As an audio enthusiast, it’s thrilling when I discover that a book I enjoyed in print is even better in audio. In fact, when I’m reviewing for Speaking of Audiobooks, it’s one of the highest compliments I can pay. Such success is usually due to the narrator’s ability to draw me into the story even more than those scenarios that played in my head while reading the print version. I’m introduced to yet another facet of a character’s personality or the narrator seems to understand the favorable vision already planted in my head and brings it more fully to life. The interaction between the leads may be more fleshed out or I may fear a suspense scene a little more as I’m caught up in the action I tend to skim in print.
When I stop and think of just what books in my audio library actually qualify for the better-in-audio-than-print description, I am fortunate that there are many. These are books that received my time and attention both in print and audio formats. I can’t include in this list such narrative greats as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander since I never read the print version. I can’t make an actual comparison of the two as much as I think I know the conclusion.
Here are a few of those audiobooks who make the grade in my eyes. A complete audio review of each can be found at our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads Mini Review Bookshelf.
The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne. Narrated by Kirsten Potter.
After reading an immense amount of praise for the print version of The Spymaster’s Lady upon its release in 2008, I was eager to read despite my dislike of historical spy themes. Soon I found myself bogged down and doubting the far too capable heroine. I only finished the print book because I felt I had to – not because I was all that interested. However, I decided to give it another try when released in audio in 2010. Ms. Potter’s interpretation of the characters differed from mine just enough for me to understand the story on a whole new level and I found myself intensely interested in each and every scene. A new-to-me narrator at the time, Ms. Potter nailed the characters not so much by varying the depth of her voice but rather by accent and rhythm making me better grasp the background of the varied characters each time they spoke. It was a complete audiobook success and one I’ll visit again – not something I can claim for the print version.
Slow Heat in Heaven by Sandra Brown. Narrated by Dick Hill.
When I recall reading Slow Heat in Heaven in print all those years ago, I remember a hero who would have a hard time qualifying as such in today’s romance environment and a heroine who isn’t far behind. The story was big on conflict from a number of directions and my ever romantic heart wanted more time dedicated to the lead couple. When listening to the audio version a few years ago, my view changed drastically. Dick Hill’s performance is one I’ll long recall, especially his portrayal of Cash, complete with a strong, convincing Cajun accent. I actually accepted the rough Cash in audio much more readily than in print. The numerous Louisiana accents were easily distinguishable and as the melodramatic storyline shifted and gained traction, appropriate emotion and purpose rang true in each character’s voice. Dick Hill gave Slow Heat in Heaven life and he gained a new respect from me in the process.
As a Linda Howard fan, I have many favorites in print that have translated well to audio but three stand out as better-in-audio-than-print choices – Son of the Morning, Kill and Tell, and Death Angel.
Both Kill and Tell and Son of the Morning are narrated by the highly talented and versatile Natalie Ross. She has a way of making Howard’s romantic suspenses come to life in a new way for me and never has it been more evident than Kill and Tell. Ms. Ross does an excellent job distinctly portraying both lead characters and the pacing of her narration only enhances the suspense. In print, I was a little bored with all the suspense; in audio, not a bit.
As a time travel romance, Son of the Morning is a different sort for Howard in which the leads actually spend less than half of the book in the same time period – together (it doesn’t matter). Ms. Ross totally extinguished any impatience I may have had with that little fact while reading in print. She performs multiple male voices with crisp distinction and listening to Niall and Grace’s verbal exchanges was pure pleasure. With the audio, Son of the Morning moved from a favored Howard to a must-relisten.
For me, Death Angel almost stands in a category of its own. Many readers love it and just as many seem to not care for it at all. That is probably due to the highly controversial leads – an assassin and a mistress to a drug lord. Narrated by Joyce Bean, it’s another personal DIK in print (my AAR review). I first listened to the audio simply because I wanted more, more, more of this strange love story. Ms. Bean’s superb narration made it all the more dynamic by building the suspense while understanding each character’s strengths and weaknesses. Rarely am I moved to tears in a romance as I am each time I listen to Death Angel. This is a definite audio only repeat performance for me.
Anne Stuart has done well with the audio versions of her books and two come quickly to mind when thinking about this subject – Ruthlessand Fire and Ice. I eagerly read Ruthless in print as I anticipated the new Rohan series. I liked it – a sort of blah recommendation for sure. But when I listened to Ruthless, I really liked it. Susan Ericksen provided me with a new image of the dark, bored Rohan who is out to spoil the innocent, no-nonsense Elinor. In audio, Rohan was more of a multi dimensional King of Hell rather than the purely pompous character I imagined in print. Ms. Ericksen’s performance allowed me to hear as well the changes he undergoes that ultimately lead to his redemption. Since then, I have listened rather than read the subsequent Rohan books (Ericksen narrates the entire series) – all with very good results.
My experience with Fire and Ice has a similar ring. Reading the print version was only “meh” when compared to the other entries in the Ice series but after hearing Xe Sands’ performance, Fire and Ice lost all its “mehness” and moved up to my favorite of the Ice series. In print, I didn’t care all that much for the lead couple nor could I easily visualize the Japanese setting or bring the accents to life. Through Ms. Sands, I heard every accent, understood Reno and Jilly, and became totally involved with the fast moving suspense. Xe Sands’ delivery was perfection.
Sitting on my list of all time favorite audios is Karen Robards’ One Summer. It’s one of those hard-to-find audiobooks, but it can be found – usually at your local library or through an expensive used purchase online. However, there are those audio lovers who share their copies from time to time so don’t give up. For me, One Summer was a DIK in print and, if possible, a deluxe DIK in audio. Brenda and I often discuss our love of this audiobook and I’ve asked her to share her thoughts on One Summer today. I’ll close with Brenda’s words because I don’t think a better argument can be made for you to not only hope but expect some of your favorite books in print to be even better in audio.
“Reading Karen Robards’ One Summer was a distant but fond memory. When I discovered it was available in audio with Kate Fleming/Anna Fields narrating I wanted to hear it. Now I’ll be forever grateful to Speaking of Audiobooks for bringing it to my attention!
“What Kate Fleming/Anna Fields adds to this younger man/older woman scenario takes it from an enjoyable one time read to a fabulous listen. The layers Fleming pulls from the story with her interpretation of Rachel, a teacher with a position that requires a good reputation, her one time student who needs the job she provides in the family hardware store to gain parole, along with the inhabitants of the judgmental small town, not to mention Rachel’s uppity mother, brings One Summer to a whole new level.
“But it’s Johnny with his given attitude and voice, and that voice uttering his heart flipping revelations and desires that puts Kate Fleming’s performance over the top. It’s hearing every nuance of the emotions he expresses, resentful thus flippant – teasing and sexy – hurt or angry that brings me back to relisten time and again. Surprising when I’d never thought to re-read the book.”
Me, Myself, and Why? – MaryJanice Davidson
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Renee Raudman
Released by Blackstone Audio
Me, Myself, and Why is a weird roller coaster ride of a book. The genre is pretty indefinable: Over-the-top, outrageous black humor, completely un-PC with regard to mental illness, in a suspense/murder mystery, with what might pass for a slight nod to romance as a tertiary role in the book. And yet – I loved it. I’m just not sure what that says about me.
The heroine is Cadence Jones, an FBI agent within a special unit called BOFFO, Bureau of False Flag Ops. Every agent in the unit has a mental illness that gives them special crime-fighting talents: Sociopathic, OCD, agoraphobic, savant syndrome, and Cadence’s talent – multiple personality disorder. It will take a special, twisted sense of humor to appreciate this series – Cadence and her “sisters” tackle crime as a unit.
