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.

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

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Carla Kelly Backlist Binge

I expanded it from a day to weekend because I am Having Ideas.

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Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla KellyWhy I Am A Carla Kelly Fangirl:

1. The historical worldbuilding. Total immersion book trance, every single time. No one does military romance better than Carla Kelly, and from what I can tell, her accuracy is nearly flawless.

2. The joining of equals. The heroines always have — or find — their agency, and their heroes are quietly heroic in the best possible way.

3. The mix of drama, high comedy, adventure, angst (and more). Nearly every heroine is a direly impoverished (see below) orphan or widow, and nearly all the heroes are stoic military men, but the width and depth of CK’s storytelling is truly impressive.

The must-reads:

Channel Fleet Series
(Marrying the Captain, Surgeon’s Lady, Marrying the Royal Marine)
My first and truest loves. Connected, but each is unique in story, tone and romance. On my DIK list. A+ for all three. (Harlequin Historical, 2008-2010)

The Wedding Journey
A marriage of convenience between an army surgeon and a dying officer’s daughter who’s threatened by a lecherous major. If you liked Marrying the Royal Marine or Balogh’s Beyond the Sunrise, you will love this one. (Signet, 2002)

With This RingWith This Ring by Carla Kelly
Plain Jane debutante volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and finds herself in a fake engagement to a lordly major. It’s a glorious road-trip comedy with a lengthy rest stop at a friendly village where the heroine opens a barbershop (no really). (Signet, 1997)

The Lady’s Companion
A penniless companion and her employer’s cranky bailiff. Quietly funny and achingly romantic, with a great side story about the lonely aging dowager who schemes to bring them together. Added to my “Best Beta Heroes” list. (Signet, 1996)

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind
A poor relation caring for her orphaned nephew slowly learns to appreciate the mill owner who lives nearby. A slow-building romance (on her side) and Deep Dark Secrets (on both sides) make this a really compelling and memorable read. (Signet, 1998) Continue reading

The Heyer Project: Part II – A Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes

Bugger, bugger, bugger — I started this over a month ago and emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t lose it. *sigh*

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In which I color-code a spreadsheet and compare The Grand Sophy to Curious George.

heyer_part2

Holy crap, I cannot believe it’s been over a year since Part I. I haven’t ruminated on my Balogh Binge yet either. I am such a slacker.

But then, sometimes things like this happen:

heyer_tweet

I am serious about this. I have never met any of you, but I seriously love you guys.

So this is me:

heyer_dug

Yes. I used a gif. Get over it. It’s Dug, so you can’t complain.

On to the good stuff! My initial foray into Heyer included (in reading order):

  • The Black Moth
  • FredericaPowder & Patch
  • Pistols for Two
  • April Lady
  • Cotillion
  • The Nonesuch
  • The Masqueraders
  • Black Sheep
  • Frederica
  • Venetia
  • The Grand Sophy
  • The Unknown Ajax
  • The Convenient Marriage

Since then, I’ve done all the rest on audiobook (all dirt-cheap from Audible thanks to Amazon’s nifty “Hey, You Really Need This Ebook On Audio Too, Just Give Us All Your Money And Be Done With It Already” feature). So a shout-out to Sourcebooks for their incredible $1.99 ebook sale way back when.

Round 2, in reading order:

  • Bath Tangle
  • farosdaughterThe Toll-Gate
  • Regency Buck
  • Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle
  • Sprig Muslin
  • Devil’s Cub
  • The Quiet Gentleman
  • Faro’s Daughter
  • Arabella
  • The Foundling
  • False Colours
  • A Civil Contract
  • The Reluctant Widow
  • The Talisman Ring
  • Friday’s Child
  • Cousin Kate

I’m only doing the romances (not the hist-fics or mysteries), so I think I only have a few left to go: These Old Shades, The Corinthian, Charity Girl and Lady of Quality.

That’s a lot of Heyer. And since this is all about ME, I made up my own Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes. There are many, many cross-overs, but this is how I find myself mentally categorizing them.

heyer_matrixView larger image!  |  View and comment(!!!) on the spreadsheet!

As I’m typing the list and re-color-coding the spreadsheet, I keep realizing how brilliant Heyer was in using the same tropes to tell very different stories. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: Kickin’ It Old School with Jude Deveraux

I missed the March and April challenges, but I am all over this one because MY FIRST DEVERAUXS. (Is that the plural? I’m going with it.) I had a hit and a miss.

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A Knight in Shining Armor (1987)

It was a DUD. I was DISAPPOINTED. There, I SAID IT.

A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux (1987)

My less-than-enthusiastic reaction can be blamed on:

The Susanna Kearsley binge.

I listened to The Winter Sea, The Firebird, The Rose Garden, and Splendour Falls, and read The Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms, so my standards for timeslip romances were raised ridiculously high.

Knight was undoubtedly romantic, and the time travel was entertaining, but I wanted the intensity and emotion of the chapel/churchyard scenes to be sustained through the whole story.

The awkward and uncomfortable narration.

I do NOT recommend the audiobook narrated by Steve West. It appears that he’s done several historical romances, but his performance on Knight had a lot to do with my negative reaction to the heroine (see below).

The over-the-top ex and his bratty daughter.

Halfway through the first chapter, my only thoughts were “Really?” A little subtlety would have gone a long way to make the opening of Knight a little more palatable. Instead, we get sledgehammered with caricatures.

And the fat-shaming of a 13-year-girl? REALLY? I don’t care how obnoxious the child was, or when this book was written, there is no excuse for that. I almost DNF’d by chapter two.

The heroine.

I hated Dougless. I wanted to slap her upside the head and say GOOD GOD WOMAN STOP WHINGING. She’s the prototype of the Ditzy, Klutzy, Family Fuck-Up and she annoyed me from beginning to end. All she did was whine, pout, plead and cry through the whole damn book.

Grade: C- (saved from a D+ by the perfectly perfect ending)

Continue reading

The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The Contemporaries

Officemates are playing incredibly crappy Christmas music at full volume, so I feel no guilt whatsoever about writing blog posts at work.

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Don’t Miss; Have Kleenex

Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham

  • Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat LathamTitle: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match
  • Author: Kat Latham
  • Series: London Legends, Book 3.5
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (November 2014)
  • Source: Amazon ($2.99)
  • Length: 119 pages
  • Trope(s): Reluctant Heroine, Gentle Giant, Plot Moppet
  • Quick blurb: Celebrity bachelor auction + rugby injury = sexy times
  • Quick review: I loved the heroine even more than the hero.
  • Grade: A-

I love love love Latham’s entire London Legends rugby series, and everything about this novella absolutely worked for me. And if you haven’t read Mine Under the Mistletoe, read that too. *~*happysigh*~*

Off the Map by Tamara Morgan

  • Off the Map by Tamara MorganTitle: Off the Map
  • Author: Tamara Morgan
  • Series: Winter Rescue, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (November 2014)
  • Source: Author
  • Length: 88 pages
  • Trope(s): Reunited, Dogs, Kickass Heroine, Grumpy Hero
  • Quick blurb: Helicopter pilot risks her career to help grumpy ex rescue his rescue dog
  • Quick review: I ♥ Tamara Morgan
  • Grade: B+

You’ll need the kleenex because you’ll be laughing so hard you’ll be crying. Morgan’s In the Clear is still tops on my DIK contemporary list (OMG, that shower scene *swoon* <thud>), and this one is going to be a frequent re-read as well. Also, it’s about dogs.

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley

  • Hero's Homecoming by Rebecca CrowleyTitle: Hero’s Homecoming
  • Author: Rebecca Crowley
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Carina Press (November 2013)
  • Source: Scribd
  • Length: 88 pages
  • Trope(s): Hurt/Comfort, Snowbound, Reunited, Kinda-Sorta-Big Misunderstanding
  • Quick blurb: Wounded war vet stuck in blizzard with former lover
  • Quick review: Three hankies
  • Grade: B+

At first, I was all, “WHY is she making this all about HER???” But I kept reading and then I cried.

Christmas at Waratah Bay by Marion Lennox

  • Christmas at Waratah Bay by Marion LennoxTitle: Christmas at Waratah Bay
  • Author: Marion Lennox
  • Series: Christmas Around the World
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Tule Publishing (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 120 pages
  • Trope(s): Enemies to Lovers, Big Misunderstanding, Family Drama
  • Quick blurb: Supermodel clashes with business tycoon when she returns home to visit her dying grandfather
  • Quick review: Ah, the glorious, glorious angst.
  • Grade: B+

I think Marion Lennox is going to be my next Author Binge.

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan

  • Maybe This Christmas by Sarah MorganTitle: Maybe This Christmas
  • Author: Sarah Morgan
  • Series: O’Neil Brothers, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Friends to Lovers, Angsty Athlete, Kickass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Smooching in the snow
  • Quick review: Everything I wanted it to be
  • Grade: A-

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first book in this series that everyone else adored, but this one pushed ALL my buttons. The only thing keeping this from an A+ was the over-the-top Evil Ex. Other than that, this has everything I crave in a friends-to-lovers story.

One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle Adams

  • One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle AdamsTitle(s): One Night in the Ice Storm
  • Author: Noelle Adams
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (December 2012)
  • Source: Amazon
  • Length: 81 pages
  • Tropes: Snowbound, Brother’s Best Friend
  • Quick blurb: See tropes above
  • Quick review: See tropes above
  • Grade: B+

Snowbound with brother’s best friend = here, take all my money.

The Mistletoe Effect by Melissa Cutler

  • The Mistletoe Effect by Melissa CutlerTitle(s): The Mistletoe Effect
  • Author: Melissa Cutler
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 200 pages
  • Tropes: Fake Engagement, Crazy Family, Cowboys
  • Quick blurb: Hotel heiress fakes engagement to ranch hand to preserve her family resort’s reputation
  • Quick review: I really can’t believe I actually like this.
  • Grade: B

I prepared myself for another caricature down-home yee-haw festival, but Cutler redeemed the Christmas Cowboy trope with this gleeful farce.

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Not Bad; Worth a Read

  • Snowed In by Sarah Title
    Insta-lust in the grocery store, but it still charmed me. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • The Kent Brothers Trilogy by Jaci Burton
    A bit predictable, but I loved the brothers’ banter. Grade: B (Purchased)
  • Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne ThayneSnow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
    Pleasantly surprised. Debating whether to read more by Thayne…. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt
    The Cameron Diaz/Jude Law bits of The Holiday. But with sheep. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • Christmas with the Laird by Scarlett Wilson
    Coworkers snowbound in derelict castle = take all my money. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • Christmas in Venice by Joanne Walsh
    Angst-o-rama. Probably won’t read again, but it was a lovely reunion romance. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • Wild Holiday Nights anthology by Samantha Hunter, Meg Maguire and Debbi Rawlins
    Everyone should read this for Maguire’s snowbound-with-the-high-school-crush story. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams
    Stretched the marriage of convenience trope quite a bit, but Adams still rocks the sexy inspie thing.  Grade: B (Purchased)
  • Unwrapped by Maisey Yates
  • Again a bit predictable, but lots of chemistry. Grade: B-

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Meh; If You Like That Sort of Thing

  • Her Holiday Man by Shannon StaceyHer Holiday Man by Shannon Stacey
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone else loved it. I found it so bland and boring I almost DNF’d it. It has none of the zing and chemistry of Holiday Sparks.  Grade: C- (NetGalley)
  • Christmas Curveball by Shari Mikels
    A snowbound-with-brother’s-best-friend that fizzled quite disappointingly. Grade: C- (Scribd)
  • Trading Christmas by Debbie Macomber
    My first Macomber. It was OK. The second, not so much (see below). Grade: C (Library)
  • Love Finds You in Frost, Minnesota by Judy Baer
    I bought this because I have relatives that live here. I finished it. Grade: C (Purchased)
  • Snowbound Surprise for the Millionaire by Michelle Douglas
    More travelogue than romance, but I liked the heroine. Grade: C (NetGalley)
  • A Mistletoe Christmas anthology by Carla Cassidy, Cathy McDavid, Marin Thomas
    None of these really stood out. I don’t think I even remember any of them after a week.Grade: C- (NetGalley)

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Blech; Don’t Bother

  • The Christmas Violin by Buffy AndrewsMr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
    Schmaltz to the Nth Degree. D+ (Library)
  • Home in Time for Christmas by Heather Graham
    Loved the premise, but the execution was a complete mish-mash of Way Too Much Going On. DNF (Scribd)
  • The Christmas Violin by Buffy Andrews
    I’m usually a sucker for anything involving musicians, but this crossed that Schmaltz to the Nth Degree threshold too. (Purchased)
  • Just in Time for Christmas by Kim Boykin
    The Sassy Southern trope just does not work for me. DNF (NetGalley)

More Audiobook Adventures

I am now wishlisting books by narrator. I am officially addicted.

Highly recommended….

That would be “highly recommended” as in “read this NOW, dammit, your life is meaningless without this book.”

The Book Thief by Marcus ZusakThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Narrated by Allan Corduner

I avoided this for years because it’s told from Death’s point of view. I was a dumbass. It’s stunning. From start to finish. I can’t even begin to count how many times I nearly drove off the road trying to bookmark a “holy SHIT, that was good” passage.

It’s one of those books that uses language in an entirely unique way. I kept thinking the title should be “The Word Thief” instead, because Zusak somehow manages to turn seemingly simple words and phrases into characters in their own right. Just read the prologue in the sample, you’ll see what I mean.

Continue reading