Narrated by Cristina Panfilio
I’m a big fan of marriage of convenience books, even in a modern setting (as long as the author can give me a halfway believable reason for it). When I read the blurb for Suddenly Engaged, I thought that’s what I was getting. As it happened, I was wrong. BUT what I did get I LOVED. Also, I’ve found a new favourite narrator.
Kyra Kokinos is a single mother to six-year-old daughter, Ruby. The blurb tells the listener that when Ruby needs life-saving surgery, the grumpy next-door neighbour, Dax Bishop, offers to marry Kyra. And that does happen but it doesn’t happen until very late in the book, by which time Kyra and Dax are already dating. Given the current spotlight on US healthcare, it seemed pretty topical and realistic to have a single mother contemplating marriage for insurance coverage. (It wouldn’t fly in Australia – we have universal healthcare here.)
But the story didn’t go where I expected it to at all. I’m not complaining. It was a delight from the first time Dax enters the picture – which is very early in the story and I was enjoying it before then as well.
The book actually starts with Ruby’s conception (off page) and then picks up seven years later when Kyra is no longer an editorial assistant at US Fitness magazine and is instead a waitress at the Lake Resort Bistro in East Beach, New York. The sperm donor did nothing to help with Ruby, and Kyra is on her own. She has struggled to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, but things are finally starting to look up a little – she’s studying for her real estate license and, with it, believes she will be able to do more than merely make ends meet. She has two months until Ruby starts school and can only afford a cheap childcare option. A local lady, Mrs. Miller, comes every day to look after Ruby for $30 per day. Mrs. Miller’s supervision is terribly lax however and Ruby roams around the rental/holiday cottages where they live, amusing herself and annoying their grumpy neighbour.
Next door is Dax Bishop. He’s a 37-year-old divorcee whose wife left him for another woman. (This isn’t played for laughs and I didn’t detect any homophobia. Dax’s ex’s new partner is not the only queer character in the book.) Dax is holed up in his rented cottage where he makes furniture and sells it to the rich holidaymakers of Lake Haven. He and his ex-wife had been trying to have a baby – being a father was Dax’s most cherished dream. They’d struggled and had embarked upon IVF which had been unsuccessful at the time their marriage ended. It was a shock to find that his ex had used his sperm to conceive a son after they’d split up. He’s excited about the baby but unsure about how things will work out with his ex’s new partner, with whom he has a difficult relationship.
Dax is GRUMPY. He resents people coming into his space and he particularly resents “Ruby Coconuts” (as he calls her – to my delight) hopping the fence to come and play with his dog, Otto, and talk Dax’s ear off.
Ruby is a little charmer however and soon enough she has wormed her way into his heart.
Dax noticed Kyra the day she moved in. Well, in particular, he noticed her long legs and shapely butt. Kyra is beautiful to him and he finds himself drawn to her despite himself.
I loved how Dax and Ruby interacted. I loved the development of the romance between Kyra and Dax.
It is clear to the reader early on (assisted by the blurb no doubt) that Ruby is having petit mal seizures. It takes some time before Kyra is aware of them and then the medical stuff happens. It doesn’t take over the book but it is obviously something that freaks Kyra out and which becomes her priority.
I thought I was going to get a marriage of convenience but the story took a left turn in really interesting ways. Kyra was very concerned about needing Dax to “rescue” her. She wanted to have an equal partnership with him rather than relying on him. While Dax doesn’t think his offer of marriage would make Kyra beholden to him, Kyra is not so sure it wouldn’t alter their dynamic to such a degree that they would end up miserable. The story examines some hard choices Kyra has to make and what that means for her relationship with Dax.
There is a happy ending in all of the ways of course – this is a romance. As much as I wouldn’t have minded a marriage of convenience story however, I did appreciate the way Kyra’s autonomy was discussed in the book and why it was a big deal to her. Ultimately, the way things worked out was better for everyone even though there were a few bleak moments along the way.
The narration was stellar. I haven’t listened to any Cristina Panfilio narrated books before but after I finished this one, I went and immediately downloaded the two earlier books in Julia London’s Lake Haven series. I was so impressed by her comedic timing in particular. There is a lot of gentle humour in the book, as well as snappy banter and even some snark and Ms. Panfilio nailed it every time.
I adored the way Ms. Panfilio voiced Ruby. She sounded believably little-girlish. The male cast were also well differentiated and I particularly enjoyed her depiction of Dax. The interactions between Dax and “the Coconut” were excellent. They were some of my favourite parts of the book. Ruby was extremely well written which I’m sure helped but the narration added something extra.
It was not just the male cast who were easily differentiated. The female players were also. Ms. Panfilio is able to perform characters of various ages and most all of them could be identified by ear alone.
The romance between Kyra and Dax is lovely. Ms. Panfilio showed me, even more than the text, the developing connection between the two, as well as their obvious chemistry.
Suddenly Engaged was a smart, funny, small town contemporary romance and I loved it. The narration was so good that I’m sure I enjoyed it even more on audio than I would have in print. This is by far my favourite Julia London book. I love it when characters are mature and make good choices. Pretty much everything worked for me in the narration and the story was a winner as well.
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Suddenly Engaged was provided to AudioGals by Brilliance Audio for a review.