Category Archives: audiobook reviews

Book Review: Upside Down, by N.R. Walker

Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But when he realizes adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.

Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.

A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.

Upside Down, by N.R. Walker

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Nobody writes adorkable like N.R. Walker! Her low-angst, character-driven novels are always refreshing and enjoyable, and this book was no exception. Jordan is a nerdy sort, whose social anxiety leads to nervous chatter which actually gets to be pretty endearing. Hennessy is more laid-back, but more of a techno-geek. What begins as an crush on a stranger on a bus blossoms into something beautiful and charming.

One of the things that I loved about this book were the side characters: Merry, Jordan’s stoic co-worker and best friend, Angus, Jordan’s sweet-but-dense roommate, Michael, Hennessy’s best friend and boss. I especially got a kick out of “The Soup Crew”, strangers on the bus who become invested in Jordan and Hennessy’s growing relationship. As I’ve seen in other books, Walker has a tendency to tie the side-characters together neatly with some convenient coincidences, but that’s a minor nitpick.

As mentioned in the blurb, the story is about an asexual relationship, and Jordan’s coming to terms with his own asexual orientation. Recognizing that this is a concept that is new to many, Walker makes an effort to clearly explain what asexuality is and is not, and that is something that is much appreciated. As a man who continues to come to terms with his own asexuality this book spoke to me on a very personal level, and I could absolutely identify with a lot of Jordan’s feelings. The fact that asexuality is a spectrum not a fixed point is frequently frustrating, and for that reason Jordan’s self-doubt is quite relatable.

I listened to this on audio and while the story was great, I had some minor issues with Glen Lloyd’s narration. Some pauses between chapters and paragraphs where the setting changes would be appreciated. Also, the voices used for Hennessy and Jordan were very similar, at least to my American ear, making it difficult to tell who was talking at times.

I really enjoyed Upside Down and would highly recommend it to anyone, though it is especially good if you want to learn more about asexuality.

Note: To find out more about asexuality I suggest checking out The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, which is a trove of useful information.

Book Review: The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, Book 1) by K. D. Edwards

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment’s missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam’s relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune’s Court.

In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family’s death and the torments of his past? 

The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, Book 1), by K.D. Edwards

Rating: 5 out of 5!

There was once a large land off what we know as the east coast of North America, Atlantis. They were a race of beings who possessed magic and used that magic to hide their existence while meddling in human affairs however they liked. This was all well and good until the first man in space looked out the window and saw something which should not be there. This discovery started a sequence of events that escalated to the Atlantean World War, a war that the Atlanteans lost. The decimated race retreated to the island of Nantucket, where they have created their own society in parallel with humans, consuming human popular culture, but with its own social mores and politics.

All of this has occurred before The Last Sun’s story begins, but the world-building here is glorious. With the Atlantean ability to translocate entire tracts of land to their island, we get an urban fantasy that has just enough of a touch of the real world to keep it anchored (and to easily envision where events are occurring). One of the gratifying things here is that this is all in the background, tacitly understood, which allows the story to flow around it.

And flow it does! We take up the story of Rune Saint John, disgraced child of a ruined family, eking out an existence on the fringes of Atlantean society. He is accompanied by his Companion, Brand, his bodyguard and best friend to whom he is linked empathically. What follows is part caper, part mystery, part political intrigue. Rune and Brand are great foils for one another, and the banter between them shows the underlying affection despite occasional exasperation.

To go any further into the plot gives away all kinds of spoilers, unfortunately. Technically speaking, though, this book is outstanding. The narrative framing, the development of the side characters, and the bit-by-bit unraveling of the mystery are all handled perfectly. This is the kind of book that when you get to the end, you’re sad that there’s not more. Great news, though! The sequel, The Hanged Man, is out and it is every bit as good as this book, if not better.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Josh Hurley. This is definitely not just narration, though! Hurley delivers a masterful performance, capturing the emotions and inflections of each character. Every character is distinct, and each develops a trademark way of speaking. I especially lover Brand’s snarkiness, and Addam’s Russian accent, which becomes more pronounced the more emotional he is. Hurley’s work made an excellent book even better!

Finally, two notes about this book. First, there is frank discussion of rape and abuse and the consequences thereof. It is handled thoughtfully and sensibly and is an important part of the story. Second, for all that this book came to my attention as an M/M romance, it would be far better classified as urban fantasy with characters who happen to not be straight. I would highly recommend this book to any fan of urban fantasy; without a doubt it is one of the best books I’ve read in the last five years.

Review Roundup 1!

After too long away from writing these reviews, I wanted to do a quick roundup of what I’ve been reading (and listening) to lately. First, some audiobooks:

SPECTR Series 1, by Jordan L. Hawk, narrated by Brad Langer – I just loved the premise of this series of novellas: Regular guy Sean dies (briefly) in an accident and is possessed by a powerful spirit. When he is revived through CPR he finds that he’s not alone in his own head. This could get a little silly, but Hawk has a deft touch with the characters and creates a lovely romance between Sean and the government agent…and the spirit.

I haven’t come across this approach to a book series before but think of it like a season of a television show: an individual plot line for each “episode” (novella) with an overarching plot across the books. It works well here! Langer’s northeastern-US accent (somewhere between NYC and Boston, to my ear) is a little incongruous for stories set in and around Charleston, South Carolina, but once I got used to it I found he did a fine job. Now to move on to Series 2…

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Tyack & Frayne, Books 1-3 (Once Upon a Haunted Moor, Tinsel Fish, Don’t Let Go), by Harper Fox, narrated by Tim Gilbert – My goodness, does Harper Fox know how to set a mood! These books (the first three of a nine-book series) take place in Cornwall, and Fox paints a picture of a countryside sometimes delightfully alive, but sometimes oppressively dreary. Here we have Gideon, a steadfast police officer disinclined to believe in the paranormal, and Lee, a psychic who proves Gideon wrong. The attraction between these two characters is lovely, and they make a great couple. These are mystery/suspense books, and while they were engaging at times I felt there were some narrative threads that got dropped along the way or needed more explanation.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Werewolves of Manhattan, Books 1 and 2 (His Omega, Remy’s Painter), by A. C. Katt, narrated by Joel Leslie – Don’t. Just don’t. Friends don’t let friends read bad werewolf smut. I mean, unless you’re into characters who are at times cartoonish, world-building that is not internally consistent, and guys who call their boyfriend “Baby” a lot. The only redeeming features of these are that I downloaded them for “free” as part of Audible’s Escape package (think Kindle Unlimited but for romance audiobooks), and Joel Leslie, who is always an excellent performer. If you have to pay for these, I suggest using that money for better things, like a pack of gum or something.

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Alpha & Omega, Books 1-5, by Patricia Briggs, narrated by Holter Graham – Wow, these were a whole lot of fun! I thoroughly enjoyed the 12 (!) Mercy Thompson novels by Briggs. It was fascinating to see the different narrative approaches she took in this series, set in the same world and overlapping at times, but mainly only in the sense they are on the same timeline. It was fun to see some small events which were alluded to in the MT books get a fuller explanation in this series. I really liked Anna and Charles, though Charles could be a bit opaque at times; that’s the nature of the character though so it makes sense. I enjoyed Anna’s sense of wonder in the beginning of the series, and how that colored her outlook as the series went on. The plotting on these can be intricate, and Briggs excels at populating her world with delightful characters and clear motivations (even if those motivations don’t become apparent until the end of the story). I highly recommend this series even if you haven’t read the Mercy Thompson books. They’re urban fantasy at its finest.

Rating: 5.0/5.0

How to Run with the Wolves, by Eli Easton – This is book 5 of the “Howl at the Moon” series by Easton, a delightful world where there are the Quickened, humans who can shift into dogs and have created their own isolated town, Mad Creek, in the mountains of California. I highly recommend the first four books in the series (I have previously reviewed the first two books). This is a great addition to the series. This posits that maybe the shifters of Mad Creek aren’t alone, as we find an isolated clan of dog shifters in the remote wilds of Alaska. These Quickened (“Qimmig”) are descended from Inuit sled dogs. Timo, an emissary of their clan, visits Mad Creek and struggles to understand a culture radically different from his own. In addition, there’s this very sweet St. Bernard shifter who he is starting to have very confusing feelings toward. This is something of a minefield for Easton as there are issues of coping with class differences and of understanding wildly different cultures. I think she navigates them well while still maintaining the lighthearted touch of the previous books. There’s a nice surprise in an author’s note at the end of the book, but I won’t spoil that for anyone!

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Audiobook Review: Bonfires, by Amy Lane, performed by Nick J. Russo

Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron-who thought life began and ended with his kids-is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.

Larx has been living for his kids too-and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.

It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

This was such a great book, and the audiobook was a treat! Amy Lane excels with stories of gentle courtships and characters who are willing to overcome initial awkwardness to create a beautiful relationship. The fact that these two are approaching 50 speaks to me, and Lane nails the confusion at feelings of attraction and romance, thought left behind decades ago, which are suddenly a part of their lives again. I also appreciate that she avoids the awful “Gay For You” trope (“I have never been gay until I met you!”), despite having main characters who are heterosexual to all outside appearances.

Larx is the one with the most to lose. He’s deeply closeted, being a high school principal in a small town. It becomes apparent that he has quite a bad-boy history behind him and the fact that he has (unwillingly) risen in the school administration is amusing. He is usually diplomatic and deliberate, but when crossed he’s not afraid to fight. He is everything I would ever want in a teacher – smart, thoughtful, and empathetic. In other words, outstanding boyfriend material as well!

Aaron is a widower who has had ten years of recovering from his beloved wife’s passing (a personal side note: I hope I am in as good a place ten years on). He has a quiet life, a good job, and a steady routine. The sheriff is thinking about retiring and thinks Aaron would be the best candidate for the job. He’s always known he was bisexual, but never really acted on it. Suddenly he has found someone who pushes all of his buttons, and watching him work himself up to confront Larx is funny and sweet. When Larx’ wild side comes out, rock-steady Aaron is the perfect foil.

And then there’s the rest of the cast, and there are quite a few! I adored that the teenagers, Aaron’s Kirby and Larx’ Christiana, aren’t just window dressing, but smart, funny kids who play an important part in the men’s lives. Yoshi, Larx’ vice principal and best friend, is a complete smartass, and a welcome sounding board. Sherriff Mills, Aaron’s boss who supports him in all things, is a voice of reason and support who is there when Aaron him.

As in other of Lane’s books (especially the Promises series, which I loved), there’s a whole lot going on in the background, from small-town racism and homophobia, to students on the cusp of coming out, and a murder mystery as well. It all ties together nicely in the end, and while some of the drama is slightly overwrought the rest of the story was so good I had no problem with it.

This is the first audiobook by Nick J. Russo that I’ve listened to and it certainly won’t be the last! His delivery and intonation is perfect for the story, keeping the individual voices of the characters separate and easy to identify, and really capturing the individual speech patterns and inflections. His work made an excellent book really outstanding.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read/listened to this year. The great, relatable characters and excellent performance make this an easy book and audiobook to highly recommend.

Audiobook Review: By Fairy Means or Foul, by Meghan Maslow, performed by Greg Boudreaux

The last thing half-dragon, half-fairy private investigator Twig Starfig wants to do is retrieve a stolen enchanted horn from a treacherous fae, but there’s no denying the dazzlingly gorgeous unicorn who asks Twig to do just that. Literally, no denying, because compelling the reluctant detective is all part of a unicorn’s seductive magic.

To add to his woes, Twig is saddled with the unicorn’s cheeky indentured servant, Quinn Broomsparkle. Dragons are supposed to want to eat humans, but Twig’s half-dragon side only wants to gobble up Quinn in a more . . . personal way. Making matters worse, it’s obvious the smokin’ hot but untrustworthy sidekick is hiding something. Something big. And not what’s in his trousers. In the PI business, that means trouble with a capital Q.

Throw in gads of zombies, a creepy ghost pirate ship, a malfunctioning magic carpet, and Twig’s overbearing fairy father’s demands to live up to the illustrious Starfig name. Naturally, an old but abiding enemy chooses this time to resurface, too. Those inconveniences Twig can handle. The realization he’s falling for a human who isn’t free to return his affections and whose life may hang on the success of his latest case?

Not so much.

By Fairy Means or Foul (Starfig Investigations #1), by Meghan Maslow, performed by Greg Boudreaux

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

I went into this one with some trepidations. The blurb is pretty over-the-top, after all. As far as it goes, it’s pretty true to the book, but it leaves out something that makes it all worthwhile: the fact that Maslow has created characters with some terrific depth that the reader really comes to care about. Once you roll with the farcical fantasy elements (and there are more than enough of those here!) you get one hell of a fun story.

The story is told by Twig, and I really liked that we see the world through his eyes, with elements of discrimination and injustice that he doesn’t like but just has to live with. His family history and the decisions he’s made to this point in his life make him a fascinating character, balancing between two worlds yet never fully a part of either.

Then we have Quinn, who has So. Much. Sass. He starts out in a terrible situation, and the more we learn about him the more we cheer for him, and for Quinn and Twig as a couple (uh, spoiler alert? Yeah, not remotely). The two play off each other perfectly, and the recurring themes of personal independence and control only serve to highlight the chemistry between the two. Although the antagonist characters are paper thin, the supporting characters that Twig and Quinn meet along the way make up for it.

As for the overarching story, there’s not a whole lot of mystery; rather, things are episodic as in a typical fantasy quest. Maslow does have a lot of fun with the usual fantasy tropes, leading the reader often to assume things about places or characters that turn out to be less than accurate. As I was reading this I couldn’t help but be reminded of Glen Cook’s Garrett Files series and while there are some similarities the depth of the characters in By Fairy Means or Foul make this a much more enjoyable and interesting book. I look forward to seeing more in this series!

As for the audio, Boudreaux thoroughly nails this one. Twig’s narration is in a deadpan, Patrick-Warburton-esque tone that fits the story perfectly. Quinn’s nervous tenor voice offsets Twig nicely, and the variety of accents used for the cast of characters makes each one unique and easy to follow. The best parts of Boudreaux’s performance were the verbal idiosyncrasies and changes in tone and inflection that don’t always come across in the written word, but are employed perfectly here. He takes a fun and engaging story and elevates it further into something really enjoyable. I’ll definitely seek out his work again.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable book with some great characters that doesn’t take itself too seriously, this is the one. The audiobook makes it even better and I recommend it highly!

Audiobook Review: Slide, by Garrett Leigh

Shy tattoo artist Ash has a troubled past. Years of neglect, drug abuse, and life on the streets have taken their toll, and sometimes it seems the deep, unspoken bond with his lover is the only balm for wounds he doesn’t quite understand.

Chicago paramedic Pete is warmth, love, and strength – things Ash never knew he could have, and never even knew he wanted until Pete showed him. But fate is a cruel, cruel mistress, and when nightmares collide with the present, their tentatively built world comes crashing down.

Traumatic events in Pete’s work life distance him from home, and he doesn’t realize until it’s too late that Ash has slipped away. Betrayal, secrets, and lies unfold, and when a devastating coincidence takes hold, Pete must fight with all he has to save the love of his life.

Slide (Roads #1), by Garrett Leigh, Narrated by Michael Lesley

Story: 3.5 out of 5

Audio Performance: 3.5 out of 5

I have been captivated by Michael Lesley’s audiobook work in the past, and I also have been meaning to check out Garrett Leigh’s writing Throw in the fact that it’s set in Chicago, a city I know and love, and choosing this was a slam dunk. I’m glad I picked it up, but in the end the book was a mixed bag for me.

There’s a lot of difficult reading/listening here, with themes of abuse, mental illness, and self-harm. That said these characters are compelling and you want to know more about them every step of the way. Pete a sweet, thoughtful guy, if a bit too married to his work as an EMT, and sometimes absolutely terrible at communicating his feelings. And Ash? Ash is a hot mess, though justifiably so with a traumatic personal history that he will never be able to let go of. Leigh doesn’t sugar-coat Ash’s problems, but also presents them in a clear and sensitive manner.

The story unfolds slowly and we see the undeniable attraction between the two main characters, though Pete has to approach Ash slowly and tentatively. The metaphor that comes to mind is how one might approach a feral stray dog or cat, and the parallels are certainly obvious. Once the connection between them is made, they are damn hot together. In fits and starts, they build a life together, until…well, stuff happens.

So why didn’t this book wow me? Usually I can point to one thing, but in this case, it was a collection of small annoyances in logic and overwhelming coincidence that bogged me down. Couple that with the fact that the pace was almost too slow, and those faults seemed to get magnified as the book progressed. And, I’ll admit, one of those petty annoyances was that Leigh is clearly not that familiar with Chicago, as references to the city geography were generic and frequently missed the mark.

As for the audio performance, Lesley once again knocked it out of the park. He captured the light Texas lilt in Ash’s voice perfectly. Pete was a bit more generic, but that may because I’m just used to the flat Midwestern accent. Each of the supporting characters had a distinct and specific sound, and it was always easy to tell who was talking. So why didn’t I love it overall? As I would assume would be normal for audiobook production, the recordings were clearly made over multiple sessions. Unfortunately, each of those sessions had a different tonal character, and the changes in dynamics of the narration between chapters and even between paragraphs were jarring and distracting, taking me out of the story completely.

Despite the difficult subject matter, this is a good book that would probably be enjoyable to someone more tolerant of minor annoyances (or with no knowledge of Chicago).

Audiobook Review: The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies #1), by K. J. Charles, performed by Cornell Collins

Exiled to China for twenty years, Lucien Vaudrey never planned to return to England. But with the mysterious deaths of his father and brother, it seems the new Lord Crane has inherited an earldom. He’s also inherited his family’s enemies. He needs magical assistance, fast. He doesn’t expect it to turn up angry.

Magician Stephen Day has good reason to hate Crane’s family. Unfortunately, it’s his job to deal with supernatural threats. Besides, the earl is unlike any aristocrat he’s ever met, with the tattoos, the attitude… and the way Crane seems determined to get him into bed. That’s definitely unusual.

Soon Stephen is falling hard for the worst possible man, at the worst possible time. But Crane’s dangerous appeal isn’t the only thing rendering Stephen powerless. Evil pervades the house, a web of plots is closing round Crane, and if Stephen can’t find a way through it-they’re both going to die.

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies #1), by K. J. Charles

Story: 4.75 out of 5
Audiobook Performance: 5 out of 5

I’m normally not one for historical romances, particularly those set in Victorian England, due to the inescapable undercurrent of homophobia that is typically part of the story. K. J. Charles’ incredible writing got me past that though, and I’m very glad! We have some memorable characters here, as well as a good bit of dry wit, and some very steamy encounters! This England is very similar to our historical one, except here magic (as used by “practitioners”) exists, though it is not particularly common.

In the character of Lord Crane, Charles has created someone who completely breaks the mold of the Victorian upper class. He is a tradesman (gasp!) with an egalitarian outlook and very little patience with the fripperies of the noble class. Crane is aided by his manservant Merrick, who can equally serve a cup of tea or break a man’s legs, as needed. Stephen Day is from a different world entirely. His family was of modest means until their fortunes were destroyed by Crane’s father. He now earns a meagre living as a justiciar, the small police force charged with keeping practitioners in line. He is a deeply intelligent man and a powerful practitioner, though one would not think so to look upon him. Much of the action takes place at Piper, the Crane family home in the country. It is a bleak and oppressive place, almost a character itself as it provides an absolutely perfect setting for the shadowy doings menacing Crane and Stephen.

What really struck me about this book was the story structure and plotting. Just when it seems all mysteries have been wrapped up we find there are more to be unraveled, and when the final plot is laid out it is stunning in its intricacy. This is great writing, and this is what is keeping me coming back for more (I am working my way through the series and they are all excellent so far!).

The audiobook is by Cornell Collins (a pseudonym of the very talented Matthew Lloyd Davies), whose performance took an excellent story and elevated it further. His British accent alone is a good fit, but the variation of accents by the class of the character (from street urchin to lords and ladies) brings the story to life and make these characters relatable. Collins/Davies’ work is one of the best audiobook performances I’ve heard so far, and I really enjoyed it.

It is notable that the sex scenes in this book have elements of dominance and submission. While that’s not usually my thing, they are written with a sensitivity and care that help the reader understand where the motivations are coming from. I was able to sympathize…and also enjoy the scenes because they are damn hot!

If you like intricate plots, complex characters, and paranormal romance, this is absolutely the book for you! I would recommend this one highly.

Audiobook Review: The Virgin Manny, by Amy Lane

The Virgin Manny, by Amy Lane


Sometimes family is a blessing and a curse. When Tino Robbins is roped into helping his sister deliver premade dinners when he should be studying for finals, he’s pretty sure it’s the latter! But one delivery might change everything.

Channing Lowell’s charmed life changes when his sister dies and leaves him her seven-year-old son. He’s committed to doing what’s best for Sammy… but he’s going to need a lot of help. When Tino lands on his porch, Channing is determined to recruit him to Team Sammy.

Tino plans to make his education count—even if that means avoiding a relationship—but as he falls harder and harder for his boss, he starts to wonder: Does he have to leave his newly forged family behind in order live his promising tomorrow? 

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

This one is all tropes, all the time, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Heck, that’s what the Dreamspun Desires imprint is all about. It is saved by Amy Lane’s fantastic and lighthearted writing which frequently had me smiling and laughing. Tino and Channing are adorable together, and make a fantastic couple. The secondary characters are a delight, especially Tino’s sisters and Jacob.

I avoided this book for a while because of the stereotypical romance-novel cover, but I recommend looking past that (again, it falls squarely within the Dreamspun Desires branding.) I’ll admit Tino’s will-he-or-won’t-he was dragged out a bit too long and I would have liked to have known more about Channing’s background. Mind you, he’s still hotter than heck so it’s not a total loss.

I listened to the audio version of this and John Solo’s performance was excellent. The voices of the characters were easy to distinguish, and the emotional delivery was spot-on. Also, the purr that he put in Channing’s voice…oh my goodness!

I recommend this one highly for an enjoyable, uncomplicated, and not overly-angsty read/listen.

Book Review: Aaron (Survivor Stories #1), by J. P. Barnaby

Aaron (Survivor Stories #1), by J.P. Barnaby, audiobook narrated by Tyler Stevens

I can’t describe what it’s like to want to scream every minute of every day.

Two years after a terrifying night of pain destroyed his normal teenage existence, Aaron Downing still clings to the hope that one day, he will be a fully functional human being. But his life remains a constant string of nightmares, flashbacks, and fear. When, in his very first semester of college, he’s assigned Spencer Thomas as a partner for his programming project, Aaron decides that maybe “normal” is overrated. If he could just learn to control his fear, that could be enough for him to find his footing again.

With his parents’ talk of institutionalizing him – of sacrificing him for the sake of his brothers’ stability – Aaron becomes desperate to find a way to cope with his psychological damage or even fake normalcy. Can his new shrink control his own demons long enough to treat Aaron, or will he only deepen the damage?

Desperate to understand his attraction for Spencer, Aaron holds on to his sanity with both hands as it threatens to spin out of control.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This is a remarkable, visceral read. Aaron is a survivor of a vicious assault, and Barnaby doesn’t sugar-coat things in the least. The reader is taken along in the spiraling panic of Aaron’s breakdowns and really gets an understanding of the PTSD that Aaron experiences. The author has clearly done an extensive amount of research into how victims of traumatic experiences feel, and how it can be dealt with on the personal and professional level.

Spencer has been deaf from birth, and while his father and aunt have done a great job raising him the isolation he feels in his everyday life is brutal. We learn what it is like to live with being deaf, the sacrifices that have to be made, and how technology can improve communication. Spencer is a strong-willed man, fiercely independent – the antithesis of Aaron in many ways.

Seeing Aaron and Spencer develop a tentative friendship that advances further is wonderful, and realistic. This isn’t something where they meet and it’s all rainbows and unicorns. There are harsh setbacks and disappointments. There are some degrees of intimacy that Aaron clearly will take a long time to be comfortable with, and this is dealt with honestly.

Barnaby’s writing is quite good. The story flows well, the POV alternating between Aaron and Spencer, so the reader has a good feel for how they are thinking and feeling. The side characters, mostly Spencer’s father and Aaron’s parents, behave believably. The support they offer is great to see. I have to knock off half a point because a major issue with Spencer’s father and the impact of it is not fully explored, though.

Tyler Stevens’ narration is fantastic. He helps the listener really feel and understand the emotions of the characters. In Aaron’s case this is no small feat and it makes the audiobook that much more affecting. Stevens’ makes Spencer’s speaking voice as one would expect from a deaf person, but I never got the feeling it was a mockery or unflattering portrayal – it just is. The side characters’ voices are easy to distinguish, and the overall narration feels very natural.

This is at times a difficult read but an extremely rewarding one, and the book is well-served by the audiobook performance.

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Audiobook Review: Sidecar, by Amy Lane, performed by Chris Patton

 

The year is 1987. The boys wear pink Izod shirts, the girls wear big hair, everyone has a stash box, and AIDS is just an ugly rumor rumbling like a thunderstorm from the cities. A teenage runaway wanders the side of the road, a heartbeat away from despair, and is rescued by a long-haired angel on a Harley. But that’s just the beginning of their story.  Josiah Daniels wanted peace and quiet and a simple life, and he had it until he rescued Casey from hunger, cold, and exhaustion. Suddenly Joe’s life is anything but simple as he and his new charge navigate a world that is changing more rapidly than the people in it. Joe wants to raise Casey to a happy and productive adulthood, and he does. But even as an adult, Casey can’t conceive of a happy life without Joe. The trouble is getting Joe to accept that the boy he nurtured is suddenly the man who wants him. Their relationship can either die or change with the world around them. As they make a home, negotiate the new rules of growing up, and swerve around the pitfalls of modern life, Casey learns that adulthood is more than sex, Joe learns that there is no compromise in happy ever after, and they’re both forced to realize that the one thing a man shouldn’t be is alone.

Sidecar, by Amy Lane, performed by Chris Patton (9 hours, 32 minutes)

Ratings: Book – 5 out of 5; Audio performance: 5 out of 5

The book: This may be one of my favorite books by Amy Lane ever. It is sweet, thoughtful, and sad at times. I teared up in places even on the second time through! There’s not much suspense or even a lot of action, but there doesn’t need to be. This is a simple story of two men who love each other very much carving out a place for themselves in the world over a span of twenty-five years. The love and affection between these Casey and Joe is a joy to read, and seeing them build a life together was wonderful.

The story is told in a series of extended vignettes, hopping through the years. One of the things that I frequently mention in my reviews is the importance of knowing a character and understanding their motivations. Sidecar is my yardstick by which other books are measured. As the point of view alternates between Joe and Casey the reader sees exactly where each one is coming from and it makes them both tremendously sympathetic.

One of my favorite things about Lane as a writer is her knack for dialogue. She has a flair for the rhythms of a conversation, and you can look at the dialogue and say, “Yeah, this is pretty much the way people talk.” They’re not always witty or sparkling, but they can be snarky and tender when warranted.

It’s no huge giveaway that the book ends happily, although the road there is filled with twists, turns, and detours. Still, it’s the kind of book that when you read the last word you put the book down and sigh happily. I highly, highly recommend it!

The performance: I don’t listen to many audiobooks due to time available, but I figured I’d give this a shot and listen while walking the dogs or working out at the gym. I’m so glad I did! Even though I first read the book only six months ago, listening to Chris Patton’s performance really added to the experience. Patton has done voiceover work for an astonishing number of anime series, and many audiobooks as well. I know that I would definitely seek his work out in the future!

The concern I frequently have with audiobooks is following the conversation and figuring who is speaking when. Patton gives each character a specific voice, a unique pitch and cadence, which both fits them well and makes them readily identifiable. Unlike some audiobooks I’ve heard, Patton performs the dialogue, bringing additional meaning and nuance to the conversations. It greatly enriches an already excellent book.

Oh, and if you ever thought that listening to a steamy sex scene in an audiobook would be awkward…no, no it is not. *fans self*
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