woman making a shopping listReading Challenges abound, but Listening Challenges? Devoted to romance? We think we have something rather unique for you here at Speaking of Audiobooks when it comes to challenging yourself to listen to more romance audio while discovering a more diverse selection and higher quality as well. 2011 marked our first Listening Challenge and the final reports of that challenge are still rolling in (more later). As a participant, I learned, enjoyed, shed tears, laughed out loud, and was delighted with my discoveries as I expanded my listening preferences. And I always looked forward to sharing my experiences with other listeners. I can’t wait to start our 2012 challenge!

Our 2012 Listen Challenge Objective – Listen to 12 romance books in 2012

We’re simplifying our Challenge this year by giving you more choices and simplifying the requirements of each. We have four tracks to follow for a 12 book challenge and one track for an 8 book challenge. Just choose one and let the fun begin!

Track One – Listening to the Top Hits

Listen or relisten to 12 audios from AAR’s 2010 Top 100 Romances Poll and AAR’s 2011 Annual Reader Poll. While these are lists of print books, there are 73 audio versions to choose from! You will find a list of these titles at the end of today’s column.

Track Two – Mix ‘Em Up Firsts

Listen to 12 books of firsts – first time listening to a narrator, your first book by a specific author, the first book in a series, the first of a new-to-you romance sub-genre. You can also define your own firsts such as your first listen of a 2012 audio or the first audio your borrowed from a friend, etc.

Track Three – Listen by the Number

Three romance audios produced in 2012, three from 2011, three from 2010, and three from 2009.

Track Four – Spread Your Listening

Listen to four contemporary/romantic suspense, four historical/western, and four paranormal/fantasy/time travel.

We also have an 8 book Challenge if you are a little shy about committing.

Surprise by the Quarter – 4 categories to choose from each quarter.

You only need to listen to two books a quarter but you won’t be advised of your choices for the next quarter until the end of the previous quarter! Example – the choices for the second quarter (April – June) will be announced the last week of March.

First quarter choices (January – March):

Choice #1 – Listen to a romance narrated by one of the winning narrators in the Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll.

This includes not only the winners of the Narrator Favorites categories but a narrator of any winning book – first, second, third, and honorable mention in any category. There are 23 narrators to choose from and you can find a list of those narrators at the end of today’s column.

Choice #2 – Listen to a romance produced in the first three months of 2012

Choice #3 – Listen to a romance with a tortured hero.

What is a tortured hero? One who is dark, moody, and fights any kind of love or softer emotions. Examples of audios with tortured heroes – To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt, Prince of Dreams by Lisa Kleypas, Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Black Ice by Anne Stuart, and Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward.

Choice #4 – Listen to a Cabin Romance

In a Cabin Romance, the hero and heroine are isolated for large section(s) of the book. They come to grips with one another and their attraction in a relatively small space. Examples of Cabin Romance audios – The Indiscretion by Judith Ivory, Nobody’s Baby But Mine and This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Wild Rain by Christine Feehan, and Calypso Magic by Catherine Coulter.

It should be noted that although we focus on the romance genre with its many sub genres, we also include Chick Lit, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, and Sci Fi genres if the book includes a romance thread.

Reporting In

Reporting for the Challenge will take place in two areas. Our primary spot for reporting your progress will be the discussion area of any Speaking of Audiobooks column during 2012 as our Challenge will be an ongoing discussion throughout the year. For those times you want to update our group and a recent column is not around, we have set up a challenge update thread at our sister Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group. Our Goodreads group is quite active and you will find a ready audience just about any time. Since I plan to keep our larger Speaking of Audiobooks audience updated on the overall progress of the Challenge, I may share comments from our Goodreads Challenge thread from time to time here at the column.

If you have any questions about reporting in at Goodreads and are unfamiliar with the site, please ask questions in the discussion area below. We’ll take care of you!

2011 Listening Challenge – Final Update

My 2011 Listening Challenge lasted until the very last day of the year. I eagerly joined in the first four months and then found myself caught up in months of in-depth interviews and the Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll and suddenly it was October! I’ll provide a complete update in the discussion area following the column but here are a few highlights of my Challenge.

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

The Kate Daniels series – Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews   Narrated by Renee Raudman

I truly had to challenge myself to listen to this series since I generally avoid Urban Fantasy if I know there is a gore factor. Still, it was a great experience.

Listen to another listener’s romance favorite.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig   Narrated by Kate Reading

Charming and totally entertaining. Looking forward to more in the series. I found myself avoiding this book for some strange reason and the Challenge took care of my doubts.

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

Anne Flosnik

An outstanding success. I’m 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 chose for you.

Morning Glory – LaVyrle Spencer   Narrated by Kate Forbes

Brenda chose for me – she knows my tastes well! I had a feeling going in that I would love this hard-to-find unabridged version since I knew Kate Forbes was a talented narrator and I had read the book in print. Total success.

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

Tough Customer by Sandra Brown   Narrated by Victor Slezak

Great, great narration and story. I was hesitant to try since the hero hadn’t seemed hero material in Smash Cut (but I wasn’t looking either). It was another complete success.

Now, please share your final update with us!

Image of Fate’s Edge

Romance Audio Reviews

s EdgeFate’s Edge – Ilona Andrews

Review written by Diana

Narrated by Renee Raudman

I’ve been inhaling the Edgeseries since a fellow audiophile recommended it. (Hey, thanks Brenda!) Fate’s Edge is the third and, although I don’t recommend starting here, it’s no hardship to listen to the perfectly cast Renee Raudman narrate On The Edge and Bayou Moon to get you up to speed. Understanding the worlds – The Weird where magic and bluebloods rule, The Broken where tech and Walmart rule, and The Edge where Edgers precariously straddle their more powerful neighbors – is necessary to enjoy the ride. I absolutely love the outcast Edgers who are endlessly struggling to rise above generations of bloody family feuds, bad luck, and poverty through cunning and hard work, fair means or foul.

Our hero Kaldar Mar, a “former” smuggler and con man and official agent for the Mirror (a sort of FBI/CIA for the Weird), is assigned to recover a stolen magical artifact. His mission takes him out of the swamp (sadly, but I’ll come back to that) out west to nab culprit Audrey Callahan. When Kaldar stops to pick up his cousin Gaston to pilot the wyvern, the Edger boys, Jack (a changeling lynx) and George (a budding necromancer who reanimates birds and small animals), stow away unbeknownst to Kaldar.

Audrey made a deal with her deadbeat dad to pull off one last job in exchange for a promise that he and her junkie brother will never contact her again. She wants to go straight and keep her legitimate PI job, which is threatened when Kaldar shows up with questions about the heist. Kaldar nabs Audrey with the help of Gaston and the boys and convinces her it’s in her best interest to help them recover the artifact. Smooth operator Kaldar and fatal charmer Audrey have each met their match and the fun begins.

The Edge series works so perfectly in audio and it’s all due to Renee Raudman’s skill and talent. She sets a mood for every scene and gives unique voice to each character. In this book alone, Ms. Raudman gives voice to two adolescent boys, a nineteen year old tough guy, a prosperity preacher, an evil hound of the golden throne, and of course, our hero and heroine amongst a boatload of supporting characters. It’s a full blown performance and I think audiobook narrators of Raudman’s skill are under appreciated. It’s a fun series and Raudman never misses a beat.

Of the three Edgebooks, Bayou Moon remains my favorite. The Mire, its swamp rats, and the Dukedom of Louisiana are far more colorful and interesting than the bland Democracy of California setting in Fate’s Edge. I really missed those crazy southern Gothic Edgers. Kaldar Mar had an exquisite moment in Bayou Moon where he explains to the family why his cousin Cerise is so valiant. If Kaldar doesn’t quite fulfill his heroic promise in Fate’s Edge, he comes pretty close.

The Other Guy’s Bride – Connie Brockway

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Justine Eyre

As a highly awaited release, The Other Guy’s Bride is not just a sequel to Brockway’s beloved As You Desire (AAR review here), but also the first of the new Montlake Romance line published by Amazon – first for Kindle followed by paperback and audio (Brilliance Audio) releases.

Ginesse Braxton is the daughter of As You Desire’s Dizzy and Harry, British Egyptologists, and the setting is Egypt at the turn of the 20th century. Ginesse is returning to Egypt from London on board a ship with a Miss Whimpelhall who is journeying to meet her fiancé, Colonel Pomfrey. Seasickness forces the bride-to-be to disembark at an Italian port to finish the journey by land and Ginesse assumes the other woman’s identity to gain passage to the fort where the unsuspecting Pomfrey waits.

Jim Owens is also traveling under an assumed identity since he gave up his own as the future duke of Avondale. As an intrepid black market antiquities trader, he was once rescued by Colonel Pomfrey. To repay the debt, he is now being forced to accompany Pomfrey’s fiancée across Egypt. Alas, he has no way of knowing the enchanting young woman he is rapidly falling in love with isn’t really The Other Guy’s Bride.

Narrator Justine Eyre authentically performs a number of accents – American for Jim who was raised in the American west; a haughty British for a variety of upper-class Brits including Ginesse; an Egyptian-tinged British for the locals; and a touch of French for the villain LeBoeuf. Her delivery is good with one niggling annoyance – a nasally affectation of ennui that carries over from the haughty British speakers to the general narrative. It’s an irritation that knocked a couple of stars off a potential five star listen.

In The Air Tonight – Stephanie Tyler

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Johanna Parker

Coming off the back of such successful listens as Ilona Andrew’s Edge series (Renee Raudman) and Thea Harrison’s Serpent’s Kiss (Sophie Eastlake), In the Air Tonight had a lot to live up to. Sadly, I can’t say that it was a great success for me. Apart from my commitment to review the book, the only thing that kept me going was Johanna Parker’s very good narration. I will happily listen to her narrations in the future, but I will hesitate before trying this author again.

Paige Grayson, a nurse who can read a person’s memories through the touch of her hands, is the sister of Gray, a recently deceased member of the Delta Force team. She is attacked in a domestic dispute at the hospital and the resultant media attention revives her family history and the fact that her other brother, Jeffrey, has been imprisoned for a Columbine-type school shooting. Paige resolves to go to the other Delta Force team members for answers about Gray’s death and escape the media frenzy. Mace Stevens, Gray’s best friend and fellow team member, is running a bar in upstate New York where various other team members are also hanging out after the mission that resulted in Gray’s death.

I haven’t read/listened to the first two books in the Shadow Force series. Possibly In the Air Tonight would have worked for me better if I had, but, frankly, I don’t think so. The action and dialogue is overwrought, the villain is not only obvious but one-dimensional and eeeevil, and the characters are somewhat confusing. I think the confusion is worse in audio format. There are many characters to keep track of with very similar names – Kell, Keegan, and Caleb (who, inexplicably was also sometimes called Cale – for a while I thought he was a separate character). There is also a secondary romance between Vivi and Caleb/Cale (who has lost his memory) which takes up almost as much time as the one between Mace and Paige. I suppose Vivi and Caleb/Cale’s story is ongoing from a previous book but I didn’t find it difficult to follow. I didn’t buy the near insta-love between Mace and Paige either.

Johanna Parker does a great job with what I thought was ordinary material. Some of the lines she had to deliver were just so cheesy that I wondered how she did it. But, she delivers the lines as written and it wasn’t her narration that had me rolling my eyes so often. Ms. Parker’s voice is very easy on the ear and she effectively differentiates the male and female characters. The male characters sound similar at times (especially with the similar names) making it hard to work out who is actually talking. However, I suspect I would have had that problem with the print version as well.

Wedding of the SeasonWedding of the Season – Laura Lee Guhrke

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Laura Lee Guhrke’s early 1900s setting for Wedding of the Season opens up some interesting differences in what ultimately remains an historical romance. You still have the aristocracy with stiff protocol and class distinctions, but they are mixed with the changes advancement is making upon society. Women are now given some job opportunities without it being too disgraceful and cars are driven and stabled along with the horses.

Beatrix Danbury and William Mallory had been in love since childhood. They were planning their wedding, as was expected, when Will was given the chance to follow his dream of excavating a dig in Egypt. He fully expected Trix to be as excited as he was and ready to come with him. When she wasn’t, he left her behind. Six years have passed and Beatrix is about to wed another when Will returns to England.

Anne Flosnik’s interpretation of Will kept me interested in Wedding of the Season, despite my first impression of him as selfish and irresponsible. The voice and demeanor given to his character belied those traits which made me curious to continue and I was glad I did. I enjoyed Will’s humor and his extended groveling, which was needed. By the end I realized Anne Flosnik’s voicing of Will reflected his ultimate redemption from the very beginning, making him a much better character for me and one I liked. I know that would not have been the case if I had read the print version so it was a true bonus.

Although I sympathized with Beatrix at first, I ultimately found her childish in the length of time it took for her to look outside the box but she sounded perfect, as did the rest of her family and friends. Ms. Flosnik’s pacing of scenes and the general narration was spot on as usual making an enjoyable listen out of a lackluster story.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve moved away from historical romance in the last few years as I prefer action to angst. I’ll take recognition of a “mate” in Paranormal romance over a last page declaration of true love and commitment in an historical. I want to live part of the HEA with the couple, not be left at the doorstep or in the case of Wedding of the Season, at the train depot, when they finally figure out what’s most important to them. That’s something to consider when reading my reviews.

Going Cowboy Crazy – Katie Lane

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Nicole Poole

Going Cowboy Crazy is a first – the first published book by Katie Lane as well as the first in a trio of stories about Texas cowboys. It’s also a funny romp of small-town Texas ways, exaggerated through the eyes of a mild-mannered Midwestern heroine looking for answers. Think Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ version of small town Texas, with Bobbie Tom and Gracie in Heaven, Texas and turn the twang up. If the plot line of eccentric characters ganging up on the new stranger in town worked for you, you might find yourself in love with another group of well meaning, meddling town folks like I was!

Narrator Nicole Poole took a big chance when she turned the twang up a notch – or three – for these characters, and for me, it was a winner. Being a card-carrying Texan myself, I can vouch for the fact that, yes, there are actually people who talk like this. OK, in reality, maybe there aren’t small towns teeming with eccentric characters scheming to marry off complete strangers with a high school colors themed wedding (purple and gold, if you’re curious). But the combination of Lane’s hilarious story and Poole’s over-the-top twang had me believing that if I went a few miles outside of Houston, I might stumble across a Bramble-type town where they just want their small town hero to be happy.

Going Cowboy Crazy was a great find (recommended by a fellow Speaking of Audiobooks listener) of a new author writing my favorite genre – romantic comedy. There were some moments when I was aware it was Lane’s first book such as the aimless rambling near the end. But if you prefer your romance set in Regency England, or at least in reality, you might want to steer clear. But for a fairly short dose of funny and a little dab of hot, this is definitely “worth a credit.”

We plan on featuring an occasional audio that doesn’t fall into the romance genre but we feel may be of interest to our listeners. LinnieGayl graciously volunteered to write our first.

The Lady of the Rivers – Philippa Gregory

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Bianca Amato

The Lady of the Rivers is the third in Philippa Gregory’s The Cousin’s War series. I’m not convinced that reading order matters. The first book, The White Queen, actually features the daughter of this book’s main character, and picks up right where The Lady of the Rivers ends.

Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction has been a bit hit or miss for me and I hadn’t read one in years. I’d never listened to one in audio and was curious to see how it would work. At just over 19 hours, it is much longer than most audio books I listen to and it’s a true testament to the skills of both the narrator and the author that it held my attention throughout.

The book is told from the point-of-view of Jacquetta who sees and participates in a series of remarkable events, including the death of Joan of Arc. At a young age she marries a much older Duke and becomes the first lady of England while Henry VI is a young boy. Jacquetta eventually becomes part of the court of Margaret of Anjou and the mother to twelve children by her second husband.

Although Jacquetta is from Luxembourg and early in the book speaks little English, narrator Bianca Amato gives her and everyone else an English accent. This confused me a bit in the early moments as I assumed Jacquetta was English. Upon reflection, I realize this makes the book much more accessible and understandable for English-speaking readers.

There’s only limited dialog in the book with much of it being Jacquetta’s thoughts and reflections on events of the day. However, Ms. Amato performs the scenes with multiple characters well, providing each character with a slightly different voice so that I had no problem understanding who was speaking.

There are times later in the book that sound more like Ms. Gregory stating her opinions about war and the role of women in England during this period than Jacquetta giving her own opinions. It’s due to the narrator’s skills that I wasn’t bored with these sections.

This is the first Bianca Amato narrated book I’ve listened to and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance. I found her voice almost soothing at times and frequently listened late in the evenings when I was tired. Despite the often violent nature of the events, she helped me relax from the day and get ready for sleep.

It’s a sign of how much I liked The Lady of the Rivers that with two hours left, I downloaded the first book in the series (albeit with a different narrator). It’s a sign of how much I liked Ms. Amato’s narration that I downloaded another book she has narrated at the same time.

Time for Your Thoughts

Please share your final update for the 2011 Listening Challenge.

What was your favorite book from your 2011 Listening Challenge or what do you think was your greatest discovery?

What Challenge track will you follow in 2012?

Do you know what your first audio will be when starting your challenge?

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

Ending Notes

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

To find a full listing of all of our audiobook reviews since the beginning of our Speaking of Audiobooks column, go to our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads Mini-Review bookshelf. We have over 200 romance audiobook reviews.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley

Audiobooks from AAR’s Top 100 and 2010 Readers Poll – for the Listening to the Top Hits Challenge track

Jane Austen

Persuasion

Pride and Prejudice

Mary Balogh

More Than a Mistress

Joanna Bourne

The Spymaster’s Lady

Suzanne Brockmann

Over the Edge

Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre

Meljean Brook

Here There Be Monsters

The Iron Duke

Kresley Cole

A Hunger Like No Other

Jennifer Crusie

Bet Me

Welcome to Temptation

Diana Gabaldon

Outlander

Voyager

Julie Garwood

The Bride

Honor’s Splendour

Ransom(abridged)

Saving Grace

The Secret

Georgette Heyer

Devil’s Cub

Linda Howard

After the Night

Cry No More

Dream Man

Mackenzie’s Mountain

Mr. Perfect

Open Season unabridged – abridged version

To Die For

Elizabeth Hoyt

To Beguile a Beast

Judith Ivory

The Proposition

Lisa Kleypas:

Blue-Eyed Devil

Devil in Winter

Dreaming of You

It Happened One Autumn

Lady Sophia’s Lover

Love in the Afternoon

Married by Morning

Scandal in Spring

Seduce Me at Sunrise

Smooth Talking Stranger

Suddenly You

Sugar Daddy

Then Came You

Where Dreams Begin

Worth Any Price

Stephanie Laurens

Devil’s Bride

Judith McNaught (all abridged)

Paradise

Perfect

Something Wonderful

Pamela Morsi

The Bikini Car Wash

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Ain’t She Sweet

Dream a Little Dream

Heaven, Texas

It Had to Be You

Kiss an Angel

Match Me if You Can

Natural Born Charmer

Nobody’s Baby But Mine

This Heart of Mine

Amanda Quick

Ravished

Julia Quinn

Ten Things I Love About You

What Happens in London

When He Was Wicked

J. D. Robb

Naked in Death

Nora Roberts

Sea Swept

Nalini Singh

Angel’s Blood

Archangel’s Kiss

Slave to Sensation

LaVyrle Spencer

Morning Glory (Abridged – Unabridged is ISBN 1-4025-2253-3)

Sherry Thomas

Private Arrangements

Wicked Intentions

J.R. Ward

Dark Lover

Lover Awakened

Lover Eternal

Lover Mine

Winning Narrators in Speaking of Audiobooks 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll – for the Surprise by the Quarter track

Anna Fields

Phil Gigante

Natalie Ross

Davina Porter

Renee Raudman

Susan Ericksen

Victor Slezak

Jim Frangione

Tavia Gilbert

Xe Sands

Kirsten Potter

Tom Stechschulte

Anne Flosnik

Patrick Lawlor

Angela Dawe

Karen White

Tanya Eby

Kate Forbes

Deanna Hurst

Franette Liebow

Bernadette Dunne

Amanda Ronconi

Aasne Vigesaa