The Madness of I MacSearching for March’s new releases, I was surprised not only by the impressive list of over 50 upcoming romance audiobooks (many more will be released digitally with no pre-release notice) but also the books that I see just around the corner.  I was thrilled to see that Tantor is releasing Jennifer Ashley’s The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie in late March, a vastly popular book in print that was voted Best Romance of 2009 in AAR’s Annual Reader Poll and ranked #10 in AAR’s 2010 Top 100 Romance Poll.  Let’s hope Tantor continues with the Highland Pleasures series.

Looking ahead to May, I noticed a book on Harper Audio’s site that I’ve had on my eBook wish list for years, never imagining that it would even be considered for release in audio.  The book?  Adele Ashworth’s Winter Garden – another favorite with romance fans that won Favorite Romance of 2000 in AAR’s Annual Reader Poll and made the cut for both 2004 and 2007 Top 100 Romance Poll at AAR.  It’s being released in both eBook and audio format on May 29th.  Thank you, Harper Audio – hope we see more from this beloved author.

And another sure-to-be-delight is Harper Audio’s May release of Rachel Gibson’s Rescue Me.  It’s the first time I have seen a Gibson audiobook released simultaneously with the print version.  In the past, Recorded Books kept an occasional Gibson title for their own exclusive use and listeners couldn’t be certain of wider availability.  As romance fans, we say, “Well done, Harper!”

In addition to March releases we also have six audiobooks up for review today Meljean Brooks’ Heart of Steel, Iris Johansen’s Always, Jayne Ann Krentz’s Copper Beach, Susan Mallery’s The Unexpected Millionaire, Lisa Marie Rice’s Dangerous Passion, and Linda Howard’s A Game of Chance.

Audiobook Romances on Sale in March

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

We’re seeing more books with partial pre-release information.  A number of newer production companies (or new to romance) aren’t providing the identity of the narrator.  Let’s hope they catch on soon to the fact that we not only choose our listens by author but narrator too!

Ashley, Jennifer – The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie Narrated by Angela Dawe

Banks, Maya – In Bed with a Highlander Narrated by Kirsten Potter

Brockmann, Suzanne – Born to Darkness Narrated by Melanie Ewbank & Patrick Lawlor

Brockmann, Suzanne – Kiss and Tell Narrated by Susan Boyce

Brown, Sandra – Two Alone Narrated by Joyce Bean

Burton, Jaci – Taking a Shot Narrated by Lucy Malone

Carriger, Gail – Timeless Narrator unknown

Clark, Deneane – Mercy Narrator unknown

Coulter, Catherine – Midnight Star Narrated by Chloe Campbell

Delinsky, Barbara – First, Best, and Only Narrator unknown

Enoch, Suzanne – A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Enoch, Suzanne – Taming an Impossible Rogue Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Fox, Angie – A Tale of Two Demon Slayers Narrator unknown

French, Judith E. – Blood Kin Narrator unknown

French, Judith E. – Blood Sport Narrator unknown

French, Judith E. – Blood Ties Narrator unknown

Garlock, Dorothy – The Moon Looked Down Narrated by Susanna Burney

Goudge, Eileen – The Replacement Wife Narrated by Susan Boyce

Harrison, Thea – Oracle’s Moon Narrated by Sophie Eastlake

Howell, Hannah – Highland Vow Narrated by Sophie Eastlake

Hunter, Jillian – A Duke’s Temptation Narrated by Justine Eyre

Jackson, Jane – Heart of Stone Narrator unknown

Jackson, Lisa – Innocent by Association Narrated by Kate Rudd

Jackson, Lisa – Without Mercy Narrated by Angela Dawe

James, Eloisa – A Wild Pursuit Narrator unknown

James, Lorelei – Saddled and Spurred Narrated by Scarlet Chase

James, Lorelei – Wrangled and Tangled Narrated by Scarlet Chase

Kingsbury, Karen – Loving Narrator unknown

Krentz, Jayne Ann – The Cowboy Narrated by Kate Rudd

Laurens, Stephanie – Mastered by Love Narrated by Steven Crossley

London, Julia – The Seduction of Lady X Narrated by Justine Eyre

Macomber, Debbie – Back on Blossom Street Narrated by Laural Merlington

Mallery, Susan – Barefoot Season Narrated by Sarah Grace

McCarty, Monica – Highlander Unmasked Narrated by Antony Ferguson

McCarty, Monica – Highland Outland Narrated by Roger Hampton

McCarty, Monica – Highland Scoundrel Narrated by Roger Hampton

McCarty, Monica – Highlander Unchained Narrated by Antony Ferguson

Michaels, Fern – Southern Comfort Narrated by Jeffrey Cumming

Morrissey, Di – The Reef Narrated by Kate Hood

Nash, Joy – Deep Magic Narrator unknown

Peterson, Tracie – Chasing the Sun Narrated by Renee Raudman

Richards, Emilie – Wedding Ring Narrated by Isabel Keating

Rowell, Rainbow – Attachments Narrated by Laura Hamilton

Slade, Jessa – Darkness Undone Narrated by Renee Raudman

Sparks, Kerrelyn – Wanted: Undead or Alive Narrator unknown

Steel, Danielle – Betrayal Narrated by Renee Raudman

Thompson, Vicki Lewis – A Werewolf in Manhattan Narrated by Abby Craden

Thompson, Vicki Lewis – Werewolf in the North Woods Narrated by Abby Craden

NightbornViehl, Lynn – Nightborn Narrated by Johanna Parker

Williams, Sandy – The Shadow Reader Narrated by Amy Rubinate

Womersley, Chris – Bereft Narrated by Dan Wyllie



Romance Audio Reviews

Heart of Steel – Meljean Brook

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Faye Adele

I enjoyed Ms. Adele’s narration of The Iron Duke so was eager to listen to Heart of Steel – the next edition in the author’s The Iron Seas series.  In her AAR review, Maggie gave it a B+ in print format and I concur with her grade as well as her description as a “straight out adventure.”  But while I liked the story and found the hero and heroine fascinating, I had some problems with it in audio.

First off, I should say that I love the narrator’s voice.  My problems are linked to the voice given to Yasmeen who is the perfect embodiment of a kick-ass heroine.  The captain of a notorious mercenary ship, Yasmeen controls her crew, fights off enemies of all kinds, enjoys surprise and danger, and regularly smokes cigarillos.  Ms. Adele performs Yasmeen with a deep, throaty, and heavily accented voice.  While Yasmeen was raised in Constantinople, she often reminded me of Natasha in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.  It is particularly disconcerting when Yasmeen and hero Archimedes converse with one another – Yasmeen’s voice is much lower than that of Archimedes.

The problem is…I’m not sure how else this might have been narrated.  Ms. Adele performs Yasmeen as written but reading about it and listening to it are two different things.  Fortunately, Yasmeen thinks more than she speaks and her thoughts are performed with a pleasant British accent.  But even that is disconcerting as I had to readjust to her spoken voice yet again.  I found I could adjust to Yasmeen’s low voice after listening for about 20 minutes.  But I had to have the same adjustment period each time I began listening again.

Despite my problems listening to the voice of Yasmeen, I will definitely read the next book in Ms. Brook’s The Iron Seas series.  And if Ms. Adele is the narrator, I will once again go with the audio version.  I truly enjoy Ms. Adele’s voice and the emotion and excitement she brings to an already exciting series.  I just think Yasmeen’s voice works better for me in my imagination than it does out loud.



Always – Iris Johansen

Review written by Diana

Narrated by Janet Metzger

I had fun listening to this vintage, old school romance but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it.  Always was originally published by Loveswept in 1986 and does it ever show its age.  It’s an eye opener to hear a hero describe himself as “highly sexed” while he wonders if a woman is “frigid” because she has no men in her life.  But things rolled merrily along once I adjusted to 1986-romancelandia-speak and sensibilities.

Clancy Donahue is head of security for Sheikh Alex of a fictional middle eastern emirite.  He’s set up a trap at a Bahamian island resort for terrorist financier Martin Baldwin using Baldwin’s ex-wife, cabaret singer Lisa Landon, as bait.  Lisa refuses to cooperate with Clancy’s plan even though she knows her ex is scum because “I bore his child!”  Oh, Lisa.  Her plan to flounce off Paradise Key island is thwarted when Clancy knocks her out with drugs and literally carries her off to his luxury lair.  Are you still with me?  Because Clancy’s tender concern for Lisa in the light of uh-oh-I-overdosed-her is quite touching and the beginning of our romance.  Lisa quickly forgives Clancy, terrorists come after them, Clancy heroically saves Lisa’s life, they fly off to the fictional desert sheikhdom, fend off the terrorists some more, meet up with the characters from the other books in the series – all while they fall in love.  Lisa has no problem giving up her career because she wasn’t serious about it anyway.  Oh, Lisa. Lucky for her Clancy came along.

Narrator Janet Metzger doesn’t do character voices.  Her reading is error-free, smooth, and well paced.  I’m not complaining because this is a choice in narration style that can work quite well, as it does here.  I am more appreciative of subtle narration than I am of overripe actor melodrama that detracts from the material.   So, nice job, Ms. Metzger.

