Today we’re delivering to you yet another column containing all reviews. I’m hoping to feature such a column every month to provide you with even more romance audio reviews. We’ll still have reviews in most of our other columns so continue to watch there as well. We have seven today that cover multiple romance sub-genres including Paranormal, Contemporary, European Historical, and Urban Fantasy. Up for review are Rachel Gibson’s Any Man of Mine, Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast, Christine Warren’s Wolf at the Door, Jacquelyn Frank’s Jacob, Ilona Andrews’ Magic Slays, Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time, and Anne Stuart’s Breathless.
Any Man of Mine – Rachel Gibson
Review written by Lea AAR
Narrated by Kathe Mazur
When I saw the latest Gibson in audio, I didn’t even check the narrator. I just purchased, downloaded, and started listening. That’s how much I love Gibson. She’s more than worth an impulse buy and rearranging my schedule for immediate gratification. Ms. Gibson returns to the Chinooks hockey team in Any Man of Mine and features defensive player Sam LeClaire and Autumn, the mother of his child. Five years ago, Sam and Autumn married in Las Vegas after a few days acquaintance only for Autumn to find herself alone the following morning. The next time she hears from Sam is through his attorney with divorce papers. Months later when Autumn notifies him that he has a son, Sam requires a paternity test. Since that time, Sam hasn’t been what you could call an ideal part time father and Autumn has worked furiously to build a successful business while being a fairly ideal mother in the process. Yeah, Sam has a lot to pay for and Autumn has a lot to forgive. So much so that I wondered about a believable HEA for much of the book.
As I turned to write about the narration, I felt like I was going down a checklist trying to figure out why it didn’t work all that well for me. Kathe Mazur’s narration, on the whole, is underplayed without much change in inflection – I had to pay close attention or I tended to drift off. She effectively differentiates her characters’ voices although the change to the narrative is hard to detect at times. She seems to understand the romance and the delivery of her lines is well timed. Ms. Mazur’s clear voice continually drifts into a gravelly tone before lifting again which, quite frankly, irritated me. However, I’m finding reviewing Ms. Mazur’s performance much like writing a C review. There’s not a lot of negative to say nor is there a lot to praise. It’s just sort of – there.
Although I had my doubts about that HEA, I enjoyed Any Man of Mine and know I’ll read it again someday. Her character driven romances are just my thing and her men sooo sound like men. But will I return in audio? The jury is still out on that one.
To Beguile a Beast– Elizabeth Hoyt
Review written by Lea AAR
Narrated by Anne Flosnik
A DIK for me in print, I found To Beguile a Beast a perfect Beauty and the Beast story. Alistair suffers from horrifying wounds – he was tortured while traveling as a civilian naturalist with an English regiment in New England. He now lives an isolated life, writing as he explores the natural environment surrounding his rundown castle. Helen is a determined, yet gentle, woman with two children trying to run from her past. She believes Alistair’s lonely castle will be her safe haven even if he doesn’t want her there.
I absolutely adored the richly developed romance within To Beguile a Beast – here’s an excerpt from my AAR review:
“My enjoyment of a book is often gauged by the number of re-readable passages – appealing dialogue between the leads that I must experience again either with a smile on my face or a bit of a dropped jaw – and these episodes are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. Alistair’s internal dialogue is almost as delectable as that with Helen – he is a kindhearted man beneath his beastly façade and a bit of wicked humor often shines through his seemingly ill-tempered nature.
Alistair is the star of the book, although Helen is a very attractive supporting heroine. Both his dedication to his dog and his interaction with Jamie and Abigail provide many touching moments.”
Narrator Anne Flosnik was my choice for the Narrator You Learned to Like category in our recent Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll. Ms. Flosnik narrates big name historical romances. I’ve listened to seven of her narrations and each time I’ve admired her beautiful portrayal of the female characters as well as her general narrative. However, her interpretation of the male characters has frustrated me at times with sluggish voices and a monotone that makes a hero sound uncaring (e.g. Elizabeth Lowell’s Untamed 2008). But I’ve noticed a gradual change in Flosnik’s portrayals of her male characters since what looks to be her first days of narrating romance in 2008. I found her male characterizations improved in Mary Balogh’s First Comes Marriage (2009) and the audio was an overall success for me. And in late 2010 when I discovered that To Beguile a Beast was to be narrated by Flosnik, I just had a feeling she would get Alistair right and she did – perfectly. Alistair is a caring hero and never did I doubt that in audio even beneath his gruff façade. A portion of my deep affection for Alistair can be attributed to his sense of humor and Flosnik understands its importance and plays it to the hilt. Helen’s children carry significant roles as well and the children sound like children.
Distinctive voices, well executed timing, characterizations, and an understanding of Ms. Hoyt’s touching romance make To Beguile a Beast an A in audio as well as print. Well done, Ms. Flosnik.
Wolf at the Door– Christine Warren
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Kate Reading
I’d describe Wolf at the Door as a big roasted marshmallow. There’s nothing to really sink your teeth into – just some fluff and some heat. If I were reading this book I would have been bored more than once but listening is another story. Kate Reading is a wonderfully talented narrator and she gave the book exactly what it needed to keep me listening and laughing. There’s a whole potpourri of accents to enjoy plus she catches the personalities and attitudes of each character and portrays them perfectly.
Wolf at the Door is the first in The Others series. Basically, any being that is not human is an Other. Sullivan Quinn has come from Ireland to New York with a contingent of Europeans to convince the American Others that it’s time to reveal themselves to the Human Faction before an enemy does. Cassidy Poe, the granddaughter of one of the American Council members, is called upon because of her expertise in cultural anthropology. Cassidy and Quinn are assigned to work together to discover if there really is a need to “unveil” to the Humans. Quinn is all for the unveiling. Cassidy is not.
Kate Reading supplied me with several laugh out loud moments with this typical fated-to-be-mated story from 2006. She also added the creep factor to the villains when it came time. Fans of MaryJanice Davidson’s Queen Betsy or Molly Harper’s Jane Jamison will enjoy the same type of light fare here. Just as with those two authors, Christine Warren has received the bonus of a gifted narrator – one who transforms the audio experience into an even better ride than the print.
Jacob – Jacquelyn Frank
Review written by Diana
Narrated by Xe Sands
If you’ve ever read a paranormal romance starring ye olde fated mates, you know what’s on the checklist. Let’s just get this out of the way.
Hero: A demon (the good kind) living in a compound with his bros protecting humans against the supernatural forces of evil. Jacob is The Enforcer, charged with the prevention of consorting between demons and humans because simply terrible, apocalyptic things will happen if such a mating occurs. I was never really sure why, but what’s important is that he’s an A+ paranormal hero with all the bells and whistles.
Heroine: Isabella (aka Bella, Little Flower) is a bit problematic, but a familiar native in romancelandia. She’s “kittenish,” pixieish,” feisty, fearless, and (with maddening frequency) bites her bottom lip. Oh, and she’s a virgin and a librarian.
But enough of that because it’s all about the narration! Xe Sands takes material I wish had been more worthy of her talent and turns in a bravura performance. Bella sounds like the feisty kitten-turned-warrior she’s intended to be, but who cares when Jacob sounds like a smoldering hunka burnin’ love. Jacob and his demon posse (and future heroes of their own books) all have distinct voices and different accents, evidence of Sands’ thoughtful preparation. There were times when I thought I was listening to a multi-cast production. Yes, she is that good. If you can silence your inner book critic (hey, it’s a demon romance), there’s a stellar performance and great fun to be had in this audiobook. I’m going to listen to it again and be first in line for the next one. I loved it.
Magic Slays – Ilona Andrews
Review written by Kaetrin
Narrated by Renee Raudman
Magic Slays is Book 5 in Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. I highly recommend the entire series but it should be read/listened to in order to get maximum enjoyment and understanding (Book 1 is Magic Bites).
SERIES SPOILERS FOLLOW
Ghastek has asked for Kate’s help in corralling a loose vampire. Her friend, Andrea, is in despair because the Order has discovered her BeastKin status and she has been “retired”. Kate offers her a job with Cutting Edge and the two are soon hired by the Red Guard to locate a missing person along with the magical item of great power he has invented. That’s when things get really busy.
The extremely powerful invention has been stolen by a terrorist group and all of Atlanta is threatened. As with all Kate Daniels books, the plot is multi-faceted with a number of side stories in development. Kate hears disturbing news about her mother which makes her question her relationship with Curran. And then there is the drama surrounding Julie.
Renee Raudman is one of my favorite narrators. She adds something special to this series – I really love her growly Curran voice and she delivers Kate’s snarky humor exactly right. In Magic Slays, I noticed a couple of occasions where Curran speaks but Kate’s voice is used (or vice versa) which proved to be a bit distracting and disappointing. It happens occasionally in many audiobooks, but I don’t recall it being an issue in previous books of this series. The big battle at the end is complicated and although I had read the print version before listening, I was still confused as to which ward was where and I didn’t have a clear picture of the site in my head. However, at other times, events were clearer to me in audio than print such as the magic Kate wields at the very end. Other favorite audio scenes include Kate doling out Pack Justice (excellent and funny!) and, of course, Kate putting her question out there to Curran (oh so good!). As much as I enjoyed these parts of the book on paper they were just that much better on audio, thanks to Raudman’s excellent narration.
By book’s end, Kate and Curran are continuing to work out their HEA and (I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this) they’ve saved Atlanta from a devastating threat. But, the battle with Roland is looming and Raphael and Andrea are still on the outs so there is plenty to look forward to in the next installment.
Maybe This Time – Jennifer Crusie
Review written by Kaetrin
Narrated by Angela Dawe
Well, it’s true. Just because a narrator is only okay performing one book doesn’t mean you can’t have an excellent experience with different material. Case in point – Angela Dawe. I have enjoyed her narrations of Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series so far but for me, they haven’t been stellar. Not so with Maybe This Time, Jenny Crusie’s latest release. Set in 1992, Andi goes to an actual castle as a temporary nanny to two young children who are North’s wards. Did I mention that North and Andi used to be married? Now she’s about to become engaged although she still has feelings for North and North has never gotten over her.
While at the castle, Andi’s goal is to look after the children and convince them to move out. But there are ghosts working against her and one of those ghosts has a crush on North. Add one medium, one sceptic, two children, and a nymphette reporter out to get the dirt on North’s family. Now mix in other random family members and stir. The result is a funny romantic paranormal farce in trademark Crusie style.
Maybe This Time was made for Dawe’s narration skills. She basically only has one voice for her heroes but that’s not really an issue in a stand-alone novel as opposed to a series. Dawe gets to show her talents for cranky old women, crotchety older men, a highly strung older lady, and hippie/earth mother types and their children. And she does them very well. More importantly, she got the snap and sizzle of the dialogue and the unique Jenny Crusie zing of the story. I would have enjoyed this on paper but Dawe’s narration added something special and I’m sure made the experience even more enjoyable.
Breathless – Anne Stuart
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Miranda Rohan, Regency debutant granddaughter to the hero and heroine in Ruthless, House of Rohan Book One, decides to have a little wicked fun before doing her familial duty by marrying. She is instead caught in the web of the notorious Scorpion, Lucien de Malheur, and ruined. She actually finds great freedom in ruination since she is wealthy anyway and can stop playing the games of the ton. When she eventually meets Lucien in person, she is entranced, not realizing that she escaped the original fate he planned for her. Lucien is attempting yet again to wreak revenge of the House of Rohan and this time it involves his seduction of Miranda and worse.
Ericksen is a well-known narrator, possibly most famous for her reading of the J.D. Robb In Death series. Although I liked Ericksen’s timing and characters in Ruthless, I had issues with Breathless. There is a large difference in volume and sound level in every sentence, as though she needed a wind cover for her microphone, especially on words with a hard exhalation sound (e.g. “hardly”). Her protagonists’ voices are often pitched confusingly similar. She also managed to get on my last nerve with some pronunciations, most notably the word “ton” as it refers to the upper class. I am accustomed to hearing it pronounced with a long O and with a French final N but Erickson repeatedly said “ton” almost exactly the same as “weighs a ton”. When she pronounced “wastrel” as though it rhymed with “nostril”, I just shook my head.
I stayed with the story anyway as I was curious to see how Stuart planned to take us from seething irrational hatred to happily ever after. She laid the groundwork for a physical lust between the two but not much for true love. A hero who goes so far for revenge needs some counseling and then a seriously knee-bleeding groveling session to make it up to his wronged heroine. Somehow Elizabeth Lowell’s Only His came to mind – I liked Caleb Black a lot more than the scarred, ennui-ridden Lucien. In the end, I was left without closure.
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?
Over the next few months, we’re featuring a Beyond the Winners section in each column. We’ll choose a category or two from our Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll and ask “What are your other favorites?” It will give us a chance to look beyond our big winners such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and J.D. Robb’s In Death series.
Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we now have 130 members. It’s easy to join and it’s a great place for discussion in between our columns.
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 with you next week with August New Releases.
Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley