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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Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight by Grace Burrowes

It’s only an hour or two into Twelfth Night in my part of the world, so a Christmas book is still timely. Right? Right.

I sure as hell hope so, because I still have my Christmas tree up (true story).

  • Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight by Grace BurrowesTitle: Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight
  • Authors: Grace Burrowes
  • Series: Windhams, Book 6
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($6.39 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Secrets & Scandals, War Wounds, Repressed Smart Girl, Manly Men to the Rescue, Plot Moppets, Drunken Duels, Title PØrn, Shark Jumping, Misuse of Historical Personages
  • Quick blurb: Long-suppressed secrets threaten marriage of duke’s daughter and gentleman farmer.
  • Quick review: Everything important happens off-page, leaving plenty of space for annoyances and WTFery.
  • Grade: D

He wasn’t unaffected either. There was…tumescence.

I really need to remember to take a break from historicals after reading Miranda Neville and Courtney Milan, or while anticipating a catch-up on Sherry Thomas, because everything else just seems so…so…*sigh*

Burrowes’ debut The Heir was another one of my “gateway” romances, mostly because of a certain handjob scene early in the book. But she’s never been on my auto-buy list, for reasons I really couldn’t explain. Until now.

I admire her use of language — some of her sentences are marvelous. But in between, there’s weak characterization, a lot of repetitive and Romance-O-Matic plotwork and occasionally some very ill-advised WTFery. Or, to put it bluntly, her storytelling skills leave me cold.

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Medieval Mania: By Royal Command by Laura Navarre

  • By Royal Command by Laura NavarreTitle: By Royal Command
  • Author: Laura Navarre
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($4.16 ebook)
  • Length: 274 pages
  • Trope(s): Widow, Alpha Male(s), Beta Hero, Big Misunderstanding, Simile Sex, Hair Fetish, Evil Royal Relation
  • Quick blurb: Newly widowed niece of King Ethelred (he of the Unreadiness) is forced into a betrothal with a Norman nobleman – but she’s distracted by the large and tawny Viking assigned as her escort.
  • Quick review: The author has a thesaurus, and she knows how to use it.
  • Grade: D

Grappling with savage urgency in a riot of tumbled cushions, she plunged headlong into rapture in the arms of her wrathful angel.

Status Updates: Read With Me Vicariously

You can tell by the dates that I avoided writing this review.

  • 09/12 – 40%: “…the curving shell of secrets nestled between her thighs” o.0
  • 09/13 – 42%: This book is much more Bodice Ripper than I anticipated….
  • 09/13 – 58%: The metaphors. EVERYTHING is a water, fire, weather or war metaphor. And the interjections. By Odin’s smelly underpants, the INTERJECTIONS! Lots of references to Odin and Thor, but no Loki yet. Heroine prefers to invoke St. Cuthbert and St. Wilfrid.
  • 09/14 – 65%: The book that will never end. I made it this far, but this is taking WAY too long to finish.
  • 09/15 – 78%: Still not done… *whimper*
  • 09/17 – 100%: Finally finished, and I still haven’t quite distilled why this didn’t work for me.

When I finally started the distillation process, I had to put the crankypants on.

The writing style….

I can’t really call it the author’s “voice,” because I never really heard one. Instead, I felt bombarded with every literary device we learned in junior high language arts class. Action verbs. Adjectives. Metaphors. Interjections. Euphemisms. Rinse. Repeat.

As he fitted himself against her, an epiphany burst within….

She opened herself to the storm of sensation, reached for him with both arms as he surged inside to fill her. Their joining brought him toppling down on her, in the blazing splendor of the archbishop’s bed. He gripped her in the same desperate clutch, held her moored against his rapid thrusts. Her tight channel stretched to accept him, ripples of pleasure pulsing through her. Blindly, she struggled toward the conflagration.

Without warning, it ignited her. She dug her nails into his sinewed back and clung with all her strength. The cataclysm flung her high, outside herself, as he went rigid in her arms.

The hundreds (literally) of other examples can be grouped into thematic categories, including:

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One-Quote Review: Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane

Before you ask “WHY???” (because I know that’s what you’re thinking), I put the full blame for this on Jennifer at Romance Novel News. I dared her to read something called Moosed-Up, so this was my self-inflicted penance.

So actually, it’s my own fault. But then again, Jennifer definitely got the better end of the deal on this one.
Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane

  • Title: Gnome on the Range
  • Author(s): Jennifer Zane
  • Series:  Gnome Novel Series, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense (*eye-roll*)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2011
  • Source: Amazon, free promo ($4.99 ebook)
  • Length: 216 pages
  • Trope(s): Firefighter, Military Man, Single Mother, Widow, Wacko In-Laws, Sex Toys, Small Town
  • Quick blurb: Single mother and studly new neighbor join forces against evil villain.
  • Quick review:  If not for the noble firefighter neighbor, this book would have been completely OTT WTFery.
  • Grade: D

For the next fifteen minutes, we went over fire inspection paperwork with an elephant in the room the shape of a dildo.

This wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t good. A nearly-TSTL heroine, her way-OTT mother-in-law, a completely transparent “suspense” plot, inane and irrelevant details about houses, horses, sex toys, street names, etc., etc.

And…the Evil Villain. Oy. Uff da.

Are you ready for this? Because this is where the gnomes come into play.

Are you SURE? All righty, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

!!!SPOILER!!!

The Evil Villain is a ranch owner trying to retrieve stolen vials of valuable horse semen that were hidden in garden gnomes purchased by the heroine’s young sons at a yard sale.

But how does that make him villainous, you ask? It doesn’t.

He’s an evil villain because he’s — wait for it — a Pyscho Dom With Horse Tranquilizers.

I SHIT YOU NOT. On all counts.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Epilogue….

While I was reading this, my kids decided to watch Gnomeo and Juliet on one of those mysterious cable movie channels I didn’t even know we had. It was actually tolerable because James McAvoy voiced the main character, and I could listen to him all day. Or night.

But then again, there was this:

Gnomeo and Juliet

A Season for Sin by Vicky Dreiling

A Season for Sin by Vicky Dreiling

  • Title: A Season for Sin
  • Author: Vicky Dreiling
  • Series: Sinful Scoundrels, Book 0.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Forever Young (Hachette), September 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley (99¢)
  • Length: 100 pages
  • Trope(s): Rake, Widow
  • Quick blurb: Rake intends to make a beautiful young widow his mistress, but she’s not interested.
  • Quick review: Can’t really review an unfinished story.
  • Grade: DNF

Although I actually read the whole thing, I’m tagging this as a DNF, and here’s why:

Introducing the Sinful Scoundrels…

The Earl of Bellingham is nothing is not a creature of habit: money, meals, and mistresses must be strictly managed if a man is to have a moment’s peace. It’s a system that works splendidly for himuntil now. With his oldest and dearest friends succumbing, one by one, to wedded bliss, Bell is now restless and a trifle lonely. Enter the Sinful Scoundrels — Colin Brockhurst, Earl of Ravenshire, and Harry Norcliffe, Viscount Evermorewho drag him back into society and draw his rakish eye to the ton’s new beautiful young widow. Bell isn’t after a wife, but a challenge. And Laura Davenport should fit the bill quite nicely…

Word count: 29,000 words

That’s the official description of this “novella” from Amazon. Do you see the words “preview” or “teaser” in there anywhere? No? Me either.

This is not a prequel. This is not a novella. This is not even a short story. Characters and conflict are introduced, but there is no resolution.

The “prequel” story ends at 67% of the Kindle version, with the remaining third an excerpt from the beginning of Dreiling’s upcoming full novel. If I had paid for thiseven just 99¢I would have been really irritated at the blatant misrepresentation.

What’s there was an OK read, but I got the impression it would be just another typical Regency. And the publisher’s tactics in charging readers for a useless bit of fluff will not compel me to pay $7.99 for the author’s next release.

Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran Kramer

Let’s be honest: It’s obvious this book was written and published JUST SO I COULD MAKE FUN OF IT.

  • Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran KramerTitle: Loving Lady Marcia
  • Author: Kieran Kramer
  • Series: House of Brady, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency – in theory, anyway)
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Trope(s): Instalove, Ruined by a Rake, Reunited, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: “Overnight, I went from debutante to bluestocking.”
  • Quick review: It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the title and blurb.
  • Grade: DNF

Being in love, she decided, was not for the fainthearted.

I made it to about 30 percent. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be (e.g., Lady Alexandra Bad), but it wasn’t good.

All the cover quotes for Kieran Kramer’s recent debut series featured a LOT of synonyms for fluff: Delectable. Frothy. Confection. Better than dessert. All those same words can easily be applied to this first installment in the House of Brady series.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – I KNOW it’s supposed to be goofy and irreverent.  But even a “confection” has to have some substance – the whipped cream is supposed to be a topping, not the main ingredient. The Tudor era offers an even better analogy — Henry VIII and his minions were extremely fond of intricate marzipan sculptures called “subtleties.”

Think of it this way:

Jersey Shore marshmallow peeps vs. Downton Abbey marshmallow peeps

Too many parodies and spoofs and homages and “inspired bys” rely on “SEE WHAT I DID THERE? HAHAHA!” neon signs and abandon the need for good storytelling. With Loving Lady Marcia, whatever attempt the author made at plotting and characterization is completely stifled by the painfully placed and phrased pop culture references.

And sometimes they’re even info-dumped with gratuitous Regency name-dropping for extra impressiveness!

A servant brought in a lovely tea tray, and her mother began the old, comforting ritual of pouring tea – Daddy’s favorite Irish blend – chatting all the while about Marcia’s siblings. Gregory enjoyed being a man-about-town but also worked with Daddy several days a week on house designs. Peter fancied himself a Corinthian and loitered around Tattersall’s and Gentleman Jackson’s with his friends. Janice had made her debut and presentation at Court several weeks before, and the whole household was at sixes and sevens attempting to keep up with all her gentleman callers; Robert was at home because he was between halves at Eton, and Cynthia was mad for Greek mythology and had asked Mama to call her Andromeda.

Yes, Lady Marcia calls her father “Daddy.” But it’s OK, because “she pronounced it the Gaelic way, Doddy.” But it’s NOT OK, because it’s distracting and extremely annoying. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Daddy told them how lovely his three girls were – almost as lovely as their mother….

ALSO: The family name of the House of Brady is Sherwood.

So you’ve obviously been waiting ever so patiently to learn if there’s a “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” in there somewhere, right? Almost, but not quite:

Marcia’s cheeks burned. “No one was in awe of me.”

“Really? Everyone was ‘Marcia, this. Marcia, that.’ And you didn’t discourage them.”

The exchange wasn’t even with Jan/Janice – it was dialogue between our heroine and her jealous former schoolmate.

Ready for a final bite of saccharine sweetness before the closing credits? No? Too bad, so sad. Suck it up, because here it comes:

But they shared a love for their family and a zest for life that bonded them through thick and thin.

Oh, BARF. And for crying out loud, don’t TELL me. SHOW me. Ugh.

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

If you’re an Eloisa James fangirl, walk backwards slowly with your eyes on the floor until you reach a safe zone. Then turn and run like hell, because this is going to be ugly. (See what I did there?)
The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

  • Title: The Ugly Duchess
  • Author: Eloisa James
  • Series: Fairy Tales, Book 4
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon Books, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via Edelweiss ($6.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Plain Jane, Big Misunderstanding, Friends-to-Lovers, Reunited, Pirates
  • Quick blurb: “Hey, my wife of two days yelled at me because I married her for her money so I guess I’ll run away and become a pirate and shave my head and give myself a flowery facial tattoo and then show up out of the blue seven years later at the special session of Parliament called to declare me officially dead and then I’ll get all pissy when my bitter bride doesn’t immediately succumb to my piratical sexiness.”
  • Quick review: Hated it. It was awful. Dreadful. Did I mention I HATED IT?
  • Grade: F

In the weeks and years to come, when she looked back she identified that as the precise moment when her heart broke in two. The moment that separated Daisy from Theo, the time Before, from the time After.

In the time Before, she had faith. She had love.

In the time After…she had the truth.

What’s not to love about such lovely romantic angst like that, right? If only there was more of the angsty romance and a lot less piss-me-offery.

Theodora/Daisy is annoying, James/Jack is an idiot and the plot is all kinds of FUCKED UP. I don’t want to recap the whole mess of crap, so here’s what pissed me off the most:

After that the duke proceeded to demonstrate for his duchess almost all of the terms he knew for the sport of Venus. He was a pirate. He knew a lot.

THAT WAS THE HEA, FOR FUCK SAKE.

The happy ending was the “hero” showing off the boinking and boffing skillz he learned and earned while fucking prostitutes during his long absence at sea. I don’t consider that to be romantic AT ALL.

The opening scenes were promising — a plain but confident heroine and the childhood friend who realizes he loves her. But the Black Moment occurs way too early in the story, and then it was just more and more incarnations of “OH. FOR. FUCK. SAKE.”

An hour later, James had a shaved head and a small poppy tattooed beneath his right eye. He appropriated a name from Flibbery Jack, the pirate captain who would no longer be needing it, and gave it too himself.

Yes, FLIBBERY JACK. I mean, come on. Was that really necessary?

When Dread Pirate Emo Whiner made his Dramatic Reappearance precisely seven years later at the special session of Parliament just as he was about to be officially declared dead, I gave up and skimmed through to the repulsive conclusion and barf-worthy epilogue. Blech.

When her characters aren’t off randomly fucking around, Eloisa James is a really good writer. The quiet and introspective moments are lovely, her wit is wicked, and she’s brilliant at showing instead of telling.

James is not without a few quirks , though — she slathers on the similes and metaphors, but they’re just ordinary purplish prose, not full-on Simile Sex:

  • …like tradesmen’s wives seeing the queen.
  • …like a fox with a clutch of hen’s eggs.
  • …like tepid milk at bedtime.
  • …a tongue as sharp as a cracked mirror.
  • …as convincing as Marie Antoinette pretending to be a shepherdess.
  • …like a hollyhock that someone forgot to stake.
  • …as if she were a dog in a fight.
  • …like a drunken meringue.
  • …as if minutes turned into drops of honey.
  • …as tightly as puzzle pieces.
  • …as tightly pressed together as ha’pennies in the church box.
  • …like a marauding Visigoth.

And of course there’s the obligatory reference to a mythological goddess:

“Theo (the heroine) is like the huntress Diana…. Beautiful and yet slightly deadly, ready to whip out a bow and arrow, or turn a man into a squealing swine. Sensual, and yet with just a snowy touch of the virginal about her.”

I can easily ignore fluff like that, and I can even disregard the gratuitous inclusion of the Prince of Wales saying “what ho!” because no one calls him “Prinny.”

However, I most definitely cannot shrug off the casual acceptance and justification of infidelity.

I’m not new to this series – I really liked When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and I LOVED the novella Storming the Castle. In fact, I’ve read James’s entire backlist, which I attribute to Everyone Else Loves Her, I Must Be Missing Something Syndrome.

But I think I’m done with this author now. With very few exceptions, her books have left me with a vaguely squirmy feeling – a sort of lingering veneer of squickiness and disgust at her repeated reliance on no-consequences adultery as an amusing plot wrench. That’s a deal-breaker for me, and I just can’t give James another pass.