May 5th will mark three years for the Speaking of Audiobooks column. What started as a mere opportunity to give my opinion that audiobooks are All About the Narrator, rapidly grew to a twice-monthly feature here at All About Romance. We discovered there was a lot of enthusiasm for romance audio and that listeners were raring to talk about their best romance finds, their worst audio experiences, and everything in between.
Initially my audio reviews were so short that I called them Mini-Reviews and the majority of reviews within the column were mine. In January 2011, avid listeners Brenda and Melinda started writing reviews for Speaking of Audiobooks followed by LinnieGayl and Kaetrin in March and Diana in May. Since these ladies all know romance audio inside out and enjoy talking about it, I don’t think the term mini-review applies to our review style these days. Many thanks to these ladies for their contributions.
I’m very pleased to announce that Carrie is joining our audio review team today. It’s likely that you have seen Carrie around either here in our discussion area or at our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group. Her first review, Forbidden by Suzanne Brockmann, is below. Welcome, Carrie!
We have seven audios up for review today: Sarah MacLean’s A Rogue by Any Other My Name, Darynda Jones’s First Grave on the Right, Jayne Ann Krentz’s Between the Lines, Eloisa James’ Your Wicked Ways, Suzanne Brockmann’s Forbidden, Jeaniene Frost’s This Side of the Grave, and Kristan Hannah’s Home Front.
April’s Romance Audiobook Releases
Includes new formats of existing audiobooks. All unabridged unless otherwise stated.
Ashworth, Adele – Winter Garden Narrator unknown
Banks, Maya – Never Love a Highlander Narrated by Kirsten Potter
Boissard, Janine – Love Story Narrated by Kate Rudd
Coulter, Catherine – Wild Star Narrated by Chloe Campbell
Fairchild, Lia – In Search of Lucy Narrated by Kate Rudd
Gibson, Rachel – Rescue Me Narrator unknown
Grant, Cecilia – A Gentleman Undone Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Herron, Rachael – How to Knit a Heart Back Home Narrated by Carrington MacDuffie
Hilderbrand, Elin – Barefoot Narrated by Rachael Warren
Hoag, Tami – Still Waters Narrated by Joyce Bean
Kenyon, Sherrilyn – Born of Silence Narrated by Holter Graham
Long, Kelly – Lilly’s Wedding Quilt Narrated by Christine Williams
Lowell, Elizabeth – Beautiful Sacrifice Narrated by Richard Ferrone
Macomber, Debbie – Any Sunday Narrated by Kate Rudd
Macomber, Debbie – Jury of His Peers Narrated by Kate Rudd
Macomber, Debbie – The Unexpected Husband Narrated by Kate Rudd
Mallery, Susan – Summer Days Narrated by Tanya Eby
McCarty, Sarah Reaper’s Justice Narrated by Kathe Mazur
Neggers, Carla – Secrets of the Lost Summer Narrator unknown
Palmer, Diane – Noelle Narrated by Natalie Ross
Quinn, Julia – A Night Like This Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Roberts, Nora – Bed of Roses Narrated by Angela Dawe
Roberts, Nora – The Last Boyfriend Narrated by MacLeod Andrews
Sims, Jessica – Beauty Dates the Beast Narrated by Leah Mallach
Singh, Nalini – Tangle of Need Narrated by Angela Dawe
St. Claire, Roxanne – Barefoot in the Sand Narrated by Ann Marie Lee
Ward, J.R. – The Player Narrated by Emily Beresford
Warren, Tracy Ann – The Princess and the Peer Narrated by Justine Eyre
Romance Audio Reviews
A Rogue by Any Other My Name – Sarah MacLean
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
A Rogue by Any Other Name is a good Regency romance with good narration that begged just one or two teensy weensy changes to become a really good story with really good narration.
Childhood friends Penelope and Michael are separated by first his schooling at Eton, then the death of his parents, and finally Michael’s ruination by gambling away his unentailed lands to a ruthless neighbor. Michael then spends a decade rebuilding his fortune and seeking revenge for the dastardly deed. (Mind you, he did bet the lands…)
Meanwhile, Penelope is also ruined when an unwed duke uses her as a pawn in a game to save his sister from scandal (I kept wondering if I missed a chapter until it was explained in detail midway). Suffice it to say the duke offered marriage, cried off, and married his lover a week later, leaving Penny unmarriageable.
Fast-forward a few years, and Penny’s father is now offering additional lands as part of her dowry to get her off the shelf and out of his house. What lands, you ask? Why, Michael’s land that her father had somehow gotten from the ruthless neighbor. Enter Michael to wed Penelope to get his lands. In spite of their childhood friendship, he intends to be ruthless, cunning, and cold, using her much like the earlier duke had. Well, okay, then it really gets complicated.
Rosalyn Landor’s performance of A Rogue by Any Other Name is truly superb – really! Her narrative is lively and interesting, the female characters sound good, and her delivery of the heroine’s voice is simply excellent. She moves the story along effectively with all those little details we love in good narrators, with one teensy weensy issue – her hero’s voice sucks. Big time sucky. He’s stuffy, he might as well be elderly, and she has this odd puffy breath thing she does as though she’s shooting his voice out of a cannon. If that isn’t bad enough, all of Ms. Landor’s male voices sound the same! Arg! Talk about ruination. I wanted him to sound younger, more debonair, more hero-like and way less booming in my ear.
Julianne MacLean does a wonderful job of cracking Michael’s shell slowly, taking him from bitter to besotted over the last third of the book – something you will hear in the words but not in Landor’s stuffy old man voice. But right at the end, that teensy weensy change I’d suggest is directed towards Ms. MacLean. Please do not have the hero turn into a blithering fool praising his love for changing him and wailing on and on about how she saved him (okay, maybe that was Landor’s shooting-breath old man wailing). Really, it was such a lovely transition from friends to enemies to love that I cringed at the two of them beating their breasts with the joy of his transformation. It put a damper on the ending for me…but…the epilogue intrigued me enough that I might suffer Landor’s next hero with Penny’s brilliant bluestocking sister.
First Grave on the Right – Darynda Jones
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Lorelie King
You know what? Despite its high ratings and much talked about success, I didn’t enjoy First Grave on the Right, even with its witty writing and excellent narration. And it’s all due to what I’ll call false advertising.
As part of my “firsts” for the Speaking of Audiobooks Listening Challenge I decided to listen to the Audible Editors # 1 romance pick for 2011. I realize that the powers that be rarely know what a real romance is but I expected to see at the very least a thread of a relationship being built – one that could lead to romance. I didn’t. Instead I spent the whole listen waiting, then waiting some more, for a romance that was advertised but not delivered.
I can’t fault narrator Lorelie King for that. She serves up the quick wit and humor the author intended with just the right style, evenly dishing out the snark and attitude where needed while keeping all the various character voices distinct.
Charlotte Davidson is the Grim Reaper. Being able to speak to the dead has enabled her uncle (I hated the repeated use of her nickname for him), a police detective, to solve cases at an amazing rate while she also works as a PI with her own business.
Reyes, the supposed hero, is the stuff of dreams, and I mean that literally. The connection he shares with Charley is so ephemeral that it is laughable to a romance fan. A hot lover coming to you in wisps here and there doesn’t equal romance, whether you end up face to face at some point or not. If I had started listening to First Grave on the Right thinking it a light mystery series with paranormal twist and knew up front that Charley could be likened to a more accomplished Stephanie Plum, I would have been better prepared for the story I heard.
As I’m a fan of Lorelei King’s narrations of both Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series (thread of romance over several UF books) and Janet Evanovich’s long running Stephanie Plum series, I was worried that the character voices would all start to merge in my head. No need for those worries though as it wasn’t a problem at all, a testament to Ms. King’s skill at seamlessly breathing life into her narrations. No matter the book, you hear the author’s story and characters – not the narrator’s voice. Ms. Kings gets additional points for her clear differentiation between Charley’s inner dialogue (and there’s a lot of it) and her actual spoken words. That’s not always easy to do in my listening experience.
To reiterate, First Grave on the Right is a light mystery with a supernatural PI that has an unusual talent and hot dreams. If that’s what you are expecting, then the bonus of Lorelie King’s excellent narrating abilities could make this a very good listen for you. But if you’re expecting romance as well, it’s going to leave you feeling unsatisfied.
Between the Lines – Jayne Ann Krentz
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Amy Rubinate
I got hooked on romances over fifteen years ago by reading a Jayne Ann Krentz novel. I immediately went on a major glom of her backlist including some of her early category romances. Between the Lines is one I missed so when it appeared on the list of audiobooks available for review, I jumped at the chance to see how this older release would work today as an audiobook. While not my favorite Krentz, narrator Amy Rubinate does an excellent job with the story.
When a passionate affair with a bad boy racecar driver went bad, Amber Langley moved to Seattle and took a job as an assistant to self-employed consultant Cormick Grayson. As the story opens, Ms. Rubinate convincingly performs Amber’s shock when her employer (and now friend) proposes to her. She clearly distinguishes Amber and Gray’s voices and, since much of the book involves scenes with just the two of them, this was crucial. Throughout, she conveys the emotions Gray and Amber are feeling. Gray’s essential integrity is apparent, not just by the words he speaks, but also by Ms. Rubinate’s effective delivery.
In addition to being a businessman, Gray is the world’s leading expert on cowboy poet S.U. Twitchell. Between the Lines is peppered with some of the poet’s horrible poems as well as Amber and Gray’s humorous discussions and arguments about Twitchell’s work. The joy Amber gets in arguing with Gray about Twitchell, as well as her amusement with the poet, are apparent in the narration.
Amber was a bit of a twit in some of her actions and her insistence that she is “content” with Gray. It’s apparent that Amber’s ex-lover is a complete player. Once he appears on the scene, the smarmy voice Ms. Rubinate gives him combined with his past behaviors, made me wonder why Amber spent any time with him at all.
Although originally published in 1986, Between the Lines didn’t feel terribly dated. I liked Amy Rubinate’s tone and felt her pacing was on target. Is this Krentz’s best book? Definitely not. But this short (6 ½ hour) audiobook provided me with some enjoyable listening.
Your Wicked Ways – Eloisa James
Review written by Lea Hensley
Narrated by Justine Eyre
Earlier this year, I listened to my first Eloisa James book, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and vastly enjoyed the experience. I hadn’t read James in print either so I was quite enthused with her extensive audio backlist and eagerly delved in. My second James was sadly a failure so I picked my third try, Your Wicked Ways carefully. Okay – it didn’t have the best reviews in print but I’ve always liked the whole mistress angle and the super-challenging hero sounded like fun as well. I should have paid more attention to the reviews.
Helene has been married to Rees, Earl Godwin, for ten years but little of that time has been spent as a couple. She’s been the virtuous woman while he’s been completely outrageous. In fact, his mistress lives in Helene’s former home along side the difficult man. When Helene shares with Rees that she wants a divorce so she can finally have the child she’s yearned for, he’s not willing to cooperate. If she wants a child, she can return home (mistress and all), help with his latest opera, and he’ll assist with the conception.
Failing to pay attention to the fact that Your Wicked Ways is the fourth in a series, I paid for my mistake by listening to countless passages of Regency girlfriend talk between Helene and daring, beautiful women of previous books. Yawn. Unfortunately, when the action fades in an audiobook, there is no skimming and it falls to the narrator to deliver the listener happily to the other side. Justine Eyre gives it a magnificent try and it’s not her fault that the overall audio fails due to the lack of interesting storyline.
One of Ms. Eyre’s strengths is her ability to significantly differentiate male from female characters and she excels with her male performances. However, her female lead is quite distinctive for the genre – Eyre narration or no. It is so unique, yet so Eyre, that one heroine sounds like the next and I find my mind immediately locking on my first Eyre narration, Nalini Singh’s Angels’ Blood and her performance of Elena. After prying my mind’s ears away from the Elena factor and forcing myself to concentrate on Helena, I still had to wrestle with the fact that she sounded just plain whiney.
Another disappointment lies in the fact that Helene and Rees are not necessarily the stars of the show. A strong secondary romance, as well as all the chit-chat among the series’ previous characters, made it feel like Helene and Rees were third on the agenda. And their romance needed work. Rees is a slouchy hero in the truest since of the word and his supposed adorable nature doesn’t shine through. As the epilogue played on, I wanted to say, “You expect us to believe all this based on the evidence provided?” And with that, my waning enthusiasm for trying a fourth James book plunged.
Forbidden – Suzanne Brockmann
Review written by Carrie
Narrated by Traci Svensgaard
Produced by Blackstone Audio
Before Suzanne Brockmann achieved fame for her Troubleshooter series, she wrote other series and stand-alone books. Most were on the short side (250 pages or so) and have a lot in common with other category romances. Forbiddenis one of these titles published in print in 1997 and released in audio in 2007. I enjoyed the print version when I read it several years ago.
Forbidden has a simple plot. Liam, Cal Bartlett’s younger brother, was killed in a war-torn Caribbean country. Two years later, Liam’s girlfriend, Kayla, tracks Cal down at his Montana ranch with news that Liam may still be alive. The two set off in hopes of finding Liam and fall in love on the way. Brockmann uses several well-worn devices to jumpstart the relationship. Cal rescues Kayla from an early Montana snowstorm, forming an instant bond between them. Much of the book’s tension is built around the “forbidden” feelings each has for the other as they join forces to discover the truth about Liam’s death.
Traci Svensgaard is a new narrator for me and I was pleasantly surprised by her calm, nuanced performance of Forbidden. Her voice is melodic and soft – not so much in volume as in tone. The characters’ voices are well distinguished without sounding forced. Cal’s Montana drawl was a little too much at times, but that is a minor quibble. Brockmann emphasizes his drawl in the text so I understand why Svensgaard did the same when performing the audio. To this uninitiated ear, the narrator’s Spanish accents sound authentic and believable, and help immerse the listener in the story’s setting. This sense of place is one reason listening was a better experience than simply reading the book.
My only caveat about the audio version has nothing to do with the narration but rather the production. Although pauses were made at chapter breaks, I experienced a moment of confusion each time the scene changed as there was no pause to indicate that fact.
While not unique, I found the suspense satisfying and emotional and felt Brockmann did a good job developing the romance within the short space allowed. Yes, there are clichés and standard romance plot devices thrown in, but overall I was willing to go with the insta-attraction and the hero’s willingness to be self-sacrificing without first checking to see if it was even warranted. I liked the characters, enjoyed the action, and thought the narration added to the experience.
This Side of the Grave – Jeaniene Frost
Review written by Lea Hensley
Narrated by Tavia Gilbert
In this fifth entry to the Night Huntress series, the pace doesn’t lessen and the attention-grabbing character introductions keep coming as is necessary in a long running battle of good and evil. Unfortunately, that also means some good guys are lost along the way.
Although I’m not into the whole ultimate-fighting-machine-thing that is so prevalent in paranormal romance and urban fantasy these days, I remain riveted to this series. And clearly, narrator Tavia Gilbert is a large reason for my love of the Night Huntress series. Jeaniene Frost’s writing is good but Ms. Gilbert’s narration adds another entire dimension.
This Side of the Grave continues the tale of Cat and Bones as well as many other characters you have come to love, admire, lust after, or despise. It’s definitely not a stand-alone and, if it sounds interesting, start with book one, Halfway to the Grave.
It’s a battle between the vampires and the ghouls this time around (sounds a bit ridiculous) and, once again, my mind didn’t once wander from the action with Ms. Gilbert’s energetic telling. At one point, I didn’t really want to pay close attention to Cat and Bones’ rather odd adventure in making love (I kept wondering – how does that not? Or where? Or what if?) so I found myself concentrating on the narration and, wow, talk about a sensual performance. Do other narrators read a love scene as successfully? (I’m usually just trying to get to the other side.) The deep breathing alone was entirely convincing! Wow.
Along with the victories comes some heartbreak and surprises as well. The ever-important chemistry between Cat and Bones remains strong even after five books. And I just downloaded book six, One Grave at a Time, because I still don’t want to stop listening.
Home Front – Kristan Hannah
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed
To be completely honest, I volunteered to review Home Front, thinking it was written by Kristan Higgins – an author who writes light contemporary romance. As it turns out, this is Kristin Hannah who writes women’s fiction with serious topics.
Home Front takes on the story of Jolene, a National Guard helicopter pilot, who is deployed to Iraq in 2005, leaving her husband Michael and two daughters behind. It’s also romantic, in a way, because the couple has just hit a major roadblock in their marriage before she leaves and each must each fight their way back to love.
As I started listening, the narrator’s tone clued me in to the emotional roller coaster I had just committed myself to, instead of the Ferris wheel I had expected. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but if Eeyore were a good narrator, he would sound like Maggi-Meg Reed in Home Front. As she introduces us to Jolene, we are aware from that tone that all is serious and maybe a tad depressing. It took me a long while to grow used to her narration and to appreciate how it helped set the tone of the book.
While Ms. Reed’s narrative voice and her adult character voices are well done – she delineates her genders and characters well – her children’s voices (especially the four-year-old) were grating and annoying, and not particularly age-appropriate. In the emotional passages, she gives a lot vocally to express the anguish and grief that fill this book.
From the moment Jolene wonders about the last time she and Michael made love, the story throbs with despair that Jolene first tries to overcome and then eventually accepts and embraces. Her own childhood bleak, Jolene has spent her married life trying to keep up a brave façade so her children would never know the same loneliness. But that façade isn’t strong enough to withstand the horrors and loss of the war in Iraq and it cracks.
Home Front is gut-wrenchingly human and emotional and requires a pack of tissue; the narrator supports this with her delivery. It was a wonderful, horrible story with a happy ending for Jolene and Michael while at the same time bittersweet considering what Jolene had to endure to get there.
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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.
Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we now have 228 members. It’s easy to join and 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 270 romance audiobook reviews.
Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley