A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3) by Deanna Raybourn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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…

Rating: B+

Deanna Raybourn continues her series of late-Victorian historical mysteries featuring the intrepid lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her piratically handsome, enigmatic associate, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane (Stoker) in A Treacherous Curse.  The big draw of this third instalment was the prospect of at last getting to know more about Stoker’s chequered – and sometimes heartbreaking – past and what exactly happened to turn him into a social pariah with the blackest of reputations.  We’re also treated to a mystery concerning  a missing Egyptian artefact and an ancient curse – and the two storylines are inextricably linked by virtue of the fact that one of the parties involved is none other than Stoker’s ex-wife, Caroline.

A Treacherous Curse can easily be read as a standalone, but readers will gain a far greater understanding of the still-evolving, complex relationship between Veronica and Stoker by reading the novels in order.  I’ll also say now that there are likely to be spoilers in this review for the earlier books, so proceed with caution if you have yet to read them.

If you have read the previous books, then you’ll know that Veronica and Stoker have been employed by the Earl of Rosemorran to catalogue his family’s vast collection of art, artefacts, natural history specimens and mementoes with a view to eventually curating a museum, and that they both work and live on site at the Belvedere, a ‘singularly extraordinary structure’  in the grounds of Rosemorran’s Marylebone estate.  Although they have separate apartments, their living arrangements are regarded as being somewhat unorthodox, but then they’re unorthodox individuals, both fiercely independent free-thinkers, estranged from their families and not really caring about the strictures of society.  These commonalities are just two of the things that bind this unusual pair; from almost the beginning of their association, each recognised in the other a kindred spirit, and Ms. Raybourn has done a splendid job of developing their friendship and strengthening their unique bond, a bond that relies on an almost soul-deep connection and a love for each other that goes far beyond the romantic and sexual attraction that continues to crackle between them.

“Whatever this thing is that makes us different, this thing that makes quicksilver of us when the rest of the world is mud, it binds us.  To break that would be to fly in the face of nature.”

(Stoker in A Perilous Undertaking)

Veronica and Stoker are surprised when they are approached by Sir Hugo Montgomerie of Special Branch and asked to look into the disappearance of John de Morgan, the man who had once been Stoker’s closest friend.  De Morgan was engaged as photographer for Sir Leicester Tiverton ‘s most recent expedition to Egypt, but departed unexpectedly and was accompanied back to England by his wife – whose very public divorce from Stoker some years earlier saw Stoker disgraced and vilified.

Sir Hugo explains that the de Morgans stopped for the night in Dover, and in the morning, John de Morgan was discovered to have vanished, along with a priceless diadem from the tomb of Princess Ankheset.  Making things even more intriguing is the fact that not only have man and artefact gone missing, but so has John de Morgan’s hotel room!  Caroline de Morgan states that her husband’s room was blue with rose-print wallpaper – yet no such room exists, and according to the hotel proprietor, Mrs. de Morgan was travelling alone.  Add to this the rumours of a curse affecting members of the dig and the sightings of the figure of Anubis (the Egyptian god of the dead) striding through the streets of London and the stage is set for an entertaining mystery in which our heroes must dispel a curse, fight for their lives, battle vicious rumour and find a murderer. 

With that said, however, the mystery feels a little less intricately plotted than those in the other books, and it does take a bit of a back seat to the unravelling of Stoker’s backstory – although I’m not going to complain about it, given I’ve been eagerly awaiting that very thing.   

Veronica and Stoker know it’s only a matter of time before the press gets hold of the story, and that once they do, they’re going to “hunt you [Stoker] like a pack of feral dogs” and take great delight in dredging up all the old scandal that painted him as the worst sort of villain, a man whose wife was so terrified of his violent nature that she took advantage of the offer of escape made her by his friend,  filed for divorce and then married said friend.  We already know Stoker was wronged, and now, Ms. Raybourn fills in the gaps and reveals the whole truth behind his ill-fated marriage and how his career as one of the foremost explorers and natural scientists of the age came to an ignominious end.  I love the way she reveals Stoker to be a man of sensitivity and vulnerability while at the same time showing him to be possessed of an incredible determination and inner-strength: 

“I have watched you claw your way back to life in the past months, taking an interest in your work, in your future.  You have been the agent of y our own resurrection, and you do not even see it… You are a savage miracle, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, knit together by the hands of Nature herself.” 

The way Veronica so passionately champions Stoker is one of the things I really enjoyed about her in this book.  She’s opinionated, independent, flawed and unconventional (and thankfully, Ms. Raybourn has toned down those ‘look at me, I’m unconventional!’ aspects of Veronica’s character that grated in the last book), but she will fight to the death for what she believes in – and she believes in Stoker.  That’s not so say that things are all one-sided; far from it, as we already know that Stoker would do the same for Veronica (and did, when he took a bullet for her at the end of A Perilous Undertaking).  That unquestioning loyalty is one of the things that makes their friendship so special, but I will admit that I’ve become a little impatient at its lack of development in this novel. On the one hand, the author has done a terrific job of building and showing her readers a strong, deeply affectionate and trusting relationship between two extraordinary people; a pair of social misfits who have been lucky enough to find the one person in the world who truly understands them and sees them for who and what they are.  And that’s wonderful.  BUT…  given the off-the-charts sexual tension that has existed  between the couple from the get-go,  I’ve been expecting their relationship to turn romantic, and so far, it hasn’t.  It’s fairly clear that this is partly because both Stoker and Veronica value what they have so greatly that they are wary of changing it, but this book (like the others) is littered with references to the fact that Veronica has the serious hots for Stoker – she’s forever ogling his gorgeously muscled body and pointing out that he has no idea what a babe magnet he is… and after three books, it’s become just a bit tedious and more than a bit frustrating.  With the truth of Stoker’s past now out in the open, I’d expected a little movement on the romantic side of their relationship and although it seems that both of them are, at different points, on the verge of an important revelation, it wasn’t enough to satisfy my shippy little heart. 

YMMV, of course; the mystery is fun, the dialogue is sharp and witty, and the secondary characters – of whom my favourite is undoubtedly Lady Wellie, the doyenne of society who knows everyone and everything there is to know – are expertly crafted.  A Treacherous Curse earns a strong recommendation in spite of my quibbles, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for a bit more romance in the next instalment. 

Advertisements

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn

a-perilous-undertaking

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution, who stands accused of the brutal murder of his mistress Artemisia. 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.

Rating: B+

A Perilous Undertaking is the second book in Deanna Raybourn’s series of Victorian mysteries featuring the intrepid Veronica Speedwell, lepidopterist and lady adventurer and her friend and colleague Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, known as Stoker – the scion of a noble family from whom he ran away to join the Navy and who has since made himself a name as a natural historian.

Both characters were very well introduced in the previous book, A Curious Beginning, so while this one can be read as a standalone in terms of the mystery, readers will get a lot more out of the books if read in order, as the mystery, while entertaining, is, to my mind, secondary to the continuing development of the unconventional relationship between Veronica and Stoker. Added to this is the gradual drip-feeding of information about Stoker’s past – a past that has obviously been full of heartbreak and betrayal – which is both masterful and incredibly frustrating, as Ms. Raybourn teases us with hints without revealing all – although she does build on what we learned about him in the last book.

The same is true of Veronica. She does have her secrets, but seems generally much more straightforward. She’s intelligent, outspoken and adventurous; she has travelled widely on her lepidoptery expeditions, she’s – discreetly – taken lovers (albeit never in England and never Englishmen abroad), and at the end of the last book, was revealed to be the natural daughter of Edward, Prince of Wales. She is still coming to terms with that knowledge; she knows she will never be acknowledged, and nor does she want to be – and she is still furious at the fact that she was offered hush money (which she rejected) in exchange for never revealing the truth of her birth.

So when, at the beginning of this story she is summoned to meet with a mysterious woman who turns out to be her aunt Louise, Veronica is not best pleased. The woman is imperious, brusque and condescending, but she informs Veronica that without her help, an innocent man will shortly go to the gallows for murder. Miles Ramforth is a friend of the princess’ and he will hang for the murder of his pregnant mistress in a week’s time – but Louise knows for certain that he is not guilty and wants Veronica to prove it. Louise makes it clear that she will not reveal the reason that she is certain Miles did not commit the crime – and I admit that I rather wanted Veronica to tell Louise where to stick it, because she was obviously withholding crucial information.

Anyway. Miles and his lover were part of a well-known ‘commune’ of bohemians and artists who gather under the auspices of the famous painter, Sir Frederick Havelock at Havelock House in London (which the author based on the home of the renowned artist Sir Frederick Leighton), so it’s there that Veronica and Stoker begin their investigations. There’s absolutely no doubt that Ms. Raybourn knows how to write a rollicking mystery story which keeps twisting and turning right up until the last moment, but it’s the relationship between Veronica and Stoker – and Stoker himself, such an adorable mixture of brooding, sexy and sweet – that are the big draws for me.

The author has cleverly engaged in a bit of role reversal, with Veronica usually being the one to make a risqué comment or engage in a bit of flirtation while Stoker is the one to blush or change the subject. Veronica makes absolutely no bones about her interest in men and sex – and there is quite a lot of talk about carnal matters in the book – and it’s very clear that although she’s definitely interested in getting Stoker into bed, her “no Englishmen” rule keeps her from extending that particular invitation. Plus, there’s also the fact that neither of them has ever experienced the sort of relationship they are building between them, and neither of them wants to risk it. Ms. Raybourn does an excellent job in conveying the truth and depth of their friendship; there’s the real sense that these are two people who understand each other at an instinctual level:

“Whatever this thing is that makes us different, this thing that makes quicksilver of us when the rest of the world is mud, it binds us. To break that would be to fly in the face of nature.”

In spite of that, however, the sexual tension between them is intense and if and when they do get it together romantically, I can see them continuing just as they are in every other aspect of their lives. They are strong, fiercely intelligent characters who aren’t afraid to challenge each other and don’t give a fig for what anyone else thinks of them; they trust each other absolutely and depend on each other without being dependent on one another, if that makes any sense. They know the other is there for them; they don’t need each other precisely, but they both recognise that their life is richer and more complete now they’ve found each other.

Those are all the really good things about the book. But there are a few things that bugged me enough to make me lower my final grade a bit. In my review of A Curious Beginning, I said of Veronica:

there were times I felt she was bordering on caricature and her unconventionality began to seem like artifice. I got that she was an unusual young woman quite early on and didn’t need to be reminded of it quite so often

And I’d say the same thing here. Almost every character has something to say about Veronica which – even when it’s intended to be insulting – is meant to show how thoroughly Unconventional and Not Proper she is. And if it’s not someone else, then it’s Veronica herself extolling her eccentricity and achievements, which strays dangerously close to Mary Sue territory. The thing is, this is the second book in a series, and while I know that authors who write series also have to try to write each book so that a newbie can jump in, those of us who have read the first book are already well aware of Veronica’s idiosyncrasies and the way she enjoys flouting the conventions of society – so we don’t need to be hit over the head with it quite so frequently.

I also feel that while we get to know a little more about Stoker’s past – we meet all his brothers (there are three of them) in this book – Veronica is pretty much as she was in the first book and her character has developed little. Right at the end of A Perilous Undertaking, she reveals something to Stoker that she is not ready to discuss, so there is potential for growth in the next story (I hope); but ultimately, I’d have liked a little more character development and introspection instead the continual reminders as to how wonderful and unusual Veronica is.

But the things I liked definitely outweighed the things I didn’t, and this is still a book I’d recommend to fans of the author and historical mysteries in general. It’s very well written, the dialogue and snarky banter between Veronica and Stoker in particular is excellent and the mystery element is nicely plotted and executed. While it didn’t work quite as well for me as the previous book, it’s an enjoyable read and I’m already eagerly anticipating the next in the series.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn (audiobook) – Narrated by Angèle Masters

A Curious Beginning audio
This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry – and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker – a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

As someone who enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series of mysteries set in Victorian England, I admit to raising an eyebrow when I learned the author was writing a new … series of mysteries set in Victorian England. But when I read A Curious Beginning last summer, I was immediately impressed by how different the tone is from the previous series and how Ms Raybourn so very quickly pulled me in to this new story and characters, thus quickly dispelling any concerns I had regarding her ability to do something different in a similar setting.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

add-to-goodreads-button

A Very Belated Best Of 2015

read all dayAlmost six weeks into 2016, and I haven’t been able to get around to writing up a post about my favourite reads and listens of 2015. I’ve written one each for All About Romance, Romantic Historical Reviews and AudioGals (running soon), and of course for each one, I could have chosen different titles or more titles… I had a good year last year when it came to books and audiobooks which made choosing the ones I enjoyed the most a difficult task.

