Author: Tara Lain
Narrator:: K.C. Kelly
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Run Time: 9 Hours and 33 Minutes
At a Glance: K.C. Kelly delivers a knock-out performance of Knight of Ocean Avenue.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: How can you be twenty-five and not know you’re gay? Billy Ballew runs from that question. A high school dropout, barely able to read until he taught himself, Billy’s life is driven by his need to help support his parents as a construction worker, put his sisters through college, coach his Little League team, and not think about being a three-time loser in the engagement department. Being terrified of taking tests keeps Billy from getting the contractor’s license he so desires, and fear of his mother’s judgment blinds Billy to what could make him truly happy.
Then, in preparation for his sister’s big wedding, Billy meets Shaz—Chase Phillips—a rising-star celebrity stylist who defines the word gay. To Shaz, Billy embodies everything he’s ever wanted—stalwart, honest, brave—but even if Billy turns out to be gay, he could never endure the censure he’d get for being with a queen like Shaz. How can two men with so little in common find a way to be together? Can the Stylist of the Year end up with the Knight of Ocean Avenue?
Review: As a general rule, I don’t listen to audiobooks, and I think each of us, to a reader, will acknowledge that we can read just fine all by ourselves, so when I choose to listen to a book, the last thing I want is to be read to. I want to be performed for—I want the narrator to use inflection and to vary his cadence and to show his acting prowess by bringing each character to life through the vocal gymnastics it takes to make every role player unique and distinct.
Well, let me just say that K.C. Kelly mastered Tara Lain’s Knight of Ocean Avenue, elevating this novel to something so much more than a simple romance.
First off, I believe it helps that this story is so damn lovely that it’d have been a complete shame to hand this performance off to someone with lesser talents than Kelly so obviously possesses. Can a twenty-five year old man not know he’s gay? I don’t know if I can give that an unequivocal yes, but Ms. Lain and Mr. Kelly sure made me believe it was possible. First of all, Billy Ballew (whose last name, I must confess, did, unfortunately, go through a couple of different pronunciations throughout the narration) is a great big loveable, beautiful man. Billy may be a blue collar diamond-in-the-rough, but the guy’s got a heart of gold as well as a sterling reputation with the men he supervises on his construction crew. K.C. Kelly endears Billy to us by helping us understand, through the author’s prose, what an upstanding good guy our romantic hero is—in spite of the fact he also will be the first to point out all of his own failings, the biggest of which plays part in his not taking the test to get his contractor’s license. And, as we continue to listen to Billy’s inner dialogue, we witness the slow realization that his relationships with women haven’t failed for lack of good intentions but have failed in a lack of enthusiasm for being with a woman. Billy, simply put, is so busy trying to live up to his mother’s expectations of him as a straight man that he’s only succeeding in living down to all that wasted potential.
That all changes, however, as Billy’s going through his latest breakup, and, just as his bruised and battered self-esteem is busy warring with his confusion over why he can’t keep a woman, he ends up coming to the rescue of Chase “Shaz” Phillips. And, comes face-to-face with his destiny.
As a flamboyant designer, K.C. Kelly brings Shaz to life in all his fabulous fabulousness, and he’s the perfect foil to Billy’s physical masculinity. Shaz is out and proud and shines in all his gay glory, while Billy can’t figure out why the hell he’s drawn to the gorgeous Shaz like a magnet to steel. Once it dawns on him that he’s actually attracted to Shaz in a sexual way, and we see that Shaz is equally enamored of the fashionally challenged and straight Billy, we watch (or listen, rather) as Billy wars with the knowledge that Shaz’s flamboyance may be an obstacle to any sort of relationship—even a friendship—because Billy can’t see himself in any sort of scenario in which he’d fit into Shaz’s world or Shaz would fit into his. Which goes a long way to grabbing us by the heart and gives the story its emotional punch.
Filled with a great cast of supporting characters, from Ru, Shaz’s best friend and business partner (who sounds like a cross between Truman Capote and Droopy Dog, which made me smile), to Billy’s sisters (who I loved), to Billy’s co-workers, Knight of Ocean Avenue is such a pleasure to listen to. Even the urge to dislike Billy’s mom is tempered by our understanding that she truly only wants what’s best for her boy, and thought she was bulldozing him toward happiness when in truth she was making him miserable. But, where the rubber meets the road, she proves that what’s best for her son is her unconditional love for and support of him.
There’s nothing sweeter than a well written romance, unless it’s a sweet and well written romance being narrated by a talented voice actor. Which K.C. Kelly is, in abundance. He delivers this story to his listeners with such a deft voice, bringing Billy and Shaz to life, helping us feel how grateful these two men are to have found each other, that he almost makes us forget he’s reading Tara Lain’s words.
You can buy Knight of Ocean Avenue here: