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Speaking of Audiobooks: Top Ten Listens of 2014

Lord of Scoundrels lgIt’s good news all the way around when looking back at romance audiobooks in 2014. The selections were more diverse than ever and we saw a significant rise in overall quality as well. Despite my Dreaded Burnout of 2014, I listened to approximately 80 audiobooks last year. But wait, that should be qualified a bit – I attempted to listen to that number although I officially tagged a number of those DNFs. I only sporadically kept records on my Goodreads shelf which caused a good amount of confusion when I started putting together this list a few weeks ago. New Year’s Resolution #5 – Keep up records at Goodreads.

The Top Ten Romance Listens

1. Lord of Scoundrels – Loretta Chase

Narrated by Kate Reading

Romance audio fans responded with great delight to the audio release of Lord of Scoundrels. It had been at the top of many audio wishlists with Ms. Chase taking first place in the Romance Author’s Backlist You Most Want to See in Audio at our 2011 and 2012 Favorite Romance Audiobook Polls. Kate Reading’s tremendous performance further enhanced this perennial romance favorite making Lord of Scoundrels all the more entertaining. The print version has reigned as number one in AAR’s Top 100 since 2000 and the audio version has great staying power as well. Publisher – Blackstone Audio

Burn for Me2. Burn for Me – Ilona Andrews

Narrated by Renee Raudman

The first in the Hidden Legacy trilogy, Burn for Me, introduces us to a completely different world from that seen in either the Kate Daniels or The Edge series. Although you won’t find the classic romantic HEA here, it is definitely romantic and I’m eager to see the progression of Nevada and Rogan’s relationship over the course of the trilogy. The suspense is intense, the worldbuilding outstanding, and the narration first-rate. Key to my enjoyment was that narration as I listened to Renee Raudman elevate Burn for Me into the ranks of my Top 2014 Listens. Renee brings every little detail to life, superbly emphasizing each piece of humor while expertly pacing the action scenes as the suspense builds.  Publisher – Harper Audio

Out of Control latest3. Out of Control – Suzanne Brockmann

Narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank

In August 2013, I shared with readers my all time favorite print romances. Number four on that list was Out of Control, the fourth entry to the Troubleshooter (TSS) series. Winning the 2002 Best Romance and Best Hero awards here at AAR, I recall being amazed at Brockmann’s storytelling and I simply loved this book that features more than one romance but totally satisfies on every level. In 2013, there was an audio version available for listening but it didn’t begin to do justice to the content and my rereads were strictly reserved for the print version. I was excited when I discovered that Blackstone Audio had plans to re-release the first six books in the TSS series during 2014 with new narrators Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank (although they are certainly not new to the series). Listening to the new audio version of Out of Control, I was completely entranced during the entire seventeen hours as I heard it performed as written – an exciting experience for this Brockmann audio fan. Publisher – Blackstone Audio

A Different Blue sq4. A Different Blue – Amy Harmon

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

When I made notes on A Different Blue after finishing my listen, my first thought was “Absolutely wonderful!” It was that delightful surprise we are always hoping to find when trying a new author. The talented Tavia Gilbert is the reason I listened but I stayed as I became intrigued with this beautiful story that contains a romance but centers on a remarkable young woman who doesn’t know her age or parentage but is striking in her confidence and pragmatism about life. The friendship she strikes up with her young British teacher is real (there are no worries here about an inappropriate teacher/student relationship) – the whole audiobook is real. Tavia’s impeccable performance adds another level of enjoyment to this already moving tale. Overall, it is such a refreshing change of pace. Publisher – Tantor Audio

One Plus One5. One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

Narrated by Elizabeth Bower, Ben Elliot, Nicola Stanton, Steven France

Take a hard-working mom who can barely make ends meet with a mathematical genius of a young daughter, a teenage stepson (who has more than a few problems of his own), a depressed absent husband, and then add a big slobbering dog and you have a glance at Jess’ life. Now add a mathematical contest that could offer her daughter a scholarship to an otherwise unattainable school and an almost-stranger by the name of Ed who is a wealthy IT nerd of sorts who is in trouble for some unintentional insider trader and you have the setting for a road trip that is both funny and heartwarming. The story is told from four POVs and therefore is performed by four narrators. The resulting multi-cast audio is of excellent quality and pure fun as well. And for die-hard romance fans like me, there is a satisfying romance tucked in. Leave thoughts of Little Miss Sunshine behind – this one’s better and only slightly similar. Publisher – Penguin Audio

It Happened One Wedding lg6. It Happened One Wedding – Julie James

Narrated by Karen White

When it comes to contemporary romance (my favorite sub-genre), there are few authors who write it as well as Julie James. Paired with narrator Karen White (who has narrated all of her books), her audiobooks are both fabulous and BIG fun. When grading a new James/White audio release, I can’t help but compare it to their other audios and it becomes a mind game of comparing the best to the best. It Happened One Wedding (IHOW) isn’t the very best one of all but it still rates far above other contemporary romance audios published in 2014. Rather than a suspense sub-plot you will find in a number of her FBI/US Attorney entries, this one is character-driven which I far prefer – it reminds me of her funniest book, Practice Makes Perfect (except – the sensuality level in IHOW is much hotter). Karen has perfected the art of performing contemporary romance and knows how to make the most of each situation and I find myself laughing out loud as she serves up the humor just right. As with each of Julie James’ audiobooks, I was delighted all over again. Publisher – Tantor Audio

Uncertain Magic FB7. Uncertain Magic – Laura Kinsale

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

One of Laura Kinsale’s earliest books (1987), it was my first Kinsale read and remains to this day one of my favorites. It would be unfair to compare this to other 1980s romances as it doesn’t have that feel or the characteristics of romances written during that era. It features a slightly paranormal aspect and has a bit more of a traditional romance feel to it than the other Kinsale books. It has always seemed a little “magical” to me but not in the paranormal way. Let’s start with the hero’s name – Faelen. I love that name. It is aptly titled as it has a feel of uncertain magic – is it magic or the machinations of some unkind human? Uncertain Magic isn’t as complex as other Kinsale titles but it is an easier book to listen to for it. And Nick Boulton – if you haven’t yet listened to one of his narration, you simply must. An incredible actor, he adds depth to the tale simply with his telling. I can’t see myself ever simply reading a Kinsale book again. I’ll choose to entirely savor it instead as I listen to the work of this audio dream team. Publisher – Hedgehog, Inc.

Targeted8. Targeted – Katie Reus

Narrated by Sophie Eastlake

Katie Reus is a new-to-me author that I just happened upon with Targeted although Sophie Eastlake’s narration strongly influenced my choice. It’s so much easier to try a new author with a well-known and trusted narrator doing the telling. A romantic suspense featuring tough guy Jack Stone, he’s not too tough in the way we are seeing so much these days. A former Marine sniper and current NSA agent, he’s a class act who is totally in charge but without the need to show it with his every move or comment. I guess you could say he’s an alpha hero in beta clothing. Sophie works for the company he’s investigating for smuggling and the two are equals as they go on the run together. Both Jack and Sophie are highly likable and fully developed characters and the romance and action are mixed evenly. Sophie Eastlake performs each character true to the author’s words and adds that other whole level of enjoyment we expect in the best audiobooks with perfect pacing and an understanding of the romance. Rarely does a new-to-me author make it to my Top Ten Listens but I was so nicely surprised. I’m hoping she continues to deliver.  Publisher – Tantor Audio

Mean Streak lg9. Mean Streak – Sandra Brown

Narrated by Jonathan Davis

When I think of the best in Romantic Suspense audio, my mind immediately turns to Sandra Brown. I revel in each and every one of her new releases. Mean Streak was no exception with tightly woven suspense, a mystery that keeps you guessing, and a romance that is truly satisfying and more intricate than most of Brown’s recent releases. It features an inscrutable yet highly desirable hero (no clue of his name for the first half of the book) paired with a levelheaded pediatrician heroine who is a marathon runner. With each of Brown’s new releases, you can expect top-notch narration and Jonathan Davis delivers in that aspect as well, though when compared to the quality of Brown’s other audio releases over the past fourteen years, the narration falls more into the B+ range. However, Mean Streak is an outstanding listen falling into the A- range overall. As with other Brown favorites, I’ll definitely be listening again – probably more than once. Publisher – Hachette Audio

One Summer10. One Summer – Karen Robards

Narrated by Kate Fleming/Anna Fields

Although technically not a new audio release, One Summer (original print date 1993) was released in audio format in 2000 (audio cassette) and 2002 (CD). And then it was lost. With the rare exception of the well-worn library copy or the used online purchase, it was an official hard-to-find with few enjoying this wonderful contemporary romance made even better by Kate Fleming/Anna Fields’ splendid delivery. Blackstone Audio rereleased One Summer in digital format last February and it was such a gift to hear another Anna Fields’ narration. Overwhelmingly chosen as the Favorite Romance Narrator in the 2011 Speaking of Audiobooks Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll, Anna Fields is sorely missed – particularly by the romance audio community. Publisher – Blackstone Audio

And more…

Sometimes I think I should turn this into the Top Twenty Listens list but then I imagine myself wishing I could make a Top Twenty into a Top Twenty-Five and so on. So, I’ll just take a minute and mention a few others that were given high consideration for today’s list:

Brockmann, Suzanne – Over the Edge narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank

Chase, Emma – Tied narrated by Sebastian York

Frost, Jeaniene – Up from the Grave narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Sheridan, Mia – Archer’s Voice narrated by Emily Durante and Kris Koscheski

Simsion, Graeme – The Rosie Effect narrated by Dan O’Grady

Thomas, Sherry – The Luckiest Lady in London narrated by Corrie James

And now a little fun…

Best Romance Listens Released Prior to 2014

Andrews, Ilona – Steel’s Edge narrated by Renee Raudman

Briggs, Patricia – Bone Crossed narrated by Lorelei King

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth – First Lady narrated by Anna Fields

Best Relistens of 2014

Brown, Sandra – Envy narrated by Victor Slezak

James, Julie – Practice Makes Perfect narrated by Karen White

Kleypas, Lisa – Blue-Eyed Devil narrated by Renee Raudman

London, Julia – All I Need Is You narrated by Renee Raudman

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth – Kiss an Angel narrated by Anna Fields


Ending Notes

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 915 members. We started this group four years ago for discussions in between Speaking of Audiobooks columns. Our number grew by almost 40% in 2014! Come on by to share your latest listen or contribute to a number of our ongoing romance audiobook discussions.

Enjoy your listening.

– Lea Hensley


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