More Audiobook Adventures

I am now wishlisting books by narrator. I am officially addicted.

Highly recommended….

That would be “highly recommended” as in “read this NOW, dammit, your life is meaningless without this book.”

The Book Thief by Marcus ZusakThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Narrated by Allan Corduner

I avoided this for years because it’s told from Death’s point of view. I was a dumbass. It’s stunning. From start to finish. I can’t even begin to count how many times I nearly drove off the road trying to bookmark a “holy SHIT, that was good” passage.

It’s one of those books that uses language in an entirely unique way. I kept thinking the title should be “The Word Thief” instead, because Zusak somehow manages to turn seemingly simple words and phrases into characters in their own right. Just read the prologue in the sample, you’ll see what I mean.

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One-Quote Review: The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

  • Title: The Sweet Girl
  • Author:  Annabel Lyon
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Ancient Greece)
  • Publisher: Knopf, June 2013
  • Source: Public library (Overdrive epub)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • Trope(s): Daddy’s Girl, Bluestocking, Orphan, War & Peace, Gods & Goddesses
  • Quick blurb: Aristotle’s brilliant and cosseted daughter is unprepared for real life when Alexander the Great’s death disrupts their household.
  • Quick review: Odd and uncomfortable.
  • Grade: D+

Herpyllis says when a man is at ease his testicles are tender, but when he’s excited they go wizened and tight. I don’t know if she’s trying to give me the world or take it away.

This short book attempts to tell a big story with tragedy and treachery and sinister deities (and yes, magical man parts are involved), and it isn’t very successful.

The modern YA voice, combined with the Fancy Allegorical Lit-Fic Pretensions, had me disconnected from beginning to end. Just because you CAN use first-person present-tense and anachronistic language to show off your textbook-level grasp of Greek history and mythology doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

As with The Pianist in the Dark, I want this story told by a different author. I’m not the right reader for this book — and I have no clue who the intended audience is.

Audiobook Adventure: The Prize by Julie Garwood

The Prize by Julie Garwood

  • Title: The Prize
  • Author: Julie Garwood
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Medieval)
  • Publisher: Pocket Books, August 1991
  • Format: Audio CD narrated by Anne Flosnik (Brilliance Audio, 2009)
  • Source: Public library
  • Length: 408 pages (10 CDs, 12.5 hours)
  • Trope(s): Conquering Hero, Dimwit Heroine, Battle of the Sexes, Newlywed Woes
  • Quick blurb: Saxon maiden vs. Norman warrior
  • Quick review: Not a good choice for my first commute-time audiobook, or my first Garwood.
  • Grade: C- for story, D- for narration

He never knew what hit him.

I’m glad that’s over with. Also, I now know who Kathryn Le Veque has been reading for inspiration.

The story….

The Prize is set in 1066 England, with William the Conqueror on the throne in London and his minions crawling the countryside to claim Saxon holdings. One of those minions, our hero Baron Royce, gets clobbered on the head with a stone flung by our slingshot-wielding heroine Nicolaa, a feisty (god help us) Saxon maiden determined to defend her family’s home.

When he regains consciousness, Royce and his men overtake the manor, mostly thanks to Nicolaa’s idiot older brother abandoning her to “go north.” Our spunky (god help us) heroine disguises herself as a nun and claims sanctuary at the nearby abbey where her other brother is recovering from a serious injury. Royce feels all tingly in his manly parts upon meeting the beautiful young nun, but he manages to get them to the convent without disturbing her maidenly essence.

Somehow, Royce manages to figure out that Nicolaa isn’t really a nun, which allows the tingling to burst forth into full-on mental lusting. Nicolaa is too busy swanning about denouncing the Normans and pronouncing things about her family’s honor to notice much about Royce. Except for the fact that he smells good.

After some unimportant secondary character nonsense, Royce forces Nicolaa out of the abbey and on the road to London, where she’ll be auctioned off as the titular “prize” to a deserving Norman lord. Nicolaa insists on bringing along her infant nephew, who she claims is hers by her deceased husband. There is no mention of a wet nurse, so I have no clue how this poor child is being fed, and we get a first glimpse of our heroine utter cluelessness as she flounders to explain the chronology of her fake husband’s death and her pretend child’s birth.

At some point early in the road trip, Nicolaa decides to escape. She does this in the dead of night, with no plan of whatsoever. No food, no weapon, leaving her infant “son” in the hands of god knows who – but she’s sure nothing will happen because she knows the territory. She then promptly falls into a ravine and twists her ankle. She starts to call for help, but – never fear – hero Royce is near. He followed her, because he’s not a clueless idiot.

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Book Anxiety, Part 1: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

  • Title: A Spear of Summer Grass
  • Author: Deanna Raybourn
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harlequin (MIRA), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Bad Girl with a Heart of Gold and Hidden Depths, Enigmatic Loner Hero, Colorful Cast of Supporting Characters, Very Convenient Coincidences
  • Quick blurb: Disgraced socialite exiled to stepfather’s crumbling estate in 1920s colonial Kenya
  • Quick review: After much pre-reading anxiety and post-reading obsessing, it didn’t work for me — but for more reasons than I expected.
  • Grade: D+

“For Christ’s sake, woman. Don’t stand there mooning about. This is Africa. Go inside before something eats you.”

I’m a huge fan of Raybourn’s Julia Grey mystery series (countless re-reads, book trance every single time), so when I saw the cover and blurb for A Spear of Summer Grass, I sighed happily and thought, “Ohhhhh, she wrote a new one just for me.”

So why the Book Anxiety? It started with the usual “She’s one of my favorite authors, what if I don’t like it???” I sucked it up and made it through the two chapters with an initial dislike for the heroine, but no major red flags – so far, so good.

But then a quick glance at a few reviews – “horrible” and “DNF” from The Book Smugglers and the enlightening discussion at Dear Author – sent me flailing into the worst-case scenario of “What if I like it – but I shouldn’t???” So I moved it from currently-reading back to the to-read shelf and let the anxiety fester. For weeks.

I started reading again last night, and finished this morning around 3 a.m. It was a one-sitting read, but not a full-on blissful book trance. Instead of wallowing in the language and characters, I could not stop myself from focusing on all the elements that were so problematic for other reviewers.

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The Pianist in the Dark by Michele Halberstadt

The Pianist in the Dark by Michele Halberstadt

  • Title: The Pianist in the Dark
  • Author: Michele Halberstadt
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books, July 2011
  • Source: Purchased*
  • Length: 150 pages
  • Trope(s): Musician, Physician, Disability, Overbearing Aristocratic Parents, Good and Faithful Servant
  • Quick blurb: Celebrity physician attempts to cure virtuoso pianist of blindness.
  • Quick review: So much potential, so much disappointment.
  • Grade: D+

It was imperative that, upon being introduced to her, he be seized by sudden inspiration.

The Pianist in the Dark is based on the true story of 17-year-old virtuoso Maria Theresia von Paradis, the only child of a high-ranking Austrian diplomat. Maria Theresia has been blind since the age of three, and while she’s made a name for herself as a musician in music-mad 1770s Vienna, her father has subjected her to endless painful and humiliating treatments to restore her sight.

When famed physician Franz Mesmer — he of the “magnetism cure” for anxieties, neuroses, epilepsy and other “nervous disorders” — offers his services, Maria Theresia’s father agrees and send her off to live at Mesmer’s house/hospital.

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More Naughty Norsemen: The Bodice-Ripping Era

For round two of our romp through Viking romance, we’ll focus on three vintage titles from the beloved old-skool era of Forced Seduction, Logic Fail and General WTFery.

I didn’t finish any of these — I dragged myself through the first half of each, but couldn’t find any reason to finish.

We’ll start with the least painful and save the vomit-worthy one for last.

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One-Quote Review: The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry

  • The Other Side of Us by Sarah MayberryTitle: The Other Side of Us
  • Author: Sarah Mayberry
  • Series/Category: SuperRomance
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin, January 2013
  • Source: Harlequin.com (currently free on Amazon)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Trope(s): Rebound/Starting Over, Obnoxious Exes, Beta Hero
  • Quick blurb:  TV producer recovering from horrific accident clashes and clinches with her soon-to-be-divorced new neighbor.
  • Quick review: Loved the mature characters, but over all it’s too tepid for a re-read — and I had to take points off for misuse of canine characters.
  • Grade: C

“So be afraid. Be angry. Be jealous. Be possessive. Be whatever you need to be. But please, let me come along for the ride.”

I suppose I was expecting something more vibrant like Her Best Worst Mistake, so this was kind of a letdown — and I have yet to find a Harlequin SuperRomance with any sort of “wow” factor.

While I loved that both main characters were in their late 30s, the arc of the relationship-building never really grabbed me. Oliver’s crucial episode of irrational jealousy, and Mackenzie’s reaction, were realistic and just angsty enough without being overwrought — but then the utterly useless epilogue threw me out of my short-lived happy place.

Also…what in the hell was the deal with the “haha, oops, puppies!” plot device? Is spaying and neutering not recommended in Australia as it is in the U.S.? The hero doesn’t remember that his beloved schnauzer spent quality time with a Doberman? And the workaholic heroine is going to breed her dog because “wire-haired dachshunds are really hard to come by…”? I need a few more question marks here — ?????

Maybe I’m overly sensitive because I’m still grieving for my shelter dog, but the irresponsible breeding is probably the one thing I will remember most about this book — and I doubt that’s what the author or the publisher intended.

One-Quote Review: The Rake to Ruin Her by Julia Justiss

The Rake To Ruin Her by Julia Justiss

  • Title: The Rake to Ruin Her
  • Author: Julia Justiss
  • Series/Category: Ransleigh Rogues, Book 1 (Harlequin Historical)
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Harlequin, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley($4.61 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Horse-Mad Hoyden, Disgraced Nobleman, Marriage of Convenience
  • Quick blurb: Spinster recruits disgraced diplomat to ruin her reputation to avoid unwanted marriage.
  • Quick review: An unobjectionable but predictable read.
  • Grade: C

“Let me see if I understand you correctly. You wish to be found in a compromising situation with me, then have me refuse to marry you, so you would be ruined, which would prevent any honourable gentleman but your friend Harry from ever seeking your hand in wedlock?”

She nodded approvingly, as if he’d just worked out a particularly difficult proof in geometry. “Exactly.”

Julia Justiss was another one of my “gateway” romance authors, but this latest book won’t be on my favorites list. I was concerned by the title and the “Rogues” in the series name, and unfortunately it lived down to my lowered expectations by being a rather run-of-the-mill Regency.

I did, however, indulge in an extensive bit of comfort re-reading prior to diving into this one, so up next will be an overview of my Julia Justiss Backlist Binge.

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  • Title: Somewhere to Call Home
  • Author: Janet Lee Barton
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1890s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl, Private Detective, Mean Girl, Evil Banker
  • Quick blurb: Miss Mary Sue McGoodytwoshoes in the big city.
  • Quick review: I am restraining myself from unleashing the snark — but only because I couldn’t even finish it.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%, and nothing had happened. Zero tension, zero drama, and zero indication of what the actual conflict might be. There was, however, plenty to make fun of.

I’m only going Half-Snark on this because (a) I didn’t finish it; and (b) it’s an inspirational. But all the ingredients of a “This Is Why People Make Fun of Harlequins” are there. Trust me.

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