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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."
88 of 97 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Just One Damned Thing After Another to be better than the print version?
A fantastic and engaging performance.
What other book might you compare Just One Damned Thing After Another to, and why?
I'm a great fan of time travel adventures such as Arthur C Clarke's Time Odessy and Doctor who. This book brought an unusual but somewhat comfortable and very British feel to time travel.
What does Zara Ramm bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?
I enjoyed the portrayal of the characters set out buy the tones and warmth of Zara Ramm's voice. The performance really brought the book to life.
If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?
A very British romp through time, with tea.
Any additional comments?
Extremely enjoyable - give it a try!
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
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.
177 of 190 people found this review helpful
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.
93 of 101 people found this review helpful