Speaking of Audiobooks: It’s All Linda Howard

Dream ManMention Linda Howard in a romance discussion forum and you’ll see highly favorable comments from her legion of fans.  Look closer and you’ll probably discover that her fans are seriously partial to one style of her writing over another.  You’ll find one group loving her series books while others swear by her lighter romantic suspense books and yet others fondly recall her frontier/westerns.  Fans are often disturbed that she doesn’t continue writing a certain type of book and may wish for the old days when she wrote the Mackenzie series or the likes of Midnight Rainbow – all series titles.

Writing romance for three decades now, Howard has penned series romance, contemporary, romantic suspense (both light and dark), frontier/western, paranormal, time-travel, and urban fantasy.  She has written more than fifty titles (the number is hard to verify since she has co-authored some books).  Best I can discover, thirty-six of her print books have been released in unabridged audio format with another five of her earliest books as abridgements.

Just as we have changed over the years, Howard’s writing has done the same.  She is not an author who stays still and you never know exactly what to expect with her next release.  And that is part of the magic of Linda Howard.  She always has a surprise around the corner.  Just when you think her books are tending to contain too much suspense and too little romance, she’ll turn around and hit us with the likes of the laugh-out-loud To Die For.  She’ll give us the darkness and separation of Death Angel only to deliver the humor and lighter contemporary romance in Veil of Night.

Fortunately I enjoy all of Howard’s writing styles and that makes me one lucky romance listener.  Her older series romances that are such popular choices among many readers have yet to be released in unabridged audio format and I, for one, am anxiously awaiting titles such as Duncan’s Bride, Midnight Rainbow, Diamond Bay, and White Lies.  For the most part these older titles are not yet available in eBook format either so we can hope for a simultaneous release of both the audio and eBook versions.

When I asked our Speaking of Audiobooks’ reviewers to step up and volunteer to review Howard books from their own audio libraries for an All Linda Howard column, the response was enthusiastic.  Despite the varied reading tastes among our audio reviewers, each has enjoyed some aspect of her writing.  And we have a treasure trove of Howard audio reviews for you today, in fact thirteen of them – All the Queen’s Men, Cry No More, Death Angel, Dream Man, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Dying to Please, Heart of Fire, Kill and Tell, Mr. Perfect, Now You See Her, Shades of Twilight, and Veil of Night.  And bringing it all to a grand close, Brenda and I are jointly reviewing Open Season and debating the merits of the unabridged version versus the abridged version (which won the Favorite Abridged Romance category in our 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll).

We also have published nine other Howard reviews in former Speaking of Audiobooks columns.  Here’s where you can find our thoughts on:

To Die ForCelebrating Audiobook Month with Reviews (2011)

A Game of ChanceMarch 2012 Releases

After the Night Challenges, Bookshelves, and the Like

Mackenzie’s MountainIt’s Review Time

Mackenzie’s PleasureMay 2011 Releases

PreyOctober 2011 Releases

Son of the MorningJanuary 2010 Releases

BurnA Multitude of Mini Reviews

The Touch of FireMale Narrators

Combined we have twenty-two reviews of Howard’s thirty-six unabridged audios.  If you are interested in trying her books for the first time or exploring her books further, you may want to bookmark this column as I don’t think you will find this much Linda Howard audio information in one spot elsewhere.

The drumroll please, now for the reviews!

All the Queen’s Men – Linda Howard

Review written by Diana

Narrated by Kate Forbes (unabridged), Megan Gallagher (abridged)

I’ve often said that I came to romance through the door marked romantic suspense and All the Queen’s Men is that door.  Back in 1998, I picked up the paperback on a mass-market table at a mall bookstore.  I’d been reading a lot of man thrillers and my joy knew no bounds as I sat in the food court falling in love with my new discovery.  A thriller with romance, a hero who falls hard when he zeroes in on his mate…and sex!!!  Do I love it as much in 2012 as I did way back then?  Even more now that I own two different audio versions, a Kindle file, and several paperbacks (just in case).

John Medina is the ultra sexy, mysterious, rootless, and dark special ops guy, a James Bond character that we girls can love.  After All the Queen’s Men, I read countless romantic suspense series with covert ops alphas who are pale shadows of the original iron man John Medina.  There’s nothing he doesn’t do better than anyone and he’ll stay cool and composed as he stares down the baddest terrorists, all the while clad in his Armani tux.  Oh yeah, baby.

I love this book so much that a few years ago I bought an abridged cassette version on eBay.  As abridgements go, this one produced in 1999 is excellent.  Narrator Megan Gallagher hits the bull’s eye with my perception of characters that I feel I know very well.  Her grasp of Niema’s confused, turbulent feelings expressed in her inner monologues is spot on.  Gallagher doesn’t change her pitch between characters, but voices personality and attitude so distinctly that there’s no question of who’s speaking.  And although this isn’t a light-hearted book, Gallagher easily conveys Medina’s impish sense of fun when he isn’t being a total badass.  Oh, and there’s a bit of the kink in Medina’s seduction of Niema, confirming that kink was not invented this year.

The unabridged version was produced in cassette tape format in 2001 and has been languishing in the publisher’s vaults until its surprise digital release this year.  Narrator Kate Forbes is adequate, but I find her reading lacks the attributes that are so appealing to me in Gallagher’s performance.  It’s a vaguely indefinable essence that is admittedly personal and subjective.  I don’t really have any specific criticism of Forbes – I just wish she’d punched it up a little.

A word of caution.  Gallagher=abridged, Forbes=unabridged.  Please don’t buy from the eBay seller who’s trying to sell the abridged-in-four-cassettes version falsely advertised as unabridged for, wait for it, $305(!).  What will we do when our Sony Walkmans die?

Cry No More – Linda Howard

Review written by Diana

Narrated by Joyce Bean

While I don’t hesitate to call Cry No More Linda Howard’s most heart-wrenching and powerful book, its painful subject matter means it’s not one I’ve listened to as frequently as I’m wont to do with Howard favorites.  Relistening in preparation to write this review, I gained new appreciation for the intuitive interpretation narration skill subtly employed by Joyce Bean to great effect.  It would have been easy for a less experienced narrator to overplay the plight of heroine Milla Boone.  So right up front, kudos to Joyce Bean for a pitch perfect performance.  I’m going to do my best to write this spoiler free for anyone who hasn’t read Cry No More because the way Howard doles out the story is pretty darn brilliant and kept me on tenterhooks right up until the epilogue.

Milla’s wunderkind surgeon husband David is doing a year of pro bono work in a small Mexican village and their idyllic life consists of David’s work and Milla’s joy in new motherhood.  Tragedy strikes in an instant and without warning when Milla’s newborn is snatched from her in the sleepy village marketplace.  She fights for her baby, gouging out an eye of one attacker before she is felled with a near fatal knife wound.

Ten years later and divorced, Milla’s every waking moment is devoted to running Finders, the volunteer organization that came to be as a result of her phenomenal success in finding other people’s lost and stolen children.  James Diaz, a shadowy character with a fearsome reputation, agrees to help Milla.  He is impressed with Milla’s single-minded quest to discover what happened to her stolen son Justin.  Diaz is also convinced that Milla has been “handled” and misdirected by powerful people who put no limits on what they’ll do to keep their secrets and he’s just the man to uncover the truth.

I highly recommend Cry No More even though it’s a given that you’ll cry buckets.  Dark and tragic themes beyond baby selling abound and Howard and Joyce Bean take us through the powerful emotions Milla must deal with as she faces terrifying moral questions and impossible choices.  While they chase the truth, a soul deep love born of her pain and his need to soothe that pain blossoms between Milla and Diaz.  Diaz’s tender care of Milla when she needs him the most makes him one of the most profoundly romantic heroes I’ve ever met.

Joyce Bean’s reading leaves no doubt that she gets it.  When I was an audiobook newbie I listened to quite a few of Bean’s narrations and now that I’ve got a more finely tuned ear, I appreciate her even more.  She’s a consummate pro and her reading of Cry No More is exactly right for a story that doesn’t need enhancement but a narrator who feels it and knows exactly how to share it.

Death Angel – Linda Howard

Review written by Lea Hensley

Narrated by Joyce Bean

Back in 2008, I hesitantly picked up the print version of Death Angel wondering if I could enjoy a romance featuring a cold-blooded assassin and a mistress to a drug lord.  My curiosity combined with faith in Linda Howard and an appreciation for edgy heroes rewarded me after just a few pages as I found myself completely riveted and on my way to a DIK (my AAR review).  Only days later, wanting something really special for our long vacation drive to Colorado, I grabbed the audio version and once again found myself totally immersed in this impressive romantic suspense.  Joyce Bean’s delivery not only satiated those almost impossible-to-satisfy voices in my head that often arise when listening so soon after reading, but she took Death Angel to a whole new level.

Simon “the assassin” is offered a bonus for a job well done by the drug lord Salinas.  Simon only wants one thing and that is an afternoon with Drea, Salinas’ mistress.  Drea’s not one to be shared or traded and she’s a lot sharper than her dumb blond façade.  Terrified at the thought, Drea is rather surprised when she reluctantly succumbs to Simon’s forceful manner.  This all occurs within the first hour (and it is hot) and puts into motion a series of suspenseful events that drive the story to its conclusion.  Joyce Bean is not only talented at performing the individual characters, but she also excels with the general narrative – a challenging prospect since there is more narrative than actual conversation.  I listened carefully to her successful delivery of one page after another telling us events and relaying action – all the while building the suspense in long passages with only the leads’ thoughts, fears, and confidence to add personal interest.  Bean’s portrayal of Drea’s fear combined with Simon’s ruthlessness kept me on the edge of my seat although I had read the print version only days before.

Ms. Bean has the ability to perform both female characters that sound completely feminine and convincing male voices – with Simon, it’s a sexy gravelly voice that emphasizes his no-nonsense outlook without sounding like an automaton.  Not once did I notice an upturn in his verbal expressions that would take away from his ultra male, tough persona, even when it is time to get emotional.

