If you’ve been an audiobook enthusiast for long, you know that the industry exploded with the availability of digital downloads. As a result, the number of romance releases increased sharply and the selection only gets better with each passing month. As one of those enthusiasts and a fan of romance, I pay close attention to those audio publishers who historically have offered a significant selection of romance audio and continue to do so. You know, those publishers who take the time to choose quality narrators for their titles as well as discover those authors that make romance listeners sit up and take notice. Here’s to giving a shout-out to those publishers who are doing a particularly fine job of it.
Before we start, I’ll add a disclaimer – I’m using numbers from Audible. I’m aware that there are audiobooks from years ago in audio cassette or CD format that have yet to hit the digital download market. But since we’re discussing the move in the romance audio industry over the past few years, I feel the Audible numbers are adequate for this discussion.
Tantor has come on strong in romance offerings in just the past two years. Prior to 2011, Tantor offered a total of 20 romance audiobooks. However, in 2011 Tantor hit the romance audio market with a huge splash, offering 59 romance releases over its 8 in 2010. Further, Tantor has offered 70 romance titles to date in 2012. Although Tantor may not be offering the largest number of romance titles of all audio publishers at this time, they get the number one spot on this list, as they are a company that takes the time to listen to what romance listeners have to say. Their addition of a romance category at their site upon listeners request was impressive and their Coming Soon lists are comprehensive with narrators and date – often several months in advance. Tantor’s consistent use of well-trained narrators is highly appreciated by those who are looking to make a wise audio choice. And when I say they listen, I mean just that. A Tantor staff member regularly posts on the Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group affiliated with Speaking of Audiobooks, passing on our requests for future audiobooks, hearing complaints, and informing the group of their latest offerings and deals on their site. Smart marketing, I’d say.
Tantor’s stock of romance includes Jennifer Ashley’s Highland Pleasure series, Julie James FBI/US Attorney series, Madeline Hunter Rarest Bloom series, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, Jill Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series, Laura Lee Guhrke’s Abandoned at the Altar series, with recent releases by Kristan Higgins, Cecilia Grant, Susan Donovan, Juliann MacLean, Lorelei James, and Jillian Hunter…for starters. I vividly remember their first days of paying attention to romance when they released Anne Stuart’s Fire and Ice as well as her House of Rohan series. We did take notice and as we watched for more, we were delighted to see an increase in their romance releases. Tantor majors in Historical and Paranormal romance but they are including more Contemporary romance titles with each passing month. One final note – Tantor releases in both hard copies and downloads.
Brilliance has been into romance audio big time since 2008. In that year, they released 287 romance titles (they must have had a stock of former audio cassette/CD titles) followed by 77 in 2009, 120 in 2010, 75 in 2011, and 85 to date in 2012. Brilliance carries many big time authors – continually – and this is where you will find the likes of Karen Marie Moning, Lisa Kleypas, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Mallery, Julia London, Sherryl Woods, Johanna Lindsey, Catherine Coulter, Fern Michaels, Elizabeth Lowell, and Jennifer Crusie. You get the idea – lots of attention to romance. And now they are mixing up their offerings with the likes of Alexis Harrington, Kendra Elliot, and Sylvia Day – not well-known authors I admit but it demonstrates that Brilliance is chancing it a little more. It’s good to see these lesser-known names included in their Coming Soon lists that have typically been filled by their group of well-known names.
Brilliance is another publisher that pulls from a pool of talented narrators. Although I may not care for a particular narrator’s style, their narrators are usually proven with other performances under their belt for comparisons when shopping. If you didn’t know it before, I’m sure you can now see that Brilliance plays a big part in romance audio.
Brilliance provides their upcoming titles to retail outlets well in advance of the release date and offers both hard copies and downloads.
Recorded Books holds a special place in my romance audio past as they were the gold standard in my early days of romance listening. Offering superb romance titles when few did, I fondly recall many of those early titles including Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Lisa Klaypas’ Suddenly You (this one still isn’t available as a download), Julia Quinn’s When He Was Wicked, Judith Ivory’s The Indiscretion, Jo Beverley’s Winter Fire, and Catherine Anderson’s Phantom Waltz. And remember their rental program? Although the average price of their audiobooks was high ($60.00 to $80.00 best I can recall) you could rent one of their CD or cassette tape copies for a mere $20.00 to $30.00 plus a significant shipping fee. Sounds expensive now (and it was then) but it was the only way to listen to some of their exclusive romance audiobooks (although the hunt for their used copies on eBay was quite the entertainment).
Recorded Books continues to release a large number of romance audios. In fact, they currently release the largest number of romance audios annually with 122 to date in 2012, 148 in 2011, 70 in 2010, 69 in 2009, and 112 in 2008. Their current numbers look to match or exceed their highest count of 148 in 2011. And to that we say, “Yes!”
Although many of Recorded Books’ current authors are unfamiliar to me (a large percentage are relative unknowns), their more recent titles do include books by Mary Jo Putney, Jodi Thomas, Jane Feather, Lori Foster, Kat Martin, Carla Neggars, Linda Lael Miller, Carly Phillips, Amanda Quick, Keri Arthur, and Beverly Jenkins. I strongly suspect that a number of their titles have been sitting in their archives just waiting to be offered as downloads. For example, they recently released the hard-to-find yet treasured Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts – an audio originally released in 1999.
I feared we would see fewer audios from Recorded Books after their announcement in October 2011 that they would no longer be in the Consumer audiobook industry. Fortunately it was just that – they no longer offer books directly to the consumer but they continue to produce mass quantities of audio.
Although their number of romance audios are far fewer than the publishers listed above, Harper releases a great audio product by some of the biggest names in romance. And they are increasing the number each year with 5 or fewer annually before 2009, moving to 13 in 2009, 27 in 2010, 39 in 2011, and 30 to date in 2012. It looks as though Harper relies more on digital downloads these days than hard copies.
Here you will find Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Eloisa James, Rachel Gibson, Julia Quinn, Adele Ashworth, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Elizabeth Lowell, Victoria Alexander, and even the latest Jeaniene Frost. Oh, and I can’t forget to add all those charming Molly Harper/Amanda Ronconi audios.
Although Harper’s romance releases are somewhat limited, I usually find myself admiring their selection – both book and narrator. It’s not unusual to encounter an unknown narrator but I’m seldom unhappy with the choice.
Since 2009, Harlequin has averaged more than 100 romance releases each year. In 2012, we’ve already seen 119. Harlequin’s audio titles are available as downloads – I haven’t seen any hard copies but that’s not to say there are none available. I have yet to find any with pre-release notice. You know those surprise romance releases you see at Audible that you had no idea were coming? Harlequin represents a large number of those titles. Their releases are made up largely of Series titles and more times than not, I don’t recognize the author and/or the narrator (but I don’t read Series titles other than some oldies).
Harlequin has provided us with some great oldie surprises lately such as Anne Stuart’s Tangled Lies and Into the Fire, Linda Howard’s A Game of Chance, and Suzanne Brockmann’s Prince Joe. This is where you find those luscious Charlotte Featherstone audios, Courtney Milan’s Unveiled, Deanna Raybourne’s The Dead Travel Fast, and Anne Stuart’s Black Ice.
I imagine I would listen to more Harlequin audios if I had more experience with their narrators. It does make me wonder if any of their narrators use pseudonyms. If you have a recent Harlequin success, please share it with us. With so many romances coming monthly from this publisher, I’d love to support their efforts more completely.
Show Your Support
There are certainly numerous other audio publishers releasing romance titles but their efforts are far less than the five I’ve highlighted here. To show support, visit their sites and, if you can purchase directly from their site, consider doing so. Request those books you want to see in audio. If you want to email an official contact, I very well may be able to direct you – just ask.
Romance Audio Reviews
We have six audio reviews for you today including Julie James’ Something About You, Jayne Ann Krentz’s Lost and Found, Susan Donovan’s I Want Candy, Kerry Greenwood’s Murder in Montparnasse (a non-romance), Nalini Singh’s Tangle of Need, and Susan Mallery’s Barefoot Season.
Two reviewers with slightly different views on Something About You inspired a dual review by Carrie and Brenda.
Something About You – Julie James
Review written by Carrie and Brenda
Narrated by Karen White
When I read Something About You in print, it quickly became one of my favorite romantic suspense books. It’s a well-crafted novel. Jack and Cameron are both flawed but likable people and while there is chemistry, they don’t fall into bed with each other immediately. Both have reason to be antagonistic (or think they do), but they aren’t vicious people. Despite the tension, Julie James wisely chooses to not turn their believable anger into nastiness. The dialogue is snappy and fun and both characters are intelligent and capable. Instead of being just filler, the secondary characters help move the plot along and liven it up. The amount of romance is just about right and there is no “big misunderstanding” between the main characters to ruin the mood.
Brenda, did you read Something About You in print before listening to the audio version? What were your thoughts on Jack and Cameron’s characters and their resulting romance?
No, I hadn’t read the book in print though it was on my TBR. Jack and Cameron were just the type of characters I enjoy, both self assured and not afraid to stand up for themselves while still willing to bend. That allowed the spark that remained between them to grow into a believable and fun romantic relationship.
Karen White only enhanced my perception of Jack and Cameron. Specifically, I love the attitude and tone she gave Cameron in the beginning when she had a right to be angry. I could hear Jack attempting to keep himself on a leash even though I could hear it slipping. Ms. White caught the humor perfectly – I laughed a lot.
What did you think of the narration? Is this your first time listening to one of Karen White’s performances?
I have listened to one other White narration, Animal Attraction by Jill Shalvis. Unfortunately, her narration of Something About You didn’t enhance the audiobook experience for me. I appreciate her many excellent narrative skills and I understand her popularity. It’s easy to keep her characters’ voices straight and I like how her voice reflects the mood of the character. But with both Animal Attraction and Something About You, I’ve had to work at getting use to the cadence of her voice. She draws out some words, and has a unique style of inflection.
I’m aware that tastes in narrative style varies from person to person and I know you have listened to a good number of White narrations. Since you enjoyed her performance of Jack and Cameron, I imagine Something About You was a success for you. But what was your overall impression of White’s performance this time around?
Since her first romance narration, Julie James’ Just the Sexiest Man Alive, I’ve listened to Karen with a variety of authors and genres and she has consistently caught the “feel” of the story in the same way I do and I’ve always known who each character was by voice inflection or attitude. I find that impressive after five listens outside of the two Julie James. In Something About You, I was struck by White’s very successful effort to deepen her male voice for Jack. It was the first time I heard her do so to this extent and I thought it very effective – he sounded scrumptious. I also like the fact that when the narrative indicates a whisper, she doesn’t lower her voice forcing you to turn up the player (as some narrators are prone to do). You can still tell it is a whisper by how she voices the words. The same thing with a shout – she uses a sound effect that tells you that a character is shouting yet there’s no need to once again adjust the volume.
Overall she knocked it out of the park in my ears. I’ve already listened to it twice and wouldn’t mind starting it all over again right now that I recall how much I enjoyed it.
Your comments about White’s ability to convey whispers and shouts made me go back and relisten to parts of the book and you’re quite right. She does such a good job that I didn’t even notice as the narrative was flowing so well. I feel somewhat nit-picky criticizing the cadence of White’s voice when it’s so easy to see her talent. Could the problem possibly be a regional accent I’m not used to? Or maybe it’s just a difference in tastes, which can be impossible to explain.
Regardless, Something About You is an excellent book, in audio or print. And if the narration isn’t quite my style, there is ample reason to believe Ms. White will knock it out of the park for many listeners.
Lost and Found – Jayne Ann Krentz
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Sandra Burr
I inadvertently purchased the abridged audio version of this 2001 release several years ago. While I generally avoid abridgements, Lost and Found has become a comfort listen. When Jennifer Kierans reviewed the original print version for AAR, she gave it a C. I like the story much more and am particularly fond of Sandra Burr’s narration, despite one minor problem.
Cady Briggs runs a small art consulting business and has recently done a lot of consulting for Mack Easton, the owner of Lost and Found, an art recovery business. While Cady has never met Mack in person she’s completely entranced, and has dubbed him Fantasy Man. They communicate solely through email and phone. It’s Mack’s voice that causes my one problem with the narration.
