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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One-Quote Review: Gambling on Love by Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger

Gambling on Love by Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger

  • Title: Gambling on Love
  • Author: Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Entangled (Scandalous), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Debutante, In Disguise, Slavery, Gambling,
  • Quick blurb: Southern belle hires riverboat captain to transport her father’s former slaves to safety.
  • Quick review: Not painful, not much there.
  • Grade: C-

Instead of a quote, I will make reference to the six (6) times the word “teat” is used in this story. Hence the minus added to the letter grade.

I don’t have much to say about this one — nothing too objectionable, but nothing memorable. The middle sagged with no real conflict, and the heroine was Little Miss Perfect throughout the story.

One-Quote Review: Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

  • Title: Bound to Be a Bride
  • Author: Megan Mulry
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Bride, In Disguise, Kidnapped, Bondage, Mistorical, TSTL
  • Quick blurb: Runaway bride kidnapped by fiancé she’s never met.
  • Quick review: Not painful, but more than a little ridiculous.
  • Grade: D+

She had proved quite amenable, showing admirable equestrian and culinary skills and generally not making a nuisance of herself.

This story was all over the place, especially the wildly inconsistent, nearly-TSTL heroine and her education at the Convent of Handy Outdoor Survival Techniques.

Backlist Binge: Sophia James

This took me longer than I thought, because I wound up doing a full re-read of one, and I had to buy and read the newest because it finished off a series.

So… Here are the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Sophia James, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: James is on the dark and angsty edge of Harlequin Historicals — her characters are complex and conflicted, and when she stays away from rakes and pirates, her storytelling skills are memorable. But it’s hit or miss whether all the pieces and parts coalesce enough to suck me into a full-on book trance.

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One-Quote Reviews: Strangers on a Train

I’d go with an “All Aboard!” intro, but that would be too cheesy even for me. Beware of CAPSLOCK OF RAGE and FANGIRL SQUEE (not in the same story, thank god.)

<whining>

Before we get to the good stuff, a brief plea to Samhain Publishing: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, FIX YOUR EBOOK FORMATTING. The default 6pt font and forced sans serif is beyond annoying — it makes me cringe every time I open a recent Samhain title. I’m willing to put up with it for trusted authors, but it is a definite barrier to trying new ones.

</whining>

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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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Backlist Binge: Julia Justiss

As promised, the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Julia Justiss, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: Justiss does widows, courtesans and angsty heroes really, really well. Her debutantes and rakes, however, are generally just wallpaper.

A word of warning: You can’t have Hal Waterman. He’s MINE.

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At Every Turn by Anne Mateer

At Every Turn by Anne Mateer

  • Title: At Every Turn
  • Author: Anne Mateer
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Bethany House, September 2012
  • Source: ARC provided by publisher ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Trope(s): Perky Plucky Heroine, Painfully Earnest Cluelessness, Love Triangle, Mid-Level Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: Spoiled young woman must find a way to raise money she impulsively pledged for a church mission project.
  • Quick review: Another one for the “disappointed” list….
  • Grade: C-

I fought a ridiculous desire to throw myself into his arms. Instead, I pulled back my shoulders and lifted my chin. “Show me the way.” And he did just that.

This could have been so good — SO GOOD — but the lack of subtlety and tension early in the story, and the lifeless writing, left me dwelling on my annoyances with the heroine.

I knew Alyce would undergo some much-needed Life Lessons, but her initial poor-little-rich-girl cluelessness, reinforced by the first-person POV, came *thatclose* to being TSTL and a DNF. It isn’t until well into the second half that we finally get a brief glimpse of the passion for car racing that turns her into the heroine I was expecting.

And while I knew from other reviews that this title is much preachier (is that a word?) than what I’m usually comfortable with, I was not prepared for the UNBEARABLY cloying and cringe-worthy way the Africa mission plot point was presented. Historically accurate, yes, but most definitely not in a good way, and it’s a huge risk to take in drawing in modern readers.

The Duchess War and A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

The Duchess War

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

  • Title: The Duchess War
  • Author:  Courtney Milan
  • Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.99 ebook)
  • Length: ??? pages (5068 Kindle locations)
  • Trope(s): Tragic Past, Parental Issues, In Disguise, Virgin Hero, Smartass Heroine, Blundering Hero
  • Quick blurb: Progressive but guilt-ridden duke brings unwanted attention to heroine who’s desperate to remain an overlooked wallflower.
  • Quick review: A lot I really liked and a few things that just didn’t work.
  • Grade: B-

Favorite quotes:

  1. “I’m winning,” he announced. “You can’t bore me into a surrender.”
  2. “Don’t tell me to look up. Don’t ask me to want. If I do, I’ll never survive.”
  3. “I’ve always found that the quickest way to make someone relent in his foolish edicts is to take every command literally and to perform it with flagrant obedience.”
  4. “A paste emergency!” she huffed. “A paste assault, that’s what we had.”
  5. It wasn’t fair that he could rob her heart of anger and her lungs of air with just one word.
  6. “The male of the human species has a fundamental flaw. At the moment when we most want to say something clever and impressive, all the blood rushes from our brains.”
  7. His voice was rough when he spoke again. “So beat me to flinders,” he said. “Win. Overmatch me, Minnie. And when we’re alone…” His fingers touched her chin lightly. “When we’re alone,” he whispered, “look up.”
  8. She was a shard of stained glass, casting colors about the room, and yet capable of slicing everything she touched.
  9. “No,” Minnie said bitterly. “I earned this, fair and square.” Well, maybe it hadn’t been fair. And maybe it hadn’t been precisely square. Still, she’d earned it legally. Legally and…rectangularly. That would have to do.
  10. It was messy and slippery and wrong, and it felt so, so damned right.

Stuff I liked:

  1. Heroine named Minerva. I am a complete sucker for this.
  2. Hero who’s an anti-Duke.
  3. Heroine who isn’t a TSTL doormat.
  4. Victorian NON-LONDON, NON-COUNTRY-HOUSE-PARTY setting.
  5. Relationship between Robert and his illegitimate half-brother Oliver (“…because he chose me first”).
  6. Robert struggling with his loyalties between Minnie and Oliver.
  7. Severe anxiety issue that doesn’t evaporate with a Magical Orgasm Cure.
  8. Awkward wedding night with Robert shutting his eyes and thinking of England and Minnie unashamedly taking matters into her own hands (literally).
  9. Dowager Duchess swooping in à la Lady Catherine de Bourgh and then acknowledging the literary reference herself.
  10. The non-threatening reason for the “Brothers Sinister” name of the series.

Stuff that didn’t work for me:

  1. Repetitive angstifying (on both sides) after the meet-cute and before the Paste Incident. I really struggled with the book until I got past the halfway point.
  2. Needlessly blatant telegraphing of yet another upcoming round of angst (“…a blood-red portent of things to come”).
  3. The over-the-topness of the Dowager Duchess (except for the incident mentioned above) with a complete personality overhaul in the schmaltzy epilogue as she turns into the perfect grandparent.
  4. The goat rampage. Yes, I was warned, but sheesh. Was that really necessary? I think NOT.
  5. On the whole, I found it surprisingly earnest and heavy-handed, without Milan’s trademark dark humor that sets her writing apart.

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

A Kiss for Midwinter

A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

  • Title: A Kiss for Midwinter
  • Author:  Courtney Milan
  • Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 121 pages
  • Trope(s): Ruined by a Rake Predator, Parental Issues, Blundering Hero, Non-Euphemistic References to Naughty Bits
  • Quick blurb: Eleventh prettiest girl in Leicester rebuffs wooing of doctor who knows her secret.
  • Quick review: I loved this one almost as much as A Governess Affair.
  • Grade: A-

Favorite quotes:

  1. “Work your way on to number twelve,” she snapped. “Number eleven wants nothing more to do with you.”
  2. But it was too late. Miss Lydia Charingford wasn’t just on the list. She was the list, and he hoped God would have mercy on his soul.
  3. She leaned in and whispered. “Let me tell you a secret. I’m not stupid.”
  4. “Well,” she finally said, “you’re doing it wrong.”
  5. Even if she swooned at whatever poetic nonsense he managed to spout, she would only be disappointed once they grew comfortable with each other and he went back to making jokes about death and gonorrhea.
  6. “Maybe,” he said, “I’m thinking that the days are dark and long, that midwinter is approaching. Maybe, Miss Charingford, all I really want is a kiss.”
  7. “I believe,” he said, “that there is a special place in hell for those who steal truth. And that man—whoever he is—I hope he is burning there.”
  8. “Once you speak,” he said, “you have no equal.”
  9. “Sometimes,” she said, “it feels like there are some hurts that can only be cured by this. By warmth. And touch.”
  10. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that you have a question about gonorrhea. Those questions are so much easier to answer.”
  11. There was the mistletoe piled on a market table, a poisonous, parasitic reminder that kisses could lie.
  12. Even the way he talked to her. It was outrageous. It was blunt. It was impossible. And it was…precisely what she needed, the truth boned and filleted without garnish or flourish, placed in front of her for her decision. He made her wants seem ordinary instead of dark and dangerous.
  13. “The truth isn’t a gift,” she told him. “It’s a terror. And every time I look at you, I feel it.
  14. He’d never noticed before how much a breath could say. It seemed more than the transportation of air to lungs. The act of breathing with another person—of accepting silence together, of simply living in tune with the rhythm of someone else’s existence—was deeply intimate. They said more to each other with quiet respiration than they’d managed in sixteen months of bickering. [*SWOON*]
  15. I only said I would stop talking to you, he’d written. I never promised to stop loving you. [O.M.G. *~*~*SWOON*~*~* <thud>]

(Yes, I know that was longer than the list for the longer novel. Just shut up and keep reading.)

Stuff I loved:

  1. Blundering hero who knows when to just shut up and listen.
  2. Troubled heroine who finally learns to start talking.
  3. Lydia’s quiet but loving-no-matter-what relationship with her parents, especially her father.
  4. Jonas struggling with love for and utter frustration with his aging father, and no Magic Grandchild Cure in the epilogue.
  5. Jokes about gonorrhea. This novella had all the dark humor the novel was missing.
  6. The sense of equality between Lydia and Jonas, as a romantic couple and as equally important characters who are never shoved to the sidelines for the sake of the plot.
  7. The achingly lovely intimate moments with no dialogue.
  8. Use of the word “ensorcellment.”
  9. Non-kissy references to mistletoe. Yes, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m bitter and cranky and I haven’t started drinking yet. Shut up.
  10. Fascinating history without gratuitous info-dumping. I love it when authors are bigger nerds than I am.

Stuff I didn’t love:

  1. The premise seemed a bit too similar to A Governess Affair, with a gruff but sensitive hero overcoming the fears of a ruined heroine.
  2. See item #1. Other than that, I got nothing.