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¢ 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 — and the romance — 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) — in paper, so I can fast-forward.

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.

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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 — 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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TBR Challenge: Kicking It Old School with Patricia Rice

Last year for Old School Month, I read two Jude Devereaux classics — 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

Recent Reads

I’m currently reading Riveted by Meljean Brook (audio) and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

Riveted by Meljean Brook   The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Both are good. Really good. As in this kind of good:

snoopy_library

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A quick disclaimer: I’m friendly with several authors below on Twitter.

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The Art of Sinning and The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25814323-the-study-of-seduction

Jeffries has been an auto-buy for years, and there’s no sign of breakup. I inhaled her entire backlist when I first started reading romance, and the Hellions of Halstead Hall and Duke’s Men series are constant re-reads.

The latest titles are just as good. Sinning has an artist hero and you know I can’t resist those. Seduction has a marriage of convenience between a grumpy hero who makes lists and a secretly-smart social butterfly, and adds in a truly creepy stalker who cooks up some creative blackmail over Deep Dark Secrets, and just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I can’t say more without spoilers, but Seduction was especially memorable because of the social butterfly heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, which made the consummation of the marriage…heart-wrenching. I think Jeffries handled that potentially problematic trope really well.

I keep trying to articulate why Jeffries’ books work so well for me. She’s not a particularly flashy or profound or incisive writer. Her books are standard dukes-a-million regency fare that never bust out of the usual tropes – but they’re never wallpapery fluff.

I think it’s the simple fact that I know I can rely on her consistency. That might not sound like a compliment, but I mean it the best way – she’s just a damn good storyteller. Every. Single. Time.

Source: Edelweiss

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Audiobook Adventures: More Wallowing

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m bored at the dayjob. Go figure.

Another fun fact: It’s so windy here on the open prairie (well, a barren cornfield north of the airport, but whatever) that the facilities guy put himself on call to HELP US OPEN THE DOORS. True story.

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Current read: Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Narrated by Stina Nielsen

I’m retitling this Until the Yawn, because I’m clever like that. I’m about halfway in, and the pacing just ….keeps …..slowing …….down. I expect great things from Camden because I’ve unreservedly loved all her previous books; Against the Tide and Into the Whirlwind are both DIKS.

Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Sadly, Dawn has “meh” all over it, partly because the narrator is noticeably lackluster, but mostly because the main characters are both completely insufferable. He’s a Cranky Crankhole and she’s a Sunny Sunbeam and ALL RIGHT THEY’RE OPPOSITES WE GET IT MOVE ON ALREADY FOR CRIPES SAKE. The heroine is described as “nice” at least 1,486 times.

A bunch of scientists just showed up at the cursed mansion, so I’m hoping there’ll be some ghost action or a dog unearths buried treasure (I like dogs) or Mr. Crankhole breaks his other leg falling off a cliff or something to get this story moving.

HOWEVER. The prequel novella, Toward the Sunrise, was really good. It had GOATS as a primary plot device and I still liked it.

NO GOATS ALLOWED

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Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Colonial/Revolutionary Binge

The party continues with a list that’s not so random – my recent reads about colonial, revolutionary and post-war/frontier America. I’d been hoarding most of these for years, but finally got inspired by — wait for it — Jude Devereux’s The Raider.

Most are from inspie publishers, who seem to be the only ones interested in non-Brit settings. Maybe someday Harlequin will discover early America. I would GLOM THAT SO HARD. That sounds vaguely dirty, but you know what I mean.

All the family pics are from a trip to Washington D.C.,  in 2008 to visit my little sis, who had an actual job actually schmoozing actual politicians. She likes that sort of thing (*~*shudder*~*).

Kids_MtVernon2

Damn, my kids are cute.

Things 1&2 were eight and five. We spent July 4th at Mount Vernon, where it was approximately 157 degrees, with mosquitoes the size of bats and restroom lines nine miles long. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

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The colonial era

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
The story of Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallet,  a founder of Greenwich, Connecticut, and ancestor of Howard Dean,  John Kerry, Amelia Earhart, Bill Gates and Johnny Depp. No, seriously. Not quite as good as Seton’s Katherine, but definitely a must-read. There’s some info-dumping when the narrative skips ahead a few months or years, but the heroine’s struggles with her Puritan community and the harshness of the early settlements are incredibly vivid and memorable. Grade: A- (HMH, 1958; purchased (I own all of Seton in paper, ebook and audio)) Continue reading