Narrator Renee Raudman manages to make it work in a humorous yet creepy way. All of one agent’s inner dialogue is done to the tune of The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round and Raudman’s willful-child almost tuneless singing is about as creepy as it can get. She injects a Midwestern twang into Cadence and a brisk, no-nonsense dry sarcasm into yet another of the sister agents. Each chapter starts (sometimes in mid-sentence) when a different sister takes over but Raudman needs no such artifice as she gives every character totally distinct and recognizable voices. The delivery is pure genius and I found myself laughing out loud at what might otherwise have made my skin crawl.
The slight nod to romance is introduced when Cadence’s best friend introduces her to older brother Patrick. There’s a date, in which each of the sisters participates, but really, this relationship takes a back seat to the rest of the plotlines going through the book. Read at your own risk.
Fatal Affair – Marie Force
Review written by Diana
Narrated by Erin Moon
Since I’ve worked and lived in Washington, D.C . for years, I was excited to learn that Marie Force had set her romantic suspense series here. Along with anticipation comes the dread that another author will play bad, bad games with my city’s geography and culture. Happily, Force is very familiar with the District and the pervasive influence of the Feds, and it shows. Not only did she not put that mythical metro stop in Georgetown (there isn’t one, don’t ask), her depiction of life in the Capitol Hill neighborhood is spot on.
Fatal Affair is the first in a series with DCPD detective sergeant Samantha Holland and senate politico Nick Cappuano, and it’s a hummer. Sam catches a big case when the young, dynamic junior senator from Virginia, John O’Conner, is found in his Watergate apartment, dismembered and very dead. Lorena Bobbit jokes aside, Sam proceeds on the assumption that it is a crime of passion and begins an investigation into the senator’s hidden private life. Complicating matters, the senator’s chief of staff and closest friend, Nick, is the man who, one perfect night six years ago, made mad, sweet love to Sam and…never called. The Big Mis is quickly resolved when Nick protests that his calls were intercepted by Sam’s obnoxious roommate who is now her obnoxious ex-husband.
Narrator Erin Moon sounds very young. It took a while for her to grow on me, but she won me over. Her hero voice is noticeably better in the second half of the audiobook (I confirmed this with a second listen.), which begs the question, shouldn’t voice actors rehearse and decide on a “voice” before they record? Her Sam voice is great, though – irreverent and just a bit cocky. Freddy, the young rookie Sam mentors, is saddled with a doofus voice, and I found that jarring and not really fair to Freddy.
I immediately went to Audible to buy the next in the series and was met with an unpleasant surprise. No more Erin Moon! In fact, all three books in the series have different narrators. That’s the kiss of death for me. Changing narrators in a series with the same characters is dumb. I kinda want to shout that.
Canyons of Night– Jayne Castle
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Joyce Bean
Charlotte Enright and Slade Attridge have both returned to Rainshadow Island after fifteen years away. For Slade it’s a stopgap measure. He’s losing the psychic abilities that made him a top FBPI agent and he’s planning out a new career before they completely disappear. Charlotte’s odd psychic ability has been a burden although it has helped her become a successful antiquities dealer. Slade and Charlotte join forces after a man is killed by paranormal means in her antique shop.
In Canyons of Night Jayne Castle has added a new locale along with some new psychic talents to her Ghosthunter series. Although this book is the third installment of The Looking Glass trilogy and the eighth book set in the futuristic world of Harmony, it would standalone well enough.
With this author, it is dialogue, at times very humorous, that takes you through the story. There is little to no hindrance in the development of the romance, the couple flows into a relationship while trying to find the killer. And we get another great dust bunny sidekick, Rex! The dust bunnies are highly entertaining additions to this series. I was actually surprised by the revelation of the bad guy in this one.
I consider Joyce Bean a narrator I can count on. She is consistently good to excellent. While I’ve had a rare quibble with a character’s voice in the past, I have yet to be disappointed by her feel for a story nor her ability to deliver it flawlessly. She is skilled in the large variety of voices she uses and I appreciate that her men always sound like men.
With the introduction of the mysterious Preserve on Rainshadow Island and newly developing psychic talents, Castle has paved the way for more books set in the series.
