It’s time to take a look back at 2011 and choose my favorite romance audios released over the past year. Writing the Speaking of Audiobooks column provides me with a good deal of exposure to what’s new in romance audio as I perform the research required to put together each month’s new releases and organize audio reviews for the column. Now it’s my honor to talk about a few of those titles I consider outstanding. I made myself stop at ten – my list of deserving audios was actually closer to twenty. I’m providing greater detail for the Top Five. After all, there is a lot to say.
I’m following up the Top Ten with a few other fun categories:
Best Romance Listen Released Prior to 2011
Best Relisten of 2011
The Top Five:
1. Shadowfever – Karen Marie Moning
Narrated by Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante
As the fifth and final in the Fever Series, Shadowfever was so highly anticipated and surrounded by such an impressive media blitz that I’m still amazed to this day. And the fervor only made the listening all that much more satisfying. If you want to fully experience Shadowfever, listen to all of the series books first – in order and skip my summation.
Shadowfever captivated, thrilled, and surprised me to the very end. The series contains no promise of a romantic ending but as a romance diehard, I needed one. The chemistry between the leads was strong and the emotional impact of their romance even stronger.
And, oh, for those who are lucky enough to know we should listen to such books – not just read! A female/male team performs Shadowfever and who could hope for more in the chosen performers of this urban fantasy romance? Natalie Ross narrates the majority of the audio vividly bringing to life every aspect of Mac’s character while Phil Gigante performs the male roles with panache and perfection. His rendition of Jericho Barrons in particular had Fever audio fans swooning!
2. Prince of Dreams – Lisa Kleypas
Narrated by Susan Duerden
A 1995 print release, Prince of Dreams isn’t a sweet little romance framed by the political correctness of today’s romance industry. Hero Nikolas is an exiled Russian prince and he is as dark and brooding as they come. Nikolas has been waiting for Emma Stokehurst to come of marriageable age and just why he’s so interested in such an unlikely woman is all part of the tale.
A new-to-me narrator in 2011, Susan Duerden is simply outstanding performing both English and Russian accents while clearly differentiating all characters with flair. I found myself lost in the tale without once being jerked out of the story with some inconsistency in the narration. And as far as romance narrations go – I felt the confusing love and angst that surrounds Nikolas and Emma. Ms. Duerden delivers a fully fleshed out tale and takes Prince of Dreams to a higher level than mere print.
Note: Prince of Dreams does work as a stand-alone. However, for maximum enjoyment, I urge you to listen to Midnight Angel first.
3. Dead Reckoning – Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Choosing Dead Reckoning as a Romance Audio Best of 2011 is reason to celebrate the entire Sookie Stackhouse series in audio as well as praising the book itself. I’m not a fan of True Blood (HBO) – I find the series as told by Johanna Parker some of the finest entertainment around and see no need to improve on perfection!
When I started the series (Dead Until Dark), I thought there was little chance an open ended storyline with the possibility of more than one romantic hero would hold my interest. However, my thorough enjoyment of the series continues with each installment as well as my amazement that a tale of vampires, werewolves, humans, fairies, shapeshifters, etc. does hold my attention so completely.
To say Johanna Parker excels in her narration almost seems an understatement – the pacing is tight, the characters clearly distinguished, the story delightful, and I have rarely (if at all) experienced a single boring audio moment after eleven books. Dead Reckoning brought it all home to me again. Johanna Parker plus Charlaine Harris equals an absolute audio thrill!
4. Call Me Irresistible – Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Narrated by Shannon Cochran
I’m one of those Susan Elizabeth fans who relistens to her audiobooks on a regular basis – that is, if they are narrated by Anna Fields. Replacing Ms. Fields was not an easy job for Ms. Phillips but Shannon Cochran proved herself one dynamic contemporary romance narrator with her performance of Call Me Irresistible. Dare I say she sounded like Anna Fields at times? That’s all good here as I felt an immediate comfort with her narration. Ms. Cochran’s pitch, rhythm, timing, and ability to deliver humor when needed and drama when required were exceptional.
Oh, and the story? The too perfect Ted matching up with the far from perfect Meg was pure SEP magic. I paid little attention to the former (and mostly irritating) leads from Fancy Pants, First Lady, Lady Be Good, and Glitter Baby and concentrated fully on this opposites attract tale. It’s in line with my other SEP listens – a highly coveted spot for sure.
5. The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer
Narrated by Clare Wille
I’m not what one could call a Georgette Heyer aficionado and that may be one of the reasons I so enjoy these abridged versions of her works by Naxos Audiobooks. I don’t recognize missing content.
Although Richard Armitage first drew me to Naxos with his narration of Heyer’s Sylvester, Clare Wille’s narration of The Grand Sophy convinced me I’ll keep coming back for more of these abridged works. I was delighted to find that I enjoyed her narration even more than Armitage’s! Ms. Wille’s performance, in a word, is exceptional. Whereas Armitage’s performance of the female voices on occasion left something to be desired, Ms. Wille has a full range of pleasing voices for both male and female characters. Her narration combined with a sweet, funny story set in Regency England, made for some great entertainment albeit of a calmer sort than the other Top Five picks.
The Rest of the Top Ten
6. Archangel’s Blade – Nalini Singh
Narrated by Justine Eyre
The fourth in the Guild Hunter series, I was crazy about the first, Angel’s Blood, enthused with the second, Archangel’s Kiss, and completely disappointed with the third, Archangel’s Consort. But I just knew Dmitri’s story would restore my faith and boy, did it ever.
7. Lethal – Sandra Brown
Narrated by Victor Slezak
More suspense than romance, Lethal is top notch with a mystery that had me hanging on until the end. Victor Slezak is one of the best male narrators around and his performance only adds to tension.
8. The Secret Mistress – Mary Balogh
Narrated by Anne Flosnik
After tiring of a seemingly endless number of European historical romances, The Secret Mistress reminded me of my first days of reading romance when I was captivated by teas, balls, and afternoon visits. Ms. Flosnik helped me envision the true spirit of the time with her lyrical British accent.
9. Scandalous Desires – Elizabeth Hoyt
Narrated by Ashford MacNab
A favorite due to Hoyt’s tale (I read in print first), it was made all the richer by Ms. MacNab’s delivery. A pirate hero who needs a lot redeeming and a heroine who demands respect, Scandalous Desires is actually a tender love story. Ashford MacNab’s voice is clear, soothing, and easily differentiated – usually with accent or rhythm.
10. Fire and Ice – Anne Stuart
Narrated by Xe Sands
A fast paced audiobook, Xe Sands brought characters, accents, and settings to life in a way my mind couldn’t begin to imagine. Fire and Ice was sheer excitement and Ms. Sands delivered it with perfection.
Best Romance Listen Released Prior to 2011
Morning Glory – LaVyrle Spencer
Narrated by Kate Forbes
Morning Glory is easily available in abridged format but it is one of those hard-to-find audios if you are interested in the unabridged version. When readers list their Spencer favorites, Morning Glory nearly always makes their list and it’s on the top of mine. Finding it in audio was quite a thrill especially as I listened to narrator Kate Forbes delivers a crisp, emotion-packed performance. She understands just what readers need to hear when delving into this sensitive and most unusual romance.
Best Relisten of 2011
One Summer – Karen Robards
Narrated by Kate Fleming/Anna Fields
Ahhh…Anna Fields performing Johnny. I can’t imagine anyone doing it better – not even that voice playing in my head. As the former local bad boy now ex-con working for Rachel, his former high school teacher, One Summer is all about Johnny. I gave this one an A+ in print and it earns every bit of that grade in this hard-to-find unabridged audio version as well.
More Than a Mistress – Mary Balogh
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Rosalyn Landor’s female characters are usually totally to my liking but that’s not the case with her male characterizations. I usually run the other direction. But her portrayal of the arrogant Duke of Tresham not only was the same voice that played in my head but also true to his character as written. I so enjoyed this in print years ago and can happily say I enjoyed it once again – this time in audio.
Let us know your Romance Audio Bests for 2011. We’re also looking for your Best Romance Listen Released Prior to 2011, your Best Relisten of 2011, and your Best Surprise!
Romance Audio Reviews
Bad Boys Do – Victoria Dahl
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Lauren Fortang
Contemporary romance is one of my favorite romance genres. After reading a lot of buzz about Victoria Dahl’s contemporaries, I decided to take a chance on the audio version of Bad Boys Do. While it’s the second in the Donovan Brothers series, I didn’t feel at a loss by starting the series here. Blythe gave the print version a B+ at AAR and that’s pretty close to my feelings about it.
Still recovering from her recent divorce, good girl Olivia Bishop decides she needs more fun in her life. Despite her resolve, she’s not quite prepared when Jamie Donovan, a sexy younger bartender, hits on her. Resisting him, even when he shows up in her continuing education class as a student, Olivia finally decides to spend time with Jamie in an attempt to show up her ex-husband. Soon, Jamie and Olivia strike a bargain: She’ll help him with his plans to expand the family pub into a restaurant and he’ll help her learn to have fun. The fun soon becomes a hot affair with Olivia trying to convince herself it’s only sex and Jamie clearly interested in more.
This is my first experience with Lauren Fortang and I had a few minor quibbles with her narration. At times, her portrayal of Jamie’s brother, Eric, sounded too soft and breathy. Since I didn’t care for Eric’s character to begin with (he was too unforgiving of Jamie’s past discretions), the voice didn’t help. At times, Jamie’s voice was problematic as well. While he is youngest of the siblings, he’s not a teenager. At times, I had to remind myself that he was in his late twenties. Fortunately this wasn’t a consistent problem.
Overall I enjoyed Bad Boys Do – both the story and the narration as my minor complaints didn’t completely take me out of the story. I’m definitely looking into other Lauren Fortang narrations.
Tribute – Nora Roberts
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck
Tribute has the best of La Nora – a yummy beta hero, a dynamic appealing heroine, a suspenseful crime/mystery, a slight touch of paranormal, and a romantic love story. Ford, the yummy hero, is a small-town boy turned famous graphic novelist. Cilla is a former child star who is now in the business of flipping houses. She’s renovating her grandmother’s home conveniently located across the road from Ford.
Although Cilla never met her grandmother (who died of apparent suicide), she dreams of her, especially after finding a stack of love letters in the attic. As Cilla works on the house, a series of pranks and vandalism grows more threatening with time making Cilla (and the listener) wonder who could harbor such ill feelings towards her.
Van Dyck is truly a top-notch narrator. She grabs on to the story while giving each of the varied characters distinct personalities. Her genders are clear and she utilizes accents to differentiate characters as well. Although Ms. Van Dyck’s narration drives the story forward, I was challenged at times by her rapid-fire delivery. Twice I double checked my programming to make sure I wasn’t listening at time-and-a-half speed! It sounded as though Cilla was on speed or, perhaps, Ms. Van Dyck had limited time available at the studio. But other than that quirk, I found the narration of Tribute quite pleasing.
Storm’s Heart – Thea Harrison
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Sophie Eastlake
Anyone who thought listening to Thea Harrison’s second entry into The Elder Races series, Storms Heart, would be like Dragon Bound with different characters has nothing to fear. Storms Heart is completely different, starting with the personalities of Tiago Black Eagle and Niniane (Tricks) Lorelle to the setting and issues at hand. Thea Harrison has a modern turn of phrase in her writing that appeals to me and narrator Sophie Eastlake knows how to deliver it with just the right emphasis.
Tiago has been sent to find and then protect Niniane, the new heir to the Dark Fae crown, as an attempt has already been made on her life. Tiago is old – really old – compared to Ninienne’s mere 200 years and he has a very “I know what’s best” attitude. After giving him some grief over his attitude Niniane decides he’s her best bet at staying alive as she takes the dangerous steps leading up to her coronation as Queen. I enjoyed the sparring between these two. Niniane sounds like a little fairy while Tiago sounds overbearing at times and indulgent at others.
Storm’s Heart is full of action and it keeps the story moving quickly as Tiago and Ninienne start to realize there is something more between them. Niniane fights it knowing the Dark Fae won’t accept Tiago (he’s Wyr) as co-ruler but Tiago doesn’t care how others perceive him. After living as long as he has, he recognizes a gift when it falls in his hands and nothing else matters to him as long as his “Faerie” is safe, and that is job enough.
With her sophomore effort, narrator Sophie Eastlake continues to impress. Her ability to deliver the emotion that drives the words these characters utter reminds me of what I like best about Renee Raudman. My enjoyment of both the narration and the story adds up to an audio win with Storm’s Heart.
Lady Sophia’s Lover – Lisa Kleypas
Review written by Lea Hensley
Narrated by Susan Duerden
Thank you, thank you audio powers-that-be! Susan Duerden now narrates four Lisa Kleypas books. Brilliance Audio recently released Lady Sophia’s Lover and its sequel, Worth Any Price.
It’s been years since I read Lady Sophia’s Lover in print during a Kleypas glom. At the time, I graded it an A and can recall it being quite sensual compared to previous Kleypas books. As I listened, I realized my memories concerning the sensuality were correct – there are more than just the token two-three scenes. However, this time around, Sophia’s planned method of taking Ross down seemed, well, quite silly. As a story, the grade moved from an A to a B.
Much to my delight, as with her other Kleypas narrations, Ms. Duerden brings 19th century England to life and she easily distinguishes one character from another. But as I listened to Lady Sophia’s Lover, I realized its action is fairly subdued which pitted Ms. Duerden’s narration skills against what I now consider a sagging middle. Fortunately her narration kept me engaged when my mind wanted to wander during periods of little action.
One of the most intriguing aspects was the introduction of Nick Gentry, the hero of Worth Any Price. Each passage containing Nick seemed to shout potential. I’m even more thankful that his story is now available for listening – no waiting involved.
Although I did enjoy Lady Sophia’s Lover as “good” entertainment, I don’t think it fully demonstrates Duerden’s talent. I couldn’t help but reflect on her narration of Kleypas’ Prince of Dreams and Midnight Angel. Both required multiple Russian and English characterizations. She shines when challenged in such a manner
Cold Truth – Mariah Stewart
Review written by Brenda
Narrated by Anna Fields
I wanted to listen to this Mariah Stewart book primarily for narrator Anna Fields. I expected to enjoy her narration but I was also hoping there might be a thread of romance in this suspense story. I was right about Anna Fields but I was wrong about a possible romance angle.
Though I see the word thriller associated with Cold Truth, it falls into a slot just above cozy mystery – maybe serious cozy mystery?
At the age of six, Cassie Burke came home to find her parents and sister murdered. A vagrant was tried and convicted of the murders, but shortly thereafter a serial killer, dubbed The Bayside Strangler, began killing women in the general area. Then the murders stopped as abruptly as they had started.
Now 26 years later, Cassie is a police officer and a copy cat of the Bayside Strangler is murdering women in the vicinity – or could it be that the original killer is back? FBI agent Rick Cisco joins in the hunt while Cassie’s past tragedy haunts her in the wake of these new murders. The killer is eventually identified through some interesting means before he’s taken down. Cassie and Rick do become attached and walk into the sunset together at the end, but that’s it for the romance.
For me, Anna Fields was the saving grace. Her ability to define characters and deliver a story made Cold Truth an easy listen while I sat back, admired her talent, and wished for a dollop of romance to go with my mystery.
Time for Your Thoughts
What are your favorite romance audio releases from 2011?
What is your best romance listen this year released prior to 2011?
What is your best relisten so far this year?
What was your best surprise listen?
And as always, do you have any recent audiobook successes or failures to share with us?
We have a list of all our Mini Reviews from our Speaking of Audiobooks columns over at our Goodreads group. There are 215 romance audio reviews for your perusal.
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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