In the world of audiobooks, June Is Audiobook Month 2012 (JIAM) is more than just an honored month. In an effort to increase consumer awareness, special events are planned across the industry to promote, celebrate, and educate the public about the variety, ease, and affordability of audiobooks.
Speaking of Audiobooks enthusiastically supports JIAM and is joining in this celebration with three special events. Watch for announcements on Twitter, our new Facebook page, our Goodreads group, or here at AAR.
Monday June 11th – Giveaway
To kick off JIAM, it’s a giveaway unlike any other you’ve seen here at Speaking of Audiobooks. We’re not exactly giving away audiobooks this time around but it’s a prize any audiobook listener – romance or not – will enjoy. Included in this column will be reviews of ten recent romance audio releases. We’re prepared and raring to go!
The week of June 18th – Our Annual Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll
It’s a new take on favorites with few of last year’s categories. After all, how often can you choose All Time Favorites?
The week of June 25th – A talk with Tavia Gilbert. She’s narrating Jeaniene Frost’s highly anticipated Once Burned due out June 26th. And we’ll have more than a few romance reviews as well.
Facebook and Speaking of Audiobooks
Have you seen our new Facebook page? We’re posting daily audiobook tidbits about romance audio or the industry in general, upcoming releases, and fun or interesting links to follow. Look for Speaking of Audiobooks.
We have six audios up for review today: Suzanne Brockmann’s Unstoppable, Gail Carriger’s Timeless, Monica McCarty’s Highlander Unmasked, Sabrina Jeffries’ A Lady Never Surrenders, Lauren Willig’s The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, and Susan Wiggs’ The Winter Lodge.
June’s Romance Audiobook Releases
More than the usual number of new releases – there’s a lot to anticipate!
Alderson, Maggie – Pants on Fire Narrated by Katrina Baylis
Archer, C.J. – Her Secret Desire Narrated by Justine Eyre
Archer, C.J. – Scandal’s Mistress Narrated by Justine Eyre
Ashley, Jennifer – Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage Narrated by Angela Dawe
Ashley, Jennifer – The Many Sins of Lord Cameron Narrated by Angela Dawe
Blake, Toni – Willow Springs Narrator unknown
Burton, Mary – Before She Dies Narrated by Johanna Parker
Callahan, Coreene – Fury of Ice Narrated by Benjamin
Delinsky, Barbara – A Single Rose Narrator unknown
Donovan, Susan – I Want Candy Narrated by Arielle DeLisle
Frost, Jeanine – Once Burned Narrated by Tavia Gilbert
Geissinger, J.T. – Shadow’s Edge Narrated by Justine Eyre
Graham, Heather – The Unholy Narrated by Luke Daniels
Grant, Cecilia – A Lady Awakened Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Higgins, Kristan – Catch of the Day Narrated by Xe Sands
Higgins, Kristan – Somebody to Love Narrated by Justine Eyre
Hoyt, Elizabeth – Thief of Shadows Narrator unknown
Hunter, Madeline – Dangerous in Diamonds Narrated by Kate Reading
Hunter, Madeline – The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne Narrated by Alison Larkin
James, E L – Fifty Shades Darker Narrated by Becca Battoe
James, E L – Fifty Shades Freed Narrated by Becca Battoe
James, Julie – Something About You Narrated by Karen White
Jordan, Nicole – Princess Charming Narrated by Abby Craden
Kane, Stacia – Chasing Magic Narrated by Bahni Turpin
Killough-Walden, Heather – Messenger’s Angel Narrated by Gildart Jackson
Krentz, Jayne Ann – Man with a Past Narrated by Angela Dawe
Kurland, Lynn – All for You Narrated by Justine Eyre
Lindsey, Johanna – Let Love Find You Narrated by Anne Flosnik
MacKenzie, Sally – Bedding Lord Ned Narrated by Abby Craden
MacKenzie, Sally – The Duchess of Love Narrated by Abby Craden
Macomber, Debbie- Three Brides, No Groom Narrated by Emily Beresford
Mallery, Susan – Summer Nights Narrated by Tanya Eby
Michaels, Fern – Tuesday’s Child Narrated by Laural Merlington
Mitchell, Elyne – The Man from Snowy River Narrated by Richard Aspel
Naughton, Elisabeth – Entwined Narrator unknown
Palmer, Diana – Courageous Narrated by Phil Gigante
Peterson, Tracie – Touching the Sky Narrated by Renee Raudman
Quinn, Paula – Conquered by a Highlander Narrated by Carrington MacDuffie
Quinn, Paula – Seduced by a Highlander Narrated by Carrington MacDuffie
Raichlen, Steven – Island Apart Narrator unknown
Rose, Karen – No One Left to Tell Narrated by Marguerite Gavin
Sandlin, Susannah – Redemption Narrated by Angela Dawe
Wiggs, Susan – Fireside Narrated by Joyce Bean
Wong, Alison – As the Earth Turns Silver Narrated by Heather Bolton
Woods, Sherryl – Midnight Promises Narrated by Janet Metzger
Romance Audio Reviews
In our last column, Diana expressed her opinion of the dual male/female narrations where each narrator takes turns performing all characters when she reviewed Suzanne Brockmann’s Born to Darkness. While I agree with Diana that it is a difficult style to grasp, Melinda gets equal time today and makes a good argument in favor of such narrations with her review of Unstoppable.
Unstoppable: Love with the Proper Stranger and Letters to Kelly – Suzanne Brockmann
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank
Unstoppable is a new audio release of two older Brockmann stories, Love with the Proper Stranger (1997) and Letters To Kelly (2003). Lucky for us audiobook enthusiasts, the new audio is done the way we all like Brockmann – her two favorite narrators alternating from male/female POV.
I’ve been listening to Brockmann’s dual narrations for several years and think the format of two narrators works perfectly with her writing. Brockmann employs what she calls “Deep POV” – she writes from deep within a certain character’s mind, not just as an author transmitting information when the character isn’t actively thinking or speaking (i.e. he thought or she said). Everything in the book comes from one of the characters’ psyches, and I think it’s obvious when it’s a female or male POV. Her dual narrations are performed by Patrick Lawlor for the male POV sections with either Melanie Ewbank or Renee Raudman reading for the gals. The narrators alternate, taking on the persona of the character whose POV is driving the section and performing all the characters through that filter. Although the characters don’t sound exactly the same from each narrator, I have no trouble discerning where the dialog is coming from.
Love with a Proper Stranger is a romantic suspense involving John Miller, FBI, on the trail of the notorious Black Widow – a woman who changes her identity like she changes her clothes and her husbands. She’s gone through nine of them – dead husbands, that is. John follows her lead to lure her into showing her true nature and changes identity to become Husband #10. Meanwhile, Marie Carver is also under an assumed identity, although for the much more innocent reason of leaving her stressful life behind. And the three of them are all on an island off the Georgia coast, getting ready to embark on an adventure none of them were expecting.
Patrick and Melanie are great partners in bringing Brockmann’s stories to life. There’s nothing new or innovative about them in this recording – both are solid, easy-on-the-ears narrators, and bring complete professionalism to the read. Lawlor’s reading has the same enthusiasm and mobile tension he gives to the Troubleshooters series, even though this story doesn’t come close to the amount of suspense and action found in that series. The plot was a little forced and a little too neatly plotted. I was never in suspense about what was going to happen, although I cringed a little at the deception John had to perform. The sub-plot with the Habitat for Humanity-type theme was also cringe-inducing for its sugariness. It forced a couple of plot turns I found unlikely. Overall, the story was just okay and the narrators were wonderful! Also, I suggest having a look at the original cover for Love with the Proper Stranger – I like that rendition of John better.
Letters to Kelly had an odd effect on me. On the one hand, again I enjoyed Lawlor and Ewbank giving me the story from the two major points of view. Again, I enjoyed Brockmann’s characters and story telling. But there was a major issue here for me – was hero Jax a besotted fool with a secret, or was he a creepy, cradle-robbing stalker? He’s been in love with Kelly since he met his best friend and college roommate’s sister. Besotted fool. He was 18; she was 12. Creepy cradle robber. So here I am, liking the narrators, going along with the story and then occasionally thinking – wait a minute – he’s a stalker, not a lovesick hero! He doesn’t do anything but want her from afar – for 11 years – until the story starts. My reaction is mixed – it’s definitely not in the excitement and action league of the Tall, Dark, and Dangerous or Troubleshooter series, but the narration is good!
Timeless – Gail Carriger
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Emily Gray
I approached the final entry in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series with mixed feelings. I was excited to listen to another installment and delighted that it takes place largely in Egypt but very sad to realize that the series was ending. Jean gave the book a B in her print review at AAR and called it a “fun-filled, cheeky, satisfying end to the adventures of Alexia, Lady Maccon.” I heartily agree. To paraphrase Jean, if you haven’t read the rest of the series, don’t read any further. Go find an audio version of Soulless, the first in the series, and begin listening. But if you’re a fan of the series, I strongly encourage you to give it a try in audio. Emily Gray is a fantastic narrator, bringing each of the beloved characters to life, and if possible, adding even more humor to the series.
At the heart of the Parasol Protectorate are the fantastic characters and imaginative steampunk world the author has created. Once Alexia, her family, the Tunstalls (and their acting troupe) head off for Egypt, the action switches back and forth between Egypt and Biffy, Professor Lyall, and Lord Akeldama in London. Thanks to the skills of the narrator, I had no problem following the switches between settings and points-of-view.
Each of the characters – and there are a lot of them – have their own voice thanks to Ms. Gray’s narration. Alexia sounds just as managing and autocratic as I expect. Ivy sounds as flighty and ditzy as I imagine her character to be. Lord Maccon’s voice (with an appropriate Scottish accent) is as gruff and growly as expected. Prudence, Alexia’s daughter, is a complete hell-raiser, and her voice fits. She speaks mostly in single words, a lot of them “No,” and they sound exactly as pouty, determined, and demanding as a toddler can be.
Biffy really comes into his own in this final entry. He has adjusted to being a werewolf and that adjustment shines through in his voice. The spark and enjoyment Biffy finds in the oddest things are back once again.
While I’m sad the series has ended, I am also eagerly looking forward to the eventual publication of Prudence’s series. I can’t wait to see what adventures she gets into. And I hope that Emily Gray is back as narrator. If she is, I’ll be listening in audio.
Highlander Unmasked – Monica McCarty
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Antony Ferguson
Because I like narrator Antony Ferguson’s seductive Scots burr, I volunteered to review another book featuring his narration. Highlander Unmasked is the second of the MacLeod Trilogy set in Scotland in 1605. The historical element of the story is the colonization of the Isle of Lewis by the Fife Adventurers, lowlanders given the lands by King James in the late 16th century. Hero Alex MacLeod returns from a long absence as a sort of spy (hence the “unmasking”), pretending to aid the King’s men while feeding information to his highland clans and allies to prevent the colonization.
Alex’s heroine is Meg McKinnon. She is trying to help her father and brother by finding a strong husband who is strong and can help lead the clan. Her brother has some sort of mental challenge (it’s not clear exactly what) and her father is ill, leaving no McKinnon male capable of being laird.
It’s an interesting premise – Meg isn’t trying to be Laird but to find a mate and marry for the clan – but it suffers from McCarty’s writing skills. Unfortunately, even the seduction of Ferguson’s burr doesn’t elevate it much. McCarty manages to spend a lot of time inside each character’s head, giving us their thoughts and their introspective questions but not much insight into the story and the relationship. Ferguson’s reading has odd pauses as if he were reading it cold. He speaks a sentence and ends it only to suddenly add another clause or more to the sentence.
Ms. McCarty also manages to repeat a fair amount of data in the story, using the same words, the same phrases, the same stories, almost as though she didn’t go back and re-read her work. If she had, she might have caught that she already used a particular piece of backstory or that she already described the hero in this exact same way.
Ferguson didn’t do quite as well with his consistency of characters. His women ranged from bearable to slightly falsetto/screechy and his men were not read consistently in the same register. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was Alex or Meg speaking while other times the pitch of secondary male character’s voice would be pitched higher than Alex’s and vice versa.
Highlander Unmasked wasn’t a total fail. In spite of the choppy reading and inconsistent characters, Ferguson’s Scots accent was as seductive as ever.
A Lady Never Surrenders – Sabrina Jeffries
Review written by Kaetrin
Narrated by Justine Eyre
Although A Lady Never Surrenders is Book 5 in Sabrina Jeffries Hellions of Halstead Hall series, I confess it’s my first Jeffries book. I think that fact actually helped me enjoy this book more than if I had read the first four in the series.
I gather that the arc of the series is the investigation of the Marquis of Stonehaven and his wife’s murders, the parents of the five Hellions. It was determined at the time that the Marquise shot her husband and then turned the gun on herself. Early on, the five offspring engage the services of Mr. Jackson Pinter, Bow Street Runner, to investigate the crime. The youngest Hellion, Lady Celia Sharp, and Jackson have been rubbing each other the wrong way from the start. It’s here that I believe I benefited from stepping in at Book 5 rather than enduring their interactions for four books, as the point was well enough made in this book alone.
Another ongoing element in the series is the Hellions’ grandmother’s ultimatum – they are all to be married within a year or they will all lose their (very large) inheritance from her. Celia is the last of the five needing to marry and she has identified three potential suitors even though she doesn’t want to marry any of them. She enlists Mr. Pinter’s aid in investigating their suitability as well as determining if they are after her fortune.
The basic conflict between Jackson and Celia is fairly simple. He’s a bastard, a workingman, and, he thinks, no fit husband for a great lady like Celia. Celia is somewhat of a tomboy and is not at all confident of her feminine wiles. She is convinced that if any man expresses interest in her, it’s for her money. Jackson and Celia are therefore at cross-purposes for most of the book. There is quite a bit of internal monologue from both wherein they choose to ignore the obvious construction of a conversation or action and instead use it to support their worst fears. It did become wearing.
I can’t say that I found the mystery plot regarding the real murderer of the Marquis of Stonehaven and his wife all that compelling. I don’t think this was due to starting late in the series (but it may have been), but more that the mystery didn’t actually make complete sense.
Narrator Justine Eyre is most known to me for her narration of Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series and I can’t say she is a favorite narrator. I don’t mind her narration but I wouldn’t listen to a book on the strength of her performance (as I have done with narrators such as Tanya Eby and Renee Raudman). Ms. Eyre’s British accent is very convincing, which includes her ability to effectively differentiate a number of classes and ages. In fact, until I found otherwise on YouTube, I thought she was actually British. Unfortunately, her Jackson Pinter voice didn’t give me the warm and fuzzies. When speaking while conducting his investigating and in normal every day conversations, his voice was okay – not inspiring, but okay. But when he was being romantic, his voice became a caricature and he changed from a convincing, proper, English detective, to Inspector Plod in love. Low and breathy, he sounded more asthmatic than sexy and it was a bit of a mood killer.
Having said all that, the book was eminently listenable. Their misunderstandings were tolerable until the end of the book where it all became too much. But, there were some nice passages, I did believe in the HEA, and it wasn’t at all a struggle to finish the book. Overall, A Lady Never Surrenders was enjoyable enough without being stellar.
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose– Lauren Willig
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Kate Reading
When I first learned that the fourth book in the Pink Carnation series featured Mary Alsworthy and Lord Vaughn as heroine and hero, I was shocked. The two appeared in previous books and had not proven remotely appealing. Jane reviewed the print version for AAR and gave it a B and that was close to my feeling after reading in print. However, a few years ago I decided to try The Seduction of the Crimson Rose in audio and was pleasantly surprised to find the excellent narration made me like it even more than I did in print.
Kate Reading’s rendering of Vaughn and Mary’s voices is wonderful. Mary is alternately flighty, self-centered, and sarcastic, all of which come through in the depiction of her character. Ms. Reading gives Vaughn the perfect aristocratic drawl. Arrogant? In spades. Although I disliked their characters in previous books, the two come completely to life thanks to Ms. Willig’s writing and Ms. Reading’s narration. Would I want to be their friend? Definitely not. In fact, I’m not sure either is capable of having friends but they’re eminently entertaining.
In her print review Jane comments, “Both Mary and Vaughn are cynical, jaded, and bitter” and Ms. Reading dramatically portrays these characteristics. Jane went on to write that, “…their thoughts about the other couples form the previous novels is a bit like overhearing one friend make fun of another behind their back.” I don’t recall my initial reaction to this aspect when reading the print version, but while I adore the heroes and heroines in the earlier books, I find myself laughing out loud over Mary and Vaughn’s thoughts concerning them, as brought to life by Ms. Reading. Mean? Sure. But it somehow seems funnier, and slightly less mean-spirited, in audio than in print.
If you’re a fan of the Pink Carnation series, I urge you to listen – either for the first time or as a reread – to Ms. Reading’s narration of The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. It’s fantastic.
The Winter Lodge – Susan Wiggs
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Julia Gibson
Book Two in the Lakeshore Chronicles, The Winter Lodge fills out the story of Jenny Majeski and Rourke McKnight, while continuing the stories of the other residents of Avalon, New York. Theirs was a love triangle with Rourke’s best friend, Joey, when they were teens attending Camp Kioga. Jenny is the granddaughter of Polish immigrants in Avalon, Rourke is from the city where his father is a rich and well-known politician, and Joey is the son of the family’s driver. Now time has passed, and Jenny and Rourke have managed to avoid each other for reasons Wiggs reveals slowly as the book moves forward.
The small town multi-book series is one of my favorite sub-genres. Even though I don’t buy the “small town” myths in reality, those series of life in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business but pulls together to help are a comfort read for me, like the mac and cheese of romance fiction. There’s a touch of suspense at the end of The Winter Lodge with numerous flashbacks to bring the reader up to speed on what events brought the characters to this point.
Julia Gibson is a good narrator that I would categorize as a B-lister. Her narration, though pleasant, doesn’t inspire me to seek out her other books. It matches the story perfectly – no grand gestures, no drama, no whacky humor but rather just a nice, quiet story of a lifetime where two people overcome their relationship stumbling blocks and find their HEA. Ms. Gibson’s male voices aren’t deep but they are distinctive. She utilizes a few slight area accents for some of the characters, and in general, she’s easy to listen to. Gibson narrates books One and Two in the series while the rest of the series is narrated by Joyce Bean whose performance of Marrying Daisy Bellamy inspired me to start the series from the beginning.
And, as an ending note, there’s good news for those of us salivating while listening to the recipes. Wiggs includes PDFs of those recipes on her website. http://www.susanwiggs.com/recipes.shtml
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 238 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 around 285 romance audiobook reviews.
Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley