Kiss of the HighlanderWhen I started writing the Speaking of Audiobooks column in 2009, romance listening was still a rather new, if not unheard of, experience for the majority of romance fans. We may have heard of audiobooks, and even tried one, but romance? Possibly we had listened to an instructional audiobook or a children’s book when vacationing with the family but that was it.

Although I know there are huge numbers of yet-to-be-converted romance audio fans out there, audiobook listening is definitely on the rise. The selection, ease of access through downloads, and the affordability of today’s audiobooks brings in new audio listeners every day.

Also, the selection of romance audiobooks has vastly improved with hundreds of new titles each month. It’s easy for new listeners and romance audio enthusiasts alike to focus on what’s new and overlook what has been on audio shelves for years.

So, today I’m featuring a few romance audio gems I discovered through my years of listening. The majority of these books won’t be found on the Bestselling pages at Audible (although most were at one time) or even be narrated by a familiar name (sob – so many romance audio newbies don’t recognize Anna Fields’ name) but they are all guaranteed great listens sure to entertain.

I set a few parameters for today’s list. The print version had to have been out for at least five years when I discovered it in audio format. The book may have been on my radar at one time but, I had either paid no interest to the print version, or had tried the book in print and just wasn’t interested. Many of these titles (if not all) were discussed more than once by listeners in previous Speaking of Audiobooks columns but I doubt that many of us have the time to actually look back at all those columns (great source of info and recommendations though).

First Lady – Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP)

Narrated by Anna Fields

2000 Print Release – 2000 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

I discovered my love for SEP in print and later found that her books were even better in audio format when narrated by Anna Fields. Over the years, I have relistened to these SEP/Fields masterpieces more times than I can recall. Ms. Fields narrated sixteen of SEP’s titles before she died unexpectedly at the age of 41. Not only was she a pioneer of romance audiobooks, she was a Contemporary Romance superstar. A few months ago, I was saddened to see in a discussion among new romance audio enthusiasts that there was little to no knowledge of just who Anna Fields was!

Fortunately, for purposes of this list, this past year I discovered a new SEP gem through audio. Longing for another Anna Fields performance, I realized I had never read/listened to First Lady. I was as charmed as ever and found another audio DIK.

Now, if you haven’t listened to Anna Fields – please find one of her titles!

The Raven PrinceThe Raven Prince – Elizabeth Hoyt

Narrated by Moira Quirk

2006 Print Release – 2013 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

This is one I actually tried twice in print format before giving up. So many AAR readers were just raving about it on the forums and I just didn’t get it (a secretary turned lady of the night in disguise and her hero boss doesn’t recognize her – come on…). But then the Princes trilogy was released in audio format and I had to try it one more time. Moira Quirk’s narration (a new-to-me narrator at the time) was simply superb and it became a solid A listen. She brought a freshness to what I considered an overused and certainly unrealistic plot device.

Carnal Innocence – Nora Roberts

Narrated by Tom Stechschulte

Print Release 1991 – Audio Release 1999     Discovered in 2010

Tom Stechschulte is simply amazing in his portrayal of hero Tucker Longstreet – it’s one of the best characterizations ever. It has a better than average storyline and I was entertained but mostly, I hung on every word Tucker uttered. This was a hard-to-find for years until it was released at Audible in 2012.

Kiss of the Highlander (KOTH) – Karen Marie Moning (KMM)

Narrated by Phil Gigante

2001 Print Release – Audio Release 2008     Discovered in 2008

Although fourth in the Highlander series, it’s the best place to start, to my way of thinking, as the series seemed to hit its stride with KOTH. It’s a time travel with many laugh-out-loud moments and it remains a lovable favorite. I discovered Phil Gigante as well as KMM when KOTH was released in 2008. Focus on Phil’s portrayal of the male characters (big sigh) and ignore his female characterizations.

The Indiscretion – Judith Ivory

Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat

2001 Print Release – Audio Release 2002     Discovered in 2006

Judith Ivory in audio format? Yes, she was one author who entered the audio market way back when – in the early days of romance listening. Four of her titles are in audio format (and I recommend all) – Sleeping Beauty, The Proposition, Beast, and The Indiscretion. Unfortunately, none of her Judy Cuevas titles were recorded nor her beloved Untie My Heart but there’s still a lot of good listening tucked away waiting for discovery. Although Sleeping Beauty is my favorite in print, The Indiscretion comes in first in audio format.

1-10 CDDead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris

Narrated by Johanna Parker

2001 Print Release – 2004 Audio Release (best I can determine)     Discovered in 2010

Okay – not technically a romance, the Sookie Stackhouse series satisfied every one of my exceptional-listen requirements back when only romance would satisfy me. Johanna Parker absolutely excels in her narration of the series. Although I had heard about the print version of Sookie and gang for years here at AAR, I didn’t make the plunge until 2010 when I listened (after many SOA listeners encouraged me to do so). Over the years, I listened to and loved all thirteen entries to the series. I’ll definitely be relistening one of these days. And, no, please don’t think HBO’s True Blood here – it’s an entirely different experience.

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon   Unabridged version

Narrated by Davina Porter

1991 Print Release – 1997 Audio Release     Discovered in 2006

Of course, Outlander makes this list. Although back in 2006, I enjoyed a good meaty long book, the size of those five Outlander books in print format seemed a little overwhelming. So, I decided a new exercise program deserved a new adventure in listening worthy of commitment. And I’ve been a fan since. If you haven’t listened to Outlander, it’s a wonderful investment in time even if you have read it in print format. Davina Porter excels!

For My Lady’s Heart and My Sweet Folly – Laura Kinsale

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

My Sweet Folly – 1997 Print Release – 2013 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

For My Lady’s Heart – 1993 Print Release – 2013 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

If you read many of the 2013 Speaking of Audiobooks columns, it’s likely you know of my love for Laura Kinsale’s audio releases – all narrated by the uber-talented Nicholas Boulton. I can’t officially include Flowers from the Storm or The Shadow and the Star on this list since I discovered those in print format (both DIKs) but two of my other favorites are My Sweet Folly and For My Lady’s Heart. To date, all of her audio titles have earned an A for narration and the content, while challenging at times, has rated no lower than a B.

Anyone But You – Jennifer Crusie

Narrated by Susan Ericksen

1996 Print Release – 2005 Audio Release     Discovered in 2007

It’s actually hard to find romance audiobooks that make you literally laugh-out-loud repeatedly. Although I had loved, loved Ms. Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation in print format (not a fave in audio), I mostly explored Crusie’s humorous backlist in audio format. She’s another author who was on the audio bandwagon early on. They’re not all personal favorites (some of the narrations are borderline bad) but Anyone But You is a pure hidden delight.

Hello DarknessAnd the Sandra Brown Audios

When romance readers hear the name Sandra Brown, they either think of her 1980s and 1990s romances, her romantic suspense titles over the last fifteen years, or the seemingly complete shift she made in her content around 2000 (it was actually fairly gradual). One thing is certain – Sandra Brown’s new releases differ greatly from those published during her early years of writing. Now we’re talking tightly woven romantic suspense titles that actually contain more suspense than romance but I find I’m so completely carried away that I don’t even notice that the romance takes fewer pages. She’s one author I have experienced almost entirely in audio format and therefore perfect for today’s Older Romance Gems I Discovered Through ListeningMore mainstream than most romance authors, you’ll always find top-notch talent performing Ms. Brown’s annual new releases. Please note – all of these recommendations carry a publication date of 2000 or later.

Envy – Sandra Brown

Narrated by Victor Slezak

2001 Print Release – 2001 Audio Release     Discovered in 2010

The Crush – Sandra Brown

Narrated by Tom Wopat   (unabridged only available at Downpour)

2002 Print Release – 2002 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

Hello Darkness – Sandra Brown

Narrated by Victor Slezak

2003 Print Release – 2003 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

Chill Factor – Sandra Brown

Narrated by Stephen Lang

2005 Print Release – 2005 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

Ricochet – Sandra Brown

Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris

2006 Print Release – 2006 Audio Release     Discovered in 2013

And, of course, there are Ms. Brown’s newer audio titles that I enjoyed shortly after publication including Lethal (2011), Deadline (2013), Play Dirty (2007), Smoke Screen (2008), Smash Cut (2009), Tough Customer (2010), Mean Streak (2014), and Low Pressure (2012).

Beware – a good number of Brown’s 1980s and 1990s titles are being released as new audiobooks and there is most definitely a difference in style and content. Check the original print publication date.

Ending Notes

Laura Kinsale posted this on her Hedgehog site, “Great news!  We WILL be recording Seize the Fire, The Hidden Heart and Uncertain Magic later this year.”

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Enjoy your listening.

– Lea Hensley