Speaking of Audiobooks: Top Ten 2013 Romance Listens

FFTS and MM -final coversAlthough we’re seeing the audio romance section over at Audible brimming with unknown authors and narrators these days, it’s an indication that romance audiobooks are more popular than ever and the number of quality titles is on the rise as well. 2013 offered the best selection yet of highly entertaining, exceptionally written and performed audiobooks. My Top Ten List could easily number twenty-five.

When choosing the year’s Top Ten romance titles, it goes without saying that the author’s writing and the narrator’s performance are the most influential factors. With the proliferation of home studios, production plays a bigger role each year as those who take the time to give us a seamless listen without awkward corrections, noisy intakes of breath, or poor sound quality deserve recognition as well. And although all of these elements were taken into consideration when making my selections, there’s another dynamic that sometimes comes into play and overrides all the others – it’s that sense of being swept away – a gut feel that tells me “This was a perfect listen for me.”  Here’s hoping that my Top Ten Listens will provide you with the same. Continue reading

Speaking of Audiobooks: November 2013 Audio News

DeadlineWe have general romance audio news today as well as an announcement from AAR. We also have something new for Speaking of Audiobooks – sound clips from several promising audios.

Speaking of Audiobooks Review News

You know all those audiobook reviews you have seen in the Speaking of Audiobooks columns through the years? There are hundreds and we have mourned the inability to search or even find a listing of those reviews we know are there but are seemingly just out of our reach. Oh, they are all still there, tucked away in a Speaking of Audiobooks column somewhere. Well, the good news is – things are a-changing.

Slowly but surely, we are moving those audio reviews into AAR’s review database. As with any review of a print book, you can now go into the Power Search and search by author or title. You can also choose to view our entire selection of audiobook reviews – select Audiobook under Book Type and it will bring up all audiobook reviews ordered by most recent. Right now there are 61 reviews but we will have more than 300 from the past 4 ½ years when we have transitioned all over to the reviews database.

In many of those reviews, you will find more information than that which was included in the original Speaking of Audiobooks review thanks to a number of audio reviewers, both past and present, who have volunteered to provide an overall grade, separate grades for narration and content, and sensuality ratings for a good number of their past reviews. On all audio reviews, you’ll find the length of the audio and prices for both hard copies (if available) and Audible.

Future Audio Review News

And more big review news. We are now writing new audio reviews and publishing those right along with AAR’s print reviews. Regularly, you will see audiobook reviews mixed in with print reviews six days a week in our New Reviews area.

Our audio reviewers at this time are LinnieGayl, Caz, and myself. Our first new audiobook review ran this past Saturday – Caz’s review of Laura Kinsale’s My Sweet Folly. Each column, I’ll provide links to audiobook reviews published since the last column. All reviews included in the current and future Speaking of Audiobooks column are written by me – Lea Hensley and will be shorter in length than the general audio reviews. These SOA reviews will be added to the reviews database after each column runs.

Coming Soon Audio Reviews

Although we have around 25 audio review titles in the works at this time, here are a few you will soon be seeing:

RealClare, Pamela – Striking Distance  Narrated by Kaleo Griffith

Evans, Katy – Real  Narrated by Charlotte Penfield

Heyer, Georgette – Sylvester (unabridged)  Narrated by Nicholas Rowe

Kinsale, Laura – Shadowheart  Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

Milan, Courtney – The Duchess War  Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Shalvis, Jill – Always on my Mind  Narrated by Annie Greene

Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project  Narrated by Dan O’Grady

Willig, Lauren – The Passion of the Purple Plumeria     Narrated by Kate Reading

 

Sound Clips – a Welcome Addition to Audio Reviews

As romance listeners, we want to hear interaction between the hero and heroine in sound clips yet, that’s rarely the case. Since Audible’s sound clips typically feature the first few minutes of an audio, we usually hear the intro to one of the characters or the prologue. Starting with today’s Speaking of Audiobooks column, we’re offering a few sound clips you won’t find at Audible. Each will contain that hero/heroine interaction and hopefully help you decide if a particular audio is of interest to you.

We’re featuring all male narrators today (it just happened that way – not purposefully): Stephen Lang – narrator of Sandra Brown’s recent Deadline, Kaleo Griffith – narrator of Pamela Clare’s Defiant, and Nicholas Boulton – narrator of Laura Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart and My Sweet Folly.

Deadline – Sandra Brown

Narrated by Stephen Lang

I’m a big Sandra Brown fan who eagerly anticipates each of her new releases while relistening to my Brown favorites to keep my bouts of Brown fever at bay. Not only can I rely on another entertaining romantic suspense each year, but I rest in the knowledge that her new title will be released simultaneously in print and audio formats with the audio featuring an experienced talented narrator. Stephen Lang adeptly delivers Deadline with all the suspense one could hope for while paying homage to the romance within.

Dawson, a well-known journalist who has just returned from Afghanistan, overwhelmed and still suffering from his experiences there, follows a close FBI contact’s suggestion that he cover the presumed murder case of a soldier who looks to be the biological son of infamous terrorists. Amelia is the dead soldier’s wife and mother of his two children. Their romance builds slowly and believably as each discovers Amelia is being targeted – someone wants her dead. Deadline is more romantic that Brown’s other more recent releases and provides complete satisfaction in more ways than one. Aside from some noticeable production issues, Lang’s narration combined with Sandra Brown’s storytelling is a complete winner. My grades – an A- for narration and an A for content. Sensuality: Warm

The following sound sample features one of Dawson and Amelia’s first encounters.

 

 

Defiant – Pamela Clare

Narrated by Kaleo Griffith

The third in the Mackinnon’s Rangers series, Defiant delivers an above average American Historical tale set during the French and Indian War. To better visualize this time frame, think Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans. Although I see Lewis as Iain (the hero of Surrender), the action and politics seen in that movie are present as well as cruel treatment from a Native American tribe – this time the Shawnee.

At times, it’s tough to listen to Connor and Sarah’s experiences with the tribe (and it reminds me of Clare’s Ride the Fire) but the bigger story lies beyond those trials. Pamela Clare doesn’t write wallpaper historicals and Defiant is rich with historical facts blended with tender romance. Kaleo Griffith, narrator of Ms. Clare’s audiobooks to date, continues to bring to life these engaging tales with easily distinguished characters while imbuing each scene with the appropriate tension, humor, and attention to tenderness – an absolute requirement for this at-times heart wrenching tale. Grade: Narration – B+ and Content: A.  Sensuality: Hot

Our sound clip features one of those tender scenes between Connor and Sarah.

For My Lady’s Heart – Laura Kinsale

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

I was hesitant to listen to For My Lady’s Heart as I read that it contained (horrors) Middle English. I want my listening to be easy but the lure was strong with all the highly favorable comments I was reading and … it’s a Medieval, a sub-genre I thoroughly enjoy. And that Middle English? I barely noticed it after hearing the first bit of dialogue as the author seamlessly blends the more archaic language into the overall text.

Nick Boulton, a stage actor more than a little familiar with Shakespeare, delivers it all with such great skill that I only thought about the beauty of the story, it’s complex characters, and the sheer intrigue Kinsale’s words convey. Facing a difficult heroine once again (Prince of Midnight featured such a heroine as well – an A listen for me), I didn’t run away as is my tendency. I have learned that in the hands of this author, it will work for me. I’m sure I’ll accept her character well before the story’s end and appreciate its inclusion. My grades – A+ for narration and A for content. Sensuality: Warm

Here’s a taste of what is waiting for you in For My Lady’s Heart:

My Sweet Folly – Laura Kinsale

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

Folie (Folly) is quite simply an endearing heroine. A widow and responsible yet loving stepmother, she’s faced the difficulties in her life with great aplomb. She’s paired with what can best be described as a challenging hero who, while at times seems the ultimate in kindness and consideration, can also appear a bit unhinged and downright difficult.

Nick Boulton, once again, gives an outstanding performance and helps the listener understand Robert’s trials and uncertainties. I have learned that Laura Kinsale’s books usually contain an arduous character or plot element that I must accept fully while trusting her to turn it around and deliver an excellent tale in the process. My Sweet Folly is no exception and I reveled in the mystery surrounding Robert and his relationship with Folly that starts so innocently and beautifully only to veer way off the beaten path. In her audio review, Caz gave My Sweet Folly an overall B+ grade. My grade is higher – an overall A with an A+ for narration and an A- for content. Sensuality: Warm

This sound clip features one of their more challenging conversations – Nick Boulton gets every nuance and performs each character even better than my mind can envision:

 

Romance Audiobook News

Linda Howard

Dare we hope to see her unpublished (after 1986) audio titles soon? In particular, we are talking about Duncan’s Bride and her Kell Sabin series, which includes Midnight RainbowDiamond BayHeartbreaker, and White Lies.

Well, Midnight Rainbow is scheduled for release on December 1st by Dreamscape Media! I’m smiling but concerned about the choice of unknown narrator Brenda Sweeney. I was hoping for one of the audio industry’s best narrators with this Linda Howard jewel. Let’s hope Brenda Sweeney fits that bill.

All Through the Night BockwayConnie Brockway

Connie Brockway’s All Through the Night will be released in audio format on November 19th. We are hoping this is an indication that her entire backlist will soon be released in audio format as her debut novel, Promise Me Heaven, is also being released on the 19th. Both are narrated by Alison Larkin, she’s well-known and trusted. Fingers crossed for more audio releases.

The Lost Suzanne Enoch Audios

For a couple of years, we have talked about Suzanne Enoch’s five lost audiobooks originally released by Harper Audio, specifically:

The Rake

London’s Perfect Scoundrel

England’s Perfect Hero

Always a Scoundrel

The Care and Taming of a Rogue

This is (and was) especially significant news since the highly talented Tavia Gilbert narrates these lost titles. Released in 2011, these audios were available at Audible for a matter of only months. We discovered in February 2012, that the audios had disappeared. The search was officially on at our Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group and Tavia jokingly referred to it as The Goodreads Disappearing Audiobooks Smackdown Possee.  Well, we have news! Tavia reported on October 21st that Harper had confirmed their rerelease of these titles sometime this fall. In fact, two are already available at Audible – The Rake and London’s Perfect Scoundrel. You’ll also see Ms. Enoch’s newest series, Scandalous Brides, (released in 2012-2013 by Tantor) with Anne Flosnik narrating.

Laura Kinsale

For those of you who have been waiting for For My Lady’s Heart or wondered what happened to it, it is now available at Audible once again. Audible inadvertently left Chapter 14 out of the audio and had to remove the book. Replacement took weeks causing listeners to ask in frustration “Where did it go?!” Surely there is a better way than to just remove an audio in such a situation (the same happened with Pamela Clare’s Surrender earlier this year although it was Tantor making the changes).

Nora Roberts’ Whiskey Beach

Brilliance released Whiskey Beach earlier this year with Peter Berkrot narrating. The reviews were mixed but apparently caused concern for Brilliance as they rereleased Whiskey Beach in October with a new narrator – Luke Daniels. Apparently, there were complaints about Berkrot’s narration and action was taken. Reviews are also mixed on Daniels’ performance. I noticed that the unabridged MP3 CD at Amazon still includes Peter Berkrot as narrator while the abridged version names Luke Daniels as the narrator as does the Audible unabridged version. Confusing as that is, we must applaud Brilliance for their move – they responded to listeners’ complaints.

ALS AuctionThe Fight Against ALS

The audio community is rallying around one of their own, Bob Deyan, who is battling ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). His company, Deyan Audio, has probably produced at least one if not dozens of the audiobooks you have listened to. In support of his battle and to help him raise money to research ALS, two fundraisers are planned – one a live 24-hour read-a-thon in Los Angeles and the second, an online auction of unique audiobook related items. The online auction is currently underway. The flyer to the right will direct you to the online auction. If you want to know more about the read-a-thon or Bob’s story, visit here.

Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page 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.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks keeps growing and now has 629 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.

Enjoy your listening!

-       Lea Hensley

 

Speaking of Audiobooks: Bits of Audio News

Kinsale-FlowersfromtheStorm-shadow(1) Quality versus Quantity

With more and more romance audiobooks flooding Audible these days, it’s not all that easy to locate those audios that may be of particular interest to you. Just two years ago, the romance audio pickings remained slim with proven narrators performing the majority of titles. As with the eBook market, I imagine most readers/listeners understand that increased selection doesn’t necessarily mean increase in the number quality titles.

Of course, with this tremendous increase in audio titles, it only makes sense that there is an increase in the need for narrators as well. Unfortunately, this also means publishers are looking for the most affordable way to bring those narrations to their doorstep and home studios provide them with such. Combine an untrained narrator with a home studio with no director, and the consumer pays the price of an unsatisfactory listening experience.

The result? The percentage of overall quality narrations has decreased with untrained narrators performing not only those numerous new-to-us authors but also well-known authors with backlists just now releasing in audio format. Since successful audio purchasing requires the combination of a talented author (who speaks to you) and a gifted narrator who effectively delivers, it’s more challenging than ever to find these winning combinations. Fortunately, Audible provides an easy return service. If an audio isn’t working for you, return it and state your reason.

Keeping this in mind, Speaking of Audiobooks will now mention a few titles each month that should prove to be exceptional while cautioning listeners on a number that may prove to be disappointing. I hope you will join in and share with us those that are exceptional listens or utter disappointments. Continue reading

AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Lea’s Picks

keeperofthedream As I’m sure a number of other AAR reviewers discovered when choosing their Top Ten Favorite romance books, it’s not an easy task. I whittled my list down to twenty and realized some of my absolute favorites still had to be marked off the list. I wondered, should I include those ultimate favorites from ten years ago when I was most passionate about the romance genre? Or, now that my tastes have evolved, should I choose newer discoveries that more closely match my tastes today? And since I listen to so many audiobooks, how could I keep those with excellent audio deliveries from influencing my choice of print books? Not easy. But then I realized just how much my Top Ten audiobooks list would differ from those books available in print format only and decided to not mix the two. I’ll save my list of top audiobooks for a Speaking of Audiobooks column.

As I reduced the list to only ten books, I decided to include a number of romances that were A+ reads years ago and a number that are my first choices today. After painfully marking a good number of extremely good, completely satisfying reads off the list, here are my Top Ten Favorites in no particular order. Continue reading

AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – Heather’s Picks

paradise When you’re a voracious reader, picking a top 10 is a daunting task. There are so many books that I’ve loved and in many different ways or for different reasons. Some may be because they’ve brought me to a particular sub-genre. Some I’ve loved perhaps because they struck the right note for me for where I was emotionally at the time I read them. And some are on my favorites list just because they have that certain je ne se quois that causes me to connect with the story and characters. Whatever the reason may be, AAR has brought me fantastic recommendations for many years thanks to the wonderful community of reviewers, pollsters, commenters, and visitors to our message boards.

My highly scientific method of decision-making consisted of going through my reading log and if a book made me squee with delight, I short listed it. Then I began the arduous task of narrowing down my choices to ten. My choices represent a variety of genres and styles, but all have become favorites of mine in some way. There are some glaring omissions, notably due to the fact that there are no medievals on my list, and a few favorite authors, while I consistently enjoy the books they produce, did not make the cut.

And so now it is time for me to pick my favorite children, er, books. Gosh, this is harder than it sounded at first. Continue reading

AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites: Cindy’s Picks

Hi, I’m Cindy, I have been doing AAR Reader polls with LinnieGayl and Lee for the last 7 years, and now I help with the updating of the Special Title Listings with Rike and LinnieGayl. It would be fair to say I love reading lists, my favorite lists being AAR Readers’ lists of favorite books. Now, ask me to rank my favorite romances and I freeze up. But I’ve learned from the best how every list created by a reader may have some caveats attached. I loved reading Jenna and Maggie’s lists because each came at it in different ways. Jenna took Pride and Prejudice off the table – it is just her very favorite book, it’s a classic and almost always ends up on a reader’s top romance ballot, so she posted it as a given. Maggie spoke of the books that created a journey to her reading preferences today and she mentioned the very first series book she read that would be considered an emotional favorite but left it off her final list.

In listing my favorites I originally made the rule that no author could be on the list more than one time. It forced me to think in a different way. Ask me to list my top 10 favorite Anne Stuart books and it would be agonizing, but to only allow one book made me look for the very best of each author’s work. I then promptly broke my rule because one author surprised me and showed me she could make any situation work. And finally, knowing this list wasn’t etched in stone helped me to move forward because I know tomorrow I can change my mind. With that, my list: Continue reading

Speaking of Audiobooks: It’s All Reviews – March 2013

It Must Be Love It’s time for another All Reviews column here at Speaking of Audiobooks. Six audiobooks are up for review including Rachel Gibson’s It Must Be Love, Pamela Clare’s Breaking Point, Julie Garwood’s The Secret, Jayne Ann Krentz’s Dream Eyes, Diana Miller’s Dangerous Affairs, and Maya Bank’s Rush.

It Must be Love by Rachael Gibson

Narrated by Rebecca Tripp

Review written by Carrie

I’ve read all Gibson’s books and was excited about listening to It Must Be Love on audio. I’m pleased to say the narrator is a win, but certain aspects of the plot make the book less enjoyable than I remembered.

Gabrielle, our heroine, mixes herbal remedies and essential oils and talks about auras and karma. She meditates and chants and attempts to find her peaceful center. The street festival in our local university town would be an ideal place to find Gabrielle, and perhaps that’s also true for Boise, Idaho where the book is set. While many of the beliefs Gabrielle espouses are still quite popular, the New Age phenomenon was much more prominent in pop culture when the book was published in 2000. Continue reading

Speaking of Audiobooks: Untrained Narrators? I’m Not Interested

There’s a new trend sweeping the audiobook industry and it’s the frequent use of untrained narrators. Narrators who are more likely to take away from the audiobook experience rather than add to it. It’s a trend that I hope will simply spend itself and go away, but one which I’m afraid is here to stay. I can only assume that somewhere along the line, the decision to use untrained narrators (with lower pay) translates into the ability to produce more audiobooks. But in the process, an invisible price is paid as the listener’s trust slowly erodes. How many listeners will continue to buy audiobooks (or even use the library) if the experience is less than enjoyable? It’s not only a waste of the listener’s money but their time as well.

Fortunately, there are still a number of audiobook publishers who choose to use well-trained narrators for the majority of their releases. As we often see expressed here at Speaking of Audiobooks, listeners develop a trust relationship with narrators, so much so, that listeners are known to follow narrators as well as authors from one audiobook to the next. Continue reading

Speaking of Audiobooks: Historical Romance Audio News

It looks like 2013 will be one of the best years yet for historical romance listening with many popular print books finally scheduled for audio release.

Julie Garwood
It starts this month with the release of Julie Garwood’s The Secret, a book that has made every AAR Top 100 Romances Poll since it started in 1998. It’s classic Julie Garwood and one many recall from their early days of romance reading with its original 1992 publication date. And it is being narrated by one of my favorites for historical romance – Susan Duerden.

Brilliance has scheduled the majority of Garwood’s backlist (that is not already in audio format) for release in 2013. A month ago, we saw the release of Prince Charming (Rosalyn Landor) with projected release dates for: Continue reading

Speaking of Audiobooks: Audible’s New Coming Soon List, Preordering & More!

Here at Speaking of Audiobooks, we have bragged on Audible in the past, encouraged others to give Audible a try, alerted listeners to Audible specials, and followed Audible’s romance releases day by day – reporting back to fellow listeners, both here and our affiliated Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group, those unexpected releases we know will cause excitement. And we have wondered out loud many times just why Audible doesn’t provide a comprehensive Coming Soon list for all genres and romance in particular.

Well, change is a coming. A few months ago at Audible, I started noticing a few future releases (with preorder ability) tucked in a corner here and there if the book was part of an ongoing series. Good. Then I noticed Audible had increased their Coming Soon section on their Home Page with the ability to sort by genre. Better. And then I realized you could preorder those Coming Soon titles. Even better. Continue reading