Confessions of an IBAs we take a look at January’s romance audio releases, it’s also time to look back at 2011. We’ve been really busy here at Speaking of Audiobooks. Here’s a quick review of some of the features we enjoyed this past year:

Yes, it’s been a very good year!

My very special thanks to my fellow audiobooks reviewers Brenda, Melinda, LinnieGayl, Kaetrin, and Diana.

We also have seven reviews today including Christine Feehan’s Spirit Bound, Thea Harrison’s Serpent’s Kiss, Nora Roberts’ Tears of the Moon, Lynsay Sands & Jeaniene Frost’s The Bite Before Christmas, Lynsay Sands’ The Countess, Susan Krinard’s Bride of the Wolf, and Victoria Alexander’s His Mistress by Christmas.

Audiobook Romances on Sale in January

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

Adrian, Lara – Darker After Midnight Narrated by Hillary Huber

Alexander, Victoria – My Wicked Little Lies Narrated by Justine Eyre

Brockmann, Suzanne – Otherwise Engaged Narrated by Susan Boyce

Cole, Kresley – Lothaire Narrated by Robert Petkoff

Coulter, Catherine – Calypso Magic Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Coulter, Catherine – Evening Star Narrated by Chloe Campbell

Coulter, Catherine – Midsummer Magic Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Coulter, Catherine – Moonspun Magic Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Everett, Alyssa – A Tryst with TroubleNarrator unknown

Feehan, Christine – Lair of the Lion Narrator unknown

Garlock, Dorothy – Leaving WhiskeyBend Narrated by Catherine Byers

Haymore, Jennifer – Confessions of an Improper Bride Narrated by Abby Craden

James, Eloisa – Duchess in Love Narrated unknown Digital link unavailable

James, Eloisa – The Duke is Mine Narrator unknown Digital link unavailable

Jeffries, Sabrina – A Lady Never Surrenders Narrated by Justine Eyre

Jeffries, Sabrina – To Wed a Wild Lord Narrated by Nico Evers-Swindell

Killough-Walden, Heather – The SpellNarrated by Gildart Jackson

Kleypas, Lisa – Again the Magic Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Krentz, Jayne Ann – Copper Beach Narrated by Tanya Eby

Laurens, Stephanie – Beyond Seduction Narrated by Steven Crossley

Laurens, Stephanie – The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae Narrator unknown

London, Julia – The Year of Living Scandalously Narrated by Justine Eyre

MacLean, Juliann – Captured by the Highlander Narrated by Antony Ferguson

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

McCullough, Colleen – The Independence of Miss Mary BennetNarrated by Jen Taylor

Murnane, Maria – It’s a Waverly Life Narrated by Julia Whelan (not strictly romance)

Palmer, Diana – Before Sunrise Narrated by Christina Panfilio

Phillips, Carly – Cross My Heart Narrated by Marie Caliendo

Robards, Karen – Island Flame Narrated by Justine Eyre

Squires, Susan – Sacrament Narrator unknown

Stuart, Anne – The Wicked House of Rohan Narrated by Susan Ericksen Digital link unavailable

Thompson, Dawn – Drake’s LairNarrator unknown

Woods, Sherryl – The Summer Garden Narrated by Christina Traister

Romance Audio Reviews

Spirit BoundSpirit Bound – Christine Feehan

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Don Harvey

Spirit Bound is the second Sea Haven Novel – a spin off from her Drake Sister’s series. There are so many cross over characters between the two series that it would take intense concentration to read Spirit Bound as a standalone and even more so in audio since the voices performed by narrator Don Harvey are rarely distinctive enough to help with identity of characters. His characterizations are a pleasure to hear – he has the French accent down and there is not a hint of “drag” to the female voices. But while his narration flows beautifully, it takes complete concentration to know who is talking, especially in a group setting, despite the small inflections he gives each voice.

When Stefan Prakenski is sent to the US coastal town of Sea Haven to babysit Judith Henderson, a crime lord’s obsession, he knows he is being used as bait to lure his brother who is presumed dead out of hiding. He also realizes he has been targeted too, as bodyguard duty is a waste of Stefan’s extremely lethal skills – skills a secret branch of the Russian government honed into the Prakenski brothers. And from that branch, death is the only retirement plan offered.

This book falls into the romantic suspense category while featuring magical elements and psychic abilities to give it that Feehan touch. I enjoyed Harvey’s ability to make the psychic mind to mind links easily discernible from regular conversation by adding a whisper quality to the voices. He also excelled at catching the vocal cues, from a hint of laughter, to tears, anger and fear. You could feel the action of a chase, a fight, or danger through the use of his voice – a sure sign of an excellent narrator.

Judith is famous for both her paintings and her creation of unique kaleidoscopes so Stefan comes to do his assigned job in the persona of Thomas Fenton, wealthy art collector, and possible gallery buyer. His personal agenda is twofold. Warn his brother they are both being hunted and retrieve a microchip that holds sensitive Russian defense information. He plans for it to be his last act of patriotism before he disappears. It turns out Stefan’s brother is married to one of Judith’s “sisters”, making things both easier and harder when Stefan and Judith are instantly drawn to each other.

Spirit Bound had not yet been released in print when I listened to the audio version so it was a new experience for me – listening to a Christine Feehan without pre-reading for the more violent scenes and the descriptions of torture she is wont to add. I was thankful those aspects were found in Judith’s memories of her brother, not pleasant to hear but not a main focus in this story either.

Although I am a big Feehan fan, I also have a pet peeve. She is extremely repetitive and I felt the need to double check that I wasn’t listening to the same sections over again. It made me wonder if her editor was napping? At least in this case the voice taking you through the repetition was captivating. If narrator Don Harvey can turn his obvious talents to adding more definition to individual voices, or at least to the two main characters, he would be perfect. Spirit Bound won’t be at the top of my favorite’s list for this series but the continuing story arc, with liberal parts played by past characters, keeps it firmly on my Feehan playlist.

Serpent’s Kiss– Thea Harrison

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Sophie Eastlake

Man, I love this series. I love the interesting and internally consistent world building and that each book is distinct. It’s not the same plot with new characters. Added to that is the fact that the stories are simply excellent.

Serpent’s Kiss features Sentinel Rune Ainissesthai and the Vampire Carling Severan. Carling was introduced in Storm’s Heart and Rune owes her service. He’s come to repay his debt. Carling is “fading”, a fatal condition affecting really old vampires, and the storyline focuses on discovering a way to keep Carling alive.

Carling is an intriguing character and one I quickly warmed to. Rune, while he is perhaps described as insouciant a few too many times for my personal liking, is his gorgeous, lovable, roguish self – only better. In fact, Rune now rates as my favorite of the Elder Races heroes (although that may change if Graydon gets a book one day).

Sophie Eastlake, narrator of the first two books in the series as well as Serpent’s Kiss, remains a joy to listen to despite an occasional problem with clearly differentiating voices. A couple of times, I heard Rune’s voice speaking Carling’s lines and vice versa. Since there aren’t a lot of dialogue tags, it made for a little more work when listening. Along the same lines, the voices Ms. Eastlake gives each of the series’ heroes sound substantially the same and it may be quite noticeable if listening to the series back to back. On the other hand, the heroines of the series each have distinctive voices.

Overall, this is an excellent addition to the series. It’s possible I enjoyed Serpent’s Kiss as much as Dragon Bound. If you check out my review of Dragon Bound in an earlier Speaking of Audiobooks column, you’ll see that’s high praise.

Tears of the Moon – Nora Roberts

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Patricia Daniels

Nora Roberts’ Ardmore trilogy is one of my favorites of her series. While the first in the series, Jewels of the Sun, is my favorite, this second book, featuring the love story of Shawn Gallagher and Brenna O’Toole, comes close. Blythe gave it a DIK review here at AAR, and I’d have to agree.

We readers at AAR often talk about wanting romances about ordinary people with ordinary jobs. Well Shawn and Brenna fit that bill quite nicely. Shawn is the cook at the family pub although he spends much of his spare time writing songs and day dreaming. Brenna is a practical woman, who partners with her father as a general handy-man, jack-of-all trades.