To anyone too young to remember how things really were in 1986, please know that drugging and kidnapping women was not okay in real life – just in soap operas and romance. It was fun!

Copper BeachCopper Beach – Jayne Anne Krentz

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Tanya Eby

Jayne Ann Krentz is the reason I started reading romance novels over 15 years ago and she has been an auto-buy for most of that time.  However, many of her Arcane Society books were more miss than hit with an over-emphasis on the paranormal components and a downplay of the actual romance.  Therefore, I was a bit leery to listen to Copper Beach, the first in her new Dark Legacy series.  I’m very glad I did.  While it did contain a fair amount of psychic elements, they didn’t strike me as overwhelming.  More importantly, Tanya Eby’s narration made this book very enjoyable.

Copper Beach primarily concentrates on the relationship between Sam Coppersmith and Abby Radwell.  Abby is an unusual rare book dealer who uses her special psi talents to decode books that have been psychically masked.  When someone attempts to blackmail her to locate a particularly rare lab book, Abby hires Sam to help her locate it.  It turns out Sam has his own reasons for wanting the lab book.

For large parts of the book only Sam and Abby are on page.  This focus never felt claustrophobic.  They’re an engaging, interesting couple brought to life by Ms. Eby’s narration.  They are at times playful, other times sexy, other times angry, but most importantly, they’re always respectful of each other.  No matter what the emotion, Ms. Eby is spot on in her narration.  I knew when one of them was mad.  I knew when they were being playful.  And I always knew who was speaking.

There’s a lot of humor in Copper Beach. In that sense, it felt more like Ms. Krentz’s earlier books.  And the narrator does an excellent job conveying the sense of fun between Sam and Abby.

Was this my favorite Krentz book?  Definitely not – that’s reserved for some of her older works.  But I really enjoyed this one and I particularly recommend the audio version.

The Unexpected Millionaire – Susan Mallery

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Catherine Carr

The Unexpected Millionaire was an unexpected surprise – I generally find Mallery’s books to be less than original and not anywhere near DIK range for me.  But this one was entertaining and funny and wildly romantic especially if you go for the “opposites attract” plot.

Willow is the middle child of three sisters and while the older and younger sisters have become successful professionals, Willow is still looking for her passion and her way in life.  Not that she isn’t passionate – she is, about many things – she just isn’t very committed to any of them.  Mostly Willow takes joy in taking in strays (animals and people) and fixing them.

When she finds herself up against Kane, the head of security for a local rich fellow, Willow finds she wants to fix him as well since he is also a gun-toting, ex-military and even ex-gang member type of guy.  But Kane isn’t looking for a woman and definitely has no desire to be changed or fixed.  He’s pretty clear with her about it as well – he has specific goals and she doesn’t fit into them.

Here is where Mallery’s voice shines.  The dialog is realistic but humorous and Kane’s true nature comes through.  Willow is a Chatty Cathy type, with Kane more silent, and the relationship grows slowly enough to be believable.  Both Willow and Kane tugged at my heartstrings throughout.

Catherine Carr is new to me, and her narration was pretty dang good!  Her dialog delivery was realistic, her character and gender differentiation excellent.  However, there were a couple of times I winced at her emphasis within a sentence – as though she was reading it for the first time and hadn’t skimmed ahead to see where she was going.

All in all a great, fun, romantic and incredibly short read, at only 4 hours and 15 minutes.



Dangerous Passion – Lisa Marie Rice

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Karen White

I’m not a Lisa Marie Rice aficionado but I have read a few of her books.  There is something cracktastic about them.  You know how some people love B movies?  They’re schlocky, improbable, unintentionally funny, and somehow delicious.  Well, LMR is kind of like that for me.  The heroes are always uber-alpha, super-protective, borderline (or not so borderline) stalker types who fall instantly in love with the heroine and want to do everything for their woman – all the time.   This is my first Rice novel in audio but I knew going in that there was going to be a lot of over-the-top action, insta-love and hot sex.  How would it translate to audio though?

Victor “Drake” Dracovich is a Russian/Eastern European arms dealer living in New York.  Grace Larson is an artist who is enjoying some financial stability for the first time – someone is buying every piece of her work as soon as it appears in the Feinstein Gallery.    Drake has enemies who find out about his obsession with his favorite artist (he watches Grace through the gallery’s alley window two afternoons a month and has done so for a year.  Really.) and those enemies launch an attack.  Because Drake is awesome, they survive and hole up in Drake’s penthouse apartment and “get to know each other.”  Bad guys continue trying to get to Drake while Drake and Grace have lots of energetic and explicit sex and ultimately live HEA.  All in around three weeks.

