Ever since Max entered our lives, I’ve been listening to even more audiobooks than normal. A young husky demands far, far more walks than an adult husky does, and so we’re often out and about, tromping through all sorts of weather. Luckily, my phone and some earbuds turn this into valuable listening time (and it turns out I routinely break 50 kilometres a week doing so—that’s thirty-odd miles for the imperials among us).
This year, Max’s walks treated me to some great audiobook experiences. Not always new (but new to me), here are a few of the real queer highlights of 2019, and some brief words about each.
Beautiful Dreamer, by Melissa Brayden (performed by Melissa Sternenberg) — Brayden accomplishes something I honestly thought impossible with Beautiful Dreamer: she gave me a familial reconciliation plot that I not only enjoyed, but rooted for. Elizabeth Draper is a little ball of sunshine in a small town running her own helping-hand/Jane-of-all-Trades business, and Devyn Winters is a high-powered real estate broker from the big city. Devyn’s brought back to Dreamer’s Bay after a family crisis, and Elizabeth helps her pick up the pieces. Beyond the family reconciliation plot, Brayden also does a brilliant job of depicting a small town without over-sugaring the realities, she continues to evoke wonderful, supportive friendships as equal to families, and I am here for all of that.
(Melissa Sternenberg is, as always, brilliant in her performance, and has done many of Brayden’s audiobooks, including the Seven Shores quartet.)
Not Dead Yet, by Jenn Burke (performed by Greg Boudreaux) — I love a fun paranormal, and Jenn Burke delivers a fresh take on the genre here, and Greg Boudreaux’s performance is top-notch. We meet not-quite-dead (but, not-quite-alive, either) “not-ghost” retriever of lost things, Wes Cooper, when he’s really not having a good day. He’s been hired to reclaim a stolen object, and stumbles into a murder mystery. Worse, despite him being invisible and ghostly at the time, the murderer seemed to be able to see him. When one of the only guys he’s ever loved becomes the lead investigator, things get all the more complicated, and the banter, snark, and mystery all balance out into a great story. It begins a series with the fellas, too, so there’s more where that came from.
Four Novellas, by Alyssa Cole (performed by Karen Chilton) — These four historical novellas, “Be Not Afraid,” “That Could Be Enough,” “Let Us Dream,” and “Let It Shine,” cross different time periods in US history and are all fantastic, but to keep it queer, “That Could Be Enough,” where quiet, staid, done-with-love Mercy Halston (maid to Eliza Hamilton) and a vivacious, flirtatious and gregarious dressmaker Andromeda Steil end up in each other’s orbits was flipping brilliant. I love stories that place queerness in history with equal parts hope and passion, and all the more so when done with Cole’s eye for detail and history. Every time someone says it’s impossible to tell uplifting stories about the marginalized in history without doing some sort of disservice, I bring up this quartet. And as if that weren’t enough, Chilton brings such an incredible performance to each of these stories she immediately hopped onto my “check out anything and everything she performs” list for future audiobooks, which was also how I found the contemporary Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, also by Cole.
Never the Bride, by Paul Magrs (performed by Joanna Tope) — This was the Bride-of-Frankenstein-settles-in-Whitby-to-run-a-B&B novel I never knew I needed, but desperately did. Older women buddy heroines fighting off the various (and delightfully sci-fi pulp) villains coming their way was a sheer joy to listen to, and Joanna Tope blows every moment out of the water with her performance. The structure of Never the Bride is all the more wonderful to listen to in pieces, as each chapter is quite self-contained, almost like a series of linked short stories, while building to a single climax. This is definitely one in the “not new, but new to me” pile, and I wish I’d bumped into it years and years ago, and while the main characters aren’t specifically queer, the story as a whole is so incredibly so, and supporting cast pop in and out.
Queers Destroy Science Fiction, edited by Seanan McGuire — There are some truly fantastic stories in this collection, and ditto the variety of performers. There were a couple of mis-matches of the two, but overall this collection was fantastic. If you’re looking for an upbeat whole, be forewarned that QDSF definitely comes down on the darker side of the scale, with a few stories peppered throughout to offer lighter, more optimistic takes, but the quality is worth the ride. Maybe just listen when the sun is out, and there’s a happy husky playing at your feet. J.Y. Yang, John Chu, Charles Payseur, and Jessica Yang penned four of the major standouts for me, and led me down rabbit-holes to find more of their work.
The Inn at Netherfield Green, by Aurora Rey (performed by Kiera Grace) — Aurora Rey audiobooks are the audiobook equivalent of putting on a warm sweater and finally sipping a hot tea on a chilly rainy day. The Inn at Netherfield Green made me break my usual pattern of only listening to books while walking the dog, and I listened to it throughout the day, indoors and out, from beginning to end. Rey spins a wonderful story using both opposites-attract and city-mouse/country-mouse tropes, giving us Lauren, a big-city New York advertising executive and Cam, a small-town English gin-maker. Rey creates realistic obstacles (not the least of which is the thousands of miles between their lives) when Lauren inherits the small-town pub and inn. Family, friendships, and chemistry round this out into the feel-good it becomes, investing the listener from step one.
Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine