s ConsortOh yes, we’ve definitely started 2011 with a bang!

Our 2011 Listening Challenge is up and running and, as far as I can tell from comments and emails, we have at least twenty committed to the challenge!  I’m certain there are more participating quietly or still making up their mind about joining in.  Remember that you can start at any time and, for easy reference, we’ll have the basics of the 2011 Listening Challenge here throughout the year.

Our Fever Watch Party has inspired many to join in the fun of listening to Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series with the release of the final in the series, Shadowfever, last week.  Our interview with Phil Gigante gave us a look into the production of audiobooks and I don’t know if any of us who read Phil’s comments will ever listen to his books in the same manner again!  Below, you’ll find a mini review of Shadowfever.

Now to continue the Fever Series party, we are giving away two Shadowfever audiobooks in CD format. The same rules apply as in our recent Fever Series giveaway.  Enter your name in the contest by commenting on this column by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, January 30th. We ask that you specify in your post that you are entering the contest since we want our posts to include our regular Speaking of Audiobooks discussion posts as well.  Due to the cost of postage, the giveaway is open only to listeners in the U.S. and Canada.  You will be entered only once if you make multiple comments (and we hope you will) and if you review for another Web site or blog, please refrain from entering.  Two winners will be notified by email on Monday morning, January 31st, and will have 24 hours to respond.  Another winner will be selected on Tuesday morning if a winner has not responded.

You may have noticed our Romance Audiobook Message Board lurking out there over at AAR’s main site.  We’re taking care of some navigation issues and will announce it formally once all is in place.

Next up?  A group listen!  Please share with us an audiobook you think would make a good group listen.  It doesn’t have to be a new audiobook – it can be an older title.  So far we have tackled Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series as group listens.  Maybe we can choose something a little simpler this time!

Leftovers from January

Here are just a few of those surprise audiobooks that failed to make last month’s new releases column.

Adrian, Lara – Shades of Midnight Narrated by Hillary Huber

Arthur, Keri – Deadly Desire Narrated by Angela Dawe

Arthur, Keri – Embraced by Darkness Narrated by Angela Dawe

Brown, Sandra – Love Beyond Reason Narrated by Renee Raudman

Deveraux, Jude – Days of Gold Narrated by Davina Porter

Deveraux, Jude – Mountain Laurel Narrated by Richard Ferrone

Hart, Megan – Precious and Fragile Things Narrated by Laura Fortgang

Williams, Dee – Hopes and Dreams Narrated by Kim Hicks

Audiobook Romances on Sale in February

Includes new formats of existing audiobooks

Abridged

Brown, Sandra – Exclusive Narrated by Tanya Eby

Brown, Sandra – Tempest in Eden Narrated by Renee Raudman

Robb, J.D. – Strangers in Death Narrated by Susan Ericksen

A Discovery of WitchesUnabridged

Brown, Sandra – Tempest in Eden Narrated by Renee Raudman

Gerritsen, Tess – Presumed Guilty Narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck

Harkness, Deborah – A Discovery of Witches Narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Jeffries, Sabrina – Don’t Bargain With the Devil Narrated by Justine Eyre

Kleypas, Lisa – Because You’re Mine Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Kleypas, Lisa – Somewhere I’ll Find You Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Laurens, Stephanie – Four in Hand Narrated by Ashford MacNab

Palmer, Diana – Lord of the Desert Narrated by Amy Kaechele

Robb, J.D. – Treachery in Death Narrated by Susan Ericksen

Roberts, Nora – In Dreams Narrated by Justine Eyre

Singh, Nalini – Archangel’s Consort Narrated by Justine Eyre

Recent Listens

We’re now featuring an occasional mini-review written by a fellow Speaking of Audiobooks listener.  Thanks to Melinda for her contributions today.

Shadowfever – Karen Marie Moning

Narrated by Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante

A warning – reviewing Shadowfever equals series spoilers. Although I have attempted to keep those spoilers slight and to a minimum, you’ll find a few here.

This final book in the Fever Series totally captivated, thrilled, and surprised me to the very end.  At first, I was wary of committing myself to a series with no guarantee of a satisfying romantic ending.  Let me say – it definitely satisfied!  With so many twists and turns I rarely found myself bored with this 20 hour tale.  My one criticism is the amount of time spent in Mac’s head – at times it seemed excessive.  But I found that paying attention to all those many thoughts made the story all the richer.  As a romance diehard, I relished the romance I had longed for.  The chemistry between the leads is strong and the emotional impact of their romance is even stronger.

Natalie Ross narrates the majority of Shadowfever and excels at it.  Ross didn’t join the Fever Series until the fourth book, Dreamfever, and I had become quite fond of Joyce Bean’s portrayal of Mac in those earlier audios.  Adjusting to Ms. Ross’ performance of Mac in Dreamfever required a little extra concentration but that was due more to the fact that Mac sounded different.  Ross hits her stride in Shadowfever and I’m becoming more of a Ross admirer with each of her performances.  Phil Gigante performs the male roles with panache and perfection.

I highly recommend this entire audio series.  I don’t think I’ve ever had such a fast paced, keep-you-guessing, gratifying ride.

– Lea Hensley

Let Sleeping Rogues LieLet Sleeping Rogues Lie – Sabrina Jeffries

Narrated by Justine Eyre

Anthony, a rakehell of the highest level, has to mend his roguish ways when his older brother dies, leaving Anthony the family title and his daughter an orphan.  Anthony vows to do anything to gain guardianship of his young niece – even teach “rakehell” lessons at a girls’ school!  Our lovely, bluestocking heroine, Madeline, is a teacher at said school.  Forced into employment after her physician father was run out of their village in disgrace, Madeline uses the excuse of being a naturalist to deceive Anthony and involve him in her schemes to help her father and, in return, agrees to let him try to seduce her.  If you follow carefully, you find there is a connection between Anthony and Madeline that only she is aware of.  It’s convoluted and requires great listening skills and a few small leaps of faith.

Narrator Justine Eyre has a wonderfully crisp upper-crust British accent that suits Regency very well. I could easily imagine the characters when she gave them voice, from Anthony’s fellow profligates to the wicked uncle and all the characters in between, including housekeepers and footmen. She does make a rather ho-hum story more entertaining than merely reading it. Still, I wouldn’t elevate her to favorite narrator status, possibly because of that stiff-upper-lip accent that somehow makes me feel as if all the characters are somewhat formal, cold, and controlling.

There were some unique situations in the story – nitrous oxide parties and railing religious zealots among them – but I still had a hard time believing a scientifically-curious bluestocking interested in human behavior would be so easily and quickly led to ruin, even in a rather stock Regency plot.

Narration B+

–  Melinda

Thigh High by Christina Dodd

Narrated by Natalie Ross

When Jeremiah “Mac” MacNaught goes undercover in New Orleans for the bank he owns, he’s got a major lust-on for his bank’s employee Nessa Dahl but he’s also convinced she’s behind the annual Mardi Gras robberies, something he finds detestable. Nessa is working hard to help her eccentric great-aunts get out of debt, which is hard to do when her immediate boss is almost as difficult to work for as the bank’s owner.  She’s assisting Mac (in disguise as the insurance inspector) in solving the robberies.

I rate narrator Natalie Ross a cut above run-of-the-mill, and her southern accents are generally good. I really enjoyed her narration of a Linda Howard favorite, After the Night, also set in Louisiana. She articulates Thigh High’s characters with age and gender-appropriate voices, even if I do have a quibble with some pronunciations and out-of-place or overdone local accents (I lived in south Louisiana).  But these aren’t just characters, they are Characters.  That being said, when a narrator is faced with the aunts from Arsenic and Old Lace, how else could she go about creating them in audio?

Christina Dodd is a new-to-me author and I wondered if her style in writing this Romantic Suspense was intended to be beyond-quirky comedy, or more like Linda Howard, whose realistically drawn characters are often in extremely humorous situations. I did laugh out loud a few times, but generally, the story veered sharply away from realism with the antics of heroine Nessa’s aunts.  Was it comedy or tragedy?  Suspense or allegory? Even after it was over, I couldn’t make up my mind.  But the combination of intermittent humor with stock characters, love scenes that seemed without sufficient motivation, and a creepy villain not associated with any of the ongoing conflicts had me confused and kept this story from rising above a C for story.

Narration: B

– Melinda

Time for Your Thoughts

What new releases are you looking forward to?

Do you know of any February releases that failed to make this list?

Do you have a Listening Challenge update to share with us?

Do you have a recommendation for a group listen?

What are the latest additions to your audio library?

And, as always, what are your latest audio successes or failures?

Ending Notes

Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we’re finding a lot to talk about.  Come join us as and share your audiobook shelf with us.

I’m announcing new romance audiobook releases and other audio tidbits on Twitter. Look for LeaAAR.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

I’ll be back again in early February.

– Lea Hensley