Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Michael Dean
Length: 6 hours, 23 minutes
Danny Zhou always planned to be a teacher, but when he and his college boyfriend created an app that went viral, he found himself unexpectedly running a company instead. Danny and his boyfriend stayed together for years, partners at work and at home, until Danny walked in on his boyfriend cheating. All he wanted to do was get away, so Danny cashed out his share of the company and has moved across the country to live with his sister and her newborn while his brother-in-law is out of the country on military duty.
Now, Danny really doesn’t know what’s next for him and he is feeling at loose ends. He has plenty of money, but his life took such an unexpected direction, he isn’t really sure how to get pointed back the right way. In high school, Danny volunteered with the fire department, so he decides signing up again will be a good way to keep busy. Much of the crew is new since he was last there, including a gorgeous firefighter named Jamie. Danny can’t help but be upset when he learns that Jamie is Deaf, yet none of his fellow firefighters seem to have made any effort to learn to sign, so Jamie is mostly isolated from the rest of the team. Fortunately, Danny learned ASL in college and strikes up a friendship with Jamie, who is a little cool and wary at first, but soon begins to open up.
As the men build their friendship, the attraction also flares between them and it isn’t long before they act on it. The connection between them is so good and both men are really starting to fall hard for one another. But Danny is still at loose ends, trying to figure out what direction his future may go. And Jamie is dealing with family issues, and Danny worries that if they resolve, Jamie may want to return home to Hawaii rather than stay on the mainland. Despite the fears, the men are so good together. Now they just have to figure out how to make their uncertain futures blend into a life together.
I am a huge fan of E.M. Lindsey’s books and always eager to check out their work, so I was excited to see this story release in audio, as I missed it when it was originally released as an ebook. The story was first published in 2018, then republished in 2021, with the audio coming out just recently. As with many of Lindsey’s books, this story really showcases diverse characters nicely, and here we see that it is something that really connects Danny and Jamie. Danny grew up with Chinese parents and was often judged or teased for being different. In Jamie’s case, he is Deaf and speaks only ASL, yet his family has never made him feel accepted, and few people in his life make the effort to learn his language. So while the man face different prejudices, they both have a sense of not being accepted for who they are. I think Jamie’s deafness is particularly well explored, as we see how isolated he is by so many in the community as no one really tries to learn to talk to him, even people he works with every day. We also can really feel the pain he experiences as he deals with his family’s sense that Jamie is broken because he can’t hear. The story gives a nice opportunity for Jamie and Danny to really support and relate to each other from this shared experience and it helps bring a nice bond between them.
From a relationship end, things start a little rocky as Jamie is somewhat cold and standoffish (mostly out of a sense of self preservation). But once he warms up, the guys fall for each other pretty smoothly. There is a nice sweetness and an intensity to their connection that I liked. Most of the conflict comes from Danny’s end (and he is the sole POV character), as he is struggling both with his own future, as well as fears about Jamie wanting to move back to Hawaii. These issues got a little prolonged for me, particularly the concerns about Jamie. Jamie is clear early on that he is mostly estranged from his family and has no desire to ever move home. But Danny is worried that if they make up, Jamie will want to go back to Hawaii. He never really talks to Jamie about his fears for most of the book, so it feels like we tread the same ground a bit too often.
There is also a nice juxtaposition here between the families. Danny clearly has a close relationship to his sister, and they are both supportive of one another, as well as Danny being the recipient of her tough love when needed. It is clear that the siblings care a lot about each other, and we know that Danny’s parents are also supportive of him. This contrasts with Jamie, who has never really felt accepted by his family for being Deaf. Things came to a head when his niece was born deaf and his family’s true feelings about deafness came out. So we get to explore this issue, as well as the family dynamics nicely here.
I listened to this in audio with narrator Michael Dean. Overall, I think Dean does a nice job with the audio and it was enjoyable to listen. Danny and Jamie have well differentiated voices and it was easy to understand who was speaking. The side characters tend to be less distinct and often felt fairly interchangeable in terms of narration, however. Dean also uses very precise diction, which sometimes made the narration feel a bit stilted, rather than smoothly flowing. But I think overall the audio works well and if you are interested in this story, I can recommend it in either format.