The Ideal Man – Julie Garwood
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Christine Traister
Dr. Eleanor Sullivan was a child prodigy with an abusive stalker at age eleven. Raised hidden away from the stalker, she became a brilliant surgeon younger than Doogie Howser. She must soon attend the wedding of her sister to her former fiancé. She witnessed a crime and now there’s a hit out on her. And the referenced stalker, recently released from a mental institution, is on the loose and gunning for her. Literally.
What this girl needs is the ideal man. He must be imposing, brooding, handsome, and carry a gun. (check) In fact, how great would it be if he were FBI, chasing the villains already? (check) He needs to take one look at her, growl and say mine, but not be a shape-shifter. (check) And he needs to make that ex-fiancé look like a real pantywaist! (Check!) Yes, into young Ellie’s life comes Max, FBI, who must become attached at the hip to prevent anything bad from harming the mother of his future children.
You are probably thinking there are some exciting car chases scenes, some edge-of-the-seat nail-biting scenes with the killer behind the door, or some thrilling, athletic sex scenes. Probably the only thing you aren’t expecting is my one-word review: Boring.
Garwood is a hit-and-miss author for me but this one didn’t even cross the plate with its meandering plotline, extraneous scenes that mean nothing, repetitive, eye-roll-inducing platitudes about Ellie’s brilliance, and a couple of way TSTL moments. And I haven’t even begun reviewing the narration.
Traister was new to me in the 2010 unabridged recording of Linda Howard’s classic, Mackenzie’s Mountain. At the time, I thought she needed to learn the value of pauses since she seemed to just barrel through. In The Ideal Man, she has learned how to pause, but not the value of pauses. It sounded as if she were doing a cold reading and just paused from time to time – mid-phrase, mid-thought. Basically her reading could also be summed up in one word – boring.
Crocodile on the Sandbank – Elizabeth Peters
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Susan O’Malley
Released by Blackstone Audio
I reviewed Crocodile on the Sandbank for AAR, granting it DIK status. It’s a historical mystery and the first in a series set in the late 1890s to early 1920s. The relationships between the main characters, and in particular Amelia Peabody and her beloved Emerson, are at the heart and soul of the series.
Amelia Peabody an independent, intelligent English woman has recently inherited a large sum of money and is off to see the ancient sites of Italy and Egypt. In Rome she encounters Evelyn who is in dire straits. Amelia rescues her and brings her along to Egypt. It’s in Egypt that Amelia first encounters archaeologist Radcliff Emerson. There, they battle a variety of villains including a mysterious mummy, and of course, fall in love.
I was eager to review this audio version. There’s a lot of disagreement within the mystery community over the narrations of Barbara Rosenblat and Susan O’Malley, with most readers strongly preferring one over the other. I had previously listened to several books in the series narrated by Ms. Rosenblat and loved them. She brings life – and a unique voice – to each character. Her narrations made me love some of the books in the series even more than my original read of the print versions. After listening to this version, I’d have to say that I’m firmly in the Barbara Rosenblat camp.
Ms. O’Malley has a pleasant voice, but the narration and virtually all of the characters, are performed with American accents. As all of the major characters are English, this was jarring. In fact, some of the characters sounded as if they had U.S. western accents. If you’ve listened to any of Barbara Rosenblat’s narrations, this is going to be very disturbing. The only major character given a non-American accent is Evelyn’s former Italian lover and his voice is so over-the-top, so smarmy, that you have to question Evelyn’s intelligence in ever getting involved with him. At times I thought Ms. O’Malley’s version of Amelia sounded too young. While Amelia is only 32, she didn’t sound as demanding and assured as her written character.
After a few hours I settled into the narration, and once again was sucked into the story. I still love Crocodile on the Sandbank, but would recommend trying to locate a version by Barbara Rosenblat rather than Susan O’Malley.
Time for Your Thoughts
What books do you think were better in audio than in print?
Have you listened any of the books discussed today as those better in audio? What are your thoughts?
Have you listened to one or more of the books reviewed today? What you’re your thoughts?
And as always, do you have any recent audiobook successes or failures to share with us?
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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.
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Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley