.

These are some of the writer’s blogs I check out on daily basis:
CS Harris
Deanna Raybourn
Jungle Red Writers

Author’s Facebook Pages
Sticking with the online theme, I love to follow different authors on Facebook.  Their posts keep me updated on new releases and background information on a variety of different topics.  Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series is set in Scotland and she is always posting fascinating facts and photos from Scotland.  They are beautiful; albeit a bit dangerous . . . as if I didn’t want to travel there enough!  Another great thing is that they often give away advanced reading copies!!  Squeak!  I have won two!  But the BEST part of author’s Facebook pages is that they support other authors and announce new releases by friends and colleagues.  I love reading a recommendation from an author I enjoy and have gotten hooked on many new authors as a result.  And . . . at the risk of going a little fan girl here . . . I have even been able to chat with a few of my favorites; it’s very exciting!!  If I could get them to follow my blog . . . well . . . mind blown!

Catalogs
Yes, I am an old-fashioned girl and I still receive some catalogues by mail.  Two of my favorite book catalogs are Bas Bleu and Chinaberry.  Sometimes I will order a book directly from them but often I just write down the titles for future reference.  Both catalogs are also available online.   I love reading the book descriptions; they go well beyond the plot lines and delve more into what makes each book unique.  I like that the catalogues don’t just focus on new releases.  Many times I discover books that have been out for years and are being re-released; they tell classic stories that aren’t officially “classics.”  Both catalogues also have great gift ideas for book lovers; I admit to having cut out pages and just casually leaving them around for my family to see.  Bas Bleu is mostly literature for adults; Chinaberry sells books for all ages.

Wandering
All of these other ways are great, but truly my favorite way to find a new book or author is simply wandering through the bookstore.  I love to read the backs, note which authors I know and like make comments on the cover, admire the artwork, and check the publication dates to make sure I have determined which is the first in the series.  I tend to collect and pile up the books, prompting clerks to offer me baskets.  I usually go into a bookstore with a self-imposed approved purchase limit . . . then I give myself a few book leeway.  Once I have agonized, negotiated, and categorized my possible purchases, I make my choices.  Grudgingly, I put the ones that didn’t make the cut back on the shelf for another day. I love to mentally organize which book I will read first, which book I have at home that will have to be pushed back in the queue, and whether this book will be a nightstand, shelf, or purse book.  It is a very focused and serious strategy, and yes, I am a nerd, but . . . gosh, I love books!

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1)

A Curious Beginning

Title:  A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1)
Author:  Deanna Raybourn
Publisher:  New American Library
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-451-47601-2

Book Summary:
After burying her spinster aunt, Veronica Speedwell feels a sense of relief and jubilation.  Although her aunts took good care of her after she was orphaned and gave her a unique upbringing by moving often, Veronica is now completely unencumbered to pursue her scientific inquiries.  Inspired by her education through reading, Veronica has traveled the world to study butterflies and is ready to embark upon her most industrious journey.

However, upon returning from a very tedious visit with the vicar and his wife, Veronica finds her home ransacked and the thief, still present in the house, attempts to abduct her.  With the aid of a mysterious German baron, she is able to escape.  Warning her that she is in grave danger, Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach offers to take her to London.  Veronica’s sense of frugality – after all, it is a free coach ride – and her sense of curiosity, coupled with the suggestion that the Baron might know something of her mysterious past, gives her the impetus to agree.

The Baron secrets her to a warehouse along the river, which serves as the home and workshop of his friend Stoker.  Mr. Stoker owes the Baron a debt of gratitude and begrudgingly agrees to allow Veronica to stay and promises to keep her safe.  The danger heightens when the Baron is discovered murdered and Scotland Yard is anxious to pin the crime on Stoker because of his past crimes and history.

As she and Stoker attempt to flee from Paddington Station, Veronica must fend off another interested party, Mr. de Clare.  Veronica’s instincts guide her to trust Stoker, albeit warily, and the two embark on an adventure that includes a traveling curiosity act, a collection of worldwide specimens, the Irish rebellion, and the Queen’s Jubilee.  With their lives and perhaps the realm itself at stake, Veronica and Stoker must rely on scientific deduction, creative battle plans, and a trusty hat pin.

Book Commentary:
Don’t you love it when you read a book by a favorite author that makes you feel like you’ve come home!  I am a huge fan of Deanna Raybourn, and although I have enjoyed everything she has written, I admit that her Lady Julia Grey series was by far my favorite.  With her combination of great characters, clever conflicts, and dry wit, Raybourn’s writing keeps her readers intrigued and entranced with humor and warmth.  When I read A Curious Beginning, I was reminiscent of the Lady Julia novels; although totally different characters and scenarios, the voice and personality are the same.

Veronica is both a likely and unlikely heroine.  She is very independent and logical, and even though her behavior and interests border on the fringes of proper society, she still understands the need for a tidy workspace and a strong cup of tea.  I loved this contrast between what she says and what she does while not completely abandoning a sense of decorum.  It makes her a believable and compassionate character.  When a character says in the opening pages, “I felt a flicker of mischief stirring and decided with Aunt Nell gone there was no need to suppress it,” you know she is going to be fun.

I also really liked Stoker’s character.  He definitely has had a troubled past, some of which is explained and some of which makes the reader frustrated to know more.  The scenes in the traveling circus provide a completely unexpected yet quite delightful diversion and still the story comes together so completely and succinctly in the end.  I also enjoyed the well-defined setup for future adventures, and as the title implies, this book is only the start!

Who might like this book:
I felt like this book involved more of the scientific, historical, and social background of 1887 London than some of Raybourn’s previous books, and I really liked how she maintained great characters and an engaging plot while staying true to the time period with its social customs and political intrigue.  Fans of Tasha Alexander and Anna Lee Huber will enjoy this new series as it focuses on the excitement of a Victorian England on the cusp of a new age of science and enlightenment.  If you are looking for a story that will make you ponder scientific possibilities while laughing out loud, pour yourself a strong cup of Earl Grey and sit back for a true adventure!

Four on Friday: FAVORITE HISTORICAL MYSTERY SERIES

So . . . to mix things up a little, every Friday I will list four things with a common theme. Hope you enjoy and I would love to hear feedback.

Four FAVORITE HISTORICAL MYSTERY SERIES on Friday
As you might have realized, I love historical mysteries. Set them in England, and I am an even happier girl! Here are four of my favorites.

Sebastian St. Cyr by C.S. Harris
Set in the early 1800’s under the decaying rule of King George III, a brilliant nobleman Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has returned from the Napoleonic Wars disillusioned and reckless. When he is caught in a web of secrets and accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he uses the skills he learned as an agent during the war to clear his name. To his surprise, he realizes that not only is skilled at solving puzzles, he enjoys it. Joined in his adventures by a peg-legged Irish surgeon and a street urchin, he moves effortlessly through all tiers of society.

This series is the only one on my list to feature a primary male protagonist and it might be my favorite. Harris does an amazing job at intertwining the history with a very believable and complex plot. Her secondary characters have a great deal of depth and I look forward to their appearance in each novel. Sebastian’s relationship with his father, the Earl of Hendon, and Charles Jarvis, cousin to the King and the most powerful and ruthless man in English, adds to the tension in each novel; but it is his interaction with the actress Kat Boleyn and Jarvis’ daughter Hero that really defines his character.

As always, start with the first – What Angels Fear. There are ten books so far in the series; the eleventh book, When Falcons Fall has a release date of March 2016.

Lady Darby by Anna Lee Huber
In Scotland in 1830, Lady Kiera Darby is still hiding from society following her husband’s death. A cold and heartless man, Sir Anthony was a renowned surgeon with a fascination for the workings of the human body. Upon his death, a manuscript was discovered with detailed anatomical drawings of human dissections. As his lack of illustration skills were well-known, accusations flew against his wife Kiera, a talented artist. Society didn’t care that Kiera was married to Sir Anthony without her knowledge of his true purpose: to have her illustrate his anatomical book. She hides away at her sister’s estate, finding solace in painting. When a guest is murdered at a house party, Kiera must use her knowledge of human anatomy to aid Inquiry Agent Sebastian Gage. They discover a wary partnership of skills as they solve this, and future mysteries, together.

I love this series – Scotland, brogue, handsome men in kilts – seriously, what’s not to like. I really enjoy the character of Kiera, as she is a very unique heroine. I feel like each book is a step in her coming-of-age; the knowledge she possesses, albeit unwillingly, combined with society’s restrictions on woman provide a unique and clever perspective. Huber does a fabulous job describing both the city of Edinburgh and the untamed countryside of 1830’s Scotland that truly completes the mood and feel of the book. As if I didn’t already want to visit!

First book is The Anatomist’s Wife. There are three more that follow, with the novella A Pressing Engagement set to be released in May 2016, and the fifth book As Death Draws Near set for July 2016.

Lady Emily Ashton by Tasha Alexander
Set in England in the late 1880’s, Lady Emily Ashton discovers her deceased husband’s journals two years after his death. As he left for a safari expedition soon after their wedding and died abroad, Emily feels that she might be able to better understand the man she married but didn’t really know by reading his journals. What she discovers is shocking. First, her husband was a much better man that she ever gave him credit for, and second, it is very possible that his death did not occur naturally. With guarded caution, she works with her husband’s best friend, Colin Hargreaves to seek out answers, which in turn sparks more questions.

I was drawn to this book when I read that the author became an English major as an excuse to read. How wonderful is that! Alexander’s plots are complex, intricate, and very carefully crafted. Lady Emily discovers a fascination with Greek stories and art. I’ve read The Odyssey and The Iliad but these novels present a completely different viewpoint and a fascinating way to look at literature and ancient art. Alexander is also very in tune to the social mores and conventions of the time. I absolutely love Emily’s mother, who pretty much doesn’t approve of anything Emily does. The dry humor makes me think of Lady Bennett on steroids!

And Only to Deceive is followed by eight more novels; The Adventuress will be released in October 2015.

Lady Julia Grey by Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia March Grey is a charismatic, upper class woman in Victorian England; Nicholas Brisbane is a half-Scottish, half-Gypsy inquiry agent. Their two lives intertwine when Julia’s husband Edward Grey dies of an apoplexy. Brisbane suggests that Edward’s death might have something to do with the threatening letters her husband had asked Brisbane to investigate. Julia ignores his suggestions only to discover a year later evidence of more threats. Although the case is cold, Brisbane grudgingly helps to solve the crime, and Julia’s previously ordered and understood world is shattered with new light.

I enjoy these books in the same way I enjoy the Tasha Alexander ones, but these have a little less history and a bit more sass. Julia is a naïve yet optimistic and refreshing character; I cringe at some of her mistakes but I love her feistiness and drive. As the youngest of ten siblings in the March family, her relatives always provide amusement and diversion. Her father, the Earl of March, rules his roost with a kind but firm hand; however the reader is often reminded that the term “mad as a March hare” originated with his ancestors. The stories expose some of the more shocking elements of Victorian society but do so in a way that only compliment that character development.

There are five wonderful books in this series, starting with Silent in the Grave, and four novellas. Unfortunately, Deanna Raybourn switched publishers and there is no plan for any future Lady Julia stories. Raybourn has written a few other smaller series and some stand-along books; she has a new series starting with A Curious Beginning in September 2015 about a Victorian woman with a scientific mind.