Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Cooper North
Length: 4 hours, 2 minutes
Mike Davis is an art school graduate who took an art job for a communications company when he left school. He wanted something stable, so he could contribute to the family expenses, filling in the role of his absentee father and taking the pressure off his depressed mom. Over the years, this job has promoted and promoted Mike out of art and into finance. He’s so stressed out he’s given up on art entirely, but the paychecks are sweet, even if he doesn’t need them so much anymore.
Mike had a lover he adored, Benton Aldridge, a British zoologist who adored Mike in return. During their relationship, Benton continued to push Mike to pursue his art and build a life with him, but Mike felt that Benton was pushing too hard. Meanwhile, Mike sacrificed himself–and his relationship with Benton–for this thankless, soul-sucking job. In the end, Benton left. It’s been a year, and Mike is still heartbroken.
Mike’s Aunt Penny is a tour operator on luxury trips. Mike’s been promoted to the senior account manager at the job, but he’s due vacation time before taking on the new role. Penny convinces him to attend her next tour–a luxury cruise in the Galapagos–and teach some watercolor classes to the attendees. He agrees as a “favor,” because he’s lost all confidence in his art at this point. But Mike never would have agreed to come if he knew that Benton is the trip’s naturalist. Or, that he and Benton would end up sharing a suite with only one bed.
This is a reconnection romance between two men who couldn’t make it work in San Diego. And things seem even more difficult now that Benton’s living back in England, and may have a new young beau of his own. Mike’s seething with jealousy and passion–but his anger’s been misdirected at Benton and Penny, when he should be chastising himself for letting his employer run his life and suck away his dreams. Mike’s fear of abandonment and poverty has skewed his perspective for a while, and both Penny and Benton hope this trip will cause a hard reset on his life. Unfortunately, Mike isn’t good at holding himself accountable, and it will take some bigger pushes than a naked Benton in the bed to make him do so.
I loved the pace of this story, as narrated. I am not super familiar with narrator Cooper North, but I felt his voice really did give me good impressions of the characters, with Mike’s voice being a little higher and thinner than Benton’s deeper and accented timbre. The way the older guests and Ecuadorian natives’ voices were handled was satisfactory, too.
This is a fun and quirky story, though I sometimes felt like the scenes jumped. For example, I didn’t get how we went from Penny taking Benton and Mike to task for being petulant, then immediately into a demanded “date night.” For me, the upfront tip off that the entire trip was a set-up made me look forward to that pay off.
I honestly chose the story so I could hear about a Galapagos trip, and I relished the tour I took with these characters. Mike finally reaches his breaking point with his employer, and it was glorious. I really developed a lot of sympathy for his lost opportunities, so I couldn’t wait for that to happen–and I think the manner of it really spoke to me. Benton and Penny are both awesome, supportive, and loving characters, and their gentle guidance of Mike’s path to personal happiness was tender and sweet. There’s not much steam in the book, but I didn’t miss it, since I was captivated by the story.
Expect a happy ending, and an exotic trip through a less-traveled locale.