Saturday, February 15, 2014

An adventure in the great Syrian Desert of the 1920's

Deanna Raybourn
Harlequin MIRA
February 25, 2014

Deanna Raybourn's newest book, City of Jasmine, set in the wide open 1920's, takes us on a quest from Damascus into the Badiyat ash-Sham or the great Syrian desert. Evangeline Starke has gained fame but little fortune as a celebrity aviatrix.  Accompanied by her eccentric and adventuresome Aunt Dove, she is embarking upon a flight across the seven seas of antiquity. Just before embarking from Rome she receives a photograph of her husband, Gabriel Starke, marked "Damascus, 1920". However, Gabriel supposedly was lost in the Lusitania disaster of 1915. The two parted company in China after a whirlwind courtship and brief marriage and Evie headed back to England to sue for divorce. The divorce was not finalized before his reported death and Evie has never been quite sure that Gabriel really is dead. The photograph sends her to Damascus to find out what she can about Gabriel.

Evie's search for Gabriel leads her to an archaeological dig in the desert run by a staff that is not what it seems, encounters with bedouin and bandits, some highly questionable Hungarian aristocracy and the quest for an ancient antiquity. The hardships and dangers are very real and life threatening. I really admire Deanna Raybourn's ability to bring the sights and smells of other times and places to life and this may be her best book yet. The characters are vivid and memorable. She has even cleverly woven in characters from other books into the plot. Who would expect to meet one of the "Mad Marches" in the 1920's? There is a prequel, "Whisper of Jasmine", available in ebook and on kindle that covers Evie and Gabriel's first meeting and marriage. Evie has come quite a long way since their meeting at the beginning of WWI!

Now for the not so good- the cover. The cover of City of Jasmine is in no way representative of the book's contents. Raybourn's books have been blessed with some gorgeous covers, but this one misses the mark. Evie was not wearing lace and pearls in the desert. Neither was she sharing playful glances with Gabriel as they picnicked! It's a small thing to some, I suppose, but it bugged me. Not the author's fault I'm sure, as I don't think authors have much, or sometimes any, input into covers.

I highly recommend City of Jasmine to anyone who enjoys adventure, historical fiction and romance.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Midnight Side is a Welcome Surprise

Natasha Mostert
Portable Magic Books
December 2013

Isabelle "Isa" de Witt is awakened early one morning in her Durban, South Africa apartment by a call from her cousin, Alette, who is now living in London. Isabelle is not surprised as the two girls grew up together on a homestead in the Transvaal and were always very close. Imagine what she feels when she learns that her cousin was already dead, killed in an accident, at the time of the call. Isabelle is already in a very fragile state, grieving for the loss of her married lover of thirteen years. She is Alette's only heir. Alette requested that she come to London for at least a month to claim the legacy. When Isabelle arrives in London and meets with Alette's attorney she finds that Alette has a task for her to accomplish, one all about revenge, obsession and murder.

The Midnight Side is a complex psychological thriller with elements of lucid dreaming, African folklore and the possibility of a vengeful woman manipulating events from the grave. It is the kind of book that I kept wanting to flip to the end in order to find out if my suppositions were correct. Instead, I just stayed up late reading. Natasha Mostert writes wonderfully descriptive prose that evokes both South Africa and wintertime London. Filled with mystery, suspense and characters one does not necessarily like, but are completely credible in their obsessions The Midnight Side is a great read. I had not heard of Natasha Mostert, but this debut novel that has evidently been updated and re-issued will not be my last from this gifted writer.

Thanks to and Portable Magic for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Welcome Reversal in the Charles Lenox Victorian Mysteries

AN OLD BETRAYAL (Charles Lenox Mysteries #7)
Charles Finch
November 2012
Minotaur Books

It's a Spring morning in 1875 London and Charles Lenox is on an errand for his friend, Dallington, Charles' apprentice in the detection business, who has opened his own successful agency. However, Dallington is ill and asks Lenox to meet with a prospective client in a railway cafe. This prospective client has sent a very cryptic note and Charles does not know whether the client is a male or a female. His lack of knowledge leads to his missing the client,  to  the death of a reclusive country squire and a chase across London from the slums to the highest reaches of imperial power. In the course of the investigation Charles uncovers a plot generations in the making.

The Charles Lenox Mysteries have been a favorite of mine since the first in the series, A Beautiful Blue Death. Lenox is a very attractive character;a real Victorian gentleman with a social conscience and now a doting papa to his new daughter, Sophie. His social conscience has led him away from detection into Parliament. But he is finding Parliament very demanding of his time with his family and not as satisfying as he thought it might be. So the chance to jump into an intriguing and important investigation is just what he has been looking for, even though he did not realize it. I am glad to see Charles so fully engaged in an investigation again.

Charles Finch obviously does extensive research into the era and gets into the "nuts and bolts" of Victorian society and government. These factual gems are seamlessly woven into the narrative, not just dumped. I enjoyed An Old Betrayal greatly and look forward to the next in the series.

RATING- 4 Stars