There is a lot of ridonkulousness in this story.  Grace never questions the origins of Drake’s wealth other than to ask if it had anything to do with drugs.  After mere days, she is ready to leave her life and live with him forever and ever and not see or speak to any of her former associates ever again.  And then there is the fact that Drake decided she was his special lady forever and ever before he even spoke to her.  I could go on.  But, that’s Lisa Marie Rice.  You have to expect that going in.

I did spend quite a bit of time wondering how narrator Karen White coped with the explicit sex scenes and overuse of the “c” word, especially in the first half of the book.  Props to her for not just breaking out withOh, really? at various points through the book and reading it straight.  I got a headache from all the eye rolling I did.  Victor’s accent was well done and his voice was deep and deliberate while Grace’s voice was effectively performed as the naive near-virgin she actually is.

The real problem on audio is the navel gazing.  For a book with so much over the top action, there is a lot of boring internal monologue and it took a long time for anything to actually happen. The initial scene at the art gallery took over 1.5 hours of listening time.  In print, I skim over those bits but I can’t underread in audio and despite the schlocky goodness, I found myself getting bored.

I enjoyed the narration but overall, I think LMR’s books are better in print.



A Game of Chance – Linda Howard

Review written by Lea Hensley

Narrated by Kali Dziuba

Over the years, Linda Howard’s backlist has slowly been released in audio format with no pattern and little consistency.  I looked forward to the day I’d finally see A Game of Chance in audio and, sure enough, it just appeared one day at Audible with no prior notice.  I immediately proclaimed its release on Twitter and snatched it up.  Yes, it was a first for narrator Kali Dziuba as far as I could tell but I didn’t care.  I had to hear and judge for myself.  Unfortunately, this audio review could be limited to one word – letdown.

Chance Mackenzie is a highly trained undercover operative who is not only ruthless but very good at finding his man.  He is the classic tough alpha hero as only Linda Howard can write and, I must admit, I have a weakness for her heroes.  They all tend to be stinkers to some degree, but Chance is the biggest stinker of all – so much so that I dubbed him “The hero you love to hate” ten years ago when I first read and reviewed A Game of Chance.

Sunny Miller is the daughter of a terrorist Chance is planning to take down.  He decides to romance information out of Sunny and then use her as bait to bring her father out of hiding.  He fully implements his plan including faking a plane crash on a deserted island and making Sunny fall in love with him.  Chance is surprised to find Sunny is not only a kind and gracious woman, but a survivalist as well.  And, she is hiding from a father she greatly fears.

I have read A Game of Chance in print numerous times and I’ve always relished the thought of Chance’s comeuppance.  It’s part of my delight with the entire book.  But it’s hard to understand just how much Chance deserves that comeuppance with Kali Dziuba’s interpretation of his character.  Where is his ruthlessness?  His cavalier attitude?  Where are his strong alpha traits and his immense confidence?  Where is his lack of regard for women?  It is on the printed page but missing in audio.

In the short period of time Zane (Chance’s brother and hero of Mackenzie’s Pleasure) appears in A Game of Chance, I heard a self-assured man who knows his business.  When I heard Ms. Dziuba’s performance of Chance, I couldn’t help but envision a teenage girl who ends her statements with a questioning note.  And although Ms. Dziuba gives him a satisfying deep voice, all I heard was that irritating uplifting of his voice at the end of sentences.  She does seem to learn the nature of Chance’s character as the book progresses and I heard less of the high school student and more of a determined hero as the book hit its final half.

The strengths of the narration lie in the performance of Sunny’s character (it’s just as my mind envisioned while reading the print version) and Ms. Dziuba ability to effectively differentiate Sunny from Chance.

However, the narration lacks sophistication and the understanding that although romance is a fantasy of sorts, it’s still serious business when the book calls for dramatic situations.  Kali Dziuba’s narration is too sweet and sounds like she is reading a children’s story.  Her reading has an “Isn’t this darling?” tone and therefore, I was often jarred from the story during a simple narrative passage.

Although I’m not as crazy for alpha heroes as I once was, I’m sure I’ll return to A Game of Chance at some time in the future.  But since I need those alpha heroes to sound like the highly confident take-charge creatures they are, it will be in print, not audio.

Note – the announcement of the narrator at the beginning of the recording is one other than Kali Dziuba.  Researching further, I can’t verify with any certainty the identity of the narrator but I believe it is Dziuba.



Ending Notes

Our 2012 Listening Challenge began last month.  There is still time for you to join in.  Come see us at our Goodreads group to discuss your progress.  Or, share your update with us in the comments area below.

I’m announcing news for the Speaking of Audiobooks column and other audio tidbits on Twitter – look for SpeakingofAudio.

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 195 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 over 250 romance audiobook reviews.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley

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