Anna FieldsOur first Speaking of Audiobooks column carried the subtitle, It’s All About the Narrator and was a general discussion of romance audiobooks.  It also provided us an opportunity to start sharing with each other, from one column to the next, those narrators that do (and don’t) work for us since we, as audiobook enthusiasts, know with great certainty that the narrator holds the power to make or break an audiobook.

This is our twentieth Speaking of Audiobooks column which means we now have nineteen discussions to look back on and survey trends in narrator recommendations.  Who are the most recommended romance audiobook narrators?  Well, I decided to not guess or rely on my memory for such a topic and started combing through our previous discussions and recorded each Favorable Mention of a narrator.  And what, you may rightly ask, qualifies as a Favorable Mention?  It can’t be along the lines of  “The narrator did a good job.”  No “goods” are included in this tally.  A Favorable Mention means that a narrator is someone’s favorite or, as is often the case, is signified with comments such as “I love this narrator.”  If I saw a narrator’s performance described with words such as excellent, outstanding, and wonderful, those also made the Favorable Mention list.  These are the narrators who, in the eyes of our listeners, did more than just a good job.

Tallying up Favorable Mentions and delivering them for your perusal is an unscientific process.  There are no ballots tallied here – no favorites list for you to mark your choice.  This is merely a listing of the number of times a narrator has received that Favorable Mention but even that is open for interpretation and not an exact process.  Please keep in mind that this is a list of Favorable Mentions from one column to the next with no record of who made the statement.  Therefore if one of our listeners has stated three times in separate columns over the last ten months that she “loved Johanna Parker”, then it’s been tallied three times.

Here’s our list of favorite narrators based on your Favorable Mentions here at Speaking of Audiobooks as well as a few book recommendations for each:

1. Anna Fields

With 71 Favorable Mentions, Ms. Fields easily comes in at number one and is best known by romance audiobook fans for her narration of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books (sixteen to be exact).  Most who have listened to one of these gems agrees that the pairing of Phillips and Fields is one of the best, if not the best, romance audiobook teams.  It’s often said that the strength of Anna Field’s performance can transform an average book into an above average listening experience.   Therefore, can you imagine an A graded book narrated by a grade A narrator?  Yes, success only begins to describe it!

Also known as Kate Fleming, Ms. Fields died unexpectedly in 2006 at the age of 41.  During a flash flood, her Seattle home was knocked from its foundation and she became trapped in her basement studio.  Having once told a friend “I was born to read books out loud”, Anna Fields was a star in the world of audiobooks.  Known as an accomplished actress who preferred a darkened sound booth to a brightly lit stage, Ms. Fields could convincingly portray a young child, a grumpy old man, a strong heroine, and a most sexy hero all in one scene with nary a change in pace or a noticeable indrawn breath.

Although there are many favorite Phillips/Fields audiobooks, a few easy recommendations come to mind: Match Me If You Can, Heaven Texas, It Had to Be You or Lady Be Good.

2. Davina Porter

With 54 Favorable Mentions, Davina Porter is often referred to as the best of the best by many of our listeners.  In November 2009, an entire Speaking of Audiobooks column was dedicated to the remarkable teaming of Diana Gabaldon and Davina Porter for the Outlander audiobook series.  To quote the opening words of that column:

“The audiobook standard of excellence in my opinion is undoubtedly the unabridged version of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series as told by narrator Davina Porter.”

A founding narrator of Recorded Books, Ms. Porter has narrated over 100 books and won the 2006 Audie Award for Best Female Narrator with A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon.  With her Scots heritage (English father and Scottish mother) as well as the fact that she is married to a Scot, she knows how to deliver those Scottish accents and can effectively perform numerous dialects in one scene – and often all men.  Describing Ms. Porter’s voice isn’t an easy task since there is so much to praise.  It’s completely soothing to the ear, cultivated, engaging, and basically “right on” for any character.  You may want to take a look at Audiofile’s close-up look at this truly talented narrator or watch this live interview at Outlandish Observations of Ms. Porter and her husband.

The Outlander audiobook series can often be found at your local library or, if you’re looking to buy your own copy, Audible has the first four in the series at an affordable cost and they are (in order): Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn.

Phil Gigante3. Phil Gigante

Researching Phil Gigante was downright fun since there’s a lot to find – much of it hilarious!  With 28 Favorable Mentions, Gigante has narrated over 70 audiobooks and won the Audie Award in 2009 for Karen Marie Moning’s The Dark Highlander.  Those familiar with this column know of my love for this narrator – his voice is unbelievably sexy, especially when narrating Moning’s Highlander series.

Ms. Moning interviewed Gigante in 2009 and, if you’re a big Gigante fan, I strongly suggest you read the entire interview at her website.  But I just had to include a few excerpts for our enjoyment here and now!

KMM: If my Highlanders were your first foray into the genre – I’ve shared my skepticism about a man narrating my books – how did you you feel about taking on the job?

PG: Honestly… sort of the same as you. A bit skeptical. Sorry! But as a guy, when you hear, “This girl goes back in time and meets this big Scots dude with a big Scots, uh, castle. Then they fall for each other, but they don’t admit it, and in the end they do. Oh, and there’s Fairies.” Well. I thought, at least I get to do some Scottish voices. In fact, it was I that assigned the handle “Kilt Lifters” to the genre (as opposed to “bodice rippers”). But then I read it. And To Tame…, and I thought, “OK, I was really wrong. There’s so much more here.” The depth of the story, the fully realized characters… They had heartfelt love, hot sex, complex plots and were so very, very funny! The humor and real characters really sold me, and I’m glad to say I was a pig-headed brute proven wrong. BTW, we still call them Kilt Lifters, but with genuine affection!

Moning also includes a couple of recorded hilarious outtakes but my very favorites are the ring tones.  Yes, ten downloadable ring tones of the most memorable moments in the Highlander series.  So go have some fun listening if you want to hear a Highlander hero, Gigante style, say such things as the phrase below each time your phone rings:

“Ahh – this bloody contraption is ringing again.  Lass, make it stop so I can tup you as you’ve not been tupped before.”

Need I say more?  My favorite of Gigante’s narrations is Moning’s  Kiss of the Highlander, and, although it is the fifth in the series, it works well as a stand-alone.  Recently Gigante recorded Linda Howard’s Dream Man and it has been very well received as well.

4. Susan Ericksen

Susan Ericksen started narrating audiobooks in the 1980s for a fledgling audiobook publisher, Brilliance.  Coming from a literary family, Ms. Ericksen’s father was a Dickens scholar and her family read aloud around the campfire.  An extensive interview of Ms. Ericksen can be found at Audiofile’s website.

With more than 200 audiobooks to her credit, Susan Ericksen continues to thrill romance readers with, among other things, her narration of J D Robb’s In Death series and it was our listeners’ love of that series that brought in most of her 21 Favorable Mentions.  For those wanting to try Erickson’s narration, Naked in Death, is the first in the In Death series.  There’s also Linda Howard’s Dying to Please or, for loads of laughs, try Jennifer Crusie’s Anyone But You.

5. Barbara Rosenblat

With one of the most beautiful voices in the world of audiobooks, Barbara Rosenblat has narrated more than 400 audiobooks and won six of the coveted Audie Awards – more than any other female narrator.    The impressive range of subject matter that Ms. Rosenblat continually undertakes in a consistently successful manner caused one critic to remark “Barbara is to audiobooks what Meryl Streep is to film.”  Her narration of Judith Ivory’s Beast and The Indiscretion produced the majority of her 20 Favorable Mentions.

6. Simon Prebble

A British born performer, Simon Prebble is a veteran narrator of some 350 audiobooks who now lives in New York.  In my eyes, he’s almost as dreamy as Phil Gigante and, yes, I do admit Prebble is better with the female voices!  I encourage you to visit his impressive website where I found this Prebble quote I just had to share:

“Audio book narration is like artistic gold since it allows me to daily exercise my craft.  Whilst I’m a conduit for the author’s words, I am also an interpreter of them.  Through my voice, I get to make creative choices – rapidly and constantly – as the narrative progresses.  As if placed just behind the listener’s ears, and yet putting the story in the foreground, the medium enables me to communicate vocally what one’s imagination sees.”

A few of the reasons for his 19 Favorable Mentions are these romance favorites: Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens, Secrets of Surrender by Madeline Hunter, and It’s In His Kiss by Julia Quinn.

7. Natalie Ross

Primarily earning her 13 Favorable Mentions for her narration of Linda Howard books, Ms. Ross has narrated Christina Dodd’s last three releases as well.  Her performances of Linda Howard’s Son of the Morning and Kill and Tell were first rate to say the least and makes me look forward even more to another Ross narration, the upcoming release of Linda Howard’s After the Night (May 29).  While her interpretation of the western hero in Howard’s The Touch of Fire was a real disappointment for me, I agree with others that Ms. Ross is a highly talented narrator.  Another one to check out – Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning.

8. Joyce Bean

It seems that Joyce Bean is seen all around romance audiobook land so it should be no surprise that she received 12 Favorable Mentions.  With her distinctive voice and multiple narrations for authors such as Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Wiggs, Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, and Karen Robards, Joyce Bean has narrated a few of my favorites as well including Linda Howard’s Death Angel and Cry No More.  Other listener favorites are Nora Roberts Angels Fall, and Jayne Ann Krentz’s Dawn in Eclipse Bay.

dead-until-dark-cover9. Johanna Parker

With 11 Favorable Mentions, Johanna Parker is best known for her delightful narration of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse aka Southern Vampire series.  If you’re interested in exploring this series, Dead Until Dark is the place to start.  All nine Sookie Stackhouse books are affordably available over at Audible.  For you fans of True Blood, this is where it started.

10. Kate Reading

As a narrator, Kate Reading doesn’t major in romance but our listeners tell us she does an exceptional job performing five of the six books in the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig and therefore earned 10 Favorable Mentions.  The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is the first of the series if you’re inspired to start listening.  Another note of interest – do any of you recall listening to Katherine Sutcliffe’s Whitehorse from 2001?  It’s an old favorite of mine and that’s Kate Reading you’re hearing.

Since a number of other outstanding narrators had a significant number of Favorable Mentions as well, I found I could not stop with a mere Top Ten list.

11. Jenny Sterlin – 9 Favorable Mentions

Beyond a Wicked Kiss by Jo Goodman, The Wedding Night by Linda Needham, and Winter Fire by Jo Beverley.

12. Lorilie King – 7 Favorable Mentions

Hot Stuff and Full House – both Janet Evanovich

13. Four narrators tied with 6 Favorable Mentions each:

Virginia LeishmanPrivate Arrangements and Delicious – both by Sherry Thomas, The Marriage Contract by Cathy Maxwell and Let Me Be the One by Jo Goodman.

Phyllida Nash – Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion or A Civil Contract.

Victor Slezak – Sandra Brown’s Envy or Play Dirty.

Jill Tanner – Jo Goodman’s Tempting Torment, Madeline Hunter’s Lessons of Desire or An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverly.

14.Three narrators tied with five Favorable Mentions each:

Dennis Boutsikaris – Linda Howard’s MacKenzie’s Pleasure or MacKenzie’s Mission.

CJ Critt – Janet Evanovich’s Lover Overboard or Manhunt.

Rosalyn Landor – Lisa Kleypas’s Mine Till Midnight or Julie Garwood’s The Bride

Time for Your Thoughts

Who is your favorite narrator of romance audiobooks?  Is there a specific title by this narrator you can share with us?

Do you have recommendations for audiobooks by any one of these narrators?

What qualifies a narrator as a favorite in your eyes?

And as always, do you have any recent audiobook success of failure to share with us?

Big News

In romance audiobook land, this is, I promise you – BIG NEWS.  I just discovered that Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas is scheduled for audio release on December 1, 2010!

I’ll be back later this month to discuss new romance audiobook releases for April.

– Lea Hensley