It’s time for another All Reviews column here at Speaking of Audiobooks. Eight audiobooks are up for review including: Karen Rose’s No One Left to Tell, Susan Wiggs’ Dockside, Kerry Greenwood’s The Castlemaine Murders, Maya Banks’ Never Love a Highlander, Christine Warren’s Not Your Ordinary Faerie Tale, Sally MacKenzie’s The Duchess of Love, Elizabeth Lowell’s Beautiful Sacrifice, and Sherryl Wood’s Waking Up in Charleston.

No One Left to Tell – Karen Rose

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Marguerite Gavin

Paige Holden is a trainee Private Investigator working pro bono for Maria Munoz, the mother of Ramon, currently in prison for the murder of a woman six years earlier. Maria is convinced that Ramon is innocent and asks Paige to look into it. Early one Tuesday morning, Elena Munoz (Ramon’s wife) is killed in front of Paige and thus starts the roller coaster ride that is No One Left to Tell.

Grayson Smith is the prosecutor who put Ramon away. By lunchtime Tuesday, he and Paige are working together to try and solve the original murder. Over the course of the next few days, their lives are repeatedly threatened and both narrowly escape death, even as the body count in the book begins to rise. The story ends on Saturday of the same week – there is a not a lot of sleeping in this book as there is no time!

If you asked me to sum up the story in one word, I would have to say: overwrought. There is just so much that happens in such a short space of time and, as a listener, I was a bit overwhelmed. There was no “downtime” in the book. And the “so much” usually always involves a knife or a gun or a bomb.

I think this is my first Marguerite Gavin listen. She is certainly very proficient and performs male characters very well. I found her voice to be a little on the harsh side, which perhaps made some of the characters come across as more brash than I would have otherwise pictured. Grayson has a sister with Down syndrome and Gavin narrates her voice extremely well – accurately without caricature.

One thing that repeatedly threw me out of the story was the overuse of internal monologue. I think it may have worked better for me in print but in audio, the only cue that there was a shift from the narrative to a character’s internal thoughts was the shift from third person to first person and when the thought was during a conversation, there wasn’t even that. I found it very jarring and it happened a lot.

No One Left To Tell wasn’t my favorite Karen Rose book – that honor still goes to Have You Seen Her.

Dockside – Susan Wiggs

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Joyce Bean

Dockside is the third book in the Lakeside Chronicles series. Narrator Joyce Bean is the perfect choice for the reading of a book set in New York state, populated by a variety of locals, both wealthy Manhattanites and small town Avalonites. Bean gives each one just the right amount of local and class accent to highlight their status – the recognizable New Yawk for some, a more highbrow accent for others.

This story joins together two people who met years ago. Wiggs repeats themes in her books – both the young, unwed teen with the secret baby as well as lovers reuniting. In Dockside, it’s a mixture of both. Greg Bellamy met Nina when she was in high school and he was in college. He rescued her from what ended up being the night of the conception of her secret baby (he is not the father). Later that summer, he is confronted with the result of his own indiscretion, and he marries the mother of his secret baby. At his wedding, where Nina is the hired help, he gets drunk and unwittingly predicts their own future.

The ongoing saga of the series’ favorite love triangle reveals the birth of yet another almost-secret baby when Greg’s daughter, Daisy, gives birth to Charlie. Both of Daisy’s love interests appear and meet for the first time – Logan, the baby’s father, and Julian, the boy Daisy is more interested in. Joyce Bean gives each a young, gruff earnestness and both are in love with the series’ young darling.

When Greg buys the local inn, the inn Nina had always imagined owning, the two end up working together and realizing their early attraction now that they are unencumbered by their age difference (and of course their secret babies). Even though I enjoyed the book, I do want to say that Nina was a little too much of a pushy know-it-all for me. However, I think it speaks well for the author and the narrator that I could feel so strongly about a fictional character!

The Castlemaine Murders – Kerry Greenwood

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Stephanie Daniel

This is the 13th entry in the Phryne Fisher mystery series set in 1920s Australia. As always, Stephanie Daniel does a wonderful job with the narration, giving each character a unique, appropriate voice.

