Narrated by Tad Branson
This eleventh book in Maya Banks’ KGI series of romantic suspense novels, Brighter than the Sun, would have been more appropriately titled Duller than the Dishwater. Honestly, I’m really glad I managed to listen to most of it while I was on the move, either around the house or in the car, otherwise I’d be suffering from the concussion incurred as a result of the number of times I’d’ve banged my head on the desk to keep myself awake.
I can’t believe this is supposed to be a romantic suspense novel. It’s a total misnomer, because it doesn’t possess much of either; the pacing is snail-like and there is NO action worth the name, NO suspense and NO romance, unless you count insta-lust as romance. And I don’t.
In a nutshell, the plot is as follows. Rusty – the youngest of the large Kelly clan – comes to the aid of an old friend whose life is in danger from her scumbag ex. Rusty creates her friend a completely new identity as Zoe Kildare and whisks her off to the Kelly family compound (yes, the entire family lives on its own vast compound, presumably to make sure that the guys can all get into action quickly, as well as for mutual protection) where she is immediately enfolded into the bosom of Rusty’s Walton-esque, oh-so-perfect family.
Poor Zoe has had a shitty life. Her dad is a big-shot crime-lord (but we never meet him or find out much about him) and dictated every single thing about her life, even down to her clothes, make-up, hair and accessories. (I doubt my Dad would know lipstick from mascara, but there you go.) Her scumbag ex was a guy trying to get close to Daddy, but who dropped her like the proverbial hot potato when he found out that Daddy didn’t give a shit about his little girl, and so any attempts to get to him through her were unlikely to work. Oh, and she also heard him on the phone plotting to do away with her, hence her reaching out to Rusty.
Our hero, Joe Kelly, is the youngest of the Kelly brothers and fondly known as the “last man standing” seeing as all his older brothers are now married with kids or kids on the way. No way is he going there, though. His brothers are all completely gooey-eyed over their wives and kids, but that’s absolutely not for him. Nope. Nuh-uh. Until, that is, he sees Zoe, when all that goes out the window and he’s suddenly and irrevocably smitten to such an extent that I could almost hear the violins playing in the background.
And that’s about it. Joe and Zoe’s relationship goes something like this:
Joe: “Wanna hang out with me tomorrow?”
Zoe: (slightly freaking out) How can a guy this hot really want to spend time with me? I’m nothing. I’m so boring. I’m so screwed up. I’m SO not worthy. “Uh… okay.”
Joe: God, I hate that she looks so fucking scared. I’m gonna fucking kill the bastard who made her think that way. Doesn’t she know I’ll never hurt her? “Great!”
The first two-thirds of the book is filled with meetings of the Kelly family, many of them in their company’s War Room which, I presume, is the place where this top-notch, high-tech, seriously kick-ass security firm plans its missions and organises its training. Yeah, well there wasn’t much of that going on. Those scenes feature pretty much every Kelly sibling – blood-related or adopted – and team members going on about how damn much they love their wives and kids, and how they could face down the most badass terrorist in the world or endure the worst torture, but how losing their wife and/or kids would fucking break them. Or how so-and-so (there are many siblings and team members, and I stopped trying to keep track somewhere around the third chapter) has become a basket case since he discovered his wife was pregnant. Oh, and you should never say anything even remotely amusing around a Kelly, seeing they have the propensity to fall into fits of side-splitting, asthma-attack-inducing laughter for no discernible reason. I think someone was supposed to have said something funny, but I didn’t hear it.
Around two-thirds of the way through, the pace picks up a little (yay!) only to fizzle out about two chapters later (boo!) and to go back into low gear with what is almost all set up for Rusty’s book, which I assume is going to be next up. The epilogue is sooooo draaaaaawn ouuuuuuut that I kept checking my player to see how long it had to run and is so over-the-top schmaltzy that I wanted to throw up.
And then there are the characters. Joe and Zoe (who would, perhaps, have been more aptly named “Wo-ey”) are completely nondescript. Zoe has been badly emotionally abused and is, naturally, incredibly insecure – I got that the first time and didn’t need it hammered into my head with a tea-tray every five minutes. And Joe… well, if he’s an ex-military dude who is supposed to have offed some serious bad guys in the past I’ll eat my hat. He’s about as interesting and dangerous as watching paint dry.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that Shay, who is married to Nathan, Joe’s twin, is TELEPATHIC. Yep. She, Nathan and Joe – because the guys are twins, natch – can communicate by the power of thought. That’s the part at which I started laughing like a Kelly. Romantic Suspense is often, by its very nature, intensely dramatic and over the top, but the best stories at least try to preserve some sense of realism. But that goes completely out the window in this story. It’s not just the telepath thing though; the idea that all these tough-guy, kick-ass former special services operatives sit around pontificating about love and family in language that is not the least bit masculine is laughable. Full disclosure – I’m not a bloke. But I’m pretty sure they don’t talk among themselves like these guys do. I almost expected them to start giving each other manicures and braiding one other’s hair.
Tad Branson does a decent enough job on the narration, but it’s really difficult to make a quality judgement of his performance given that the material he’s been given to work with is so incredibly poor. I listened to him a while back in May the Best Man Win and enjoyed his work there enough to have wanted to listen to him again; I’ve not read or listened to anything by Ms. Banks before, so it seemed like a good way to kill two birds with one stone – a story by a popular but new-to-me author, read by someone I wanted to listen to. But sometimes, the best laid plans… don’t work out.
There is a fairly large number of male characters in this book, and Mr. Branson does a good job of differentiating between them. Not being familiar with the entire family meant that I was lost sometimes, but that’s not the fault of either author or narrator; and in any case, Ms. Banks usually indicates who is speaking in the text, so there are no issues with confusing one speaker with another. The other technical aspects of the narration – pacing, enunciation, use of expression – are good, and I was particularly impressed by Mr. Branson’s performance in a couple of scenes near the end, which feature Rusty and Zoe (at different times) in moments of heightened emotion. On the subject of the ladies, his female voices are reasonably good, although sometimes the fact that his voice seems naturally to have a bit of a sharp “edge” to it, can make them sound a little harsh. Mostly, however, he portrays the women well through the use of changes in timbre and tone rather than any great shift in pitch.
As is obvious, I really can’t recommend this audiobook. Unless you’re a die-hard fan who simply MUST have everything ever created by Maya Banks, I’d strongly suggest finding another romantic suspense title to listen to. One that has some, you know, romance in it. And some suspense.
Book Content: D
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Pengin Audio
Brighter Than the Sun was provided to AudioGals by Pengin Audio for a review.