Audiobook Adventure: The Eight by Katherine Neville

  • The Eight by Katherine NevilleTitle:¬†The Eight
  • Author:¬†Katherine Neville
  • Genre(s):¬†Historical, Thriller
  • Publisher:¬†Open Road,¬†July 2015 (first published 1988)
  • Source:¬†Audible
  • Length:¬†25 hrs, 50 min (549 pages)
  • Trope(s):¬†Kickass Women, Alternate Timelines, Actual Historical Name-Dropping (x1000), Every Possible Thriller Kink You Could Possibly Imagine, Nuns on the Run, Very Convenient Coincidences, Mysterious Men of Mystery, Deep Dark Secrets
  • Quick blurb:¬†A 1970s computer programmer gets mixed up in a chess game of epic scope.
  • Quick review:¬†Holy cow.
  • Grade: B

It was she, and only she, who bored the burden of placing this powerful force into the right hands, hands that would protect it from the greedy or ambitious.

It’s been close to four years since Darlynne (@DarlynneReads) recommended this one during my Medieval Mania binge. It showed up on NetGalley last year as a re-release so I grabbed it – and of course it taunted me from my NG Wall of Shame. Then it showed up on Audible and it was the universe telling me to just read the damn book already.

And holy cow.

This book was chock full of…everything.

This book was…Dan Brown on steroids. And crack. And estrogen.

Things you should know about the Lady Computer Programmer (not in chronological order):

  • She was a music major which makes her an expert on everything because music is math. And religion. And physics. And chess.
  • She crashes an¬†OPEC planning meeting to discuss the 1974 oil embargo, at which Muammar Gaddafi shows up and knocks wine glasses off the tables with a walking stick. (I did not make that up.)
  • She and her fat sidekick almost die in the¬†desert when they make a wrong turn while crashing through a highway checkpoint. BUT WAIT! They’re rescued by a transport plane full of Japanese students that¬†just happens to have cargo space for their sun-scorched Rolls Royce Corniche convertible. (I did not make that up either.)
  • Shipwreck sex with a Russian chess master while he’s bleeding and concussed.
  • Beach sex on a deserted island with the Russian chess master.

Things you should know about the Red-Headed Nun on the Run (not in chronological order):

  • Gets pregnant by Talleyrand. Doesn’t get upset when he calls her by her recently-dead cousin’s name while in the throes of passion.
  • Doesn’t realize¬†she’s pregnant until Napoleon’s mother tells her.
  • Gives birth in the Algerian desert at the foot of a magical rock statue.
  • Disguises herself as a fellow nun to stab¬†Jean-Paul¬†Marat in his bathtub. Her guardian¬†Jacques-Louis David paints the dead guy’s portrait.
  • Drinks [NO SPOILERS] and becomes the ancestor of [NO SPOILERS].

Thrilling Thriller Kinks (not in chronological order):

  • Dead chess master at chess tournament
  • Fibonacci numbers
  • Man of mystery reachable only by secret hotline phone in his kitchen cupboard
  • Secret codes in cave paintings
  • Secret codes in¬†bible verses
  • Secret codes in baroque minuets
  • Barricade crashings (note plural)
  • Gunfights (note plural)
  • Car chases (note plural)
  • Shipwreck
  • Dead body in Mediation Room of the United Nations
  • 200-year-old journal that eerily mirrors present day
  • Know-it-all phone operator
  • Secret police interrogations
  • Sand storms (note plural)
  • Jewish diamond merchant
  • Jewish fur merchant
  • Muslim rug merchant
  • Orphans
  • Fortune teller
  • Harmonics theory
  • Beheadings (note plural)
  • Riots (note plural)
  • Bat attack in desert cave (alas, only the one)
  • Subliminal painting
  • Rented donkeys
  • Foot chase through Algiers Casbah
  • Midnight escape from KGB over Black Sea cliffs
  • Long-lost relatives reunited
  • Jewish mysticism
  • Muslim mysticism
  • Phoenician mysticism

Actual Historical Name-Dropping (in addition to those mentioned above; not in chronological order):

Rousseau, Voltaire, Richelieu, Robespierre, Corday, Pythagoras, Fourier, Philidor, Euler, C.P.E. Bach, Newton, Charlemagne, Wordsworth, Blake, Boswell, Catherine the Great, Potemkin

TBR Challenge AND Big Fat Book: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

  • The Bronze Horseman by Paullina SimonsTitle: ¬†The Bronze Horseman
  • Series: The Bronze Horseman, #1
  • Author:¬†Paullina Simons
  • Published:¬† 2001
  • Source:¬†Purchased
  • Format: Ebook and audio (narrated by James Langton)
  • Length:¬†ELEVENTY¬†HUNDRED THOUSAND¬†PAGES (or, possibly, 811, or 912, or 696, depending on edition); FOUR HUNDRED HOURS AND SEVENTEEN MINUTES in audio (or, possibly, 30:43)
  • Tropes:¬†Angst. Angst. More angst. Angst-o-rama. Did I mention the angst?
  • Quick blurb:¬†Russian WWII misery porn, in the picturesque setting of¬†the Siege of Leningrad
  • Quick review:¬†If you like great historical world-building overshadowed by angsty navel-gazing, interspersed with lengthy periods of passive-aggressive arguments and intermittent moments of wanting to punch people,¬†you will love this book.
  • Grade:¬†C-

Considering that I used the word “angst” at least 15 times up there (I like hyperbole), I looked up synonyms to keep you from mentally throwing things at me. I found a really good one. Are you ready for this? It’s German, which for the purposes of this review, is close enough to Russian.

weltschmerz [velt-shmerts]

noun, German

1. ¬†sorrow that one feels and accepts as one’s necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism.

