It’s once again time to take a look at the previous twelve months of listening and choose my Top Ten romance audios for the year. Over the past two weeks, I’ve relistened to portions of each of these choices, bringing vividly to life the reasons for their inclusion on this list. I recall my excitement and pleasure as I listened to each of these outstanding releases.
I find I’m no longer a purist when it comes to my romance listening. Oh, I still require a thread of romance or the potential (in a continuing series) for such but my favorites no longer have to feature the romance first and foremost. And this year’s Top Ten is evidence of such with books bordering on women’s fiction, paranormal with future romance potential, or fantasy with overtones of romance.
2012 was a very good year for me as a number of my favorite print authors appeared for the first time in audio or surprised us with their second or third release(s) – Kristan Higgins, Pamela Clare, Julie James, Adele Ashworth, Jennifer Ashley, and Sherry Thomas! And then there were those releases by my go-to audio authors – Karen Marie Moning, Jeaniene Frost, Charlaine Harris, Linda Howard, Nalini Singh, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Elizabeth Hoyt.
1. The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie – Jennifer Ashley
Narrated by Angela Dawe
As that special historical we all long for but seldom see, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is a heart-wrenching yet sexy tale featuring a hero with Asperger’s Syndrome. A hit in print, it was one of my top favorites for 2009. When I discovered that Tantor had scheduled its audio release, I was extremely excited yet wary as that ever-so-picky side of my brain wondered how a narrator could successfully perform a hero with such complexities. I needn’t have worried – Angela Dawe nailed it. With flying colors, I might add.
2. Something About You – Julie James
Narrated by Karen White
Romance audio fans were blessed with three Julie James audios in 2012 and the excitement was high throughout the romance audio community. Julie James easily ranks as one of my top five contemporary romance authors so I already knew the books would be exceptional. Something About You features Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde and Special Agent Jack Pallas who has reason to resent Cameron for an earlier injury to his career. Add to this fiery mix Karen White’s splendid narration (in my mind, Karen became the voice of James in her narration of Just the Sexiest Man Alive) and it was all I could ask for in a contemporary romance.
3.Unlawful Contact – Pamela Clare
Narrated by Kaleo Griffith
Another big gift to romance audio fans in 2012 was the release of Pamela Clare’s I-Team series. As the third entry, Unlawful Contact is my personal favorite in print. Now enhance that experience with Kaleo Griffith’s luscious narration and you’re experiencing some of the best romance listening of the year. It’s heavy on the suspense and even heavier on the sensual scenes but wow, its biggest draw is Marc Hunter. There are few heroes to match that which we see in this hardened man who gently cares for his heroine. Kaleo Griffith understands the romance and, even more importantly, the extremes of Marc’s character.
4. Once Burned – Jeaniene Frost
Narrated by Tavia Gilbert
Talk about eagerly anticipating – I looked forward to Once Burned more than another possible adventure featuring Bones and Cat (easily my number one couple in paranormal romance). Considered the greatest vampire legend of all time, Vlad is a recurring character in the Night Huntress series and now the hero of this, the first in the Night Prince series. I savored every minute knowing this was only the beginning of his tale. Of course, this high ranking of Once Burned rests in no small part on Tavia Gilbert’s narration. She’s one of the best. So, the winning formula here? Take a world I’m already invested in, feature a character I’ve grown to want, add Tavia Gilbert to the mix, and I’m completely enthralled.
5. Catch of the Day – Kristan Higgins
Narrated by Xe Sands
Since Kristan Higgins is one author who repeatedly delivers A reads for me, I once again found reason to be thrilled with the news of another favorite author “coming soon” to audio. I was confident that Xe Sands would deliver it with style and she didn’t disappoint in the least. Catch of the Day is more women’s fiction than romance but I found the romance within entirely satisfying. To fully appreciate this tale, I suggest that you approach it as just that – women’s fiction. Allowing such gives room for one fantastic romantic ending.
6. Beguiling the Beauty – Sherry Thomas
Narrated by Jenny Sterlin
It’s been only a few hours since I finished listening to this surprise December release by Recorded Books. Sherry Thomas is on my A list of print authors – in my eyes, she can’t write just an average romance. Although I missed narrator Virginia Leishman (the narrator of her two previous titles), I settled in, wanting to fully experience Jenny Sterlin, a narrator whose sharp, somewhat haughty interpretation of romance heroes has left me wanting in the past. There are still overtones of that haughtiness but the hero is, in fact, haughty and the narration works beautifully. Ms. Sterlin shines and Beguiling the Beauty’s storyline is simply excellent, as I knew it would be.
7. Winter Garden – Adele Ashworth
Narrated by Heather Wilds
Originally published in 2000, Winter Garden is a highly popular European historical and a personal favorite as well. It contains a sophisticated love story that develops slowly and delivers a surprising yet deeply pleasing ending. I had high hopes when I discovered it on Harper Audio’s Coming Soon list although I was unfamiliar with Heather Wilds. When I started listening, I was a bit disappointed as I prefer “easy to hear” differentiations of characters. Ms. Wilds subtly distinguishes her characters through accents or intonation and once I accustomed myself to her performance, I found her delivery quite good. However, it’s Ms. Ashworth’s writing that wins the prize here with the narration just good enough to make it into the Top Ten.
8. Iced – Karen Marie Moning
Narrated by Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante
Although categorized as paranormal romance, I listened to Iced as a prologue to a romance some years in the future. The heroine is 14-year-old Dani, a character from the Fever series. I doubted my ability to totally enjoy her story but Karen Marie Moning did not disappoint. Oh, I did tire of Dani’s “dude” but it was so minor compared to the non-stop action and cast of intriguing characters. Entering the world of the Fever series immediately after the ending of Shadowfever, Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante continue with their superb narration. In fact, I think Phil G. has improved on his already impressive talents.
9. Deadlocked – Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Joanna Parker
Charlaine Harris’ latest entry in the Sookie Stackhouse series once again makes the Top Ten list. This open-ended series continues to mesmerize me with its fascinating mix of creatures although Sookie remains human (for the most part) even with her gifts. Johanna Parker is the primary reason I love the series although it wouldn’t be possible without the writing – the Harris/Parker audio team is one of the best. It’s entertaining reading in print, I’m sure, but it’s unlikely I’d merely read this series. With such excellent narration, what audio enthusiast would settle for HBO’s True Blood or just print?
10. Running Wild – Linda Howard/Linda Jones
Narrated by Maggie Wheeler
There were a number of audiobooks clamoring in my mind for this number 10 spot. I’ll admit that my recent listen of Running Wild may have influenced my final decision to include it on this list. It’s Maggie Wheeler’s first narration although Audible revealed early on that she is none other than the actress who played Janice (Chandler’s obnoxious girlfriend) in Friends. While I can’t say that either the story content or narration was exceptional, its combination kept me pleasantly glued to my iPod at every available moment. An almost Howard hero who is successful, contrary, authoritative, thoughtful, sexy, and full of attitude when needed, Zeke is an exceptional contemporary western hero. And I’m a big fan of American westerns – historical or contemporary.
This Top Ten list could have easily grown to eighteen if I had included the other 2012 releases by Jennifer Ashley, Kristan Higgins, Julie James, and Pamela Clare. They’re that good. Needless to say, it’s been an excellent year. From what we’ve already discovered about 2013, it looks as though it has the potential to be even better.
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Enjoy your listening!
– Lea Hensley