Narrated by Natalie Ross
Over the years I have delighted in both Julia London’s historical and contemporary titles. When it comes to her historical titles, I prefer her earlier books – they seem meatier than her later formulaic tales. But when Ms. London turns to her contemporary voice, I’m rarely disappointed. She has a significant contemporary backlist although the number is confusing as her Thrillseekers Anonymous series is being rereleased with new titles. But each of the seven (out of nine total) London contemporaries I have read (or been fortunate enough to listen to) has rated at least a B read (or listen) – definitely what I consider a go-to author for contemporary tales.
Beauty Queen, up to this point, has been one of my favorites of the bunch. I have read it three times in print since its original 2004 release and was thrilled to discover that it was being released this month in audio format. The ever-so-reliable Natalie Ross performs so you better believe hero Matt Parrish sounds all male and is performed as written. Ross certainly knows how to get her male characters right. Her heroine Rebecca however, the driving force of this story, left me disappointed. Was it the fact that her character was firmly established in my head after my numerous print reads? Possibly. But I think it more likely that the narrator took another path with Rebecca’s personality. More on that later.
Rebecca Lear comes from money and is the middle of three sisters. She has recently endured a humiliating divorce after her unfaithful husband left her for another woman. A former Miss Texas, it can’t be said that Rebecca holds many job skills other than throwing parties and being the wife to a successful man. Her self-esteem has suffered greatly and she’s devoted to two things – taking care of her young son and self help books. She’s convinced that she must get a job to feel useful. When an old acquaintance running for Lieutenant Governor (of Texas) requests that she join his campaign staff, she sees it as her opportunity to gain job skills while contributing to a larger cause.
Matt Parrish is already working hard on the campaign as the lead strategist. He is a tough litigator with a heart – he’s known to take on the less profitable cases. He’s also known as a man who leaves a trail of broken hearts (or enraged former lovers) as he moves through life. He can hardly believe the beauty queen he must endure for the sake of the campaign. She’s a socialite who knows nothing about the world of politics and the candidate is giving her way too much leeway in the campaign. And she brings her five-year-old son with her to the office!
Beauty Queen is a pure contemporary, hands-down my favorite romance sub-genre. It’s all about the push and pull of the leads’ relationship, their growth as individuals, and their relationships with others. A winning formula – no doubt. And mix that with Natalie Ross – a narrator who gets romance. She once again pulls off a narration that is clearly differentiated with characters you know just by hearing their voice. All appear to remain true to the written word until it comes to Rebecca.
Although she has a rich girl background and that Miss Texas title, Rebecca worked well for me in print as I envisioned a level-headed, considerate woman who is just trying to get on with her life. She’s known as the loving and understanding one in the family who, admittedly, does thrive on perfectionism in her home but things are definitely starting to fray around those edges as evidenced by the growing number of stray dogs who are now pets. Now for the Rebecca I heard performed by Ms. Ross. This Rebecca was rich and used to getting her way. Rather than being earnest in her arguments and reasoning with Matt, she sounded alternately immature or a bit of a “mean girl.” Rather than hearing her clearly written vulnerability and understandable reasons for resisting Matt, the performance hinted at a bitchy spoiled nature. As I have little tolerance for such tendencies, I almost felt as if I didn’t know this Rebecca at times.
I’m not one to complain about narrators laughing along with the written word – I think it works more times than not. Here, Natalie Ross’ use of laughter was too much – distracting from numerous characters rather than adding charm or warmth. In particular, Rebecca’s laugh often sounded empty, adding to the above negative image I was already fighting.
Still, the former beauty queen and the hotshot lawyer is a formula that works very well and Beauty Queen is well performed. But I’ll be returning to this favored tale in print as I prefer my interpretation of the heroine.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration B, Book Content A