Speaking of Audiobooks: When Books Succeed but Audios Fail

UntamedDiscovering earlier this year that more of Lisa Kleypas’ backlist was scheduled for future audiobook release, the romance audio enthusiast inside of me was ecstatic.  Back in my first days of reading romance I read every Kleypas book I could lay my hands on and over the years I’ve devoured each of her new releases as well.  To me, Kleypas is the epitome of the ideal romance writer and I especially treasure her immensely re-readable historical titles from 1993 – 2003.  Seeing a few of these beloved books on that release schedule caused me to feel a bit victorious for romance audiobook fans.

My initial excitement over seeing these Kleypas releases did include a proviso of sorts.  For all-out-excitement, I had to know just who would be chosen to perform each book.  It’s a touchy and, I’ll admit, somewhat personal matter to entrust one of your favorite print books over to a narrator who will then interpret your favorite characters for you and present you with a tale as they see it.  What if the narrator sees my strong silent type hero as one who must nearly shout or snarl each time he speaks?  Or what if my determined expressive hero who is taking a stand speaks with a “golly, gee ma’am – we’re all friends” tone of voice?  Or what if those voices I’m hearing on my iPod just plain don’t sound at all like the voices that played in my head while reading?

Problematic to One – Music to Another

Our past Speaking of Audiobooks discussions clearly show us that we all don’t hear narrations in the same manner.  I’m ever mindful that what I hear as arduous may well be music to the ear of another listener.  We expend energy thinking such things as “He wouldn’t react in that manner” or “She isn’t that heartless in the book.”  And those voices playing in our heads from reading the print version may be so strong that we simply cannot bear the translation into audio.

The printed word often leaves a lot open to interpretation and an audio performance has the power to limit those interpretations.  This is particularly critical with romance since emotion plays a strong role in satisfying the listener/reader.  We can read of a man’s love for a woman in both his words and actions.  But give that man’s voice an unwritten tone of sarcasm or disdain in audio and you’re very possibly changing the book.  It is in this area that I see the best fodder for discussion.

Today I’m using a few of my less than favorite narrators as examples for our dialogue.  I always hesitate to do so as I don’t wish to paint any narrator as all bad or all good.  But, let’s face it – with narrators come expectations.

With all this said, I’ll admit to experiencing a definite sense of dismay when I learned Rosalyn Landor had been chosen to narrate my beloved Kleypas books.  It’s not that Ms. Landor isn’t talented – she provides a pleasing narrative and usually excels at her female characterizations but, in my eyes, she falls far short in delivering believable heroes.  I do occasionally listen to books narrated by Ms. Landor but begin each with a feeling of trepidation as I’m well aware that her depiction of the leads may work to the book’s detriment.

When listening to Landor’s narration of an old Julie Garwood favorite, The Bride, earlier this year I found it to be both a success and a disappointment.  While her women were beautifully portrayed, her male characters, particularly Alec, were almost painful to hear.  The hero I so fondly recalled sounded old and grumpy.  Later, I once again found myself in the same quandary as I listened to Landor narrate Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas.  Not only did her delivery of Harry’s lines make him appear too abrupt but the overall narration didn’t flow easily for me.  I had to constantly remind myself that the numerous male characters really were all young decent fellows.

Dreaming of YouWith this level of aggravation, why do I continue listening to Landor’s narrations?  It’s simple.  She narrates a significant number of historical romances by authors I follow.  But yet still…somehow…I can’t see trusting her with heroes such as Derek Craven from Dreaming of You, Lord Alex Raiford from Then Came You, or Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent from Devil in Winter.

After listening to Elizabeth Lowell’s Untamed last year, I wondered why I hadn’t enjoyed it more – had my tastes changed?  When I read Untamed in 2003 I gave it an A+ (a rarity) and I didn’t recall the hero being so harsh and, well, unlikable.  It was only after listening to Mary Balogh’s Seducing an Angel and A Matter of Class that I realized my difficulty in fully enjoying Untamed was narrator Anne Flosnik (she narrates all three).  Flosnik is a pillar of the romance audiobook community and I know I should appreciate her narrations.  But I find her male voices grating (and uncaring) and not at all like those ever-important voices playing in my head.

Mary Balogh’s First Comes Marriage , another Flosnik narration, did come together for me after a little work.  It was a definite A read for me in print and I resolved to enjoy it in audio.  I had to lighten up on the pickiness factor and shake loose the irritants.  Even so, I think my success was based primarily on Elliott’s stern character as Flosnik has no problem portraying stern.

Although I find myself avoiding Flosnik, I’m also determined to enjoy her future works and just purchased Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast as proof of this pledge!  Still…I hope you’ll wish me luck.

When talking about a favorite book that failed in audio, the first that always comes to mind is, unfortunately, another Lisa Kleypas. Emily Durante’s performance of Smooth Talking Stranger actually inspired my first Speaking of Audiobooks column.  Here were my thoughts in May, 2009:

“I knew Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas was told from the heroine’s perspective and I attempted to overlook what my ears perceived to be a faint lisp in the narrator’s speech patterns and even reasoned that possibly the heroine was written to speak in such a manner…But when I heard the very manly Jack Travis speak with that slight lisp, I about came off my seat. No, my heroes do not speak with a lisp! From that point on, no matter how hard I tried to remain focused on the content, I found myself listening for another slip of Jack’s tongue (yes, it was inevitable) rather than the development of this vastly entertaining story. At the half way point, I stopped in great frustration and trotted off to the bookstore to purchase the print version. In the end, it was well worth the aggravation but I had to start at page one to replant Jack’s voice in my head.”

All this begs us to consider the question – can a listener overcome a narration that initially inspires withdrawal or downright irritation?  Is it worth the effort?  My answer is yes…sometimes.  Although I won’t be listening to Smooth Talking Stranger again (I’ll definitely reread in print), a few audio second tries have been successful as evidenced by two of my extreme favorites, Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie and To Die For by Linda Howard.

To Die ForMany of our listeners delight in Aasne Vigesaa’s narration of Welcome to Temptation (WTT).  Unfortunately my initial reaction to the audio version of this, my absolute favorite contemporary romance, was less than enthusiastic.  Having previously read WTT several times, the characters’ voices were firmly fixed in my head and Phin’s voice, complete with his attitudes and reactions, rang even more clearly in my imaginary ears.  Although I agreed with the narrator’s interpretation of Phin, I found myself too hurried in audio to fully savor his character each and every time he appeared.  I guess you could say that my “Phin factor” (a huge part of my love for WTT) lost much of its impact in audio.  In addition, hearing Crusie’s over usage of “he saids” and “she saids” (easy to ignore in print) just plain irritated me.

Since that first listen of Welcome to Temptation years ago, I’ve learned to ignore all of Crusie’s “saids” for the most part.  I now wonder if WTT were not such an immense favorite of mine in print, would I embrace its narration with greater ease?  Probably.  But I can now find pleasure in listening to Welcome to Temptation – it’s just not my favorite way of experiencing it.

Linda Howard’s To Die For (TDF) also merited a number rereads before I discovered it in audio.  Simply put – Wyatt makes me swoon, Blair makes me laugh, and I don’t ever tire of this pair.  Unfortunately it only took a moment for me to realize Franette Liebow’s narration was going to be more than challenging.  Her performance is marked by an extreme southern accent and I found myself missing the joy of one delectable scene after another as I struggled to accept her eccentric narration.  After struggling to finish, I sold it on eBay and marked it an audio failure.  As years passed and my appreciation for audio talent grew, I decided to give TDF another try.  Oh, I still couldn’t ignore that southern accent but I found myself concentrating instead on Ms. Liebow’s clear understanding of these dear-to-me characters as well as appreciating her great sense of timing.  Boy, can she ever deliver their lines!  And talk about a happy ending…To Die For is now a certified comfort listen.

Time for Your Thoughts

Do you have a favorite print romance that failed to work for you in audio?

Do you think you can train your ears to appreciate narrators you don’t care for?

Have you turned a bad listening experience into a favorable listen before?

Is there some specific step you take when you realize you’re in for a challenging narration?  How do you fight outright irritation or feeling like you want to withdraw?

And as always, do you have any recent audiobook successes or failures to share with us?

Ending Notes

Our Speaking of Audiobooks group at Goodreads keeps growing with 21 members.  Come join us as and share your audiobook shelf with us.

I’m announcing romance audiobook news and new releases on Twitter.  To follow me on Twitter, look for LeaAAR.

I’ll be back again later this month when we discuss December audiobook new releases.

- Lea Hensley

78 thoughts on “Speaking of Audiobooks: When Books Succeed but Audios Fail

  1. The Secret Garden – my absolute favorite book from my youth! I remember quite clearly standing in the library in the 5th grade and discussing it with the librarian as I decided to give it a try. Now I’ll have to try it in audio! I hadn’t even considered looking for it at Audible.

  2. @TSTBren – LOL! Yeah, I took lots of Spanish classes and was an abysmal failure at it. I could read it pretty well, but couldn’t speak it to save my life! My brain prefers to see words rather than hear them.

    I think the reason Sterlin’s Howl’s Moving Castle works is because the story has a very deliberate, rhythmic pace – lyrical even (Can you tell I like it? :D ) – that works well as a read aloud story. That kind of fairytale-esque book might be the best match for her style.

  3. HI MARYK,
    I THINK YOU’RE ON ABOUT LEARNING STYLES AND HOW WE HEAR THINGS.
    I LIKE TO READ, BUT I LEARN BEST BY WRITING THINGS DOWN – SCHOOL WORK, NAMES, LISTS -YOU NAME IT. I MAY NOT EVER LOOK AT IT AGAIN, BUT THE ENCRIPTION PROCESS HELPS ME REMEMBER THINGS.
    I’VE STARTED A NEW AUDIO BOOK, “GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING”. THE NARRATOR IS RUTH ANN PHIMISTER. SHE SPEAKS JUST HOW I IMAGINE A THIRTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL WOULD HAVE SPOKEN A FEW HUNDRED YEARS AGO. SO FAR, I LIKE HER NARRATION A LOT.

  4. I think the first audiobook I listened to was Until You by Judith McNaught (abridged) 1994. I was hooked. I loved the British accents and was amazed how versatile the narrator was with each character’s voice. I have favorite narrators, Anna Fields, Scott Brick, Dick Hill, to name a very few, and have stopped listening only rarely due to a narrator. I’m not talented enough to “hear” the voices as I read a print book. I am in awe of all of the wonderful narrators. Welcome to Temptation, Sugar Daddy, To Die For and Can You Keep a Secret are some of my comfort listens. I’m listening to The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne now, after having read it in print when it was first published and love it even more this time (and that is saying a lot). I plan to finish the Wallflower series when they come out in audible.com November 30th. It has been a long time since I read the print books, and I look forward to them. So many books, so little time…

  5. Lea,
    I checked Audible for “The Secret Garden”. There were many. Which did your librarian recomend?

  6. elainec I’m not Lea but I can tell you that the Audible version of The Secret Garden narrated by Anne Flosnick was very well done.

    I was about halfway through listening, and enjoying it so much I looked up the narrator and was very surprised to see that it was Flosnick. She was excellent.

  7. Maryfranc said ” I’m not talented enough to “hear” the voices as I read a print book.” Maryfranc – I tend to think of myself lacking something in my brain since I must envision characters in some manner for me to thoroughly enjoy a book. Yes, I tend to think I’m the one lacking!

    elainec – TSTBren had the right book in mind – I was referring to Anne Flosnik’s narration. Since I have difficulty with a number of her other narrations, I was glad to hear she apparently hit all the right chords with The Secret Garden.

  8. TSTBren and Lea.

    Thanks for letting me know it was the one narrated by Anne Flosnik.
    I haven’t read “The Secret Garden” since I was a kid. My spouse downloaded it tonight from audible.com. They really had a lot of different narrators from which to choose – twelve! I rarely see two choices.

    I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

  9. This follows the good narrator for “The Secret Garden” advice. Now I’d like to buy the book for three great-nieces who turned ten this year. I checked on B&N.com yesterday and there are many editions – some adapted and abridged. Might anyone know of an edition that’s especially good and true to the original with attractive illustrations. I bought a copy at a library sale a few months ago and yesterday I really looked at it. It was a “classic” book for reluctant readers – 160 pages (half the original) with unattractive illustrations. My nieces are all excellent readers. Even though this is off the topic, can anyone help me? The followers of this blog have opinions that I’m interested in.

    • elainec: I think I remember DA Jane saying she bought a really nice illustrated copy to read with her daughter. You might ask her.

  10. elainec – I wonder if this discussion is being read as much now that we have a newer Speaking of Audiobooks column. I’m going to copy and paste your message over to the newer discussion. If we don’t get a response there, we can look to AAR’s General Message board.

    I’d like to read some responses to your question as well. I’m posting this at:
    http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=5542

  11. Hi MaryK,
    Thanks for responding.
    How would I contact DA Jane? I went through this blog, but didn’t see that name. Was it on another, possibly?
    Lea,
    Thanks for posting my request on that link. I’ll click on it now. Thanks.
    elainec

  12. Hi MaryK,
    Thanks again.
    Jane wrote me right back. I was surprised since that blog was back in May. I don’t know about the computer/Internet much,I guess.
    You have a great memory. :-)

  13. elainec,

    You’re welcome. I like pretty books, and sometimes I have a great memory if something interests me. :)

    I think it’s like subscribing to comments on a post. The post writer can get notifications if there’s a new comment.

  14. I really liked your blog posts but unfortunately this time you perhaps have been too sick while writing because the article it feels rushed.

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