I focus primarily on Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Children's books, but my tastes are eclectic, so I change things up frequently!
There is almost too much to say about Deanna Raybourn's newest novel, A Spear of Summer Grass. I've enjoyed her writing before, in her Lady Julia Gray mystery novels, but, as much as I loved those novel and recommend them to fellow readers regularly, this novel has stolen my heart.
The novel, set in the 1920s, begins in Paris, but quickly relocates to Africa. Delilah Drummond is no stranger to scandal: her mother has married many times, Delilah herself has been married three, and her latest marriage has once again exposed her to gossip and speculation. In an attempt to avoid the negative effects of this most recent scandal, Delilah leaves Paris for a season in Africa. Africa is not the place Delilah dreamed of as a child, but in many ways it's more... and it has a drama all it's own. In the middle of this foreign landscape, Delilah discovers beauty, danger, love, and, most of important of all, her place in the world.
For many, Delilah may, at least at first, be one of those unlikeable characters. For me, I loved her from the start. She's quite frank and unapologetic about her life and actions. Her peers often find her loose of morals and standards, but that's not at all the reality of the situation. In many ways, I suppose Delilah could be considered a woman before her time. To be truthful, I'm unsure of exactly how female independence and sexuality was viewed in 1920s Europe, but the novel left me with the distinct impression that Delilah was not the norm. She takes lovers (but is never unfaithful during her marriages), stands up for what she believes, and is entirely capable (and willing) to do "a man's work."
I especially loved her character's history. She, like all the characters in the novel, are complex and layered. All of her actions and beliefs are rooted in something in her history, which one can assume is true of all characters, but Raybourn is especially skilled at weaving a character's tale in a believable, elegant fashion. Little by little, I felt that I came to know and understand Delilah, and, while I feel that A Spear of Summer Grass had a satisfying conclusion, I loathed leaving her behind.
I can't say I've ever read a novel that was set in Africa, but, after the descriptions of the landscapes, wildlife, and culture, I've come to love it a bit. Setting the novel here, in the 1900s, also opened up the perfect opportunity for Raybourn to incorporate themes and questions regarding colonialism and women's rights. These are two themes that I have a particular interest in when it comes to literature and I felt that Raybourn did a fantastic job of considering these subjects without being at all overbearing, instead settling for thought provoking and engaging.
Of course, I must touch on the romance within A Spear of Summer Grass. I've always admired Raybourn's deft hand when it comes to romance and the relationship in this novel is no exception. Raybourn takes two extremely flawed characters and fits their broken edges together in a beautiful, redeeming sort of way. The romance between Ryder and Delilah is, without at doubt, one of my all-time favorite romances.
I cannot recommend A Spear of Summer Grass enough. You'll not be able to leave these characters behind, nor the gorgeous African setting.