It’s time for Round Two of the Surprise by the Quarter track in our 2012 Listening Challenge! Continue with this round of your 2012 Challenge or, if you want, jump in for just this quarter. Round Two covers April – June.
The Four Categories:
Choice #1 – The Funnies – Listen to a romance that is also a hoot!
For recommendations, take a look at Speaking of Audiobooks: The Funny Ones, AAR’s Special Title Listing of Favorite Funnies (a list of print books but many are available in audio), or just ask our group for suggestions.
Choice #2 – Listen to a romance narrated by a man.
Choice #3 – Rounding Out the Family – Listen to a romance where a child (under 18) or pet plays a significant role.
For pet recommendations, there is an extensive list at AAR’s Special Title Listing of Amazing Animals (once again – a list of print books but many are audiobooks as well). For children, I’ll need to ask the group for suggestions!
Choice #4 – Listen to a non-romance.
Share your Challenge update here in the column’s discussion area or at our Goodreads group where we have a thread dedicated to the Challenge.
April’s Romance Audiobook Releases
Includes new formats of existing audiobooks. All unabridged unless otherwise stated.
Ashley, Amanda – A Darker Dream Narrator unknown
Ashley, Amanda – Deeper than the Night Narrator unknown
Ashley, Amanda – Shades of Gray Narrator unknown
Bangs, Nina – Eternal Craving Narrator unknown
Black, Shayla – Decadent Narrated by Lexi Maynard
Bryan, Emily – Stroke of Genius Narrator unknown
Collins, Manda – How to Dance with a Duke Narrated by Anne Flosnik
Coulter, Catherine – Night Fire Narrated by Anne Flosnik
Dickey, Eric Jerome – An Accidental Affair Narrated by Christopher Lane
Grieve, Roberta – On Wings of Song Narrator unknown
Hauck, Rachel – The Wedding Dress Narrated by Eleni Pappageorge
Howell, Hannah – Highland Vow Narrated by Angela Dawe
Hunter, Jillian – The Duchess Diaries Narrated by Justine Eyre
Jackson, Lisa – He’s a Bad Boy Narrated by Amy Rubinate
Jackson, Lisa – He’s Just a Cowboy Narrated by Renee Raudman
James, E.L. – Fifty Shades of Grey Narrated by Becca Battoe (Link unavailable – Audible 4/03)
James, Eloisa – Your Wicked Ways Narrator unknown
Lindsey, Johanna – When Passion Rules Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Krentz, Jayne Ann – Ghost of a Chance Narrated by Aasne Vigesaa
MacLean, Julianne – Be My Prince Narrated by Anne Flosnik
Macomber, Debbie – A Turn in the Road Narrated by Joyce Bean
Macomber, Debbie – Hannah’s List Narrated by Fred Stella
Maxwell, Cathy – Lyon’s Bride Narrator unknown
Michaels, Fern – Texas Fury Narrated by Laural Merlington
Michaels, Fern – Texas Sunrise Narrated by Laural Merlington
Moning, Karen Marie – Into the Dreaming Narrated by Phil Gigante
Monroe, Mary Alice – The Beach House Narrated by author
Morrissey, Di – Barra Creek Narrated by Kate Hood
Morrissey, Di – Tears of the Moon Narrated by Kate Hood
Petersen, Jesse – Eat, Slay, Love Narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Quick, Amanda – Crystal Gardens Narrated by Justine Eyre
Roberts, Nora – The Witness Narrated by Julia Whelan
Sands, Lynsay – Under a Vampire Moon Narrator unknown
Shirvington, Jessica – Embrace Narrator unknown
Thompson, Vicki Lewis – Werewolf in Seattle Narrated by Abby Cranden
Walker, Shiloh – If You Hear Her Narrated by Cris Dukehart
Wiggs, Susan – Snowfall at Willow Lake Narrated by Joyce Bean
Romance Audio Reviews
Rainshadow Road – Lisa Kleypas
Review written by Kaetrin
Narrated by Tanya Eby
I was so looking forward to listening to this book. I adored Blue Eyed Devil and Smooth Talking Strangerand I love Tanya Eby’s narration. The author/narrator combination felt like an automatic win for me. And I did enjoy it, but… well, let’s get to the story first.
Sam Nolan is the owner of the old Victorian House and proprietor of the vineyard at the end of Rainshadow Road. Sam’s gorgeous, talented, friendly, and sexy but he doesn’t do commitment. Ever. He’s always honest about it. He’s not a cheater or a deceiver, but his experience with his alcoholic parents and their toxic marriage has scarred him for life.
Lucy Marinn is a glass artist, working mainly on stained glass windows. We first meet her when Kevin, her boyfriend of three years, dumps her for her younger (and very spoiled and not at all nice) sister Alice. Plainly stated, Kevin is an asshole. He whines and blames everyone else for his shortcomings. Whatever we are told, we see that there are no redeeming aspects to his character at all.
Lucy meets Sam early on in the story and although there is an attraction, she is gun shy after her breakup with Kevin. As they begin to form a friendship, Lucy is involved in an accident and subsequently she needs someone to care for her. She moves into the house at Rainshadow Road for a short time and a relationship develops as Sam looks after her.
Rainshadow Road features “magical realism.” During times of strong emotion, glass on or near Lucy turns into real creatures – butterflies, hummingbirds, and other small animals. These magical aspects could have been left out altogether and there would have been no loss.
Tanya Eby is one of my favorite narrators. Her voice is very pleasant to listen to whether she is performing characters or reading the narrative. She has a lovely timbre to her voice and delivers effectively varying female and male character voices across a range of ages. Listening, I heard Sam just as I pictured him – very sexy with kind of a husky voice. Kevin sounded like the moron he was. Lucy’s mother sounded more mature without being old and Lucy’s dad sounded like the distracted, somewhat uptight, professor-type he was in the text. I’m happy to say that there is even a distinction between the voices of the three brothers Mark, Sam, and Alex – it’s subtle, but definitely there.
I liked Rainshadow Road’s storyline and Tanya Eby’s wonderful narration made it all the better. However, I was surprised when I realized that I was six hours into an eight-hour audiobook and Sam and Lucy’s relationship had really only just begun. On one hand, those six hours passed quickly. On the other, that left only two hours once they got together! In the end, I had the same criticism of Rainshadow Road as I did with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor – after such a beautiful set up, the ending is rushed. In this case, the relationship portion is rushed.
We see Lucy and Sam together for three to four days when she is recuperating and then, all of a sudden, we move to “over the past two months…” – I wanted to hear about those two months. These are beautiful characters – Sam is funny and he’s a geek with cool science-y t-shirts and Lucy (despite her previously appalling taste in men) is eminently likeable. Because those two months were missing in action, it was difficult for me to really buy into Sam’s conversion from “No commitment – ever” to “Marry me.” Oh, I believed it in the end, but I didn’t sigh over it. Not like I did with Hardy and Haven in Blue Eyed Devil.
I enjoyed Rainshadow Road – in fact, I flew through it. Even with the missing two months, it was very good. It’s worth a listen for Tanya Eby’s narration alone but it could have been amazing.
Angels of Darkness – Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, & Sharon Shinn
Review written by Diana
#1 – Angel’s Wolf – Nalini Singh
Narrated by Justine Eyre
I’m not a fan of the Guild Hunter series or Justine Eyre’s narration.
Although Angel’s Wolf is part of that series, it is a kinder, gentler story and I liked it much more than the two Guild Hunter books I listened to. Nimra is a very old angel whom Raphael has entrusted to rule over the New Orleans area. He sends the younger warrior Noel to her to complete his physical recovery after a brutal attack. Noel is content to work with Nimra as his alpha and I found that quite charming. And so does Nimra. Eyre gives Noel a feminine pronunciation (No-elle), an odd choice, and a bit distracting, but otherwise her actress-y style is the same she uses in the other Guild Hunter books. If you’re already a fan, you’ll like it. A word of warning: A beloved cat is murdered in this story, so please take that into account if you decide to listen.
#2 – Alphas: Origins – Ilona Andrews
Narrated by Renee Raudman
By far my favorite story in the anthology, the fantasy world here is totally removed from both the Andrews Magic and Edge series and I found it just as unique and enveloping. It’s more complicated than just a parallel earth, but for the sake of brevity I’ll call it that. In a true Twilight Zone moment, Karina finds herself along with the kids she’s carpooling thrust into an odd, hostile world after taking a highway exit only she can see. Shepherding her small charges to a shady motel, a skanky woman suddenly attacks Karina, downing her with a savage bite. Gravely injured, Karina is vaguely aware that several large men rescue her and her daughter. Karina wakes up in another world where the angels who protect humanity against ancient enemies dwell – and there’s no escape. Her rescuer Lucas informs her (and not in a warm and fuzzy way) that she belongs to him. He must feed on her and she on him or die from the woman’s lethal bite. And, to boot, their enemies have found them and an apocalyptic battle is eminent. Sounds grim – and it is – but I was riveted by the storytelling and the unlikely romance topped off with Renee Raudman’s exciting, pitch perfect narration. I’d love more stories from Andrews set in this world.
#3 – Nocturne – Sharon Shinn
Narrated by Coleen Marlo
Time and place are hard to pin down if you’re not familiar with Shinn’s Samaria series (I am not), but the fantasy setting worked for me in this story about an embittered, reclusive angel who meets his nemesis and his savior in one young woman. Moriah is a cook in a school for misfits who wanders the countryside in her off hours. She discovers Corban hiding out in an isolated manor house on the property where he is recuperating from a serious accident. He’s recovered from most of his injuries, but blindness lingers and he won’t consider trying to fly again. Moriah has some magic of her own and makes it her mission to get her hunky angel back up in the clouds where he belongs.
Colleen Marlo’s narration of Nocturne is very good. Moriah is smart-alecky, confident, and bossy and all that comes through in spades. Marlo’s voice for Corban is low-pitched and sexy and his transition from washed-up and depressed to alpha angel is a fun listen. I’m interested in reading/listening to more of the Samaria series.
Editor’s note: The print version of Angels of Darkness includes Ascension by Meljean Brook. It is not included in the audio version.
Hissy Fit – Mary Kay Andrews
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Isabelle Keating
I tend to avoid abridged audiobooks. But every once in awhile I inadvertently order an abridged version. Hissy Fit was one of those inadvertent purchases and I came close to returning it. But needing something to listen to, I decided to give it a try and thank goodness I did! I can’t count the number of times I’ve listened to it over the past few years. It’s become an old friend and when I’m in need of a smile or a comfort listen, I can always pull it out.
At her rehearsal dinner Keeley Rae Murdock discovers her fiancée cheating on her with one of her bridesmaids. Keeley throws the proverbial hissy fit and lets everyone at the reception know what happened. Narrator Isabelle Keating faithfully expresses Keeley’s outrage over both the situation and the townspeople who urge her to excuse her fiancée. The initial scenes sparkle with a delightful mix of characters and voices.
Keeley doesn’t stop with her initial hissy fit. She goes back to her interior-decorating store, and during a night of heavy drinking, sets up a particularly amusing window display about her now ex-fiancée. Instead of siding with Keeley, most of the town leaders side with the ex, and stop sending their business to Keeley. In desperation, Keeley takes on a rush job. She agrees to decorate the antebellum mansion of the new owner of the local bra plant, Will Mahoney, or “bra boy” as Keeley calls him.
Keeley has a smart mouth and the narrator performs her character perfectly, imbuing her voice with all of the sarcasm Keeley frequently dishes out. Set in a small southern town, the book is peppered with quirky secondary characters and Ms. Keating gives each a unique voice. Admittedly some are given a bit of an annoying voice (in particular Keeley’s florist friend), but in real life some people do speak in such a manner.
Although Hissy Fit is categorized as romance, it has more of a women’s fiction feel to it. There is a HEA for Keeley but it doesn’t happen until the last moments. Much of the abridged version centers on Keeley’s relationship with her father and her search to discover what happened when her mother abandoned the family years earlier. Keeley and her father have a sweet relationship that is reflected not only in the dialog but also in the emotion the narrator gives it.
I read the print version before listening to the abridged audio and at this point I don’t remember what details from the book were skipped in the abridged version. However, the story works seamlessly for me in abridged format. Ms. Keating is so entertaining that I’ve never felt the urge to go back and figure out what I’m missing.
The Garden Intrigue – Lauren Willig
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Kate Reading
The Garden Intrigue is the ninth book in the wonderful Pink Carnation series. Willig has created a fantastic, almost hybrid genre in her parallel story world – part historical romance, part quasi chick-lit contemporary. Eloise is a modern-day Harvard grad student writing her dissertation on aristocratic spies during the Napoleonic era, and as she uncovers the diaries and papers of her subjects (think Scarlet Pimpernel), their stories unfold as well. Each book’s historical hero and heroine find their HEA, while Eloise continues to find clues as well as love and intrigue in the background of each book.
It helps to read the series from the beginning to truly appreciate Willig’s talent and to follow the various characters. The Garden Intrigue hero is none other than the flowery poet, Whittlesby, who has been spouting complete nonsense from the very beginning. His atrocious poems are meant to drive anyone trying to find state secrets in them to distraction, and apparently his plan has been working well for several years. In the best romance novel tradition, it will take the love and distraction of a good woman to knock the poor fellow off his axis, and the American in Paris, Emma, manages it quite nicely.
Although I’ve read reviews declaring that Willig makes a mockery of history and research in her novels, I’m pretty sure anyone who undertakes the Pink Carnation series will realize that she’s got her tongue firmly planted in her cheek while creating these two worlds. After all, the entire series is based on the presumption that the Scarlet Pimpernel was real and here’s a clue – he was also fiction. Willig takes it as far as possible, starting with the Pimpernel’s next-door neighbor, the Purple Gentian and moving on to the Pink Carnation, the Black Tulip – you get my drift. The author also includes historical notes at the end, a sort of “nyah nyah” to the naysayers.
Kate Reading’s narration is sheer perfection with this series, and she’s even better in The Garden Intrigue. She has to juggle two eras and three accents (French, British and American), as well as more alliteration than should be legal and twice that much in zany dialog, humorous situations, and clever prose! Her men are manly; her reading of Whittlesby’s awful poetry is fabulous; her ability to read Willig’s laugh-out-loud moments without breaking into giggles herself is incredible. Can you tell I’m loving this series?
If you need your historical characters to sound more like Jane Austen – well, this may not be your cuppa. If you are looking for clever plotting and sophisticated (and some not so) humor read by a brilliant narrator, treat yourself and start with the first book in the series, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
Worth Any Price – Lisa Kleypas
Review written by Kaetrin
Narrated by Susan Duerden
I have really enjoyed Lisa Kleypas’ contemporaries but don’t have much experience with her historicals even with her huge backlist. I’d heard good things about Ms. Duerden and when this one came up for review, I thought I’d give it a go. First published in print in 2003, Worth Any Price was only released on audio late last year and is the third in Kleypas’ Bow Street Runners series.
Nick Gentry is a Bow Street Runner with a dark past. After his sister married the Chief Magistrate, a deal was struck to save Nick from the gallows and he started using his powers for good. At the age of fourteen, he had been imprisoned on a hulk for some months and that experience has left an indelible mark on him. The book begins with Nick (in his early twenties) approaching a brothel to lose his virginity. He convinces the madam to take him on and they enjoy a long-term liaison.
Fast forward and Nick’s relationship with the madam has ended. He’s taken a special commission to find a runaway bride. Charlotte (Lottie) Howard disappeared two years before, fleeing from an unwanted marriage to evil Lord Radnor. It doesn’t take long for Nick to find Lottie and he is instantly smitten. Rather than send her back to Lord Radnor, Nick offers Lottie marriage. Lottie agrees, partly due to mutual attraction and greatly due to the fact that he’s not Lord Radnor. The balance of the book focuses on Nick coming to grips with his past, peril to Lottie from Lord Radnor, and the decision Nick faces regarding his original identity.
The narration is very good. I must say I was impressed that Ms. Duerden could even whisper in Nick’s accent (that actually struck me as something difficult to pull off). Her Nick voice is deep, not terribly toffy, and isn’t at all Cockney – which fit with Nick’s background and experience. He’s an aristocrat but he’s slightly rough and not terribly polite. However, as much as the narration was of excellent quality, I struggled to maintain my interest in the story. I’m not sure if this was due to the fact that the book is a little dated now (notwithstanding that it’s an historical) or some other reason I can’t identify, but I didn’t fall for Nick and, as a result, I found it hard going.
However, for Kleypas fans and for those who loved Worth Any Price when it came out in 2003, there is a lot to like in Duerden’s narration. Revisiting an old favorite in a new audio format might be just the ticket.
Sleepwalker – Karen Robards
Review written by Diana
Narrated by Kate Rudd
Karen Robards has written some of my favorite books and I count her as a favorite author. Sadly, those juicy books that stir my blood were written a long time ago.
Sleepwalker is romantic suspense that is lackluster in the romance department and short on suspense. It has elements of romantic comedy that aren’t all that comedic. I can think of dozens of contemporary books with cute bickering couples that are more entertaining. Nevertheless, we have Detroit detective Micayla Lange known as Mick Lange (which sounds amazingly close to the heroine’s name in Moning’s Fever series when read aloud) hooking up with professional thief Jason Davis when he bungles an attempted burglary where Mick is housesitting. The two go on the road together for an incredibly contrived reason where they bicker until they fall in love and then bicker some more. And while I’m talking about contrivances, police detective Mick is the last person on earth to figure out that her beloved Uncle Nicco is a mobster. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but the clues were so hard to miss that I assume most readers would have gotten it.
Narrator Kate Rudd is fine. She didn’t detract from Sleepwalker, nor did she enhance it. Honestly, it’s 24 hours later and I can’t remember much. You could say I sleepwalke through it.
Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel – Lorraine Heath
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Susan Ericksen with Antony Ferguson
Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel is a Victorian era romantic suspense with a “Twist” – Oliver Twist, that is. Lorraine Heath builds the hero from one of Fagin’s boys gone good. In fact, several of the scoundrels have gone good – Dodger, Fagin’s best thieving boy, among them (he has his own story earlier in the series). The hero renamed himself James Swindler and is now a detective with Scotland Yard, on the trail of a woman who has threatened to kill a lord.
Eleanor is out for revenge for her sister’s suicide. Elizabeth had come to London the previous season and was abused by the lord in question to the point that she couldn’t bear to live any longer. She left a diary behind outlining the sordid details. But there’s another twist that was a surprise for me, so no spoilers here. Let’s just say that James and Eleanor are both deceiving each other in the game of revenge and justice. It made for a fair amount of suspense for the last part of the book.
I actually prefer Heath’s American Western voice to her British nobility stories, but I went into this for Antony Ferguson’s voice. Here’s another twist I’ll share: he is listed as “with” because he narrates only the prologue and epilogue – and he performs them well. Susan Erickson narrates the entire story. She’s an A-list narrator with excellent skills, even though she isn’t among my personal top favorites. At times I couldn’t distinguish the hero’s voice from the heroine’s – Erickson doesn’t differentiate her pitch significantly nor does she clearly separate their personalities. But really, that’s a minor quibble in story narration, if the narrator keeps the story moving forward in an interesting way.
I recommend Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel if you’re in the mood for Victorian with a Twist.
I’m announcing news for the Speaking of Audiobooks column and other audio tidbits on Twitter – look for SpeakingofAudio.
For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.
Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we now have 210 members. It’s easy to join and it’s a great place for discussion in between our columns.
To find a full listing of all of our audiobook reviews since the beginning of our Speaking of Audiobooks column, go to our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads Mini-Review bookshelf. We presently have around 260 romance audiobook reviews.
Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley