It’s all reviews again today here at Speaking of Audiobooks. We are featuring eight romance audiobooks including Contemporary, Romantic Suspense, Paranormal, and European Historical. Up for review are Lisa Kleypas’ Prince of Dreams, Jayne Ann Krentz’s Wizard, Kelly Armstrong’s Spell Bound, Cynthia Eden’s Deadly Heat, Kristina Douglas’ Demon, Iris Johansen’s Blue Velvet, Christine Warren’s The Demon You Know, and Cindy Proctor-King’s Head Over Heels.
Prince of Dreams– Lisa Kleypas
Review written by Lea Hensley
Narrated by Susan Duerden
As I listened to Prince of Dreams, I heard the theme song from Doctor Zhivago, Somewhere My Love, playing in my head. I can’t quite grasp why I long for a Russian historical romance when one can’t easily ignore the misery associated with that country’s history. But there you have it. I love even a hint of a Russian historical and Prince of Dreams provides that and much more while the bulk of the story is set in Victorian England.
Although I had read all but two of Lisa Kleypas’ backlist, this was one that remained in the unread column. Even the thought of the leads enduring a significant separation is enough to make me walk away but to discover that said separation is in the form of a dream with lovers reuniting – well, that’s just not my usual style. But I had a force driving me to listen and that was narrator Susan Duerden. Kleypas’ backlist is slowly being released in audio with Rosalyn Landor at the narrator’s helm. For some reason, Duerden was chosen to narrate both Prince of Dreams and Midnight Angel and I welcomed the break in narration with a great sigh of relief. Landor’s interpretation of Kleypas’ heroes has yet to work for me and I’ve been longing for another Kleypas narrator. Thank goodness Susan Duerden was the choice. I totally fell for the world Kleypas creates in Prince of Dreams and it was made all the better by Ms. Duerden’s fantastic narration.
Written in 1995, Prince of Dreams would break some of those politically correct romance rules we have hanging around our necks if released today. Don’t expect a nice sweet romance (although it is rather sweet for the last quarter) or an alpha hero who changes his personality once he learns about love. Hero Nikolas Angelovsky is an exiled Russian prince and he is as dark and brooding as they come. He’s been waiting for Emma Stokehurst to come of marriageable age and just why he’s so interested in such an unlikely woman is all part of the tale.
Performing both English and Russian characters effectively, Duerden clearly differentiates all characters with flair and her narrative has a lively quality. The men sound totally male and there is no doubting the female roles either. I found myself lost in the story without once being distracted by some inconsistency in the narration. Along with Nikolas and Emma, the listener wonders about the confusing feeling of love and angst surrounding the couple. It’s like talking about a fully fleshed out character but instead the listener experiences a fully fleshed out narration especially during Nikolas’ dream. There’s a lot to understand about Nikolas and Duerden comprehends that the listener must find reason to forgive him. A word of advice here – don’t skip the dream scene.
Although Prince of Dreams is the sequel to Midnight Angel, it works well as a stand-alone. However, if you are going to listen to both, I suggest you do so in order. I’m planning on listening to Midnight Angel soon but beyond that, I don’t know if there are many Kleypas historical audios in my future. I see that Landor is scheduled to narrate the next three releases. I can only cross my fingers and hope that by the time Lady Sophia’s Lover and Worth Any Price are released later this year that Duerden will be back on board.
Wizard – Jayne Ann Krentz
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Renee Raudman
Wizard starts out light and humorous. Sophia Athena Bennett is out on a duty date with professor Maximillian Travers because he is a friend of her parents (all of them being genius mathematicians). Sophia makes it clear to Max that she is only interested in cowboys not wizards/geniuses, no matter what her parents want for her.
Renee Raudman is perfect in bringing out all the best in this story – the humor, the bantering, attitudes, and emotions. Too perfect when it came to the section of the story where Max loses his easygoing way for a turn at domineering caveman. You want to get in there and personally take him down a peg or two!
Raudman was so good at the jerk quotient that I literally winced while listening. Fortunately Max’s attitude problem mellowed out before long and he redeemed himself nicely. On the positive side, Sophia was never a doormat – she gave as good as she got in their interactions. The chip she has on her shoulder about geniuses becomes annoying, though.
The age of Wizard shows, from the clothing descriptions (too funny,) the physical restraint Max tries, the slap Sophia gives him, the overbearing hero section, and basic cheesiness. With all that said, if you’re willing to drift back in time, to the series romance style of the mid 1980s, let Renee Raudman bring it alive for you. She makes this blast from the past a fun listen with her amazing skills, if you’re prepared.
Spell Bound by Kelley Armstrong
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Johanna Parker
After turning off the MP3 player in confusion, I just discovered that Spell Bound is Book 12 in the Women of the Otherworld series. So much for my research! That fully explains why I spent so much time wondering who in the heck all these characters were (not that you can’t read it as a stand-alone) but I would not suggest attempting it. I was lost about half the time and the ending was a cliffhanger.
It’s urban fantasy with just a hint of romance intimated once or twice. And it’s present day with supernaturals living among us mere mortal humans and we don’t know it. Savannah Levine is a spell-caster AKA witch who has just lost her powers. Although she has powerful ancestry, Savannah has to tough it out with a cast of Otherworld characters to both search out her powers as well as a search for the leader of a supernatural cult. None of these plot lines are resolved when the book concludes.
Narrator Johanna Parker is truly an A-lister who audiobook enthusiasts may recognize as the voice of Sookie Stackhouse. Told in first person, it has a full-house-cast of characters of all abilities and ages and Ms. Parker puts life into all of them as they race across the country, rescuing Savannah from whatever impulsive action she’s taken that has put her in harm’s way. Johanna Parker has the mark of a great narrator – she’s not only consistent with her character delivery, but she acts the story in a believable and transparent way that puts you in the seat next to Savannah wherever she is.
Deadly Heat – Cynthia Eden
Review written by Diana
Narrated by Justine Eyre
As someone who came to romance through the door marked Romantic Suspense, I’m predisposed to love a firefighter and an FBI agent on the trail of a murdering arsonist. Despite the presence of such characters, my niggles with the book started very (very!) early, rapidly growing into festering pustules of disbelief and dread that it was going to get worse. It did.
Charlottesville, Virginia firefighter Lora Spade, cavalierly disregarding protocol, takes it upon herself to call in the FBI because she alone knows there is a serial arsonist at work in her town. The FBI, inexplicably, responds with blinding speed (as if the president had called), sending top brass and crack agent Kenton Lake and team in to save the day. Lora and Kent fall into instant lust and indulge in sexual fantasies at the most amazingly inopportune moments (trapped in a burning building and over the crispy corpse of a victim on the autopsy table). Nothing stops these two lovebirds from their mental lusting. Within hours of their first meeting they lay it all out in a conversation that goes something like this, “You’re hot and I want to f**k you.” That pretty much sets the tone for the romance part of the program.
A smarmy, defensive character is introduced early on. Since there were no other viable candidates for villain, I deduced that he was it. That pretty much set the tone for the mystery part of the program.
I wish I could say that narrator Justine Eyre made an unpalatable story better, but I can’t. She rasps and whispers in a melodramatic style that just sounds actress-y and overwrought to my ear. The story was silly enough and her overacting made it even sillier.
I require a lot more realism in my mysteries and romantic suspense than I found in Deadly Heat. These characters’ actions define unprofessionalism and I couldn’t buy into it even one little bit.
Demon – Kristina Douglas
Review written by Kaetrin
Narrated by Karen White and Paul Costanzo
POSSIBLE SERIES SPOILERS
Demon is book 2 of the Fallen series (following Raziel). Demon picks up five years later when Azazel locates “the Lillith” (aka Rachel, who has no memory of Lillith), a demon who according to folklore, kills babies and seduces men when she’s not having sex with beasts. He’s been watching her for two years and plans on killing her. Prophecy states that Azazel will marry the Lillith and rule Hell and bear a new generation of Fallen. Azazel wants to make sure the prophecy fails.
I didn’t like it. The narration was fine. My problems were with the story’s content. I found myself throughout the listen asking “why?” Why did Rachel’s hair change color? Why did Azazel come back for her after he’d left her to the Nephilim? Why did Rachel still want him after his awful betrayal with the Truthtakers? Also, I asked, “what?” What is Rachel? I never figured it out. And I never got the connection between Azazel and Rachel – the why of their relationship. In the end Azazel needed to atone for a lot and it didn’t happen.
The majority of Demon is told from Rachel’s perspective and although Karen White’s narration was very good, it wasn’t enough to elevate the problems I had with the story. Paul Costanzo’s performance was okay – a little better than in Raziel – although Azazel was described as “cold” for most of the book, so a certain lack of emotionality was to be expected.
Blue Velvet – Iris Johansen
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Renee Raudman
How does an Iris Johansen series romance from 1985 make it as a 2011 audiobook release? Well if Linda Howard’s Midnight Rainbow, Diamond Bay, Duncan’s Bride, etc. are still considered keepers by you then Blue Velvet holds up as well. Add in the enjoyment of Renee Raudman’s narrating skills and it was a hit for me. Raudman brought what I love most about her narration abilities; flawless timing, the correct amount of feeling and an excellent portrayal of characters.
Being a Raudman fan does have its drawbacks though – a narrator only has so many voices. I was mentally bounced around as the story got off the ground between hero Beau Lantry’s southern accent and a heroine named Kate. My mind kept imposing Ilona Andrews’ characters from her Magic series into the listen. It was hard to tune out the mental pictures that kept flashing by but I was eventually successful. It helped that the genre was completely different.
Beau, a wealthy, jaded man, is island hopping in the Caribbean with his sailboat crew when he encounters Kate Gilbert; a very resourceful young woman who wins his admiration with her determination to help others no matter the cost, then paying her debts without question. Each of our protagonists have a loyal friend at their side which is good because there is plenty of action as they dodge a foiled drug dealer that wants revenge. The heat level is surprising considering the age of this book and we get a great “Tough Miss Innocent knocks Mr. Seen It All for a loop” romance to wrap it up. All the elements needed for a quick enjoyable listen.
The Demon You Know– Christine Warren
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Kate Reading
The Demon You Know is the third entry into Christine Warren’s The Others Series. The first two were hits for me but this one? Well, there are some hilarious moments as well as a lot of fun scenes featuring the rest of the cast. But the heroine, Abby Baker, is the queen of TSTL.
Kate Reading’s narration saved this one for me. She’s so good with the multitude of voices – voices that stay true to the characters across the series. Her ability to catch each little tidbit of humor or personality kept me listening despite the heroine. The hero, Rule, sounded a bit ponderous at times but it worked.
The premise of a woman raised with strong religious ties falling for the demon guarding her (after becoming possessed by a different demon) had a lot of potential, but Abby’s whining got in the way despite the much needed slap down she received. Christine Warren does Abby a disservice by continually describing her as plain and mousy. Is that supposed to matter to us since Rule is built and handsome?
The eventful happenings and jaunts on the side kept the book moving and the introduction of Abby’s brother, Noah, added a nice twist. The lecherous young demon that is hiding out in Abby is a crack-up when he pipes in with his thoughts.
Kate Reading’s ability to bring these characters alive in such an entertaining manner makes The Demon You Know well worth my time. My advice – tune out the heroine and enjoy everything else that happens as the series progresses.
Head Over Heels – Cindy Proctor-King
Review written by Lea Hensley
Narrated by Karen White
While listening to Head Over Heels, I kept thinking that it felt like a script for a romance comedy movie rather than a book and, unfortunately, that is not a plus in my mind. Its content can barely support its 6-7 hours and it is definitely light, if not mindless, entertainment.
Magee Sinclair is desperate to prove she’s not the screw up she appears to be at her father’s ad agency and tells only the smallest of lies to one of her clients to retain his business. How will biking store owner Justin Kane ever know that she really can’t mountain bike? Well, it seems that Justin needs a stand-in for his former girlfriend over the next few days to mountain bike with him and some important business contacts. And Magee can’t be Magee – she must be Justin’s former girlfriend in disguise. As you can guess, two lies don’t make a right and overused romance clichés abound even in this unusual setting.
I chose Head Over Heels for one reason – narrator Karen White. I’ve enjoyed her work in the past and consider her a talented narrator. As expected, her performance of the various characters added enjoyment and was more than adequate, especially Justin and the British couple who are along for the mountain biking adventure. However, I became bored with the narrative (of which there is plenty) and finally determined that it was part book content and part lack of variation in reading – both in volume and the use of pauses (there were few). I kept hoping for the end.
One thing that definitely did capture my attention though was the “heroine licking her lips” scenario and she licks her lips, bites her lips, and sucks her lips before starting all over again. Yes, it’s a romance pet peeve.
Why didn’t Head Over Heels work for me? I can’t really place my finger on any one thing. It was rather a little of this and a little of that than ultimately made the whole a failure.
Time for Your Thoughts
Have you listened to any of these books? If so, what are your thoughts?
Is one of these books a personal favorite?
What are your recent additions to your audio library?
And, as always, do you have any audio successes or failures to share?
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I’ll be back with you soon with September’s New Releases.
Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley