Speaking of Audiobooks: Males Versus Female Narrators

Renee Black (Raudman)Fortunately I encounter few audiobooks that I out and out dislike.  Recommendations from trusted audio friends, taking the time to research the narrator, and reading reviews of the print version usually provide me with at least an average audiobook experience.  But when an audiobook does go wrong, it’s usually due to the narrator’s misinterpretation of a primary character, indistinguishable characters, or worse of all, an effeminate sounding hero.  Nothing gets my audio dander up more.  Sure, there is an element of my own listening interpretation buried somewhere deep but, don’t make me guess if it’s the hero speaking rather than the heroine and don’t ever, ever make him sound feminine.  Since I can’t see him, I need him to sound extra male.

Male narrators, as one would expect, usually get the hero thing right.  He may not interpret a character to my liking but at least he has the whole “sounds like a male” thing going and that is a huge head start.  Female narrators, however, must prove to my ear first, that he is actually male, before I even start considering if he is as male as his character requires.  Unfair?  Possibly, but after years of listening to audiobooks, I have finally accepted the fact that it’s just the way my brain wraps itself around a female’s performance of a male character.  So, do I penalize a male performer as much for misperforming a heroine’s voice?  Probably not, and thus the question begs to be asked.  Would I rather listen to a female narrator who can’t deliver a convincing male voice or a male who can’t deliver a convincing female voice?  Or even more to the point, would I prefer to listen to an effeminate sounding hero or a drag queen heroine?

Drag Queen Heroine or Effeminate Hero?

Having listened to a few effeminate sounding heroes over the past few months, my answer strongly falls in the drag queen court.  I can more easily forgive a male narrator for performing a female with an artificially high voice than a female narrator who can’t clearly distinguish a voice as male.  But, I fully realize I represent only one opinion among many.  The combination of a listening ear plus an author’s words plus a narrator’s performance can cause preferences to vary widely.  So, I asked audio reviewers Diana, Melinda, Brenda, and Kaetrin to join me today in giving their thoughts on the Drag Queen Heroine versus Effeminate Hero issue.  We all agree that much more goes into a narration than just this choice, but hey, I’m on a bit of a rant here.  Later we’ll share recommendations for those narrators who clearly distinguish gender and do it well.

Brenda’s take: “My first thought when I saw your specific question was I definitely prefer a male narrator who comes across too draggy as opposed to a female narrator who emasculates a hero. I’ll take a heroine in a falsetto over an effeminate hero any day! Portraying the correct attitude also plays a large part though. I’ve cringed at a light toned male voice upon first hearing it only to become totally convinced of his masculinity as I listen on because everything else, attitude, demeanor, personality, etc. clicks as “male.”

Kaetrin finds the choice almost impossible to make: “I don’t like an effeminate sounding hero or a drag queen heroine! Even the females, who don’t change their pitch much, usually use a more forceful, strident or staccato tone to convey the man’s voice and that is better than a drag queen voice for me. But, if a female narrator made a male character sound effeminate (and the character was not actually effeminate), I’d find that equally distasteful.

From Diana, who definitely has an opinion on the whole drag queen issue: “I’m convinced that men are not equipped to “do” a believable female voice without sounding like a drag queen and I really wish they wouldn’t try. Phil Gigante and Dick Hill are unquestionably talented voice actors who’ve delivered stellar performances when they have a female partner. Who doesn’t love Dick Hill with Joyce Bean in Linda Howard’s Kiss Me While I Sleep or Gigante’s impossibly sexy Jericho Barrons playing perfectly off Natalie Ross as Mac (Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series)? But both Hill and Gigante have caused me to pull the covers over my head and grind my teeth when reading female dialog in that icky swanny, queeny style. Sigh. It’s a travesty. Let these men shine at what they do best! They should always have an actress to work with.”

And leave it to Melinda to sum it up in just one sentence: “If that’s really the choice, I’ll just download it to my Kindle!”

Getting down to more serious business, we each chose a few narrators – both male and female – who we believe excel in performing both male and female roles with easily distinguishable voices.  This is sort of a gut feel type of discussion that relates to the Drag Queen Heroine versus the Effeminate Hero.  These narrators are strong examples of staying away from either of those characterizations.  For the most part, their heroes sound manly and their heroines sound feminine.

Male Narrators – Who Gets It Right?

We’ll start with the male narrators.  As the rarer bird in the romance genre, who gets it especially right?  Unfortunately, the list is short although the recommendations are enthusiastic.

Victor SlezakVictor Slezak – recommended by Diana and Lea

Since Diana introduced me to Victor Slezak by almost twisting my arm to just, please, give the Sandra Brown/Victor Slezak team a try, she gets to go first in singing his praises.  Then I’ll join in enthusiastically.

Diana’s thoughts: “I don’t think anyone does it better than Victor Slezak. I’ve been trying to isolate a factor or two that makes me love having Slezak read me stories. His deeply-pitched hero voice is to die for, especially when he’s voicing one of Sandra Brown’s (almost) antiheroes. He softens his tone a bit for female characters, but thankfully never does the breathy, drag queen falsetto. I’m even more in awe of his talent after he delivered a convincing 4-year-old girl in Sandra Brown’s Lethal. There is a reason we call them actors.”

Lea’s take: “Slezak is now the voice running through my head when I think of a Romantic Suspense or Contemporary hero.  After listening to my first Slezak narration, Sandra Brown’s Envy, I discovered that it is possible for a male to effectively differentiate the hero from the heroine without relying on an unnaturally high pitch. Admittedly, there are those times that I lose track of who is speaking but if I just hang on a bit, it clears up.  Slezak’s performance of the male characters makes me willing to put up with some differentiation problems.

Patrick Lawlor – recommended by Melinda and Kaetrin

Melinda : “I also like Patrick Lawlor who reads many of the Suzanne Brockmann Troubleshooter Series in tandem with a female narrator. His own voice is pitched vaguely tenor, so his narrative is in the medium range, giving lots of room for baritone heroes and higher pitched heroines and a cast of thousands in different ranges. He also does different local accents well, again giving plenty of room for the myriad of characters in the series.”

While Kaetrin adds: “Patrick Lawlor has narrated some Suzanne Brockmann books and I think he does the female voices pretty well. Again with the softened tone rather than the pitch change.”

Tom Stechschulte – recommended by Brenda and Lea

Brenda tells us: “I enjoy Tom Stechschulte in Nora Robert’s Carnal Innocence and in the entire Ghostwalker series by Christine Feehan – he works for me with both the voices and in conveying the correct attitude.”

Lea adds: “I listened to Carnal Innocence after hearing Brenda’s praise a number of times. She even hooked me up with this hard-to-find audio.  Stechschulte’s performance of Tucker is spot on – he’s Southern old money and sexy as hell.  I’ve only listened to him this one time but it is enough to know that he’s a solid performer who doesn’t need to take the high notes for his female characters.  His voice is lifted but only slightly.  I’m always watching for more from this guy.”

Antony Ferguson – recommended by Melinda and Lea

Short but sweet, both Melinda and I recommend Antony Ferguson after hearing him just once.

Melinda says: “I’ve only heard Antony Ferguson read one book, Julianne Maclean’s Captured by the Highlander and I thought he did an excellent job with women’s voices throughout.”

Lea: “I heard of Ferguson’s seductive Scottish burr when Melinda reviewed Captured by the Highlander and I had to check it out for myself.  He doesn’t need to reach high for his female roles.  His narration is very smooth while his male and female characters are clearly differentiated.  And, yes, that Scottish burr if very effective.  I hope we see a lot more of Ferguson in romance audio.”

Phil Gigante – recommended by Lea and Kaetrin

Lea starts by saying: “Although Phil Gigante is capable of some awkward sounding female voices, he remains one of my favorite narrators.  His striking voice is deep, almost booming, and expressive.  Fantastic male characterizations, an understanding of romance, making the most of each situation albeit it humorous or dramatic – all contribute to his title of Favorite Male Romance Narrator in our 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll.  Add to that clearly distinguished characters, and I’m more than willing to listen to a falsetto sounding heroine.  Phil is my first choice for a Paranormal Romance hero.”

Kaetrin adds: “Phil Gigante has a really pleasant voice to listen to (Jericho Barrons!) and his female voices have improved but they still sound a bit drag-y to me.”

Other male narrators who received a thumbs up are Grover Gardner, Will Patton, Robert Petkoff, Holter Graham, Steven Crossley, Dennis Boutsikkaris, Simon Prebble, and MacLeod Andrews.

Female Narrators with a Flair for the Heroes

And who are those female narrators we think get the male voices just right?  You don’t need a dialogue tag to know when he is speaking – you can just tell.

Renee Raudman – recommended by Diana, Brenda, Kaetrin, and Lea

Lea starts: “I discovered Renee Raudman with her 2008 performance of Lisa Kleypas’ Blue-Eyed Devil.  Hardy, the third in a love triangle from Sugar Daddy, carried with him some high expectations on just how his character should sound.  Raudman’s delivery was close to perfection – both with Hardy’s bold personality and Haven’s emotional despair.   Later when I listened to Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, I became a solid Raudman fan.  She is blessed with the ability to reach low and project convincing and true-to-the-written-word male characters.  And, it is obvious that Renee Raudman thoroughly understands romance audio.”

Diana adds: “…Conversely, there are a number of female narrators who can slam dunk a hero’s voice. Renee Raudman with Ilona Andrews’ material is amazing. Curran is a most convincingly sexy beast. Raudman sticks to one basic “sound” for all her heroes, but it’s a great one.”

Brenda chimes in: “Renee Raudman also delivers male voices that strike an excellent chord in me, along with catching the perfect attitude needed, real performances with anything she narrates. Examples: llona Andrews’ Magic series and Kate Daniels series, Lisa Kleypas’s Blue Eyed Devil, and Christine Feehan’s Wild Rain.”

Rounding up with Kaetrin’s comments: “Renee Raudman (Ilona Andrews’ Magic series, Kate Daniels series) – her voice for Curran is very, very good as is the rest of her work. In Blue-Eyed Devil she had a great Hardy Cates voice too.”

Anna Fields – recommended by Melinda, Brenda, Kaetrin, and Lea

Melinda starts the praise: “…(one of) two female narrators that stand out for me as being more than convincing with their heroes is Kate Fleming/Anna Fields…her heroes are truly sexy and I never imagine them being spoken by a woman.”

Kaetrin adds: “The late Anna Fields did a great job too – the SEP Chicago Stars books are good examples (Heaven, Texas etc)”

Brenda expands the field: “Anna Fields/Kate Fleming in anything…”

And Lea writes: “For romance audio female narration, Anna Fields tops my list.  Her narrations of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books and other jewels such as Karen Robards’ One Summer represent some of the best audio entertainment around.  She simply excels in her performances of those longed-for heroes.  Johnny in One Summer is one of the best bad boy heroes around and Ms. Fields delivers his character with sheer perfection.  She won Favorite Romance Narrator in our 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll.

Natalie Ross – recommended by Melinda, Brenda, and Lea

Melinda explains her thoughts: “It’s not just the voice placement, though, that makes the sound convincing – it’s using the dialog to find a delivery for him that matches the author’s voice for the hero as well. Listen to the way Natalie Ross gives After The Night’s Gray Rouillard character, not just placement but accent, rhythm, pacing. It’s as if she channels Gray for us, direct from Linda Howard’s active imagination.”

Brenda tells us: “Natalie Ross has yet to disappoint me with her male voices, especially in Linda Howard’s Kill and Tell and After the Night.”

And Lea keeps up the praise: “When I think of Natalie Ross, a few of my favorite Linda Howard audios come to mind – After the Night, Son of the Morning, and Kill and Tell.  She doesn’t perform the same hero over and over again but each is distinctive and sounds like the man he is meant to be.  She seems to get better with each performance and that is really saying something.  Ms. Ross won Best Male/Female Dual Romance Narration with Phil Gigante in our 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll

Susan Ericksen – recommended by Diana, Kaetrin, and Brenda

Diana tells us: “Susan Ericksen is very good. I liked her in the Rohan series (except for unconvincing British accent and saying Groze-ven-or) and the In Death, also Linda Howard’s Dying to Please.”

Kaetrin points out: “I really like Susan Ericksen’s Roarke voice, but it is more distinguished by accent rather than pitch (In Death series).”

Brenda also has something to say about the In Death series: “Susan Erickson is well known for her slightly Irish and delicious Roarke from JD Robb’s In Death series.”

Barbara Rosenblat – recommended by Lea, Melinda, and Brenda

Lea opens it up: “I wish we saw a lot more of Barbara Rosenblat in romance audio.  Her narrations of Judith Ivory’s The Indiscretion and Beast fully demonstrate her skill in performing male characters with clearly defined manly voices and females who sound like…well, females.”

Melinda adds: “Then there’s Barbara Rosenblat giving voice to Judith Ivory’s The Indiscretion – her low sexy Texan drawl for Sam in counterpoint with Lydia’s upper crust British is pure genius.”

And Brenda adds more: “Barbara Rosenblat is excellent as the males in all of the Amanda Quick offerings narrated by her.”

Davina Porter – recommended by Melinda, Kaetrin, and Lea

Melinda starts: “(one of) two female narrators that stand out for me as being more than convincing with their heroes is…Davina Porter. I daresay there’s not a Diana Gabaldon Outlander audio fan among us who isn’t in love with Porter’s Jamie!”

And Kaetrin offers: “Great female narrators who do an excellent male character voice – Davina Porter – Outlander series – her Jamie is excellent as are the other male characters.”

Lea enthusiastically adds: “There is absolutely no other audio hero as memorable as Jamie.  I’ve listened to the first four in the Outlander series but have never read the print versions.  After hearing Davina Porter’s performance of these characters (mostly male and clearly distinguished), I can’t imagine being satisfied with a simple print book.  Jamie won Favorite Romance Hero in our 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll while the unabridged version of Outlander took the Favorite Romance Audiobook award.

Xe Sands – recommended Diana, Brenda, and Lea

Diana tells us: “Xe Sands has knocked my sox off more than once with her incredible versatility. Jacob with his uber continental, masterful voice was my first experience with Sands, followed by more immortals from Jacqueline Franks’ Nightwalkers series, each one with a different accent and even sexier than the last. I was so impressed with her and said in my Jacob review that I wished Sands had material more worthy of her talent to work with. The gods smiled and matched up Sands with Anne Stuart. Fire and Ice and On Thin Ice from Stuart’s series are an example of happy-making synchronicity between author and narrator.”

Brenda adds: “Xe Sands has also hit that distinction (the I’ll-listen-to-anything distinction) with me after listening to Anne Stuarts On Thin Ice and Fire and Ice along with the six books in Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalker series and a couple of others narrated by her.”

Lea chimes in: “Xe Sands’ ability to vary voices particularly through pitch and accent is nothing short of incredible for a female actress.  Not only does she perform a completely convincing hero but she distinguishes multiple male characters as well – all sounding totally male.  And the women sound like women.”

Seems like this is good day for Xe Sands – see the review of Anne Stuart’s On Thin Ice below.

Other female narrators who perform their heroes extra hunky in our eyes include Susan Duerden, Kate Reading, Lorelie King, Joyce Bean, Sophie Eastlake, Helen Stern, Kate Forbes, Johanna Parker, and Tavia Gilbert.

Romance Audio Reviews

On Thin IceOn Thin Ice – Anne Stuart

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Xe Sands

From the moment Finn MacGowan was introduced in On Thin Ice I wanted to hear him in audio.  Who can resist the voice of an Irishman?  Thanks to Tantor I only had to wait five months for the experience, and thanks to this teaser posted by narrator Xe Sands as she developed Finn’s voice, I was 90% certain I was going to be in audiobook heaven with the combination of Anne Stuart’s writing and Xe Sands’ narration.

Having read the book, I was familiar with the story and therefore knew the narration would be challenging – seven different accents are required by the end of the audio.   Xe Sands’ accents are flawless, no matter how large or small the parts and that’s impressive!  In addition to Finn’s character, I loved hearing the voicing of Mahmoud and Peter (past hero and son from Cold as Ice) as they interacted but…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Finn MacGowan, an agent for the secretive Committee, has been held prisoner by political rebels for nearly three years in a faux South American country.  On the eve of his planned escape the rebels add wealthy heiress and do-gooder Beth Pennington to their stash of hostages.  Finn knows she’ll slow him down but Beth is determined to escape with him.  Their trek through the rainforest, across an ocean, and into France has its dreadful moments but it’s also filled with a wicked humor I enjoy.

There is a story-flow issue that jerked my head up towards the end but, when it comes to the quality of narration, were my expectations met?  All 90% of them and it was wonderful!  Finn’s deep Irish voice and “we will do anything to stay alive” attitude was perfectly delivered and better than I could have imagined.  Beth protects herself by keeping a calm control even in the worst of circumstances.  I enjoyed that quiet confidence and how it was portrayed vocally as she held her own with Finn.  It didn’t matter how obnoxious he tried to be, she had a quick comeback and never-give-up attitude to match him.

The general narration is audio at its best; you can hear the definition of words used by the intonation given them as they are spoken.  Again, so impressive.

That remaining 10% that represents disappointment may be due to a matter of interpretation.  I laughed all through On Thin Ice when I read in print.  There were so many great lines as I found the book very funny even when the humor seemed totally inappropriate.  Although I did smile and laugh during the audio version I didn’t hear Finn’s sly humor as he continually baited Beth.  Nor did I hear nearly enough of Beth’s dry sarcasm in her quick one liner comebacks whether she was speaking aloud or in her head.  And though I heard the characters’ voices lighten on occasion, I didn’t hear genuine laughter even with continued vocal cues such as “Finn laughed”, “Beth was laughing out loud”, or a soft rumble of laughter.

Am I being pickier than normal?  Especially with a narration that will ultimately be a favorite re-lsten for me?   Absolutely.  Ms. Sands is a fast rising narrator who is nipping closely at the heels of the best-of-the-best in audio.  If I can add to her other outrageously good skills by pointing out the fact that playing up the humor level both evens out the dark aspects and balances a narration, then I’m going to say it.

Editor’s Note – This is one audiobook cover that definitely deserves some sort of award.  It sets the mood and states the case.

Darker After Midnight – Lara Adrian

Review written by Diana

Narrated by Hillary Huber

I’ve listened to seven of the books in the Midnight Breed series so I was interested in catching up with Darker After Midnight, the tenth book that was billed as the wrapup.  I recommend the first four in the series which have intricate plots and real romance.  As to this latest book, it’s no spoiler to reveal that the Order’s super evil archenemy Dragos is finally vanquished, albeit fairly easily, after nine books of buildup.  Apparently the publisher had second thoughts and there now will be at least three more which explains the heavy presence of the younger generation in this book.  In fact it seems that every character who ever set foot in one of the Midnight Breed books has a featured role, leaving the main couple Tavia and Chase competing for air time with a boatload of previous couples sappy with baby fever.

Normally I would issue a warning not to start a series with book #10 but I think you could with this one.  Author Adrian painstakingly explains the series mythology and you get to meet the whole Breed gang.  The commercial tone is hard to miss.

There is one obvious and significant difference between Adrian’s Midnight Breed series and its inspiration, the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward.  Ward’s vampires get it that they’re high camp with a wink wink, nudge nudge.  Adrian’s supernaturals take themselves very, very seriously making them too deadly and humorless for me.  A surprise Extremely Important Event for the Breed Nation occurs in the epilogue.  I laughed out loud, in a room by myself, in the dark, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to find it funny.

Narrator Hillary Huber has done a fine job with all of this series.  She’s handled a number of accents with aplomb.  So many characters from the previous books appeared here that I had some difficulty knowing who was speaking at times but Huber kept a handle on it.  My only complaint is with the child Mira sounding too babyish, but she’ll probably be grown and ready for her very own fated mate in the next entry to the series.

Ending Notes

I’m announcing news for the Speaking of Audiobooks column and other audio tidbits on Twitter – look for SpeakingofAudio (formerly LeaAAR).

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we now have 204 members. It’s easy to join and it’s a great place for discussion in between our columns.

To find a full listing of all of our audiobook reviews since the beginning of our Speaking of Audiobooks column, go to our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads Mini-Review bookshelf. We have over 250 romance audiobook reviews.

Enjoy your listening!

- Lea Hensley

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52 Responses to “Speaking of Audiobooks: Males Versus Female Narrators”

  1. Leigh says:

    I am really a novice when listening to audio books since I only average one or so a month. Usually when I am motivated to clean house – (okay I do clean more than once a month (grin) but it is not an all day affair like my monthly one)

    Most of the books I have listened to have been narrated by females and I have to be honest I have been listening to British authors a lot. So I tend to pay more attention to the different pronunciation in words rather than tone or pitch.

    However I have listened to one or two books narrated by men and and one drove me crazy with his women’s voices. They were high pitch falsetto -that reminded me of my brothers attempts to make fun of me by mimicking what I had said.

  2. maggie b. says:

    I was surprised when I picked up a couple of Sandra Brown’s and found a male narrator (Stephen Lang). At first I was afraid I’d be uncomfortable during the sex scenes, that the narrator would revert to a twelve year old boy and read them salaciously. That didn’t happen and I was delighted at how wonderful the listening experience was. He did a much better job of sounding like a girl than the narrator for Linda Howard’s Dream Man did sounding like a man. I’ve come to appreciate a male narrator as a result but I am not ready to say I prefer them quite yet. I think it all comes down to who is narrating – talent is what its all about.

  3. dick says:

    I don’t buy audio books, not only for the reasons mentioned in the post, but also because I don’t like others imposing their syntax and stress. Of course, I intensely dislike being read to, as well.

  4. Carrie says:

    Not much was said about narrators who don’t try to “sound” male (or female, if they are male narrators), but instead use their skills as a reader to differentiate between the characters. Aasne Vigesaa did a masterful job on Crusie’s Faking It without trying to fake male-sounding voices for (the many) male characters.

    I recently listened to Cynster’s Bride, and while I wasn’t wowed with the book, I loved Simon Pebble’s narration (except for the love scenes, but I blame the author for those totally over-the-top scenes). Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Petkoff’s reading of A Hunger Like No Other.

    I adore Tom Stechschulte and intend to give Slezak a try soon.

