s SongIt’s time to catch up on our 2011 Listening Challenge!  I became a little sidetracked with our interviews of production companies, authors, and narrators that have taken most of our column space this year.  As I take a look at those Challenge categories I’ve yet to tackle, I see that I only have two to go!  Here’s my progress to date:

Pick an audiobook that received a DIK grade at AAR in print format.

DONE – Ravished by Amanda Quick

The actual storyline rated no higher than a C for me which made the entire audiobook experience a letdown.

Listen to a book recommended in a previous Speaking of Audiobooks column (and following discussion).

DONE – Tough Customer by Sandra Brown

Great, great narration and story.  Complete success.

Listen to a new-to-you author.

DONE – Texas Princess by Jodi Thomas

The story kept my interest high but it had to be to keep me listening to the narrator.  Narrator brought it down to a C.

Listen to an abridged audiobook.

DONE – Heart of the West by Penelope Williamson

Not a success – too chopped up and actress Amy Brenneman’s narration didn’t help either.  I’ve had two abridged successes this year but this definitely wasn’t one.

Listen to an audiobook that has been languishing in your to-be-listened (TBL) pile.

DONE – Open Season by Linda Howard (unabridged)

Enjoyed.  After all, it is a Howard but it’s not a favorite.  This is a hard-to-find –I can’t even find a reference on Amazon.

Borrow a book from a friend or your library.

DONE – All the Queen’s Men by Linda Howard

Good experience, but it always ends too suddenly for me.  Another hard-to-find.

Listen to a new-to-you narrator.

DONE – Shannon Cochran narrating Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Complete success.  I hope to hear much more of Cochran’s work in the future.

Tempt yourself to find a series that grabs hold and won’t let go by listening to the first in a series.

DONE – Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

Such a success despite the fact that I have a hard time listening to all the gore.  I’m on Book 5, Magic Slays, right now and totally understanding why Kate and Curran received so many votes in our Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll!

Listen to another listener’s romance favorite.

DONE – The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

Charming and totally entertaining.  Looking forward to more in the series.

Listen to a romance sub-genre you usually avoid.

INCOMPLETE  I’ve chosen an inspirational title, Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers after reading Melinda’s recommendation.

Give a less-than-favorite narrator a second chance.

DONE – Anne Flosnik

A real success.  So glad I gave Ms. Flosnik another try, especially given the fact that she often narrates historical romances I loved in print.

Share in your listening – listen to a book someone else chooses for you.

INCOMPLETE

I’m still asking for suggestions!

So, what categories are you lacking to complete your Listening Challenge?  We still have ample time to listen to those missing categories in 2011!

The Lady of the Rivers2Romance Audiobooks on Sale in October

All unabridged versions unless otherwise indicated.  Includes new formats of existing audiobooks.

*Recorded Books releases – no further information available

Adler, Elizabeth – From Barcelona, With Love Narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

Anderson, Catherine – Comanche Magic Narrator unknown*

Barton, Beverly – Dead by Morning Narrated by Karen White

Bond, Stephanie – Baby, Come Home Narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Carr, Robyn – Bring Me Home for Christmas Narrator unknown*

Cole, Kresley – No Rest for the Wicked Narrator unknown*

Coulter, Catherine – Warrior’s Song Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Crusie, Jennifer – Getting Rid of Bradley Narrated by Elenna Stauffer

Feehan, Christine – The Twilight Before Christmas Narrated by Teri Clark Linden

Frank, Jacquelyn – Adam Narrated by Xe Sands

Frost, Jeaniene & Sands, Lynsay – The Bite Before Christmas Narrator unknown

Gregory, Philippa – The Lady of the Rivers Narrated by Bianca Amato

Guhrke, Laura Lee – Wedding of the Season Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Harrison, Thea – Serpent’s Kiss Narrated by Sophie Eastlake

Herron, Rachel – Wishes and Stitches Narrator unknown

James, Eloisa – When Beauty Tamed the Beast Narrator unknown

Johansen, Iris – Everlasting & Tender Savage – Narrated by Angela Boyce

Johansen, Iris – One Touch of Topaz Narrated by Angela Brazil

Kleypas, Lisa – Stranger in My Arms Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Kleypas, Lisa – Where Dreams Begin Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Krentz, Jayne Ann – Twist of Fate Narrated by Nellie Chalfant

Laurens, Stephanie – A Lady of Expectations Narrated by Elizabeth Jasicki

Macomber, Debbie – CD Collection 3: Mrs. Miracle, Call Me Mrs. Miracle Narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck

Macomber, Debbie – Courtship of Carol Summers Narrated by Angela Dawe

Macomber, Debbie – Father’s Day Narrated by Angela Dawe

Macomber, Debbie – Trading Christmas Narrated by Renee Raudman

McCarty, Sarah – Jace Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Miller, Linda Lael – A Lawman’s Christmas Narrator unknown*

Novak, Brenda – In Close Narrated by Angela Dawe

Palmer, Diana – Heartbreaker Narrated by Phil Gigante

Phillips, Carly – Serendipity Narrator unknown*

Roberts, Sheila – The Nine Lives of Christmas Narrator unknown

Small, Bertrice – Bond of Passion Narrator unknown*

Warren, Christine – Big Bad Wolf Narrated by Kate Reading

Warren, Christine – You’re So Vein Narrated by Kate Reading

Wiggs, Susan – The Goodbye Quilt Narrated by Tanya Eby

Woods, Sherryl – A Chesapeake Shores Christmas Narrated by Christina Traister

Dragon Bound2Romance Audio Reviews

Up for review today are Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound, Linda Howard’s Prey, Susan Mallery’s Only His, Sandra Brown’s Lethal, and Beverley Barton’s Dead by Midnight.

Dragon Bound – Thea Harrison

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Sophie Eastlake

To be honest, when I started Dragon Bound, I was a bit worried.  As the first in the Elder Races series, there’d been such buzz about it for months – would it live up to expectations?  I’m pleased to say it did, in spades!  Ms. Harrison introduces a new world in the Elder Races but there’s no info dump bogging it down.  Dragos Cuelebre (pronounced “Wella-bray”) is a dragon shapeshifter who is effectively the king of the Wyr and a member of the Elder Races.  Pia Giovanni is a halfling who’s been blackmailed by a sad excuse of an ex-boyfriend to steal something from the dragon’s hoard.  Uh-oh.

The story, while new and different, has a touch of the Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter and Dragos has a touch of  Curran (Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series) so fans of either will find their happy place in Dragon Bound.  Come to think of it, Pia has a touch of Kate Daniels as well.  I mean all that as a compliment by the way.

Pia is a loner for the most part, raised by her mother to always be careful and prepared to protect her secret heritage.  Not surprisingly, she longs for a home and a sense of belonging but she doesn’t expect to find it with Dragos Cuelebre.

Sophie Eastlake is a new-to-me narrator but I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of her in the future, as she does a great job here.  She totally nails Dragos’ regal arrogance.  He’s the boss (he’s been the boss like forever) and he’s always obeyed.  Enter Pia.  Cue fireworks.  They have an instant chemistry and it’s easy to hear as their interactions progress.

For Pia, Dragos learns new things.  One particular scene involving Dragos’ request for a zip-loc bag was funny, and no doubt improved, by the voice and tone Ms. Eastlake gave him.

In the past, we’ve discussed here at Speaking of Audiobooks Angela Dawe’s limited male characterizations for the Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series.  The same is true of Ms. Eastlake – she probably has only one or two “hero” voices.  You may not want to listen to the entire series back to back but that’s really my only complaint about Dragon Bound.  The story kept me engaged, made me laugh, and I can certainly see myself re-listening in the future.

Ms. Eastlake satisfactorily conveyed the sizzle between Pia and Dragos and the change in Dragos as he learns to cope with Pia and what she comes to mean to him.  And, while Dragos does change in the course of the book, he is, nevertheless, always a regal dragon – he’s just learned to say “please.” Sometimes.

Fortunately for us, Dragos has a number of Gryphon Sentinels who will make excellent heroes for future books.  I see that Tiago is featured in the second and Rune in the third.  I’m definitely looking forward to Graydon’s book too!  The Sentinels are part of my favorite non-romance scene as they sit around and watch soap operas with Pia – so much fun!

Dragon Bound (and the world of the Elder Races) is a wonderful addition to the paranormal genre and excellent in audio as well.  Highly recommended.

Prey – Linda Howard

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Abby Craden

The very title of the book lets the listener know that it is going to be a thriller from the start – but who will be prey and who predator?  Author Linda Howard is well known for her enormous backlist that includes laugh-out-loud comedy, edge-of-the-seat suspense, and seriously hot love scenes.  When she is good, she is incredible; even when she’s not as good, she out writes most other authors in the genre.

In Prey, Howard sets up a scenario that allows the listener into the minds of all the potential predators and one quickly realizes who and what they will prey on – just not how and when.  It’s a gritty, gruesome tale of man against nature, and man against man (and woman) that spares no grizzly detail.  What Howard failed to do for me was fulfill the promise of romantic.   There is a spunky, capable heroine and a big, gruff  hero, but the chemistry and the revelation just didn’t work for me.

Narrator Abby Craden manages to bring the story to life and give each character his own voice.  Her one oddity that kept it from being a hit for me was her pauses – her reading didn’t flow through complete thoughts but stopped, oddly and often, before finishing a sentence.  It was as if she needed a breath mid-sentence or wanted to emphasize the last consonant in a word before completing the paragraph.  I know I’m picky, but I’ve heard wonderful narrators who become the story so much that their voices are transparent.  All I’m aware of are the stories and the characters.  Not so here.

The suspense is top-notch and cringe-inducing; the narration good; the romance only so-so.

Only His – Susan Mallery

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Tanya Eby

Only His is the sixth book in Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series, a contemporary taking place in a small California town with an overpopulation of single women.  Denise Hendrix is the matriarch of a family that includes triplet girls, each of whom is the heroine in one of the series.  Nevada Hendrix is the last of the triplets to remain single.  In her line of work, engineering, she’s surrounded by men, but only one has held her heart for the last 10 years – Tucker Janack.  Now Tucker is in town managing a large construction site in the area and looking to hire a local engineer.

The story is well matched with narrator Tanya Eby.  Eby distinguishes her characters’ voices and keeps the story moving forward without any distractions.  Mallery’s dialogue sometimes sounds contrived and I found myself often thinking “No one actually talks like that” but Eby managed it.

There are the usual conflicts such as several characters adamantly rejecting love because of something that happened years before.  And there are some awkward moments.  Tucker is Nevada’s boss and they agreed to overlook their long ago one-night stand, yet they have wild monkey sex in the construction trailer.

A lot of real estate is devoted to secondary romances that don’t enhance the main couple’s story.  When artist Caterina is introduced as another, slightly comical conflict, her character quickly becomes more and more unbelievable and had me wanting to use the fast forward button.

I hesitate to reach any conclusion other than Mallery’s writing doesn’t really appeal to me, yet Eby did a good job with the story.  For Mallery fans, it wraps up several earlier plots, marrying off the triplets, and bringing love to many of the other characters as well.

Lethal – Sandra Brown

Review written by Diana

Narrated by Victor Slezak

Sandra Brown specializes in the wronged, seemingly villainous hero who strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of everyone but that one special woman, and she sure has a knack for torturously testing his heroism until justice prevails.  In Lethal, deep undercover FBI agent (c’mon, you didn’t really believe he was a mass murderer) Lee Coburn is about to discover the identity of a particularly nasty criminal mastermind known as The Bookkeeper when all hell breaks loose.  Coburn is set up as the shooter when seven people are executed by the Bookkeepers’ minions.  He flees straight into a Louisiana swamp, to be found lying muddy and blood-smeared in the yard of widow Honor Gillette by her four-year old daughter Emily.

Coburn strong-arms Honor inside at gun point and demands to search her house.  At first Honor fears the worst; that she and Emily will be victimized by a brutal stranger.  Grudgingly, Coburn promises Honor that he won’t harm her or her daughter if she’ll help him find evidence against the Bookkeeper that he believes Honor’s late police officer husband had collected and hidden.  Honor is torn when Coburn alleges that the local police are dirty, enmeshed in collusion and cover-up.  Coburn convinces Honor that going underground with him is her only chance to survive and to prove her late husband’s innocence.  And thus begins the thriller part of this most excellent thriller.

Brown weaves a complex mystery with a large cast of characters, villains, and possible villains thick on the ground.  I wasn’t sure who was good or a player in the conspiracy for most of the book and, dang, she got me again with a diabolical twist that I did not see coming.  I confess that I didn’t correctly guess the Bookkeeper’s identity, although on a second listen I realized that the clues were there.

Victor Slezak reading Sandra Brown epitomizes my idea of a perfect audiobook.  He gets the cranky, I-don’t-need-no-love outlier with a secret, mushy center exactly right. Thank you, Victor, for simply reading women’s dialogue, never doing that falsetto, breathy thing that so many male narrators are guilty of.  An absolutely delightful bonus is Slezak’s voicing of chatty, precocious four-year old Emily, who shamelessly flirts with our perplexed hero.  Yes!  He pulled it off!  100 bonus points for that alone.

Oh, and the epilogue?  It’s perfect.  Just perfect.

Dead by Midnight – Beverly Barton

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Karen White

Released by Blackstone Audio

Lorie Hammonds tried to live a quiet life in her hometown after a failed acting career that included a disastrous XXX film.  Even though a decade has passed, there are ongoing protests against her from the town citizens.  Still, she wasn’t prepared for death threats by mail – threats that the other actors in the film were also receiving and, each month, one of them was murdered at midnight.

Sheriff Mike Birkett would rather not get involved with Lorie again after she broke his heart and ran off to Hollywood 17 years ago.  Mike, now a widower with two children, swore he’d hate her forever.  But now he has to protect her from a serial killer.

Dead by Midnight is an old-fashioned murder mystery with that romantic trope we all love –Hollywood actress returns to her small hometown where her ex is now the sheriff.  There are a slew of characters including each actor in the XXX film, their families, and all the law enforcement folks.  In fact, when the killer was finally outed, I wasn’t really sure who it was.  There were so many suspects, as well as the actors (all with stage names), private detectives, deputies, and FBI.

Although I generally like narrator Karen White, after a while I began to hone in on her monotonous vocal pattern that grated on my nerves.  Was it just because I was having a hard time keeping track?  Or because I was starting to suspect there was an underlying message from the author about “porno” that was distracting me?  I just couldn’t buy into the idea that what Lorie did deserved the way her parents, the sheriff, and, indeed, the entire town treated her.

Time for Your Thoughts

Please share with us your 2011 Listening Challenge update.  How many categories do you lack or have you completed your challenge?

What new releases are you looking forward to?

Do you know of a new romance release that didn’t make the list?

Have you listened to one of today’s review books?  What were your thoughts?

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

Ending Notes

If you didn’t notice in the new releases, Laura Lee Guhrke is coming to audio!  Her Abandoned at the Altar trilogy, is being released in October, November, and December by Tantor.  Let’s hope we see many of her older titles follow suit!

I noticed Susan Duerden is back narrating two more of Lisa Kleypas’ backlist, namely Lady Sophia’s Lover (a favorite) and Worth Any Price.  I’m hoping for more!  How about Someone to Watch Over Me – another of the Bow Street series?  Please!

I’m announcing news for the Speaking of Audiobooks column and other audio tidbits on Twitter – look for SpeakingofAudio (formerly LeaAAR).

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 148 members.  It’s easy to join and it’s a great place for discussion in between our columns.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley