Complicated was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a bit novel in that it was released on audio first, back in May. The print/digital book releases in November this year (I’ll be buying it because of course). I had hesitated to listen because I’d had a previous poor experience with an Erin Mallon’s narration. But I’ve listened to two of her narrations recently and it seems the poor experience was the exception rather than the rule, so I’m glad to have listened to this one.
Complicated is also a little unusual for a Kristen Ashley book in that it is substantially told from the hero’s POV. Lance Greenfield narrates the parts from the perspective of the Sheriff of McCook County, Nebraska, Hixon Drake. (And Erin Mallon narrates the sections from the perspective of the heroine, Greta Dare.) At a guess, I’d say Lance Greenfield narrates around two thirds of the book, perhaps a little more. As a hero-centric listener this was a lovely surprise to me, as much as I enjoyed both narrators’ performance.
The story begins when Hixon is leaving Greta’s bed after some phenomenal sex. After a year of separation, he is now a divorced man, having signed the papers three weeks earlier. Greta has lived in Glossop, the main town in McCook County for about 18 months but Hixon never noticed her before. He was devoted to his wife and his three children. Being turfed out by his then-wife came as a complete surprise to him. He spent a long time trying to get his (now ex-) wife, Hope, to talk to him about what was going on but apart from “you know Hixon” (when he really didn’t) he didn’t get any information. Now, he’s done. The divorce is final and he’s moving on. He remained faithful to Hope for all that time but after meeting Greta in the nightclub where she sings on Friday and Saturday nights, he found himself taking her home and having the best sex of his life.
He’s not prepared for it. The ink is barely dry on the divorce papers. His kids, Shaw, aged 17, Corinne, aged 15 and Mamie, aged 13, are coming to grips with life as it now is and he’s got to get his head straight. It’s too complicated. So he leaves Greta abruptly and acts like a bit of a dick. He feels bad about it but he’s just not ready to start anything up with Greta, as awesome as she is.
Greta didn’t come from a great background. Her mother was pretty much a mother due to biology only, not from love or nurture. Her younger brother, Andy, sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when their mother drove drunk. Greta’s mother spent eight months in jail and Greta became Andy’s guardian. She’d basically raised him anyway, him having been born when Greta was 14.
At the time of Andy’s injury, Greta was dating Keith, a wealthy house-flipper and they got married and had nine mostly happy years together. But because reasons – the main one being what a horror show Greta’s mother was – he divorced Greta and she’s now single. She’s been on her own for three years and given all that’s happened in her life, she knows better than to hope. But Hixon makes her hope and it is pretty crushing when he walks out without even removing the condom (!).
Hix is not actually a dick even though he can act like one sometimes and he quickly realises that Greta deserves better from him. He apologises and he realises he wants to get to know her and be her friend. From there, they fall quickly into a relationship. Hix realises that while the timing may not be the best, Greta could just be the best thing that’s ever happened to him outside of his children and they decide to go with “complicated”.
There are problems of course. Greta’s mother is still a horror show and she causes more than one nightmare for Greta and Hix in the course of the book. Hix’s ex-wife wants him back, having realised what a mistake she made in kicking him out. Hix is trying to be a good dad and a good sheriff – and there are some events which mean he’s got a lot more police work to do than normal.
Greta and Hix get there of course and there is a typically long epilogue where listeners can soak in the happy ever after. It’s one of the things I love about Kristen Ashley books but I know opinion is divided on this point.
The characters in the town of Glossop and wider McCook County are well fleshed out and, as usual with a Kristen Ashley book, I had the sense that they all had their own lives outside of the book. I enjoyed Shaw, Corinne and Mamie and Greta’s and Hix’s friends and colleagues. And I really enjoyed Hix and Greta.
I did think Hix noticed way too much about fashion and design than a typical alpha male – just because the story was told mostly from his perspective doesn’t mean there’s not the usual amount of that kind of detail in the book. Be warned listeners! It did feel a bit odd but I rolled with it because I was otherwise having a lot of fun.
Lance Greenfield is a new-to-me narrator but I mostly enjoyed his performance here. He got the pacing and characterisation right and the emotions were solid too. His female character voices were pretty good too. Sometimes he paused in places where there ought not be a pause – ending sentences too early and obscuring the context of it. And there were a couple of chapters where he went from saying “May-mee”, like Ms. Mallon was doing and as I believe is correct, to “Mammy”. Then he switched back to saying Mamie’s name the right way, so I really don’t know what was going on there. Those are relatively small criticisms but I expect they would have bothered me a lot more had I not been enjoying the story so much.
Erin Mallon speaks Kristen Ashley-ese very well. I like her hero voice and, like Mr. Greenfield, she delivered the characterisations, romantic tension (as well as some romantic suspense kind of tension in a brief section) and tone of the story.
Both narrators added that something I enjoy about audiobooks – the interpretation of character and the acting performance that make audiobooks a different experience to reading a print/digital book. Win.
AUTHOR: Kristen Ashley
NARRATED BY: Lance Greenfield & Erin Mallon
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: KaetrinBuy Complicated by Kristen Ashley on Amazon EXCERPT: