I recently had the opportunity to hear Rebecca Chance speak at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, and walked directly to the bookshop right after the panel ended. She was - in a word - hysterical.
Like many, I read Sidney Sheldon's If Tomorrow Comes and fell in love with the idea of a woman taking back the reins of her life after someone had destroyed it - and having delicious sex to boot. Rebecca Chance was described as “Jackie Collins meets Sidney Sheldon in a gay bar in St Tropez.” That description had me fully aware I not only needed to find her books - stat - but that I was about to have one of those magical moments that come to readers far too infrequently: I was going to discover a whole new favourite.
So - Bad Sisters. I'm a huge lover of audiobooks, so I nabbed this one and it's been my companion through chores for the last couple of weeks. By the time I was in the last third, I was doing as much laundry as I could, taking the dog for extra-long walks, and finding any reason at all to keep listening while I went about my day. It's engrossing. It's glitzy and sexy and full of family drama and dark secrets and murder. It's exactly as advertised, and I was completely engrossed.
The narrative seed is a deceptively simple one: three sisters who dragged themselves up from dirt poor nothings mostly by virtue of the eldest's uncompromising drive and skill are now living lives so far removed from their beginnings that it seems like that life belonged to other people. The eldest runs a huge business and is married to an upwardly moving politician, moving through the elite of London society. The middle child is a beautiful and curvy television cooking celebrity, happily married to a footballer who is a wall of muscled handsomeness, also living in London. The youngest is the oft-photographed and genuinely gorgeous girlfriend of a hot television star living in L.A.
But nothing is as it really seems for any of them - behind closed doors, all those relationships aren't quite what they appear to be, and when the youngest's relationship ends and she's forced back to London, the three sisters are once again put into each other's orbit and a deadly secret from their past is threatened. Glamour, cocktails, high fashion, sex, money, political power - nothing is safe when there's a secret that might not remain buried.
The story is so lavishly written - I could feel the textures, taste the drinks, imagine every glint of light on every piece of jewellery - and the depth isn't sacrificed in the slightest. Dipping into the heads of the three sisters in turn, you walk a mile in their stilettos, and even when they make poor choices, your empathy is evoked. By the end, I was so worked up about some of the characters and wondering who might make it out unscathed that I quite literally was walking circles with my dog to draw out my listening time just that little bit longer.
I should also note that the audio performance was absolutely top-notch. I have a few audio performers that, frankly, nudge me toward purchasing an audiobook even when the blurb might only have me mostly sold, and I shall add Lisa Milne Henderson to that short list alongside Jane Entwhistle and Jason Frazier. It's likely no surprise - as an actress, Henderson doesn't just read this book so much as perform it - but more than that, the voices and accents and characters came across brilliantly distinct. Obviously the writing has to be there for the foundation, but in Henderson's tones, the characters burst completely into life. That Lisa Milne Henderson is Rebecca Chance's sister just adds to the joy of it (and, frankly, I can just imagine some of the fun and not-just-a-little-bit-awkward conversations between the two when it was time to go over the scorching sex scenes.)
If you're looking for a new audiobook, and have even a passing interest in a gripping character-driven mystery with high society glamour and glitz, grab this. You won't be sorry.
Before I say anything else about this book I'm going to start with the thing people go to book reviews to learn: should you buy this book? Absolutely. Positively. Fabulously. Yes. Call your indy. Download the audiobook. Pick up a copy from the publisher's website. Go do that. I'll wait right here.
I was lucky enough to hear Ken O'Neill speak at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, on a panel about humour, and so I was - I thought - quite prepared to chuckle my way through this book. Ken is funny - he has this delivery that had me barking out laughter. You know the kind of laugh where you weren't expecting it at all and you end up being super loud and everyone stares? That kind. I was not prepared at all, and those moments of perfect delivery are seeded throughout The Marrying Kind and I was bark-laughing all over the place. I may have scared some neighbours while walking the dog, and maybe one or two people at the grocery store. It happens.
The narrative has what appears to be a simple and funny set-up: a writer for a small gay free newspaper writes an article after his gay wedding-planner partner decides that since gays can't marry, there should be a queer-wide ban on all things wedding. No more florists, dress designers, caterers, dress clerks - nothing. And the movement gains real traction. And then the writer's brother and the wedding-planner's sister get engaged, and the struggle the two began comes even closer to home: what do you support? Your own rights, or your own family?
I say that the narrative appears simple and funny - it is more than this. O'Neill manages to do something very clever (and incredibly difficult) by taking something that really isn't funny - the fight for equality - and takes one instance of the existing inequality - gay marriage - and uses it to great effect to really paint a very accessible picture of what it's like for us queer folk. And he does this while making you bark-laugh throughout. The seriousness is there, and indeed sometimes the laughter comes from the clash between those who don't really realize what it is the couple is fighting for in the first place and the queer folk trying really hard not to slap them upside the head with a clue, but mostly it's the incredibly honest characters who make this novel so wonderful. They're neurotic and self-centred and mistake-prone and hysterical (in both senses of the word) and so darn charming that you're rooting for pretty much everyone - especially the couple, who may find themselves divided by one wedding while they take a stand for... well... their right to weddings.
I could go on and on, and if we end up in the same room together, I probably will (you were warned) but grab this. Now.
This was so much fun.
I listened to this one, unabridged, performed by Jason Frazier, and I have to say he's fast becoming my favourite audiobook performer. Often an audiobook can be completely made or completely broken by the voice actor, and I've had both experiences. Frazier's name on an audiobook lets me know I don't have to worry in the slightest (and is, frankly, a nudge to purchase even if I'm not entirely sold on the blurb otherwise).
"As You Are" is a fun reversal of quite a few romance tropes, and even plays with some of the usual tropes that are present - yes, there's the "If they only sat down and talked to each other!" thing, but Day does a great job at giving the characters very plausible and entirely character-driven reasons to be stubborn, disappointed, and - frankly - idiotic. Julian is a romantic fellow who has definitely got some pretty out-there illusions about how true love needs to manifest, and his hope and optimism that everything will work out if he just works hard enough is as adorable as it is frustrating (and it is both, in equal measures).
This is, at its core, a story about that notion of romanticism. Julian watched his parents crash and burn as a relationship, and while both parents tried hard not to put him in the middle, it did cement in him a desire for a true love of his own, and unfortunately most of his ideas about true love have been birthed by the impossibilities of old movies. Thankfully, he's got his best friend Gabby (I adored her), his roommate Danny (who he used to be totally crushed out on, but Danny is a serial one-night-stander with young twinks), and - potentially - a new romantic love interest in sight with Andy.
That Andy is a republican? Small speed bump. That Andy might have other, even more egregious (and difficult to reconcile with his gayness) issues? A challenge. Because Julian is convinced he can make love work.
But one night of awesome passion with the totally wrong man?
Well, that's going to be harder to figure out.
This was fun, and light, and full of humour, and I really enjoyed it. It's not a mystery, and isn't put together as one, but sometimes the journey is as much fun even when you know the destination you're heading for - it's all the detours and laughter on the way that make it worth the trip.
I will say also it's even more kudos to Frazier that the chain-smoking characters were still amusing and cute - I can't stand the smell or taste of cigarette smoke, so it was hard to keep my own biases out of it when the smoking character was finding a cigar-smoking fellow hot instead of barf-worthy, but Frazier's tones got me through it.
I haven't done this before, but I had already read this book before purchasing it here on Audible. When I read Vintage, it stole all my attention over the three days I read it - I was captivated. Vintage and I were inseparable. I was sneaking a read on breaks and bus rides, at breakfast and dinner, and finally, the last few pages before bed.
I loved it.
It's not often I feel lucky enough to find a young adult book where the protagonist is a well-written gay teen, and it's even less often that teen isn't your typical example. The goth, vintage clothes-loving voice in this book was a delight.
And I say that - now - in two senses. Narratively, I adored the voice of this story. From a performance point of view, Jason Frazier blew it out of the park. He's talented and evokes the words he's reading. So, I had a kind of a repeat experience - I listened to this audiobook whenever I had a spare moment, between chores, walking the dog, until the last few words a few hours ago.
Having run away from parents who absolutely will not accept him, the young man in VINTAGE comes to live with his aunt in a small town in New Jersey. He's a little lost, though he has a good group of equally marginalized friends, and works at a vintage clothing store and tries to find a future for himself. He has tried to commit suicide, but has moved past this to some hesitant sense of finding a life for himself.
Enter Josh, who the narrator meets on a long walk home at night. A handsome young man in fifties wear, the clothes grant the main character just enough courage to speak, and the two connect.
Except Josh isn't a lover of fifties wear who enjoys a retro look; he's dead. Our narrator has just crushed out on a ghost.
In turns fun, moving, dark, and tense, VINTAGE belongs on the shelf of great young adult fiction. Connecting with the character is effortless, and the growing tension and worry you feel on his behalf will drag you in, moment after moment. Frazier delivers a phenomenal performance that brings an already wonderful story to one of the best audiobooks I've enjoyed. Grab it. You won't be sorry.
Any joy that might have been found in the knowledge of this audiobook was completely removed by the performance. My husband and I enjoy listening to nonfiction while we take long car rides, and we had a five hour trip to New York State coming up, and nabbed this title. We barely made it an hour before he asked me to pick something else to play, since the dull monotonous performance was actually making him tired at the wheel.
It's unfortunate. The information is interesting, and though the author is perhaps a bit dry and academic in his delivery, it could have been presented much better by someone with a more engaging range of voice. It took a very long time to struggle our way through this one, in tiny bites, and I often found myself drifting away from it, completely disengaged from the uninspiring performance.
I listened to this coming and going from work, but unlike most audiobooks it took me almost four months.
So here's the thing about this book - I did enjoy it. I did. But the pacing didn't particularly lend itself to pulling me forward through the narrative. I would listen to it for a half hour or so, and then decide to listen to some music or a different book for a while. It's not that I didn't want to know what happened, it's that I felt no urgency about it.
Obviously, the audio performance by Tom Hiddleston was lovely - with one very grating exception. The voice he chose to perform the dwarf with was so scratchy and annoying that a lot of dialog with that character would often be the impetus to swap out for music for a while.
The story itself, which involves gypsy magic, revolutionary France, murder, secrets, betrayal, the theatre, and the plight of a young man and woman who might be fated for each other was well woven. I liked the setting, and it was obvious that Gardner did an excellent job with her research.
All in all, I'm glad I read the Red Necklace. I liked where the tale ended enough that I'm not sure I need to keep going with the series, however. I might physically read the second book, rather than listening, however.
I'm a fan of audiobooks and finding more and more titles from Lethe/Bear Bones and Bold Strokes has been a real joy to add some quality audiobooks to my two-plus hours of commute every day.
"Bear Like Me" works on many levels - on the surface, this is a fun and light story of a guy in way over his head: a gay clone twink type who is unjustly fired from his job at a magazine is left twisting in the wind, and his friend convinces him to go undercover into the bear community and write a book about the experience. Hijinks begin from the first confusion over "husbear" and then a second plot wrinkle enters: he has the opportunity to maybe do some sabotage to the magazine that let him go. Juggling identities, lies, sabotage and a romance that is starting with a burly bear makes life complicated, but the biggest struggle might just be realizing that the only thing better than pretending to be a bear might be actually being one.
On that fun mad-cap level alone, the story works. It's actually mildly a period piece as well, and keeping in mind the tale takes place as the internet age is dawning will also make some of the chuckles all the more amusing - I didn't get his absolute confusion about computers for a moment or two, until I realized that.
On a deeper level, though, there's more here. On his quest to investigate the bear identity, the hero also bumps into the same struggles I remember all too well from my brief foray into the bear world when I first came out: the community can be the most supportive and wonderful culture, but just like anywhere else, there are some who take the rules as permission to be exclusive and cruel. Being new (and fake), the hero of the tale gets a double-dose of that double-edged reality, and there were more than a few moments that made me want to reach in and strangle a character or two on behalf of my younger self, even as I shook my head in amusement at the antics of all involved.
"Bear Like Me" ultimately left me smiling, and I can happily recommend it - especially to anyone who didn't fit any of the molds when they first came out.
I liked this. I listened to it over a few days on the to-and-fro work trek. The narrator felt a bit off sometimes, which was a minor issue, but to judge the story itself, it was light and sweet.
When Howard - who is blind - is left abandoned at the side of the road by his boyfriend after a fight, a stranger pulls up and helps him while he waits for the friends he has called to come pick him up. This stranger - Gordy - has an immediate attraction to Howard, and the two of them have a chance to reconnect a short while later. But dating a blind man is a no easy task, Howard knows, and having just come off a relationship with someone very controlling has been hard - Howard values what independence he has managed to create for himself.
If that had been the sole source of stress in the story - these two men navigating the give-and-take issues made all the more difficult with the inclusion of Howard's blindness, then it would likely have fallen a little short. But Love Comes in Darkness goes further, and throws a massive new event directly into the life of Howard, and shakes everything to the core. Being independent is no longer the primary concern for Howard, and everything else might have to go if he's to do the right thing by those he loves.
Well told, and I have realized since that this is actually book two, and that some of the supporting characters were the main pair in book one. I'll be adding it to my queue.
I have to say - before anything else - that the narrator, Sean Crisden, absolutely nailed this one. Every character has a voice, and those voices built upon the characterization that T.J. Klune gave them, and brought them even more to life.
Not that they needed any help. Bear, the Kid, and the cast of characters that surround them (especially Anna and Otter, of course) are so richly designed that they live and breathe for the reader (or, in my case, listener.)
Without giving anything away, the situation is this: At eighteen, Bear is left with guardianship of his younger brother because his mother takes off with her boyfriend. His entire life narrows down to the realization that he needs to take care of his brother - the wonderfully written Kid from the title, who is barely six or so at the time. That his best friend, his best friend's bother (Otter) and his girlfriend Anna are there to help - not that Bear feels he can trust anyone ever again.
This is the crux of the story, that Bear can't open himself up to accept help without mallet to the head, and that trust for him does not come easily.
Also - there's the way he feels about his best friend's older brother - Otter - not that he wants to think about that at all.
T.J. Klune spins a wonderful story here - it's engaging, it's enraging (seriously, Bear is so incredibly infuriating at times, but in a way that makes you keep going), it's sexy, it's emotionally disarming (the Kid is freaking adorable), and - frankly - it's completely engrossing. I was absolutely hooked on this story from step one.
I'm definitely finding more T.J. Klune.
I'm a lover of audiobooks. Even if I were able to physically read on the bus - I can't, it makes me feel ill - there's still something so incredibly wonderful about the spoken word, and the experience of listening to a great story being told. Usually, I do this to make the time pass by on the long trek to and from work, or when I'm doing something tedious like the laundry or dishes. For "The Affair of the Porcelain Dog" I was instead scurrying around, trying to find any excuse to be able to keep listening, and even wearing my ear-buds while I did routine stuff all the way to the moment I had to open the doors for the day.
I listened on my break. I listened on my lunch. I listened in the bath. I even got up early on the day of my closing shift so I'd have the two full hours of time I needed to finish the book before my work shift started.
In short? Jess Faraday's "The Affair of the Porcelain Dog" was the best audiobook experience I've had in years. There are a few sides to that experience.
One, the writing was so completely engaging that I was happily drawn into the narrative from step one. The setting - a Holmes-era tale in London at it's most coal-caked and financially stratified, "The Affair of the Porcelain Dog" is also Holmes-esque in its execution, pulling you into a mystery from the opening that is as steeped in the time and place and culture as it is in the richly drawn characters. The main voice, Ira Adler, is such a charming character even when he's being selfish or spoiled that I was smitten instantly. An orphan and former rent-boy, Ira is living in luxury now at the beck and call - and bed - of Cain Goddard, who despite his genteel appearance is in fact a crime lord making most of his living off the legal opium trade. Ira, no slouch in the street arts of lock picking, pick pocketing, and capable of thieving with the best of them, is tasked by Goddard to recover the titular piece of artwork, which is both ugly and apparently contains a secret that could ruin Goddard, and bring Ira's comfortable new life to an end. Of course, in a mystery as tightly drawn as this one, there are far more players than that - including the wonderfully written Timothy Lazarus, a giving clinic doctor who is after the same object d'art for his own friend - and Goddard's rival. That Lazarus and Adler have a romantic entanglement in the past just adds to the joy in their interactions.
Two, the performance. Oh how Philip Battley narrated the heck out of this book! He took Jess Faraday's amazing story and put such an incredible performance behind his reading. Every accent and every tone just burst with verisimilitude. It kills me that the search on his name over on audible only showed one other audiobook. I sincerely hope there's more from him.
Third - and last - there weren't compromises in the historical setting including gay characters. I rarely read historical gay fiction because so often the gay stuff sort of slides unnoticed among the rest of the tale. Somehow everyone the characters meet are happy and open-minded folks who understand these guys aren't evil (despite religion, law, and everything about the current culture saying they are). That these men are gay is a huge factor to the story, but not in a way that doesn't ring true.
Okay. I'm moving past reviewing and into gushing. Just trust me on this one. Read it or listen to it - I'm totally going to suggest you listen to it if you're at all an audiobook lover - and rejoice in the fact that there's a sequel, Turnbull House, on its way.
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