Andrew Grey's LOVE MEANS NO SHAME was a story that really suffered for the narration. I was incredibly excited to find audible.com listing some gay fiction audiobooks, and I nabbed it with one of my monthly credits, and started listening to it the next day.
Now, here's thing: I quite liked the story. I thought it was sweet, and heartwarming, and of a very rare character in that there was no massive horrible event that the characters had to get past, but rather a series of tests that challenged their capacities to love. It was a gentle story. And the reader's narration nearly made me give up on more than one occasion.
One of the two characters, Elijah, is an Amish fellow, about nineteen or twenty, and in what I assume is an attempt to make his innocence a part of his voice, the narrator chose to give him a slightly breathy voice, which instead of sounding innocent sounded... well... fifteen years old. Or maybe twelve.
Given that the main character romances (and is romanced in turn by) Elijah, you can imagine the overall effect. It comes off... well, creepy. Add to that that all the female characters were given an even breathier, simpering voice, and there were passages where I was wincing while I listened. Women have voices that are stronger than the way they were read, and the indignant semi-villainess lines were robbed of all power by the way they were delivered aloud.
I want to repeat: I liked the story. Andrew Grey's tale was really enjoyable in and of itself, and if you're a fan of the farm-and-ranch setting, this little gay love story would definitely be welcome in your collection. I'm glad I got the story. But the reader nearly made me stop, and I'd suggest you grab the physical copy of the book (or e-book) instead.
The book itself, I'd give four stars as a gentle, loving tale. The narration deserves perhaps two stars, unfortunately, which leaves my ranking at three.
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.
There are different things to take into account with an audio experience. The reader has to perform - often I find the biggest issue is a reader who can't do different voices and who tries to do so. It's usually fine if a reader can't really give different accents or sounds to particular voices and they don't attempt it - after all, if the author has done their job, the different voices will come through. But if a reader tries and fails to do a good job at different characters, that can ruin the effect.
This, happily, wasn't at all the case for "Undead Sublet," by Molly Harper.
I like vampire tales as much as the next person, but what I think Molly Harper did here that was so clever was to take the dark angsty side of the vampire and pretty much completely ignore it in favor of something else: vampire taste buds.
Let me explain. The set-up for this story is this: executive chef Tess Maitland - who has had a bit of a meltdown due to a jerk of a boss (also her ex), an impossible work schedule, and no sleep - is on "sabbatical." She comes to Half Moon Hollow and rents a house near where her former Chef and mentor lives, hoping to sleep, eat, rest, and get back into fighting shape to return to the city and reclaim her kitchen, restaurant, and status as one of the few women to make it in the wretchedly competitive world of gourmet cooking. There's a slight problem - in the basement of the house she's renting, there's a vampire. And he's the soon-to-be ex-husband of the woman who rented the place to Tess - which means he has a right to be there, too.
Thus begins a war between the chef and the vampire to see who cam make life (or unlife) the most uncomfortable. Except somewhere during the pranking and the wonderful characters of Half Moon Hollow she meets, Tess starts to realize something: she hasn't felt this good in ages.
Fun, light, and incredibly funny, "Undead Sublet" is a novella set between books in an ongoing series about Half Moon Hollow. I didn't know that when I listened to it, and while there are some throw-away lines that made me think I was missing a reference to a previous story, this was a fully self-contained tale of its own, and I didn't feel like I'd walked into the book without enough information. That's a big compliment to pay about a book that belongs to a series, as it's hard to pull off.
Not only was the writing enjoyable, the reader was great - Sophie Eastlake had a real knack for comedic timing, and the story itself made me laugh out loud multiple times (especially during the pranking, and while inside Tess's head whilst she is cursing up a storm). I'll definitely seek out more from both of them.
Listening to this trilogy has been like immersing myself in a wonderfully developed myth of old Japan. It's fantastic, and if you've never listened to 'Across the Nightingale Floor,' then that is where you need to start.
In the third volume, things are perched on the precipice. Can Takeo take his destiny into his own hands, and use war to bring peace to the lands? Will Kaede, who has become so much more than a helpless young woman, finally take control and escape the paper and silk prison she has become trapped within?
The supporting cast, the land itself, and the sheer detail and lovely prose of these stories just dazzle. Definitely a worthwhile listening experience.
I listened to most of this on our way to Orangeville to put my father's ashes into a cubby-thing (tm), and most of the ride back. The fact that the gay character has to decide what to do with his father's ashes was a bit of an ironic twist to the selection, but otherwise, this was what I'd call a character study novel, in that the plot itself doesn't really go anywhere.
Basically, you follow the lives of four people, Jonathan (the gay fellow), his mother Alison (a New Orleans girl who married a fairly plain fellow in Jon's father), Jonathan's childhood friend and first love, Bobby (who was voice/narrated by Colin Farrel and mrowr! that was a good thing), and his later friend Claire.
Jonathan, Bobby and Claire form an odd romantic triangle where Jon loves both Bobby and Claire together, Bobby desperately wants a sense of 'family' to replace his tragic family history, and Claire is suddenly feeling older and wants a child. They form a family of their own, a unique one, and really, that's all there is to the plot.
It's the characters that make the story interesting. Jonathan's inability to stop looking toward some sort of "maybe someday," future; Bobby, who seems the prince of acquiescence; Claire, who is so unusual at first sight, but fears that she might just be a regular selfish mother after all; and Alison, who really only comes alive after the death of her husband. Alison often feels like an afterthought, but the other three characters spiral around each other.
Cunningham's metaphors are sometimes a bit odd ("cut like an x-ray") and he has a deft touch with the characters and their own points of view - Bobby through Jonathan or Claire's eyes seems such a flat and quietly boring sort, but internally, Bobby is quite the philosopher, for example - and the internal dialogues are very well put together.
But is it enough? I'm not sure. While I liked it well enough, I'm not sure as a character driven story it had enough to the characters. Nothing felt resolved, the ending was quite sudden and jarring, and Claire's denouement seemed almost forced. The only really likeable fellow is Bobby, and even he tends to be somewhat frustrating in his inability to disagree. It's hard to say, really, if my experience with the book makes me want to try more Cunningham or not.
I do think that as an audiobook (I downloaded this from audible.com) it went better than if I'd've read it on my own. The lack of plot or sense of forward motion really would have made it a dry read, and listening to the four voices read their characters was much more enjoyable, I think.
Quite frankly, this was like listening to a long series of "Nature" programmes on the radio, except - amazingly enough - extremely entertaining. It ranged from completely disparate topics such as vulcanology (did you know that Yellowstone Park, all of it, is a huge volcano overdue for a massive blowout?), atoms and molecules (did you know we know there is mass, but not how?), viruses and bacteria (there was once a plague that gave everyone a kind of terminal apathy), and all the way to evolution and back with every sort of stop between.
If you at all enjoy science and nature shows, then this is a book for you. If you find them remotely boring, or flat, then maybe not. This was certainly some of the most fun I've had with science, but in such a scattershot way as to appeal to my "trivia" nature. If the section on cells had gone on much longer, for example, my iPod would have had a bit of a hard time skipping fast enough for my thumb-pressing.
It was fascinating (the places life manages to form and prosper), terrifying (we'd really not notice an extinction level impact heading our way until it was pretty much here), horrifying (upon being asked what he felt now that he'd just shot the last bird in an entire species, one fellow said, "joy"), and a little bit overwhelming (the names, dates, titles, and repetitious use of "we don't know"). At times, the various intrigues of the science community were by far more fascinating than what the scientists were studying themselves (who knew that Darwin liked to electrocute himself? Or that a 300 pound man who stayed in the same nursery wing of his estate and the same nursery bed his entire life - and never left home - wiped out species all over Hawaii - a place he never went?)
Is it "everything"? Well, of course not. But I daresay that my absolute amateur level of most scientific knowledge bases have improved a smidgeon. And really, how can it not be fun to tell children browsing in my store that the old-style diving suit on the cover of the Lemony Snicket book was originally intended to be used fighting fire? If nothing else, you'll get a real sense of just how much life (and I'm using the big-L life here, not just we homo sapiens) is sort of a grand series of really lucky coincidences. And how much we're mucking it up.
My lord how I adored this. I listened to it to and fro from work. I must say the reader did an amazing job.
It's not hard to imagine an older lesbian couple reaching their retirement years and struggling for their income. One is a teacher, the other a retired military nurse, and living on social security and non-existent pensions is a struggle. Pretty much the only thing they own that doesn't have a use - they've sold everything else - is a rifle they have kept for sentimental reasons.
And though they can't quite pin exactly when - or which of them it was exactly - the decision was made, they did indeed make a decision to make some extra money by offering their services in a growth industry: hired assassination.
These two wonderful old women are a joy to read - even though they're killers for hide (and at times even because of it). That they have a moral compass in play (albeit one that still allows their murder-for-cash solution to life's problems) is central to how they're still so damned loveable, and as the tale progresses, and their backgrounds, histories, loves and pains come to light, my affection for them only grew.
Counterpointed with these two lovely ladies is another woman, the detective who is assigned to the case when the bodies start to stack up. Her journey was also intriguing, enjoyable, and emotionally encompassing, and the last few chapters, when things start to grow very taut, had me very nervous for all concerned.
Can you root for the killers?
In this case, how couldn't I?
The concept for Berry's "Romanov Prophecy" is an interesting one: what if Russia, after years of corruption in its failed attempt at democracy, decided to put its monarchy back in place? Those in power behind the scenes don't want to have anyone but a puppet in place, while the people want the real heir - but given that the reign of Nicholas the Second ended with bloodshed and what might have been an urban legend: did two heirs survive?
Enter Miles, a black lawyer from Atlanta, who is hired to ensure that the currently chosen heir is legitimate. But when he's nearly killed, Miles starts to realize there's more going on, and is quickly on the run in a country where he sticks out like a sore thumb, trying to stay one step ahead of those trying to kill him, and get to the truth before it's too late.
Read wonderfully, I listened to this going to and home from work. The pacing is excellent, and the characters are good. In a way, it reminded me of Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons," in that it had a same frenetic pace, and a good historical background.
Dr. Maura Isles is a staple of Tess Gerritsen's writing, and in this tale, a body is found outside Maura's house, murdered. It is Maura. Except when Maura comes home, and the truth comes out: this isn't Maura, it's a twin sister she never knew she had.
But was Maura the target? And why was her sister trying to find her?
Dark and well paced, this book explores Maura's mostly unknown past up to this point, and has a well written delve into a very disturbed psychology or two. If you're a fan of psychological thrillers, this one definitely delivers, as Gerritsen usually does.
By far one of the best reading voices ever, Barbara Rosenblat brings this story to absolute life in her reading, and gets my hands-down praise as the best reader I've enjoyed to date. The story itself in Dirty Blonde mixes Hollywood, Sex Scandal, the Circuit Court, and a Heroine you're rooting for from step one: Cate Fanti. Fanti is a newly appointed judge with a scandalous sex life that she's hoping to keep private, and ruling on a court case where the law is going to punish the victim, and let a Hollywood producer walk away with the idea - and all the mega-profit - of a police computer technician. How Scottoline manages to intertwine these two apparently unrelated stories into one whole is just phenomenal, and Fanti's fantastic sarcastic wit (delivered, I have to say again, by Barbara Rosenblat's perfect reading) is a joy to experience. Even when Fanti is making mistakes that make you cringe, you understand why she is doing what she's doing, and the supporting cast add light to - without distracting from - the main storyline throughout. Excellent work!
Natalie Greco is a solid Scottoline heroine - she's got a core of iron in there somewhere, but is a Legal Prof at a university where she's not taken very seriously, and the only daughter of a very masculine family of loud men who don't tend to hear her when she speaks.
A colleague asks Natalie to come with him to a local prison, to teach a course to some convicts, and she agrees. While there, a riot breaks out, and a dying police officer whispers something to Natalie that might be a clue to a greater corruption.
Soon, attempts are being made on her life, and Natalie is trying to figure out if there can be Justice in the world or not - and whether she can keep herself alive in the process.
Read wonderfully, this audio was a thrill ride, steeped with some historical content that I'm really starting to respect Scottoline for including in many of her stories.
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