Death Angel is the unusual excellent book it is because of Linda Howard’s talent.  It’s the audio success that it is because of Joyce Bean’s talented narration of a book that isn’t the best material for audio format.  It’s an extreme personal favorite due to its strong emotional impact that the combination of the two creates.  It hit me hard and continues to do so with relistens.  And I still long for that original experience each year when we return to Colorado.

My advice – forget the ideal heroine hype from romanceland and just go with it allowing your mind to stretch beyond the usual formulas.  It’s a different sort of ride all the way, through made even better in audio.

Dream Man – Linda Howard

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Phil Gigante

For me, it’s a tossup between La Nora and Linda Howard for who writes the best Alpha Hero We Love and Hate at the Same Time.  Think of Cal Quinn in bed with a European model in the opening pages of Roberts’ Sea Swept.  Think of Robert Cannon in Howard’s Loving Evangeline (the bastard).

Dream Man’s Dane is one of the best in this category – Howard writes and Phil voices him as a growling Alpha who wears his caveman on his sleeve.  Dane doesn’t give a hoot about courting his woman, “I can promise you one thing: if anyone gets into bed with you, it’s going to be me.” he reassures the skittish Marlie.  You, the listener, jab a hard elbow into your inner-feminist and swoon when he says it.

“Maybe we just intensely dislike each other,” says Minnie Mouse, I mean Marlie.  Yeah, Phil’s women’s voices just don’t inspire me much.  Because I’ve read and listened to Dream Man multiple times, this time I listened hard to Gigante’s voice as it migrated from narrator (baritone) to Dane (basso profundo growl) to Marlie (squeaky Minnie Mouse) and tried to analyze what is going on there.

In truth, the first few words out of Marlie’s mouth are pitched appropriately in a higher, non-drag-queen sound – a female register, if way too high for Marlie.  But her voice slips, down, down, until Phil’s baritone overtone slips in and gives him away.  In just a few nano-seconds, Marlie goes from woman to drag queen.  If she speaks more than a sentence, the rest of it keeps sliding down, down until it’s recognizably Phil Gigante’s falsetto voice fading to his actual register.  A short Google research (think Wikipedia) tells me that is a result of his vocalis muscles relaxing after he tightened them to produce the higher register.  According to that article, “The resulting sound [of falsetto]… is usually soft and anemic in quality.”  Yeah, that.

I hear on the audiobook grapevine that Gigante’s female voices are getting better.  His narration and his swoon-inducing heroes’ voices are fabulous enough to forgive him, mostly, for the earlier drag-queen heroines.

For a short description of the plot, Marlie has empath powers that are channeling a woman-hating serial murderer.  She goes to the cops to tell them what she knows and encounters Detective Dane Hollister, who isn’t a believer.  Between them, we get some major Linda Howard sparks and an intriguing paranormal suspense romance.

I highly recommend the audio version of Dream Man for Linda Howard fans.

Drop Dead GorgeousDrop Dead Gorgeous - Linda Howard

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Joyce Bean

There are readers who hate Linda Howard’s two Blair Mallory books and readers who love them.  Count me among the second group.  Joan gave Drop Dead Gorgeous a B+ review at AAR in 2006 and I’m in agreement.  I read both Blair Mallory books years ago, so I had forgotten a bit over the years.  When I recently started listening to this second of the Blair books, I was a bit surprised; for some reason I expected Blair to sound slightly ditzy.  Instead, Joyce Bean gives her a slightly mature, rather serious voice, with a slight southern accent.  But as I continued listening I recalled more of the story and realized that Ms. Bean has Blair’s voice exactly correct.  Blair may be a former cheerleader, and rather self-involved, but she’s smart, very smart.  Too many people underestimate her because she’s a gorgeous blonde.

If you don’t like Blair, Drop Dead Gorgeous will never work for you as most of the book takes place in Blair’s mind.  We hear her every thought – sometimes linear, sometimes going off in odd directions.  Blair’s indignant, sarcastic, happy, outraged, and insulted.  Each of those feelings is conveyed perfectly by Ms. Bean’s voice.  When Wyatt, Blair’s fiancé, does speak, Ms. Bean’s portrayal of his character works for me.  He sounds male, and his voice is distinctly different from Blair’s.  On the rare occasions when secondary characters speak, their characterizations are distinct enough that I was never confused as to who was speaking.

But this is really all about Blair.  I continue to hope that someday, Ms. Howard will again hear Blair speaking to her and write a third in this series.  If she does, I hope that Joyce once again narrates.  Her rendition of Blair Mallory works for me.

Dying to Please – Linda Howard

Review written by Carrie

Narrated by Susan Ericksen

As a professional butler, Sarah Stevens is trained to manage large household down to the smallest details.  She’s also skilled as a bodyguard, which comes in handy in her present position as butler to a retired federal judge.  When an obsessed admirer sets out to secure Sarah’s services by any means possible, Detective Thomas Cahill is brought in to lead the investigation.  As the mystery deepens, Sarah finds herself drawn into the investigation.  Complicating matters is the attraction that draws Cahill and Sarah to each other.

Susan Ericksen, best known for her outstanding narration of J.D. Robb’s In Death series, handles Dying to Please with the same skill.  The pacing and dynamics of her performance are excellent.  Ericksen’s reading feels natural and there is never any confusion about who is speaking during conversations.  She proves her versatility by making Sarah and Cahill sound unique rather than copies of Eve and Roarke.

Sarah isn’t a typical heroine.  She’s capable and tough but not the sassy, badass kind of heroine authors often employ when they want strong female leads.  Sarah, in keeping with her butler training, is reserved and professional instead of snarky.  Ericksen gives Sarah a cool, understated voice, one that conveys strength and humor.

Cahill is a great hero, although flawed and not always likeable.  At one point in the story Cahill makes a huge error in judgment.  Given Cahill’s job and his past relationship history, the error feels in character.  Howard does a great job making us feel his pain when he realizes the damage he’s done.  It was refreshing to see Cahill take full responsibility for his actions, and I admired his determination to make it right.  Ericksen aptly portrays Cahill’s wide range of feelings and emotions, always managing to make him sound completely male.

The dynamics between the Sarah and Cahill is especially well done.  Their relationship takes some time to develop, and the conflict in the relationship wasn’t a misunderstanding that can be cleared up with a five-minute conversation.  Instead, it packs an emotional punch.

I recommend the audio version of Dying to Please for any romantic suspense fan.  It’s a good introduction to Linda Howard, as well as a good introduction to the excellent narrative abilities of Susan Ericksen.  In addition, there is this extremely hot wrestling scene, which is not to be missed.

Heart of Fire – Linda Howard

Review written by Carrie

Narrated by Tanya Eby Sirois

Originally published in 1993, Heart of Fire shows its age at times in the language Howard uses, especially during the love scenes.  But while the word choice may hint at the age, the story itself is exciting and fresh and Tanya Eby Sirois’s excellent narration adds to the timeless feel of the book.

Archaeologist Jillian Sherwood finds her late father’s journal while going through his belongings.  The journal contains instructions for finding a lost Amazonian city and the directions are encrypted in a code only Jillian knows.  Dependent on her estranged half-brother and his shady partner for financial backing, she reluctantly agrees to take them along.  In Brazil, they hire expert guide Ben Lewis to lead the expedition into the Amazon jungle.  What follows is a tale of adventure and danger worthy of Indiana Jones, complete with lost treasure, traitorous companions, romance, and murder.

Although Sirois doesn’t change her voice significantly in her performance of the various characters, she still manages to give each one a distinct personality.  She gives Jillian’s voice the strength to convey Jillian’s confidence and independence.  Ben’s slow drawl and southern charm hide a sharp mind and an iron will.  Sirois doesn’t try to make her voice sound like a man, but she manages to convey Ben’s masculine tone anyway.  My only criticism is that Ben’s southern drawl fades in and out over the course of the book.

Part of the charm of Heart of Fire is the unique setting.  There are characters from several different ethnic groups and it’s a challenge that Sirois meets with skill.  Her authentic sounding accents of the Brazilians and the Amazonian natives add color and authenticity to the setting.

I appreciate that Jillian is a partner in the expedition, able to pull her weight and contribute equally with the men.  Her strong character makes her a good match for the sometime overpowering Ben Lewis.  The relationship development between Ben and Jillian is enjoyable to watch – it starts slow and playful, but ends up as hot and steamy as the surrounding jungle.  Those listeners who hesitate to listen to audiobooks with steamy love scenes might enjoy Ms. Sirois’ matter-of-fact delivery.  She manages to convey the heat and passion of the scenes without being overly dramatic.

Heart of Fire is an enjoyable addition to any Linda Howard audio library.  The action and adventure set it apart from some of her other works, as does the unique setting.

Kill and Tell – Linda Howard

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Natalie Ross

Kill and Tell is a terrific combination – one of my favorite narrators with a work by one of my favorite authors, set in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans.  Marc Chastain, NOPD, has a gut feeling that the death of a man deemed homeless just doesn’t fit the normal profile.  For one thing, the man was fit and healthy; for another, the circumstances seem to point towards a professional kill.  When he brings Dex Whitlaw’s daughter, Karen, in to identify the body, he’s even more convinced there are things that don’t add up.

Karen is a nurse from the Midwest, and she holds a grudge against the father who left her mother when Karen was a child, ruining their lives.  The tale she gives of her father, a trained sniper in Vietnam, doesn’t answer why a professional would kill him, or why Karen suddenly has several close calls with death herself over the next few months.

Natalie Ross has the whole New-Orleans-thing down pat.  She gives Marc just the right amount of the NOLA mix with some slow Creole flavor, a little Southern spice, a touch of street cred, while giving Karen a more rapid Midwestern patter.  She also gives Dex and his buddies enough bad-guy-vibe that you know where it’s going – you just don’t know exactly how it gets there.

Marc is another of Howard’s heroes you love to hate.  He’s pretty clear, after his initial negative reaction to Karen, that she’s his woman.  He touched her, she turned him on – that’s all he needed.  “The most important thing right now was to stake his claim…” he thinks as Karen identifies her father’s body.  Yep, he’s a real sensitive guy.  No matter – when LH writes him, you love him anyway.  And when Ross gives him voice, you start wondering if the killers will get Karen so you can step in and comfort Marc yourself.

Oh yeah, a Linda Howard suspense narrated by Natalie Ross – just the Southern Comfort summer listen you need.

Mr. Perfect – Linda Howard

Review written Brenda

Narrated by Laura Hicks

Mr. Perfect has long been one of my favorite Linda Howard books; it was the first tale that revealed her skill at writing laugh out loud funny humor throughout a book.  Heroine Jaine Bright is her vehicle in this endeavor and she is as brilliantly crafted as her name.  I loved her character.  Narrator Laura Hicks captures Jaine exactly as I’d read her and it was a pleasure to hear Jaine’s inner dialogue as well as her upfront and funny personality come alive with just the right note and style.  Ms. Hicks skillfully catches and delivers the humorous scenes such as the one where Jaine is talking to the cat Booboo, and inadvertently sees Sam naked, “Sweet Baby Jesus” she croaked, and managed to inhale…” That alone was worth the price of the audiobook.

I’d call Mr. Perfect light romantic suspense with its distribution of romance, women’s friendship, and a suspense plot built around four women who make a list of what would make a man Mr. Perfect – unknowingly setting events in motion that lead to murder.  Detective Sam Donavon already knows Jaine but being pulled into her life via his job allows him to get to know her much better on an faster than normal timetable.

Having first listened to this audiobook many years ago and fondly remembering more than just Jaine’s portrayal, I was curious how the rest of it would hold up with its recent digital release.  I’ve learned that in the early years of my listening addiction I paid little attention to the quality of the narration, being happy to just find a favorite in audio format.  While Ms. Hick’s characterization of Jaine is still spot on and the enjoyable narration easy to follow, the one dissonant note when comparing it to many recent audio releases is the lack of a manly sounding Sam.  There is definition, good definition in fact, between all the characters but Sam’s voice, as our hero, isn’t given a masculine tone – he’s defined more by personality and it took a little while to get used to that as well as some careful listening.

Mr. Perfect’s romance angle was hefty enough to keep me satisfied while I also enjoyed the women’s friendship and bantering.  I still remember being shocked at the first brutal murder description given the book’s initial light, humorous feel but now that I know what’s coming, the book flows smoothly between the light and the dark moments as I listen to Laura Hicks unfold the mystery of who and why.  My focus is on the light and funny when I say that I’m thrilled that Simon and Schuster released Mr. Perfect in digital format so it can be enjoyed by fans old and new alike.  It remains firmly on my list of favorite relistens.

Now You See Her – Linda Howard

Review written by Kaetrin

Narrated by Laurel Lefkow

Back in about 2008, I started reading romances again and went on a romantic suspense binge.  A kind bookseller recommended Linda Howard and Now You See Her was one of the first books I managed to pick up at the UBS.  I loved it.  So, when I had a chance to revisit the book on audio, I leaped at it.

I have to say the book worked better for me in print due to a number of reasons.  First, my tastes have changed over the past few years.  Next, the quality of the recording I listened to wasn’t very good – it was a faint transfer from a cassette so it was its own challenge.  Next, I can’t say I loved the narrator’s voice.  And lastly, sometimes what reads well on paper just doesn’t sound right when said out loud.

Paris Sweeney is an artist who suddenly starts sleep painting.  She doesn’t remember the activity in the morning but it is apparent she is gradually painting a murder scene.  Will she be able to paint the murderer?  Will the painting be finished before the murder or will she be too late?

A romance develops (and fast!) between Sweeney and her gallery owner’s ex-husband, Richard Worth.  After a sleep-painting episode, Sweeney is hypothermic and some of my favorite scenes in the book feature Richard warming her with body heat.  Rowr.  Now with the space of years and hearing every word spoken aloud, some of Richard’s behavior moved from sweet to alpha-manipulative.  Also, I have less tolerance for waifish and basically friendless heroines.

Ms. Lefkow doesn’t have strong character differentiation in her voice – it felt to me more like a reading than a performance – something I have come to expect and appreciate in a good audiobook.  And there was a quality to her voice that I find difficult to describe as it would kind of fade out at the end of each sentence, which, frankly, drove me nuts.

There are some excellent Howard audios out there – I’d generally recommend Dream Man, To Die For (it’s worth persisting with.  Really.) and Drop Dead Gorgeous, but I’d stick to print with this one.

Editors note – Now You See Her is now available in digital format.

Shades of Twilight – Linda Howard

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Natalie Ross

I mistakenly volunteered to review the audio version of Shades of Twilight.  I did a big glom of early Linda Howard books years ago in print and haven’t read them since but I remembered liking a southern story a great deal.  Unfortunately, that book was After the Night.  While I don’t dislike Shades of Twilight quite as much as Barb who reviewed the print version here at AAR, it’s really not one of my favorites.  I had forgotten how unlikeable most of the major characters are for a good part of the book.  And when you add in the fact that it has many things I dislike in romances, including sleazy secondary characters, villain sex, incest, and a weak heroine, it makes for a tough listen.

The structure of the story doesn’t lend itself well to an audio format.  The entire first part of the book – when Roanna, our heroine, is a child and later a teenager – has minimal dialog.  When dialog does occur, narrator Natalie Ross does a good job distinguishing between voices and conveying emotions.  The characters are also given age-appropriate voices.  Roanna’s elderly, dying grandmother sounds exactly like that with Ms. Ross’ narration and Roanna’s various evil relations sound exactly as I’d expect – they’re alternately sneaky, arrogant, and cold.

Unfortunately, the lack of dialog is characteristic of the entire book with long passages of description and Roanna’s all too repetitive thoughts.  Even though Ms. Ross has a very pleasant voice, and uses good pacing, the words themselves are boring.  I have as many problems as Barb did with the “romance” between Roanna and Webb.  Webb treats Roanna horribly.  Roanna is a doormat.

I can’t recommend Shades of Twilight in audio because I really don’t like the book itself.  But I will definitely seek out other books narrated by Natalie Ross.  In this case, she just didn’t have a lot to work with.

Veil of NightVeil of Night – Linda Howard

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Clarinda Ross

It took me a few tries to get into the audio version of Linda Howard’s Veil of Night.  I’ve grown accustomed to getting half a romance book with her offerings in the last decade while the other half is extremely detailed about another topic – in this case wedding planning.  Heroine Jaclyn Wild is co-owner of an events planning business with her mother Madelyn.  As the story begins, she’s at to the courthouse to pay a speeding ticket when she literally runs into Eric, our detective hero.  They soon meet up again and think there may be something between them when Jaclyn suddenly becomes a suspect in a murder investigation that lands in Eric’s lap, putting her off limits.

No, it wasn’t the many unneeded wedding plan particulars that slowed me down, though I did find all the detail boring at times.  I found myself concentrating too hard on what I initially felt were negatives of Clarinda Ross’ narration rather than focusing on her excellent ability to zero in on the humor.  She pulls it out and brings it front and center in an entertaining way and, once that caught my attention, I was over my hurdles of feeling the pacing was a bit slow or the up and down sway in her manner of speaking.  Both of those niggles became non-issues as I enjoyed the book’s comedy.  Yes, I can still hear the over-enunciation in places, but I prefer that style as opposed to missing or flattening the humor that is found within a story.

The second plus in my ears was Ms. Ross’ excellent depiction of the four Southern women who make up a core group in Veil of Night.  I am the first to admit that I enjoy accents (just about any accents) and I wouldn’t know a genuine cadence if I heard it, thus I could really enjoy her delivery of these women, their teasing and poking fun at each other, and their tightening of ranks when one of their own is threatened.

The other character portrayals are very well voiced and one in particular was Bishop Delany, the dry witted florist.  The one glaring exception however, was Lieutenant Garvey who was downright painful to hear – thank goodness his was a side part.

Jaclyn’s mother Madelyn was a great character, especially in her protective mother mode.  I’m assuming I wasn’t the only one who had to do an internet search after hearing Madelyn shock her daughter with the insulting name she called bridezilla?

For me Veil of Night is a good lesson learned.  If I know the storyline works for me, I need to give the audio version several tries, listening for pluses instead of negatives.  A listen that starts out as a blah experience could very well turn into an enjoyable relisten given the chance to find its hook.

For many of our listeners, an abridged format is not even a consideration when choosing an audiobook and I’m certain past attempts have proven to be disappointing.  However, with Open Season, listeners are given two very decent versions to choose from – both the abridged and unabridged.  Brenda and I are taking a joint look today at both versions.

Open Season – Linda Howard

Unabridged versionAbridged version

Dual review written by Brenda and Lea Hensley

Abridged version narrated by Kate Forbes

Unabridged version narrated by Deborah Hazlett

Small-town librarian Daisy Minor wants to change her boring life.  She’s getting older and the depressing thought that her dating years are quickly passing her by inspires her to make some drastic changes in her life – such as her dress, her activities, and, hopefully, her outlook on life.  In walks police chief Jack Russo and, although the two spar in the beginning, each clearly thinking little of the other, the romance catches on when Daisy unknowingly witnesses a murder.  Jack steps into investigate and sparks begin to fly.  Yeah, the content is dated, but this is pure Linda Howard fun.

Lea: I owned the unabridged version of Open Season in cassette tape format for years and while I found it to be an okay listen, I wasn’t tempted to place it in my relisten file.  My heroes need to sound like heroes and I greatly appreciate a narrator’s dynamic performance.  Deborah Hazlett’s reading of Open Season seemed to be just that – more reading and less performance.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that her characterizations of Daisy and Jack watered down their attractive personalities – especially Howard’s unique take on Daisy.  She fails to make Jack sound like the strong masculine character he is in print and I found myself confused at times, wondering if I was hearing Jack speak or if it was the general narrative.  And while I definitely enjoy the southern accent Ms. Hazlett gives Daisy, she misses the opportunity to really play up some of her more humorous thoughts.  What are your thoughts Brenda on Deborah Hazlett’s interpretation and performance of Daisy and Jack?

Brenda: Narrators can enhance, deliver, or ruin a book.  Ms. Hazlett falls in the middle category, meaning the story itself carries the listen as a very good author‘s work is hard to hurt.  Linda Howard wrote two great characters in Jack and Daisy – their funny exchanges, growing attraction, Jack’s out and out pursuit, and resulting capture of Daisy are all there in the words.  While the narration makes it a hard listen at times by not having Jack as recognizable as Daisy, she does deliver their romance in the manner Howard wrote it and that in itself was so good that I was still greatly entertained with their story.

Lea: I wonder if the original 2001 release date influenced her performance.  I’ve come to expect the type of performances we see from the better romance narrators today – getting inside characters’ heads – emoting when required – and using the opportunity to relay humor or tragedy with their delivery of the writer’s words.  When I look back on audiobooks produced prior to 2005, I don’t recall many performances of that caliber.  Oh, there are some excellent romance audio performances out there from the earlier years but I think those were the exception rather than the rule.  Do you think that the 2001 production date plays a role in Ms. Hazlett’s reading/performance?

Brenda: In a word, yes.  The older the audio the more likely you are to see this type of narration.  When I started listening to audiobooks over fifteen years ago, the romance selections were few and I listened to what became available with joy, never thinking about a narrator’s voicing of the characters.  Therefore, the unabridged version of Open Season was an instant hit with me and I’ve always recalled it fondly.  Having recently finished a back-to-back listen of first the unabridged and then the abridged version, the difference between the two comes down to this – the unabridged with Deborah Hazelett is partially voiced, more of a straight read with major characters defined.  While I can hear that definition for the most part, Jack’s voice is erratic.  Not only does it lack that manly quality you mentioned, but it also lacks consistency.  It was okay at times, bad at times, and it’s even included in with the general narration at times – all that I now find disappointing.  But I still like the solid pacing and overall delivery even if the style is one I hope to see relegated to the past.

Lea: I listened to the abridged version of Open Season after I read so many favorable comments from our fellow listeners and especially after it won Favorite Abridged Romance in our 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll.  And I must say, even with the missing content, I find its 4 hours and 49 minutes much more entertaining than the unabridged’s 8 hours and 52 minutes.  And, although I didn’t miss some of the content, it is mostly due to the magic of Kate Forbes.  What are your thoughts on Kate Forbes take on Open Season?

Brenda: When it comes to the abridged version I agree with you, Kate Forbes narration is fully voiced using a good range of multiple character differentiations which includes a much more manly tone for Jack, catching his tough but purposefully keep-it-low-key personality as I envisioned when reading.  Daisy’s personality, along with that of her mother and aunt, are much more defined which enhances them as individuals and the same can be said of Todd’s character.  Another added listening bonus with Kate Forbes was the “southern” she kept in her general narration.

And Lea, since you mentioned Kate Forbes’ magic, I assume her interpretation and performance of Jack and Daisy worked well for you.  What captured you so completely?

Lea: As I write this review, I keep relistening to the same scenes in both the abridged and unabridged versions and first, I must say that Forbes simply injects more life into Open Season – so much so that I don’t even find the abridgement an issue.  It makes me want to sit up and take notice.  Jack sounds completely like the sexy chief of police I envisioned when reading the print version– both in the voicing and his attitudes.  And Daisy – she is definitely the life of the party with her humorous sometimes prissy, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes questioning thoughts.  The Daisy I heard from Forbes was laugh-out-loud worthy.  And the chemistry between Jack and Daisy – wow.

However, the suspense portion to me was at best average when considering Linda Howard’s abilities in this area.  The unabridged version gave me more than I wanted to hear. The abridged version cut the least interesting parts of the suspense.

How did you see the content of the abridged versus the unabridged in terms of the reduced number of both romance and suspense scenes?  I know you often appreciate suspense scenarios more than I do.

Brenda: In this case the parts of the suspense portion that are missing is perfectly executed – the details of human trafficking don’t fit the lighter side of this storyline so just getting a glimpse was just right.  That also can be said of the marriage difficulties of the mayor and his wife.  When it came to the romance I was more than satisfied, although it did feel rushed a couple of times as Daisy’s sister and family were cut from the story.  They provided some transitions in the relationship, but their absence is almost unnoticeable.  Abridging the love scenes down to less than half of the originals would be the only catch in calling this absolutely perfect

Lea: Ahh, the abridged love scenes – I’ll definitely subtract a few points for that but I’ll admit I didn’t really notice when I was just listening for the fun of it.  I guess the long and short of it for me is that for once, shorter is better when it comes to Open Season.  Although I did appreciate fewer suspense scenes, my preference can largely be attributed to Kate Forbes’ lively performance.  Simply put, the abridged version of Open Season sits in my relisten folder.  The unabridged version remains out of it.  What are your final thoughts on the two?

Brenda: In the end I can argue Open Season both ways – Deborah Hazlett may have missed on Jack’s voice but she delivered the abundance of humor Linda Howard wrote into this book well.  I was surprised to find out exactly how much of the humor had been cut as I hadn’t missed it in the abridged version just as I hadn’t remembered that the love scenes were longer and more detailed.  The abridged version does deliver the best in both areas but hearing the complete scenes once again is worth putting up with Jack’s voice issues because Linda Howard writes them so well.

But then there is Kate Forbes’ perfect narration.  She fully inhabits each character and the book is vibrant with her portrayals.  Jack is the sexy hero from the book, Daisy the endearing mix of old fashioned prim and modern day woman with a biological clock ticking, and the best laugh out loud scenes are voiced to make you do just that.  The abridgement itself is the best one I’ve come across, it’s completely linear, and the story flows right to the end.  I prefer Kate Forbes performance with the abridged but I’ve found I have room for both versions in my listening life.

Editor’s note – Brenda’s reference to Partially Voiced and Fully Voice comes from Mary Burkey’s lexicon of audiobook terms.

Ending Notes

The results of our 2012 Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll will be published in our next Speaking of Audiobooks column.  Thanks to all who joined in.

Our new Facebook crowd is growing.  Check in daily to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles of interest.

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

Enjoy your listening!

- Lea Hensley

Tags: ,

8 Responses to “Speaking of Audiobooks: It’s All Linda Howard”

  1. Lea Hensley says:

    I just have to add my favorite Linda Howard audios – DEATH ANGEL (I’m sure you can tell by my review), AFTER THE NIGHT, TO DIE FOR (it’s really worth getting used to the narrator), KILL AND TELL, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (need to listen to To Die For first and it has a different narrator), and DREAM MAN.

    Although you will find my really enjoying many of the other titles…

  2. Lea Hensley says:

    Also, a comment on LinnieGayl’s review of DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, the sequel to TO DIE FOR. I agree with her that both books are about the beautiful blond, fit, former cheerleader, heroine Blair as it is written in first person. BUT neither would have worked for me without the hero Wyatt. He’s strong and yeah, alpha (Linda Howard – remember). And he has Blair’s number. She can’t pull anything over him. When I think of TDF and DDG, I think of Wyatt first and Blair second. But then you will find Wyatt as one of my favorite romance heroes on my AAR Profile.

    TO DIE FOR is a true contemporary romance (one of my top five) with lots of page time for Blair and Wyatt. DROP DEAD GORGEOUS is a very satisfying sequel.

  3. LeeF says:

    What a wonderful column! Thanks for all the hard work, pulling together so many reviews. Just makes me more determined to use a few more audible credits for some LH listens.

  4. Carrie says:

    Has anyone read or listened to Howard’s newest release, The Cutting Edge? It’s narrated by Lesa Lockford, a narrator I haven’t heard. Any input would be great. ;-)

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Carrie: Has anyone read or listened to Howard’s newest release, The Cutting Edge? It’s narrated by Lesa Lockford, a narrator I haven’t heard. Any input would be great.

      Interested to know this too although I purchased it night before last (which triggered my 3 credit sale offer at Audible). I guess I’ll give just about any Howard a try in audio even with an out-of-control alpha (80s style).

  5. Brenda says:

    I’ve been listening to The Cutting Edge off and on all day, if Lesa Lockford isn’t Natalie Ross then she’s the closest understudy I’ve heard to date ….

    I recalled this as an okay read and you may want to kick Brett Ruttlidge a few times on Tessa’s behalf but there are much more over the top Howard heroes than Brett. Start with the full knowledge that it’s dated material, early in LH’s career and you can just let Linda Howard do her thing. ;)

    Loved everyone’s reviews, Melinda amen to this and LOL!

    And when Ross gives him voice, you start wondering if the killers will get Karen so you can step in and comfort Marc yourself.

    Marc Chastain is my favorite voice by Natalie Ross – ever – get out your fans ladies…

  6. Kaetrin says:

    I love your reviews Melinda! You have such a way with words :)

    I enjoyed Drop Dead Gorgeous, narrated by Joyce Bean but after listening to To Die For narrated by Franette Leibow, I think she had the better character voice for both Blair and Wyatt. And, it kind of surprises me to say that, because at first (like many listeners) I struggled with her narration. In fact, I only persisted because Lea told me it gets better and it’s worth it. She was right. Ms. Liebow’s narration took a bit of getting used to but for me, she totally nails Blair. And Wyatt is a dream. Like Lea says above, he doesn’t let Blair get away with much – his reason for breaking up with her (prior to the story’s start) was so funny!

    There are quite a few Linda Howard books I have on my TBL which I’ll have to move up now thanks to those reviews above – thank you ladies! :)

  7. JuneD says:

    I’ve recently become a big fan of audiobooks – radio stations generally play music I don’t like interspersed with too many commercials, and talk radio is strident and boring. I look forward to your audiobook columns and this one on Linda Howard is particularly informative. I’ve bookmarked this page, but please consider adding audio reviews to Quick Search and Power Search. It would make the reviews so much easier to find. I hope audio reviews are not a difficult addition to AAR search boxes. Consider me volunteered, if I can do anything to assist.

Subscribe without commenting