Halfway to the GraveAlthough today’s column features our usual list of upcoming romance releases and a number of audiobook reviews as well, we’re starting out with a close look at Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave, an urban fantasy romance with a kick.  What’s the kick?  Bones the hero.  Read on!

Bones and Cat and Tavia Gilbert


As I wrote my review for Blackstone Audio’s Halfway to the Grave, I found myself wanting to talk with narrator Tavia Gilbert about the choices she made in performing Bones’ character.  When I contacted her with my request, she graciously agreed to join us today and give us a view of this audio production from the inside out.

But first – the review for all who have yet to listen to Halfway to the Grave:

Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series is one that garners a good bit of attention from time to time here at Speaking of Audiobooks.  Halfway to the Grave is the first in this excellently written series that has a boatload of fans both in print and audio although the audio version carries with it some cries of disappointment over Tavia Gilbert’s depiction of Bones, a vampire around 200 years of age.

Bones is front and center in the series and I believe he is one of the best-written heroes – ever.  I can’t recall when I have found one single character as entertaining and I fell for him immediately.  Ms. Gilbert understands Bones perfectly but she also performs his character as written complete with a Cockney accent from around 1800 although this fantasy world is set in present day.  And that is where the complaints come from.  I guess we want Bones to sound like the American modern day hero he is.

I’ll readily admit that the Bones factor made me hesitate to start the series in audio plus I’m not a big fantasy romance fan (that seems to be changing).  But I had one thing pushing me to listen and that is the sizable group of Bones and Cat audio fans here at Speaking of Audiobooks – fans who think Bones’ character shines through especially well in audio.  Now that I have listened to the first two in the series, I completely agree.  Yes, I’m thankful I was forewarned that his accent would be a bit challenging at first but that awareness just made me concentrate on his character all the more.  And, oh, what I would have missed if I had let a Cockney accent get in the way.  Bones is served up just right in audio and now I can’t imagine wanting his character performed in any other manner.

But I guess I need to talk about Cat’s character as well, since she is a large reason for this series’ success as well.  Half human and half vampire, Cat started hunting vampires and killing them when she was a teenager.  Her mother carries a deep hatred for vampires and encourages Cat in her activities.  While searching for her next vampire, Cat meets Bones and tries to kill him as well.

Cat is quite simply a highly likable character despite her vampire killing instincts.  She is one of those kick-ass heroines (something I usually dislike) but the bitchiness and I-can-do-it-all attitude that I associate with that type of heroine are not part of Cat’s makeup.  She joins with Bones to fight for good and some revenge as well.  And they make one heck of a couple.

Now for Tavia’s Take…

Thanks Tavia for agreeing to talk with me about a hero I obviously loved.  What went into your decision to perform Bones as you did?

I prepped the book and the character of Bones as I do all my acting projects—starting with a thorough read of the script. When I read the script through the first time, I note all of the author’s descriptions of each character, both their physical traits and their personality qualities, their characteristics. I highlight what each characters says about themselves and what they say about other characters. I search for clues to how each character speaks, both the attributes that the author specifies, and all the information that the author imparts about the emotional and mental state of the character as they are in dialogue with other characters. I create a character voice from there. Actually creating the character voice—the pitch, rhythm, tone, pace, dynamics—is not something I slave over, honestly; I trust the author’s work and my own skill and preparation to bring a character fully to life, and I play around, try different things out, working quickly to get the feel right, and then I’m off. Sometimes I’ll struggle with a voice, and it will take me a while to nail it down, but more often than not it comes quickly and naturally as an extension of the script preparation.


Bones came to me very easily and naturally. He is not a stereotypical, one-note hero. I loved that Jeaniene didn’t write Bones to have the “deep, smooth baritone” that so many other authors give to every single heroic, male protagonist. Bones is totally his own man—one of a kind! He’s not perfect or someone Cat puts on a pedestal, any more than Cat, herself, is flawless. He is complicated, impulsive, jealous, a hothead…and he doesn’t come from any one place. He’s been around, in every sense. His basis was Cockney, yes, but he was also just…Bones. Teasing, flirtatious, testy, irritable, fierce, flippant, and unpredictable. I was really enjoying Tim Roth’s wonderful performance as Dr. Cal Lightman in the short-lived television show, Lie To Me, and I was intrigued by how this guy with nervous, edgy, potentially violent, capricious energy could still be very, very sexy, intelligent, protective, dominant, and unflappable, so I think some of that influence colored the character I made.


Well, if anything, your description of Bones makes me want to go back and start the series all over again!  Is there anything you would like to say to our Cat and Bones audio fans?

I totally get that Bones’s voice is not for everyone but it speaks to the loyalty and love that fans have for the series that they feel passionately about the characters’ performance. Hopefully listeners will feel the love and ardor that Bones has for his beloved Cat no matter what, even if they’re not initially a convert to his unusual voice.


