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.

Continue reading

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – aka Fat-Shaming for Fun and Profit

The Hating Game by Sally ThorneHi! It’s me, calling out some¬†problematic shit in the latest squeed-over bestseller!

  • Title: The Hating Game
  • Author:¬†Sally Thorne
  • Published:¬† August 2016
  • Source:¬†Library
  • Length:¬†384 pages
  • Tropes:¬†Enemies to Lovers, Lust in the Workplace, Fat-Shaming
  • Quick blurb:¬†Office rivals compete for the same job while flirting and otherwise generally engaging in an HR nightmare of inappropriate workplace behavior.
  • Quick review:¬†If only….(see below)
  • Grade:¬†D

I had this on hold at the library for weeks, and did a little chair-dance at my desk when I got the notification it was waiting for me. I picked it up on my way home yesterday and read the whole thing last night.

It did live up the the hype for truly funny banter and bone-melting romance, so I in no way fault anyone for liking it.

However.

HOWEVER.

*~*sigh*~*

1) Towards the end, the hero describes himself as “socially retarded.”

These are supposedly smart characters. Putting words like “retarded” in their mouths is lazy writing and it’s offensive to many readers.

It’s 2016 for god sake. FIND BETTER WORDS.

ALSO.

This is where I get really cranky.

2) The heroine’s boss – a chain-smoking anorexic – brings in doughnuts or cookies or something and jokes about “bringing on diabetes” in her short, fat colleague.

“Ha ha ha let’s make the pervy boss fat and sweaty and¬†tempt him with cookies so he gets diabetes.”

And it’s even funnier because the hero is ripped and the heroine is a teeny-tiny!

HAHAHAHA NO.

FUCK OFF. Not funny. In any way. Ever.

I mistakenly assumed the offensiveness of this cringe-inducing bullshit was common knowledge as well, but apparently not, so let’s review, shall we?

A) Fat-shaming is not, never has been, and never will be funny.

B) Diabetes is not, never has been, and never will be funny.

C) Openly mocking a character by assigning these traits is GROSS and INSULTING and even lazier writing.

This book might have been one of my favorite reads of the year. But nope. I lost all trust in the author and will probably never read her again.

I sincerely hope she gets a better editor and better beta readers who have the compassion to actually notice this bullshit and the balls to call it out.

TBR Challenge: Kicking It Old School with Patricia Rice

Last year for Old School Month, I read two Jude Devereaux classics ‚ÄĒ a hit and a miss. This time, I’m kinda sorta maybe mostly undecided.

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

  • Title:¬†Moon Dreams
  • Author: Patricia Rice
  • Series: American Dreams, #1
  • Published:¬† January 1991; re-released February 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length:¬†384 pages
  • Tropes:¬†Dimwit Runaway Innocent Ingenue, Illegitimacy-But-Not-Really (see “Back From the Dead” below), Evil Heirs, Kilted Kourage, Exotic Otherness, Cultural Appropriation, Fake Scottish Brogues, Cinderella Makeovers, Back From the Dead, Very Convenient Coincidences,¬†Smuggler With a Heart of Gold,¬†Actual Historical Name-Dropping, Metaphorical Metaphors
  • Quick blurb:¬†Illegitimate heiress runs away from her lecherous cousin and gets rescued by a Scottish smuggler obsessed with avenging his own family dishonor.
  • Quick review:¬†Stuffed with all the Old Schoolish WTFery¬†you could ever possibly want.
  • Grade:¬†C- (it was a loooong slog¬†up the Highlands in the last third¬†to avoid a D+)

Firstly, let’s wallow in the original cover for a moment, shall we?

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

THE FLAMING PASSION OF TROPIC NIGHTS LIT LOVE’S GOLDEN DAWN

Are you done wallowing yet? Need a moment? Need an ointment of some sort?

*~*waits patiently*~*

So. I bought this one and the follow-up a few months ago when I was looking for some American-set historicals. Despite the series name, very little of this one was set in Colonial America. The happy couple bounced around the northern hemisphere and it was pretty exhausting trying to figure out how they manuevered all that Near-Sex and Actual Penetrative Sex and Hate-Sex into their year-long itinerary.

I’m going do a full recap to help you properly appreciate the Full Glory¬†Old-Schooliness of this Epic Adventure. I haven’t gone full-snark in over a year, so buckle up and gird your loins and grab a snack. Continue reading

#TBR Challenge: The 2016 RITA Rundown

For last year’s “award winners” TBR Challenge, I read three RITA-nominated inspies, and found a new auto-buy author (Stacy Henrie). I tried the one historical inspie on this year’s RITA list, but DNF’d it because it was sugary wallpaper ‚ÄĒ¬†and OF COURSE it won.

Here’s this year’s rundown….

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Historical Romance: Long

Bella and Beast by Olivia Drake

Bella and the Beast by Olivia Drake

Not available¬†at my¬†library in any format, not available on Scribd, and I couldn’t justify paying¬†$7.99 for a new-to-me author ‚ÄĒ¬†ESPECIALLY when the mmpb is priced lower than the ebook. Get your shit together, St. Martin’s Press. I want to read your books, make it easy for me.

Grade: N/A

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

Library. Fluffy fluff and blatantly unbelievable hist-rom wallpaper with no outstanding qualities. But damn if I didn’t read the whole damn thing in one sitting.

To quote myself:

“I…grudgingly admit that I was maybe slightly charmed in a grumpy sort of way.”

Grade: C+

If the Viscount Falls by Sabrina Jeffries

If the VIscount Falls by Sabrina Jeffries

I adore Sabrina Jeffries. I own and frequently re-read her entire backlist, and there’s not a dud in there. The Duke’s Men series is a great mix of drama, suspense, angst, snark, and swooniness. Viscount wasn’t my favorite in the series (Lady Zoe in How the Scoundrel Seduces for the win), but it’s a great¬†second-chance romance.

Grade: B+

NOTE: If Jeffries’¬†The Study of Seduction isn’t a finalist next year, I will be VERY PUT OUT. One of my top reads this year.

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist (winner)

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

I had a major case of Book Anxiety over this one. The ARC sat on my Kindle for months and months and months. I finally got the audiobook earlier this year and kicked myself for waiting so long. It was beautiful.

To quote myself again:

“Gist can take a tiny thread from a historical newspaper article or, in this case, a Chicago World‚Äôs Fair brochure, and spin it into glorious layers of character and relationship building. And then she surrounds it with an almost touchable sense of place.”

Grade: A-

Tremaine’s True Love by Grace Burrowes

Tremaine's True Love by Grace Burrowes

I downloaded it from the library. Twice. Still haven’t read it. The blurb just wasn’t compelling enough to compel me to un-break-up with Burrowes.

Grade: N/A

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