Girl Listening lg croppedAfter talking about it for months, it’s finally time for our first Speaking of Audiobooks 2011 Listening Challenge.  In November five of our listeners started working with me to design a Listening Challenge everyone can enjoy – from beginning romance audio listeners to our most experienced romance audio enthusiasts.

For those who are hesitant to commit to a Listening Challenge, we have developed Level One for an easy entry.  For those who are starting to understand that challenging your audio listening preferences is actually great fun, we have designed Level Two just for you.  And for those who desire a different challenge each and every month, Level Three is your ticket.

In 2010, I shared with you my experiences throughout the year as I worked through each category in My Unofficial Personal Listening Challenge. I was both thrilled and amazed to discover large numbers of romance audiobooks that hadn’t been on my radar simply because I didn’t think I liked their particular sub-genre.

Those sub-genres I avoided included Fantasy Romance, Urban Fantasy (with a romance thread), Romantic Suspense, and Series (continuous without an HEA at the end of every book).  My choices for these four categories were Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Sharing Knife: Beguilement, Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever, Sandra Brown’s Envy, and Charlaine Harris’ Dead Until Dark.  All were personal audio hits.  With the successful completion of two other categories, Abridged Format and English Narrators, I found myself enthusiastically listening to a total of 28 Listening Challenge inspired audiobooks (with none below the B range).  I owe most of that success to the recommendations of my fellow listeners at Speaking of Audiobooks!

Now for the particulars.

Speaking of Audiobooks 2011 Listening Challenge

Choose your level of involvement:

Level One I’m Going to Give It a Try – Choose 6 of the following 14 categories

Level Two Hmmm, This Could Be Fun – Choose 9 of the following 14 categories

Level Three I Take Challenges Seriously – Choose 12 of the following 14 categories

The Categories

All categories refer to romance audiobooks or those containing a romance thread

  • Pick an audiobook that received a DIK grade at AAR in print format. You can find those DIK books through our Power Search.
  • Tempt yourself to find a series that grabs hold and won’t let go by listening to the first in a series.  For series suggestions, take a look at our Romance Audio Bests by Author column.
  • Listen to a book recommended in a previous Speaking of Audiobooks column (and following discussion).  All columns and following discussions include a significant number of recommendations but two columns stand out – Favorites and Romance Audio Bests by Author
  • Listen to a new-to-you author. We are targeting romance authors or those authors who include a romantic thread throughout the series such as Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series.

  • Listen to a romance sub-genre you usually avoid. Do you find yourself listening to the same type of book?  Challenge your tired old preferences and discover a whole new world.

  • Listen to a romance book released in 2011. Watch our monthly new release columns for suggestions.

  • Listen to an abridged audiobook. Abridged doesn’t have to mean cut up with favorite passages missing.
  • Listen to an audiobook that has been languishing in your to-be-listened (TBL) pile. Whether your TBL pile consists on CDs on your shelf, downloads on your MP3 player, or a book you have on your library list – just do it.

  • Relisten to a favorite book. Relistening to favorites is not only an affordable audio option, it is also a great way to while away the time.

  • Give a less-than-favorite narrator a second chance. So you weren’t impressed with that narrator and others are still praising her?  Give her another try.

  • Share in your listening – listen to a book someone else chooses for you. Ask for suggestions in any Speaking of Audiobooks column or check the thread we have going over at our Romance Audiobook message board at AAR.

  • Borrow a book from a friend or your library. Discover a more affordable way to listen.  For details on borrowing from a library see our Buy, Rent, or Borrow? column.

The challenge ends 12/31/11 and we’ll report our progress either here in each column’s discussion or at our Romance Audiobook Message Board at AAR that we plan to have up an running soon.  For easy reference, you can find the basics of the 2011 Listening Challenge here throughout the year.

As an example of reporting your progress, allow me to start by telling you first that I chose the I Take Challenges Seriously Level 3 (now, does that surprise anyone?).  Since I’m challenging myself to 12 of the 14 categories, I’ve chosen all but the Relisten to a favorite book and Listen to a romance book released in 2011 categories.  Given that I relisten to my favorite books on a continual basis and review new audiobooks for the column, neither are much of a challenge to me.

What categories am I tackling first in the challenge?  For Pick an audiobook that received a DIK grade at AAR in print format, I’m going with Amanda Quick’s Rendezvous. Second on the list is Listen to an abridged audiobook and this choice was easy with Penelope Williamson’s Heart of the West already in my to-be-listened folder. I’ll follow with reports on my thoughts of the two and let you know other audiobooks as I choose.

A big thanks to Julie, Melinda, MaryK, Kaetrin, and TSTBren for their help in planning our Listening Challenge.  You ladies made quite a team and were great to work with as well!

We invite you to come on and join us.  I know you can do it and have great fun in the process!

In Too DeepRecent Reads

Beginning with this column, we’ll feature an occasional mini-review written by a fellow Speaking of Audiobooks listener.  Thanks to TSTBren for her contribution today.

In Too Deep – Jayne Ann Krentz

Narrated by Joyce Bean

A loner by choice, chaos theorist Fallon Jones doesn’t understand the draw his new office manager, Isabella Valdez, has on him. Isabella pushes to become the latest agent for J & J, Fallon’s psychic detective agency, while keeping secrets about more than her psychic abilities. With Isabella’s discovery of a unique clockwork creation from the Victorian era, one that can be used as a psychic weapon, she and Fallon work together from the start. I enjoyed Joyce Bean adding a slight Spanish accent for Isabella, to go with her last name. The fact that Bean has been consistent with Fallon’s voice throughout the series is also a plus. Isabella was very funny and the narration pulled that out well and kept me laughing as the story proceeded. I’m not a fan of long inner monologues or a lot of angst which is one reason I really enjoyed this book. It’s dialogue driven, with the plot unfolding through conversation and actions. There are some “too convenient” intuitive jumps and discoveries, but we’re talking JAK here. Would I glom and listen to her books back to back? No. But three times a year, as she continues to unfold her interesting Arcane series in the past, present and future, that’s perfect for this fan.

– TSTBren

A Hellion in Her Bed – Sabrina Jeffries

Narrated by Antony Ferguson

I’m not what you could call a follower of Sabrina Jeffries but I do enjoy her stories from time to time.  Since I was searching for a historical romance with a new-to-me narrator, A Hellion in Her Bed fit that bill perfectly.  Featuring an autocratic grandmother determined to control her grown grandchildren’s lives, an especially notorious gambling grandson determined to allow her no control, and a woman willing to risk it all to obtain help for her family’s failing brewery, the setup is little more than your typical romance.  Antony Ferguson’s underplayed narration didn’t favorably impact my listening experience either with voices that were difficult to differentiate at times, inconsistent falsetto female voices, and a few male characters who sounded a little too effeminate (especially knowing one will be featured as a hero in a later book).  The story lags once it hits the two-thirds mark and with an average narration that fails to push it through the slow parts, A Hellion in Her Bed was an audiobook disappointment.  However, another Jeffries book,  Let Sleeping Rogues Lie,  sits in my audio library and with narrator Justine Eyre at the helm, I’m hoping for good things.

– Lea AAR

Darkfever2The Fever Series Watch Party

A number of us are currently listening (or relistening) to the first four books in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series in preparation for the January 18th release of Shadowfever, the final book in the series.  It’s not too late to join in the excitement by starting with Darkfever, the first in the series, and proceeding on to Bloodfever, Faefever, and Dreamfever.  We’ll be running a Fever Series thread on our Romance Audiobooks message board at AAR as we build up to Shadowfever’s release.

A major part of our Fever Watch Party is the January 17th interview with one of our favorite narrators, Phil Gigante, who performs the male characters in Shadowfever.  And we’ll be giving away all five of the Fever Series audiobooks!  You won’t want to miss our talk with this highly entertaining narrator (to learn more about Gigante, see our Favorite Narrators column) and your chance to win the entire series in audio.

Our Very Own Romance Audiobook Message Board

Yes, it’s almost here!  Any day you will see a Romance Audiobook message board at AAR’s main site.  I’m so excited that we will have the ability to discuss audiobooks 24/7.  Of course, our discussions following each Speaking of Audiobooks column will continue in the same manner.  I see the Romance Audiobook message board as an opportunity to talk even more about your audiobooks experiences.  We’ll utilize the message board for group reads, watch parties (such as our current Fever Series), Listening Challenge progress reports, specific audiobook discussions, announcement of audiobook sales, and those “Have you all listened to this book?” requests.

Stay tuned for the announcement here at AAR’s News and Commentary Blog.

Time for Your Thoughts

Are you joining in the challenge?  What level did you choose?

What are your categories?

What audiobook(s) will be the first in your Listening Challenge?

And as always, do you have any recent audiobook successes or failures to share with us?

Ending Notes

Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing with 37 members.  Come join us and share your audiobook shelf with us.

I’m announcing romance audiobook news and new releases on Twitter.  To follow me on Twitter, look for LeaAAR.

I’ll see you again on January 17th when we talk with Phil Gigante.

– Lea Hensley