I’m only including those books for which reviews appeared in 2015, as in most cases, I don’t put them here until they’ve appeared at the outlet for which they were initially written. This means that some of the books and audiobooks are ones I might have read or listened to at the end of 2014; similarly, there are a few missing from the end of 2015 for which reviews didn’t appear until 2016. Confusing perhaps, but if I had to go and check the date I’d actually finished each title it would have made the job of compiling this post an even longer one and given me another reason to put it off!

From my Goodreads stats:

Of the 231 books I read and/or listened to I gave 57 of them 5 stars; 97 of them 4 stars; 52 of them 3 stars; and 16 of them 1 or 2 stars.

As Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars and I know that a large number of my 5 star ratings are actually 4.5 stars, here’s how I work them out. At AAR, we use a letter grading system; B+/B/B- and so on, so for me, an A is automatically a 5 star book (I’ve only given one A+ so far). A- and B+ equate to 4.5 stars, but I round an A- up to five and a B+ down to 4. B- and C+ equate to 3.5 stars, but I round a B- up to 4 and a C+ down to 3 and so on.

Top Books:

– ones I’ve given 5 stars or 4.5 stars and rounded up (A+/A/A-)

Honourable Mentions:

– a few of the B+ books I enjoyed

Of Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives
In Bed With a Spy by Alyssa Alexander
The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye
The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath
The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily May
The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett
The Chaperone’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye
A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson
Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Daniel’s True Desire by Grace Burrowes
The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behaviour by Jennifer McQuiston
Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

Top Audiobooks:

– ones that have received 4.5/5 stars or an A/A- for narration AND at least 4 stars/B for content.  This will naturally exclude a few titles where an excellent narration hasn’t been matched by a story that was equally good, OR where a really good story hasn’t been paired with a narrator who could do it justice.

I’ve also (finally!) got around to updating my 2015 TBR Challenge post with the list of books I chose to read last year. I completed the Mount TBR Challenge at Goodreads, too, knocking 32 or 33 books off my pre-2015 TBR pile.


(There are some overlaps with the TBR Challenge, and as I’ve been compiling this post, I’ve realised I missed a few out!) But I’m back into both challenges again this year and shall attempt to update my progress more regularly than I managed in 2015.

To sum up, almost half the books I read and/or listened to last year got at least 4 stars, which I think is a pretty good strike rate considering the numbers of books put out (and the amount of dross that’s out there to wade through).  2016 is also off to a good start, so keep watching these pages (or find me at my other haunts!) to find out what’s making me happy 🙂

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn (audiobook) – Narrated by Anna Parker-Naples

night of a thousand stars audio

On the verge of a stilted life as an aristocrat’s wife, Poppy Hammond does the only sensible thing – she flees the chapel in her wedding gown. Assisted by the handsome curate who calls himself Sebastian Cantrip, she spirits away to her estranged father’s quiet country village, pursued by the family she left in uproar. But when the dust of her broken engagement settles and Sebastian disappears under mysterious circumstances, Poppy discovers there is more to her hero than it seems.

With only her feisty lady’s maid for company, Poppy secures employment and travels incognita – east across the seas, chasing a hunch and the whisper of clues. Danger abounds beneath the canopies of the silken city, and Poppy finds herself in the perilous sights of those who will stop at nothing to recover a fabled ancient treasure. Torn between allegiance to her kindly employer and a dashing, shadowy figure, Poppy will risk it all as she attempts to unravel a much larger plan – one that stretches to the very heart of the British government and one that could endanger everything and everyone she holds dear.

Rating: C- for narration; A- for content

I read and loved this book last year, so I was delighted to see that it had recently been made available in audio and eagerly snapped it up, even though the narrator is not someone I have listened to before. Night of a Thousand Stars is one of Deanna Raybourn’s set of three loosely connected novels set in the 1920s, and in fact links back to her Lady Julia books in that the heroine is the daughter of Julia’s youngest brother, “Plum” – a fact revealed early in the story and which may have caused just the slightest squee from yours truly upon reading.

As an audiobook, however, Night of a Thousand Stars is a very different prospect, and I struggled to finish it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

add-to-goodreads-button

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

A curious beginning

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

Rating: A

I admit it. When I saw that Deanna Raybourn was going to be writing another series of mysteries set in the Victorian era featuring an independently-minded female protagonist, my initial thought was – “how are these books going to be different to the Lady Julia ones?” But I enjoyed both those and the author’s recent forays into the 1920s, so I was eager to read A Curious Beginning regardless – and Ms Raybourn, if you ever read this review, I humbly beg your forgiveness for the crumb of doubt I entertained, because it’s a terrific book and one that I raced through and couldn’t put down.

