The Happy Ever After Playlist
Narrated by Zachary Webber and Erin Mallon
Abby Jimenez’s The Happy Ever After Playlist, both as a story and audiobook, is full of peaks and valleys. The highest of its peaks is undoubtedly the love story, and that peak rises so high above not only the story’s valleys, but all the neighboring peaks of the other romances I’ve reviewed lately, that it has earned my most passionate recommendation. The audiobook, despite its inconsistency, is still a worthwhile listening experience due to the quality of the tale being told.
Sloan Monroe is entering her third year of unmitigated grief due to the loss of her fiancé in a tragic accident. An artist, she now paints “astronaut cats” to pay the bills she has for the roof over her head and the car in her garage – she doesn’t do much else requiring funds. One day, she’s in her car when a dog jumps in through her sunroof. She finds out the owner is Jason, a musician currently out of town for work. They start talking and texting, and, when he gets back, a relationship. If this synopsis makes you wonder if this story is a) a grief story or b) Harry Styles fanfic, the answer is c) neither. Sloane’s grief is by no means the theme of the story, or the main cause of plot complications. And while this story has a musician hero, he is not a member of a boy band, and the music industry in this book is not used to add glamour but to add conflict; it’s essentially the central antagonist of the book.
The best love stories balance ‘show and tell’ – they show enough that when the characters tell the reader or each other they are in love, it’s convincing. I was convinced. Jason and Sloan spend one on one time together (I share the exhaustion other AAR reviewers have expressed with huge casts of characters devoted to generating book series, and I can announce with delight that Sloan only has one friend, Kristin from The Friend Zone). Sloan and Jason also have chemistry, and they operate from the principle that it’s worth figuring out how to make all other aspects of their lives accommodate their love (I was bowled over and had to relisten when Sloan says “Making him happy was the only way I could be happy. . . . He was my life” without irony or the insistence that happiness must come from within, and can be pried out of you with lots of expensive exercise classes and apps with daily affirmations). The HEA epilogue is also satisfying for both parties on a personal and a professional level, which makes for a gratifying conclusion. I didn’t know I was going to be so affected by their love story – I appreciated it from the beginning as well-developed, but I started really feeling it in the latter half.
The imperfections of the story are related to a secondary but significant storyline involving a past one night stand of Jason’s. Her name is Lola, and she’s a melting pot of Miley Cyrus, Keisha, and Brittany Spears. For much of the book she appears as 90% plot device, 10% person. In the third act she becomes dimensional, and even a little idealized, but until that point, the story’s and Jason’s treatment of her as a crazy woman/scapegoat for his professional problems, is unpleasant. There’s a related third act revelation that makes no sense because it’s revealed in the second act, but then everyone greets it as a surprise when it reappears at the end. And as a consequence, Jason behaves in a dishonest way towards Sloan that is almost unbelievable.
The book is told in the first person PoVs of Sloan and Jason. The narrators of the audiobook, Erin Mallon and Zachary Webber, only share one thing in their styles, which is an excellent reading pace. Otherwise, the story sounds so different depending on which narrator is speaking, that it can feel like listening to two separate books.
I greatly enjoyed Erin Mallon’s narration as Sloan. She has a mezzo voice that’s got a lovely touch of roughness, and when I first heard her voice I thought that she sounded like a practical person, in the best way. When she performs the dialogue of the male characters, their voices are deep and mature, though it always sounds a bit like the men are talking out of the side of their mouths. The minimal sex in the book is narrated from Sloan’s perspective and Erin ensures it never sounds awkward.
I struggled with Zachary Webber’s narration. Jason’s character is an adult male from Minnesota who hunts, and I gathered his musical genre is a kind of alt-country-rock. Zachary’s voice, however, drips Young West Coast Dude, and doesn’t sound at all like the Jason we hear through Erin’s narration. All the male characters sound young when Zachary narrates – I was surprised to learn that Jason’s manager was supposed to be in his fifties (I was sure he was a contemporary of Jason’s). His voice for Sloan’s dialogue also has a high, breathy quality that sounds like a man mimicking women – if he was intending to mock them gently. I learned to live with it, but it definitely doesn’t match the grown-up, sincere tone of the story that comes through when Erin is narrating.
Neither Zachary nor Erin do anything to distinguish the minor characters’ voices; with the exception of Kristin, all the other women sound exactly like Sloan in Erin’s narration, and all the men sound just like Jason. The women in Zachary’s narration are similarly interchangeable. Luckily, since this story has a relatively small cast, this isn’t a huge deal.
The Happy Ever After Playlist is not perfect. But we are, after all, All About Romance, and this is a true one, that made me feel like I was going to need to take the love in me that it stirred up and start giving it away in mason jars like strawberry jam in summer.
Breakdown of grade:
Narration: A- (Mallon) / C (Webber)
Running Time: 9 Hours 17 Minutes