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


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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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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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