There’s a new trend sweeping the audiobook industry and it’s the frequent use of untrained narrators. Narrators who are more likely to take away from the audiobook experience rather than add to it. It’s a trend that I hope will simply spend itself and go away, but one which I’m afraid is here to stay. I can only assume that somewhere along the line, the decision to use untrained narrators (with lower pay) translates into the ability to produce more audiobooks. But in the process, an invisible price is paid as the listener’s trust slowly erodes. How many listeners will continue to buy audiobooks (or even use the library) if the experience is less than enjoyable? It’s not only a waste of the listener’s money but their time as well.

Fortunately, there are still a number of audiobook publishers who choose to use well-trained narrators for the majority of their releases. As we often see expressed here at Speaking of Audiobooks, listeners develop a trust relationship with narrators, so much so, that listeners are known to follow narrators as well as authors from one audiobook to the next.

Knowing this, I’m puzzled about the prevailing belief that an individual can effectively read (narrate) an audiobook with basically no training and without the benefit of a director. Are there those within the industry who think listeners will accept just anyone reading their romances (often cherished old print favorites)? Does someone think we don’t notice readers audibly gasping for air between lines? And what about the inability to distinguish one character from another? Do we want to wait for the tag line (if there is one) to understand who just finished speaking? And the pacing – are we to ignore a narrator’s slow-moving telling during an action-packed scene? Or the too-quick telling of an especially heart-wrenching scene? And then there are the all-important characterizations. Does anyone check a new narrator’s completed work to ascertain that the characters were performed according to the author’s written word?

A notice to all – we do pay attention.

In 2009, the title of my first column read Speaking of Audiobooks: It’s All About the Narrator. Now approximately 100 columns later, it remains as true today as it was then. As a listener, I haven’t changed. I still expect quality narrations. If you want me to listen to your book, provide a trained narrator who understands their task. Although we talk plot, a writer’s style, production quality, format availability, or male versus female narrator, every discussion always comes back to quality of narrations (even if it remains unspoken). Start to give me less when I’ve come to expect excellence and I won’t buy your book.

After a good deal of thought, I decided to restrain myself from mentioning specific books that I believe fall into this category. However, I will follow up on a review I wrote for the 2/07/12 Speaking of Audiobooks column. I paid a full credit for Gaelen Foley’s Lord of Ice over at Audible. Easily my favorite Foley in print, I decided to listen despite being unfamiliar with the narrator. It was an utter failure. Checking its listing at Audible in preparation for today’s column, I see it is now selling for the Special Price of $3.99 (it’s not connected to any particular sale). Checking further, I saw one review after another critical of the narration. And I saw no other book to the narrator’s name. I don’t want to criticize anyone mercilessly – that’s not the point. The point? Listeners let their dissatisfaction be known. Audible noticed.

Audible now provides the dissatisfied listener a powerful tool. You can return your book. I encourage you to not shy away from returning a book with an unacceptable narration. Let Audible know in clear words the reason for your return.

If we speak out together about poor narrations, I do believe we can make an impact. In the meantime, we’ll continue to support (and celebrate) those audiobooks that are especially well done.

Romance Audio Reviews
Riveted – Meljean Brook

Narrated by Alison Larkin

Review written by LinnieGayl

I’m a big fan of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series but was disappointed to learn that Faye Adele had been replaced as narrator. That disappointment increased as I began listening to the book. I had problems with both the narration and the story.

This feels different than earlier series entries. Much of the world-building is in the background. Whereas Maggie described the last entry, Heart of Steel, as a “straight out adventure story” with almost non-stop action, Riveted focuses on character development. Instead of a quick, fiery romance, there’s a slowly developing friendship and eventual relationship.

Annika, an engineer on the airship Phateon, comes from an unusual remote village in Iceland made up solely of women. Annika left home four years earlier in search of her sister Kalla, who ran away after taking the blame for something Annika did. Annika is an interesting heroine; she’s tough, independent, and a whiz with all things mechanical. Her work on the Phateon allows her to travel the world in search of her sister.

David Kentewess is also on a quest, and believes he’s found a key in Annika. When David hears Annika speak, her unusual “bird” accent reminds him of his dead mother. David’s looked for his mother’s people for years and believes that in Annika, he’s found them. And that “bird” accent, as depicted by Ms. Larkin, gave me major problems. When Annika speaks, Ms. Larkin frequently gives her a childish, high-pitched voice, making it hard for me to take Annika seriously. I say frequently, because many characters’ voices are rendered in an inconsistent manner. At times Annika sounds almost normal, with a bit of a mysterious accent. At other times she sounds as if she’s a child.

This isn’t my only problem with the narration. While I didn’t have problems understanding who was speaking when it was just Annika and David, in
some multi-male scenes, I had problems figuring out which man was speaking.

I really wanted to like Riveted. David is a wonderful tortured hero. He’s bright, with an interesting occupation as a volcanologist. He’s had a difficult past and is composed of large parts metal and nano agents. Neither Annika nor David fit in anywhere, but gradually, oh so gradually, they come to fit with each other. The romance moves very slowly as David and Annika get to know each other, slowly become friends, and only eventually lovers. Despite being intrigued by both Annika and David, something is off for me, not just with the narration, but with the book itself.

I did something I’ve never done before with a review audiobook, and went back and relistened to the first five hours before writing the review. While I still love both David and Annika, this just feels long to me. And large parts of it sound preachy regarding same-sex relationships and tolerance. The situations Ms. Brook set up are interesting, but often come off as boring.

In the end, my feelings are mixed. I’ll stick with the series, but if Alison Larkin is the narrator, I’ll switch to print for the next entry.

Unlawful Contact – Pamela Clare

Narrated by Kaleo Griffith

Review written by Kaetrin

Marc Hunter is duking it out with Gabe Rossiter (Naked Edge) for my favorite I-Team hero so far. So I had high expectations when I started this listen. Happily for me, those expectations were met and my love for Marc (and Kaleo Griffiths’ narration) remains.

Sophie Alton is a reporter for the Denver Independent’s prestigious I-Team. She’s been following a young woman’s story for well over a year. Megan Rawlings is the troubled young woman, struggling with drug addiction, who has been in and out of prison. Pregnant when she was last incarcerated, she gave birth cuffed to a bed, with no access to pain relief and uncaring staff.

Now Megan is getting her life together. On a supervised visit with her daughter, she takes off with baby Emily and is on the run. A large amount of heroin is found in her halfway house room.

Marc Hunter, Megan’s half brother, is in prison serving a life sentence for murder. Hearing of Megan’s flight, he resolves to break out of prison to help her, convinced Megan’s life is in danger. He’s right. Sophie and Marc have some history but Sophie does not recognize her teenage love “Hunt” in the bearded prisoner who takes her hostage and escapes with her.

The book then charts the course of Marc’s search for Megan and Emily, his search for those who are after her, and his love for Sophie. Sophie becomes enmeshed in the investigation and soon her life is in danger too. Given Marc’s life sentence, it doesn’t seem there can be a happy ending for them. Just as well this is a romance!

For fans of the series, the much-loved bromance between Julian Darcangelo (Hard Evidence) and Marc begins in this book, too. Having Julian and Marc in a room together is something special, I tell you. Hearing them is even better.

Marc is an alpha protector hero and he’s been carrying a torch for Sophie for over twelve years. He needed a deep sexy voice to match the hard-muscled body and charismatic personality. Subtly different from Julian’s huskier rasp, Kaleo Griffith again delivers a wonderful hero voice, which matches the character perfectly. Sophie’s voice is a soft and not at all drag-y (thankfully) and while it is not exactly a female’s voice, I was always able to differentiate her from the other distinctly performed female characters. I particularly liked Mr. Griffith’s depiction of Kat James (Naked Edge), which clearly showed her Navajo heritage. And Natalie Benoit (Breaking Point) was definitely from New Orleans!

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. On occasion through the listen, both Sophie and Marc sounded Hispanic and this wasn’t the case for either of them. When Marc and Julian yelled, they sounded pretty much the same, even though their speaking voices were different.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Unlawful Contact and revisiting a favorite story and beloved hero. If you like romantic suspense, you really can’t go further than this book. And, while I love all the books, you can start here if you want to.

Flat-Out Sexy – Erin McCarthy

Narrated by Emily Durante

Review written by Carrie

Elec Monroe is a 25-year-old rookie racecar driver more comfortable out of the limelight than in it. While attending a fundraising event, Tamara Briggs bumps into Elec, literally, and spills her wine all over his shirt. Tamara is the 32-year-old widow of a stock car driver who died in a crash. Busy getting over her grief and raising her two children, Tamara has stayed away from the racing scene for the past two years. She’s also stayed away from dating for the same reasons.

Tamara is surprised when the brief encounter with Elec rouses her dormant libido. Later, she realizes her purse and keys are lost and, without them, has nowhere to stay. Ryder, a friend of her late husband, offers Tamara his travel coach for the night since he is staying elsewhere. When he sees Elec leaving for the track and his own coach at the same time, Ryder asks Elec to makes sure Tamara gets there safely. In the taxi, the chemistry between the two starts to sizzle. Once at the coach, Tamara breaks her two years of abstinence with a smoking hot night of what she tells herself is “only sex.”

Elec is quickly smitten with Tamara and starts a campaign to change her mind about the “one night stand.” Tamara balks, pointing to their age difference, her father-in-law’s feud with Elec’s father, her children, the crazy schedules that make seeing each other difficult, and her rule against dating drivers. Elec is just as certain their physical attraction, their affection for each other, and their shared interests make the future possible. He’s a good example of a beta hero, and narrator Emily Durante gives him the right vibe. Durante’s voice reflects our hero’s relatively young age as well as his laidback personality. Elec’s brother, Evan, sounds a little too much like Elec, but the other male characters are more distinct. Overall, Durante’s male characters are well performed.

It took me a while to warm up to Durante’s voice for Tamara, but I quickly came to appreciate the portrayal. Tamara is a worrier, and Durante brings out her insecurities and hesitations clearly. Tamara’s emotions come through as well which makes her character more sympathetic and enjoyable. The pacing of Durante’s narration is well done, and the timing of the dialogue feels natural. Durante not only seems to get the characters, she seems to like them. She even does a good job with Tamara’s children, which can be such a challenge. My only complaint is Durante’s habit of giving a fake laugh when the characters are laughing while speaking. While a relatively small thing, it was distracting and tended to jolt me out of the story.

Erin McCarthy describes Tamara’s life as a single mother with realism. I like that the children don’t magically, and conveniently, disappear every time Elec and Tamara want to be together. But while there are obstacles to their relationship, most of the conflicts here are internal ones. What little external conflict there is seems to be easily smoothed over and doesn’t produce much depth of emotion in the listener, and the internal conflicts don’t create much more suspense than the external ones. There are no surprises here, but Flat-Out Sexy is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Ending Notes

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Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley