Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Audie Barrack is in it up to his elbows with a sick calf when his son’s school calls. Seems Grainger has gotten into yet another fight. When he walks into the principal’s office, he’s shocked to find his son has been fighting with a little girl named Randi. And that’s not the only shock. The little girl his boy has been fighting with has a blind dad, a widower when his husband recently passed away.
Dixon has lost his sight, his career, and his husband. Thank God for his brothers, Momma and Daddy, and his little girl, or he would simply give up. The last thing he needs is for Randi to start trouble at school, especially trouble that puts him in contact with another dad who might expect him to be a functional human being.
Dixon is struggling to live as a blind man, Audie is terrified someone might see he has a closet to come out of, and everyone from the school to both men’s families is worried for the men and their children. Unless they get themselves together and commit to change, neither of them stands a chance.
It’s no secret to those of you who have read my reviews that I am a huge fan of B.A. Tortuga. She has one of the finest ears for regional dialects and culture in the genre as well as the ability to write memorable characters. And that gift is apparent here in Ever The Same. In fact this book has so many elements that are hooks for me, that it has taken a while, and another reading to think about what I was going to write.
Why? Because some of the parts of this story that I find alluring are ones that other readers might not connect with, something not unusual in a B.A. Tortuga story. Let’s start with the characters, who, yes, can be defined by their conversational style and wording. Audie is rooted in the soil of his family’s ranch and the horses he loves almost as much as he loves his son. He is a plain speaker, full of the regional euphemisms and colloquial speak of the area. This is Audie, in a capsule of speech:
He gave Momma a call as he pulled his shirt on. “Momma, I got to run up to the school. Can you get Sister to keep an eye on the calf?”
“Is he sick? Grainger, I mean, not the calf.”
“Nope. It’s no big deal. I’ll be back in a jiff.” He hoped.
“Okay, Son. Your daddy’s due in off the road next weekend. He wants to take that boy of yours to a picture show. Tell him if he ain’t good, PopPop won’t take him.
Audie is a man filled with family and its obligations. A person with a huge heart, open mind, and realistic view of himself and his situation. I fell in love with him immediately.
The father of the little girl his son has been fighting with at school, is so very different from Audie…at least on the surface. Dixon is a musician blinded in the same car accident that killed his husband and he’s lost in his grief while trying to maintain a life for his adoring daughter. And she is not coping well either with the changes in her life and the loss of one of her dads. It’s country meet city in the most unusual way. Dixon and his daughter have moved from the city into the small town where his mother and step dad raise llamas. It’s round peg trying to fit into a square hole for both of them. This is a small scene from the principal’s office where the initial meeting about their kids hasn’t gone very well.
“I’ll talk to her. If it happens again, I’ll… shit, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll make it up as I go along.” The guy stood, and his mom handed him a cane. A white cane.
Oh Jesus fucking Christ. Seriously? Seriously, Grainger picked the kid with a blind dad and a dead….
Her other dad was dead. Jesus. This guy was blind, had lost his man, and his kid was a shit? That sucked hugely. “I can try to get Grainger to help. I promise.” He had no idea why that popped out, except this guy’s life had to suck, and because it had been a long time since Audie had met anyone who would openly admit to being queer like he was.
“Take us home, Mom. Please.” Now that he could see the White guy, he kind of wanted to wince. Lean, tattooed—this guy wasn’t made to be here, and obviously he wasn’t a local. Hell, his parents weren’t that local; Audie didn’t know them.
“Of course, Son.” She stood and offered Audie a frosty smile. “Thank you for being so, er, understanding.” She put a hand on her son’s arm, and he turned her way, the cane tapping as they left the room.
Audie glared at Shannon Shields as soon as they were out of earshot. “You couldn’t’ve had Miz Laws warn me?”
“I assumed you knew, Audie. Everybody knows.”
The conflicts have been established, as well as some of their backgrounds and family circumstances and we are still early in the book. What a great job Tortuga has done to bring the readers into the various situations, letting us empathize with each “faction” and the small children involved. The need for understanding that is born out of this meeting will set the stage for the relationship and attraction to follow.
As with most of Tortuga’s plots and stories, no character exists as a isolated individual. Audie (25) is surrounded by his family, which includes along with his son, Grainger, a sister, Gracie, her kids, his “Momma”, and long haul trucker father. All on the family farm. Gracie’s husband is in the Army and is on tour abroad. This family has its own tensions, expectations, and stress along with the love. Dixon’s family is equally large and imposing, even more so. For Dixon (33) has brothers Damon 20, Dalton 18, Dan 31, along with his daughter Randi. Most are close with each other, and Dixon and Randi are now living with his upscale mother and step father on their llama farmette. I loved that while the two families have a foundation in agriculture they still couldn’t be farther apart in approach and style. Yet both sides are believable, layered and authentic. You can like them even if you aren’t fond of their actions.
The story winds through multiple stages of Audie and Dixon’s relationship and that of their kids, a major factor here just as it should be. For readers not fond of children or gay families in their stories, this element will put you off. Those of you, like me, with kids and who love to see them in stories, you will love following their growth and increasing closeness to each man. In this case, these two men and their children really do complete each other. It’s heartwarming and real. And yes, I loved it. Because the author makes every part of Audie and Dixon’s journey intimate and heartfelt. We are there along side them as Dixon starts to deal with his blindness and Audie becomes sure enough of himself to be openly gay in town. There are some very tough spots and situations to deal with but that’s pretty real and reasonable as well.
Tortuga includes a epilogue that stops the story just where it should. It’s funny, heartbreakingly alive, and leaves the reader satisfied as to how it all came out. How much do I love this story? Enough that when I want to smile and leave myself in a happy state, this will be one of the books I pick up. I highly recommend it and hope you will love it as much as I do.
Cover Artist: Christy Caughie did a beautiful job with the cover. I loved the colors and the composition. It easily draws the reader in. Great job.