Speaking of Audiobooks: June is Audiobook Month

“June Is Audiobook Month” (JIAM) reads like a sentence but it’s actually the name of a month long campaign to enhance visibility, awareness and popularity for audiobooks by directly reaching out to consumers. Sites and blogs celebrating the audio publishing industry are featuring all sorts of giveaways, interviews, chats, reviews, and examples of the sheer excellence that can be found in audio listening.

Since we’re entering the last week of JIAM, I thought it a good time to share with you some of the many events we’ve already seen during JIAM 2013 and some still to be enjoyed this week. Here are a number of blogs and sites that have strongly supported JIAM:

Going Public…In Shorts – a group of 30+ professional narrators, has teamed with Xe Sands’ Going Public to celebrate JIAM 2013 by offering a serialized audio story collection. Project info and schedule page and Posts page – includes links

Book Riot“Listening to Audiobooks Is Cheating” and 7 More Myths About Audiobooks

Devourer of Books We’re Listening Audiobook Week 2013 – Discussions about audiobooks all week long

AudioGalsHear the Talk JIAM Event – a series of six recorded chats among authors Julie James, Pamela Clare, Anne Stuart, Jennifer Ashley and narrators Karen White, Kaleo Griffith, Xe Sands, and Angela Dawe.

my books. My life.a month full of talking about audiobooks or those in the industry

Everyday I Write the Book – a series of interviews with Robert Fass, Karen White, and Anne Flosnik celebrating JIAM.

bookreportermonth-long coverage of JIAM

MissSusie’s Readings & Observationsan interview with Jeff and Susan Dunman of Audiobook Jukebox.

Get Caught Listening

Scholastic Inc. – Let’s Hear It for Audiobooks

OverDriveSales for June Is National Audiobook Month

Be sure to check out these fun and informative events!

Audio Reviews

We have six romance audio reviews for you today including Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, Julie James’ Practice Makes Perfect, Julia London’s Beauty Queen, J. Lynn’s Tempting the Best Man, Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare, and Julie Garwood’s The Lion’s Lady.

Kinsale-FlowersfromtheStorm-shadowFlowers from the Storm – Laura Kinsale

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

Review written by Kaetrin

One of the first books I read when I got back into reading romance a few years ago was Flowers From the Storm. I remember being caught up in heart pounding fear for Jervaulx as he was mistreated in the asylum; of feeling rage on his behalf. I remember being so captivated by the story that I had a book hangover for days and nothing else would satisfy. In fact, I loved the story so much, I didn’t go back for a re-read, just in case the experience could not be matched.

And now, Ms. Kinsale has published the audiobook. She handpicked Nicholas Boulton after a long process to get just the right narrator. And she succeeded. The short version of this review: it is excellent, you should buy it immediately, OMG, Nom nom nom.

Christian Langland, Duke of Jervaulx, is a rake. He’s also clever (in mathematics and other things) and deeply committed to the successful and innovative running of his estates and various business interests. Archimedea (Maddy) Timms is the daughter of mathematician John Timms, a man Jervaulx has been working with regarding “new geometry.” The Timms are Quakers and Maddy is very disapproving of Jervaulx, his (lack of) morals, and his excesses.

Jervaulx suffers a stroke of some kind and is left unable to communicate. Believing him to be an idiot, his family confines him to an asylum. As it happens, Maddy’s cousin runs the madhouse and while working there, she comes across Jervaulx. She discerns that Jervaulx is not mad at all and Maddy becomes his salvation – in more ways than one.

The scenes wherein Jervaulx is struggling to think clearly, to remember words, to try and communicate, were heart wrenching. His frustration, his rage, his humiliation – they were all on the page when I read the book, but they are present in the audiobook in a new and even more compelling way.

Nicholas Boulton is a master narrator and I imagine Flowers from the Storm was a vocal workout. It has a large cast of characters and Jervaulx’s speech changes depending upon his state of health. But if it was difficult for Mr. Boulton, the listener would never know. The listening experience was easy and delicious.

I was able to discern every single character in the book from voice alone. Each male character had a separate and distinct sound as did each of the female characters. Maddy’s voice was a softer tone rather than a higher pitch. If that can be called a complaint, then that’s the only one I have. However, the older women sounded more female to my ears.

I can’t think of many narrators I’ve heard who are able to perform so many distinct character voices. They aren’t just different to one another; they are perfect for each person. Durham is urbane, Fane bluff, John Timms kindly but a little vague, Edward Timms pompous, etc., etc. The characters are superbly realized.

When I first read Flowers from the Storm, I felt such sympathy for Jervaulx that I had little for Maddy by the end. She struggles greatly, torn between her faith and the Quaker lifestyle and her deep and abiding love for the complicated, brilliant Jervaulx. But my heart broke for both characters this time. I felt much more clearly Maddy’s dilemma. Some of it is no doubt due to how my own taste has changed but a good deal of it was due to Nicholas Boulton’s amazing depiction of Maddy. I love this book even more than my first read which earned 5 stars.

The first love scene is particularly compelling as Maddy’s desire for Jervaulx is outweighed by the nevertheless very strong demands of her faith. It is so well performed especially Maddy’s thoughts.

“Stop. Oh Stop. Say stop. But it’s too late.

Too late. Because God forgive me I love thee more than my own life.”

My breath caught and, honestly, it took me a while to get it back. I had to stop what I was doing.

There is humor, romance and angst (oh, the angst!!). The plot is clever – the consequences of Jervaulx’s stroke are far-reaching and affect all of his many retainers, tenants and dependents. There is real tension between Maddy’s deeply held beliefs and the excesses of the beau monde. The manner in which Jervaulx’s stroke is treated, both in the text and vocally, is authentic and moving. In a genre where men always have the most agency, this book is unique in that Jervaulx loses it and has to fight to regain it. And all of that tension was beautifully delivered direct to my listening ear.

It is wonderful. Get it.

Practice Makes Perfect – Julie James

Narrated by Karen White

Review written by LinnieGayl

While I’ve read a number of Julie James’ books in print, this is the first I’ve listened to, and also the first time I’ve read this 2009 release. I liked the story a little more than Ellen who gave it a B at AAR, but truly enjoyed Karen White’s narration. I intended to listen over a period of days but ended up listening to the entire book in one day.

This is another of Ms. James’ books featuring Chicago lawyers, but this time there’s no suspense plot and no FBI agents. Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson are both eighth-year associates in a top Chicago law firm, awaiting a partnership decision. The two have been at war for so long that Payton can’t remember how it started. Ellen notes in her review “The actual plot of this book is rather episodic and loose – at times even farcical. There’s one episode where Payton and J.D. pull pranks on each other that’s a bit over the top, but I did laugh anyway. Mostly it consists of incidents that force Payton and J.D. to work together and help each other.” And that pretty neatly sums up the plot for me as well.

Payton and J.D. maintain a charade of getting along in front of the rest of the firm, giving rise to numerous funny encounters. I love the fake, pleasant voices Ms. White uses when Payton and J.D. run into each other in the law firm and have to pretend to like each other. The phony pleasant tones are perfect.

Ms. White uses a wide range of voices for the book’s characters, and I was never in doubt as to who was speaking. Ms. White gets the personality and age correct for the secondary characters. J.D.’s father sounds like the upper crust, stuffy judge that he is, while Payton’s mother sounds like the ex-hippy she is. And the disappointment each feels in the career path their child has chosen comes through every time they speak.

On paper Payton might not seem likeable: she’s a bright workaholic who is sometimes exhausted, sometimes angry, and often sarcastic. Whatever emotion Payton feels is conveyed perfectly by Ms. White’s narration. I found myself not only liking Payton, but rooting her on.

J.D.’s also bright and a workaholic. Additionally, he’s conservative and chauvinistic, with many characteristics that should make me dislike him. But the combination of Ms. James’ words and Ms. White’s narration made him likeable as well, gradually showing J.D.’s vulnerabilities.

How much did I enjoy this audiobook? The minute I finished I downloaded another of Ms. James’ books, also narrated by Karen White. Since then I’ve listened to two others. If you like Ms. James in print, I think you’ll love this in audio.

Beauty Queen – Julia London

Narrated by Natalie Ross

Review written by Lea Hensley

Over the years I have delighted in both Julia London’s historical and contemporary titles. When it comes to her historical titles, I prefer her earlier books – they seem meatier than her later formulaic tales. But when Ms. London turns to her contemporary voice, I’m rarely disappointed. She has a significant contemporary backlist although the number is confusing as her Thrillseekers Anonymous series is being rereleased with new titles. But each of the seven (out of nine total) London contemporaries I have read (or been fortunate enough to listen to) has rated at least a B read (or listen) – definitely what I consider a go-to author for contemporary tales.

Beauty Queen Beauty Queen, up to this point, has been one of my favorites of the bunch. I have read it three times in print since its original 2004 release and was thrilled to discover that it was being released this month in audio format. The ever-so-reliable Natalie Ross performs so you better believe hero Matt Parrish sounds all male and is performed as written. Ross certainly knows how to get her male characters right. Her heroine Rebecca however, the driving force of this story, left me disappointed. Was it the fact that her character was firmly established in my head after my numerous print reads? Possibly. But I think it more likely that the narrator took another path with Rebecca’s personality. More on that later.

Rebecca Lear comes from money and is the middle of three sisters. She has recently endured a humiliating divorce after her unfaithful husband left her for another woman. A former Miss Texas, it can’t be said that Rebecca holds many job skills other than throwing parties and being the wife to a successful man. Her self-esteem has suffered greatly and she’s devoted to two things – taking care of her young son and self help books. She’s convinced that she must get a job to feel useful. When an old acquaintance running for Lieutenant Governor (of Texas) requests that she join his campaign staff, she sees it as her opportunity to gain job skills while contributing to a larger cause.

Matt Parrish is already working hard on the campaign as the lead strategist. He is a tough litigator with a heart – he’s known to take on the less profitable cases. He’s also known as a man who leaves a trail of broken hearts (or enraged former lovers) as he moves through life. He can hardly believe the beauty queen he must endure for the sake of the campaign. She’s a socialite who knows nothing about the world of politics and the candidate is giving her way too much leeway in the campaign. And she brings her five-year-old son with her to the office!

Beauty Queen is a pure contemporary, hands-down my favorite romance sub-genre. It’s all about the push and pull of the leads’ relationship, their growth as individuals, and their relationships with others. A winning formula – no doubt. And mix that with Natalie Ross – a narrator who gets romance. She once again pulls off a narration that is clearly differentiated with characters you know just by hearing their voice. All appear to remain true to the written word until it comes to Rebecca.

Although she has a rich girl background and that Miss Texas title, Rebecca worked well for me in print as I envisioned a level-headed, considerate woman who is just trying to get on with her life. She’s known as the loving and understanding one in the family who, admittedly, does thrive on perfectionism in her home but things are definitely starting to fray around those edges as evidenced by the growing number of stray dogs who are now pets. Now for the Rebecca I heard performed by Ms. Ross. This Rebecca was rich and used to getting her way. Rather than being earnest in her arguments and reasoning with Matt, she sounded alternately immature or a bit of a “mean girl.” Rather than hearing her clearly written vulnerability and understandable reasons for resisting Matt, the performance hinted at a bitchy spoiled nature. As I have little tolerance for such tendencies, I almost felt as if I didn’t know this Rebecca at times.

I’m not one to complain about narrators laughing along with the written word – I think it works more times than not. Here, Natalie Ross’ use of laughter was too much – distracting from numerous characters rather than adding charm or warmth. In particular, Rebecca’s laugh often sounded empty, adding to the above negative image I was already fighting.

Still, the former beauty queen and the hotshot lawyer is a formula that works very well and Beauty Queen is well performed. But I’ll be returning to this favored tale in print as I prefer my interpretation of the heroine.

Tempting the Best Man – J. Lynn

Narrated by Kaleo Griffith

Review written by Kaetrin

Kaleo Griffith’s name in the narrator slot was enough to make me want to give this a try. And then I found out that the book was an “in love with brother’s best friend” story so I was in. Tempting the Best Man is the first book in the Gamble Brothers series by J. Lynn aka Jennifer L. Armentrout (the brothers are named Chase, Chad and Chandler – seriously).

Madison Daniels has always had a crush on her older brother’s best friend, Chase Gamble. But Chase is screwed up when it comes to women because his father was a cheating cheatypants who catted around with random women right under Chase’s beloved mother’s nose. Chase looks like his father and is terrified he is like his father. And, in a strange way, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. He isn’t a cheater, but in his quest not to hurt any woman, he develops a reputation as a bit of a man whore.

Some five years earlier, Maddy had made a move on Chase but he turned her down and things have been strained ever since. Even though they see each other every day. Every. Day. For five years. They live in the same building and work out in the same gym. Maddy and Chase are both in her brother’s wedding and they are further forced into each other’s company when there is a mix up with the cabins at the winery where the wedding festivities are being held. The celebrations commence some four days before the wedding, with various activities planned leading up to the ceremony and reception on Saturday. All the guests are due to leave on Sunday (we don’t have weddings like that where I’m from). To make matters worse, the cabin Maddy and Chase are stuck in together is the old honeymoon suite, complete with heart-shaped bed.

I felt the reasons keeping the couple apart were fairly thin and made little sense. And, the final conflict was a big misunderstanding, which also didn’t make sense. But, the story was harmless and at times quite fun and sexy and there was definite chemistry between the two protagonists.

I did feel Kaleo Griffith’s Maddy voice occasionally edged uncomfortably toward (but not over) falsetto – but I had just come from listening to Nick Boulton voice a completely different Maddy in Flowers from the Storm so perhaps it was more a case of bad timing. Chase Gamble certainly had the sexy smooth tones you’d expect from a “playa.” The differences in the other male voices were fairly subtle, but there was obvious difference between Chase and Maddy’s brother, Mitch in particular.

The interplay between Maddy and Chase was by turns, humorous, sizzling, and angsty and Mr. Griffiths delivered the right tone exactly each time.

The Haunting(1) The Haunting of Maddy Clare – Simone St. James

Narrated by Pamela Garelick

Review written by LinnieGayl

The print version of this has been in my TBR pile for ages but I decided to wait for the audio version to come out. Big mistake. If not listening for review, I would have stopped in the first hour and turned to the print version. I remain fascinated by this post WWI ghost story that has been compared to some of Mary Stewart’s and Barbara Michael’s gothic romances, but do not recommend it in audio.

Sarah Piper has no friends, no family, and moves from temp position to temp position struggling to survive. Her desperation comes through in Ms. Garelick’s voice, but the age of the voice is all wrong. I had trouble figuring out how old Sarah is initially, as the narrator’s voice sounds anywhere from the late 40s to 60s, and when Sarah calls herself “girl” (as she frequently does early on), it was disconcerting. When Sarah reveals that she’s only 25, I had even more problems with the narration.

Sarah is hired to assist ghosthunter Alistair Gellis. This is no gentle ghost Alistair is after, but a truly mad ghost who suffered horribly while alive. The ghost won’t let men near her, so Alistair needs a female assistant. Ms. Garelick does differentiate between Sarah and Alistair’s voices; my problem is with how she differentiates. In their conversations, Sarah speaks in a very soft voice, while Alistair speaks in a very loud voice, as if every word out of his mouth is of the utmost importance. His voice drew me out of the story so much I was shocked when Sarah develops a fondness for him, and is flattered that other people consider them a couple. I found his voice so annoying that I expected her to be repelled by him.

We soon meet Alistair’s normal assistant, the gruff Matthew Ryder, and his voice is gruff and low, but fortunately Ms. Garelick has Matthew speak in a more normal tone of voice. Eventually, about three hours in, I got so caught up in the story I was able to ignore the narration. It helped that Alistair wasn’t on page as much by that point, because even in the latter portions of the book I could get pulled out of the story by Ms. Garelick’s portrayal of Alistair.

The first portions of The Haunting of Maddy Clare were just painful to listen to. After waiting so long for this to be available in audio, I really wish I’d read it in print. I can recommend the story, but not the audio version.

The Lion’s Lady – Julie Garwood

Narrated by Susan Duerden

Review written by Kaetrin

I’ve read/listened to very little Garwood. That confession might get me kicked out of Romancelandia, I suppose, but there it is. Many of my online friends rate this book as one of their all time favorites, so when I had the opportunity to review it, I decided to take the plunge, partly just out of curiosity.

Brief plot summary: Christina is an heiress whose mother ran away from her evil husband to the American colonies in 1795 or thereabouts. After her mother died (killed by a bear. Really), Christina was raised by the Dakota tribe (who call her their “Lioness”). She returns to London to keep a promise to her mother and there, she meets the Marquis of Lyonwood. Christina’s plan is to avenge her mother and then return to the Dakota. Lyon has other ideas.

Actually, looking back, The Lion’s Lady was fun. The plot is a little over the top and I’m fairly sure it’s not terribly historically accurate (were there white men in the Black Hills of Dakota in the late 1790s? I think not) and there was a lot of Lyon “roaring.” His default was to yell at Christina – at least she yelled right back (I think they are destined for a volatile and passionate HEA).

I think perhaps the narration detracted a little from the story for me. It’s hard to know of course, but I believe I’d have liked it better in print. I don’t remember listening to a Susan Duerden narrated book before and my fellow reviewers here speak highly of her. I certainly thought she did a good job of Lyon’s characterization, but I had some reservations about the way Christina was depicted. On the one hand, Christina was deceptively petite – just about everyone thought she was helpless and incapable. On the other, Christina was handy with a knife, rode horses bareback with superior skill and could probably survive alone in the wilderness longer than Bear Grylls. The voice she was given fit more with the former than the latter. Perhaps that was deliberate. And it may work well for others. But for me, I had trouble reconciling the voice with her character.