    For female narrators, I love the pairing of Amanda Ronconi and Molly Harper. Great character voices! Susan Ericksen was on my no-no list after Robert’s High Noon, but has more than redeemed herself with the In Death books and a few others. I love listening to her. (Still don’t like her reading of High Noon, though.) I tried Renee Raudman on the Kate Daniels series, but can’t deal with her slow, overly dramatic reading of the action scenes. I read the rest of the series in print. I may give her another go on a non-action book. I also enjoy Natalie Ross, and more recently Josephine Bailey. Kirsten Potter did a wonderful job on Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.

    But nobody does it better than Anna Fields.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Carrie: Not much was said about narrators who don’t try to “sound” male (or female, if they are male narrators), but instead use their skills as a reader to differentiate between the characters. Aasne Vigesaa did a masterful job on Crusie’s Faking It without trying to fake male-sounding voices for (the many) male characters.

      I agree that there are many narrators out there who are highly effective without varying their characters’ voices a great deal. And we should probably dedicate a column at some time to those talented narrators as well.

      Partly in fun but also with great sincerity, we targeted those particular narrators we follow because they do make character differentiation so easy. So, we’ll target your observation another day – promise!

      • Carrie says:

        Lea Hensley:
        I agree that there are many narrators out there who are highly effective without varying their characters’ voices a great deal.And we should probably dedicate a column at some time to those talented narrators as well.Partly in fun but also with great sincerity, we targeted those particular narrators we follow because they do make character differentiation so easy.So, we’ll target your observation another day – promise!

        Oh, I’m not complaining! I was more thinking out loud about another style of narration. Thank you, though for the promise! ;-) I’ll look forward to “meeting” more narrators who don’t change their voice so much to denote male and female characters, but use other qualities.

        • Lea Hensley says:

          Carrie: Oh, I’m not complaining! I was more thinking out loud about another style of narration. Thank you, though for the promise! I’ll look forward to “meeting” more narrators who don’t change their voice so much to denote male and female characters, but use other qualities.

          Oh, I don’t think you are complaining! You brought up a very good point that I thought to mention in the column but, I felt l needed to stay on message. I thought (and hoped) someone would bring it up in the discussion – then I’d take the opportunity to explain.

          So, thanks!

  5. MEK says:

    I love audiobooks, but when i listen to a British accent, my own inner dialogue turns British for days and I drive myself crazy!!

  6. Carrie says:

    PS–I can’t believe I forgot the incredible reading of Bujold’s Shards of Honor by Grover Gardner! I think he reads the entire series. He didn’t try to give the female lead a female voice, but the listener has no problems knowing this character is a woman.

  7. Xe Sands says:

    I am so honored to be recommended by several of you for credible character performance. That is incredibly kind and something for me to continually strive to live up to. And Brenda, that I have made it to the “I’ll-listen-to-anything” level warms me from toes to head! I’m truly touched.

    @Brenda on review of On Thin Ice – I’m thrilled that it met most of your expectations :) But I’m even more thankful that you called out what could have been better. Constructive feedback, presented in such a positive and specific way, really helps me to work on my game. So thanks so much for both your wonderful review and the suggestions on what would have brought you that remaining 10% – I appreciate it :)

  8. Brenda says:

    Love how the column came together and seeing what fellow reviewers had to say – along with the comments. Good reading.

    @Xe – my definition of humor would have been perfection for me but after listening twice I wouldn’t trade your version of On Thin Ice, with TDF Finn’s voice along with the rest of the delicious accents and voices, for another “take” for all the tea in China, or would that be Ireland in this case? :)

    I know that being a long time Anne Stuart fan, being familiar with her style and humor, gives me a certain perspective that would be missing for someone newer to her work. As does being a romance fan in general – where the HEA always rules in the end. ;)

  9. Anne Flosnik says:

    Riveting to read all the fascinating insights, concerning what listeners want to hear. So helpful in the quest to “get it right,” and embody all the desired and required notes. A huge and never ending quest and a most worthy one. Warmest congratulations to all my highly esteemed colleagues mentioned here :-)!!!!

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Anne Flosnik: Riveting to read all the fascinating insights, concerning what listeners want to hear. So helpful in the quest to “get it right,” and embody all the desired and required notes. A huge and never ending quest and a most worthy one. Warmest congratulations to all my highly esteemed colleagues mentioned here !!!!

      After writing this column the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that romance listeners may be a picky group. We not only want the roles performed as written but we want to feel the emotion as well. Thanks for caring about what we want to hear!!

  10. Cindy says:

    My pet peeve is an audio book where all the female parts (read by a male narrator) sound EXACTLY like Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie”. All in all, I prefer female narrators.

  11. Renee says:

    I second the recommendation of Kirsten Potter. She did a fabulous job in The Spymaster’s Lady and I also love Susan Ericksen’s Rourke. I still have yet to find a male narrator that does the female voices as well as I would like.

    And I concur, nobody does it better than Anna Fields. I really miss her.

  12. BevQB says:

    As soon as I realized what this post was about, the first name that came to mind was Barbara Rosenblat’s performance on THE INDISCRETION. Not once during her performance was I even aware that a female was narrating. She WAS the drawling Sam, she WAS the playful Lydia. She was a joy to listen to and completely elevated Judith Ivory’s story. She was, as Melinda said, “pure genius”.

    I have to disagree somewhat with the opinions on Phil Gigante’s female voices. I agree that no one would ever mistake him for a a real woman, but I think he delivers more than a drag queen falsetto. He adds a softness, a… something… to his female voices that gives them a distictive gender clarity and then is able to twist that technique to apply to older and younger women so that even their age is clear along with their sex. I guess for me it’s more that he is able to voice each CHARACTER rather than just using different voices. Okay, that probably makes more sense in my head. ;-D

    Also, as a fan of Stephanie Laurens, I am also a fan of Simon Prebble’s narration and, more recently, Steven Crossley’s. Oddly enough, I cannot for the life of me remember what their female voices sound like. So I have to conclude that they did quite well or I would remember that they bugged me. LOL. As for their male voices, well… melt me over a tray of scones!

