The Grand SophyLately I’ve been quite enthused with the variety of romance audiobooks released each month. My list of those books I want to listen to right now is growing at a faster pace than my available listening time. Today’s reviews reflect that variety with audiobooks from a number of romance genres including historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, steampunk, contemporary, and fantasy. Up for review are Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, Gail Carriger’s Heartless, Karen Rose’s Die for Me, Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Blade, Nora Roberts’ Happy Ever After, Jacquelyn Frank’s Damien, Mary Balogh’s No Man’s Mistress, and Rachel Herron’s How to Knit a Love Song.

The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer

Review written by Lea Hensley

Narrated by Clare Wille

I’m not what you could call conversant on all things Georgette Heyer, but I do find myself appreciating her more with each audiobook experience. Yet, I think being relatively new to Heyer’s work may have something to do with my enjoyment of the abridged audio versions of her books. I simply don’t recognize missing content.

Although I had listened to a few unabridged audios in my first days of exploring Heyer, my interest didn’t take hold until I was lured in by Richard Armitage’s narration of Sylvester. I listened for two reasons – I needed to fill the abridged category of my 2010 Listening Challenge and I wanted to hear Armitage. I gave that version an A when I reviewed it at AAR and didn’t think twice about requesting The Grand Sophy for review.

Richard Armitage doesn’t narrate The Grand Sophy, but I was delighted to find that I enjoyed narrator Clare Wille even more! Her narration was simply outstanding. Whereas Armitage’s performance of the female voices left something to be desired, Ms. Wille has a full range of pleasing voices for both male and female characters.

Sophy comes to live with her aunt and uncle while her father travels to Brazil. They find her to be kind, resourceful, and certainly more self-assured than the average young lady. Her behavior can be quite shocking at times – she shoots and rides with great proficiency.

Sophy’s cousin, Charles, is the eldest in the household and holds a tight rein on the family’s financial affairs. He’s engaged to an unpleasant, self righteous woman but she’s a sensible choice and therefore, fits his sensible lifestyle. Sophy’s outlook on life, as well as her well-meant manipulations, drives Charles a little crazy.

The Grand Sophy is a witty and charming story with a large cast of characters. The size of the cast did cause confusion at times and made me wonder if an unabridged version could have lessened that confusion. Regardless, I found it quite entertaining and think this is a good starting place for those who are curious about Heyer but have yet to give her a try. Dare I say that, to date, I have relished Heyer’s abridged versions more than her unabridged?

The music preceding and following each chapter was delightful and reminded me of the score from A & E’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It truly set the mood for this type of romance. A request to the audiobook industry – please, I want more Clare Wille. How about recording Devil’s Cub with Ms. Wille as narrator?

The Grand Sophy is available in hard copies or downloads through Naxos Audiobooks. It will be available at Audible in the near future.

Heartless – Gail Carriger

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Emily Gray

I’m a big fan of Gail Carriger’s steampunk Parasol Protectorate series, and concur with Blythe’s full review of the latest entry. If you haven’t read the earlier books in the series, don’t start here; it won’t make any sense. However, if you have read the others, I strongly recommend trying out this audio version. Emily Gray’s narration sparkles.

Heartless picks up shortly after the last entry, Blameless, ends. Alexia is still very pregnant with “the infant inconvenience” and is facing danger from the vampires over her pregnancy. A number of other subplots are introduced almost at once and I was a bit confused for a while as Alexia tries to solve a variety of problems.

Ms. Gray gives each character a unique and appropriate voice. I was particularly pleased that Alexia sounds exactly as I expected her to – she’s authoritative, intelligent, but not annoying. Lord Maccon has an appropriate Scottish accent. The ghost-messenger sounds ethereal. Felicity, Alexia’s sister, sounds as flighty and annoying as I’d expect. Truly, Ms. Gray is spot-on with her narration throughout the book.

The book ends with an intriguing cliffhanger, and I can hardly wait for the next, Timeless, to come out in March of 2012. As long as Emily Gray is the narrator, I will be listening to the audio version rather than reading it in print. I’m also going to search out other books by Emily Gray; her narration of this was that good.

Die for MeDie for Me – Karen Rose

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Released by Blackstone Audio

It’s been a while since I read Die for Me but I believe the audio version was even more of a success for me. Narrator Tavia Gilbert (who also narrated Jeaniene Frost’s excellent Night Huntress series) does a stellar job with the various accents and the large cast of characters in this gruesome romantic suspense. Vito Ciccotelli is a Philadelphia detective called to a field where the remains of a young woman have been found. Archaeologist and historian Sophie Johannsen is called in to assist with ground penetrating radar as it soon becomes apparent that the body is one of many.

Karen Rose tends to write characters with baggage and there are no exceptions here. Both Vito and Sophie have things to work through to feel they deserve their HEA. In the meantime, Vito and his partner, Nick, are desperately trying to find the sadistic serial killer who is now also targeting Sophie. I really enjoyed Tavia Gilbert’s narration and particularly her portrayal of Vito and Sophie. Nick’s voice was a little on the high pitched side but the other secondary characters were distinct and well done. The scenes where various victims are being tortured to death are quite chilling (those who don’t like their RS on the gory and explicit side may want to avoid this author).

Sophie is an expert linguist, fluent in ten languages, including French. I’m pretty sure she would not have pronounced “trebuchet” as Gilbert did – “trebb-you-chette” – with a hard “ch.”  But, especially given it is quite a lengthy audiobook, that’s a small fault in an otherwise very strong performance. Even though I’d already read the book and knew the story, I found myself coming up with excuses (extra housework) to keep listening. To me, that’s the mark of an excellent audiobook.

Archangel’s Blade – Nalini Singh

Review written by Lea Hensley

Narrated by Justine Eyre

The fourth in the Guild Hunter series, Archangel’s Blade features Dmitri, the powerful head of the Seven. Their duty is to protect the archangel, Raphael, at all costs. A thousand-year-old vampire, Dmitri is a cold, beautiful, ruthless creature known for his intense sexuality and is, actually, quite a fascinating character. I’ve been looking forward to his book since he was introduced in Angel’s Blood, the first book of the series.

Honor is a Guild Hunter who recently endured two months of extreme torture by rogue vampires. When assigned to assist Dmitri in an investigation, Honor is forced out of her self-imposed isolation. Not only must she fight her intense, well-founded fear of vampires but also her long time attraction to Dmitri.

If you enjoyed Justine Eyre’s narration of the first three in this series, it’s likely you’ll enjoy it here as well. Eyre excels in differentiating her male voices and I continue to be impressed with that fact since there are numerous male characters in each of the Guild Hunter books. I’m not as impressed with her female characterizations – one Guild Hunter sounds like another. For the first half of the book, I had to mentally tear myself away from a character that sounded like Sara from the previous books and tell myself “It’s Honor.” Eventually I locked into the happy listening zone and was able to see Honor as her own person and concentrate even more on Dmitri. Eyre’s characterization of him was far superior to that which I could have imagined in print. And to hear him say “Honor” – whew!

I don’t listen to graphic violence easily and it says something for the excellence of this series in that I continue to listen despite its presence. However, it was particularly hard to take since some of that violence in Archangel’s Blade includes children. I had to stop twice and clean the images from my mind.

Dmitri and Honor’s romance was intense, believable, and completely satisfying. I had not a second thought about the ultimate identity of Honor. It all worked so perfectly – who else could penetrate this hard man’s heart? Apart from the violence, this is one outstanding romance.

Happy Ever After – Nora Roberts

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Angela Dawe

This is the final book in the Bride Quartet series featuring four childhood friends now working in their own wedding planning business. In this concluding episode, Parker Brown is the last heroine to fall in love and if you read the first three, it’s no spoiler that her man is the oh-so-wrong-for-her bad boy Malcolm Kavanaugh. If I were just to grade Happy Ever After on a list of the necessary and beloved parts of a romance novel, it would get an A+. It’s simply great writing (as only LaNora can do). Her men’s POV usually reeks of testosterone, but they still have warmth and a soft center. There’s a small, manageable conflict to keep you wondering but no suspense or villains. The heroine is almost perfect but has a slight flaw to keep her from being too perfect. There’s a hot sex-in-a-pantry scene. And everyone gets married (or engaged) and lives happy ever after.

Angela Dawe is a winner for narrator. She has a brisk, professional-woman tone for Parker as well as wonderful, distinct voices for all other characters. Most of Happy Ever After is told from Parker’s POV, but her portrayal of Mal reflects his personality and the slow dawning realization that he’s met his match in Parker. You can almost see his feet shuffling when Dawe reads the parts with Mal’s mother admonishing him to get his hair cut and wear a suit to dinner.

Now the bad news. Just like the first three in the series, it’s so perfect that it’s just not that interesting. Rich-girl orphan meets bad-boy, wrong-side-of-the-tracks mechanic. There’s a spark of chemistry, they act on it, and then they almost shy away from it before they go through with it. The writing is good; the narration is good; if you just want cotton candy, this is your book. If you want something with slightly more substance – say, a donut – you might be disappointed.

Damien – Jacquelyn Frank

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Xe Sands

Damien, Prince of the Vampires, enters the interspecies marrying loop in Jacquelyn Frank’s fourth Nightwalker entry. Damien is my favorite in this series for two reasons. First, it keeps moving, whether by dialogue or action and without the verboseness that irked me previously. Second, it could slide onto a bookshelf at Goodreads entitled “avid seduction of a hesitant heroine”. Damien truly is a prince when it comes to his pursuit of Syreena. That he made her pay some dues was excellent – I loved him.

Damien is the acknowledged leader of the Vampires, but it’s a role that keeps him looking over his shoulder. Syreena, the Lycanthrope princess, has always longed for a husband and family, but Fate’s choice throws her. Damien readily accepts the bond between them and Syreena is captivated but she wants definitive proof that the bond is possible between their races. That proof may be found in the recently discovered Nightwalker library but working to unite the Nightwalker’s against their expanding enemy comes first.

Xe Sands excels with this series. Each character, and there are many, has a unique voice which is the accent from the country of their origin. Can I guarantee accent authenticity? No, but I’d listen to this series just to hear Sands voicing them. Plus she brings the couple, their feelings and the circumstances, to life in a way that is beyond my abilities. And that’s hard to do, I read in Technicolor.

s MistressNo Man’s Mistress – Mary Balogh

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

The second book in Balogh’s Mistress series, No Man’s Mistress features Ferdinand Dudley, younger brother of Jocelyn, Duke of Tresham, from More Than a Mistress. Ferdinand wins a property from the Earl of Bamber in a card game and travels to Somersetshire only to find that it is already occupied by Viola Thornhill who claims the late Earl willed it to her. Both stubborn, each refuses to leave the property until it is absolutely clear who is the rightful owner. Initially, Viola plays a series of tricks on Ferdinand, designed to force him to leave, but Ferdinand never backs down from a challenge. With charm and wit, he effortlessly wins over the townspeople and servants and soon enough, Viola. However, Viola has a secret past which means there can be no happy ending for her and Ferdinand – or can there (cue mysterious music)?

As much as I enjoyed More Than a Mistress, this book is my favorite of the pair. Ferdinand has a secret of his own which makes him an atypical Regency hero. He is also very much the beta – he’s a genuinely nice guy, with no complications to him. Again, not the usual hero. He is however, the epitome of nobility in the truest sense of the word and, therefore, just what Viola needs. I’m not entirely sure that the solution concocted by Ferdinand and his brother would be quite as successful in real life, but I cared about the characters so much, I was prepared to believe it anyway.

Rosalyn Landor is not my favorite narrator. I find her pacing a bit slow and, unfortunately, her male voices tend to sound old and drafty rather than young and sexy. Landor’s portrayal of Ferdinand singing had me cringing quite a bit. Whereas some narrators lift an okay story to greater heights, others bring an excellent story down. In this instance, my enjoyment of the storyline kept me listening rather than the narration, although I did get used to the pacing. Landor performs her female characters well, but her male characterizations don’t do anything for me. If you can get past her interpretation of those male characters, it is a great story.

How to Knit a Love Song – Rachel Herron

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

Released by Blackstone Audio

The premise sounds cute but unfortunately, neither the story nor the narrator worked for me. I was never convinced that the hero and heroine liked each other let alone had a chance for a HEA. Abigail writes knitting books and has inherited a cottage from a dear friend. When she arrives, she discovers it’s unlivable, requiring major work. It’s also located in the middle of a sheep ranch run by her friend’s nephew, Cade, and he’s furious that his aunt left the cottage to Abigail. However, when Abigail’s chased out of the cottage in the middle of the night by a bat, Cade reluctantly offers to let her stay in the main house.

Much of How to Knit a Love Song takes place in the minds of Abigail and Cade and that’s not a pleasant place to be. Their thoughts are often almost child-like. I might have skimmed such thoughts in print but the narrator’s emphasis made them seem even more childlike. Herron repeatedly uses gimmicks to bring Abigail and Cade together. I could have done with fewer gimmicks and more genuine conversation and interaction between the two.

Much of the book made no sense. Early on we discover that Abigail’s best friend lives fifteen miles from the cottage. Why didn’t Abigail move in with her instead of living with Cade? Cade’s and Abigail’s feelings jumped back and forth so quickly it made me dizzy. He wants her to go; he wants her to stay. He loves her; he doesn’t trust her. I never felt the romance. We often talk about narrators who make a book better. In this case, the narration made the book worse. Abigail sounded awestruck and naive for much of the book. While Cade’s voice was fine, many of the secondary characters’ voices were annoying, from the gorgeous mathematics professor who sounds like a breathy bimbo to Abigail’s best friend who sounds like a cheesy cougar. I don’t see myself reading any more of Herron’s knitting romances and don’t intend to search out other audiobooks by the narrator.

Time for Your Thoughts

Have you listened to any of these books we’ve reviewed today? 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?

Ending Notes

Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we now have 147 members. It’s easy to join and it’s a great place for discussion in between our columns.

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.

We now have a list of all our Mini Reviews from our Speaking of Audiobooks columns over at our Goodreads group. You don’t have to be a Goodreads member to view this list so check it out. We now have 184 romance audio reviews.

I’ll be back soon with October’s New Releases.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley