Deacon Miller never had it all - he never really believed he could. Growing up in a broken home with an alcoholic mother and a revolving door of truly pathetic father figures taught him to keep his expectations low. Now at 27, on the night before Christmas Eve, his life is turned upside down yet again; his boyfriend has dumped him, he just fled the holiday family reunion from hell, and now to top it all off, a blizzard has left him stranded in an airport hotel. Steve Steele has spent the better part of his 44 years living a lie, ignoring his attraction to other men in an attempt to fit into the mold of the man he thought he should be, instead of living life as the man he knew himself to be. Recently divorced after coming home from work one day and coming out to his wife, Steve has floundered over the past year, desperately attempting to wade through the guilt and find the courage to start again. That's when a chance meeting in a hotel bar brings two lonely men together...and what should've been a one night stand turns into something much more than either one ever expected.
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First off? It will surprise no one the audio performance by Jason Frazier was as excellent as ever. In a way, I wish authors would give him permission to adjust the writing just a little bit. Like, his voice acting is so top-notch that when he mutters something and then has to say "Deacon muttered" it can almost be jarring. I know he muttered it. I just heard him mutter. Frazier also has this way of controlling his breathing, making little kissing sounds, and swallowing a word that evokes magic for the listener: you believe the characters are doing all the hot and sexy things he tells you they're doing.
The story itself has whatever the opposite of a meet-cute would be: this isn't a silly, smiley meeting between two characters, this is two people making some happiness out of sadness. That's a recurring theme of the narrative, and the core concept of the book. Deacon has been dumped, right before Christmas, and has just agreed to be bumped from his flight to let someone else go home. Instead, he's at a crappy hotel, in a crappy hotel bar, getting sloshed and feeling bad for himself. In walks Steve, who is also by himself, a bit forward and certainly not put off by hitting on a tipsy young man, and from sparks comes sizzle, and the two share a very enjoyable evening's company together, even indulging in some pillow talk after what by all rights was intended as a one-night-stand where Deacon wanted to feel wanted, and Steve wanted to get laid.
From there, we learn about the pasts of the two characters, and it's pretty much a relentless string of pain for Deacon, and a late-in-life turnaround for Steve. Deacon, at 27, has suffered pretty much all the losses: most recently a boyfriend, but prior to that a mother who was verbally and emotionally abusive and an alcoholic, a string of bad stepfathers, and despite a fairly decent relationship with his younger half-sister, Deacon doesn't have much of anything.
Steve, on the other hand, is wealthy, 44, owns a car dealership, and though he was aware he wanted to sleep with men he married a former friend's widow and helped her raise her daughter, until he finally admitted a year earlier that he wanted men, and they split up. (Extra props here to the author for his admission at one point that if he'd been out younger, Steve thinks would have likely come out as bisexual, explored more, but feels like he's been hiding himself so long he needed to be honest).
So, these two connect, and have a one-off, and that should be it, right? After all, Deacon is about to fly back out of the city, returning to his life (albeit without a boyfriend). Well, of course not. It's a romance, so there's more. It starts with a panicked phone call from Deacon's half-sister, and from there, the two get a shot to see if sparks and sizzle is enough to bridge their many differences.
This was, over all, a really enjoyable experience. I listened while walking the dog, doing some chores, and didn't take a break from it with another book throughout. I did have two moments of confusion—I wasn't clear how Deacon's alcoholic and impoverished mother had no mortgage and there was a dark event near the end of the tale that I didn't understand where the motivation came from, or what the goal might have been—but those quibbles are minor.
This one isn't a chuckle-fest by any measure. Deacon's life makes that pretty much impossible, and even Steve has some pretty downer moments, so if you're looking for a fluffier, upbeat story, this isn't it. There are still some Ethan Day zingers, and a few moments of amusement (often involving the dialog of the women in the tale), and Frazier's delivery is pitch-perfect with those. This isn't a case of "magical love cure" either, in that even as the tale ends, it's quite clear that Deacon isn't "fixed." He's working on facing the effects of the life he's had. I appreciated that realism—I'm not a fan of "well, now we've got each other, everything is glitter and rainbows!"
Ethan Day's story Northern Star is definitely enjoyable, but Jason Frasier's performance is what made this particular M/M romance stand out for me. IMO This is one of the best audio performances of the >1000 audio books I've listened to over the decades. (with exception of his really, REALLY ill-advised & failed attempt @ Italian- and Irish- American accents in one scene)
Jason created multiple good male, female & child character voices. Except for the short accent debacle, it was easy to tell exactly who was speaking. There are a number of male narrators who do older women's voices well, but few that can pull off a decent younger one.
Additionally you can hear ALL the emotions in Jason's character voices. Even his breathing & sound effects here are just right. Usually someone attempting kiss sounds is just cringe worthy not sexy! Honestly, if Jason Frazier is in person how he makes MCs sound, he is one of the hottest gay boys out there.