Origin: literally, world-pain

bugs_dead

Yes, I know What’s Opera, Doc? is based on Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Wagner was German and not Russian, but it’s still funny.

After finally finishing this book, I felt ALL THE WELTSCHMERZ EVER on my shoulders. And it wasn’t even from holding a 1,358-page hardcover.

The ebook is on sale for $1.99, which is a total bargain at 0.218¬Ę per page. I bought it at that price in 2012. It glowered at me from the bottom of my TBR, where I kept it to prevent it squashing all the joie de vivre (I’m getting fancy here, eh?) from Minerva (my Kindle).

A few months ago, I started reading it. I made it through Book One, Part Two, Chapter Five. If you haven’t read this, you’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I am totally not (this time). The table of contents is three pages long. Two “books.” Four “parts.” Chapter titles include “Impaled in Space” and “Beset and Besieged” and “Desolate Waves” and “Worn Out with Terror and Misgiving” and “In the Moonlight’s Pallid Glamour.”

But it wasn’t the Wagnerian Gloom and Doom¬†that did me in. I had to put it on hiatus due to the overwhelming urge to punch the so-called “hero” in the nads¬†and push the so-called “heroine” down a well.

A brief recap of the first third of the book:

  • They meet-cute over an ice cream cone. Total insta-lust.
  • She invites him home and¬†finds out he’s boinking her sister.
  • She weeps a lot.
  • He stalks her all over town while continuing to boink her sister.
  • She runs away to find her missing brother and and he gets several men under his command killed trying to find her.
  • He’s still boinking her sister.

Alexander is boinking Tatiana’s sister for a Noble Cause. By “noble” I mean “selfish and cowardly.” It’s the entire premise of the book.

(Now would be a good time to note the subtitle of this novel is “A Love Story.” This is not a romance.)

After a few months letting it fester in my brain, I saw it on Audible, so I sacrificed a credit. And thereby, sacrificed my sappy HEA-loving soul.

*moment of silence*

Sorry, just getting into the spirit of melodrama here.

I started the audiobook from the beginning. Narrator James Langton is brilliant. I was able to push past the New Adult Whinginess (totally a word) and focus on the author’s historical world-building and backstory-building and scene-setting. The opening scenes in Tatiana’s family’s cramped, dreary flat in the middle of Leningrad are amazing. It’s damp and¬†claustrophobic and mundane. In just a few short pages, we’re introduced to all the characters and family history that turned Tatiana in a Mary Sue.

Alexander, on the other hand, is mysterious and enigmatic. We only gradually learn his backstory in bits and pieces that keep adding to the “he can’t really be that much of an asshole, can he?” wishful thinking. His¬†off-screen history is¬†completely¬†intriguing¬†and believable, and it leads him to making a gut-wrenching choice that sets up the major conflict in the book.

The main characters as individuals are compelling. Alexander is physically brave, earning numerous medals and promotions, but he’s morally (ethically? ) a coward. He has his reasons, but it takes a looooong time for all those little reveals to accumulate into¬†sympathy for him.

I don’t want to feel sympathy for a hero. I want him to be heroic.

Tatiana is¬†a Mary Sue, but she’s been conditioned for it from birth. She’s a Martyr with a Capital M. The word “no” never ever crosses her lips.¬†And yet she’s physically courageous in a very TSTL kind of way that endangers everyone around her – which makes her both selfless and self-centered.

I love¬†strong and vulnerable heroines. Tatiana’s strengths and vulnerabilities were the exact opposite of what I wanted to root for.

Separately, they’re fascinating. Together, they’re painful. As in stomach-cramping, fist-clenching “OH FOR FUCK SAKE” unpleasant.

As the book progressed, my frustration grew exponentially. The world-building was completely lost in the grim and plodding pacing. Fragments of drama and action were buried amongst endless repetitive pages of mental lusting and self-doubt and over-thinking and obliviousness.

The middle third of the book is awful. Tatiana has survived and escaped to a rural village. Alexander has tracked her down and married her. This should be the good bits, right? The life-affirming stuff? Nope.¬†When they’re not fucking on every available surface, they’re having lengthy, extended, interminable, overlong, tiresome, needlessly drawn-out passive-aggressive arguments. Did I mention that the arguments are¬†laborious and tedious? And that they’re both still wildly immature and annoying?

I should probably bump up the grade. I obviously have Very Feely Feelings about this book.

I stuck it out and finished the damn thing. And holy hell, when Simons decides to pick up the pace, she doesn’t fool around.¬†The real drama and action I was craving erupted in the last quarter. At one point I literally said “HOLY FUCK!” out loud and scared my dog. (If you’ve read it, it’s the scene with¬†Alexander¬†and Dmitri in the hospital and you know exactly which one I mean.)

bugs_dead_elmer

This is Tatiana [NO SPOILERS] Alexander from the [NO SPOILERS] and begging that one really interesting character who should have his own book to [NO SPOILERS].

This is so weird to say, but when the war engulfs¬†their lives, Tatiana and Alexander are much better characters and much better people. When they’re fighting external forces separately instead of their own ridiculous obsessive love, the story ‚ÄĒ and the romance ‚ÄĒ comes alive.

So. In conclusion, I’m not sorry I read it. I keep thinking about it, and my memories are vivid and visceral. I’m wondering if my frustrations would have been minimized if I had stuck with the ebook and skimmed through the drama-llama dreck. I have the second book on hold at the library (because of that utterly crushing cliffhanger) ‚ÄĒ¬†in paper, so I can fast-forward.

DNF: Playing It Cool by Amy Andrews

Playing It Cool by Amy Andrews

  • Title: Playing It Cool
  • Author:¬†Amy Andrews
  • Published:¬† September¬†2016
  • Source:¬†NetGalley
  • Length:¬†163 pages
  • Tropes:¬†Frat-Boy Alpha-Holes
  • Quick blurb:¬†Rugby player gets the hots for a jiggly chick.
  • Quick review:¬†NO THANK YOU and please pass me a moist towelette.
  • Grade:¬†DNF with extreme prejudice

I’ve enjoyed several of Andrews’ other books, but it’ll be a while before I try another one. ¬†This one was a big ol’ NO GO from the get-go. I barely made¬†it through the first scene.

Dexter Blake liked a woman with some junk in her trunk. And the tall, curvy chick on the sidelines was packing a whole lot of booty. She had one of those itty-bitty waists, too. And her cups floweth’d over.

Staring at her chest was practically a religious experience.

That’s how the book opens. With a sideline full of sweaty manwhores slobbering over Jessica Rabbit. It got worse, quickly.

The Alpha Male Testosterone Levels were so high I could barely breathe ‚ÄĒ¬†the jock talk about the heroine, both internal and dialogue, was repulsive douche-bro dickbaggery. I felt just plain icky as I read the first few paragraphs.

And uff da, the trope cliches….

And, sadly, as much as sideline-chick ticked every box, her ass was off-limits. One look at her told him she was the kind of girl a guy loved. Got into a relationship with. The kind he married. Made babies with.

She was the commitment type.

Over a decade of avoiding romantic entanglements had alerted Dex to the signs, and this woman had I don’t do casual¬†written all over her.

And he didn’t do commitment.

The “hero” takes ONE LEERING, DROOLING LOOK¬†at the heroine’s ass and immediately¬†knows she’s husband-hunting. On page one. I’m not making this up.¬†Maybe the author could just drop an anvil on our¬†heads to make sure we catch¬†the “But He Has Trust Issues” subtext.

el_coyote_y_el_correcaminos_2_by_winter_freak

[ETA: The heroine doesn’t wear obvious makeup, just a touch of sparkly lip gloss, so she’s definitely not a slut. That would just be wrong.]

I’m assuming (hoping) Andrews¬†eventually dials down on the “I only like women as¬†sex robots hur-hur pass me a beer” frat-boy mentality, but I wasn’t willing to invest my time in finding out. Gross.

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

Another ETA: If you want good rugby romance, read Kat Latham. She has the BEST heroines (I want them all as BFFs) who would have put the smackdown on these fuckwits right quick.

Summer Reading Wrap-Up

IT’S STILL TECHNICALLY SUMMER, DAMMIT.

Minimal snark this time, but maybe a little¬†squee here and there. Maybe more than a little. It’s a long list, so get comfy.

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

A bunch of stuff by Joan Wolf

wolf_americanearl wolf_londonseason wolf_lordrichard wolf_pretenders

*ahem* NEW AUTHOR CRUSH

The American Earl made my heart happy and I loved every word of it so just buy the damn thing and read it already so you can be happy like me.

I also loved¬†The Pretenders (friends-to-lovers fake engagement) and A London Season (friends-to-lovers angst-o-rama) and Lord Richard’s Daughter (missionary’s daughter falls in love with ¬†enigmatic rescuer).

The Arrangement and The Guardian, both “reluctant guardian” tropes, were good, but leaned a bit too¬†heavily on the average-par suspense.

Royal Bride (re-released as The English Bride, age gap, friends-to-lovers marriage of convenience) started out good, kind of fell apart in the middle, and finished up with some political drama.

I have White Horses in the TBR ‚ÄĒ¬†and that’s going to make me want to read that one Mary Stewart book with the horses and then I’ll have to read ALL THE MARY STEWART and then I will whinge about why we can’t get Mary Stewart in ebook or audio.

Anyway.¬†Last summer I read Joan Wolf’s Esther story during my FSAT take-down, and it was BY FAR the best Biblical novelization I’ve read. I might reade her others, but only after I finish her Regencies and Dark Ages books.

ALSO: I want those old Signet covers to make a comeback.

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