Note: Our “For the New Listener” feature appears in the latter half of today’s column.
Rachel Gibson – Can it finally be happening?
Before March 2015, Rachel Gibson’s books had been sporadically released in audio format – one here – one there – and rarely with a really good narrator. I had listened (or attempted to listen) to all eleven of those audio titles, each time just wishing for that perfect listen as I’m a BIG Gibson fan. She knows how to make guys sound like guys and her style of contemporary romance is what I seek out when I want a fun listen.
But those eleven listens never reached that point of audio listening bliss; although the superb writing was present each time (most rated an A for me in print format – a few were Bs), I just didn’t feel the narrator was talented enough to pull off the entertainment I expected (with the exception of Tanya Eby’s A- narration of Run to You).
As I perused the new releases over at Audible last month, I spotted See Jane Score, one of my Gibson favorites. There had been no Coming Soon notice (that I could find and I’m pretty good at searching those out) – it was one of those complete surprises that often occurs with new audiobook releases of older titles. My hope spiked just as it had upon discovery of her earlier audio releases and then dipped as I saw narrator Kathleen Early’s name. She narrates two of Gibson’s earlier titles and, although I thought her adequate, I didn’t feel like her talent equaled the writer’s content. I mean, I’m always looking for the next Anna Fields!
Determined to enjoy in audio format (even with an average narrator), I started listening to See Jane Score and found another one of those audio industry surprises we don’t expect but always hope for – a much improved performance by a narrator I had considered only average. Kathleen Early’s higher voice register had lowered and her ability to effectively perform male characters had greatly increased as well. She obviously understands the nature of the romance within See Jane Score and her pacing is spot on as well. She uses micro pauses for emphasis, which may prove problematic for some listeners but those pauses didn’t bother me in the least – in fact they often worked favorably to break up the general narrative. It ended up being an A listen for me. And, although I had read See Jane Score at least four times over the years , I still completely enjoyed it as though it was my first time around. If you want to see a review on content, check out AAR’s DIK review. My final grade for the audio version – Content: A and Narration: A- .
Just last week, I discovered another Gibson oldie but goodie – Daisy’s Back in Town, once again narrated by Kathleen Early. I’m listening to it now and I’m happy to say, Ms. Early continues to shine in her narration. It inspired me to start diligently searching for more upcoming Gibson releases. Happily, I discovered three more in Blackstone’s Coming Soon list for libraries. The Trouble with Valentine’s Day is scheduled for June 2nd and will be narrated by Kathleen Early. Sex, Lies, and Online Dating (see my 2006 review of the print version) is scheduled for July 7th and Ms. Early is scheduled to narrate it as well. On August 4th, we’ll see the release of I’m in No Mood for Love – no narrator has been named. I can uncover no further scheduled releases of her backlist but my fingers are crossed for more, especially my favorite of all – True Confessions!
Other Recent Listens
Infinity + One – Amy Harmon
Narrated by Tavia Gilbert
I discovered Amy Harmon’s writing last year when I decided to try A Different Blue (Shannon’s A+ audio review here) based first on Tavia Gilbert’s narration and second, on the publisher’s synopsis. I’m now completely entranced by this author’s distinctive voice, her beautiful writing, and her ability to pen a different yet realistic sort of romance. In Infinity + One, a young mathematical genius of a guy, troubled and trying to establish a new life after time in prison, meets up with a famous country star (also young) as she is preparing to take her life – literally. Theirs is certainly an odd coupling it seems – on the outside – but the two find they have so much in common as they travel across the country. He’s going to Las Vegas. She’s fleeing from her manipulative grandmother who is also her manager and just wants to ride along with him.
Tavia Gilbert performs it all with such talent as I have come to expect from her narrations. She clearly differentiates her characters, understands the emotions at play, and stays ever so true to the author’s written word. I discovered that Tavia sings beautifully as well as she performs bits of songs – a number written by the author. Content: A- Narration: A
The Liar – Nora Roberts
Narrated by January LaVoy
Although we expect Nora Roberts’ big annual release to be Romantic Suspense that is big on suspense (think The Witness, The Collector, The Search, etc.), The Liar isn’t all that suspenseful when it comes to action or mystery. However, I happen to love a pure contemporary romance and that’s what this one felt like. And although I’m not one who prefers a large cast, here, the involvement of those numerous characters proved successful.
The Liar tells the story of a Shelby, a woman who returns to her small hometown with a young daughter after the death of her husband. She’s been left with crippling debt and the discovery that her husband had multiple identities. Griff, a local contractor who lives a simple but satisfying life, is immediately taken with Shelby. The development of their relationship is a slow and gentle one.
While I’ve listened to better Nora Roberts’ titles (The Witness comes to mind first), I don’t really know this author’s backlist. Much of what I have tried just hasn’t worked for me. Perhaps, it’s my lack of familiarity with Ms. Roberts’ vast backlist that accounts for The Liar’s success as a story in my eyes. It has a fresh feeling although there are definitely more than a few romance clichés within.
January LaVoy has talent – there’s no doubt about it. She clearly differentiates characters and tells a good story. However… the hero’s business partner sounds cartoonish (!) – a turnoff for me every time. When he entered a scene (which fortunately isn’t all that often), I had to fight to forget his characterization and concentrate on the story again. Also, Ms. LaVoy’s intakes of breath are very obvious and I had to talk myself into disregarding each occurrence (which is often) as the production is perfect. I imagine Ms. LaVoy made this choice to audibly breath at the beginning of a sentence or section rather than it being a result of a lack of training. Still, the caliber of narration surprises me for a book expected to have such a large audience. Content: B+ Narration: B-
A Stone in the Sea – A.L. Jackson
Narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York
First in the new Bleeding Stars series, A Stone in the Sea is a different sort of rock star story. The band is famous and its lead singer, Sebastian, is loved by his fans but known for his short temper. Showing his protective side, he severely beats a man in defense of his younger brother. Needing to take a break from the public eye, the band settles in a small Georgia town for a while to allow Sebastian time to calm down and wait out the possible assault charges against him. There he meets Shea, a waitress at her uncle’s bar, and the two slowly develop a relationship – all with Shea having no idea just who Sebastian is in his everyday life. But Shea has secrets too and what follows is New Adult at its best.
Andi Arndt and Sebastian York are excellent in their separate POV narrations. The romance audio community holds Sebastian York in high esteem with past performances such as Emma Chase’s Tangled and he shines here as well. Andi Arndt is pretty fabulous too with her light Southern lilt for Shea and her spot on performance of Sebastian. I’ll definitely be returning this summer to listen to Book 2, Drowning to Breathe. Content: A Narration: A
Someone to Believe In – Kathryn Shay
Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer
I reviewed the print version of Someone to Believe In for AAR back in 2005, giving it a B+. Despite its lack of a DIK grade, I remember the plot clearly all these years later due to its unlikely setup for romance – the hero is a Senator in his mid-forties and the heroine heads an anti-gang youth organization. He’s known for being tough on crime. She’s known as the Street Angel.
I’d been waiting for the right book to try a Jeffrey Kafer narration. I’m always on the lookout for another successful male narrator to add to my “can be relied on” list. You won’t hear a different pitch for Kafer’s female characters – it’s not even slightly high. But he still manages to clearly differentiate his males from females. I’ll definitely be listening to him again. Now for the caveat…
How many of you recall Jack Webb’s portrayal of Sergeant Joe Friday in the TV series, Dragnet? Well, at times, Jeffrey Kafer sounds just like Joe Friday delivering his signature “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to see is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” It didn’t remove me from the story all that much but I couldn’t help seeing Jack Friday in my mind a few times. And I knew I just had to mention it! Content: B+ Narration: B
For the New Listener – Accustoming Your Ear to Listening
Success in listening to an audiobook is a process. Seldom does one listen to their first book and think, “That was easy! I absorbed every word.” So, don’t get discouraged if you missed out on a bit on information here and there. That improves with time.
In my first For the New Listener feature in February, I talked about Choosing Your Audiobooks. To start, you need a book that has a good chance of working for you with both the author’s words and the narrator’s performance. When researching that first book, go ahead and select three that you believe are right for you and then listen to all three. Promise yourself that you will listen to multiple books before you decide against audiobook listening.
Why make a commitment to listening to multiple books? You actually learn to listen. It’s a new way of reading for your mind and you only need to accustom your ear to doing so. When I first started listening, I listened only to those books I had already read in print format. Gradually, I started listening to those books I hadn’t read and found I processed all I heard easily although, as a beginner, I wouldn’t have thought it possible. I can now listen to non-fiction books full of happenings and not get lost in all the details.
It’s not unusual for a non-listener or even a new listener to say that they are visual learners rather than audible learners and therefore, they assume audiobooks won’t work for them. Although in extreme cases that might be the case, it’s more likely they just haven’t dedicated the time to attuning their ear to hearing a story rather than reading it.
I’m a visual learner – no doubt about it. While attending college, I realized I retained a lot more from a lecture (and therefore didn’t have to study as intensely) if I took extensive notes in class. Learn a foreign language by ear? Nooo – give me Latin where I can see what I’m learning. However, I’m one of the best at listening to audiobooks today. It’s by far the method I use for the majority of my new reads. I encourage you to try more than one audiobook – it will pay off.
Audio Release News
Remember Shannon McKenna and all those McCloud men and their friends? Tantor has picked up the series, and the first, Behind Closed Doors, will be released on May 19th with Nelson Hobbs narrating. I’m expecting very good things although I’m wondering if I will be as tolerant of Seth’s over-the-top alpha behavior as I was in 2002.
For those of you who have been anticipating more Loretta Chase in audio format, we’ll see two more titles on May 12th – The Last Hellion and Miss Wonderful (no audio links yet) – both narrated by the exceptional Kate Reading. Oh yeah!
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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