Writing a review for an audiobook differs significantly from the writing of a general review, especially when the site you write for often has a complete review of said book already online. Audiobook fans want to know about production, sound quality, affordability, accessibility, and of course, most importantly the narrator. Can that narrator differentiate effectively between characters and deliver the story in a manner pleasing to the listener’s ear? And if you have already read a particular book, did hearing rather than reading change your opinion of a specific character or the book in general?
Since these audio reviews contain few if any plot elements, I think the term “mini” review is an apt description considering this column’s subject matter. With that in mind, I asked fellow AAR reviewers Ellen, LinnieGayl, and Katie Mack (all audio fans as well) to join me this month in presenting to you a few mini reviews.
Burn – Linda Howard Lea Hensley
Narrated by Joyce Bean
While not my favorite of Howard’s latest books, I still took great pleasure in her most recent tale of romantic suspense. At times an “otherwise occupied” book, Howard’s concentration on minor details, such as investment strategies, made me glad I had more than one thing to fill my time as a few of those passages bordered on boring. As usual, narrator Joyce Bean delivers an above average performance, but I found her portrayal of the hero, Cael, lacking. Somehow the depth of his voice combined with the intonation of his speech did not fit the image I had in my head and Bean’s interpretation of this savior hero warred with my own anytime Cael was speaking. As with most Howard books, I will revisit Burn at some time in the future but it will be in print rather than audio.
Crazy for You – Jennifer Crusie Katie Mack
Narrated by Sandra Burr
Jennifer Crusie is one of my all-time favorite authors, so recently I’ve been glomming her audiobooks so I can enjoy her unique writing while I exercise. While Crazy for You isn’t one of my favorite Crusies, I’ve read it more than once because even a not-as-good-as-the-others-Crusie is still pretty damn good. Unfortunately for me and for Ms. Crusie, narrator Sandra Burr butchered the audio version so badly that I couldn’t continue after just a few chapters. The problem: the character voices were atrocious. The heroine sounded like a breathy tweenage drama queen, and if you’ve ever read Crusie you know that’s the last thing one of her heroines should sound like. But the atrocity didn’t stop there: the narrator’s attempt at performing male voices made those characters sound as though they had really bad head colds. It was awful. Even if you’re a die-hard Crusie fan like myself, I recommend steering clear of the Crazy for You audiobook.
Finger Lickin’ Fifteen – Janet Evanovich Ellen
Narrated by Lorelei King
There are some audiobook narrators who are simply perfect for the book, an example being Len Cariou who narrates Michael Connelly’s mysteries featuring Harry Bosch. Another is Lorelei King who narrates Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, as well as all of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. Even when the book is a bit loose and disjointed, King’s reading is always a delight. Some narrators are good with one character but not so much with another. King can do all of Evanovich’s zany characters and do them well.
Hot Ice by Nora Roberts Katie Mack
Narrated by Anna Fields
After hearing wonderful things about narrator Anna Fields, and because I’ve got Nora Roberts’ Hot Ice on my TBR shelf, I recently decided to give the audio version a shot. I loved it. First and foremost, and I really mean that, is the incredible narration by Ms. Fields. Her accents, tone of voice, timing, and character voices are superb, and brought the story to life in a way so few narrators achieve. Of course I wouldn’t have had so much fun if the story had been boring, so kudos to Ms. Roberts as well for writing such a fun Adventure Romance. If you’re a fan of Romancing the Stone, I highly recommend you give a listen to Hot Ice. I must say, though, that I doubt I’d have enjoyed Hot Ice nearly as much had I been left with the voices of my imagination instead of Anna Fields’ fabulous ones. I’ll definitely be listening to this one again.
Ice Storm – Anne Stuart Lea Hensley
Narrated by Lauren Fortgang
Following Black Ice, this is my favorite of Stuart’s Ice series and I was enthused to see it available in audio format – even with an unknown narrator. I enjoyed the storyline even more this time around and found the narrator’s voice to be very pleasant, yet indistinguishable at times. My usual need to know who is speaking each and every line worked to my detriment here since I frequently could not differentiate between Isobel and Killian’s voices and my complete attention was often required to fully follow their conversations. If you have not read the book, expect to dedicate some time exclusively to the listening. Now my fingers are crossed hoping to see Black Ice’s audio release sometime soon.
Lady Be Good – Susan Elizabeth Phillips LinnieGayl
Narrated by Anna Fields
I still cry when I remember that we won’t be able to look forward to any new audiobooks narrated by the wonderful Anna Fields. I had a funny experience listening to this book. I loved the book when I first read it, and couldn’t understand why some readers felt that Lady Emma was bossy. As usual, Anna Fields did a spot-on job with all of the characters and, after listening to Lady Emma speak just a few lines, I had an ah ha moment. Yes, she is bossy. I still love her, but probably not quite as much after listening to her. I thought the narrator’s portrayal of Kenny was particularly well done. Anna Fields’ performance kept me laughing and entertained throughout the book. It’s also my first romance in MP3 format, and I will definitely be looking for more of Anna Fields’ older performances.
Promises in Death – J.D. Robb Ellen
Narrated by Susan Erickson
I almost always listen to the In Death books by J.D. Robb. Susan Erickson narrates and although I do enjoy her performance, I think she can
get a bit too intense sometimes. (I find myself skipping the love scenes.) I especially appreciate the voices she gives the secondary characters since I think the voices fit them perfectly. I like the light, girlish voice she gives Mavis, the dry and a bit snarky voice for Peabody and McNabb’s surfer dude voice. I especially love Trina’s gruff no-nonsense voice. She sounds exactly like someone who’d scare Eve to death
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose - Lauren Willig LinnieGay
Narrated by Kate Reading
This is the fourth book in the Pink Carnation series, and I don’t recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the other three. Until I listened to the audio version, it was also my least favorite of the series. Now, after listening to the characters come to life through Kate Reading’s narration, it’s moved up a lot in my liking. I laughed aloud numerous times while listening to the horrible things that Mary and Lord Vaughn say to each other and think to themselves. These two self-centered characters came to life for me in audio version and I totally enjoyed them. I also loved the alternative view we get of the main characters from earlier entries in this series through Mary’s eyes. The narrator does a fantastic job with every character as well as distinguishing between the chick lit and European historical sections of the book. Within a few words, I could tell instantly whether we were in modern day or 19th century England.
Sleeping Beauty – Judith Ivory Lea Hensley
Narrated by Violet Primm
Sleeping Beauty is one of my historical romance favorites and, as such, I eagerly purchased the audio version two years ago, although the sample assured that James’s nasal almost effeminate voice, as performed by the narrator, would prove a challenge for me. As I mentioned in our first Speaking of Audiobooks column, my initial listening session was over quickly – I just couldn’t handle my James speaking in that manner. However, since that post, two of our readers have mentioned their favorable impressions of the audio version of Sleeping Beauty and I decided recently to give it another try and, let me tell you, it was a success! Oh, I never entirely accepted James’s voice but the overall narration is so entirely pleasing in all other aspects that I found myself a bit swept away. As audio fans know, effective differentiation between the leads’ voices greatly influences one’s enjoyment of any audiobook and Ms. Primm’s performance of Coco, with a slight French accent, thoroughly distinguished Coco’s voice from that of James. Yet I was even more impressed with Ms. Primm’s beautiful delivery of the love scenes and in that aspect – she gets an A+!
Stardust - Neil Gaiman Ellen
Narrated by Neil Gaiman
The idea of authors narrating their own books sounds like a good idea. After all, who knows the book and characters better? But what sounds
good in theory is sometimes not so good in execution. Lawrence Block, one of the best mystery writers out there, often narrates his own
books but when I tried to listen to one featuring his bookseller/burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, I swiftly got lost since Block narrates without any attempt to differentiate between the characters and with the book’s heavy dialogue, I didn’t know who was who. I decided to try another author/narrator and picked up Damnation Street narrated by its author Andrew Klavan. Klavan did differentiate between the characters and in doing so made them come alive. I liked it so much that I listened to the other books in the series, Dynamite Road and Shotgun Alley. Klavan is an excellent narrator.
But one of the best author/narrators around is Neil Gaiman. His book Stardust is a fantasy with more than just a touch of romance. Gaiman does a wonderful job narrating and succeeds very well in creating a faerie atmosphere. I’ve also listened to him read Coraline, Neverwhere, and The Graveyard Book and he is one of the best author/narrators out there.
The Trouble With J.J. – Tami Hoag LinnieGayl
Narrated by Deanna Hurst
This was a light, rather short audiobook and I had a lot of fun listening to it. However, I thought the narrator did a much better job with the female characters (including J.J.’s little girl) than she did with the males and I also didn’t think that the narrator was completely consistent with the voices of all of the characters. There was a friend who supposedly had the most grating voice imaginable, but initially it didn’t seem that bad. However, over time, it did become really awful. There was also some rather purplish prose that I would have skimmed in a print version, but had to listen to in the audio version. I can still recommend it, but it’s not my favorite audiobook. I think I enjoyed this one more in the print version.
And, Now for Your Thoughts
Have you listened to any of these audiobooks? Do you agree or disagree with the mini review?
What are your latest audio hits or failures?
What audiobook is next on your listening schedule?
I am currently listening to the first four books of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (and having a delightful time) in preparation for an upcoming column. It’s been four years since I last enjoyed this superb series of audiobooks and I invite you to join me in listening (or listening once again) to one or all of the Outlander series books. In approximately two months, we will dedicate a Speaking of Audiobooks column solely to the audio presentation of this highly favored series.
Let us know your suggestions for future romance audiobook topics.
I’ll join you here again in a few weeks to discuss September’s Audiobook Romance releases.
-Lea Hensley with help from LinnieGayl Kimmel, Ellen AAR, and Katie Mack