Review: City of Jasmine

city of jasmineDeanna Raybourn, City of Jasmine

Famed aviatrix Evangeline Starke is in the midst of a big publicity stunt, flying her plane over the seven seas of antiquity. This trip is motivated by her need for money, her thirst for adventure, and her subconscious desire to move past the death of her husband, Gabriel, which occurred five years before. But when Evie receives a mysterious — and apparently current — photo of Gabriel, she is determined to discover whether he is still alive, and if so, what really happened to him five years ago. Her search takes her to the ancient city of Damascus, where various European countries are carving up the region into strategically advantageous states, and into the heart of the desert itself. What she finds is a priceless relic, ethnic tensions, life-threatening dangers, and possibly a second chance at love.

Something has happened to me in the way I react to Deanna Raybourn’s books. When I first read Silent in the Grave, I remember really loving it and being eager to read the rest of the series. I loved the combination of 19th century historical detail, mystery, and romance, which, as I recall, was fairly unique in my experience at the time. I think the issue is that, as time has passed, I’ve read a lot more books; I’ve become a more sophisticated consumer and have read more widely in the various genres I like. As a result, Raybourn’s brand of historical fiction no longer seems particularly unique or special to me. She has good plots and some funny lines, but her characters are pretty typical for the genre, and I’m not fond of the rugged alpha males she tends to use as heroes. This particular novel is quite entertaining, and I really can’t point to anything wrong with it; it just didn’t really excite me, and I’ve already removed it from my shelves.

Review: The Gabriel Hounds

Gabriel Hounds, TheMary Stewart, The Gabriel Hounds

It’s all a grand adventure when Christy Mansel unexpectedly runs into her cousin Charles in Damascus. And being young, rich, impetuous, and used to doing whatever they please, they decide to barge in uninvited on their eccentric Great-Aunt Harriet—despite a long-standing family rule strictly forbidding unannounced visits. A strange new world awaits Charles and Christy beyond the gates of Dar Ibrahim—”Lady Harriet’s” ancient, crumbling palace in High Lebanon—where a physician is always in residence and a handful of Arab servants attends to the odd old woman’s every need.

But there is a very good—very sinister—reason why guests are not welcome at Dar Ibrahim. And the young cousins are about to discover that, as difficult as it is to break into the dark, imposing edifice, it may prove even harder still to escape… (Summary from Amazon.com.)

I always enjoy Mary Stewart’s novels of romantic suspense, and The Gabriel Hounds is no exception. I liked Christy’s lively and slightly self-absorbed nature; she seemed real and relatable, if not always admirable. But the Amazon summary makes her sound a lot more irritating and privileged than she is! And the novel is great at creating a subtly sinister atmosphere once Christy enters Dar Ibrahim. The place seems to be nothing more than an old, run-down estate, and its inhabitants all treat Christy kindly, at least at first. Yet the book manages to convey an escalating sense of menace until Christy, with Charles’ help, must flee for her life. The novel’s central mystery, which involves drug trafficking, is both amusingly dated and surprisingly relevant today. I enjoyed the romance and the exotic setting as well, both hallmarks of Mary Stewart’s writing style. This book doesn’t rank among my favorites by Stewart, but it’s still a very solid read if you like the author or old-fashioned novels of romantic suspense.