Yanni’s Story (Spencer Cohen Series Book 4) by N.R. Walker #LGBT #Audiobook #RGRGiveaway #DuoReview #MMRomance #Contemporary

Erryn and Dana review ‘Yanni’s Story (Spencer Cohen Book 4)’ by N.R. Walker. This book was released by the author on August 7, 2017 and is 442 pgs long. The audiobook version of this story was narrated by Joel Leslie, released by Tantor Audio on June 5, 2018 and is 15 hrs and 44 mins long. Dana was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Why I read this book: 

Erryn: Yanni was introduced in Book 2 and made a cameo in Book 3.  I was desperate for his story.

Dana: I did read/listen to the previous books, and Yanni had a dark past. He was definitely compelling enough in his introduction and cameos in the previous books that I wanted to see him find his happy ending.

*******Check out the giveaway at the bottom of this review for a chance to win an entire autographed set of the Spencer Cohen books courtesy of N.R. Walker.******

When Yanni Tomaras is kicked out of his family home, his parents’ final words are religious insults and an order to never return. Homeless and desperate, he’s lured in by Lance – charming on the outside, an evil predator underneath – who abuses Yanni until he finds the courage to leave. Yanni should feel free. But by the time Spencer Cohen finds him, he’s resigned to being handed back to Lance and once again being caged by fear.

Starting school and a part-time job, Yanni begins to reclaim his life. But a love for silent films leads him to Peter Hannikov, a man with a kind heart but who’s twice his age. An unlikely friendship between them blooms into so much more. Neither man knows what he wants, at first. Finding out exactly what he needs is Yanni’s story.

“I’d spent years as a bird, caged with my wings clipped, tormented and beaten. I thought I’d escaped when I’d left my abuser, but in hindsight, I could see that I was still caged, this time by fear and self-doubt. Spencer and Andrew, and Andrew’s parents, opened the door to the cage that confined me. But it was Peter who taught me how to fly.”

Contains mature themes.

Buy Links: Audible  | Tantor | audiobooks.com| Amazon  | Add to Goodreads 

Click on the titles to read the reviews for the previous books in the series.

Spencer Cohen Book 1 | Spencer Cohen Book 2 | Spencer Cohen Book 3

Erryn’s Review:

The book’s opening line is: “Spence Cohen saved my life.”

Okay, that is a powerful line.  The narration continues with the line from the synopsis:

“I’d spent years as a bird, caged with my wings clipped, tormented and beaten. I thought I’d escaped when I’d left my abuser, but in hindsight, I could see that I was still caged, this time by fear and self-doubt. Spencer and Andrew, and Andrew’s parents, opened the door to the cage that confined me. But it was Peter who taught me how to fly.”

If I hadn’t suspected this book was going to pack an emotional wallop, that beginning was a warning.  I plowed through the first three books in the Spencer Cohen series quickly.  Partly because they were easy listens, but mostly because they were so damn entertaining!  (I use the term ‘easy’ loosely because I needed tissues, but there was also lots of humour and the quick pacing moved the stories moving forward at a steady and pleasant pace.

As a reader, I was introduced to Yanni in book two of the series.  I’m going to share a secret – I haven’t actually read the books.  When the series was first released, I was new to m/m and I didn’t know N.R. at all.  She was doing some social media for the launch of ‘Yanni’s Story’ and, in my naïveté, I asked if the book would be released on audio.  (Now, more than a year later, I understand the cost and effort involved in making an audiobook, so a quick thank you to N.R., Joel, and Tantor for making my wish come true.)

Yanni’s appearance in Book 2 clicked in my mind and since I knew the fourth book was his and, given this is the only book that is not told in Spencer’s point of view, it might be considered a tad misleading to include the book in the series.  It is, in fact, perfectly placed.  Spence and Andrew appear several times – more than cameos, but less than central characters – and it is Andrew’s parents, Helen and Alan Landon, who have very fundamental roles in the story.

‘Yanni’s Story’ begins right in the middle of ‘Spencer Cohen Book 2’, where Yanni and Spencer first meet.  I’m not always a fan of ‘same scene’ told by different characters, but, in this case, it is critical.  Not just because not all readers have read Spencer Cohen (although, really?  You should!), but because, in reality, Yanni is the more pivotal character in that scene.  When authors are choosing point-of-view, the advice often given is ‘who has the most to lose in this scene?  Whose stakes are the highest?’  Since the first three books in the series are all told from Spencer’s point-of-view, the original choice of voice was clear.  But now?

Yanni has the most to lose, by far.  Yanni’s stakes are the highest.

His life is on the line.

When Spencer admits having been hired by Yanni’s ex-boyfriend (Wanker Lance, as Spencer calls him), Yanni believes he is going to be sent back to the abusive SOB.  He’d left everything behind and was struggling to build a new life for himself, but Lance’s spectre has always loomed large and Spencer’s precipitous arrival is the final straw for Yanni.  Even Spencer’s assurances that he will NEVER tell Lance about locating Yanni are not enough to calm the young man.  I don’t blame him.  He’s been living on sheer willpower and adrenaline for weeks.  And, tragically, this is not the first time he’s had to start from nothing.  When his religious family unceremoniously turfed him after he came out, he’d been forced to the streets.

At first, Lance had seemed like an answer to a prayer.

In the end, he was Yanni’s worst nightmare.

Spencer is a man with a huge heart.  He recognizes Yanni’s panic is genuine and is quickly able to intuit the reason for it and put a haphazard plan together that includes his best friend Lola and his boyfriend Andrew.  In the final part of the scene, Andrew takes charge and delivers Yanni to the home of Helen and Alan, Andrew’s parents’ home.

This scene, from Spencer’s point-of-view, was hilarious.  He’s from Australia and although he’s great with pop culture references, movie quotes, and music from many genres, he hasn’t attended many plays—actual live theatre.

Yanni, on the other hand, is a theatre major, attending acting school, and has grown up watching plays.  He knows who Helen and Alan are (aside from Andrew’s parents) and is beyond awestruck.  On one of the worst days of his life he’s hand-delivered to the mansion of two of his idols.  He is well and truly overwhelmed.  From survival to nightmare to Twilight Zone.

Now, there are many powerful moments in this book, but this one from near the beginning had a profound impact on me.  Yanni feels he will ‘never be clean’ because he can’t clean the dirt off his feet.  He breaks down, crying in the shower.  It was a sobering moment for me because I’ve been blessed to never have been in that position—not being able to shower regularly, spending all my money cleaning my clothes so no one around me will know I’m homeless.  Needless to say, it takes a long time for Yanni to come to grips with his new reality.

Have I said I love Andrew’s parents?

As Yanni’s story unfolds, so too does Helen and Alan’s love story.  Later in the book, Yanni asks “how will I know when I’m ready to be intimate with someone”?  He knows Helen will understand his dilemma and the fact that she is so happy in love with Alan, as well as the fact they have Andrew and Sarah, gives him some hope that he might be able to move on.  But he admits, “…don’t know if I’ll ever have sex again.  He took so much from me”.

Okay, that broke me a little bit.  One of the women in the house where Yanni eventually moves into has an equally horrific story and my gut kept churning – both with the horror of the events as well as my desire to kick the shit out of these people.  People who often do things under the cloak of ‘religion’ or ‘righteousness’ or just because they can.  If we are judged by how we treat the most fragile in the world, Lance and Jordan’s family would all epically fail.  I might not be religious, but I’m happy wishing them an eternity in hell.  What’s worse is these may be fictional characters, but these things happen in real life.  Children and teenagers have been killed by their families for being gay or even just perceived as gay.  There is a reason why many of the teenagers on the street are gay or trans.  Sometimes it is preferable to be potentially unsafe on the streets versus guaranteed unsafe in their own home.

And although this is Yanni’s story, told in his voice, there is another important man.  Peter met Yanni when they were at a café with Spencer and Andrew.  Peter was facing the reality that the young man he’d fancied himself in love with, and who had left him, was not coming back.  Although he was sad, I had the feeling he was going to be able to get over the loss.  Spencer, the relationship guru, was able to make Peter see that although Duncan wasn’t the ‘one’, there had to be someone out there who wanted the same thing as Peter.  In his early 40s, Peter was ready to settle down but there was one problem: he likes twinks – young, somewhat effeminate men.  Very young.  Not incest young, but definitely not close to him in age.  Someone like Yanni…?  I could see the set-up in Book 2, but was pleased this book took a huge step back and provided the backstory the reader needs to understand Yanni.

While at the café, Yanni and Peter discover a mutual love of silent films.  Yanni, in his excitement, asks Peter to join him in seeing a film.  He’s taking his therapist’s advice to try to expand his social circle and leave the house more.  Peter, however, sees this as being asked out on a date.  Spencer is able to clear up the misunderstanding, but Yanni is horrified at the gaffe.  He isn’t ready to go out on a date.  And doubts he will ever be able to be in a relationship again.  I knew better, of course, but the slow burn of this book was perfect.  Two bruised hearts finding each other.  I loved that Peter and Yanni started out as friends who had many things in common.  And while their ex-boyfriends Duncan and Lance were men who enjoyed going out and being seen, Yanni and Peter are homebodies who enjoy the occasional dinner out or a play, but are just as happy staying home and watching movies.

Peter is the perfect man for Yanni because his patience never wavers and the only time he gets upset is when he sees injustice in the world.  At first, he didn’t see himself in a relationship with Yanni.  It was perfect that the two men made many realizations at the same time.

Especially about their…preferences.

One morning, at breakfast, Yanni pushes the sugar across the table.  “Sugar, Daddy?”  Peter replies, “oh, I like that.”

Peter wants to be a Daddy.  He wants to be a father, but not have the reality of raising a child from infancy through to adulthood.  He wants a twink who will love him, call him Daddy, and maybe even have an intimate relationship with him.  He has ‘daddy needs’ and Yanni pushes Peter to reveal them.  After the failed relationship with Duncan, Peter is hesitant.  And after Yanni’s disastrous relationship with Lance, he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to trust someone again.  So watching their courtship grow slowly and sweetly was a treat.  It began with Peter placing his hand on Yanni’s lower back to guide him and, eventually, moved to more intimacy.  Every interaction had significance.  Not one interaction was superfluous or gratuitous.  As always, N.R.’s deft hand was there, but not noticeable.  That is the mark of a talented author.

Watching Yanni slowly regain his confidence and reclaim his life was at times joyous, and at other times, painful.  I was happy to see he was in therapy and I adored his therapist who wouldn’t let the young man BS his way through the work.  The scene where Yanni said,” failure, shame, regret, pain,” I think my heart broke.  I know I sniffed a lot.  Later, Patrice, his therapist, has Yanni repeat, “It’s okay to be happy,” over and over again.  This hit home.  When you’ve gone through a really rough time, and you come out of it on the other side, you might not feel deserving of happiness.  Especially if there are others who are still on their journey, or worse yet, haven’t even started.  Yanni’s roommates are all in similar situations to Yanni, but each has their own progression to make, often moving forward and then regressing when triggered.  Yanni is forced to face his demons and when he conquers one of his greatest fears, Peter, Spencer, and the Landons weren’t the only ones cheering.

I loved Yanni (just in case you hadn’t figured that out) and Peter was just as near and dear to me.  When Yanni said, “Peter puts me in a bubble.  I give him my absolute trust and he gives me the world. Freedom. He’s protective – like a father but without the incest,” my heart melted.  Although there is no BDSM in this book, Daddy is definitely a kink and your kink might not be my kink, but I can see why Yanni and Peter are drawn to each other.  And when Peter called Yanni his “dragon-slaying rabbit,” I knew they were meant to be together.

And the ‘where are they now?’ section at the end?  Priceless.

Now, I’ve raved about Joel Leslie before and will do so again.  Joel’s talent with accents puts him in high demand and his interpretation of Spencer was spot-on.  Yanni and Peter are both American, but with Greek and Russian heritages.  They are both from families with several generations in America, but there is just that occasional touch of accent when they are speaking of food from their cultures.  It’s subtle.  And it works.  Also, there is a character with Down syndrome and wow, Joel’s voice for Christopher was perfect.  Not clichéd, but done with empathy and realism.

Again, I want to thank the makers of this audio series.  I happily bought all 4 and was rewarded with an experience I won’t soon forget and I plan to listen to the series again when I can just enjoy and not worry about taking notes.

This series is worth your time.  Whether you read or listen or both, you won’t be disappointed.  Just a quick note that ‘Yanni’s Story’ is double the length of the other books, but that is what makes it perfect.  Yanni needed time to slay his demons.  I’m so glad he does.

Erryn’s Rating:

10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars

Dana’s Review:

Trying to decide how to describe this book, the most appropriate phrase that came to mind is “slow and steady wins the race.” I use that to describe the pacing of the book, and for the main character, Yanni’s, life. After coming out to his parents, Yanni found himself first homeless, and then in an abusive relationship. He had lost all self worth before Spencer found him due to some suspicious circumstances. (Yes, you should read the previous books in the series to see how this came about.) This book doesn’t have frenzied passionate moments, no big highs. Fortunately, the lowest points of Yanni’s life are in the rear view. So this is the story of Yanni taking back his life and pasting the broken pieces back together.

To be clear, slow and steady doesn’t mean boring or uneventful. Yanni’s story overlaps some of the Spencer Cohen books, and it is told all at once instead of being broken up into three books. So it is significantly longer than the previous books, individually. It’s an inspiring story with likable characters and I really enjoyed reading it.

Yanni starts this book being brought to Andrew’s (Spencer’s boyfriend) parents. It is kismet. Helen and Allan Landon are in the acting business, which Yanni was studying. He enjoys their impromptu readings and found he has a lot more in common with Helen than just the love of acting. The Landons even have a foundation that helps abused and homeless LGBT+ youth restart their lives with housing and scholarship programs. That is only the beginning for Yanni, but it is the step up he desperately needed. He went from living in fear on the streets to living a semi normal life. He found a new and loving family in Andrew’s family and Spencer. But still there was some fear, because of the lover in his past who destroyed his value and fear of not being able to overcome it and find real love.

It is slow and steady. It is friends to lovers. Meeting Peter was unconventional and unexpected. Peter is older and was just dumped by his younger lover. He is a great guy but neither he nor Yanni are ready for more. As much as Peter’s friendship and companionship means to Yanni’s recovery this is mainly Yanni’s story because it is on him to move past his old habits and worries and grasp at what might be something wonderful. I felt very drawn into Yanni’s transformation. He not only tackles his demons but helps others at the group home he lives in. He helps a stranger who went through the very same thing Yanni did. He works with Helen for her foundation and he finds a reason to share his story to make the world better for others.

It is honestly inspiring. I have to applaud the authors who tell these fictional tales of LGBTQIA people comfortable or becoming comfortable with who they are, and finding love. The stories might be fictional but they are based on truths of gay, bi, lesbian, and trans people everywhere. For those who do identify as one of those, these stories might show them that it can get better and that they are worthy of love. For those who might be closed minded or prejudiced, they might learn to open their eyes, minds, and hearts.

And of course, this is a love story by an author who wants her characters to be happy so it is a great ending. There is a little bit of kink, but to me very mild. I stand by my slow and steady comment, but might add sweet and sexy, too.  The narration is done by the very versatile and emotive Joel Leslie and his performance only adds to the listening experience. I highly recommend listening or reading to this book as well as the whole series.

Dana’s Rating:

10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars

Website | Facebook | Twitter: @NR_Walker | Goodreads

N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn’t have it any other way.

She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who she gives them life with words.

She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things…but likes it even more when they fall in love. She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.

She’s been writing ever since…

Comment on this post for the chance to win the entire Spencer Cohen set (4 books) provided and autographed by N.R. Walker

You must be 18 years or older to participate in this giveaway. Void where prohibited. Etc.

This giveaway ends on July 15, 2018 at 11:59 PM CST. GOOD LUCK!

9 thoughts on “Yanni’s Story (Spencer Cohen Series Book 4) by N.R. Walker #LGBT #Audiobook #RGRGiveaway #DuoReview #MMRomance #Contemporary

  1. I can’t wait to read this series! I’m slowly making my way through Ms. Walker’s books and have loved the ones I’ve read/listened to so far.
    Thank you so much for the chance!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Interview between N.R. Walker and Joel Leslie about the author/narrator relationship (Spencer Cohen Series and much more) #Interview #LGBT #Audiobook #RGRGiveaway #MMRomance #Contemporary #Fun #Fangirl | Rainbow Gold Reviews

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