Audiobook Review: Vespertine by Leta Blake & Indra Vaughn

Can a priest and a rock star obey love's call?

Seventeen years ago, Jasper Hendricks and Nicholas Blumfeld's childhood friendship turned into a secret, blissful love affair. They spent several idyllic months together until Jasper's calling to the Catholic priesthood became impossible to ignore. Left floundering, Nicky followed his own trajectory into rock stardom, but he never stopped looking back.

Today, Jasper pushes boundaries as an out, gay priest, working hard to help vulnerable LGBTQ youth. He's determined to bring change to the church and the world. Respected, admired, and settled in his skin, Jasper has long ignored his loneliness.

As Nico Blue, guitarist and songwriter for the band Vespertine, Nicky owns the hearts of millions. He and his bandmates have toured the world, lighting their fans on fire with their music. Numbed by drugs and fueled by simmering anger, Nicky feels completely alone. When Vespertine is forced to get sober, Nicky returns home to where it all started.

Jasper and Nicky's careers have ruled their lives since they parted as teens. When they come face to face again, they must choose between the past's lingering ghosts or the promise of a new future.

Narrator: Michael Ferraiuolo
Listening Length: 14 hours and 18 minutes

Reviewer: Annery

Me reviewing a Leta Blake book narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo is like asking a chocoholic to work at Jacques Torres: unfair and a foregone conclusion. I’m doing it anyway. Gladly.

The technical part, the audio, lives up to what we’ve come to expect from Michael Ferraiuolo, which is something close to perfection. As usual he delivers a nuanced performance giving each character a distinct voice imbued with warmth, and emotion. Miracle of miracles, he’s also one of the few male narrators who can do women without making them sound like cartoon characters, bad Drag Queens, or Miss Adelaide from Guys & Dolls. He’s the guy who’ll make you want more after fourteen-hours plus of having your heart in a vice-grip. The only danger will be inappropriate reactions if you’re listening in public, goofy smile or eyes welling up, and that’s down to a beautifully told story.

At 34 y.o., Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Blumfeld aka Nico Blue is the lead guitarist and principal songwriter for Vespertine, a band that’s been coasting on the success of their early material, and whose members, including Nicky, are drowning in drugs of every stripe. In a last ditch effort to get sober, save his life, and his career Nicky heads home to Little Heights, a coastal town in Maine. Waiting for him are memories of happier times, his adoring parents, and the first and only boy he ever loved, Jasper ‘Jazz’ Hendricks. Father Hendricks to the laity. Yup. Nicky was thrown over for God. But it’s more complicated than that. Isn’t it always?

Leta Blake & Indra Vaughn have accomplished something quite remarkable, at least for me. Firstly, I'm not super keen on rock-star stories, they always have that whiff of poor-little-rich-boy which can go either way, and not many authors get the balance right. Secondly, I’d be an atheist if it weren’t too presumptuous to be certain of anything, and the same goes for belief in any God. Either one is too much work. What I’m trying to say is that, on paper, the set-up of this story, rock-star & priest, is a tall order for me but the authors pulled it off without a false note or stridency. In essence, this is a second chance romance between two people who met as children, discovered their sexuality as teenagers, were separated by circumstance, and now getting another opportunity at happiness. It just so happens that their adult selves are on opposite sides of the social spectrum.

The beauty is that Nicky and Jazz are real people outside of their archetypes. Given Nicky’s history, and his chosen lifestyle it’s plausible to see how he ended up an addict and you’re pulling for him every step of the way on his road to sobriety. I really like how the authors don’t make light of the process and respectfully treat it like the disease it is, never going for the mind-over-matter angle or the higher-power cop out, which one would almost expect when the other MCs is a true believer, a priest no less. Of course, the difference here is that the priest in question is Jazz, a man who truly embodies Christian teachings in his every thought and behavior, which extends to providing a safe harbor to LGBTQ at risk youth, even when that means being at odds with the upper hierarchy of the church or his family. The authors don’t play fast and loose with his faith, the choices he makes are the result of thoughtful deliberation.

The religious aspect is another part of the story that the authors get right, the fact that religions are, like the governments of countries (Vatican is literally a Principality), who don’t always represent their constituents. By this I mean that, for the most part, the people on the ground, of which Jazz is one, are sincerely striving to embody the teachings of their particular religion, which all, and in broad strokes, speak of love & charity to your neighbor, while the higher ups are, in most cases, doing the exact opposite. This is a long winded way of saying that Jazz is an upright man of God in the purest sense. He sincerely cares for his fellows, is willing to fight for them, but isn’t pedantic enough to want to impose his worldview on others.

I liked the pace at which Nicky & Jazz’s reconnecting happens. There have hurt feelings, they were seventeen when their lives went in separate directions, and wildly different life experiences, but their bone deep connection hasn’t faltered. And it won’t.

These two were made for each other and it’s palpable on the page. The buildup from Nicky’s resentment, to cautious reacquaintance, to Jazz placing his two loves in the balance is wonderfully done, without titillation or prurience. I was wholly convinced and Michael Ferraiuolo tipped me into the fanatics camp. By the end, I was praying on my impious knees for Nicky & Jazz’s HEA.

If you need an extra push the story is peopled with other great characters like Miriam and Adrian, Nicky’s parents, Ramona, the kids at Blue Oasis, and Dizzy, the best cat ever.

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