Researching Speedwell, part 3

This one’s a wee bit blurry–my apologies! Snapped it on the fly and didn’t realize until I went to upload it that it wasn’t perfectly clear. But it is good enough to give you an idea of what I’m recommending.

*Mary Lovell’s A SCANDALOUS LIFE. Thorough and detailed biography of Jane Digby, the Englishwoman who left a string of noble European husbands and lovers in her wake. She finally married a Bedouin sheikh and adopted the customs of his culture, dividing her time between Damascus and the desert around Palmyra. One of history’s most fascinating women, in my opinion.

*EXPAT: WOMEN’S TRUE TALES OF LIFE ABROAD. Ed. by Christina Henry de Tessan. Profiling modern women who have chosen to live in truly exotic settings, this one is not about the early explorers who inspired Veronica but about the spirit of the kind of woman who chooses an unconventional life.

*LIVING WITH CANNIBALS by Michelle Slung. Tales of early and modern travelers taken from the National Geographic Society’s first-person accounts.

*Vicki Croke’s THE LADY AND THE PANDA. This is one of my favorite nonfiction books EVER. It details the attempt by socialite and designer Ruth Harkness to travel to the most remote parts of China to bring the very first panda to the Western world. It reads like a novel and WHY no one has made this into a film yet beggars belief.

*Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s PASSIONATE NOMAD: THE LIFE OF FREYA STARK. Good biographical introduction to Freya Stark for those who might not be familiar with her story. She has always struck me as someone who would be incredibly tiresome to know, but her story makes for fascinating reading.

*UNSUITABLE FOR LADIES, THEY WENT WHISTLING, WAYWARD WOMEN. You can’t go wrong with any of these. WHISTLING is Barbara Holland’s account of women who have gone largely unremarked upon by history–women who nonetheless made their mark. The other two are both by Jane Robinson and are good introductions to women whose lives you might like to read about in greater depth elsewhere.

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Veronica inspiration books–part two

The five books featured here run the gamut of “explorer porn” which I’ve just decided might need to be a new category of non-fiction. On the far right is one of my forever favorites, COME, TELL ME HOW YOU LIVE by…surprise!…Agatha Christie.

Readers the world over know Christie as the queen of mystery, but she also wrote a few memoirs that are well worth reading. In her private life, she took as her second husband Max Mallowan, a field archaeologist specializing in the Middle East. She traveled with him and took a lively interest in his work, and this book is a wonderful peek into their time together. It details the hardships and pleasures of excavation work, beginning with the indignities of shopping for a travel wardrobe when you are a woman whose figure is growing a little stout.

Matthew Goodman’s EIGHTY DAYS chronicles the race between Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland to circumnavigate the globe in less than two months in 1889. (Most people know about Bly but don’t realize she was actually hurtling around the world with a competitor in hot pursuit.) Detailed and lively, this is a quick, engaging read and an excellent introduction to late-Victorian travel.

THE WILDER SHORES OF LOVE by Lesley Blanch is a 1954 collected biography of Jane Digby, Isabel Burton, Isabelle Eberhardt, and Aimee Dubucq de Rivery. The prose is pretty purple and it’s so narrowly sourced that I’ve seen it referred to as a “speculative novel”. But if you’re looking for a happy medium between a wiki article and a full biography on any of these women, this might hit the spot. (Digby was an English aristocrat who scandalized the world by taking a series of lovers and husbands, ending with a sheikh whom she settled with in Damascus. Burton was the wife of Sir Richard Burton–and the recipient of that famous message, “Pay, pack, and follow.” Eberhardt, Swiss by birth, settled in North Africa where she lived as a man until her early death, and Dubucq de Rivery, a cousin of Empress Josephine, was abducted by pirates and became a member of the Turkish sultan’s harem. At least, that’s ONE version of her story. There is much debate about whether this actually happened, so if you choose to investigate her, you will have to sift fact from fiction.

VICTORIAN LADY TRAVELLERS by Dorothy Middleton is a quick, sprightly introduction to seven of the most prominent intrepid women of the 19th century. A good place to begin if you want a brisk overview rather than something in-depth.

WOMEN EXPLORERS from the WOMEN WHO DARE series is WEE. You could easily slip it into a pocket, and as it’s heavy on photographs, there isn’t much text to delve into. Good as an accompaniment to more involved books–think of it as a condiment rather than a dish.

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Bonus post!

It’s Mystery Week at Goodreads–come check out their book recommendations and see what questions I’m answering for the Ask the Author feature and pose queries of your own!

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Digging into the past

When I was on book tour, a LOT of people asked about Veronica’s origins as a character. I explained about my love for Victorian explorers and how I’ve been researching the subject for decades. The next question was invariably a follow-up about which books I’d recommend or which explorers I like best. (NO way am I picking a single explorer. They are far too entertaining of a group to limit myself to a lone choice.) But I’m happy to provide a launching pad for your own reading if you’d like to dig a little deeper into the world of petticoats and parasols. So here is the first post of suggested titles:

To begin at the bottom, two volumes of Margaret Fountaine’s journals. Margaret was the globe-trotting lepidopterist who provided the inspiration for Veronica, and these books are her chronicles of her travels and infatuations. Out of print and written in a fairly gushing style, they are deliciously over-the-top. I adore them.

NO PLACE FOR A LADY and DREAMING OF EAST are both by Barbara Hodgson, both highly recommended for general overviews of the travelers. They are highly illustrated and a delight to dip into on a lazy afternoon. The former is a particularly good start for someone just beginning to explore this topic.

LADIES OF THE FIELD is Amanda Adams’ account of the early female archaeologists. While it’s a precise and exacting science now, in its early days, field archaeology was a frontier. (Some of the pioneers of the subject actually used dynamite to blow their way into tombs. Now they use brushes and dental picks…) If you’re more interested in scientific inquiry than general travel, this may be a great place to start.

Dea Birkett’s SPINSTERS ABROAD is a splendid overview of several of the most prominent of the Victorian travelers. It’s an excellent jumping-off point to direct you to the personalities you might like to investigate further.

Joan Haslip’s biography of LADY HESTER STANHOPE. Not strictly a Victorian, Lady Hester nonetheless demands her share of attention. English socialite and adventuress, she conducted archaeological digs and traveled extensively in the Middle East before settling down with a retinue of servants and animals to live out her days as something of a legend in her own time.

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We have a title, we have a cover, we have a date

For the third Veronica Speedwell adventure! Without further ado, y’all, let me present A TREACHEROUS CURSE, available January 18, 2018! (Will post pre-order links as soon as they’re available.) Hooray for more Veronica!

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It’s April! Enchanted April…

March is always a bit grim, I think, the sort of month you have to white-knuckle your way through. There are those sharp, unforgiving dips in temperature just when you think it’s safe to sit in the sun. Daffodils peek out shyly only to be blasted back into their green cloaks by a cruel frost. Boots and scarves, put aside in a moment of reckless optimism, are hastily retrieved. What were we thinking? We weren’t. We were hoping. March teaches you to be wary of expecting too much. If you can content yourself with peeks of sunshine and spare minutes of warmth, you can get on quite happily.

But April! April in my part of the world teaches you to unfurl. It’s the time to change from socks and boots to loafers and deck shoes, still too cool to uncover the toes, but the ankles get to breathe a little. Necks emerge from woolly mufflers; wrists are no longer captive in cuffs. Everything begins to shift and buzz and stretch in April. I’ve already seen rabbits nibbling the clover in our yard; the first butterflies have emerged, and a very fat bumblebee in a dapper striped waistcoat paid me a call the other day. Azaleas and dogwoods are in full bloom here, and the peonies have put out their leaves. The oaks are sporting different embellishments depending on their age. The younger, shorter fellows are already waving new leaves, no bigger than my thumb, while the oldest, most stalwart oaks–and we have a few that predate the Civil War–are still sleeping peacefully.

This is a season that demands its own book, and you cannot do better than the most obvious choice: THE ENCHANTED APRIL. Elizabeth von Arnim’s classic was written in 1922 but feels perfectly fresh and relevant. It details the blissful month when a quartet of strangers decide to leave their respective lives in England for a few stolen weeks in an Italian castle by the sea. Every woman can relate to wanting an escape from doing for others for just a little while, can’t she? And to escape to such a dazzling place! THE ENCHANTED APRIL makes clear the cost of always putting yourself last in your list of priorities. It, daringly for its time, is unapologetically certain that doing so is a sure route to misery and that a little dissipation is a good thing. Can’t get away to a castle of your own? Unplug the phone, draw a bath or set up a chair in the shade of a budding tree, and claim this one for yourself.

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I’m in danger of being crushed…

by my TBR pile. SO MANY BOOKS TO READ. But this is a good problem to have, right? Since November I’ve been doing a lot of comfort reading–for obvious reasons. First I binge-read Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I haven’t finished, but I did manage quite a few before I decided I needed a break from Almack’s and kid gloves. Then I moved on to rereading Mary Stewart’s suspense novels–SO, so good–and M. M. Kaye. (Only the suspense from M. M. Kaye. I’ve also read her memoirs but haven’t made it to her historicals yet.)

Little wonder my TBR stack is out of control. I was asked to count the books in it for an interview and I stopped at 150. (That’s also not counting the books I’ve bought for my Kindle and haven’t started yet…) Plus, the library just got a fresh stock of loveliness and I brought home a pile of things that had been on my wish list. Oy!

Anyway, this is a long way of saying there are loads of delicious things to read and I’m about to make it worse for you. Here are books you might like:

*WAGES OF SIN by Kaite Welsh. Victorian, ghoulish, gripping. I was lucky enough to read an ARC of this and it was wonderful.

*AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION by Alyssa Cole. Alright, I’ll come clean. I really, really don’t like the Civil War era. I was THISCLOSE to not accepting this ARC to read because of my antipathy for the time period. But I was so intrigued by the description I asked them to send it to me and then I read it in one sitting. It is just marvelous. MARVELOUS, did you hear me?

*A MOST EXTRAORDINARY PURSUIT by Juliana Gray. If you don’t already know, Gray is Beatriz Williams’ nom de historical and she writes just as engaging and enjoyable Edwardian mystery as she does mid-century saga! This is another one I got to blurb and I was MOST HAPPY.

And here are some things from my bookshelf that are not new but are thoroughly enjoyable:

*Sarah Ban Breathnach’s ROMANCING THE ORDINARY. If you enjoyed SIMPLE ABUNDANCE, this one will delight. Structured around months of the year, this collection of essays encourages women to get in touch with their senses and offers inspiration, practical tips, and a little poetry to boot.

*APHRODITE: A MEMOIR OF THE SENSES. I am a bigger fan of Isabel Allende’s nonfiction than her novels and this is my favorite. It’s luscious, luxurious, and a little saucy–perfect for reading in spring when things are just beginning to wake up after a slumbrous winter.


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I love LA!

I’m back home again and settling in after a splendid time in Los Angeles. It was the first time I’ve been to the city itself–I’ve been to Anaheim and northern California but never LA proper–and I loved it! Well, except for traffic because that is forty varieties of nuts, but I will also tell you that LA drivers get a bad rap. They are nowhere near as intense as Dallas and Dallas drivers are laid-back compared to Bostonians who drive as if they all have a person bleeding out in the backseat. (Do they? Maybe I’ve just cracked it.)

Biggest surprise of the trip? How hilly LA is. I thought it was just the ‘burbs that had slopes but driving through the city took us into some gorgeous, lush green hills that are NOTHING like my mental picture of Los Angeles. I was also surprised by the people. I had heard they were friendly and casual, but they were INCREDIBLY hospitable and chatty. And the weather? I know lots of folks were smothered by snow while we were gone, but I will admit it was so gloriously warm and clear that I spent five hours hanging out by the pool one day. (If you hate me for writing that, it might console you to know that one morning was foggy–so much so that our helicopter trip to Catalina got canceled. Yeah, I know. The firstest of first world problems.)

So here are some things I would highly recommend:

*Lyft. I won’t use Uber, but everyone insisted Lyft was better than cabs and, GOODNESS ME, they were right. I tried a taxi the first ride and it cost me $75. A similar Lyft ride later in the day was $20. Yeah, I Lyfted the rest of the trip and it was perfect. The longest I waited for a ride was 4 minutes and none of the other rides were over $10 including tip.

*Akasha. Delicious restaurant in Culver City specializing in farm-to-table yumminess. I had a bowl of mung beans and rice with veggies, but the real star was the cucumber vodka cocktail that tasted like a delectable spa treatment.

*Hilton Universal City. We had to stay on Hilton properties for REASONS, and this one was closest to the area where we had business. And it was wonderful. I’d go again for the pool alone–a smallish, beautifully manicured space with cabanas that are…wait for it…complimentary. I don’t know about you, but most hotels I’ve stayed in, the cabanas are at least $150 a day. I set up camp in one of those cabanas and left five hours later, tanned, stuffed with food and margaritas, and more relaxed than I have been in YEARS. Also, if you’re into Universal Studios, the park and lots are within walking distance.

*Malbec. Toluca Lake restaurant serving Argentinian cuisine and I’m still thinking about that steak…YUM.

*Firefly. Studio City restaurant with library bar and a divine courtyard with the most delectable fresh bread and a complimentary fizzy wine aperitif when you arrive. (No idea what it was, but it was sparkling and peachy and I could have drunk about twelve. But I didn’t. The bread however…well, frankly I disgraced myself.) How relaxing and pleasant is this restaurant? The friend I was dining with needed to eat early so we arrived at 5:30. We left at 10:30…

*Hotel Maya. A Doubletree property in Long Beach, it is unlike ANY Hilton hotel I’ve ever seen. It’s fully themed and feels like you’ve been plonked into the middle of a tropical jungle. They have a private man-made beach which is handy since Long Beach is deceptively named…Quirky and fun and within easy walking distance of the Queen Mary. (Since our trip to Catalina was scuppered by weather, we decided to check out the ship and…nope. Do not recommend. We bailed halfway through the scheduled trip. There is something GRIM about it although I didn’t get the haunted vibe that so many folks talk about. Of course, we weren’t there at night…)

*Zen Zone. Upon our arrival, we discovered this place tucked into Universal Citywalk. We bellied up to the oxygen bar where we got scented oxygen, scalp and shoulder massages, and then popped into the aquamassage tubes for a truly heavenly experience.

The Ripped Bodice. Independent bookstore specializing in romantic fiction. I dropped by to sign stock and they could not have been NICER. Charming space, well stocked with all kinds of fun things, and a bookstore dog named Fitzwilliam. What’s not to love?

Thanks, LA for a truly wonderful trip!

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On the newsstand…

So over the last few months I’ve been pootling through the newsstand at my local B&N and checking out bookazines and imported magazines. The downside is these publications aren’t cheap if you’re used to a five dollar magazine. I spend upwards of $20 on most and if you pick up an armful at a time, GOODNESS ME, it adds up. But I also think they are totally worth it. Since they aren’t regular monthly publications, they’re not stuffed with advertising. (Honestly, I’d rather pay more for a magazine and be able to skip the ads shrieking at me from every other page, but that’s a personal preference.)

The ones I have been gravitating towards are worth savoring and saving with gorgeous photography and thoughtful editorials. They aren’t meant to be hurried through. They are best read with a special cup of tea or a glass of wine and a leisurely afternoon. Most of them also have divine Instagram accounts so you can enjoy their work even if you don’t want to purchase an issue. Here are my faves:

*HAPPINEZ. A Dutch magazine with stunning layouts, this one is devoted to insight and inspiration. It’s a quarterly publication and particularly good for anyone interested in living a mindful, curious life. I actually feel CALM after reading an issue, no doubt due to the strong Eastern influence. It’s my hands-down favorite. Check out the link to see why!

*FLOW. Another Dutch offering, this one is dedicated to creativity and taking one’s time. The magazines themselves come stuffed with extra goodies–papers, tiny notebooks–all to support whatever features they’re highlighting. There are also fabulous specialty issues devoted to paper-lovers, calligraphers, etc. Where HAPPINEZ is elegant and tranquil, FLOW is whimsical and engaging.

*BELLA GRACE. This is the most seasonal of the bookazines. Each issue is full of ways to mark the current season, ways to engage with nature and self. The publication is very heavy on photography and features occasional workbook pages to encourage readers to connect with themselves and explore the issue’s theme.

*FAERIE MAGAZINE. THE publication for people who believe in the wee folk. Stunningly beautiful photo spreads combine with original fiction for a truly magical publication. FAERIE also features a regular digital newsletter for those who need a little dose of enchantment in their inbox.

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Notes and links and books, oh my!

I’m busy with the last round of revisions of Veronica #3 before it goes into production–phew! I absolutely LOVE this book, and I cannot wait to share the title and cover. (I saw the cover concept last week and it’s fabulous!)

In the meantime, a few notes:

*Have you contacted The Ripped Bodice about getting a signed copy of one of my books? They are taking pre-orders until this Friday, so get your order in!

*Are you in the Michigan area? I’m coming to your state for the VERY FIRST TIME in September for the Kerrytown BookFest! Details to come, but I wanted to make sure and share that now so you can make plans to come see me if that’s in your neck of the woods.

*Not a newsletter subscriber? This is the time to start! The newsletter is sent out once a month–usually the 5th–and your email information is never shared. All you have to do is sign up using the handy little form on the right-hand sidebar of the blog or the center of the main page of this site. And you REALLY want March’s newsletter, believe me! I’m sending out an exclusive vignette featuring Veronica and Stoker that has only been seen by readers who pre-ordered A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING and received it as part of their digital gift package.

*On Wednesday, March 8, VICTORIAN REBEL: MARIANNE NORTH premieres on the Smithsonian Channel. North was one of the Victorian explorers who provided inspiration for Veronica Speedwell. A biologist and botanical artist, North traveled the world from Bournemouth to Borneo, drawing and painting plant specimens. She befriended some of the greatest minds of the 19th-century, and her work was regarded as so significant that she has a permanent gallery dedicated to it at Kew. You can see a small selection of her paintings online at Art UK.


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