Note: Our “For the New Listener” feature appears below our Annual Poll discussion.
It’s evident to participants in AAR’s Annual Poll that the results are based on the reader’s enjoyment of the print version of each book (although it’s not ever implicitly stated). But does a winning book’s inclusion on the resulting Best 2014 Romance Novels list indicate the best in audiobooks as well? Well, sometime yes and, unfortunately, sometimes no. A narrator has such a strong influence on the audio version of any fictional book that they can lift the overall audio grade to a higher level or lower it significantly.
That’s what today’s column is all about. We’re taking a look at AAR’s 2014 Annual Poll winners (the print versions) and reviewing the probability of such a winning status in their existing audio formats. Just which winning books can you comfortably search out to enjoy as audiobooks?
Best Romance, Best Contemporary Romance, Funniest Romance, Best Romance Couple, and Tied for Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance)
It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
Narrated by Karen White
Easily the biggest winner of the 2014 in print format was Julie James’ It Happened One Wedding. It is with more than a little enthusiasm that I can jump in and recommend it strongly in audio format as well. Julie James and Karen White are simply a dynamite author/narrator team. I thoroughly enjoyed It Happened One Wedding and believe it would rate among the top 2014 audios if we ran an audiobook poll!
Best Romantic Suspense
River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz
Narrated by Amanda Leigh Cobb
I was surprised to even find this one in audio format as I hadn’t heard any buzz about it. It’s a Recorded Books release which is a good indicator of quality production. However, the narrator was relatively new to the industry when recorded (only six previous titles – all Harlequin series) and that tends to keep audio enthusiasts at a distance, waiting to jump on board until they see success with a more prominent title. I checked with fellow listeners and while a few had listened to River Road, none were impressed by Cobb’s narration.
Best Paranormal Romance
Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh
Narrated by Angela Dawe
As Book 13 in the Psy-Changeling series, I’m a bit surprised to see Shield of Winter as Best Paranormal as it requires a good amount of investment in the series. However, there’s no doubt as to the immense popularity of the series and narrator Angela Dawe is quite loved as the series narrator.
Best Romantic Science Fiction
The Kraken King by Meljean Brook
Narrated by Alison Larkin
With the audio version of The Kraken King, you have a book that has received high grades for its content tied to a narrator whose work, while good, doesn’t seem to reach into that desired A range all that often. From what I have seen, The Kraken King would likely be decent listen although probably not a stellar one.
Best Romantic Fantasy Fiction
The Winter King by C.L. Wilson
Narrated by Heather Wilds
Again, the audio version of The Winter King has a good narrator – I’d listen to her without reservation. However, I haven’t seen that many listeners absolutely wowed by her performance.
Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Rosalyn Landor consistently receives high grades. She has the art of narrating European Historical romances down. If you enjoy Ms. Balogh’s writing, you are in for a real treat with the audio version.
Honorable Mention for Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K., Best Romance Heroine,and Most Kickass Heroine
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Rosalyn Landor has been a big hit with Courtney Milan’s books – she’s narrated eight Milan titles. The Suffragette Scandal is another listen sure to please.
Honorable Mention for Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K. and Honorable Mention for Best Romance Hero
Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
Narrated by Susan Duerden
Susan Duerden is a personal favorite when it comes to European Historical Romance. The combination of her narration with Ms. James writing has inspired positive comments all around. I’m predicting that the audio version will be quite a treat, especially for James fans.
Honorable Mention for Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K.
Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
Narrated by Kirsten Potter
Kirsten Potter narrated Ms. Bourne’s first audiobook, The Spymaster’s Lady, in 2010 much to the delight of romance audio enthusiasts. Tantor chose Ms. Potter to narrate four additional Bourne titles in 2014 and all are excellent quality listens.
My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas Narrated Charlotte Anne Dore
I love Sherry Thomas’ writing – and I do mean love. Therefore it saddens me when her writing isn’t matched up with the best of narrators. After seeing numerous comments on Ms. Dore’s performance, I must say that My Beautiful Enemy is probably best experienced in print format.
Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance) TIE and Most Tortured Hero
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran Narrated by Alison Larkin
Ms. Larkin is the narrator above discussed in The Kraken King. She’s good.
Honorable Mention – Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance)
Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh Narrated by Justine O. Keef
Scheduled to be released in audio format on May 5th, I have my fingers crossed. I haven’t listened to Ms. Keef but reviews show average to above average narration grades. I will definitely be listening.
Best Category Romance
Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart Narrated by Redd Horrocks
After listening to the sound sample, I would not consider listening as the pacing is poor and there is little to no differentiation of characters. Plus it plays as though set to an accelerated speed. Stay with the print version.
Best Young Adult
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins Narrated by Grace Blewer
The sample is not promising in the least. The narrator has only three titles and reviews at Audible run along the lines of “needs re-recording and worst narration ever.” Again, stay with the print.
Honorable Mention Best Young Adult
The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas Narrated by Phillip Battley
Audible lists only five narrations for Phillip Battley but the sample sounds promising. Caz provided me with her thoughts, “…if I were reviewing, I’d be looking at a B or B- grade, so not at all bad. The narrator is British which helps, he’s quite expressive, and has a nice voice…”
Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber Narrated by Heather Wilds
I haven’t listened to A Grave Matter and I can’t locate an audio review among our Romance Audio Goodreads group either. See my comments on Ms. Wilds above in The Winter King.
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean Narrated by Justine Eyre
Justine Eyre is a popular narrator for the most part. She has a unique voice that some love and some dislike. I’m in the Justine Eyre camp after listening to Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. I may just give the audio version of Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover a try after seeing the Best Romance Hero award.
Honorable Mention for Most Kickass Heroine – two featured above plus…
Kate Daniels in Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews Narrated by Renee Raudman
Ms. Raudman is one of my favorites. I know Magic Breaks is one dynamite audiobook!
There are no audio versions of Having Her by Jackie Ashenden (Best Erotica/Romantica), A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant (Best Romance Short Story), Think of England by K.J. Charles (Best LGBT Romance), and The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan (Best New Adult).
Here’s hoping this rundown inspires you to listen to some of the 2014 Annual Poll Winners rather than merely read the print version!
For the New Listener – Joining Goodreads
It’s not all that easy to consistently find well-written audiobook reviews. I don’t rely on Audible’s reviews. In fact, I rarely pay attention to Audible’s ratings unless one is on the low side – a good indication that something is very wrong. Audible and Amazon are filled with good reviews for poor books or senselessly low rated reviews based on some whim other than “Is this a good audiobook?”
I encourage new romance audiobook listeners to tie into an audiobook community that they can visit day in and day out. It’s the reason I started the Romance Audiobook Goodreads group in 2010 as an extension of Speaking of Audiobooks. You can join Goodreads without creating a bookshelf if you are hesitant to do so. It’s easy and free to register. Tell Goodreads your favorite genres. You will then be provided a sampling of books within your preferred genres and asked to rate those you have listened to (read). Once you have twenty on your list, Goodreads will provide you with personalized recommendations.
But most important for the new romance listener who is looking for those much-needed recommendations? Join a Goodreads romance audio group. I’m using our Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group here as an example. You will find a number of ongoing discussions from What Are You Listening To? to Bargain Audiobook Deals to Have You Listened to This Narrator? to Buddy Listens to Audiobook Giveaways. And that’s just a small portion of what you will discover.
Before joining any public Goodreads group, you can view the discussions without actually joining the group – you can’t comment, however. Once you find an audiobook group that works for you – join. As you view these discussions, note those members whose tastes most align with yours. Request a friendship. If a group member sees a few romances on your bookshelf, they are more likely than not to accept your friendship. Once you are “official” Goodreads friends, you can see each other’s reviews and recommendations. There are many options to choose from for viewing (or not) your friends’ ratings and comments. I choose to see ALL my GR friends’ reviews or comments in an email each day. It’s often long but it is a useful tool for me, as an audiobook columnist, to spot trends.
Before requesting friendships, it’s wise to spend a little time building a shelf which entails finding a book you have listened to (or read) and simply adding it to your shelf. You then check Read, Currently Reading, or To-Read and, if you have listened to (read) a book, rate your experience. You don’t need to add your thoughts but doing so helps build your friendships as members are cautious – many need to see tastes similar to their own on your shelf to accept your friend request.
Each time you listen to a book, rate it on your shelf. Your friends will see your ratings as they occur (if you want – you can hide and I do occasionally). But remember, the more you share, the greater your ability to discover quality audiobook recommendations.
The purpose of your Goodreads audiobook group is to discuss audiobooks and the industry, provide recommendations, notify each other of news and events, and discover romance audiobook sites (where you will find even more recommendations). Although self promotion is not allowed in our Goodreads group, bloggers, narrators, and authors are allowed to post announcements in the Authors/Narrators/Bloggers News section. Speaking of Audiobooks (SOA) is the one column (AAR’s site) allowed to promote freely in the Romance Audiobooks group since it was originally formed to extend SOA discussions. We are now knocking on the door of 1,000 members!
Goodreads, if used correctly, allows you to build a network of audio listeners, reliable recommendations, sales, sites and blogs, and news of the audio industry.
Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles on interest.
For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.
Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks – keeps growing and now has 997 members. We started this group five years ago for discussions in between Speaking of Audiobooks columns. Come on by to share your latest listen or contribute to a number of our ongoing romance audiobook discussions.
Enjoy your listening.
– Lea Hensley