Shards of HonorJune is Audiobook Month and in celebration of that event, we have a special edition of Speaking of Audiobooks for you today and we’re featuring all reviews – seven of them including our first “dueling” review.  Most are longer in length than our usual mini-reviews and include Only Love by Elizabeth Lowell, Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh, Delicious by Susan Mallery, Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart,  Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, Bending the Rules by Susan Andersen, and To Die For by Linda Howard.

Top on my list today, however, is a reminder for you to vote in our Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll if you haven’t done so already.  For those who have yet to cast their ballot, there are 25 categories and many of us rub our hands in glee at the thought of voting 25 times for favorites.  But we know there are probably even more who will want to complete only a portion of the ballot so all we ask is that you complete a minimum of 6 categories.  You can find the ballot here.  And if you have already submitted your ballot, please share word of the poll with others!  It will prove to be an immensely useful tool for romance audiobook fans.  The poll ends on Tuesday, June 28th at midnight eastern standard time.

We’re starting our reviews today with a dueling review of Elizabeth Lowell’s Only Love.  When Melinda approached me on reviewing this one, my words were something like, “Sure, go for it but you probably need to know that I really blasted it in the second Speaking of Audiobooks column.”  Only Love was one of those hard-to-find audiobooks (only available in tape and CD formats) until Audible released it in May 2011.  I heard no more from Melinda and, as I was finishing up this column last night, Melinda surprised me with her invitation to a duel no less!  Now I think we may use this idea of duel reviews in future Speaking of Audiobooks column!

Only Love – Elizabeth Lowell

Narrated by Richard Ferrone

Let’s start with Melinda’s take:

Only Love is the fourth in the Only series which features the Moran family going west following the Civil War.  The first, Only His, is the story of Willow Moran returning to Colorado looking for her brother, aided by Western guide Caleb Black.  It’s one of my all-time favorites, even after a few re-reads and listening to Richard Ferrone’s narration.  The next two in the series weren’t that memorable for me but I got that old magic feeling again when I first read Only Love.  Whip Moran was born a ramblin’ man, always looking for the sunrise he’s never seen; Shannon Smith is an orphan, left to fend for herself in a rustic cabin high in the mountains, with few skills and slightly less brains, but a boatload of pride.  Whip sorta takes Shannon under his wing, as it were, to help her get ready for the long, cruel winter before he takes off for parts unknown.

I mentioned to Lea that Only Love was on my TBL list and she challenged me to a duel!  Ok, I think she meant dual, as in two different reviews of the same audiobook.  Her reading and audio taste are so similar to mine, it’s amazing, and she found the audio a fail – so I put on my six-gun and chaps, and offered to meet her at high noon, after I finished the audio.  Lea: git ready, buckaroo!

She’s not far off the mark – I really do like Ferrone’s voice, but his Shannon voice isn’t good.  He pitches it high (the old drag queen sound) and adds some childishness to it that makes Shannon very unappealing.  It’s bad enough that Lowell gave her so much pride she was on the verge of the proverbial fall and slightly less common sense than a bedbug.

Romances by Elizabeth Lowell are something of an acquired taste.  I sometimes allow myself to be swept away in the overabundance of everything – every alpha hero is manly and stubborn beyond measure; every heroine more womanly, more of everything; every bad guy b-b-b-bad to the bone.  And in case you don’t get it the first time she writes it, she has a tendency to repeat it, over and over, throughout the story.  In this one she gifted Shannon with the nickname “Honeygirl” and I swan, if I hear that one more time, I’m gonna scream!

But it wasn’t a pure fail for me, in spite of Ferrone’s inability to read women’s voices well.  He’s no Phil Gigante, ladies, but I like the rough, basso sound of his voice. He doesn’t go all mushy and breathy in the sex scenes, and somehow he manages to tuck all those “he said”s and “she said”s out of the way, so they don’t poke you in the dang ear every time they appear.  He captures the feeling of the Old West for me, and his pacing and cadence are superb.  So, ok, Lea – start countin’, honeygirl!

Now for Lea’s take…

Okay Melinda, my partner in loving romance cowboys including the gigantically alpha (ass) heroes of Elizabeth Lowell’s Only series.  Only His is my favorite of the series in print as well (I can’t say I have an audio favorite with Ferrone narrating all) and earned a DIK grade from me despite the fact that Caleb spends almost the entire book believing Willow is a whore (and treating her the same).  Ferrone’s narration of Only His was slightly acceptable to me even though I shuddered at his performance of the female characters.  But strangely enough, it was his performance of the hero Whip that put me over the edge in Only Love.

Giving examples of males narrators who did and did not work for me in the June 8, 2009 Speaking of Audiobooks: Male Narrators, I used Ferrone as an example.  Few things can get my audio dander up like Ferrone and that word “honeygirl!”

“When it comes to a flat-out failure for male narration of a romance, my vote goes to Richard Ferrone, narrator of Elizabeth Lowell’s Only series. His narration is actually pretty impressive until his heroine utters her first words and you can’t help but think of Diana’s Monty Python reference. Even worse is the occasional injustice done to these manliest of men heroes. In the printed version of Only Love, Whip is a strong, considerate hero but Ferrone’s verbalization of Whip’s repeated claims of being a yondering man always seeking the sunrise he’s never seen, while referring to Shannon as Honey Girl, cast him forever in my mind as a slightly effeminate silly man. What a waste!”

I actually envisioned Whip dancing off into the sunset (no horse beneath him) as he utters those yondering man/honeygirl lines (repeatedly).  Where was the image of this utterly male cowboy on a magnificent horse as I envisioned him leaving while I read in print?!

Unfortunately, Only Love ruined me for any Ferrone narration.  I know, I know – that’s unfair.  I should challenge myself to listen to another but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to rid myself of the sound of Whip telling his honeygirl about his yondering ways when hearing Ferrone’s voice.

But hey Melinda, I’ll meet you anytime for another audio duel although I doubt we’ll find that much to disagree on!



Visions of HeatVisions of Heat – Nalini Singh

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Angela Dawe

Vaughn, a jaguar changeling, was taken in by the Leopards after traumatic childhood events left him an orphan.  He’s drawn to isolated Faith Nightstar, an F Psy who has begun to see more than the financial futures she was trained to predict.  As a foreteller, she sees the future while it can still be changed which she determines to do before another murder happens.

I had to pay close attention while listening to Visions of Heat in order to know who was who, especially among the males.  I was willing to pay the extra attention and it worked for me but, still…I was nearing the halfway point feeling somewhat disappointed.  I could hear inflection and intent in the characters voices, which I liked, but there wasn’t any Life, Pizzazz, Whatever, being added.  There are italicized words in the book that were not emphasized in audio and bits of humor passed flatly.  Both could have improved the oomph of the audio a great deal. Voicing the written nuances is a must.

I did feel the narration picked up in the second half.  I’ll choose the audiobook over reading in the future since the low gravelly voice and attitude Dawe used for Vaughn toned down his jerk quotient, making me like him a lot more in audio. Knowing Faith is Psy is one thing, having to listen to a cold stilted voice is another, so I was content with her light young voice.

I’ll be re-listening to this one, but I really hope Angela finds her funny bone soon – especially before Riley & Mercy!  The humorous bantering between characters is a big part of what makes this series.  It lightens up the more serious topics within each book which makes the written word the success it is.  Hearing the humor in the audio would mean much more enjoyment for listeners.

Delicious – Susan Mallery

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Therese Plummer

This is the first in the author’s Buchanan series, and my personal favorite.  I agree with Lea’s original review of the book here.  I like stories of lovers reunited and this is a good one.

Cal Buchanan and Penny Jones’ marriage ended years earlier.  A lot has changed for the two since then.  Penny is now a successful Seattle chef, and through artificial insemination, is finally going to get the child she hoped for.  Cal left the family restaurant chain and has made a success of a chain of coffee places.

Cal is temporarily helping his evil grandmother turn around a failing restaurant.  Ready for a professional change, Penny is delighted when Cal asks her to take over as executive chef.

I read Delicious years ago in print but enjoyed it in audio as a reread.  Ms. Plummer did an excellent job distinguishing between voices; they were varied and generally fit with the personality of the individual.  If anything, I hated Gloria, Cal’s grandmother, even more in the audio version.  She came across as an ice cold witch.

The only thing I didn’t like about the audio version was the voice Ms. Plummer used for Penny’s assistant Naomi.  The voice was nasal and whiny.  I thought she was trying to do either a New Jersey or Boston accent, so was surprised to learn that Naomi was from Ohio.  That issue aside, I genuinely enjoyed the audio version, and will definitely give other recordings by Ms. Plummer a try.

Fire and Ice – Anne Stuart

Review written by Lea AAR

Narrated by Xe Sands

Okay, I’m a little late to the party here, especially considering this is Anne Stuart as well as the fact that I’ve heard so many good things about Xe Sands.

I read Fire and Ice in print upon its release and it was sort of a “meh” experience for me and didn’t come close to ranking as my favorite in the Ice series.  After hearing Xe Sands performance, Fire and Ice lost all its “meh-ness” and amazingly moved up to my favorite of the Ice series!  Now that’s the audiobook experience at its best.  In print I didn’t care much for Reno or Jilly and questioned their maturity level on numerous occasions.  I couldn’t imagine this hero with a long red braid nor could I easily visualize the Japanese setting or bring the accents to life.  With Xe Sands’ outstanding performance, I heard every accent and understood (and liked) both Reno and Jilly through her characterizations. Her delivery made me catch on to the suspense around the curve at every moment.  Her performance of Reno enabled me to see him as a mature and highly talented man.

Fire and Ice is a fast paced audiobook delivered with such perfection that I believe few if any romantic suspense fans will be disappointed.




Shards of Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Grover Gardner

Science Fiction with a thread of romance is way outside my norm.  Surveying uninhabited planets?  Plans for interplanetary war?  The hero and heroine from opposite sides, finding each other due to an attempted space ship mutiny?  Approaching Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor was a challenge, but one I eagerly took.

I’ve read many positive things about narrator Grover Gardner while at the same time being told he “reads” more than performs.  Let’s start with that aspect.  Gardner may not perform in the way we romance lovers’ are coming to expect, but he catches all the emotional vibes and deeper meanings to this multi layered story perfectly using tone, inflection, accent or intensity to differentiate characters whether man or woman.  It was very impressive and the best word to describe his narration for me is compelling. He drew me into this complex story and I wanted to hear his voice reveal the layers.

Yes, I had to work hard to know who was who along with sorting out the depth of what was happening in Shards of Honor.  But that can’t be blamed on the narrator; the story itself does not lend itself to an easy flow of understanding.  The addition of the royal name ” Vor” to many important characters, cities and even the spacecraft’s name made it difficult to keep up with, while the political scheming had my brain struggling to bring everything together.  The levels of intrigue revealed are a testament to a brilliant author.  Reading would have made these aspects easier, but I was captivated by the narration.   I didn’t want to read it myself.

The romance aspect is straightforward, a thin thread that weaves its way through the story, but it’s still satisfying.  Aral and Cordelia are both the stuff true heroes are made of.  Their motivations and actions have you rooting for them and I’m thrilled that their story is continued in the following book, Barrayar.

Shards of Honor has one of the best “I’m in love with him” lines ever.  Cordeilia…“Well, I don’t hate him. Can’t say as I worship him, either.” She paused a long time, and looked up to meet her mother’s eyes squarely. “But when he’s cut, I bleed.”

Bending the RulesBending the Rules – Susan Andersen

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Carol Monda

Bending the Rules is the second in a trilogy about 3 BFFs who inherit a run-down Seattle mansion. Setting aside the rather implausible circumstances of the inheritance, this book has a plot I enjoy – opposites attract.  Raised on a commune, Poppy Calloway is the liberal do-gooder artist thrown together with the rather strict stick-to-the-rules cop Jason DeSanges who grew up in foster homes because everyone in his family was in jail.  Jason’s saving grace was an older cop who took the time to help him before he followed in his family’s footsteps.  Poppy is doing the same with three young tag artists who vandalized some local businesses.  Even though this conceit has been done time and time again, I like Andersen’s prose and her family building.

My only other experience with Carol Monda was the first book in this series, Cutting Loose.  Her narration was acceptable in both books but considering how low her own voice is pitched during the general narrative, her men’s voices sound a little like teenage boys going through puberty – hoarse and pitched too high.  However, I think I was more tolerant listening to this book because I liked the story and the characters better than Cutting Loose.  Enjoying the story, I did that “thing” we audio listeners do – I slipped into Monda’s reality and accepted her voices (you audio book aficionados are nodding your heads).  She is consistent with characters and never goes overboard with her narration, which is a plus.  Overall, a solid “I liked it” experience.

To Die For– Linda Howard

Review written by Lea AAR

Narrated by Fran Liebow

Easily sitting in my top five favorite contemporaries, I fell in love with Blair and Wyatt in the print version and read To Die For twice before discovering in audio.  I excitedly purchased a copy online only to wait weeks for it to arrive in the mail (no digital downloads at the time).

For those new to To Die For, one must understand going in that the heroine’s looks are perfect and she knows it.  Beautiful, blond, and totally in shape, Blair went to college on a cheerleading scholarship and now owns an exercise club.  Yeah, after hearing that, it was weeks before I could talk myself into giving it a try but boy was it worth it.  And what makes it all work is …Wyatt.

Told in first person, Blair is a completely unique heroine whose thoughts and machinations women will still identify as close to their own at times.  Although many regard this as romantic suspense, I see this as a highly entertaining funny contemporary romance.  Wyatt is sexy as hell and he is listed on my AAR profile as one of my favorite heroes.

However, when I started listening to my long awaited audio version of this beloved book, it was only moments before I stopped in horror thinking “Who chose this narrator and her over the top southern accent?!”  Fran Liebow’s interpretation can be hard on the ears if you’re not prepared.  I continued listening in some despair because, despite that accent, Wyatt sounded just like the hunky hero I envisioned in print.

I picked up To Die For again in audio a few years ago.  I had gained what I hoped was a discerning ear and decided to enjoy it despite Liebow’s accent.  And I did.  Liebow understands this couple and delivers their lines with perfect timing and takes advantage of every humorous moment with skill.  I now consider To Die For a reliable relisten which always brings a big smile to my face.  No, it’s not equal to Anna Fields performing one of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books, but Liebow does this couple right.  Wyatt and Blair react to one another just as I expect them to and her characterizations are spot on.

If you haven’t listened to To Die For or have listened unsuccessfully as I had, I challenge you to give it a try or try again!

Time for Your Thoughts


Have you listened to any of these books?  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


Back to our regular schedule next week, our Speaking of Audiobooks column features a giveaway of audiobooks in Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalker series.  Make sure you check in and comment for your chance to win.

Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we now have 125 members!  It’s easy to join and it’s a great place for discussion in between our columns.

I’m announcing new romance audiobook releases and other audio tidbits on Twitter – look for LeaAAR.

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

And, don’t forget to submit your ballot for our Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll!

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley

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