A Barb the Zany Old Lady Audiobook Review: Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan and Iggy Toma (Narrator)


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

I really enjoyed this audiobook.  No wait—let me rephrase that—I immensely enjoyed this outstanding audiobook performed by the incomparable Iggy Toma. He brings characters to life, making them real people I’d enjoy meeting—even those like Xander, who is antisocial.

Xander Fairchild is an Introvert with a capital I.  He really dislikes people and his only friend is sharp-tongued Zelda, a person who might, or might not, be friendly to him on any given day.  Zelda is one of several people who work with Xander at Benton College to create a manga serial.  Zelda’s forte is not art, however; that right belongs solely to Xander, who is highly talented and creative, though repressed socially and very self-deprecating. 

Skylar Stone was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his every move has been planned by his very overbearing lawyer father. Skylar must score high on the LSAT test, and he must get into Yale and then, upon graduation, he must join his father’s law firm.  Period the end.  Per his father.  But Skylar takes one look at Xander’s art and falls head-over-heels in love with it.  And eventually, through a series of enlightenments about his own inner turmoil and life choices and new information about his feelings toward men and women and his own sexuality, he also falls in love with Xander. 

The journey Xander and Skylar take to love and acceptance is not typical.  The author gives us a totally different and unique perspective on love and sexuality.  Xander learns that he can express his love for Skylar through painting and his sexual connection can be expressed through touch and through use of his paint brushes.  Skylar learns what really makes Xander who he is and comes to love and accept him fully without attempting to change either his appearance or his personality. 

This is a very yaoi manga-slanted story and I loved the information passed to the reader through the characters in the delightful voices created by Iggy Toma.  I am an older woman who reads MM romance and LGBTQ lit for pleasure.  When I read, and certainly when I listen to an audiobook, I am looking for a real story to go along with whatever sex scenes an author may use to advance a plot. In other words, I’ve moved beyond choosing books because the sex scenes may be hot.  In this case, I’m pleased to say that I not only didn’t have to listen to gratuitous sex on page, but I was also gifted by a completely unique perspective on sexual pleasure and the simple enjoyment of connecting with one’s life partner. 

I can’t go heavy into details on the plot since I don’t have the book to refer back to for notes on character names, especially the Japanese character names affectionately given to Xander and Skylar and their friends.  That’s one of the few disadvantages of listening to an audiobook over actually reading an e-book version.  I will say, however, that the story was well-sprinkled with references to cherry blossoms and whether intended to be symbolic or not, I felt that watching Xander and Skylar come to a maturity and self-acceptance—each at his own pace and in his own way—was like watching a cherry blossom bloom. 

I highly recommend this audiobook!


The very attractive cover depicts two young men drawn in manga-style but wearing clothing typical of each character in this book and, appropriately, cherry blossoms are sprinkled all over the page.   

Sales Links: Amazon | Audible | iTunes

Audiobook Details:

Audible Audio, 14 pages
Length: 13 hrs and 52 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Published August 21st 2017 by Heidi Cullinan (first published August 8th 2017)
Original Title Antisocial
Edition Language English

A Stella Review: ACE by Jack Byrne


Rating: 4 stars out of 5

ACE coverJake Tanner is a gay asexual man who finds peace on his small Australian farm and is content to lead a quiet life taking care of his animals. Then a random act of kindness on his part sets in motion a complex series of events that results in him playing the piano in a local pub and meeting Damien Jamieson, a sexy gay biker with a penchant for leather. Damien finds Jake instantly irresistible, but that could be the worst thing for their budding relationship, as Damien is determined to bed the reluctant Jake. However, Jake has no intention of going along with his plan. If there’s a chance for anything between them, Damien will have to figure out how to turn Jake on without scaring him off.

ACE was my first novel by Jack Byrne, non considering the story done for the A Taste of Honey anthology (still waiting for the sequel BTW!). I know he usually writes historicals and in fact his Bushrangers series is next on my reading. I picked up ACE because I was really curious about the asexual aspect, as last month I read another book on the same subject and really liked it.

I read ACE and soon loved it. It’s well written but most of all it’s real, emotional, sensitive and sexy too. I was caught up in Damien and Jake’s story from the start. The characters were well defined. Especially Damien, so sure of himself, he is sexy and wants Jake no matter the cost. He seems so strong but he hides a deep insecurity due to his young years spent on the streets taking care of himself and the person who become his daughter, Diane.

The story was unusual to me, starting just with the relationship between Diane and Damien, never met a 29 years old father of an (adopted) 24 years old. It was interesting  look at their dynamics. Moreover, the relationship between Damien and Jake was strange too and I’m not talking about the asexual aspect. It was strange but absolutely believable because it felt real and possible. All the struggles,  emotionally and physically, of two people so different from each other, still so needy and full of love to give. Two aspects, the physical and the emotional one, so fused together, seeing Damien so frustrated to not be able to be completely himself with Jake and use the sex as the only way to show his feelings, the only one he knows about. And it’s exactly when that way is barred that I found the realism in the story.

And where some people had some misunderstanding with the blurb, I can say that I didn’t find this strong feeling Damien has in wanting Jake as a constriction or a duty, just as something normal and real. I know, I’m saying the world real a lot, sorry.

Now about the asexual aspect, I could have a lot to say but I’ll keep it brief. I read the book when I still knew nothing about ace people, I wanted to see how the author dealt with it. The word “asexual” was at no time mentioned by the two MCs. The story is a discovery journey, one Jake is still working on. It’s a complex and well done story and later, when I went looking for more clarifications about a couple of things that seemed to be “unclear”, I discovered the author makes his stories this way.

I was pleasurably surprised by ACE and I’m going to read more by this author soon. I want to highly recommend it.

Cover art by Christy Caughie. The cover is clean and fits the story perfectly. I like it.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages
Published July 15th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13 9781623801670
Edition Language English