ugly ducklingStory Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars

Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 7 hours, 15 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: 
 Amazon | iBooks

When stylist Perry Goodwood gets hired to make over the Ventura family ugly duckling, he is thrilled for the opportunity. The Ventura brothers are well known celebrities in London and this could be a great boost for his career. Perry just needs to get Greg whipped into shape for a family TV appearance. Perry is a little stunned, however, to find that Greg lives in a tiny and remote Scottish town on the island of North Uist. More than that, he hasn’t spoken to his brothers in years and has no intention of returning home and appearing on television with them. Perry’s task? Get Greg cleaned up, back to London, and happily participating with the rest of the family.

Greg Ventura has always been the odd one out in among his gorgeous and popular brothers. They made it clear to him all throughout his youth that he didn’t fit in and that he is an ugly embarrassment. Even after years away from his family, Greg still bears emotional scars. The best thing Greg ever did was move away to North Uist where he lives a quiet and happy life. He has absolutely no intention of ever stepping foot in London again, let alone joining his family on a reality show. So when a soaking wet, inappropriately dressed, and somewhat clueless Perry shows up at Greg’s door, he is determined to send the man right back to London.

Perry needs this job to work out; he needs the money desperately and he can’t afford to take no for an answer. So he convinces Greg to let him stay a few days and Perry will help out around the house, after which he will be allowed to give his pitch to Greg to participate in the show. As Perry spends time with the Greg, the tension between them slowly changes to friendship. Perry gets to know the locals and finds he loves the quiet little town and the people there. He also finds himself really caring for Greg. The two men just work together, despite being total opposites. But the clock is ticking with Perry’s job and he needs to deliver. Not to mention that Perry’s life (and income) is in London and Greg can not let himself return there. The men have fallen for one another, but the hurdles to being together seem too big. Now they have to figure out if there is a way to make things work, or if their romance will end when Perry returns home.

I am not always one for the makeover story, but I heard great things about this book (including Elizabeth’s glowing review for the ebook). So when I saw the story was out in audio, with one of my favorite narrators, Joel Leslie, I decided to give it a try. I have to say, this book was so much more than I expected with great characters, a lovely relationship, and total Highlands porn.

First off, the setting really comes alive here. The story takes place in a tiny town in the western isles. It is isolated and in a harsh, but incredibly beautiful, environment. Clare London does an amazing job really painting a picture of the beautiful area, the gorgeous lochs, and the lovely town. I have been lucky enough to visit Scotland and London just captures the feeling of the place so well here and bring it all to life in such a great way. Life in a tiny, remote town is perhaps a bit idealized, as is the easy acceptance of its GLBT townsfolk. But overall I loved the way the book immerses you in the beauty of the area and just makes you feel Scotland.

This is an interesting “makeover” story, mostly in that it is not really about a makeover at all. Perry starts out trying to convince Greg to go through the makeover so he can appear on the show, but that quickly is put aside as Perry gets to know Greg and spends time with him. Perry falls for Greg just as he is, which I really loved. Well, Perry would love to see Greg ditch the unfashionable clothes and hair cut, but Perry accepts and loves Greg for who he is. The problem is that emotionally Greg can’t get past the pain of his childhood, even though his vision of himself is not really reality anymore. So rather than Greg’s makeover, the story is really about two slightly different things. First, it is Greg coming to terms with his past and who he is now and accepting himself. And secondly, it is about Perry really discovering who he is and how much happier he is away from London. In fact, I would say Perry is the one with the most “transformation” here, and I loved that twist to the story.

I really like a good opposites attract plot and London gives us a great one here. We have the hip, stylish Perry who is a total fish out of water in this remote town. He has no idea how to dress or get by on the island. At these same time, he is friendly and outgoing and knows everyone in town within days. Then there is gruff, more somber Greg who has rarely socializes and keeps to himself. I loved these guys together, how they both bring out the best in one another and find such unexpected happiness together. The story comes together with a really nice ending and I loved how it all works out.

My only criticism here is I feel like there are some threads that aren’t fully explained with regards to Perry’s job. First off, Perry normally travels with a full team when he does makeover, but everyone else inexplicably doesn’t show up. It is never clear to me why these folks weren’t sent. We are told how critical this job is to the company, so there is no reason we ever get for why they would throw Perry up there all alone and without any support. We are given the indication that something fishy is up, as Perry’s boss does the fake “sorry, static on the line” thing when talking to him about why he is there alone. But there is never any explanation given for what is happening, and this seemed like a big plot hole to me. Also, I couldn’t quite figure out what Perry’s plan is here. He knows he needs this makeover to work as it is critical to his job. So while I get the “let’s take some time” approach he starts with, he is there weeks doing nothing related to his job and it never seems to be an issue. If his job is so crucial (and we are told that it is), how is it that Perry is basically just on vacation, living with Greg and sexing it up in the islands with seemingly no concern for doing his job? I just wish this had been addressed more clearly.

As I said, I listened to this in audio and narrator Joel Leslie does a wonderful job with this one. This story is full of accents, from Perry’s London accent to all those Scots, and Leslie really captures them all so well. The characters all sound distinct from one another, which isn’t always the case when you have a large cast all with accents. There were a few times that the Scots were a little hard to understand — intentionally so — and it was probably a bit easier to follow when reading than listening. But overall I think the accents were excellent and really helped bring the setting to life even more. Leslie also does a great job performing the story overall. The pacing is good, the tone is spot on, and the passion and intensity these guys have when they are together really comes through. I found that the audio really enhanced the story and brought it to life so well, and Leslie does an amazing job with it.

So I really loved this book and think London does an amazing job taking a common trope and really elevating it to something special. Add in Leslie’s excellent narration and I can definitely recommend this one in either format.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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