For sure, there are echoes of the author’s previous work in her two principals – Veronica Speedwell is forthright, pragmatic and resourceful, and Stoker is darkly and piratically handsome with a murky past – but the resemblances to Julia and Brisbane end there; and not once after my initial comparison did I ever think of either of them when reading. Ms Raybourn also pulls a nice piece of gender/role-reversal by making Veronica the more hard-headed and down-to-earth of the two while Stoker, beneath his gruff exterior, is more emotional and a bit of a romantic on the quiet.

Veronica Speedwell is an orphan who was brought up by two ladies she calls aunts, but who are not actually related to her. They have always moved around a lot, which while not something she enjoyed at the time, Veronica can in retrospect see has allowed her to develop independence and self-reliance. As she grew older Veronica became more and more frustrated with the strictures placed upon a young woman’s freedom, and took up butterfly hunting as a means of escaping into the countryside while still doing something ostensibly ladylike. But her diversion very quickly became a passion, and at eighteen, Veronica forged out on her own, travelling to Switzerland in order to find specimens not found in Britain. Since then, she has travelled frequently, and to very exotic parts of the world in order to indulge her passion for lepidoptery – and also, on occasion, has indulged in discreet affairs with the men who take her fancy.

Her most recent expedition to Costa Rica had to be cut short because she was summoned home to the deathbed of her Aunt Nell (her Aunt Lucy having died some years before). Not long after her arrival, her aunt dies and the book opens just as the funeral ends. Heading home to her cottage for the last time, Veronica is startled to find that it has been ransacked.  Not only that, the intruder is still in the house, and – rather unwisely she later realises – she goes after him intent on apprehending him. Unfortunately, however, she fails to do so, and instead finds herself being dragged away to a waiting carriage – when another man interrupts the abduction attempt and dispenses with Veronica’s would-be kidnapper. The gentleman, a distinguished, older man, introduces himself as Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach and, insisting that Veronica’s life is in danger, insists she accompany him to London in his carriage.

Believing him to be suffering from a melodramatic delusion, but liking him nonetheless, Veronica agrees to go with him, secure in the knowledge that she has in her possession a number of weapons that she can bring out should the need arise. The baron continues to insist that her situation is perilous and hints that it is linked to the identities of her parents, whom Veronica never knew. The baron can tell her little, as it is not his secret to tell, but promises that he will reveal all as soon as he is permitted to do so. In the meantime, he is taking her to a place of safety, to the care of the man he trusts above all others.

Veronica’s first glimpse of Stoker is of his muscled, tattooed back, gleaming with sweat as he struggles with some sort of animal skeleton. She quickly realises that he, like her, is a scientist and student of natural history, and they just as quickly fall to needling each other, especially when Veronica insists that some of his specimens are incorrectly labelled and poorly cared for. Stoker is, quite simply, mean, moody and magnificent – both in Veronica’s and this reader’s opinion (!) and because he owes Max a debt of honour, he agrees to take Veronica in until such time as arrangements can be made for her safety.

An uneasy kind of mutual respect develops between the couple to the extent that Stoker allows Veronica to assist him with his current project – but when, just a day or so later, the pair sees the news of the Baron’s murder in the paper, Stoker very quickly hustles them out of London. Veronica might not believe herself to be in danger, but Max certainly did, and if he did, then so does Stoker. Added to this is the fact that Stoker knows his association with Max, and certain events from his past serve to make him a likely suspect, and the stage is set for a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable adventure story which sees Veronica and Stoker facing peril, getting each other out of scrapes and eventually laying the foundations for a deep and lasting trust between them.

Although I’ve indicated the sensuality level for this story at N/A – there’s no need to be disappointed, because even though Veronica and Stoker don’t so much as exchange a kiss in this book, the sexual tension between them is so thick that it could be cut with a knife. Their quickfire verbal exchanges are full of wit and humour, and the relationship that develops between them beneath the surface sparring has some deeply heartfelt moments, such as when Veronica realises that they are alike in many ways, and how much she will miss him when their adventure is over. Ms Raybourn has very cleverly created an air of mystery around Stoker, revealing some things about his past in this book, and leaving others which we – and Veronica – are left desperately wanting to know, for future stories.

However, Stoker isn’t the only one with secrets in his past which could work against him; the difference is that he knows what his are, while Veronica has no idea why there are people out there trying to do away with her. The story that emerges about her origins is wonderfully audacious (although, given the personage involved, quite feasible, I suppose!) and the rest of that particular storyline is very well thought-out and the background well-researched.

Veronica is a terrific heroine – outspoken, practical and unsentimental – but there were times I felt she was bordering on caricature and her unconventionality began to seem like artifice. I got that she was an unusual young woman quite early on and didn’t need to be reminded of it quite so often, but that’s a minor criticism, because A Curious Beginning is a cracking read and one I’m recommending wholeheartedly.

A 2014 Retrospective

I was going to write a “favourite books of 2014” or “best books of 2014” post or something of that nature, but then realised that I’ve written and contributed to a number of those, so I’m doing something different here.

cat_asleep_on_bookSo instead, I’m stealing an idea from the lovely Wendy the Super Librarian and have been looking through my Goodreads Stats to see how my ratings panned out across the year. Because I review a large number of new and current releases, the majority of the books I read in 2014 were published in 2014, but I managed to squeeze in a few others. And because Goodreads counts print/ebooks and audiobooks of the same title as two different books, while my total for the year was 231, it’s probably closer to 180 different books.

Looking through my stats (and if I’ve counted correctly!) the majority of my reading and listening fell within the 4/5 star bracket, which is pretty good going.

I gave 34 books and 19 audiobooks 5 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded up) A/A-
I gave 63 books and 32 audiobooks 4 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded down) B+/B
I gave 43 books and 15 audiobooks 3 stars (some will have been 3.5 stars rounded down) B-/C+/C
I gave 14 books and 2 audiobooks 2 stars C-/D+/D
I gave 3 books and two audiobooks 1 star (one of the books was a DNF, as was one of the audiobooks, because the narration was utterly dire.)

Putting together the list of books to which I gave a 5 star/A rating, it’s interesting to see that I’ve rated as many audio books at that level as I have printed books. Obviously, when rating an audiobook, I take the narration into account too – and if you look closely, you’ll see there are three names that crop up repeatedly as the narrators on those audiobooks; Nicholas Boulton, Rosalyn Landor and Kate Reading, who are, quite simply, three of the best narrators around when it comes to historical romance. In many cases, these are audiobooks where I may have rated the story at a A- or B+, but the narration is so good that the overall rating is bumped up. Of course, even the best narrator can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so even in those audios where the story isn’t quite at the five star level, it’s not going to be a dud!

The reviews are linked to the titles below the images.

5 star books:

 


Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
Douglas: Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes
The Captive and The Traitor by Grace Burrowes
Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler
Vixen in Velvet by Loretta Chase
At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran
Mr (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart
Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
The King’s Falcon by Stella Riley
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain
Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart
The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

5 star Audiobooks:


The Escape by Mary Balogh & Rosalyn Landor
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Lord of Scoundrels Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare & Carolyn Morris
Arabella by Georgette Heyer & Phyllida Nash
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer & Georgina Sutton
The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer & Daniel Philpott
Venetia by Georgette Heyer & Phillida Nash
The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain & Michelle Ford
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James & Mary Jane Wells
His at Night by Sherry Thomas & Kate Reading<
The Mask of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig & Kate Reading

Honourable Mentions:

– go to books and audios I’ve rated at 4.5 stars/A-/B+, but which I’ve rounded up to five because while there might have been something that niggled at me, it was a damn good book and felt closer to 5 stars than 4. Or just a book that, despite a few flaws, I really enjoyed.


The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen
The Laird by Grace Burrowes
The MacGregor’s Lady by Grace Burrowes & Roger Hampton
Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Firelight by Kristen Callihan & Moira Quirk
When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath
The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber
Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
Strangers at the Altar by Marguerite Kaye
Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden
Till We Next Meet by Karen Ranney
Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn
The Devil’s Waltz by Anne Stuart
The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

I think it’s fair to say I had a pretty good year, reading-wise, with a high proportion of books I’d describe as good or better, and not too many “meh” or dire ones. (Although where would we be without the odd turkey to snark about?)

The first crop of 2015 releases looks promising; I’m taking part in a few challenges next year as well, which I’ll post about soon so I can keep track and I’m looking forward to my next year of reading, listening and reviewing.

How did you do last year?