The Castlemaine Murders features multiple mysteries including a mummified body found on an expedition to an amusement park, and a mysterious robbery that occurred years earlier among the Chinese immigrants. Ms. Daniel has a different challenge this time around as several characters are described as using different voices when the occasion requires; Ms. Daniel exceeds my expectations. When Phryne uses her “English accent,” she sounds quite different than when she normally speaks.

Phryne’s sister, Beth, is visiting and goes through many changes over the book. Ms. Daniel’s interpretation of Beth’s character follows the story perfectly. In the beginning she gives Beth a proper, snobby, upper-class English accent that is fitting with Beth’s behavior toward Phryne’s unusual household. Eventually Beth gets angry and attacks a man. During the fight, Ms. Daniel gives her a lower-class Australian accent (which must be similar to that of her upbringing). Although Beth doesn’t maintain that lower-class accent (and it wouldn’t have been appropriate for her character), she speaks in a gentler, friendly voice for much of the rest of the book.

All of the books I’ve read in the series have some interesting bits of historical information mixed in with the story. This one includes history of the Chinese immigrating to Australia in both the 1850s and 1920s as well as the 1850s Australian gold rush. There are numerous Chinese immigrant characters and Ms. Daniel gives each a clear Chinese accent. Everyone sounded as I expected based on his or her character and on the action in the book.

I should caution that this is a mystery and not romance. Phryne has had a number of different lovers in the books I’ve read. In this one she’s still involved with Lin Chung, who is now married to someone else, with his wife fully aware of the relationship.

There were some whopping coincidences in one of the mysteries but The Castlemaine Murders still captured, and held, my attention. I’m really enjoying the series in audio and can highly recommend it to fans of historical mysteries.

Never Love a Highlander – Maya Banks

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Kirsten Potter

Never Love a Highlander is Book 3 in the McCabe Trilogy. As I hadn’t read the first two books when I started my listen, the first part of the story was a little confusing as I tried to sort out the significance of the various players. Caelen McCabe is the youngest brother and he steps in to marry Riona McDonald after his brother, Alaric (hero from Book 2), marries elsewhere for love. They need to marry to form a clan alliance and to fight a war (that was probably explained in Book 1). Riona is a medieval tomboy – she wears men’s clothes and practices swordplay and tries very hard to hide anything feminine about her. She is, however, loyal to her clan so she agrees to the marriage.

Caelen has been secretly lusting after Riona since he first saw her (presumably in an earlier book). They have the distrust of her clan to work through and Caelen’s mistrust of women (he was betrayed by a woman and this led to the beginning of the clan war). Plus, Riona wants to be loved for herself and not forced to fit the mold of a proper lady. The plot is fairly predictable and for me, it had a bit of a stuttering start but by about the one-third mark, I was enjoying the story and it was certainly no struggle to finish. It’s not anything earth shattering and I suspect there’s some historical inaccuracies, but overall, an enjoyable listen.

Kirsten Potter is a very good narrator. I did feel that her Scottish accent sounded forced at times – the difference between someone who is putting on an accent and someone who speaks with that accent. For example, Davina Porter and Phil Gigante have excellent and unforced Scottish accents. Kirsten Potter herself does a great French accent in Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady. But here, I felt that she tripped over her tongue a few times and wasn’t truly comfortable with the accent she was striving for. Her male characters were sufficiently differentiated to understand who was talking but there’s not a huge difference in pitch. I enjoyed her narration in The Spymaster’s Lady more but I think that was largely because the prose in that book was so beautifully wrought. Never Love A Highlander is a good listen but I’d recommend starting the series in order.

Not Your Ordinary Faerie Tale – Christine Warren

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Kate Reading

Can a beloved narrator turn a bad book into a good listen? In this case, no. Blythe reviewed the print version for this entry into the Others series at AAR and gave it a D+, liking the fae aspects, but not much else. I should have paid more attention to her review before volunteering to review this in audio. If reviewing in print, I suspect my grade would be even lower than Blythe’s.

I’ve read a number of the Others series but was immediately confused. The author’s website reveals that while this was released in November 2011, it should be read “before” many of her other books as it takes place before many older books in the series.

Not Your Ordinary Faerie Tale
focuses on Corinne and Luc, our hero and heroine, with much told from Luc’s POV. For the most part I liked Ms. Reading’s performance of Luc but she seemed to struggle a bit with Corrine’s voice. At times she gave Corrine one of her typical, smart aleck voices but more often than not, Corrine just sounded flat. This isn’t surprising. We know virtually nothing about Corinne other than that she’s Luc’s heartmate and is very irritating. That’s it.

Most of the book takes place with just Corrine and Luc on page; I never had difficulty distinguishing one from the other. When another character appears, Ms. Reading gives them a unique voice making it easy to understand who is speaking. Corinne and Luc’s emotions are heard clearly with Ms. Reading’s narration: anger, sorrow, and passion (and they have a lot of passion). Their tongues tangle, their mouths mate, and Corrine’s body worships Luc’s.

My problem isn’t with the narration. Ms. Reading continues to be one of my favorite narrators. I intensely dislike this book. In fact, this will be the last time I venture into the author’s works, either in print or audio. I will definitely seek out further narrations by Ms. Reading; I’ll just be more selective about the author’s work she’s narrating.

The Duchess of Love – Sally MacKenzie

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Abby Craden

This novella introduces Ms. MacKenzie’s newest series. In The Duchess of Love, we meet Venus Collingswood, the 19-year-old matchmaker of Little Huffington. When she hears Andrew Valentine, Duke of Greycliffe, is to visit his local property, she starts to excitedly plan the match between him and her elder sister, Aphrodite. Her parents and sister are terribly bookish and so immersed in the classics that Venus despairs of ever getting Aphrodite married off.

Fans of Ms. MacKenzie’s books will not find it surprising that the first time Venus and Drew meet, they are both naked – she is swimming and he plans to. He “rescues” her from what he thinks is drowning. There is mistaken identity, false betrothals, and a very angry hedge in this amusing farce narrated by new-to-me narrator Abby Craden. I found her narration very good; her male voices sounded male and were different enough from one another that I didn’t have trouble distinguishing between Drew and his cousin Nigel or Abby’s father. I did feel that she sometimes missed the timing of some of the humor – Sally Mackenzie writes funny so there is plenty of it. I cannot be 100% certain, but I have the feeling that Ms. Craden’s natural accent is not British. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to one day discover that Abby Craden is a pseudonym for an American narrator familiar to me (but I don’t know who). I think this because I’ve never heard “the Ton” pronounced “the Tone” before and I’m pretty sure “catastrophe” is not pronounced ca-TARS-trof-ee. It threw me occasionally but wasn’t enough to significantly reduce my enjoyment of this fun story.

Beautiful Sacrifice – Elizabeth Lowell

Review written by Carrie

Narrated by Richard Ferrone

Archaeologist Lina Turner is not only a specialist in Mayan artifacts; she is of Mayan decent and can trace her lineage back to before the Spanish conquest. Hunter Johnson is a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer. While helping a current ICE officer track down rare and illegally excavated Mayan artifacts, Hunter seeks Lina’s help. He hopes a better understanding of the significance of the lost artifacts can help him locate them. The investigation turns dangerous, and when the artifacts seem to be linked to Lina’s family, Hunter and Lina leave Houston for her family’s compound on the Yucatan peninsula, hoping for both safety and more answers.

Beautiful Sacrifice contains a significant amount of Mayan history. I enjoyed the history lesson but some listeners may grow weary of the many details Lowell includes. Lowell mixes the fact with fiction by inventing the Mayan god, Kawa’il, along with a bloodthirsty group of followers. Narrator Richard Ferrone has a gravelly voice that suits the sometimes mysterious and mystical atmosphere of the story. His reading brings the forbidding jungle, the dark caves, and the ancient rituals to life. Belief in the ancient Mayan gods seems almost reasonable in this setting.

The reasons behind Hunter’s inclusion in the search for the artifacts weren’t well developed, but that was a minor weakness. Hunter is presented as independent and emotionally closed off, and the narration emphasizes his strength and reserve. Lina is a capable professional who feels the weight of her family obligations. Due to her emotionally distant and often manipulative parents, Lina prefers to work in Houston rather than remain in the Yucatan. Ferrone manages to portray both Lina’s strength and her vulnerability. He doesn’t change his voice significantly when portraying female characters, but the gender of the speaker is clear most of the time. There are only a few sections of dialogue when the change in speaker is not identified that may cause some confusion.

The suspense plot doesn’t entirely work and the dramatic climax goes on for too long. However, the plot and setting are unique and the action moves the book along at a nice pace. In the end, Beautiful Sacrifice is an enjoyable, if somewhat flawed, book that is enhanced by a strong narration.

Waking Up in Charleston – Sherryl Woods

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Tanya Eby

I’ve never read anything by Sherryl Woods before and after this one, I don’t think I’ll be reading or listening to anymore. It was so saccharine sweet it made my teeth ache.

Waking Up in Charleston is apparently the third in a trilogy but I don’t think it is essential to have read the first two books. Caleb Webb is the local reverend and, apparently, he assisted in a community project to build widowed mother of 3, Amanda O’Leary, a house in a previous story. Amanda is estranged from her father “Big Max” and Caleb, knowing and liking both of them, wants to effect a reconciliation. Amanda is unaware that Big Max paid for the land Amanda’s new house sits on, or that the building project was his idea, or that Caleb knows Big Max and that secret is one of the conflicts in the book. Caleb has fallen in love with Amanda and the secrets he keeps, both about Big Max and one of his very own, are making it difficult for the relationship to progress.

My decision to review Waking Up in Charleston was based on Tanya Eby’s narration. In fact, after listening, I really want to go back and re-listen to Nora Roberts’ The Search for both its wonderful story and her excellent performance. Ms. Eby’s male character voices have improved quite a bit since The Search – she has deepened her voice and added other vocal techniques to better signify age, etc. Although I really enjoyed her earlier narration, her skills have improved and are demonstrated in Waking Up in Charleston.

It was really only Ms. Eby’s narration that kept me listening. I’m not generally a fan of the “Big Mis” or keeping secrets and most of the conflict was of that nature. I also thought it odd that Caleb, who is a reverend, didn’t balk at having pre-marital sex, as long as it was in a committed relationship. Um, what?! Whatever I may personally think about pre-marital sex, I just don’t accept this attitude from a clergyman. At the very least, provide me with some extraordinary setup that shows his church is extra progressive. And as to the sex, pre-marital or otherwise, don’t get excited here – it’s all off page. There was no spice to balance out the sweet.

Most annoying for me were the instances when either Caleb or Amanda decides to reveal a secret or clarify a misunderstanding. The pattern goes something like this: Reveal that a decision will be made. Instead of revealing it, revert to a lot of internal navel gazing. When the eventual conversation does occur, reveal nothing. It was too much “the boy who cried wolf” and I got sick of it quickly.

Waking Up in Charleston
reminded strongly of Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. Except that Carr’s are good (at least the first few – I haven’t read/listened to them all). They can be sweet (and sometimes a bit too sweet) but there is spice too and not much navel gazing.

In the end, a great narrator can get me through a story I’m not enjoying but even Tanya Eby couldn’t make me like this one. I’m looking forward to listening to more of her narrations but not of this author’s work.

Ending Notes

A few weeks ago, Tantor Audio announced its plans to release Pamela Clare’s I-Team series and chose Kaleo Griffith to narrate. Kaleo has some business audio titles to his name but he’s a newcomer to romantic fiction. I’m predicting he will provide us with a dynamite performance. The first in the series, Extreme Exposure, will be released on October 29th. I have to also add with a smile that Pamela Clare was one of our listeners’ top choices for Author’s Romance Backlist You Most Want to See in Audio in Speaking of Audiobooks Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll in 2012 and 2011!

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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.

– Lea Hensley

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.