Although I have talked about Tavia’s performance of Bones’ character, I have yet to mention her interpretation and performance of the other characters.  It is close to perfect.  Male and female voices are clearly differentiated and secondary characters are unmistakably distinguished one from the other.  You know who is talking without having to be told in the narrative.  Her depiction of Cat is spot on – strength and vulnerability and determination and kindness.

Halfway to the Grave is only part of the story not only as the first in a series but also in that it is only half of what I see as the series setup.  I felt the need to immediately listen to One Foot in the Grave.  I’m now listening to the third in the series but the urgency to know what happens next with Cat and Bones is not as strong.  At this point, I see them as a solid couple and fans who have listened to the entire series are still talking about “Cat and Bones” so I’m taking that as a very good sign.

And thanks to Tavia for sharing with us today!

Audiobook Romances on Sale in February

Includes new formats of existing audiobooks.  All unabridged unless otherwise stated.

Brockmann, Suzanne – Letters to Kelly Narrated by Melanie Ewbank & Patrick Lawlor

Brockmann, Suzanne – Love with the Proper Stranger Narrated by Melanie Ewbank & Patrick Lawlor

Brockmann, Suzanne – Stand-In Groom Narrated by Kymberly Dakin

Brockmann, Suzanne – Unstoppable Narrated by Melanie Ewbank & Patrick Lawlor

Callahan, Coreene – Fury of Fire Narrated by Benjamin L. Darcie

Feehan, Christine – Water Bound Narrated by Angela Brazil

Galenorn, Yasmine – Shaded Vision Narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Haymore, Jennifer – Secrets of an Accidental Duchess Narrated by Kate Reading

James, Eloisa – Fool for Love Narrated by Justine Eyre

James, Lorelei – Corralled Narrated by Scarlet Chase

Killough-Walden, Heather – The Hunt Narrated by Gildart Jackson

Kinsella, Sophie – I’ve Got Your Number Narrated by Jayne Entwistle

Rainshadow RoadKleypas, Lisa – Rainshadow Road Narrated by Tanya Eby

Laurens, Stephanie – The Edge of Desire Narrated by Steven Crossley

London, Julia – The Revenge of Lord Eberlin Narrated by Justine Eyre

MacLean, Julianne – Seduced by the Highlander Narrated by Antony Ferguson

MacLean, Sarah – A Rogue by Any Other Name Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

McCarty, Monica – Highlander Untamed Narrated by Antony Ferguson

McCarty, Monica – Highland Warrior Narrated by Roger Hampton

Michaels, Fern – Weekend Warriors Narrated by Laural Merlington

Monajem, Barbara – Heart of Constantine Narrator unknown

Richards, Emilie – Endless Chain Narrated by Isabel Keating

Robards, Karen – Sea Fire Narrated by Justine Eyre

Robb, J.D. – Celebrity in Death Narrated by Susan Ericksen

Sands, Lynsay – Husband Hunt Narrated by Jaime Birch

Stuart, Anne – On Thin Ice Narrated by Xe Sands

Tyler, J.D. – Primal Law Narrated by Kirsten Potter

Woodsmall, Cindy – The Scent of Cherry Blossoms Narrated by Cassandra Campbell



Romance Audio Reviews

Pride Mates – Jennifer Ashley

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Tracy Odom

I had a $10.00 credit at Audible and Pride Mates by Jennifer Ashley fell within that price range.  Knowing this was the same author who brought me my beloved The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, how could I resist?

To say this audio started out rough is an understatement.  The production was filled with a snap-crackle-pop of noise and narrator Tracy Odom sounded like she had been released from a starting gate as she charged into the narration. But, by the time it took me to experiment with the settings to slow things down on my MP3 player, I had settled into the rapid-fire narration and was caught up in the beginning of the story.

Kim Fraser is an open-minded attorney trying to gather information to exonerate her client, a Shifter male accused of murdering his girlfriend. Kim believes in his innocence as she knows Shifters must wear collars that cause intense pain if their adrenalin spikes thus restraining them from acting out violently. She also believes in the reliability of the collars and risks entering Shiftertown to meet with Liam Morissey, the man who can help make her case – if he is so inclined.

To be honest, if I had read Pride Mates before listening to the audio version, I would have been seriously disappointed at the tone given to Liam’s voice when he first spoke.  However, it took very little time for me to fall for the distinctive light Irish lilt Ms. Odom lent him which only grew better as the story progressed and other family members were introduced with their version of the lilt. Liam’s voice isn’t pitched lower but it is immediately recognizable as were the other males in his family. Actually I ended up being impressed with all the voices and personalities given to this large cast of main characters. I wish I could say the bursts of static smoothed out as well but at least they were short in duration when they did occur.

The standard paranormal romance mating bond is present in Pride Mates but there is so much more to the story that the bonding aspect pales as the plot unfolds. I had expectations from the author who gave me Ian Mackenzie and I felt those expectations were met by the time I finished listening.

Pride Mates is the first book in the Shifters Unbound series and I’m hoping they produce the rest of the series in audio as well.  I’d be happy to listen to Tracy Odom again, especially with this cast of characters.

Baby, Don’t Go – Stephanie Bond

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Baby, Don’t Go is a short series romance (third in the Southern Roads trilogy) and between the author and narrator Cassandra Campbell, it works pretty doggone well. Although fairly new to me, Campbell has a large library of narrations in her bio, including non-fiction works as well as other fiction genres.

Heroine Alicia Randall is the Undercover Feminist, writing a column for the ultra-radical Feminine Power magazine out of New York City, always looking to right any discrimination against women. She’s headed undercover to the town of Sweetness, Georgia, to expose obvious chauvinism: the town’s mostly-male residents put an ad in a Michigan newspaper looking for women to move to Sweetness.

Hero Marcus Armstrong is too busy rebuilding Sweetness to pay attention to the women who answered the town’s ad.  In fact, he’s finding them to be a nuisance in his plan to get the town ready for the federal inspectors. In a case of opposites attract, the misogynistic Marcus Armstrong takes on the uber-feminist Alicia. But it’s not just man vs. woman – it’s also small town vs. NYC and South vs. North, getting as much mileage out of every possible cliché ever conceived.

Campbell uses subtle accents for the Southerners in general and her narration is easy to listen to. She handles the author’s implausible scenarios and almost-over-the-top characters, reading just enough humor into them to make you smile. There are a number of different characters with varying accents, and Campbell keeps them all distinct and clear. One interesting observation for those of us who are Susan Elizabeth Phillips/Anna Fields fans – Campbell channels her inner Anna for one of the characters who sounds exactly like Charmaine, wife of Chicago Star Darnell Pruitt.

It’s a nice romantic comedy break.

Animal AttractionAnimal Attraction – Jill Shalvis

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Karen White

Jade Bennett ran away from her perfect, family-oriented upper-class life in Chicago and ended up in Sunshine, Idaho where she’s worked for 18 months as Dell Connelly’s veterinary office manager. Now her family is pressuring her to return to the fold and her former job of running their successful medical clinic.

Dell can’t believe the luck he had hiring an unknown woman with no references or experience in running a veterinary office – she is organized, punctual, good with clients, and easy on the eyes. Jade made it clear from the start that she was off-limits to his serial dating ways, so they have been friends and co-workers only. But now that she is leaving, what harm would it do to give in to the attraction?

I read the first of this series, Animal Magnetism, in print, and found it to be an okay read but nothing great. I give Karen White full credit for raising Animal Attraction to the level of a DIK (Desert Isle Keeper). Okay, I’ll let author Jill Shalvis have a titch of that credit – the dialog between the truly snarky, sarcastic and witty heroine and the lovable, on-the-make hero is delicious and White delivers it with all the humor and passion it needs. She also gives the narration that perfect tone that lets you forget there’s a narrator while you revel in the story, as though she were sitting there with a cuppa Joe telling it herself. I do however, have one teensy criticism – the voices White gives Adam, Dell and Brady sound too similar at times.  Unless the author identified the speaker after each line, I wasn’t always sure who was speaking when the three were together. It’s a minor quibble and my only slight negative since Animal Attraction was a truly delightful listen.  Now I must go back and redo Animal Magnetism in audio this time!

Frisco’s Kid – Suzanne Brockmann

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Lauren Fortang

When I first began reading romance I didn’t read a lot of category romances. However, I did glom the early books in Suzanne Brockmann’s Tall, Dark, and Dangerous series, and this 1997 release is one of my all-time favorites.  I was delighted to discover Frisco’s Kid is now available in audio; it received a DIK review here at AAR and it’s definitely a DIK for me. However, I haven’t read it in years and was worried that it might sound dated. It didn’t.

Alan “Frisco” Francisco feels as if his life is over. He’s built his life around being a Navy SEAL. Despite repeated surgeries on his seriously injured leg, he’s barely able to walk with a cane and definitely can’t run, swim, and jump – the basic requirements for a SEAL. Frisco rejects the suggestion that he teach other SEALs and instead spends much of his time drinking when he isn’t fruitlessly trying to train to regain his physical abilities.

Frisco is forced to make some changes in his life when he takes over temporary custody of his young niece Natasha. His attractive neighbor Mia helps with these changes. I loved the romance not only between Frisco and Mia, but the relationship that develops between Frisco and his niece.

There’s a lot of dialog in the book, and I never had any problems distinguishing one character from another. Although the men aren’t given deeply masculine voices, they sound different from the women.

The characters face diverse emotional situations and narrator Lauren Fortang does a good job conveying each. When Frisco wakes up hung over, he sounds hung over. When he talks to his young niece Natasha he sounds different, as someone would when talking to a little girl. When Frisco is angry and trying to control it, that’s exactly how he sounds.

Similarly, when Mia’s embarrassed, she sounds embarrassed. Although just a minor character in the book, Ms. Fortang is spot on with Natasha’s mother’s voice, realistically portraying her sadness and her alcoholic voice.

This is my favorite of the author’s Tall Dark, and Dangerous series, and with Ms. Fortang’s narration, it translates well into audio. I hoped to discover she narrated other books in the series but it appears a variety of narrators were selected.  I will definitely look for other books narrated by Ms. Fortang and recommend Frisco’s Kid to readers interested in trying some of Ms. Brockmann’s early books in audio.

The Convenient Marriage – Georgette Heyer

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Richard Armitage

Abridged version

Georgette Heyer’s writing is sometimes a delight and sometimes a little overwhelming since her attention to detail (both with language and customs of the Regency period) forces your brain to work a little harder to keep up. Horatia, the youngest sister of an impoverished but titled family, decides to offer herself in marriage to Lord Rule, in place of her older, more comely sister who is already in love with someone else.  He’s chosen Horatia’s family for their connections rather than love or money, and agrees with Horatia’s deal even though she is just 17 and has a noticeable stammer.

Lord Rule and Horatio reach an agreement that neither will interfere in the other’s life but when Horatia befriends Rule’s enemy, Lord Lethbridge, the game begins. The Convenient Marriage actually steps over some lines that many of today’s romance readers draw in the proverbial sand.  For instance, Rule has a mistress he does not give up at marriage. And hoydenish, outrageous Horatia steps over the boundaries set for young women of the ton a number of times – something I found amusing at first. That amusement faded as the story unfolded and I found myself becoming more annoyed by her shenanigans.

Lord and Lady Rule demonstrate with a passionate kiss at the end that all’s well that ends well.  Don’t expect any more passion than that from Heyer, however.  Although it was an abridged version, I suspect that Lady Rule remained untouched until after the story ended with that kiss.

Richard Armitage is a wonderful, deep-voiced narrator who is perfectly matched to Heyer’s prose and his heroes are truly to-die-for, baritone, and hunky sounding. He performs a variety of women’s voices, some stretching the limits of his voice, and in The Convenient Marriage, he treats us with a very entertaining “macaroni” falsetto voice complete with lisp. Not having read the full story, I can’t say whether that is implied or actually written into the character, but let’s just say this particular dandy is voiced as someone who does not chase after women. Ever. Armitage did a credible stammer for Horatia all the way through – and wasn’t that annoying!

All in all, Richard Armitage provides a top-notch narration that makes The Convenient Marriage an above average listen for me.

Angelina’s Bachelors: A Novel with Food – Brian O’Reilly

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Xe Sands

From the moment I started listening to Angelina’s Bachelors: A Novel with Food, I was totally engrossed. Narrator Xe Sands brings this Italian neighborhood in South Philadelphia completely to life with her skilled narration of this moving and delicious storyline.

Frank and Angelina are blissfully happy in their marriage and with their life when Frank suddenly dies from a heart attack, leaving Angelina a young widow, adrift in a life without him.  Vocally, we experience every emotion Angelina experiences – warmth and love, a wrenching grief, sadness mixed with determination that turns to hope, and then delight as she builds a very different but once again happy life for herself. This takes place over time with the help of family, friends and food.

Angelina uses her  cooking ability as therapy and as a way to make ends meet, while filling a spot in several men’s lives. Angelina’s Bachelors moves at a fast pace with something new around every corner as the cast of characters builds and grows together with each artfully created and mouth watering meal.

Ms. Sands gives each character throughout Angelina’s Bachelors a beautifully defined voice, which is impressive considering the fact that there are multiple main characters, each with a vivid personality that shows through when they speak. I particularly enjoyed hearing the Italian accents prevalent throughout the story.

There is an HEA, but it was far from the focus of this wonderfully written book brought vibrantly alive with Xe Sands’ excellent narration.

Time for Your Thoughts

Have you listened to Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave?  Does Tavia’s research on Bones’ character impact your thoughts on her performance of his character?

What new releases are you looking forward to?

Do you know of a new romance release that didn’t make the list?

Have you listened to one of today’s review books?  What were your thoughts?

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

Ending Notes

Our 2012 Listening Challenge began earlier this month.  There are a number of tracks to choose from.  Come join us!  Or share your update with us in the comments area.

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 186 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 presently have 235 romance audiobook reviews.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley

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