Speaking of Audiobooks: Heart-Wrenching Narration

Blue-eyed DevilUpon release of Lisa Kleypas’ Blue-Eyed Devil in 2007, I ran to the bookstore, eagerly purchased a copy, and then headed home to dive into this greatly anticipated sequel to Sugar Daddy.  Later, when I reviewed it for AAR, I granted it a grade of B+ and was a little amazed it had missed that DIK mark.  I had been snapping at the bit to read more about Hardy Cates and although I was thoroughly satisfied on that point, it was Haven’s characterization that failed to meet my expectations in some manner.  Despite my great sympathy for her sufferings, Haven carried an aura of entitlement that kept me from totally engaging in the romance.

Slight spoiler follows…

Last month I listened to rather than read Blue-Eyed Devil and my initial impression wasn’t highly favorable since the voices of the male characters left something to be desired.  But then I started seeing and hearing the character of Haven, as portrayed by narrator Renee Raudman, in an entirely new light – one that greatly moved my heart.  Listening to Haven talk when she could hardly form words after Nick’s beating engaged me emotionally in a manner far deeper than the mere reading.  Once her physical wounds were healed, I continued empathizing with this woman who was in need of emotional and mental healing as well.  I heard rather than read her hesitancy with Hardy – I heard her fears and vulnerability – I heard her gaining much needed confidence on the job.  As Blue-Eyed Devil evolved more into Haven’s story rather than Hardy’s, my grade for the audio version came in at a solid A.  Soon I wasn’t noticing the less than spectacular male voices and the romance between Hardy and Haven became much more intense than when I had read it in print.  In other words, the narrator spoke to me on a whole new level and I was blown away.

Many times I have found myself close to tears while listening to an audiobook with a moving story told by a talented narrator but I can think of only a few individual characters who spoke as deeply to my heart as Haven from Blue-Eyed Devil.  And as I searched through my audio library, looking for those other characters whose portrayal touched me in this same manner, I was a little surprised to see that second place was easily taken by a little boy with the name of Edward.  Anna Fields, narrator of Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, tenderly portrays Edward, a young son trying to get his mom to live in one place, in a realistic, heartrending manner.  While reading these portions of Dream a Little Dream, I fought tears but as I listened, my heart literally lurched a number of times as I dropped everything and paid attention to Edward negotiating his way through a life surrounded by adults.

Lisa Kleypas must write characters I believe are worthy of great compassion since it is another of her heroines, Win, from Seduce Me at Sunrise, who had me cheering her on more in the audio version than in print.  Although, once again, I can’t brag on the voices of the male characters, narrator Rosalyn Landor wonderfully depicts the sickly, empathetic Win and I felt her hurt or rejection or building strength with almost every line she spoke.

Certainly other audiobooks have touched me deeply as well.  Linda Howard’s Cry No More is one that easily comes to mind.  It is a poignant tale of a mother’s search for her kidnapped son over many years.  However, as I listened closely, I realized it is mostly the narrative, rather than the narrator’s performance, that successfully drives this heartbreaking scenario.  Mila is a character who thinks much more than speaks and therefore little of her hurt is verbalized.

Heart-wrenching scenes that deliver a good deal of dialogue combined with the ability of a narrator to effectively perform those emotionally riveting words is rather a rare find it seems.  But it is certainly a memorable experience when it is found.

Recent Additions to My Audio Library

Strange Bedpersons – Jennifer Crusie

After reading a recommendation on AAR’s Let’s Talk message board, I decided to indulge in another of Crusie’s light humorous tales especially since I so thoroughly enjoyed Anyone But You recently.  This one takes an upcoming yuppie lawyer and matches him with a commune-raised liberal educator.

First Comes MarriageFirst Comes Marriage – Mary Balogh

I granted this one DIK status when I reviewed it for AAR.  I’m listening to it now and truly believe this has the best proposal scene ever.  It’s the first of Balogh’s Huxtable series (four were released in 2009) and by far my favorite of the series.

Start Me Up – Victoria Dahl

I have yet to read one of Dahl’s books and I’m not too enthused with the sound sample I heard on Audible.  But a number of readers with similar tastes to mine have recommended Start Me Up and narrator Wanda Fontaine is new to me so I decided to take a chance.

Let Me Be the One – Jo Goodman

I’ve been impressed with the two Goodman books I’ve read to date and am ready to tackle her considerable backlist.  Let Me Be the One is the first of four books in the Compass Club series and I must say that it was encouraging to find all four available for a reasonable cost at Audible.  Two or three of the others in the series can be found sporadically in either cassette tape or CD format but are rather expensive.  I’m looking forward to digging into the Compass Club.

Recent Reads

Black Ice – Anne Stuart

By far my favorite of Stuart’s books, I remember being totally absorbed with over-the-edge hero Bastien yet aghast at some of his actions, when I first read Black Ice in 2005.  Now more accustomed to Stuart’s dark romances, I was thoroughly caught up while listening to this tale a few months ago when it was released in audio format.  Narrator Jennifer Van Dyck does a fine job keeping the listener on the edge of their seat in this fast paced romantic suspense.  Also of strong note is the narrator’s ability to effectively differentiate the characters’ voices, particularly Bastien with his French accent compared to Chloe’s purely American one.  If you can take dark romance, this is a great experience I highly recommend.

517qRoj2VIL._SS500_What I Did for Love – Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Disappointment in more ways than one is the best description of my thoughts on the audio version of What I Did for Love.  Susan Elizabeth Phillips has rarely failed to thoroughly entertain me but I didn’t perceive all that much magic between Georgie and Bram and greatly missed her customary laughs.  After finding myself actually a bit irritated while listening, I finally gave up at the halfway point on narrator Julia Gibson and started reading the print version I had on hand.  By reading rather than listening, I was able to salvage some enjoyment and suddenly found myself wanting to finish a book I was barely tolerating in audio.  Ms. Gibson’s interpretation of the characters was far from my own and I noticed a few of the gem type moments this author is known for float by unnoticed since the needed emphasis was lacking.  The modulation of the characters voices continually resembled one another in a sort of spaced out manner that reminded more of Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure than varied adult characters.  Yes, a definite disappointment

Tempting Torment – Jo Goodman

An oldie from 1989, Tempting Torment does have a taste of those 1980s romances but I found it thoroughly enjoyable despite my usually dislike of books from that decade.  This expansive tale with more than 17 hours of audio contains more than one crossing from Europe to America and back again.  Narrator Jill Tanner is excellent as she provides clear distinction between the leads’ voices without having to pitch her voice either too high or unnaturally low.  Her English accent playing against mostly NE American accents also works well in distinguishing her numerous characters.

Time for Your Thoughts

What audiobook(s) have you listened to wherein the narrator’s portrayal of a character moved you greatly?

Is there an audiobook that has delivered a greater impact emotionally than when you read the book in print?

What are the latest additions to your audio library?

And, as always, do you have any general tidbits to share with us about your latest audio successes or failures?

I’ll see you again later this month when we discuss February audiobook new releases.  Also, feel free to contact me through my Meet Reviewer Lea Hensley page should you have questions about audiobooks.  I’ll try to rally an answer.

- Lea Hensley

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30 Responses to “Speaking of Audiobooks: Heart-Wrenching Narration”

  1. Janet W says:

    Davina Porter, the narrator of the Outlander books, is extraordinarily good. How on earth can she convey so many different characters? Their accents alone are all so different. This is a fantastic blog — what insight into the gift a voice can extend to the internal feelings of a character.

  2. katyco says:

    An audio book series that has really moved me is the Lily Bard/Shakespeare series by Charlaine Harris. Without giving too much away, Lily has gone through a violent, life-changing event that totally changes who she is and her perspective on life. Charlaine Harris does a wonderful job showing the reader how Lily has survived and learned to cope in a way that allows her to keep living. Throughout the series we see her grow and get back more of her life. It’s sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious as Lily has a very droll sense of humor. The narrator, Julia Gibson, does Lily perfectly. I tried reading the third book and it just wasn’t the same. I needed to hear Lily’s dry, sometimes cynical, wit and I wasn’t getting that on printed page. If you want to listen to something different (a mystery solving karate expert cleaning lady in small town Arkansas) get this series. The first one is Shakespeare’s Landlord.

    My latest additions to my audio library are the Lily Bard series and Kiss An Angel by Susan E. Phillips. I love Anna Fields narration of just about anything. Next I’m going to try the Arcane Society series by Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz.

  3. LinnieGayl says:

    I have thought about downloading Dream a Little Dream several times. I loved the book, but reading it made me cry. Since I mainly listen to audiobooks in public, or while driving, I’ve been a little afraid to try it out. Now I think it might have to be my next download.

  4. Steph says:

    Anna Fields is one of the best I have heard with children’s voices. Edward in Dream a Little Dream, I agree was so touching, and the little phone thief in Match Me If You Can was adorable and hilarious. Anna Fields will be almost impossible to replace as narrator for SEP.

  5. katie bug says:

    I live for this blog! I just finished “Drums of Autumn” and I’m still crying about Ean? I don’t know how she spelled his name because I don’t have the book. I’m afraid to ask this but what happened to Kathleen Givens and did something happen to Anna Fields?

  6. Lea AAR says:

    katie bug – I think it’s spelled Ian. I just looked at my print version of DOA to make sure (I’ve never read it though…only listened).

    Kathleen Givens died unexpectedly. She was a part of whinesisters.com and you can find many wonderful comments about her at that site.

    Anna Fields died unexpectedly as well 2-3 years ago (approximately). As you know, she is so greatly missed especially for SEP audiobook lovers.

  7. Lea AAR says:

    Has anyone listened to A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh? The unabridged version comes in at just a little over 4 hours. I’m not overly fond of Anne Flosnik but have enjoyed a number of books she has narrated. My quandry – a whole credit at Audible for a 4 hour book?

  8. katie bug says:

    Thank you Lea AAR for the information. That is so sad. I loved listening to Ms. Fields. On a different matter have you looked at Amazon for a price? Sometimes their audios are really reasonable.

  9. katie bug says:

    Lea AAR; I just checked and they want 12.98 for new and 7.98 for new.

  10. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by allaboutromance and Janet Webb, Lea Hensley. Lea Hensley said: Today there is a new Speaking of Audiobooks column up on Heart-wrenching Narration. Come join us! http://bit.ly/55ewT8 [...]

  11. katyco says:

    Lea – I listened to A Matter of Class and enjoyed it very much. I didn’t use one of my credits. The member price is only $9.79 so I just bought it. To me it was well worth the price.

  12. Mitzi H. says:

    I love Davina Porter’s narration of Outlander series. It’s my absolute favorite. She does Jamie’s scottish accent beautifully.

  13. Kaetrin says:

    I’m nearly finished Ritual in Death, book 27.5 of the In Death series. Susan Ericksen (I hope I got the name right!) is excellent.

    I have Hot Ice by Nora Roberts and Anna Fields narrates that one but when I tried to listen to it, I just couldn’t get into it. It may well be that it was because I was consumed by the Outlander series at the time and the voice and the story just jarred me so I’ll go back to it one of these days.

    I’ve recently finished listening to An Echo in the Bone and my overwhelming reaction when I finished it was sadness – because that’s it!! There’s no more Outlander books for a while now! How will I manage?

    One of my “coping mechanisms” was to start listening to the Lord John books so I could “keep my hand in”. The narrator is Jeff Woodman and his accent/voice for Jamie Fraser is quite different (naturally!) than Davina Porter’s but I really enjoyed listening to Lord John and it was in the same world so I didn’t feel so bereft (sad, isn’t it?).

    I’ve got to sort out what I’ll be listening to next so I’m watching this forum closely for recommendations. Thanks Lea!

  14. GamaTST says:

    Lea we are definitely on the same page with Raudman’s narrations. I’ve been on a paranormal kick and have been listening to On The Edge by Ilona Andrews. Raudman had me in tears as Rose confronted Declan at one point. The hurt and struggle that poured from her voice just undid and amazed me. Declans voice on the other hand is a bit stuffy for a young man. But for Rose and her younger brothers dead on, just perfect, portrayal I can deal with a stiffer than I read myself Declan.

    R. Landor’s men leave me flat but she can ace the women. I think all narrators should have to take a class and listen to Anna Fields narrating all of SEP’s Heroe’s before they can get behind a mic. Then they’ll know what a reader want’s to hear from a Leading Man. Davina Porter would work too!

    I am happy to hear that reading What I Did For Love can get me an SEP fix, because I knew from the audio clip that I wouldn’t be able to handle Julia Gibson’s “take” on the characters.

    Although Gibson does do a good job with other narrating. Katyco I’ll have to try the Lily Bard series, thanks for the rec.

    I’ve started Kindred In Death and although I’ve had to fast forward the crime scene details (I’m a wimp!) I am enjoying it. Susan Erickson is a can’t miss with this series.

  15. Liz V. says:

    I am sorry to say that I couldn’t finishing listening to Renee Raudman reading Blue Eyed Devil.

    Vanessa Moroney did an excellent job with Cathy Maxwell’s Falling In Love again.

    I will be curious to see if SEP uses Julia Gibson for future books. I know that it is almost impossible to follow Kate Fleming, but I do want a reader where I can tell the difference between male and female voices.

  16. Cait says:

    I was out on the website reading about Robin Schone and picked up this topic. Among my friensd, I am concidered the ‘queen ‘ of audios. Exoplain Audible to me and I may take it up as I have been partonizing Brilliance, Books on tape, and Sound recordings for years, but only in tapes and CDs.
    I have over 500 audios and can’t stop buying. Fav readers Anna Fields/Kate Fleming, Davina Porter, Susan Erickson, Sandra Burr, Aisne Vigesa, John Lee, Suzanne Toren, Fiacre Douglas, Victor Slezack, Michael Page, David Colacce. George Guidel, Donada Peters.
    I am so sad that AF/KF died. She was killed when a freak mudslide trapped her as it crushed the basement of her home in Seattle? 3 Christmasses ago To make it really tragic her partner was on the other side of the door trying to get to her as she died. She had finished NATURAL BORN CHARMER just before she died.
    Julia Gibson is such a disappointment. SEP re-wrote GLIITERBABY. AF reads the original…JG the re-write…night and day GUESS WHO LOSES? SEP begs us to give her time. To me 2 books are past time.

    I am a great fan of Audios. I have 2-4 going at the same time, one in the car, another at work, one up and one downstairs. I will listen to a lousy book if the reader is engaging. I hooked my DH on books AWA my SIL and BFF. When the Libaries switched to CDs, they sold Tapes(un and ABR) for 50c per book! not tape! I cleaned up and out.

    I am finding books read by both a man and a woman(Raudman and Lawlr) interesting. They are reading the Suzanne Brockmann TROUBLESHOOTER series.
    Our local libraries are being very badly harmed by the recesion and are cutting back on the purchase of all books, but, it seem to me that Audio books are being hurt the most. There are many fewer new audios purched..authore whom at least 1 copy of the audio purchased are not at all

  17. katyco says:

    Cait – I agree that Julia Gibson’s narrations of Glitter Baby and What I Did for Love were nothing special. Although to be honest, those are my two least favorite SEP books. However, she does a great job on the Lily Bard books by Charlaine Harris. I guess certain narrators do better with certain books. Narrators who sound great reading anything, like Davina Porter and Anna Fields, are very rare. I also like Victor Slezack. He’s one of the few male narrators that can do a female voice without sounding silly.
    You should give Audible a try. All you need is a computer, an MP3 player and a credit card. They have a great selection and the member prices are very reasonable. When you buy and download a book, it stays in your audio library.

  18. AC says:

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Johanna Parker from Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark series. She’s delightful. I’ve read a couple of the books, but they are much better on audio.

    And Barbara Rosenblat is amazing. I’ve listened to several books narrated by her. Some of the books were weak, but her narration made it well worth listing to.

  19. Cait says:

    Dear Katy,
    What kind of MP3? I’ve seen the little guys one needs earphones for, and discs. Do I need to buy a whole bunch of new equipment? I don’t like ear phones. I have the computer.
    This is kinda like Kindle for me. No way. I want something I can hang on to.
    ps – What began this whole thread..AF made me cry more than once..see/ hear HONEYMOON by SEP(really sad book) also, Suzanne Toren in the UNABR HORSE HEAVEN by Jane Smiley. Her narration makes one think horses can talk.
    Barbara Rosenblat..Amelia Peabody yes! Yes!

  20. Lea AAR says:

    Cait -If you are new to Speaking of Audiobooks, I hope you will look into our archives. We started the column in spring of 2009 and we’re here twice monthly talking about audiobooks. We would love to have your input on a continuous basis! You can access our Speaking of Audiobooks archives at:

    I don’t know if all devices require headphones but I found a pair I can easily wear with no bother (and I always thought they were a real pain to wear).
    For more information on Audible, here is a link to their Device Center which will give you details on MP3, etc.

    Mitzi H – Don’t know if you are new to our audiobook column but just in case you are, in November, we dedicated an entire Speaking of Audiobooks column to Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Check it out here:

  21. Lea AAR says:

    Julia Gibson has worked moderately well for me in other audiobooks. I just totally differed with her interpretation of What I Did for Love as well as the inability to differentiate voices. In fact, AudioFile gave Gibson a very good review for What I Did for Love.

    Thanks for help with A Matter of Class. I picked it up at Audible’s sale for $8.25!

    Kaetrin – I really feel out of it. I guess I didn’t realize Jamie actually appeared in the Lord John series (although it makes sense now that I think about it). Is that more an adventure series?

    GamaTST – What I Did for Love still came in at a C grade for me (but audio-wise – probably a D). It somehow just isn’t the SEP I know and love.

    AC – I am so tempted to start with the Dead Until Dark series – I’ve not read or listened to a single book in the series. So glad to hear this recommendation for narrator Johanna Parker. Do you know if she narrates all the books in the series?

    Liz V – do you think your inability to listen to Raudman’s narration of Blue-Eyed Devil was due to the first person narration, story content, her depiction of certain characters, or did her voice just not work for you? I found the narrator of the third in this series, Smooth Talking Stranger, intolerable. But I loved reading it.

  22. AC says:

    Johanna Parker does narrate the entire Dead Until Dark series. She ads so much to the books with her southern accents. Most of the time I hate listening to southern accents, because they are so over-done. I really have a better ‘reading’ experience with this series through audio than I do through physically reading the books. I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as I do.

    Also, I wanted to expand a bit on Barbara Rosenblat. The two books I’ve enjoyed the most from her were Judith Ivory’s Beast and The Indiscretion. She does several different accents in both and there is no problem distinguishing between characters. I’ve listened to other books with Barbara Rosenblat just because she’s an excellent narrator, but the above two books had the best stories. I think Rosenblat is one of the rare narrators who can take an okay story and make it better.

    Finally, The Compass Club was briefly mentioned in the original post. Jenny Sterling is fantastic. Her cadence is slow and deliberate and she draws you into the story. She was perfect for the Compass Club books.

  23. Kaetrin says:

    @ Lea

    Jamie makes a brief appearance in both books I have listened too (at least I think he’s in Lord John & The Private Matter – it may be he was just referred to, I’m a bit fuzzy on that one). He’s definitely in Lord John & The Brotherhood of the Blade. They are basically mysteries which Lord John solves – although the BotB has a bit of a romance between Lord John and someone who turns up in one of the Outlander books later on (!!).

    I haven’t listened to the novellas yet so I dont’ know if Jamie’s in them.

    Lord John certainly talks about Jamie and how he loves him etc.

    Apparently DG is writing a book soon which is probably going to be called Lord John & The Scottish Prisoner and it will be set in Ardsmuir prison and the Scottish prisoner is of course Jamie Fraser. Apparently the book will be from both of their POV’s. Looking forward to that one!

  24. Liza says:

    I started listening to audio books with Outlander (via CD) last year. I went to an MP3 player this past October and have not looked back. I like it a lot. I have been getting my audio books through the library. Most libraries now have an audio section where you can download books. My local library has limited selections, so I ended up paying 20 bucks for a library card from another county that has more selections and it’s good for 6 months. I consider it money well spent. I have yet to purchase an audio book though. I’ve looked on the audible site but I am not convinced yet. I do find that I am willing to take a chance on different kinds of books when using audio. I tried and like the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. The narrator, David Aaron Baker, is really good.

  25. Diane says:

    I’m currently listening to The Elusive Bride by Stephanie Laurens. This is the third book of hers I’ve listened to that is narrated by Simon Prebble. I would have to rate him right up there with Davina Porter as one of my favorites.
    Most of my audiobooks are on my iPod. I really hate the earphones that you have to stick in your ear but I found a pair that you hang on your ear and the speaker pad rests against your ear. Very comfortable they are.
    When I first joined Audible I figured I’d stick with them for maybe 3-6 months, get the few books I thought I’d listen to more than once and then I’d quit. Well, that’s where most of audiobooks come from now, and I just completed 3 years with them on December 23rd. :)

  26. Liz V. says:


    I must admit to a big gaffe here….It was actually Smooth Talking Stranger that I couldn’t finish. Little brain blip :) I had loved the book and was disappointed in the readers voice.

    I will have to try listening to Blue Eyed Devil by Renee Raudman.

    Diane, I think Simon Prebble does a great job with Julia Quinn’s books.

  27. MelissaL says:

    I started listening to books with the Dresden Files. I think James Marsters spoiled me for readers.

    One case where the reader[Max Bellmore] made the book for me was Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld. When I tried to read one I just couldn’t believe in the world the same way I did while listening.

    I love Simon Prebble’s reading too.

    Also I adore Heyer and her books seem to me to me made to read aloud. They are very play-like or something.

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  30. Debbi Zebley says:

    What a fun adventure! Great pics as always!