Early on Cady is speculating about what Mack might look like and thinks of his voice – his fantastic voice – and concludes that no one could live up to such a voice. When I read that for the first time in print, I imagined a man with an incredibly sexy voice (insert your favorite movie star’s voice here). When I listen to the audiobook I expect the same and am surprised every time. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Burr does a wonderful job distinguishing between characters, and the voice she gives Mack is quite good. However, it’s just not a fantasy male voice. I think the abridged version could have been enhanced by leaving out references to Mack’s fantastic voice. He could still be Fantasy Man, just not have a fantastic voice.
It always takes me a few minutes to adjust to Mack’s voice but once I do, I’m caught up once again in both the story and narration. This is one of Ms. Krentz’s pre-paranormal romantic suspense novels and while the villain is relatively obvious, I like the characters and plot so much that it doesn’t matter. Lost and Found is filled with interesting secondary characters and the narrator does a great job distinguishing between them both in terms of gender and age. Whatever emotion a character is feeling, be it fear, panic, surprise, or humor, it always comes through.
I enjoy this narration so much that now that the unabridged version is available at Audible, also narrated by Ms. Burr, I’m considering downloading it to see what I’m missing in the abridged version.
I Want Candy – Susan Donovan
Review written by Melinda
Narrated by Arielle DeLisle
Candace Carmichael is recovering from losing everything to the Florida real estate bust. Back in her hometown, she hopes to get back on her feet then boogie as soon as she can. When Candace reconnects with her old buddy, Turner Halliday, she’s surprised to find she has feelings for him but finds it’s much more complicated than that.
I Want Candy is one of those small town romantic comedies with emotion. Beneath the funny things people say and do are real hearts beating and real human tragedies to overcome. Turner is finally getting over the death of his wife when his feelings for Candy re-emerge; Candy is hiding some truths about her father so deep she doesn’t even remember them.
Narrator Arielle DeLisle sounds a little bit young and raw for this book – she lacks the vocal register that gives older characters as well as males the right flavor. But she’s good with character voices and accents that are passable, and she’s consistent, keeping the characters straight and identifiable. I imagine with experience she will become a better narrator, with more vocal range and better narration skills.
This is a little surprising because her Web site has samples of her voice used for voiceovers and it’s a familiar sound – a strong, well-placed 20-something woman’s voice – probably beefed up a little with the magic of professional sound equipment. Her audiobook voice pales in comparison, no doubt because audiobook producers don’t use reverb and autotune and other voice enhancing tools.
Murder in Montparnasse – Kerry Greenwood
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Stephanie Daniel
This is the 12th entry in the Phryne Fisher mystery series set in 1920s Australia, but it’s the first I’ve read. Normally I recommend starting with the first in a mystery series and reading sequentially, but Murder in Montparnasse worked fine for me as a standalone.
Readers should be cautioned that this is a straight mystery series and not a romance. Phryne has had relationships with three different men in the three books I’ve read so far. These are also rather short books with the first few in the series more novella-length than book-length. However, Kerry Greenwood packs a lot into the books including a host of endearing characters.
The book flashes back and forth from Phyrne’s life in Australia to her experience in France after serving in World War I. In each of the books I’ve read so far, a bit more of Phyrne’s back-story is revealed.
I thoroughly enjoyed the narration. Stephanie Daniel distinctly performs each of the characters and her pacing is spot-on. Phryne is given a very pleasant, slightly English accent (Phryne was born in relative poverty in Australia, but moved with her family to England as a girl when her father inherited property). In the scenes set in France, the characters Phryne interacts with have definite French accents. Throughout, all characters are appropriately portrayed, be it gender, country, or age, and also fit their class in society.
While there is a clear mystery to be solved, the heart of this book lies in the characters. Phryne has a complicated household with two adopted daughters she rescued in an earlier book, a butler (Mr. Butler) and his wife, and a fantastic companion Dot, who Phryne also rescued in an earlier book.
I’m not an expert on Australian accents, but those of the long-time residents Phryne interacts with seemed believable to me. I did have a slight problem with some of the men’s voices. They sound like men but they spoke loudly much of the time.
Until fairly recently, this series was rather hard to come by in the United States. Happily, it’s now available on Audible.com. The minute I finished this in audio, I stopped by my local mystery bookstore and picked up the first book in the series. I have also downloaded – and listened to – several others. I like the series, thoroughly enjoy Ms. Daniel’s narration, and can recommend the series to mystery readers looking for a 1920s series in a different location.
Tangle of Need – Nalini Singh
Review written by Kaetrin
Narrated by Angela Dawe
Book 11 in the Psy/Changeling series, Tangle of Need is Adria and Riaz’s story. Riaz met the woman destined to be his mate, Lisette, in Venice but she is now happily married and he’s returned to the den to lick his wounds and re-evaluate his life. Adria has also come back to the den after finally splitting with Martin – a relationship that left her with many scars. Both are instantly attracted but Riaz doesn’t want to be unfaithful to Lisette and so rejects Adria fairly brutally. However, their attraction is strong and Riaz’s fidelity is misplaced. After a suitable grovel, they start a “friends with benefits” type relationship which eventually morphs into something much more special. But Adria worries if she will always be second best. Since she is not his mate, will Riaz regret his relationship with her one day?
Half of this book is really Kiss of Snow 2.0 as there is a lot of Hawke and Sienna (which I actually didn’t mind), including their mating ceremony. The wider story arc is advanced too with goings-on in the PsyNet and the Human Alliance and Mercy and Riley getting a surprise.
The mate bond (or lack of it in Riaz and Adria’s case) and how it works as well as the PsyNet in general, continues to baffle me a little – I find I understand it better if I don’t think too hard about it. The more I look, the more confused I get, and my brain starts to leak out my ears and my eyes go all crossed.
As far as the narration is concerned, there were frequent times in the listen where Angela Dawe left long pauses between sentences (and not due to scene changes). I also noticed something obvious on audio but not so much in print. There are a lot of loooong sentences. I felt sorry for Ms. Dawe sometimes – how she managed to read it all in one breath was a feat.
Also, I just have to say that email exchanges (especially where there are multiple addressees) don’t translate well to audio. It was tedious hearing the addressee list and the “re: re: re:’s”.
I had hoped that Riaz would have a sexy Andy Garcia or Antonio Banderas type accent but he was voiced with a midwestern U.S .accent. Riaz is of Spanish descent, has worked in Italy for a long time, and speaks Venesian and Italian, so I expected an accent. Many of the males in the Psy/Changeling world sound similar and this felt like a missed opportunity on the narrator’s part (plus, you know, sexy). Hawke’s huskier tones seemed to come and go throughout the listen so I had to rely on dialogue tags when he was speaking to other males.
But, all in all, this is another solid installment in a great series.
Barefoot Season – Susan Mallery
Review written by LinnieGayl
Narrated by Sarah Grace
Leigh gave this a C+ in her full review of the print version at AAR. I liked it a bit more but agree with most of the points Leigh makes about the plot; parts do resemble a soap opera and some are definitely melodramatic. And the romance – what little exists – is very rushed. That being said, the audio version held my attention throughout and I wouldn’t mind taking another visit to Blackberry Island.
Barefoot Season is women’s fiction and the focus is on two former friends, Carly Williams and Michelle Sanderson. The point-of-view switches throughout from Carly to Michelle and the narrator must sustain two very different female voices. Sarah Grace does a masterful job in this respect. While both women have gone through some horrible experiences, Michelle’s experiences and injuries suffered while in the military are more recent and Ms. Grace’s performance reflects this difference. The narrator gives Carly a bit higher, lighter voice while Michelle’s, in addition to being a bit lower, is more harsh and hard, clearly reflecting her emotional and physical distress. Michelle’s voice becomes lower and harsher as she comes to rely more on alcohol over the course of the book.
While I never had problems audibly distinguishing Carly from Michelle, I did, at times, have difficulty when Michelle conversed with a few men while heavily under the influence of alcohol or in serious emotional distress. Fortunately, these occasions are infrequent as most of the book centers on Michelle and Carly. Aside from this problem, I enjoyed Ms. Gray’s narration including her pacing and conveyance of emotions. The primary secondary characters – Carly’s daughter and the cook at the Inn – are also uniquely performed as appropriate for their roles.
This is the first time I’ve listened to a book read by Sarah Grace. While I had a few quibbles with the narration, I clearly enjoyed it as I found myself searching Audible to see if Ms. Grace had narrated any romances. Sadly, I found only two performances and neither was a romance. I hope Ms. Grace does more women’s fiction or romance. I enjoyed her narration a great deal and would like to listen to more.
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Enjoy your listening!
- Lea Hensley