Just for fun, I put together a list of how I decide what goes on my to-read shelf. These are superficial, judging-a-book-by-its-cover criteria, but there are so many possibly-interesting books out there I needed to create some guidelines to follow.
First off, there’s the Goodreads rating. Now, I know better than to rely on crowdsourced ratings from the Internet (see also: Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.) however they can be helpful in aggregate. In general I look at reviews with at least 500 ratings to give it any weight. After that, my low-water mark is 3.70 (out of 5). A book would have to be pretty enticing for me to pick it up if the rating is below that.
What will definitely make me pick up a book: m/m paranormal romances go to the front of the line. Shifters, particularly wolves, are obvious as well. I’m a sucker for May-December romances, and the hurt/comfort trope as well. I’m a big fan of urban fantasy, and if there are queer characters so much the better (see also: Kai Gracen). Certain authors get my immediate attention too: Lily Morton, Kaje Harper, N.R. Walker, Andrea Speed, and a few others.
What will make me steer clear of a book? BDSM isn’t my cup of tea at all. Vampires are right out. Ew. MPreg is just so wildly anatomically improbable that I can’t take it seriously, but if the story is good I can disregard it. I steer clear of heterosexual romances, unless there’s a strong fantasy story with it (see also: Mercy Thompson).
Seizing his one chance to escape, Ethan Hosking leaves his violent ex-boyfriend, leaves his entire life, and walks into the path of a raging bushfire. Desperate to start over, a new man named Aubrey Hobbs walks out of the fire-ravaged forest, alive and alone. With no ID and no money, nothing but his grandfather’s telescope, he goes where the Southern Cross leads him.
Patrick Carney is the resident lighthouse keeper in Hadley Cove, a small town on the remote Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. After the tragic death of his lover four years ago, he lives a solitary life; just him, a tabby cat, the Indian and Southern Oceans, and a whole lot of loneliness. He’s content with his life until a stranger shows up in town and turns Patrick’s head.
Patrick never expected to be interested in anyone else.
Aubrey never expected to be happy.
Between Aubrey’s love of the stars and Patrick’s love of the ocean, these two fragile hearts must navigate new waters. If they can weather the storm of their pasts, they could very well have a love that eclipses everything.
I am a big fan of N.R. Walker’s character-driven contemporary stories, and this book is no exception. When they first meet, these men are emotionally battered, but surviving. Aubrey is a survivor of horrible domestic abuse, and Patrick is grieving for his husband, lost at sea four years earlier.
I really loved Aubrey, who went from a relatively pampered life to homeless and struggling to get by on the streets. It seems a stretch, but it becomes apparent that he has the strength of character to do whatever is necessary to keep going, and to avoid being pulled back into his old life.
Patrick is living in a small town and keeping relative solitude in his job as lighthouse keeper. He’s living his life, but it’s the emotional equivalent of just keeping the lights on. There’s only one other gay man in town, and he’s not interested (I do love that the whole town seems to be cheering for him throughout the story though).
The circumstances which conspire to throw Patrick and Aubrey together are a little contrived, but given the genre I’ll allow it. It’s a slow burn as the feelings between the two grow. I can sympathize with Patrick’s feelings of guilt as he comes to terms with his feelings for Aubrey, leading to this wonderful passage:
I can see why you love him.
Those two words stopped me. I did still love him, but it was in the past. I didn’t want to say I loved him in past tense, because that sounded like it was over and forgotten. And it wasn’t. He wasn’t forgotten. He never would be. But it wasn’t love like it was when he was alive. It hadn’t lessened any, it just became something else. It was a permanent part of my life. Like a background hum, a comforting presence that helped me get through dark times. It was still there, and I didn’t want it to disappear; I wanted that hum, that white noise that comforted me.
This is such a remarkable observation, and I adore Patrick all the more for it.
As frequently occurs in Walker’s books, the setting itself is almost a character in the story. Here, we are on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia, with nothing but open ocean between it and Antarctica. She describes it as a place of bare rocks and sea, an austere place but with beauty to be found if you know where to look. That fits this story so very well (also, I would love to see the Aurora Australis someday!).
As always, Joel Leslie does a fabulous job performing this book. His character voices are unique and easy to follow, and the production quality is very good – I’ve become accustomed to listening for awkward edits and wildly varying audio levels, and I heard none of that. On aside note, I noted with amusement that Leslie seems to have a uniform “Australian woman” voice with only slight variations so it can be difficult to distinguish between those characters, but that’s just a minor quibble. I have loved all of his performances over the books I have heard from him, and seeing him as narrator is a strong selling point for when I am considering purchasing an audiobook.