Shawn and Brenna have known each other all their lives. While Brenna has had a yen for Shawn for years, she thinks of it in practical terms. Shawn is completely oblivious to her feelings and thinks of Brenna as a second sister. A meddling faerie prince, a hundreds year curse, and a pining ghost all help change Brenna and Shawn’s relationship.

I’d read the print version Tears of the Moon numerous times before listening to the audio version. I have to admit that the audio version took a bit of getting used to. Patricia Daniels gives Shawn, Brenna, and the rest of the townspeople Irish accents that worked for me. When she narrates the descriptive passages, she uses an American accent and it works well to distinguish the description from the dialog. However, I found myself initially distracted by Daniels’ portrayal of Shawn and Brenna’s thoughts since she utilizes that same American accent for such. But once I was into the story, I had no further problems with that particular aspect.

The descriptive sections in Tears of the Moon are performed with little inflection. I’ve noticed criticism online of such performances, calling the narrator’s voice monotone. I didn’t find it so. The dialog was read with appropriate emotion, be it anger, sorrow, or happiness. I was particularly taken with Ms.Daniels’ performance of Carrick, Prince of the Faeries combined with special effects that made him sound as if he was speaking from a metallic, echo-chamber. It was effective and worked.

Is this my favorite narration? No. But I found it adequate and, combined with a beloved story, this is one audio book I know I’ll be listening to again.

Bride of the WolfBride of the Wolf – Susan Krinard

Review written by Lea Hensley

Narrated by Karen White

I love tales of the old West filled with rough confident cowboys and the women they find to love. I don’t mind a good paranormal romance either and Bride of the Wolf is a mixture of both – a werewolf-cowboy in Texas during the late 1800s. That combination actually worked for me.

Heath Renier appears to be an abrupt hard man not given to niceties. He’s ranch foreman for Jedediah McCarrick, a man he highly respects, and finds the ranch is a good place to hideout for now. Settling down in one place, although a fine idea, is not something he sees for himself particularly with all he has to hide. Besides the fact that he is a werewolf, Heath is wanted for the killing of his former employer.

Rachel Lyndon has come to Texas as a mail-order bride for Jedediah. She’s running from her former life as well and hopes to find peace far from home. But Jedediah isn’t around when she arrives at his home – only his surly foreman and nephew Sean.

As I have come to expect from Karen White, her voice is pleasant to listen to – crisp and clear. Listening to Bride of the Wolf, I felt the narration only enhanced the overall storyline. She clearly distinguishes the characters. I had no problem following who was speaking and that is always a big plus for me when enjoying an audiobook.

Heath and Rachel’s characters are fully fleshed out in audio and I give Ms. White the credit with her effective portrayal of their attitudes. I heard Rachel’s prime and proper approach to life. I heard Heath’s rudeness or contriteness or hesitancy and it only enhanced the author’s description. In addition, Heath sounded completely cowboy without the more commonly heard, over-performed Texas twang.

However, I don’t see Bride of the Wolf as an ideal book for audio format. There is simply not enough interaction. Long passages of thoughts are boring especially if those same thoughts are echoed from one chapter to the next. I almost feel that a narrator is swimming upstream in such a situation since there are fewer pages of actual acting. How does one perform long narratives? In print, I’m certain I would have skimmed all these numerous passages. In audio, I was simply bored at times.

But the cowboy werewolf? Loved him. The starchy heroine with love to give? Accepted her fully. Sean the villain? Way, way too evil – I was afraid of what would happen next. Overall Bride of the Wolf is an average book with a very promising premise that fell short.

The Countess – Lynsay Sands

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Sarah Coomes

The Countess is a sort of Regency Weekend At Bernie’s farce. Dicky aka George the evil twin, is passing himself off as Richard, the elder and honorable twin, who inherited the earldom. Dicky/George lures Christiana into marriage by forcing her father into gambling debts and then abuses her for the first year of marriage. When someone manages to stop “Dicky” permanently with poison before Richard shows up to challenge him, all the players find themselves scurrying about the manor with Dicky’s body rolled up in a rug or a blanket or in a bed surrounded by ice to keep him fresh.

