"History is just one damned thing after another."
Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.
Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting.
Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake....
©2013 Jodi Taylor (P)2014 Audible Studios
This is the first book in a lovely light series of books about the time-travelling historians of St Mary's. Funny and well written with some great and memorable characters.
My immediate impressions were: "Very English" from the acerbic flow of the revealed thoughts of the characters and their conversations, to the very dry humour and the unorthodox institution of a St Mary's. Personally I loved it, but have to wonder whether it would appeal to a non-English audience.
The other significant enjoyment factor was the total novelty of the storyline premise. I can't recall ever reading a story quite like this one, so I would certainly applaud Jodi Taylor's imagination as well as the way she drew the plot together. Well done and thank you.
Finally Zara Ramm's narration was perfect for the characters. She modulated well to indicate the different roles, but kept it clipped enough to represent the story in its best light.
"Action Adventure Time Travel Novel w/ Good Reader"
In case this bothers a reader: this is a first person point of view story. It also contains some (brief) sex and adult language. Probably I wouldn't have even thought about either factor except someone had rated it as one star because it wasn't CLEAN enough. I really hate that term applied to books, unless someone if referring to the condition of the pages rather than the content. The setting is the UK at some near future point in time.
Any way, the heroine, a woman who has completed her doctorate in history, is recruited by an old teacher who once at a pivotal moment in her life provided guidance, into a time travel project. There's lots of action and adventure as she has to cope not just with being sent back to dangerous time periods, but also with problems from the future.
People who enjoy Connie Willis' time travel books or Kage Bakers novels of the Company might enjoy at least this first book. It's complete in itself although it is part of a series. It's also science fiction rather than romance.
I would also point out that despite the enthusiasm of what I assume are fans, that Taylor hasn't yet reached the skill level of the other authors I have mentioned. If it were possible to give half stars I would give the story 3.5 stars. On at least two occasions the author dumps a load of information on the reader rather than feeding it bit by bit. Luckily the narrator, who I do not think I've encountered before, was able to wend her way through it. I'm not sure how I would have reacted had I been reading the print version at those points-- probably put it down for a while. But I'm sure I would have gone back because I've developed a bit of soft spot for the heroine.
"Does what it says on the tin"
This was a moderately enjoyable read. I must admit that it made my historian's heart beat a little bit faster to read about historians living and exploring historical events. However, the characters in the story never really came alive for me. Motivations and personalities never really seemed to gel and when I finished the book I still felt like I didn't know anyone in the book, not even the protagonist. I prefer character-driven stories, and this was very much action-oriented. Not bad, but not really my cup of tea, either. I also had difficulty understanding the time span of this book. What I thought had been a few months had actually been five years and I wonder if I wasn't paying attention or if the passage of time was really glossed over. That said, the story held my interest, even with little nitpicky criticisms I had about plot points, and I don't regret the purchase. However, it isn't likely I'll pick up Book 2 in this series.
Zara Ramm did a good job narrating the book. While she did do accents, she didn't give characters distinctive voices. That, in addition to the aforementioned issues I had with characterization, plus the occasional nickname bandied about, made it difficult for me to tell some characters apart from one another.
This is a fun read, but I would only recommend it to people who want to enjoy a little bit of bubble gum reading.
"Adventures in Time Travel!"
I know there are folks who buy a book because of its cover. I got this one because of its title--I just couldn't resist it! Besides, time travel is 'in' right now and often can be very entertaining.
Over all, I found the story enjoyable and a fun read. The heroine is surprisingly able and competent to handle herself in difficult situations and to save the day for her colleagues. I found this a bit incongruous with the narrator's particular British accent, in that I just could not imagine someone who talked like that punching someone in the face or being rough and tough enough to carry the story. Yet, Max was just that kind of heroine. I guess you just can't judge a book by its accent!
In contrast to a previous reviewer, I enjoyed this book much more than Connie Willis' two World War II time travel books, which I found very unsatisfying and frustrating. Jodi Tayor's character, Max, has actual relationships with other characters and all these characters are more developed. I found Max's adventures in time travel into the past much more engaging. The Willis books, while expertly researched, were pure drudgery for me.
If you love time travel books and are happy with a very British sounding heroine, this book will be a fun read for you. Go for it!
"A female thriller for all listeners"
Yes, maybe not for everyone, but certainly fans of scifi/thrillers with a serious comedic spin. Taylor writes in an almost stream of concious manner, and Zara Ramm brings authenticity and wonderful humour to the narration.
There is just enough adult themes to temper the humour, and although it does require a bit of a stretched belief model, I do recommend it.
Max ( our hero ) is difficult not to cheer for, and engages us all the way. The bad guys are not very well crafted, at least in this first book of what I hope is a long series.
Everything. She sparkles. Humour, drama, authenticity, and consistency. What's not to like?
I am not creative enough to get this one nailed.
This is the first of what promises to be a classic series of funny/serious/scifi time travel thrillers, in classic British style. There is a slight "chick lit" aspect to the offering, but it is highly enjoyable for everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and have downloaded the sequel already. Highly recommended.
"One Disjointed Story Line After Another"
I tried this book because of all the favorable reviews here on audible and all the positive comparisons to Connie Willis' collection of books. I have enjoyed the the first two books in Willis' time travel series very much and hoped for more along that genre with this series. That was not to be. To me, this book had tons of potential--but in the end the story was too light weight, the action jumped around too much and the characters became blurred and vague.
At first, I liked the narration as Hamm's voice was pleasant--but as the reading progressed everything started sounding the same. Flat and monotone --no matter what action was occurring at the time. I agree with another reviewer that it felt like a long string of TV episodes. In the end it wasn't enough to hold my interest. I gave up due to sheer boredom. Can't recommend.
"I ultimately returned this book..."
Yes, as other reviewers have mentioned, the narrator/protagonist is likeable, but she's not very complete. None of the characters are, which is again something that many reviewers have mentioned, that it's not character driven. And the writing is mediocre, with a lot of disjointed, badly done exposition that is often pretty heavy handed.
Just one damned thing after another aptly describes this book, as it is very episodic, very much "and then this, and then this, and then this..." There is a tenuous story arc, but it feels like a TV series where there's a season long story arc that is briefly touched on in each episode, but each episode is nonetheless a standalone unit, until the season end when the final few episodes are devoted to that arc. The action in this book is a lot like that.
The narrator would be better suited to something without different voices or moments of danger, something more even keel, because she sounds very monotonic throughout. It's usually difficult to tell who's talking, and there's no difference between her drinking a cup of tea and fighting for her life.
I did give this a good chance, listening to over half, enough to see what the plot was driving at. But I found that, with a little under 4 hours left to listen, I just didn't care.
"Plot had great promise"
This book was a terrible disappointment. The general concept behind the story really excited me. It could have been fabulous if not for the way it was written. The sarcastic main character is annoying and shallow. All the characters are shallow. This is the sort of book that Hollywood might turn into a fast paced action thriller focused on special effects. If thats your thing, than you might like this book. The narration was fine but couldn't overcome the lack of depth to the story.
"Connie Willis mixed with Jasper Fforde"
Before listening to the book, I thought it sounded an awful lot like the time traveling series by Connie Willis. Willis' books are so good--and I've gone through them all--that I thought I'd try Taylor's. The voicing (as well as, probably the accent) and the odd sorts of things that happen remind me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. The story reminds me of Willis and, sometimes, Fforde.
Unfortunately, both Fforde and Willis write better books than this one. Taylor's time traveling seems to be a rough copy of Willis' but with less rationality or logic. It may be silly to ask for logic when talking about science fiction, but I felt too many things in this booked happened that way because it allowed the author to easily dispatch a problem she had written in.
A lot happens in this book and it seemed really too much to handle carefully in one book. We are introduced to the main character, her life, her introduction to St. Mary's her first mission, second, etc, on through 5 or so years of her adventures before we even get to what might be the big adventure. But because of our fast paced introduction, we never really get to know most of the supporting characters particularly well. Things happen, then we're suddenly rushed past the results and the unsatisfactory explanation and we're racing on to the next event.
In Connie Willis' books, she gives us all the information we need to understand why things are happening in this future world and why they can't happen another way. We understand character motivation and the movement of the narrative is towards some significant events. Reading Willis I felt satisfaction in the resolution of conflicts or crises. Reading Taylor I just felt vaguely annoyed and vaguely entertained throughout. I also felt like several things that maybe were supposed to be surprises were telegraphed far ahead of time--or I'd read them before from another author. Or maybe they were just cliches.
Oddly, though I guessed a few secrets/surprises early on, while I listened there were several times when I missed the actual revelation of the secrets. The character had a mysterious something (no spoilers), then the event finished and later the character talked about how surprised she was by the revelation of the mysterious something. But when did anyone actually reveal the mysterious something? I didn't hear it--and I was listening with full attention. It happened at least twice.
As to the Fforde comparison, the zaniness and non-stop action seem similar (and there is a mention of bringing back the dodo). Fforde's writing is a zany, enjoyable ride. This book left me feeling uncomfortable throughout, asking three sorts of questions: How did that happen? When did they tell us that key bit of info? and Did Taylor actually steal these ideas from other authors?
The narrator was fine, but some differentiation between character's voices would have helped me keep track of dialogue in one or two spots where, even afterwards, I couldn't tell who was speaking.
"Less than expected"
I had high hopes for this book, but it's far less interesting than its premise. If, like me, you're interested in the idea of somebody being able to explore historical periods, this is NOT a book for you. Though the characters travel back in time, we don't actually get any interaction with historical figures or even much description of the times or places. There is a lot of silly Adventure Story plot, but very little about time travel or English history.
Worse still, the protagonist is annoying, and her character doesn't make sense. She's supposed to be a PhD in History, but she acts like a simpering and rather foolish teenager, even though she's a grown woman and, so we are told, a gifted scholar. A lot of the characters' interactions are straight out of a YA story about a high school for magical time-traveling teens, but, again, we are supposed to believe these are all intelligent adults. Zara Ramm's reading is perfectly competent, but the character is so annoying I found myself disliking her performance.
I suggest skipping this one.
"I need to find my St. Mary's"
I adore the heroine; Max is a great character and the character validates me. I only wish that all plucky, smart, flawed women could find their own St. Mary's in which to blossom. I enjoyed the whole thing and the narrator is wonderful.
I do hope there is a Volume Three coming.
"Good British Chaps win the day by muddling through"
The thing I enjoyed most about this book was that St. Mary's, both the institution and the people who give their lives to it, are quintessentially English in the way that they muddle through from one crisis to the next. They break the rules when the rules are silly or even when they're just inconvenient. They are chaotic to the point of recklessness, irreverent and prone to inappropriate humour, they're driven by a passion to do the right thing, they stumble over the simple day-to-day aspects of life, they are emotionally inarticulate, deeply loyal, keep their heads in a crisis, move TOWARDS the gunfire and do what needs to be done to make a bad situation better and, no matter how battered or beaten they are, if someone asks how they're doing the answers is always "I'm perfectly fine. Apart from a few cuts, scratches, a broken arm and a mild concussion. Nothing to worry about."
Of course, the English aren't REALLY like this, but they'd like to be. They're probably the ONLY ONES who'd like to be. Which is where the charm and the emotional impact of this book lies. It gets inside this mindset and helps you fall in love with it. If you're NOT going to fall in love with it, you won't make it to the end of the book. If you do fall in love with it, then, like me, you'll be buying the second book in the series pronto.
I am, of course, aware that this is a most improper review. I should have started by saying how this is about plucky time travelling historians from a near-future England, who, working in secret, find out what really happened in key historical events by the simple expedient of turning up, taking notes and trying not to get killed. I should have described the struggle between the good guys from St. Mary's and the bad guys who started in St. Mary's but didn't stay because they were the wrong sort: serious, power-hungry, organized and with no sense of humour at all. I should have commented on how well Jodi Taylor writes the historical scenes set behind the lines in the Battle of the Somme and gives a remarkably effective pen sketch of what it was like to be an unarmed civilian on the receiving end of a cavalry charged by the 15th Hussars in the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.
Instead, I rushed on to the bits I found most important. Perhaps the spirit of St. Mary's is infectious. I hope so.
This is the book I was hoping for when I bought Connie Willis' "Blackout" and "All Clear" novels (which I didn't manage to finish - so disappointing after her wonderful "Doomsday Book").
Part of what makes the madcap Englishness of St Mary's so appealing is that it is seen through the eyes of Madeleine Maxwell, "Max", a brilliant and brave woman who also has "damaged misfit" written all the way through her like "Brighton" in a bar of rock. Max is insightful and brave and dedicated and also distracted, socially inept, emotionally withdrawn, constantly in trouble with authority and ceaselessly, ravenously curious.
She is a well drawn character who makes the whole novel credible. Her relationships, her actions in the face of disaster, her breakdowns and her triumphs humanize what could otherwise have felt like a description of a slightly smug boy's club.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to meet the English as they ought to be.
By the way, the attitude to History (which of course has a capital H) is also very British. The title of the book is actually the definition offered by the influential British historian, Arnold Toynbee: "It's just one damned thing after another."
I listen to audiobooks at work (whilst designing websites and logos) and after a phase of listening to relatively heavy books, felt that I needed something:
- with a streak of "fantasy"
- ideally British or European - American humour just doesn't seem to be as funny to me
"Just one damned thing after another" was a wonderful choice. Funny, clever, very British, and well-narrated, it made me laugh, kept me engaged throughout and left me sad at the end. Fortunately, the second book is also on Audible, and the third is on my Kindle. The fourth is coming out mid-July, so in short order, I'll have heard or listened to them all.
One comment is that it may be that the book needed a bit of editing - there was some repetition etc. but this wasn't a problem in the Audiobook version. It may be that these little editorial issues are more annoying when I read the book (as opposed to listening to it), but I can live with this. I mention this because there are folks who are a lot more pernickety than I am!
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this. More, please!
"Fantasy/Drama/Humour/History. This has it all!"
Bizarrely, (I am from the UK), I heard about this off a friend in the USA, even though it is a British author and novel.
I wasn't disappointed by the recommendation. This has everything, fantasy, drama, humour all wrapped around history. That just about ticks all my boxes of things that I enjoy in a book.
If you're not too keen on history you might find the passages that deal with important historical periods a bit overbearing. However, give it a try because that aside, the drama, fantasy and humour shines through. Personally I love history, and that love stems from our mother who was a font of knowledge when it came to all things history. It brought up many happy memories, a job well done.
The narrator also does a really good job, and it was a pleasure to listen through to the end.
If you're a fan of works from authors such as Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman then this should appeal. Although not quite the same in the sense that you don't have the fantasy animals or people, this is based on time-travel for its fantasy, it is still well written.
I enjoyed this so much I immediately downloaded the second book in the series, and although the third book isn't available from Audible, I did download that to my Kindle to read. I hope the third book is added to the Audible catalog soon, because these are a series of books that work really well as audio books.
"Best Audio that I have ever listened to"
I read Just One Damned thing after another and was enthralled by the story of Madeline Maxwell and St Mary's. I quickly devoured the rest of the series but nothing could have prepared me for the audio version.
The wonderful narration by Zara Ramm makes these amazing books come to life. This is no monotone reading of the book. Ms Ramm brings the characters to life in an amazing way. Every character has their own distinct accent.What also helps is that the book is written in the first person so you really feel that it is Max, herself, telling you of her adventures working for the Institute of Historical Research.
It is quite obvious that the author, Jody Taylor, has a passion for history (and luckily for me she appears to like all the same historical events that I do) as she crams all of her books with beautifully told versions of the events. These books are fast paced, and leave you gasping for breath and of course the St Mary's cure all for all disasters a nice cup of tea.
"Unexpectedly delightful tale"
It much more convenient than reading whilst travelling and the commentry was so well read it brought the story to life and one could totally imagine actually being there
The chief protagonist, a fiesty and intelligent woman never out of her depth but still maintaining a tender quality underneath
She read clearly, concisely and with just enough expresson to allow the listener to create the imagary without too much interference, she was almost invisible
A surprisingly exciting tale
Hits the right spots. Mixture of time travel and history which leaves you yearning for book 2 as so gripping. 'Max' is a easy likeable character and I can see this as a good series that could make it to film or TV easily.
"And the world went white"
A guilty pleasure that has lasted six books and a few short stories that are always entertaining, funny and even more unusual a female point of view of history, science fiction and humor.
Max is a brilliant heroin, that loves what she does and is always in trouble because of it, she is irreverent, intelligent, curious, brave and a compulsive adventure magnet.
If you love history this book and books will let you experience it in a new flavour, adding twist to well known historical events that are as surprising as the twists in the stories.
Zara Ramm is a fantastic reader and has become the voice of this stories for me.
"Not as corny as the premise sounds"
I was worried there might be a lot of time spent just observing the historical events - A bit like horrible histories in novel form. However this is not the case; the book focuses much more on developing the characters, their relationships and ultimately a cracking story.
"Thursday Next for History fans"
If you like Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaranovitch, or especially Thursday Next, you'll love this. Fast paced, inventive adult, witty, and characters you know you're going to grow to love from the first chapter.
I would definitely recommend this,if the person was looking for something not too serious-or need cheering up-as it was a fun listen.
It had a little bit of everything,fantasy,action,romance,humour,time travel.oh and lots of cups of tea....all tastes satisfied.
Excellent narrator,very easy to listen to,did not "overact"...hate that.
It made me chuckle a few times
I bought this as I needed something light,after the last disastrous narration-I had been thinking about this series for a while and decided to go for it.I was not disappointed...it was certainly that.Although it was extremely enjoyable to listen too-it was not the work of a master wordsmith-it was quite juvenile in writing and I was prepared to place in the YA folder,except for the few character interactions that made me squirm a bit-and the language in parts was definitely adult.
But don't let the writing style put you off-if you are looking for something light and fun,this is ideal.seven and a bit hours of listening to a bunch of nerdy,very chaotic,calamity causing historians going back in time to record and note take on past events-no interaction allowed,but of course you just know they will.Only disaster will follow with this lot of accident prone characters.But they always fix it by putting the kettle on and having a cup of tea-(very English)
This story is predictable-you know what is coming on every turn really but it did not ruin the listen-making it perfect for bedtime,as you do not have to concentrate too hard and will lull you to sleep with a smile on your face.I loved it and I am really choosy with my choices taking ages to decide on next listen-but it may not be a good cup of tea for people who prefer more intellectual books.The plot was as chaotic as the main character and felt at times it did not even have a plot-but this did not put me off in the slightest-unusual for me.
I fully intend to buy and listen to the rest of this madcap series-but will not listen one after the other,I will buy one at a time as a light break from longer books,or books I cannot listen to due to awful narration.
Saying that I am now off t put the kettle on for a cup of tea,while I decide what next.
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