Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: A Spear of Summer Grass & Giveaway

Summary: Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even among Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savanna manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming—yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders—and dangers—of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for—and what she can no longer live without. -- Harlequin

For years now, I have heard wonderful things about by Deanna Raybourn and her Lady Julia mysteries. I always figured I'd get around to reviewing one for Mystery Mondays, but unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. So when I heard that Ms. Raybourn has a new novel out called A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, I decided that I might as well start with this novel.

Since I am featuring A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS for Mystery Mondays, you might assume that there is a mystery aspect to the story. I admit that, despite reading the book description and not really seeing a mention of it, I thought this novel would be a mystery. (I did see a review or two that referenced a mystery, so I wasn't entirely making it up!) I was almost to the end of the book when a murder occurred, so technically, there was a mystery in this story, but I wouldn't say it was a major element of the novel.

A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS tells the story of Delilah Drummond, a society girl who isn't afraid to get into a little trouble. Her latest scandal, however, is so bad that she's "banished" to Kenya until the rumors die down. Delilah finds herself living in the heart of Africa where animals, sometimes even dangerous ones, roam around the estate. She also encounters a few acquaintances from her past as well as a handsome and rugged man who captures her eye.

When danger strikes her home and her friends, Delilah begins to assess her own life and the decisions she's made in the past. She realizes that her partying ways and fleeting romances aren't bringing her any happiness, and she begins to focus on what's really important in her life.

I would classify A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS as part historical fiction/part romance with a little mystery thrown in. I am not usually a big fan of romance novels, and I might not have ever picked up this story had I known that the mystery was such a minor element. Having said that, I did enjoy A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS and I thought the romance was pretty well done. (I didn't find myself giggling or gagging so that says something!) I think that the story took place in Africa in the 1920s helped a bit too.

I have to say that my favorite part of the book, though, was the character of Delilah. There is no doubt that she was a woman way ahead of her time, and I loved her spunkiness. The novel was written in her voice and I found myself highly entertained by her insights and commentary. At first, I admit that I was turned off by her because she was a little bit hard to take. She was selfish, vain, and brazen, not to mention that her morals were questionable; however, it wasn't long before she captured my heart. She wasn't afraid of anything (except maybe falling in love with a good guy!) and her strength and courage when it came to helping the natives was so admirable.

I absolutely loved the setting of Kenya and I was extremely impressed with how well Ms. Raybourn brought this country (and time period) to life. Her descriptions of the country were spectacular and I could picture so many of the scenes because of the vivid details. It was apparent that she did a load of research, on both Africa and its political climate, as well as on the native animals that lived there. I was especially impressed with how she differentiated between the various tribes and I thought she did a wonderful job of showing the tensions between the whites and the blacks.

I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the romance aspects of the story. I have already mentioned that I thought she did a good job with these scenes, but I wanted to elaborate on that. In my mind, A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS was actually more of a love story and not a "trashy" romance. There were love scenes with Delilah and men, but the descriptions were relatively tame -- I was never uncomfortable. In fact, I think the sexual tension that the author created was actually more interesting than the love scenes.

Since I am featuring A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS for Mystery Mondays, I have to mention it even it was a brief element of the novel. If I do have a slight complaint about the story, I just wish that the mystery had had a larger role in the story. The murder didn't occur until the end of the novel and it seemed to get wrapped up pretty quickly. That's not to say that the mystery wasn't well constructed, though, because it was. I was definitely fooled by the intricacies of the crime and the person (or persons) who was responsible.

A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS would be a good pick for some book clubs. There is a reading guide with eight questions included in the back of the book, but I wasn't able to find a copy on-line. Some of the things you might want to discuss include Delilah's character as well as her interactions with the other characters in the novel. You also might want to explore the political climate of Africa in the 1920s, the role of women, prejudice, sexuality, sacrifices, courage, and forgiveness.

Overall, I enjoyed A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS. It was a little bit outside of my comfort zone, but I think the quality of Ms. Raybourn's writing made me appreciate the story! Recommend to fans of historical fiction, romance, and (yes!) mysteries.

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS to share courtesy of Harlequin. To enter, just fill out the form below before May 19th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This giveaway is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks to the publisher and Big Honcho Media for providing a review copy of this book.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.  


bermudaonion said...

Delilah sounds like a great character. I'm wondering what she did to get herself banished.

Howard Sherman said...

Darn. The mystery and historical fiction aspects have me interested but the romance angle, understandably, is not a booster for me. Still -- a good story is a good story!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

I like the setting of this book which is what attracted me to it.

Beth F said...

I featured this one today! I'm only about a third of the way through but I'm enjoying it and I'm so glad to know that it won't suddenly become a bodice ripper.

vvb32 reads said...

I'm drawn to the flapper character.