We’ve got a sweepstakes!

My fabulous publisher is offering a chance to win a Veronica Speedwell library! That’s both Veronica books and an advance copy of A TREACHEROUS CURSE–10 runners up will receive advance copies of TREACHEROUS. Check it out and good luck!

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Have I got recs for YOU!

So ordinarily I save book recs for the newsletter, but I can’t stop myself. Last week I read one that was just SO IMPOSSIBLY GOOD, I had to share. Mackenzi Lee’s THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE is unspeakably delicious. I’ve seen it termed a YA historical, but if you’re not a usual YA reader or into historicals, don’t let either of those put you off from this book. It is complex but thoroughly accessible and rollicking good fun. I haven’t enjoyed a novel this much in years! (You might know Mackenzi from her stupendously fabulous #bygonebadassbroads hashtag on Twitter. If you haven’t checked out those threads, DO. Mackenzi tweets out the facts on women who were making the history you weren’t taught in school. There’s a book based upon the tweets coming next year and I cannot WAIT.)

Have I sold you on this book yet? Hope so! And if you are a writer, it’s doubly wonderful because I have never seen such a skillful job of handling characters who are gay, of color, or struggling with issues like feminism or disability in a historical setting. (And if you think that there weren’t gay people or people of color or feminists or disabled people in 18th-century Europe, then you NEED this book because I guarantee you there were all of those and more.) So, go and read and I’m not even going to say that I hope you love this book as much as I did because I’m convinced you will.

Now, for fans of Elizabeth Peters, THE PAINTED QUEEN just pubbed–the last Amelia Peabody adventure following Peters’ death. This one was technically written by Joan Hess from extensive notes and outlines left by Peters. (That’s my understanding, but I can’t swear to it…) I haven’t read RIVER IN THE SKY because that was the last book Peters wrote and I didn’t want the series to end. But with THE PAINTED QUEEN making her debut, I think it’s time to read to the end and bid a fond farewell to Amelia, Emerson, Ramses, and the gang who have provided me with so much pleasure during the last few decades.

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Ever wonder about the Templeton-Vane boys?

Well, reader Jenny did and she asked about them on Goodreads. Specifically, she wanted to know how they got their names. Here’s the link to read all about it. I explained the STAR TREK easter egg in one name but forgot to mention another homage: Merryweather is actually named for one of SLEEPING BEAUTY’s fairies!

Last post I shared a few of my favorite things right now, and I forgot my newest nail find: Essie’s TLC–Treat Love & Color. I grabbed a bottle from my local drugstore for about $10 and it’s been the perfect summer nail solution. It strengthens and brightens with barely-there color, and best of all it doesn’t chip! I add a fresh coat every few days and remove it to start clean after about two weeks. I always wear red on my toenails and red or silvery pearl on my fingernails so it’s nice to just give everything a break for a few months and go with a more natural look. I’m using the blush version which goes from undetectable to very slightly rosier than usual depending on how many coats I have on. This stuff is SUBTLE. But that’s just what I’m looking for during the summer when sun and chlorine and the great outdoors do their worst.

Reminder that the monthly newsletters go out on the 5th which means it’s almost time for the August edition–and there will be announcements! If you haven’t already signed up, be sure to drop your info in the handy form just to your right——->

(And, as ever, I do not share your information and emails only go out monthly.)

 

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Let’s have a dose of frivolous, shall we?

Yes, let’s. I haven’t raved about things I like in quite a long while, so let’s share a few products I’ve found recently that are aces.

*John Masters Organics Sea Salt Spray with Lavender. Okay, here’s a bit of truthful truthiness for you: my midlife hormones have decided to go frolicking in my follicles with the result that my formerly stick-straight hair has turned curly. Yep. THAT’S been quite an education. I now have to scrunch things and use dry shampoo. I have also found that curl sprays are fine, but BEACH sprays are the bomb-diggity. Unfortunately, most of them smell like you’ve just upended a 7th-grader’s spring break beach bag over your head. They’re full of faux coconut (“fauxconut”?) scents, which I can handle but only in small doses and never if I’m going to be near other actual humans. Enter this magic potion which smells like a SPA. It’s salty as seawater–I know this because I accidentally got it in my mouth–and it is divinely effective. It makes the curls bounce up but doesn’t make them gummy or sticky or any other candy-adjacent adjective. I buy mine at Ulta, and I even found a small spray bottle of it which is perfect for travel.

*L’Oreal Voluminous Superstar Mascara. You guys, this stuff is MY JAM. For years I used Lancome’s Cils Booster–a white mascara primer that did amazing things to my lashes. Now, L’Oreal, Lancome’s drugstore sister, has made what I swear is exactly the same product available in a duo with their Voluminous mascara. I could not be happier about this. I buy it in brown/black because the darker versions are straight up Goth black, but whichever you choose, you’ll love the convenience of having the two products at hand. It’s superb for travel.

*Revlon Kiss Balm. Revlon’s new answer to Maybelline’s Baby Lips, this comes in a delectably retro strawberry that throws me right back into the summer BEAUTY AND THE BEAT was charting and I was spending all my money on Sea Breeze and Sun In. Tinted balm is the perfect answer when you’re looking for a little color and a lot of hydration, so–I know I sound like a broken record here–it’s great for travel!

*Breathe Magazine (UK). My pal Stephanie dangled this in front of me, and I was hooked! I’m a sucker for a good bookazine, and this one is tranquil and mindful and all those other soothing words we’re trying to shoehorn into our lives. Like most imported bookazines, it’s not cheap, but for restful reading while you’re lying on a sun lounger it can’t be beat. I found my copy at Barnes & Noble, and you can also follow on Instagram.

 

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I have done the unthinkable

Do you watch the house hunting shows on HGTV? I like the international version because who among us hasn’t imagined purchasing a pied-a-terre next to an Amsterdam canal or making over a ruined convent in the Savoy? I’m always fascinated by the Americans who insist on all the features they’ve decided are absolutely necessary because they’ve always lived with them–his and hers sinks (gross), enormous refrigerators (but why?), granite countertops (don’t get me started), and dishwashers.

We have been married for 26 years, and I’m convinced we’ve been happy because we don’t share a bathroom. I mean, we use the same bathroom, just not at the same time. We never have to watch each other shave or pluck or floss things, and this is very good. A little mystery never hurt any relationship. We’ve never had dual sinks, and if we bought a house with them, I’d be ripping them out before the ink was dry on the deed of sale. As far as refrigerators go, I’m shopping for something just about 4.5 cubic feet. I loathe those hulking monstrosities in the kitchen, taking up huge amounts of space and gobbling up electricity. Lots of things that people store in there don’t actually need refrigeration: tomatoes, apples, lemons. I’ve slowly been streamlining our fridge so that we’re not using all of it. It’s a test to see how much space we REALLY need, and it’s much less than you might think.

We don’t actually have countertops–just two work surfaces from a restaurant supply and those are both stainless. Impervious to heat, tough, and easy to clean. Granite might be pretty, but I’ve never understood why there is an absolute CULT around it. (And let’s be honest: while some is attractive, some of it is also violently ugly.)

But the one feature people seem most smitten with that I have never understood is the dishwasher. I LOATHE unloading it. You have to clean the dishes to a certain standard or the dishwasher doesn’t work. It’s noisy. It can leak. Whatever you want is guaranteed to be sitting in there, dirty, mocking you, so you have to wash it by hand anyway.

Mercifully, ours broke last month, and I pointed out to husband that having it repaired would be more expensive than buying a new one. And I don’t want a new one. Our fledgling has flown the nest, so it’s just the two of us which means few dirty dishes–this also means that when we did load the dishwasher, the dishes sat. For days. Ick. I also reminded him that the last time we were in London, we rented an apartment, and it was BLISS. We washed up the few dishes after each meal and the kitchen was always tidy. It took about thirty seconds to soap them up and rinse them off–FAR less than rinsing, stacking, running the machine, and unloading. So he agreed and we pulled the dishwasher out.

An honest person would point out that this was actually done by my parents while husband and I were on vacation, so consider this a disclaimer. The dishwasher was pulled out, the water line capped. We replaced it with a small freestanding cupboard with a stainless top that holds the dish drainer, electric kettle, and toaster. Everything is compact and hugely efficient. I’ve been washing dishes as I go throughout the day, and each batch takes about half a minute. After dinner, husband and I wash them together which takes maybe five minutes and gives us a chance to work together. What amazes me is how much simpler and easier everything is WITHOUT the big appliance that was supposed to save me so much time and work. The kitchen is always neat, and the sink is always empty. I bought a tangerine-scented dish soap that smells good enough to eat, and I’ve picked up some glittery sponges and a pair of hot pink rubber glove with fancy floral cuffs just to make it more enjoyable.

In addition to being quick and tidy, this new set-up is also conducive to daydreaming–a splendid thing for a novelist. Wasn’t it Agatha Christie who said she used to go off and do the dishes if she hit a wall when she was writing? The solution invariably revealed itself when she had her hands in the hot water and bubbles. In all, this has been an excellent reminder to me that simpler is so often BETTER. Now I’m looking darkly at the dryer…

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Hidey ho!

Goodness me, it’s almost the very end of June, and I can’t imagine how that happened. There has been a LOT going on at Casa Raybourn, y’all. In May, our daughter graduated from college and that kicked off about six weeks of coincidental chaos–coincidental because it had nothing to do with her graduation but the timing was demanding. We have traveled (Howdy, Austin!), been inundated with contractors (Still here! I can hear the excavator in the driveway as I write), and gotten a book deal. Yes, it’s official–two more Veronica books are on the way! That’s yummy Veronica goodness baked up fresh for you at least through 2020. Oh, and the entertainment option for the Lady Julia TV series was also renewed, so that means the project is still in development. LOTS of good things happening!

And lots of good things happening to other as well, my dears, because TOMORROW is the release of MURDER ON BLACK SWAN LANE by Andrea Penrose! I was lucky enough to read an ARC of this one, and all I can say is GO. Go now and pre-order it for delivery tomorrow or make a note in your calendar to pick it up because you will THANK ME. And then go write to Andrea and tell her how much you want her to write faster because she’s probably tired of hearing it from me…

Here’s a taste of the treat you have in store:

In Regency London, an unconventional scientist and a fearless female artist form an unlikely alliance to expose unspeakable evil . . .

The Earl of Wrexford possesses a brilliant scientific mind, but boredom and pride lead him to reckless behavior. He does not suffer fools gladly. So when pompous, pious Reverend Josiah Holworthy publicly condemns him for debauchery, Wrexford unsheathes his rapier-sharp wit and strikes back. As their war of words escalates, London’s most popular satirical cartoonist, A.J. Quill, skewers them both. But then the clergyman is found slain in a church—his face burned by chemicals, his throat slashed ear to ear—and Wrexford finds himself the chief suspect.

An artist in her own right, Charlotte Sloane has secretly slipped into the persona of her late husband, using his nom de plume A.J. Quill. When Wrexford discovers her true identity, she fears it will be her undoing. But he has a proposal—use her sources to unveil the clergyman’s clandestine involvement in questionable scientific practices, and unmask the real murderer. Soon Lord Wrexford and the mysterious Mrs. Sloane plunge into a dangerous shadow world hidden among London’s intellectual enclaves to trap a cunning adversary—before they fall victim to the next experiment in villainy . . .

“Thoroughly enjoyable . . . with sharp, engaging characters, rich period detail, and a compellingly twisty plot, Andrea Penrose delivers a winner . . . fans of C.S. Harris and Kate Ross will be rooting for Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford. Devilishly good fun!” —Deanna Raybourn

“Fans of C.S. Harris take note! In this new, Regency-set mystery series, the artist Charlotte Sloane and the scientist Earl of Wrexford are the perfect mismatched pair of sleuths. A riveting ride through Regency London, from the slums of St. Giles, to the mansions of Mayfair.” —Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author

“A wonderfully engaging Regency mystery, with a most determined heroine and an engaging pair of street urchins at her side. Historical chemistry meets alchemy, and only a nonchalant nobleman can help solve the murder. A delight of a book.” —Joanna Bourne, award-winning author

TOLD YOU!

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Veronica #3 is FANCY!

Hey, chickens! I’ve been traveling and working–I’ll fill y’all in with the next post!–but I had to share the final version of the cover for Veronica #3, A TREACHEROUS CURSE. It’s GOLD, you guys! If you look closely, you can see some delightful hints as to the action…heaps of thanks to the art department at Berkley for such a gorgeous image for Veronica. Hope y’all love it as much as I do!

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Don’t do as I do

So this post came about because of a tiny home improvement project.

Please ignore the gloomy lighting–it’s overcast here today and I was snapping quickly. (And getting in the way of the lighting source. Oops.) Anyway, those are my closet doors. If you’ll notice, the right door has no hole bored into it to mount a proper doorknob. On the left door, there was just a hole–a big round hole you could have tossed a golf ball through. It made no sense. At some point the previous owners clearly intended to mount doorknobs but never got around to it and we bought the house hole included.

And we left it that way for 13 years. HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT? It was one of those projects that seemed too small to worry about when we had other things to accomplish when moving in–building two staircases, installing a kitchen. So I had a closet door with a hole in it. I would open the door by sticking my fingers through and tugging. Again, RIDICULOUS. It wasn’t pretty; it wasn’t functional. But it always seemed like such a hassle to fix. We would have to agree on a doorknob set, do some drilling, mount them evenly–not easy in a house that’s pushing 80 years old. It all just seemed like so much EFFORT for something so small.

And then a few months ago, I got tired of looking at the stupid hole and went onto Etsy. I did a search for door pulls, found the one you see above, and bought it. Three minutes. $13. It arrived within a week and took half a minute to mount. Do you see how easy the solution was? How effortless it was? I spent thirteen years ignoring a problem that took less than five minutes and twenty bucks to fix. (There were a few dollars for shipping.)

Everything changed when I realized I was making the problem FAR more complicated than it needed to be. I wanted to fix it properly–with drills and functioning doorknobs. But I didn’t need that in order for it to work. I just needed something to cover the hole and something I could use to pull the door open: a door pull with a faceplate. And I LOVE the door pull. It’s functional and vintage and fits perfectly with our hippie bordello decor. But the best part about this $13 piece of iron? It’s a lasting reminder to stop overthinking and just start doing.

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Roll out the red carpet–we have a guest!

Today I’m delighted to host the ever-fabulous Tracy Grant! She’s currently promoting her newest Malcolm and Suzanne adventure, GILDED DECEIT, and she’s here to share her thoughts on marriage…

The Rules of Marriage
In the Regency, it may have been “a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And Jane Austen brilliantly demonstrates the challenges of life for a woman who did not marry, particularly a woman without fortune. But it was also true in becoming a wife a single woman surrendered many of her rights to her husband.  Her husband was legally entitled to strike her. He controlled her fortune, unless her family was careful about the marriage settlement. Divorce was expensive and difficult to come by. Legal separation was somewhat easier to achieve but still challenging. In either case, a woman would almost certainly lose custody of her children to her husband. Mary Wollstonecraft compared marriage to slavery. Her daughter, Mary Godwin, would face both the stigma of living with a man without the bonds of marriage, and later, after she became Percy Shelley’s wife, the challenges of being married to a man who, though possessed of enlightened ideas about the relations between men and women, did not always put those ideals into practice. Percy was proud of his wife’s career, but not necessarily to the extent of letting it impinge on his own work. He apparently thought nothing of writing to Mary and telling her to pack up their household and travel across uncomfortable terrain with two young children at a moment’s notice so his friend Byron wouldn’t be scandalized by Percy staying alone with Mary’s stepsister (who was also Byron’s former mistress). 
 
In my new release Gilded Deceit, my fictional characters Malcolm and Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch encounter the Shelleys in Italy shortly after the above incident and its tragic aftermath which lead to the death of Percy and Mary’s baby daughter (she had been ill and worsened on the journey). The Rannochs also meet the fictional Contessa Vincenzo, living in exile herself with her married lover because divorce is not an option for either of them. And Diana Smythe, trapped in a hellish marriage with little recourse, despite coming from a powerful family. Mélanie Rannoch and her friend Cordelia Davenport, both happily married, reflect on the challenges of the institution.
 
“My God,” Cordelia said. “As a girl, I thought marriage was my path to freedom. But it can be the most appalling trap. It is a trap, unless one has a husband who’s decent enough not to snap it closed.”
“I knew Malcolm was a decent person when I married him,” Mélanie said. “But I also didn’t expect the marriage to last. So I didn’t think I was trapping myself.” A few months ago she couldn’t have said that to Cordelia. A relief to be able to frame the words. 
Cordelia met her gaze and nodded. “I knew I was tying myself to Harry. Dangerous, in a way. A man who loved me so much. But I knew without even thinking about it that he’d never—” She shook her head.
Mélanie looked ahead at their husbands, walking on either side of Laura. “There’s so much trust involved. Far more than I ever appreciated.”
Cordelia tugged the ribbons on her hat tighter. “The thought of any of our girls ever being so at the mercy—”
“I know.” Mélanie’s fingers clenched on the strap of her reticule. “We have to hope we’re raising them to choose well.
With a pair of married spies who worked for different sides as the central characters, the Rannoch mysteries have always thematically focused on marriage a great deal. But until Gilded Deceit, my characters hadn’t come up against how truly appalling circumstances could be for a woman whose husband, as Cordelia says, snaps the trap closed. As I developed Diana’s story and the contessa’s, it seemed particularly appropriate that the book also featured Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, at a time when she is dealing with subtler challenges in her own marriage.
Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton
Thanks for joining us, Tracy! Readers can find out everything Tracy-related at her website.
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Veronica Research–fourth part wrap-up!

Here we are with the fourth and final entry in the Veronica research series! The horizontal stack up there is one of my favorites. Here’s why:

*KINDRED NATURE by Barbara T. Gates focuses on the Victorian explorers who were natural historians, using their travels to further the study of plants, animals, insects, etc.

*Kirsten Ellis’s STAR OF THE MORNING is a thick, detailed biography of Lady Hester Stanhope–another must-read for anyone fascinated by this mesmerizing historical figure.

*Mary S. Lovell is one of my favorite biographers, and her book A RAGE TO LIVE is the joint bio of Richard and Isabel Burton. A working partnership that spanned decades, their marriage is one of the most intriguing in history.

*The two Agatha Christie books–THE GRAND TOUR and her autobiography–are essentials for Agatha fans who want to know the woman behind the whodunnits. Her memoir is chatty and detailed, and her travelogue is full of interesting people and places. Did you know Agatha learned to surf in Hawaii? True story.

*THE ILLUSTRATED VIRAGO BOOK OF WOMEN TRAVELLERS, WOMEN OF DISCOVERY, AND WOMEN TRAVELERS are richly illustrated and packed with information about women who stray from the beaten path.

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