It’s time for another All Reviews column here at Speaking of Audiobooks. Eight audiobooks are up for review including Laura Kinsale’s The Prince of Midnight (no link yet for the audio), Rachel Gibson’s Simply Irresistible, Julie James’ Love Irresistibly, Julie Garwood’s Prince Charming, Cynthia Eden’s Die for Me, J.D. Robb’s Calculated in Death, Jeaniene Frost’s Twice Tempted, and Sophie Kinsella’s Wedding Night.
The Prince of Midnight – Laura Kinsale
Narrated by Nicholas Boulton
Review written by Lea Hensley
It’s finally here. Romance listeners have eagerly awaited The Prince of Midnight, the first audio release from Laura Kinsale’s fascinating backlist. Earlier this year, Ms. Kinsale announced that her entire backlist (twelve titles) would be released in audio during 2013 and into 2014 and now we have a taste of Kinsale’s skillful writing combined with Nicholas Boulton’s talented performance. It’s sheer audio perfection.
Once a famous highwayman, S.T. Maitland is now a recluse hiding in the ruins of a castle, a painter with stacks of half-finished canvases. He’s lost his hearing in one ear and can no longer swing a sword or ride a horse without losing his balance. He’s not an unhappy man – just one dealing with life the best way he can with a wolf as his only companion.
Lady Leigh Strachan has traveled to France looking for the highwayman she is sure can help her learn to fight and take vengeance on those who have wronged her family. Finding S.T., she is both appalled and greatly disappointed when she realizes the ruined man before her is incapable of teaching her anything – or so she believes. All S.T. sees in her is another damsel in distress seeking help like a thousand others.
A longtime audiobook enthusiast, Ms. Kinsale spent a great deal of time choosing Nicholas Boulton as narrator of all her titles, and what a fine choice she made! With his consistent delivery of her characters, he keeps the listener totally engaged. His understanding of those characters’ motivations and the storyline provides listeners with the full depth of Kinsale’s writing that has her books still making readers’ favorites lists decades after their original release.
In print, S.T. seemed foolish at times, and it was difficult to sympathize with Leigh and her hateful treatment of him. In audio format, those challenges disappeared when Boulton fleshed out their characters and made me care more about them. I realized I had missed significant cues in print that affected my reading enjoyment, cues that his narration made clear. It’s what we audio enthusiasts love to see – an average print read turned into an outstanding audio experience.
Flowers from the Storm and Midsummer Moon are slated for audio release in late June/early July. A whole new generation is about to discover the wonder that is Laura Kinsale’s writing. Romance listeners, old and new, are in for such a treat.
Editor’s note: As of the writing of this column, The Prince of Midnight had yet to be released at Audible.com. It is expected any day.
Simply Irresistible – Rachel Gibson
Narrated by Kathleen Early
Review written by LinnieGayl
Simply Irresistible is far and away one of my favorite contemporary romances and will appear near the top of my AAR Top 100 Romance ballot this coming October. Ellen gave this 1998 release a B at AAR when it first came out, but it’s a DIK for me. It’s been on my list of “wished for” audiobooks for years so I was ecstatic when it was released in audio and begged Lea to let me review it. Unfortunately, my feelings about the audio version are mixed, perhaps flavored by my love of this book in print and some unrealistic expectations for the audio.
I was okay with the narration for the introductory chapters in which Georgeanne ditches her wealthy fiancé at the altar and meets up with star hockey player John “The Wall” Kowalsky. While Ms. Early doesn’t differentiate too much between characters, I was never confused as to which character was speaking. Her voices aren’t in any way over-the-top which could have been a problem as well. Native southerner Georgie has just a touch of a southern accent. And most of the men sound just slightly different than the women, enough to distinguish between characters, but not remotely masculine.
But once I reached my favorite part, in which Georgie’s marvelously funny six-year-old daughter Lexie first appears, I was crushed. This was what I had been waiting for. I wanted to laugh out loud at the scene in which John plays Barbies with Lexie. I wanted to giggle hysterically when John caves in and buys Lexi the puppy she names Little Pongo. Neither of
these happened. Instead of sounding like the adorable six-year-old of my imagination, Lexie frequently sounds more like a pouty teenager. No! This is my favorite part of the book and it simply did not live up to my wishes.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’ve waited so very long to hear this book in audio and the narration simply isn’t what I expected or wanted. Ms. Early isn’t awful. Her voice is pleasant enough and her pacing is good. I just wanted so much more from this.
Narrated by Karen White
Review written by Kaetrin
As the Assistant US Attorney in charge of prosecuting Twitter terrorist Kyle Rhodes, (hero of About That Night), Cade Morgan could have been a somewhat unsympathetic hero. But, Ms. James cleverly redeemed Cade by the end of the previous book, paving the way for readers to get all swoony over Mr. Morgan’s 6’4” of muscular yum without any conflict of interest (a little legal pun for you [insert groan here]). Cade was a rising football star, who sustained a career ending injury after throwing the winning pass in the Rose Bowl. So if he’s not being remembered for his involvement in the Twitter terrorist case, he’s being remembered for his football fame – a bittersweet (mostly bitter) memory for Cade.
When Cade needs a little help getting evidence on a dirty state senator, he approaches Brooke Parker, General Counsel for Sterling, a restaurant/food services company. Sterling’s flagship restaurant is the site of a meeting between the dirty senator and a hospital CEO and the FBI/US Attorney’s office wants to bug the table to listen in on their incriminating conversation.
This puts Brooke squarely in Cade’s sights. There are instant sparks – mostly traded in the form of sarcastic quips, but it’s not long before Brooke and Cade are trading more than that. The pair have both had a poor run with relationships – apparently Brooke is not a “big picture girl”, too devoted to her career to give enough time to a partner, and Cade is “emotionally unavailable.” They joke that they could go their entire relationship without saying anything meaningful at all. Nevertheless, what starts as a casual deal gradually deepens until they are both blindsided by the strength of their feelings.
I found myself entertained but not wowed by Love Irresistibly, although I must say I feel I’m very much the outlier on this. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I don’t, in any way, share Brooke’s career drive – I’ve never been an “all work and no play” girl. As much as I do work hard and am successful in my career, I’ve always been big on work/life balance so I found relating to Brooke a little hard. Brooke doesn’t have very many female friends unfortunately and the book felt a little light on female characters overall.
That said, the banter between Cade and Brooke is fun and Karen White delivers the zing of their attraction. This is also possibly the most sensual of Ms. James’ books and this gives Ms. White extra opportunities to break out the sexy. The voice given to Zach, a teenager who is in Cade’s life, is authentic and many of the other male voices are well differentiated, even if they’re not terribly deep. I have been critical in the past of some extra pauses I thought Ms. White added to her narrations at times but I’m pleased to say I didn’t notice it so much with this performance.
The best part of Love Irresistibly was the repartee between the various characters. Brooke’s best friend is Ford and his guy posse consists of Charlie and Tucker. The way these dudes relate to one another is a lot of fun and Ms. White, again, delivers. Same too with FBI agents Roberts and Huxley (the “FBI Odd Couple”) and Cade. The genuine friendship, even disguised (as in the case of the latter group) as trash-talk, is evident in the performance and that’s not just the words on the page. It was also nice to have a brief catch up with Rylann (About That Night) and Cameron (Something About You). Jack Pallas – even when he’s not directly on the page, is still a scene-stealer.
With its satisfying ending, I think many listeners will love Love Irresistibly.
Prince Charming – Julie Garwood
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Reviewed by Carrie
Prince Charming is a rather long, and at times rambling, story about a young English woman, Taylor, who agrees to a marriage of convenience to keep her and her sisters’ children safe from a wicked uncle. The marriage is to an American, Lucas, who in turn agrees to the deal so he can buy his younger half-brother from the oldest half-brother, who is also wicked. The older wicked half-brother turns out to be Taylor’s ex-fiancé. Taylor doesn’t tell Lucas about “the babies” she intends to pick up in Boston, and Lucas doesn’t tell Taylor about his past. They are off to a great start full of misunderstandings that are all too typical in romances.
Actually, Prince Charming begins quite well. Taylor is lively and entertaining while Lucas has a certain brooding charm. Their conversations are somewhat frustrating but often entertaining. By the time they hit the shores of the New World, however, Lucas and Taylor were having the same conversations over and over, and the plot, with the addition of pregnant Victoria and Lucas’ friend, Hunter, starts to get weighed down with too many side-stories. Garwood’s writing is wordy and overly dramatic, making me feel that with some strategic editing, the book could be an hour or two shorter and much improved.
While the growth of the romance is enjoyable on one level, the miscommunications are frequent and tedious. Any time Lucas or Taylor says they “need to talk,” it is a certainty that they will be sidetracked by sex, or at least foreplay, and the important conversations never happen. Unfortunately, communication isn’t any better in the secondary romance. Why couldn’t Victoria have just told Hunter she was pregnant and that’s why she felt sick all the time instead of letting him think she disliked him?
It’s helpful that Rosalyn Landor’s narration of the book is consistently good. Prince Charming has more than its quota of characters and Ms. Landor keeps them all straight. Her male voices are quite good, not gruff or rough or old-sounding except where warranted. She also did a fine job with the children, which is a challenge for any narrator.
Speaking of children, the plot-moppets are way too cutesy for me, but then I generally don’t enjoy children in my romances. It doesn’t help that the twins are constantly called “the babies” and “my babies” by Taylor both in her speech and when she thinks of them.
My personal opinions aside, there are many good reasons listeners may enjoy this book. For one, Ms. Landor is an excellent narrator, and she brings the characters to life. Plus Taylor has many fine qualities as a heroine and her naiveté about life in Montana makes for several funny scenes. Lastly, many listeners will enjoy the strong themes of love and loyalty, duty, honor, and self-sacrifice in Prince Charming. Listeners who enjoy historical romances, especially with an American backdrop, and who enjoy Garwood’s writing style will enjoy this one as well.
Die for Me – Cynthia Eden
Narrated by Emily Beresford
Review written by Kaetrin
Katherine Cole fled Boston three years ago following the discovery that her then-fiancé, Michael O’Rourke, was the Valentine’s Killer. She walked in on him with the body of his latest victim. Michael, or Valentine as she thinks of him, disappeared. Now in New Orleans, she knows Valentine has found her when the body of a reporter is discovered with a distinctive number of knife wounds on her arms, stabbed in the heart, and clutching a red rose. She goes to the police to tell them what she knows and meets Detective Dane Black. We know Dane is our hero because a) his name is Dane and b) his is the only touch Katherine can bear in the three years since she discovered she was sleeping with a serial killer. Dane and Katherine fall almost instantly in love and they, together with various other members of the NOPD, try and track down Valentine and move into their HEA.
I had some concerns about the descriptions of some of the police procedures, which seemed to serve the plot but I’m not sure were grounded in reality. I’m finding, as I’m getting older, that the world building in romantic suspense is becoming more and more problematic for me. Because it is set in our world, it needs to conform to our rules and when it doesn’t, I don’t buy the argument. Perhaps it’s my (kind of) legal background and I may be more sensitive to these things than others. There were some plot holes too, which caused the occasional eye roll and, while I’m not an expert, I don’t think the Witness Protection Program is used in the manner the book suggests (at least, I hope not).
The narration was very strong. I have the feeling I’ve heard Emily Beresford narrate before under a different name, but I could be wrong on that. The male voices were (mostly) well done (occasionally, there was some gender-slippage) and the accents were, I felt, authentic (although, Dane did sound kind of slow). The female characterizations were also varied, which I always enjoy. The killer is certainly twisted and Ms. Beresford injects some chilling sociopathy into her depiction of him.
Ms. Beresford did a good job with average material. The story was only okay for me – a kind of run-of-the-mill and over the top romantic suspense, but it was elevated somewhat by the narration.
Calculated in Death – J.D. Robb
Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Review written by LinnieGayl
I haven’t listened to all of the In Death books. I’ve discovered that the more gruesome, serial killer books with sections told from the killer’s POV just don’t work for me in audio. Fortunately this is more a police procedural, and I enjoyed the audio version a great deal. I’m in agreement with Maggie’s AAR review of this 36th entry in the series and with the grade of B. It’s not my favorite in the series, but I enjoyed visiting with Eve, Roarke, and the rest of the crew again. As Maggie noted, what makes the series a joy is, “the subtle continued character growth, excellent pacing, and revisiting of a world both familiar and loved.” I can make much the same comment about Ms. Ericksen’s narration. She has the characters down pat. We know that Eve, Roarke, Peabody, Mavis, and all the rest will sound the same from book to book. And thanks to Ms. Ericksen, how they sound is perfectly appropriate for their characters and emotions.
It’s been said before but bears repeating: this is not the place to start the series. If you haven’t read the series, start with the first, Naked in Death. The storyline of this book has direct links to several in the past, as everyone prepares for the premier of the movie (Celebrity in Death) that tells the story of the Icove case (Origin in Death). More important than the plot connections is the character development that occurs over the 36 books. I particularly enjoyed the numerous conversations between Peabody and Eve in this book; their relationship has changed so much over time. Peabody is now free to be cranky and sarcastic with Eve, things she never would have been when her character was first introduced. And Ms. Ericksen brings these conversations to life, giving just the right tones of playfulness and sarcasm to Peabody’s voice.
In addition to getting reacquainted with the primary characters, I had a new experience this time. I’ve primarily read the series in print, and only recently began listening in audio. While I understand that Eve doesn’t like dressing up, and really doesn’t like having people fuss with her hair and makeup, I’ve never fully understood her fear of Trina, the makeup/hair specialist Eve’s friends frequently shanghai her into seeing. The minute Ms. Ericksen spoke as Trina, I understood. She gave Trina a low, gravely, somewhat scary voice; I would be afraid of Trina too.
Will I listen to the next installment in audio? That will depend on the story itself, and not the narrator. Ms. Ericksen is the voice of the In Death series for me. When I read the more gruesome entries in print, I instantly imagine Ms. Ericksen’s voice. She’s just that good.
Narrated by Tavia Gilbert
Review written by Kaetrin
Warning: mild spoilers for Once Burned
I love Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series and last year, I was very happy to listen to Once Burned (the first entry in the Night Prince trilogy) and get to know Vlad a little better. I liked Leila very much and enjoyed the dynamic of the couple together. When we left them at the end of that first book, Leila and Vlad were happy together but trouble was foreshadowed because Vlad had told Leila he was unable to love.
In Twice Tempted, Vlad’s emotional connection to Leila (or the lack thereof) is the main internal conflict. As is so often the case in the violent Night Huntress world, someone is trying to kill Leila, which creates the external conflict but also ramps up the emotional quotient.
After seeing the courtship in Once Burned, it was with some disappointment that I discovered that Leila and Vlad spend a fair bit of time in this book apart or at odds – I much prefer them fighting the “bad guys” and working out their relationship hiccups together. The best parts of Twice Tempted are those with Leila and Vlad together but that is generally my preference in any romance.
Since Twice Tempted is the second in the Night Prince trilogy, the HEA is not complete and the threat to Vlad and Leila not entirely dealt with either. But the book ends with positive progress toward both as well as some other big changes (my lips are sealed).
The narration is very good. Tavia Gilbert has been narrating Vlad for a long time and the part, in particular, when he says, “I am Vlad the Impaler… I am NOT that man!” (when he’s trying to get Leila to see she’s in love with a fantasy not the real man) was delivered so very powerfully. It feels a bit strange writing that, when I consider that it is a paranormal romance about the original Dracula, but within the confines of the book, the world is real and I felt Vlad’s anger and frustration as he tried to get through to Leila. Ms. Gilbert gives us those emotions as if the book’s world was real and that makes all the difference. As usual, the production quality of the audiobook was excellent and the character differentiation very good – from vampires Shrapnel and Maximus, to the cameo appearances of Cat and Mencheres, not to mention the main characters.
While I think Once Burned was a stronger book, Twice Tempted certainly had its highs, and there is even a chapter which rivals the infamous “chapter 32” featuring Cat and Bones – and when Vlad scorches the sheets, he’s not kidding around.
Wedding Night – Sophie Kinsella
Narrated by Jayne Entwhistle, Fiona Hardingham, and Mark Bramhall
Review written by LinnieGayl
Sophie Kinsella is a hit-or-miss author for me and this story is a miss. I enjoyed her last book, I’ve Got Your Number, a great deal and wrote at the AAR news blog about my excitement at discovering that Jayne Entwhistle was the narrator. While Ms. Entwhistle narrates parts of The Wedding Night, she’s one of three narrators and I had problems with the tag-team narration.
The story is divided into sections told from the point-of-view of two sisters ,Lottie (narrated by Jayne Entwhistle) and Fliss (narrated by Fiona Hardingham). Lottie is the younger, flightier sister with a long history of making bad decisions after breaking up with men. The opening sequence is hysterical featuring a restaurant scene in which Lottie decides her current lover is going to propose. He doesn’t and within a matter of days of breaking up with her ex-lover, Lottie meets up with Ben, her lover from a teenage summer on a Greek island. Knowing nothing about each other as adults, Lottie and Ben decide to marry and honeymoon on the Greek island where they met. Ms. Entwhistle does a great job capturing Lottie’s spirit and flightiness in Lottie’s sections.
Fliss is Lottie’s older, controlling, supposedly more sensible sister. I say supposedly because Fliss does some truly incredible things over the course of the book. Fliss is opposed to Lottie’s marriage to Ben. Fliss meets up with Ben’s best friend, Lorcan, and they are both determined to stop the wedding. Fliss and Lorcan have sex the night they meet after drinking a lot of alcohol. While Ms. Hardingham’s voice is pleasant, the first chapter told from Fliss’ POV was disconcerting. When we’re in a Fliss chapter, Lottie’s voice sounds quite different than in Lottie’s chapters. While Lottie seems funny in her chapters, she comes across as completely flaky in Fliss’ chapters, and at times sounds whiny, weepy, and idiotic.
Much of Wedding Night focuses on Fliss’ efforts to make certain that Ben and Lottie don’t have sex on their honeymoon so their marriage can be annulled. At first it was amusing, but eventually some of the things Fliss does seem dangerous and potentially criminal.
The third narrator is the voice of Arthur, a very minor character who owns the hotel on the Island where Ben and Lottie first met. Arthur starts the story and makes an appearance about 10 hours in. By that point he has so little time on page that the introduction of another narrator seems gimmicky. I continue to like Jayne Entwhistle as a narrator and also like Ms. Hardingham. But I truly didn’t like this story; ultimately I didn’t care for either sister.
Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles of interest.
For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.
Our affiliated Goodreads group, Romance Audiobooks, continues to grow and now has 513 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.
Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley