We read and review for the love and joy of books.
Note: This review is for the audiobook and the rating reflects the impact of the narrator.
Of the fifteen hundred books I’ve read in the M/M genre, I can honestly say that this is the first time I have ever had tears rolling down my cheeks as I came to the end of the story. Yes, I’ve felt joy and sadness and shed tears as I read other stories, most often somewhere in the climatic culmination of the storyline, but this time the tears came at the end, and they were from a combination of both the happiness I felt for the MCs and the absolutely poignant sorrow I felt for the man who wrote the letters contained in the “tin box”.
When William Lyon comes takes a job as caretaker at the abandoned Jelley Valley State Insane Asylum, which was the largest mental hospital in California for over a century, he thought he’d find peace and solitude to work on his doctoral dissertation and heal from the recent breakup of his marriage. William is gay and he’s finally admitted it out loud, but he has no idea of what to do about it. He’s just planning to focus on work while he waits for the divorce to be final.
But two things happen to disrupt his plans. The first is that he meets Colby Anderson, a young and flamboyant gay man who happens to be the assistant postmaster and general store clerk. Colby is everything William would never want to be, yet William is immediately attracted to this fun-loving man, who takes him in hand to teach him about the world of gay men. Starting with introducing him to M/M romance novels and porn, and moving onward to going out to a gay bar in a nearby town, Colby shakes up William’s world. But they do become friends, and William starts to realize that he cares more for Colby than he thought he could. And Colby? He cares for William but puts a distance between them when he realizes his attraction because he wants William to have time to sample what’s out there and discover his personal type without Colby hampering his efforts.
The second thing that shakes up William’s world occurs concurrently with his buildup of friendship with Colby. It’s the discovery of a tin box in the wall of one of the former patient rooms. The box contains letters from a patient named Bill to his lover, Johnny. The letters start in 1938 and span four years, with each one telling of Bill’s heartbreak and need to get back to Johnny. He speaks of his love, and he speaks of the horrific treatments he’s given to cure him of sexual depravity and homosexuality. The letters taper off shortly after Bill mentions the name of a treatment he’s about to get. William’s research reveals that the treatment is now known as a frontal lobotomy.
I loved the story, both the contemporary romance between William and Colby, and the story of Bill, a lonely gay man pining for his lost love. The research William and Colby undertake to find out more about Bill and Johnny and the facts that are revealed about treatment of homosexuality serve to make this story personal, powerful, and meaningful. It’s a story I am unlikely to forget and one that I will highly recommend to others.
So why 4 hearts? I hated the voice the narrator, KC Kelly, gave to Colby. The voice was soft and lispy and so totally campy, it was downright offensive. This narrator does not have the vocal range of others I’ve heard and certainly does not have the type of voice that can convey Colby’s youth and energy. I would be embarrassed to let someone think I recommended listening to his vocalization of Colby so I absolutely do not recommend the audiobook version of this story. The story should be rated at 5 hearts or more. It was that good! The narration is a one, if that. In good conscience, I can’t downgrade the rating that others perceive as the story’s rating so I simply went down one point. I highly recommend this book, in e-book format, to anyone who is interested in the history of the treatment of homosexual men in the 20th century and, of course, to those who want a sweet romance coupled with a potent message.