Today’s Series Spotlight focuses on the Lang Downs series by Ariel Tachna, which I listened to in audio format. Since we have already reviewed the Lang Downs books on the blog, I am not going to do a full scale review of the four books in the series. Check out Melanie’s individual reviews of each book if you want all the details. But here are very brief synopsis of the four books along with my thoughts on the audio versions.
Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating; 4.75 stars
Narrator: William James
Inherit the Sky
With a dead-end job and virtually nothing keeping him in America, Caine Neiheisel jumps at the chance the move to Australia to run his Great Uncle Michael’s sheep station, after Uncle Michael passed away and left it to Caine’s mother. Upon arriving at the station, Caine meets Macklin Armstrong, the foreman who fears that the Yank will sell the station, putting them all out of work and their home.
Tension runs high as Macklin is dismissive of Caine one moment and overly attentive the next, causing Caine no end to the confusion. With a stutter and viewed as a “blow-in,” Caine does not know what he can do to earn the respect of the crew, especially Macklin whom he finds attractive. Macklin, on the other hand, is deep inside the closet and refuses to let his urges destroy everything he has worked so hard for. Will Caine succeed in carving a place for himself at the station, and will he ever figure out the gruff, gorgeous foreman?
This was a wonderful story of new beginnings, in so many ways. Caine needs a fresh start, Macklin needs to come to terms with his sexuality, and the secondary characters all help them on their journey. I found that Tachna created a simple, no-nonsense world in Lang Downs that focused on carefully crafted characters and realistic situations.
Chase the Stars
Chris Simms is the target of a beating by a gang of homophobic thugs. Fortunately, Chris’ brother Seth finds help and Chris’ saviors take him to the hospital. Two of the men who saved Chris are Macklin Armstrong and Caine Neiheisel who quickly discover that Chris and Seth could use a helping hand. Caine offers Chris a job at Lang Downs and young Seth a chance at an education, and although Chris is wary due to his troubled past, he accepts the offer.
Once at the station, Chris feels useless due to his injuries and meets Jesse, a jackaroo working at Lang Downs for the summer. Chris and Jesse become close, sharing intimate moments when possible, but the summer is coming to an end and Chris worries that Jesse’s seasonal employment will spell the end of their fragile, new relationship.
Chase the Stars further demonstrates the kindness and compassion found at Lang Downs. Caine’s Uncle Michael had a reputation for taking in strays and Caine is exactly the same. I felt for Chris, feeling beaten down, both literally and figuratively, and admired his dedication to his 16-year-old brother, Seth. Jesse was a nicely developed character as well and the relationship progressed logically, especially since there were not many opportunities to fool around on a busy sheep station.
Outlast the Night
Sam Emery is at the end of his rope. In the process of getting a divorce from a woman who did nothing but destroy his self-esteem, Sam contacts his brother, Neil. The men meet and Neil does not recognize the shadow of a man before him, Sam has changed so much. After a lengthy discussion, Sam feels comfortable enough to admit to Neil that he is gay, and is pleasantly surprised by Neil’s easy acceptance. Since Neil is the foreman at Lang Downs, owned and operated by Cain Neiheisel and Macklin Armstrong, a gay couple, being gay is not an issue.
Sam accompanies Neil back to Lang Downs, not sure what an out-of-work bookkeeper can do on a sheep station. Soon after arriving at Lang Downs, Sam meets Jeremy Taylor, brother of the owner of the neighboring station, Taylor Peak, who was kicked of his station for being gay. Sam and Jeremy become close friends and, although they are attracted to each other, avoid intimacy due to Sam’s pending divorce. Sam fears that he will lose even more than he already has if his soon-to-be ex-wife finds out about his sexuality.
The series is continuing seamlessly and the characters from the previous books are evolving along with the current main characters. Lang Downs may sound ideal, but it still has its moments which I found added to the authenticity. I have not addressed the language until now but it sounds authentic and the Australian terms are used consistently and make sense within the context of the stories. Sam and Jeremy are a great couple, Sam is so obviously beaten down and Jeremy is strong enough to weather Sam’s bouts of fear and insecurity.
Conquer the Flames
Grass fires bring the Royal Fire Service to Lang Downs where volunteer firefighter and former army Commando Lachlan Thorne is dispatched to secure the help of Lang Downs in the fight to save the station from the advancing inferno. Thorne meets year-round Crew Boss Ian Duncan and the attraction is immediate. Unfortunately, both men have fears of commitment, for different reasons, and both have secrets from their pasts that haut them daily. Thorne and Ian slowly get to know each other and become close friends, but Ian’s secret and the grass fires may end their relationship before it can even begin.
Ian is quite possibly the most complex character in the Lang Downs series so far and Thorne appears to be the best match for him, as a friend and potential lover. Thorne is a lost soul, haunted by his own past, and Ian, has lived at Lang Downs for 15 years and only confided in one person, which shows the depth of his shame. Thorn also showed a lot of depth of character, a kind and compassionate man who has learned much from his time in the Army, Thorne’s behavior demonstrates how he wishes he could have more from life, and he gradually sees that Lang Downs and Ian could possibly meet those needs.
Five years have passed since the previous installment and Tachna added a very short blurb to explain some of the things that had happened since we last visited Lang Downs, giving us a simple but effective update that did not affect the flow of the story.
I was thrilled to hear from Ariel Tachna that a fifth book is in the works as the world of Lang Downs is one of those comforting places that I can visit and feel right at home. In terms of the audio, I was incredibly impressed with narrator William James. James has a gorgeous voice and does the Australian accents with skill. I found that he was able to consistently voice the various characters so well that I could tell who was speaking without needing them identified. From beginning to end, the various characters’ intonation and pronunciation and slight difference in accents remained reasonably consistent. I could feel the authenticity of the characters because of it.
I will say, though, that as the series progressed, I found that the accents were lost at times, but considering the number of both male and female voices James had to contend with, I was not bothered by this at all. I also found that the audio was smoothly edited with virtually no gaps in the narration and the character’s speech. In other audiobooks, I have increased the speed to 1.25 or 1.5x just to minimize the gaps and in the Lang Downs audiobooks this was not necessary.
I highly recommend the Lang Downs series, especially in audiobook format, and have already looked for other stories narrated by William James.