It’s a fairly lightweight but dark humored murder/mystery/comedy, requiring Richard to pass himself off as Dicky playing Richard, and any other number of Keystone Cop-esque ploys and bad puns.

Narrator Sarah Coomes brings a fresh, harried, and sometimes hysterical voice to The Countess. She expertly keeps the story moving, jumping from one implausible scene to the next with an earnestness and speed that matches the silly scenarios. Characters are often differentiated by accent and Ms. Coomes adds her own Scots-sounding accent as well.

It’s definitely a screwball comedy and some listeners will find it LOL hysterical while others may just smile inwardly from time to time – as I did. If you enjoy a silly story with a good narrator, it’s worth a credit. But I won’t be revisiting The Countess or reading/listening to its sequel, The Heiress, which is basically the same story told from another point of view.

The Bite Before Christmas

Produced: Blackstone Audio Retail: Harper Audio

The Gift – Lynsay Sands

Narrated by Paula Christensen

Home for the Holidays – Jeaniene Frost

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Review written by Brenda

The Bite Before Christmas features two short stories each 3-4 hours in length. Both are connected to well known series – Lynsay Sands’ Argeneauvampire series and Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series.

As The Gift began I pulled out my “the hero’s voice sounds too old” card on narrator Paula Christensen only to find Teddy did sound his age, which was mid-60’s. According to the heroine’s looks, she seems around age 30 and the age difference caught me by surprise. I’m not familiar with this series so I don’t know if Sands regularly uses this type of plot line but it was a first for me.

Vacationing sheriff Teddy Brunswick berates himself for lusting after the “young woman” he meets when they are both stranded by a snow storm and is both shocked and wary when she begins to comes on to him. The much-older-than-she-looks Katrercia Argeneau has recognized her life mate and can’t wait to proceed while being pleased that he looks like Sean Connery. With this premise there is plenty of room for humor and the narrator delivers it well. I got a kick out of the first half of the story but unfortunately it falls flat by the end. I still consider my listening time well spent given the laugh out loud moments as I pictured this set up through Ms. Christensen performance.

But the winner of this duo is Home for the Holidays. I appreciate the publisher’s use of the gifted Tavia Gilbert even though it is a short story. She has perfected the Night Huntress world along with the voices of its inhabitants. As Ms. Gilbert begins to narrate you feel like a door has opened to people you know well and soon forget her presence as the characters begin to flow around you.

Cat and Bones have invited their nearest and dearest to their home to stay for a Christmas holiday when one of the “gifts” ends up being more than the giver intended. Cat takes the lead in this outing.

Home for the Holidays can be listened to as a standalone. You won’t catch all the nuances between characters but the background and connections are delivered at a steady pace, catching anyone new to the series up to par without seeming repetitive to regular followers.

I always laugh at Cat’s internal dialogue and even more so at her exchanges with Ian, or for that matter, anyone who gets in her way. Tavia Gilbert has everyone’s attitude down pat and she stays in character with each book in this series. That’s impressive. Witty writing and a complete story within itself, Home for the Holidays is a treat.

His Mistress by Christmas – Victoria Alexander

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Susan Duerden

His Mistress by Christmas is best approached as a light-hearted Victorian era farce since many of the situations are highly improbable. A worldly, roguish adventurer, Simon decides it’s time to settle down and marry while Victoria is determined to never marry again. But in Victoria’s forward-thinking, early suffragette way, that doesn’t mean they can’t have an affair. I spent time trying to make sense of what I was hearing. When I realized that Sebastian was in love with Veronica, I wondered just when that had happened. And, why is a such a worldly rogue so easily being manipulated by his younger sisters? I kept shaking my head in bewilderment while wondering when someone named Earnest would pop into the story.

Narrator Susan Duerden’s accent is perfect for this type of story. She has several voices in her reading repertoire, and gives a unique personality to the listen with a very British upper crust flair.

Time for Your Thoughts

What was your favorite feature at Speaking of Audiobooks in 2011?

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

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 Audiobookscolumn, 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 171 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 have over 200 romance audiobook reviews.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley

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