Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Matthew Lloyd Davies
Length: 7 hours, 31 minutes
Twenty-three-year-old Joel is in his second year as a high school teacher, and happily co-parenting his three-year-old daughter, Evie, with his best friend, Claire. Joel met Claire in college, and a bit of experimentation resulted in Evie, but Joel was certain he was gay right when they decided they were better friends than lovers. Joel and Claire live apart, but have defined care times, and it’s a successful plan for them. Joel has been dating Dan, a 19-year-old barista, but it’s not serious. Joel knows Dan has hook-ups on the many nights he goes out when Joel is home caring for Evie.
This works at the moment, but Joel’s whole world turns inside out when Claire dies suddenly and he becomes Evie’s sole custodial parent. Joel’s mother died a few years back, and he has few other family members on which to lean, so he’s very much adrift after Claire dies. Joel’s protectiveness morphs into paranoia, and he can’t feel safe leaving Evie with anyone—even his trusted sister, or Claire’s parents. And, that means fun with Dan becomes a challenge.
While in the midst of his grief and shock, Joel encounters Liam, a nurse at the hospital where Claire died. Liam’s a solid man looking for a man to truly love him. He’s a little older, and has also survived intense grief, having lost his dear brother a few years back. His last boyfriend was a cheater, and Liam’s unwilling to play games. He’s a dear man, though, and he really tries hard to be a good friend to both Joel and Evie, who are both kind of lonely. Joel feels like Liam might be too good to be true, and he’s nervous about how attached Evie might be getting. What if Liam thinks it’s too much trouble to date Joel? Can Joel and Evie survive losing another person in their lives?
This one was a bit of a slow starter, for me. It’s also really sad in the beginning and leading up to the climax because of Joel losing Claire. I didn’t actually know how Joel would end up being Evie’s sole parent before I got into the book, so I was anticipating tragedy. Likewise, Joel’s relationship with Dan seemed to be doomed from the start. This made for an anxious listen, as I stoically chugged along. The narrator, Matthew Lloyd Davies, does a good job with the voices and all, but I will admit to increasing the reading speed; I think that was a bit of self-preservation, me wanting to get the sad bits managed as soon as possible. Readers can expect a somber read, in print or audio, and the narration was appropriate in pace and tone. There are a few female voices here, notably Claire, Evie, and Joel’s sister, and they all sounded distinct, as do the male ones. Joel’s heartbrokenness and exhaustion were easy to hear through the narration, and his tentativeness to really engage with Liam was also audible.
Joel’s relationship with Evie is tender and sweet; he’s a committed dad and he does the job well. Liam is caught in a bad spot, actually, because Dan exited abruptly, Claire too, and Evie is getting a bit confused about what’s going on in her dad’s life. Dan wasn’t a bad guy, it was just a bad fit for him and Joel, and Claire dying revealed that. But, Joel isn’t sure it’s wise to fall into a new relationship so soon after Dan, and with the grief of Claire still fresh. He makes some poor, but understandable, decisions and it means he has some groveling to do once he wises up. In the end, Joel learns to embrace real love, and it helps him be a better father and partner. The ending is a bit rushed on the reconciliation, but the epilogue ensures we know life has moved on in the best possible way.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.