I liked this one a lot better than my previous Garwood historical listen, The Bride – I preferred this narration. I’m not sure if it was purposeful and it didn’t always fit, but Ms. Duerden seemed almost to have a burble of laughter threading through her voice for most of the book. It gave me the impression (perhaps wrongly?) that the story wasn’t too serious.

Generally I’m not a fan of stories with people at cross-purposes (it tends to frustrate me) or for characters to feel the need to keep secrets from one another. That might explain why the second half of the story worked better for me – as Lyon came to accept Christina’s secrecy and lies, so did I. There are some very funny parts to the audio and I really enjoyed the fact that Christina and Lyon fell in love early and were exchanging words of love much earlier than the last few chapters of the book.

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

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks is nearing the 550 mark with 539 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley


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Xe Sands
Xe Sands
06/28/2013 12:24 pm

What a wonderful round-up of JIAM links/happenings – thank you! And thanks again for mentioning the GOING PUBLIC…IN SHORTS project – really appreciate you helping to spread the word AND participating yourselves via AudioGals with the lovely Hillary Huber on 6/15 :)

Also love the reviews this post…have heard nothing but excitement over Laura Kinsale making it into audio.

06/25/2013 12:11 am

@LinnieGayl I had a similar experience when I listened to The Haunting of Maddy Clare. I think I would have liked it better in print too.

Anne AAR
Anne AAR
06/24/2013 10:18 pm

I’m glad I clicked the link to Flowers in the Storm. I didn’t realize it is a WhisperSynch title. Because I already own the eBook, I can buy the audiobook for $3.49! That’s not a typo! :o

Reply to  Anne AAR
06/24/2013 10:35 pm

That is SUCH a bargain! I hope you enjoy it Anne :)

06/24/2013 8:14 pm

Thanks for the great links, I’m looking forward to using them to find more great books/narrators. I get my audiobooks from the library as I rarely find myself interested in re-listening. I have access to libraries in 4 out of the 5 boroughs of NYC, so you’d think I wouldn’t have a problem finding books. Yet when I use the reviews in each new “”Speaking of Audiobooks”” column to try to locate new titles, the libraries rarely have them. For example – they only have a couple of Xe Sands or Angela Dawe and rarely have a complete series (2 out of the 5 of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate). The last two J D Robbs are only available on CD instead of as downloads which makes for slower turnover from one patron to the next. Does anyone have any suggestions as to where else I might be able to borrow audio books? Thanks!

Lea Hensley
Lea Hensley
Reply to  Rachel
06/24/2013 8:52 pm

I know you can request audiobooks from other libraries through your own library – some sort of intra-library loan. I don’t know much about it. There’s also a place or two online that rents audios for a price. But buying through Audible for around $12 a book costs only slightly more than those programs.

I do know that a number of the books we discuss are only available in digital format which inhibits library usage. It’s quickly evolving so I think it likely that we will see more digital books available for loan. Wish I had more answers for you but I do think asking your library to borrow from other libraries for you is the best solution I know of.

Reply to  Lea Hensley
06/25/2013 8:54 pm

I have to email my libaraies as there is no obvious link to request a digital/audio inter-library loan. I think part of the problem may be that the libraries both use OverDrive, and in searching on OverDrive’s site a lot of the books are not listed. Does anyone know why this might be?

suzanne atkins noll
suzanne atkins noll
06/24/2013 5:26 pm

Thanks for the great entry and interesting links! Just finished listening to Tempting the Player, which was fantastic, more emotional and nuanced than the print version.

Lea Hensley
Lea Hensley
Reply to  suzanne atkins noll
06/24/2013 8:44 pm

Oh – another of Kaleo’s narrations! I haven’t listened to a book in the Gamble Brothers series yet so I’m paying close attention. Did you also listen to Tempting the Best Man? Wondering which you liked best if so…

06/24/2013 3:53 pm

I just finished listening to Lion’s Lady and Practice Makes Perfect and I loved both audiobooks. I have read both of the stories in print but truly appreciated the narrators’ abilities to bring the characters to life. Great listens!

Lea Hensley
Lea Hensley
Reply to  Renee
06/24/2013 8:40 pm

I so admire Susan Duerden’s talents but haven’t listened to Lion’s Lady yet. However, I have listened to Practice Makes Perfect, a print favorite of mine that I have read at least three times. It’s my favorite James title as well. I absolutely love how Karen White brings her characters to life!