    I also love Nancy Wu’s narration of MJD’s Queen Betsy series, EXCEPT for her Sinclair. HATE. IT. But the rest of Wu’s characterizations (particularly Tina) are so absolutely entertaining that I only cringe a little when Sinclair speaks.

    Anyhoo, in answer to your big question, I really do prefer male narrators, so I’ll take the Drag Queen Heroine over the Effeminate Hero. I’m also a hero-centric reader, so I wonder if that has any relevence to my audio preference. Do heroine-centric readers tend to prefer female narration?

    • Lea Hensley says:

      BevQB: Anyhoo, in answer to your big question, I really do prefer male narrators, so I’ll take the Drag Queen Heroine over the Effeminate Hero. I’m also a hero-centric reader, so I wonder if that has any relevence to my audio preference. Do heroine-centric readers tend to prefer female narration?

      What a great question and idea for a future column! I’m hero-centric and I’m always eager to find another male romance narrator who gets it right. Has anyone else put thought into Bev’s question?

  13. Jody says:

    All of the narrators you have listed excel at their craft. I certainly take into consideration who the narrator is when I purchase the book in audio.

    I wish some of the samples at Audible were more extensive. A lot of the samples are only narratives with no idea of how they portray either the male or female voices.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Jody: All of the narrators you have listed excel at their craft. I certainly take into consideration who the narrator is when I purchase the book in audio. I wish some of the samples at Audible were more extensive. A lot of the samples are only narratives with no idea of how they portray either the male or female voices.

      Totally agree about the Audible samples. Since the delivery of both genders is so important to me, I’m often unsatisfied with Audible’s sample. It’s either one lead or another or, worse, just the general narrative.

  14. Lea Hensley says:

    test

  15. Brenda says:

    I was on the Grover Gardner bandwagon in my response to Lea’s question, unfortunately he doesn’t narrate romance outside of the thread of it found in Bujuold’s work, if I’m mistaken someone please fill me in. A cut and paste from my initial response, which included my Petkoff thoughts too:

    A male narrator that portrays a good female without any stretching is Grover Gardener (Sci Fi with romance thread = Shards of Honor and Barrayar) – his interpretation of a female is all about attitude and tone of voice while not even trying to sound like a female and he brings it across perfectly – unique and very good…

    Although I’ve only listened to him once, Robert Petkoff (Kresley Cole’s A Hunger Like No Other), comes the closest to Gardener’s style with his female voices and portraying a female demeanor in my listening experience.

    • Carrie says:

      Brenda:Although I’ve only listened to him once, Robert Petkoff (Kresley Cole’s A Hunger Like No Other), comes the closest to Gardener’s style with his female voices and portraying a female demeanor in my listening experience.

      I agree. I’m hoping Petkoff will be tagged to narrate other Immortals After Dark novels. I think my daughter mentioned the next one is coming out soon…

      • Brenda says:

        Carrie: I agree. I’m hoping Petkoff will be tagged to narrate other Immortals After Dark novels. I think my daughter mentioned the next one is coming out soon…

        I checked out Simon and Schuster today and they show Robert Petkoff as narrating at least the next two Kresley Cole books, #2 out later this month and #3 out June 1st.

        Although after my/our Linda Howard unabridged Mr Perfect disappointment from SS (stated as a Feb 2012 audio download release on their web site) we can only hope they are on target with Cole … at least the narrators name should be correct – and he’s worth waiting for if your a fan of the series.

        So far I can’t jump all the way to Lotharie – even with Petkoff – because I’ve skipped too many since really liking one. As always, in the minority there….

  16. Brenda says:

    @BevQ He adds a softness, a… something… for me the “something” that Phil Gigante adds, and what makes me a fan, is the same thing that Lea mentions about Renee Raudman:

    “it is obvious that … (He, in this case) … thoroughly understands romance audio.”

  17. Jen Tullis says:

    I’ve been listening to Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress Series. Tavia Gilbert does an excellent job with Bones and most of the other males. The only exception is Tate, he grates on my nerves, but then I don’t like the character either!

    I’m a novice with audiobooks, but I will definitely look up some of the other names listed in this post. Thanks!

  18. Brenda says:

    I consider myself hero centric because getting the male leads voice right is much more important to me than the females – but the female narrators still rule in this comparison because I can name so many more of them that deliver both the hero and the emotion of romance in the way I want to hear it.

    The male narrators that hit the mark for me are appreciated all the more because they are rare, making a noteworthy change of pace in my listening … in what I consider a predominately female narrator arena when it comes to romance.

  19. Lea AAR says:

    I should add that every narrator who was mentioned in a “thumbs up” paragraph at the end of the male and female sections, all carried with them an explanation from the one giving the recommendation. In the writeup, I included all male narrators who received two or more recommendations and all female narrators who received three or more recommendations. So those two small paragraphs of names include well thought out recommendations. Wish I could have included all the statements in full!

    Also, meant to mention this morning that the image at the beginning of the column is Renee Raudman.

    And I agree with Bev and Brenda on the Phil Gigante comments. He acknowledges putting work into his female characterizations. His voice is so very low – I don’t know if he could make females sound any better than they do in his latest books. But his work on those female voices had yielded an even greater understanding of who that character is and what she feels. You can tell he is really tuning in to the other methods of differentiating a character.

  20. Corie says:

    The first audiobook I ever listened to was BEL CANTO and from then on I was in love with Anna Fields’ narration. She really gets it right, accents, pitch, tone…And I love Susan Ericksen’s in the IN DEATH series…I’m listening to the new Nora Roberts book The Next Always and I’m not liking the male narrator…at all.

  21. Jo-Ann W. says:

    Give me the Effeminate Hero any day.

    Love this column. I am looking forward to listening to many of the narrators mentioned here I haven’t had a chance to try yet such as Xe Sands and Antony Ferguson.

    Some of my favorites mentioned here are Anna Fields (best ever!), Renee Raudman, Victor Slezak, Patrick Lawler, Tavia Gilbert, Natalie Ross, Aasne Vigessa, Davina Porter and Kirsten Potter. I have several other narrators I have enjoyed like Deanna Hurst, Vanessa Hart and Angela Dawe.

    There are certain narrators I will avoid at all costs such as Sandra Burr (who has the unique distinction of narrating male voices better than female voices!), and Roslyn Landor. I know everyone loves Tom Stechschulte, but his female voice in Carnal Innocence made me cringe and it was a struggle to finish it.

    And then there’s Phil Gigante who gave me both one of the best and one of the worst audio experiences I’ve had so far. Dreamfever (and Shadowfever) was the ultimate in audio narration for me. I loved the duel narration done as it should be and the voices were excellent, just excellent. But then there was Dream Man – I could not finish it due to the female voice even though the male narration was great. A bad female reading will take me out of the story every time.

  22. Xe Sands says:

    Quick note on samples (on Audible and elsewhere). As a narrator, OH do I ever feel your pain! I often wish that such services (and publishers that offer sound clips) would allow the narrator to choose the snippet to share. I often find that they either just choose the opening paragraphs or something at random from the middle.

    This is why I’ve started releasing “sneak listens” of upcoming work – that way I get to choose, and listeners can decide if it meets their expectations.

  23. Just wanted to tune in for a moment to thank all of you for your wonderful compliment about my work in a difficult facet of voice performance – narrating male characters believably and in a way that is a pleasure to listen to. I’m pleased that you like what you hear! I learn a lot from listening to other actors who I think perform magnificently, especially Davina Porter, Anna Fields, and Barbara Rosenblat. So if I’m performing well, it is in great part due to their examples and inspiration.

    As ever, I am grateful to have the support of this wonderful group of passionate listeners.

  24. Karen White says:

    Thanks Lea, and all, for another thoughtful round of thoughts and opinions on the craft of narration (and the art of listening:)
    Although I tremble in my boots a bit every time I start a book lest I disappoint the listeners, at the same time it is inspiring to know that there is such a passionate group of you out there.

  25. Kaetrin says:

    @Lea & @BevQB I am a totally hero-centric reader/listener but crappy male voices AND crappy female voices both make me crazy!! It may just be that I’m super picky. :)

    I have so many favourite narrators and my answers to Lea’s specific questions didn’t include others that my brain didn’t alight on at that very moment. The mentions of Xe Sands in particular as doing great male voices were spot on too.

    I think Susan Ericksen is one of those who differentiates by tone and accent rather than pitch and I really enjoy the in Death series. Amanda Ronconi and Aasne Vigassa are 2 who do the character differentiation really well but who don’t have a deep “male” voice.

    I’d also like to give a shout out to Tanya Eby who is fast becoming a favourite narrator. Her male voices were pretty good but I think they’ve gotten better with the more recent recordings.

  26. Lea Hensley says:

    Speaking of Tavia Gilbert, I’m still on the hunt for the Suzanne Enoch books Harper produced and Tavia Gilbert narrated. They have disappeared. We talked a little about this in our Goodreads group. Anyone have an idea?

    And thanks to Karen and Tavia for listening!

    • Brenda says:

      Lea Hensley: Speaking of Tavia Gilbert, I’m still on the hunt for the Suzanne Enoch books Harper produced and Tavia Gilbert narrated. They have disappeared. We talked a little about this in our Goodreads group. Anyone have an idea?

      Very interested in this too, I would love to find these after having them disappear from my Wish List at Audible.

      Doesn’t seem fair to add something to your wish list and then poof, it’s no longer there? Is it a marketing ploy to make sure you buy immediately?

      • Lea AAR says:

        Brenda:
        Very interested in this too, I would love to find these after having them disappear from my Wish List at Audible.
        Doesn’t seem fair to add something to your wish list and then poof, it’s no longer there? Is it a marketing ploy to make sure you buy immediately?

        I’d start listening to this series at a moment’s notice not because I’m familiar with Enoch – I’m not. I want to hear Tavia narrate a historical series. Does anyone know of other historicals with her as narrator?

      • Carrie says:

        Brenda:
        Very interested in this too, I would love to find these after having them disappear from my Wish List at Audible.
        Doesn’t seem fair to add something to your wish list and then poof, it’s no longer there? Is it a marketing ploy to make sure you buy immediately?

        I don’t think that’s the case, because I’ve had books on my wish list for audible for well over a year. All I can figure is they pulled it because the publisher pulled it, or there was something wrong with the recording.

        Several years ago they posted a new Heyer book-The Convenient Marriage– and I bought. When I listened to it, the recording ended one chapter short of the actual end of the book. I talked with customer service and they credited my account, and the book then disappeared from their catalog for months. It eventually reappeared after, I’m assuming, they got the publisher or whoever to correct the mistake.

        • Brenda says:

          Carrie: All I can figure is they pulled it because the publisher pulled it, or there was something wrong with the recording.

          You must be correct about the Publisher pulling it as there are some members of our Goodreads group that were lucky enough to purchase the books before they disappeared from Audible and they didn’t mention a quality issue.

          And Krissie mentioned something about limited audio licenses with some contracts? I do hope they change their minds and get them back to Audible soon.

  27. LeeF says:

    Although not particularly known for romance narration, George Guidall is one of my absolute favorites. When I first started listening to audiobooks over 20 years ago (long before I read much romance), my local library had almost all of The Cat Who series so I sort of cut my teeth on Guidall’s female voices. Barbara Rosenblat got me started on the Mrs. Pollifax series. And Davina Porter has been such a delight, even before Outlander appeared on my radar. Thank you for continuing your wonderful narrator recommendations and discussions.

  28. Anne Stuart says:

    I’m a totally hero-centric writer and yet I tend to prefer female narrators. The women narrators seem to be able to capture the tone of a hero, even if the voice is higher-pitched than one might light.
    As for ON THIN ICE, Xe did such a phenomenal job that a couple of days after I finished listening to it I could still hear Finn’s voice in my head when I was doing dishes. Now that’s talent!

    • Brenda says:

      Anne Stuart: As for ON THIN ICE, Xe did such a phenomenal job that a couple of days after I finished listening to it I could still hear Finn’s voice in my head when I was doing dishes. Now that’s talent!

      Oh I could too! Hmmm, that might have been because I was listening to it again, or was it the third when I just skipped to all my favorite lines? :)

      From the moment this came from Xe/Finn’s mouth in “that” voice I was a gonner:

      “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” came the dry voice from the darkness. “As if things weren’t bad enough.”

      And Beth’s answering reply was priceless ……

      “No.” Her voice was flat, calm, as she struggled to sit up……….

      “No, what?” he said, curious.

      “No, I don’t happen to be Holy Mary Mother of God,” she said, wiggling herself into a sitting position. “My name’s Beth Pennington.”

  29. Xe Sands says:

    @Anne Stuart & Brenda – Aw you two are totally making my morning! I can still hear Finn in my head as well (and he’s one randy, snarky boy to have pop into your head unexpectedly!). I adored him…and that interchange in particular was hilarious. So glad I brought him to (aural) life for you both :)

  30. Brenda says:

    So lets see if this link will work so others can hear a short sample, one that is SO much better than Audible’s … Cut and paste if you have to.

    http://soundcloud.com/xe_sands/on-thin-ice-shorter-version

    Hearing Finn’s voice shouldn’t be missed, even if it’s from a clip.

    And no, I don’t get paid around here. :D

  31. Lea Hensley says:

    Brenda sent a sample of Finn’s voice to me a week ago and On Thin Ice immediately moved to head of my queue. Wow, indeed!

  32. Xe Sands says:

    @Brenda & Lea – thanks ladies! Brenda – thanks so much for sharing that clip – I hope that demonstrates why narrators should be allowed to choose clips :) Another public clip features the their very first interchange, in which his accent is fluctuating (per Stuart’s text)…which doesn’t give listeners any clue as to what he’ll sound like for most of the book. Ah well.

    For any who listen, hope they enjoy Finn as much as I enjoyed voicing him!

  33. Brittany B. says:

    Ohh! Great column this week! What a treat!!
    Good job SOA!!

  34. luluwrite says:

    Male – Love Simon Prebble on both Laurens and Jo Beverley books. I agree with earlier comments about the Cynster books. When Prebble’s narration suffers, it is due to Lauren’s writing being over the top. But, I even enjoy that and now, whenever I read a Cynster book I wait with baited breath for Prebble’s signature “…and…then…she…shattered…” I can’t really focus on the book until that phrase has been used at least once. He must be groaning inwardly every time he has to say it.

    I like Steven Crossley as well. He seems to have just moved into the romance section. I’ve enjoyed his narration of books in other genres for quite a while.

    Finally – not really a mainstream “romance” narrator but Cornelius Garrett is outstanding on the Georgette Heyer books. He brings an incredible amount of humor to the books and his narration of the older “characters” always crack me up.

    • Carrie says:

      luluwrite:Finally – not really a mainstream “romance” narrator but Cornelius Garrett is outstanding on the Georgette Heyer books.He brings an incredible amount of humor to the books and his narration of the older “characters” always crack me up.

      I didn’t bring up any of the narrators for Heyer’s books simply because I’ve gushed over them so much in the past. ;-) I’ve enjoyed all of them, but Garrett is one of the very best narrators I’ve ever listened to. Eve Matheson is the female narrator for several Heyer audiobooks, and she’s excellent as well.

  35. Lea Hensley says:

    luluwrite and Carrie – I’m trying out Heyer books slowly but surely. What are the best narrated by Cornelius Garrett?

    • Carrie says:

      Lea Hensley: luluwrite and Carrie – I’m trying out Heyer books slowly but surely.What are the best narrated by Cornelius Garrett?

      For some reason I answered you on one of the goodreads SOA threads. My brain isn’t working. Here it is again:
      Carrie Gwaltney | 174 comments These Old Shades is a perennial favorite for Heyer lovers, so that’s highly recommended. You can see my review here:
      http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/663

      The Quiet Gentleman is a very enjoyable regency romance and very typical Heyer. (I didn’t write a review of this one, but I’ve listened to it twice. Great book)

      The Reluctant Widow is more a mystery with romance, but is excellent with great characters. My review here:
      http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31109

  36. Sally says:

    Wow, I walk a different path I think. Many of the books I listen to these days have a central, female protagonist. To name a few, the Bones series, Ilona Andrews books, Charlaine Harris books…well, at least in paranormal and urban fantasy world. I cannot imagine those books being narrated by a male, the soul of these series belongs to the female. I will step out on a limb a bit and say I prefer female romance narrators who I believe at the elite level can convey their male voices better than the males can convey their female voices. I appreciate the great male romance narrators such as Gigante, but I like them even better when paired with a female narrator. Luckily, I do not have to suffer much with my minority opinion because the numbers of great female, romance narrators are growing.