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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Theme Night: Richard III (The Non-Fictional Version)

Things history nerds obsess about:

Two child princes disappeared, and nobody raised a stink. What. The. Ever-Loving. FUCK.

Was Richard III really that much of a fear-monger? We now know he got his comeuppance (*cringe*), but seriously — NO ONE bothered to look for those poor boys? Sheesh.

ANYWAY, it’s been a while since I dug into the non-fiction side of York vs. Lancaster (and I can never remember who was on what side), but here’s a few from my Shelf of Actual History With Little Or No Smooching.

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Theme Night: Richard III (The Fictional Version)

So. All of us history nerds GEEKED OUT over the whole Richard III thing today.

Shakespeare's Tragedy Richard III From The Old Globe

I don’t know who this is, but I prefer this version of Richard III.

Did I mentioned that I geeked out? It’s true. I really did.

Anyway, in poor maligned Richard III’s honor, and to halt my month-long blog drought, here are a few quick reviews of some recommended Wars of the Roses stories from my vast stores of historical fiction.

Not familiar with the Wars of the Roses? Stay tuned for some non-fiction reviews coming up next!

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Medieval Mania: Lord of the Shadows by Kathryn Le Veque

Lord of the Shadows by Kathryn Leveque

  • Title: Lord of the Shadows
  • Author: Kathryn Le Veque
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, September 2012 (originally published  February 2011)
  • Source: Amazon, free promo ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 273 pages
  • Trope(s): Perfectly Perfect Heroine, Deadly-Yet-Sensitive Assassin Hero, Evil King, Instalove, TSTL Sibling, In Disguise, Intrigue & Espionage
  • Quick blurb: Feared royal enforcer falls for daughter of king’s most hated enemy
  • Quick review: Not bad, exactly, but…you know, it’s not quite… Oh, just read the damn review. That’s what you came here for, isn’t it?
  • Grade: C-

Like the allure of a good beheading, it was pure entertainment.

OK, I will admit I was wrong. I WAS WRONG. During the first read, this seemed pretty dreadful, and I even tweeted some snotty things about it.

But after finishing this, I read By Royal Command, aka Death By Thesaurus. And then I read a certain gay BDSM mistorical (Full Snark Bitchfest coming soon!) that will forever be the definition of “dreadful.”

So I upgraded Lord of the Shadows from a D+ to a C-. I can’t really recommend it, but it’s a helluva lot better than some of the other dreck I’ve been reading.

The plot….

In 1215 England, our hero, Sir Sean de Lara, is a long-time enforcer for the disgusting King John. But when he meets Lady Sheridan St. James, the daughter of the monarch’s most hated enemy, he’s tempted to sacrifice his decade of soul-crushing espionage for the chance to live a normal life.

Don't look too close - this really isn't medieval. Or British.

We’ll just ignore the dorky and unrealistic names so we can move along to the important stuff. Like kissing. And sex.

And history. MY GOD, the history. THE FATE OF ENGLAND IS AT STAKE, PEOPLE, YOU HAVE NO IDEA. You’ll see what I mean when we get around to more of Sir Sean. And there’s a LOT of Sir Sean.

The meet-cute, part 1….

Insta-Love from the get-go. Our Dark Lord gets his first glimpse of His Beloved as she tries to prevent her TSTL younger sister from flinging herself out a window:

I Bid Thee Farewell Unkind World

Phallic symbol?
What phallic symbol?

His attention then moved to the woman attempting to prevent the suicide; he couldn’t make out the features at this distance, but he could certainly distinguish the blond hair that shimmered against the afternoon sky as gold would shimmer against the sun.  He found himself more intrigued by the beauty of the hair than by the chaos unfolding around it.

Unfortunately, our heroine isn’t much of a crisis negotiator, because — oops…. But never fear! Sir Sean is here!

She was still screaming when he caught her.

After accepting their gushes of gratitude, our Hero of Darkness mysteriously disappears (he does this a lot) and waits patiently to see His Beloved again. Which, of course, happens in the very next chapter.

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Medieval Mania: Cultural Appropriation, ca. 1960

This is what you get when you do a Google search for “medieval maiden.” Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

1960 Maidenform Bra ad - detail of dog

A high-maintenance dog.

1960 Maidenform bra ad - detail of monkey

A monkey with a roll
of paper towels.

1960 Maidenform bra ad - detail of bunny

A bunny.

2960 Maidenform bra ad - detail of unicorn

A pervy yet submissive goat-unicorn.

1960 Maidenform bra ad - detail of model

Nope, nothing offensive here. Move along.

In all this visual ecstasy, let’s not overlook the all-important ad copy:

I dreamed I was a medieval maiden in my Maidenform bra

I dreamed I was a medieval maiden in my maidenform® bra
The past was never quite this perfect! I’m a legendary figure in STAR FLOWER,
Maidenform’s newest work of art! Genius idea: petal-patterned circular-stitched cup,
underlined with twin elastic bands (upper band expands for
custom fitting cups; lower band expands for comfortable give-and-take).
White cotton broadcloth, A, B and C cups. A collector’s item at just 2.50!

Yeesh. Just the words “broadcloth bra” make my boobs itchy. Let us now praise the inventors of Lycra®, even though they were men.

Medieval Mania: Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higginbotham

Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higginbotham

  • Title: Hugh and Bess: A Love Story
  • Author: Susan Higginbotham
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical Fiction
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2009
  • Source: Public library ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 273 pages
  • Trope(s): Child Bride, Treason, Courtly Love, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of traitors, and his teenage bride Elizabeth Montacute face court intrigue, war and plague
  • Quick review: A welcome informal tone and a great historical couple, but uneven storytelling.
  • Grade: C

“Why can’t Joan marry him? Her father was beheaded too. They would have had much more to talk about.”

Higginbotham is a new-to-me author, but I’ve had her on my wishlist for while. She  chooses some really fascinating lesser-known historical figures and settings, so I was really looking forward to this. But Higginbotham was doomed to a comparison to my other favorite historical fiction authors, particularly Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick (reviews for both coming soon!).

Hugh and Bess was an easy read with enjoyable dialogue and some good historical detail, but it was very superficial — the storytelling was noticeably episodic, with some backstory filler between major life events.

My biggest disappointment was the lack of emotional depth and character development. Other than dealing with their significant age difference, neither Hugh nor Bess change or grow at all throughout the story — Hugh especially is presented as a saintly warrior who can do no wrong. I think that’s partly because Hugh and Bess are separated for much of the story, and it would be difficult for any author to sustain the romance throughout wars, executions, epidemics and god knows what else these two had to overcome.

I have two more by Higginbotham in my TBR and a few others are available at my library, so it’ll be interesting to see how her Margaret of Anjou, Katharine Woodville and Frances Grey measure up.

Status Updates: Read With Me Vicariously

  • 17%: This has a much lighter tone than I was expecting, and I’m enjoying the author’s “voice” as a 13-year-old bride-to-be. The minor characters are a little hard to keep track of, especially considering the similarity of their names. If I wasn’t already a little familiar with the historical figures and chain of events, I’d probably find it really confusing.
  • 30%: The time-jumping is starting to annoy me – the dual storylines aren’t parallel chronologically, and there have been several flashbacks within flashbacks.  But I am loving the unusual “voice” — informal, smarmy and often sarcastic. Definitely not the usual medieval-speak.
  • 80% : Now that the info-dumping backstory is out of the way, the pace has picked up – but there still isn’t much emotional involvement.

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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