Kinsale-FlowersfromtheStorm-shadow(1) Quality versus Quantity

With more and more romance audiobooks flooding Audible these days, it’s not all that easy to locate those audios that may be of particular interest to you. Just two years ago, the romance audio pickings remained slim with proven narrators performing the majority of titles. As with the eBook market, I imagine most readers/listeners understand that increased selection doesn’t necessarily mean increase in the number quality titles.

Of course, with this tremendous increase in audio titles, it only makes sense that there is an increase in the need for narrators as well. Unfortunately, this also means publishers are looking for the most affordable way to bring those narrations to their doorstep and home studios provide them with such. Combine an untrained narrator with a home studio with no director, and the consumer pays the price of an unsatisfactory listening experience.

The result? The percentage of overall quality narrations has decreased with untrained narrators performing not only those numerous new-to-us authors but also well-known authors with backlists just now releasing in audio format. Since successful audio purchasing requires the combination of a talented author (who speaks to you) and a gifted narrator who effectively delivers, it’s more challenging than ever to find these winning combinations. Fortunately, Audible provides an easy return service. If an audio isn’t working for you, return it and state your reason.

Keeping this in mind, Speaking of Audiobooks will now mention a few titles each month that should prove to be exceptional while cautioning listeners on a number that may prove to be disappointing. I hope you will join in and share with us those that are exceptional listens or utter disappointments.

An Example of Excellence – Laura Kinsale

Continuing at the top of any Best Audio Around list are those written by Laura Kinsale and narrated by Nicholas Boulton. Ms. Kinsale has released four since May (she’s completely in charge – something unusual for audio authors) and all are proving to solid hits – The Prince of Midnight, Flowers from the Storm, Midsummer Moon, and The Dream Hunter. Nick Boulton will narrate the balance of her backlist as well which will be released throughout the remainder of 2013 and 2014. Those titles we’ll see by year-end 2013:

My Sweet Folly – mid-September
For My Lady’s Heart – mid-October
Shadowheart – mid-November
The Shadow and the Star – early December

Laura Kinsale’s titles are simply some of the finest audiobooks we will see. The writing, performance, and production quality are outstanding. Boulton understands the characters and brings a new dimension to the experience as he exudes each character’s true nature. Even if a particular Kinsale title didn’t work well for you in print, I challenge you to try it in audio. And it looks like I’ll be getting an early Christmas present, as The Shadow and the Star is my favorite Kinsale of all!

For the first time, I have an audio that ties Davina Porter’s performance of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (voted best audio by Speaking of Audiobooks listeners) – Flowers from the Storm. I was amazed at Boulton’s delivery. I thought this title well written and unusual in print but a little depressing. However, I heard Christian and Maddie as Ms. Kinsale intended and found the reasons for the celebration.

Surrender audio Another Excellent Audio Experience – Pamela Clare’s Historicals

The first in Pamela Clare’s Mackinnon’s Rangers series, Surrender, was released on July 15th only to be pulled by Tantor a few days later for quality control issues. In response to the many listeners who have inquired about the weeks-long disappearance of Surrender, the new copy is now available at Audible and, let me tell you, it is excellent! Ms. Clare writes detailed historical romance (in addition to romantic suspense) with riveting action, multi-layered characters, and captivating romance. Kaleo Griffith, narrator of her I-Team series, continues narrating her historical titles and proves to be just as talented at performing historical characters as all those in-charge tough guys from her romantic suspenses. The second in the series, Untamed, was released in audio format on August 12th with the third, Defiant, releasing today. I encourage you to start at the beginning with Surrender and to prepare for some intense, highly satisfying listening!

More Great Audio Release News

Anne Stuart returns to the historical romance sub-genre after a foray into paranormal romance as Kristina Douglas. Simultaneously releasing in print and audio, the first in her Scandal at the House of Russell series, Never Kiss a Rake, released last week with narration by a Speaking of Audiobooks listeners’ favorite, Xe Sands. As a female narrator, Xe voices some of the most luscious sounding male characters around. Never Kiss a Rake is set to play next on my iPod and I’m expecting to be highly entertained by this successful duo. Xe has been signed to narrate the next in the series as well, Never Trust a Pirate, which is set for release in December.

On September 24, 2013, Rachel Gibson has a new book, Run to You, releasing simultaneously in print and audio. Tanya Eby narrates and I’m expecting good things – she’s experienced with over 70 romance titles to her name and a good number of romance fans following her work as well. Ms. Gibson’s books have been released sporadically in audio for years, each with a different narrator, and most prior to 2013 have proven to be more disappointing than successful although I absolutely adore Gibson books in print. It looked as though Harper Audio had plans (or rather, I hoped) to release her backlist with their release of a few of her older titles this year, Truly Madly Yours, It Must Be Love, and Simply Irresistible. I see no plans from Harper for more Gibson releases but I’ll keep you informed.

And Then the Unknown

We’re seeing a number of Coming Soon releases at Audible from the early days of Ellora’s Cave including Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man, Jaid Black’s Trek Mi Q’an series, and Lora Leigh’s Men of August series. However, it looks as though their selection of narrators all have one thing in common – they’re unproven with few, if any, titles to their name. Therefore, no recommendation here for the audio versions at this time.

Five titles from Susan Andersen’s backlist as well as her latest release, Some Like It Hot, have been released in audio over the past month. All with new narrators – not a plan for a success. Why release a beloved author’s backlist in audio and not do it well? Although I’m not a big Andersen fan, I know many in the romance audio community who are and the word so far on these performances has not been favorable. Once again, I’d love to hear from those who have had a different experience.

Mystery Man Kristen Ashley has finally hit the audio market with Own the Wind published in June and listeners disappointed that a more experienced narrator hadn’t been hired. Mystery Man is set for release this week with another, you got it, new narrator. Looking ahead at other Ashley audios coming soon, it’s the same story on the narration playing over and over. Hey, it would be challenging for a seasoned narrator to pull off these over the top heroes – why in the world hand them over to inexperienced narrators? Three more Ashley audios are planned at this time (that I know of) – Wild Man releasing October 29th, Law Man releasing December 17th, and Motorcycle Man releasing January 28th of 2014.

Fifteen Jane Feather titles are scheduled for audio release September – December with six new narrators (or very close to new) and only one proven narrator, Jenny Sterlin (who will be narrating three). I understand the need for new blood but this is another example of pairing a well-known author with narrators who have little to no experience. That usually results in disappointment for the listener but we’ll keep our fingers crossed for success.

Whispersync – Use It for Money Saving Deals on Audios

Amazon introduced Whispersync for Voice last year and it’s a concept thrifty audio buyers will want to pay close attention to, even if you don’t use an eReader or even own an eReader. It’s not unusual to find the combined price of the audio and eBook versions less than the price of the audio at Audible and occasionally half the price of a single Audible credit. Just because you buy the Kindle version doesn’t mean you have to read it. It’s just a means to get you a deep discount on your audio.

As an example, Anne Stuart’s new release, Never Kiss a Rake, is priced at $3.99 for the Kindle version. If you own the Kindle version (which can be read on non-Kindle readers), the price (at this time) is $1.99 for the audio version at Audible – a total of $5.98 for both. Anne’s book carried this pricing from day one but beware, these combo audio/Kindle deals disappear without notice so keep your eye out for the deals.

Our Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps two running threads on audiobooks deals – Bargain Audiobook Deals II and Whispersync Deals.

Ending Notes

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For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks– keeps growing and is now at 565 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley