Better When He's Bad
I have a friend who loves the work of author Jay Crownover. I’ve read several synopses and wasn’t terribly impressed, but I decided to try Better When He’s Bad, the first in Ms. Crownover’s new series. Shane Baxter loves being bad. It’s all he knows, and he doesn’t see any reason to change it. Sure, it landed him in prison for five years, but he’s out now, and he’s more than ready to find the people responsible for putting him behind bars. He’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants, especially when he learns that Race, his best friend and ally, has gone off the grid.
Someone else is desperate to find Race: his half-sister, Dovie Price. Race pulled her out of a potentially bad foster home and taught her that family really can be a good thing. Ever since his disappearance, Dovie has been frantic. When Bax appears at her door, she is both terrified and relieved. Race told her she could trust Bax with her life, but there’s something about him that screams danger, something Dovie wants to avoid at all costs. She’s tried so hard to fight the darkness of the inner city, and a man like Bax could drag her down in an instant.
Bax and Dovie make a very unlikely couple. He’s known nothing but hardship and crime. Dovie, on the other hand, works hard to better herself. She’s putting herself through school in an attempt to help young people in the foster system. She wants to escape the city, while Bax seems content to stay right where he is. They unwillingly put their differences aside to find the man who is so important to them both, and, much to their mutual surprise, they find love along the way.
Mia Barron has a strange, raspy quality to her voice. It sounded like she constantly needed to clear her throat. I found her narration difficult to fully get into because of this vocal tic. All the characters were colored by it, and it was hard to envision a world where everyone, male or female, young or old, good or bad, spoke with perpetual frogs in their throats. She was, however, able to differentiate the characters well enough that dialogue tags weren’t necessary while listening. She varied her pitch, pacing, and accent just enough to perform everyone distinctly.
Her depiction of Dovie was not very convincing, in this listener’s opinion. I was looking for something a little softer. Sure, Dovie’s no stranger to hardship, but Ms. Crownover created a heroine with a fair amount of vulnerability that Ms. Barron didn’t allow me to see. She focused on Dovie’s toughness.
Leland King’s depiction of Bax was nothing short of masterful. He allowed the hardness to come through both in Bax’s speech and in his thoughts. I was definitely convinced of Bax’s bad-boy nature. He’s a fighter, a thief, and an all-around thug. He doesn’t see his life changing any time in the near future, and he’s okay with that. However, he wants more for those he loves. As he gets to know Dovie, he softens a bit, realizing there’s more to life than crime. He’ll do what he has to do to keep her safe, but her sweetness allows him to see that some things could be different. Mr. King is just as good with Bax’s softer side as he is with the harder one.
I was impressed with Mr. King’s ability to depict Dovie in a way that didn’t involve a falsetto. He has quite a deep voice, and many male narrators raise their pitch too much when portraying young, innocent women. When I first heard his narration, I was concerned that Mr. King would fall into that trap, but he managed not to.
Both narrators did a wonderful job with the sexual tension that sizzles between Dovie and Bax. Ms. Barron’s rasp actually helped in this instance, as it lent a certain huskiness to the way the characters spoke. When Bax and Dovie are intimate, both narrators capture their feelings perfectly, resulting in quite a sensual experience for this listener.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be a devoted fan of Ms. Crownover’s writing. The whole bad-boy thing doesn’t appeal to me as much as it could, but I did find Better When He’s Bad to be quite an enjoyable listen. Better When He’s Bold, book 2 in the Welcome to the Point series, is Race’s story, and I’m eager to learn more about this enigmatic man who brought Bax and Dovie together.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: Mia Barron: B- Leland King: A and Book Content: B+
Unabridged. Length – 10 hours 32 minutes
Narrated by Mia Barron and Leland King