Speaking of Audiobooks: The Audie Finalists in Romance

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie Last June during June Is Audiobook Month, I penned a complaint here at Speaking of Audiobooks about the Audie Awards and how out of touch they were with the romance listening community. What are the Audie Awards? Sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association, they give recognition to those within the industry for excellence in narration, direction, and engineering. The 2013 awards gala is scheduled for May 30th this year.

Romance listeners in the past have talked very little about the Audie Romance Finalists here at Speaking of Audiobooks and at our Romance Goodreads group. Why pay attention to an awards ceremony that often doesn’t even fill the romance category with books actually categorized as romance? After all, the Romance winner in 2011(The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James) was categorized as general fiction. I understand that the list of romance finalists is not meant to be a statement of romance listeners’ favorites. However, generally those lists (and the winners) haven’t generated many warm fuzzies among the romance listening community.

In 2012, things improved a great deal. Five of the six romance finalists were actually categorized as romance and of those five titles; several were familiar to mainstream romance listeners. J.D. Robb’s New York to Dallas narrated by Susan Ericksen won the Romance category while Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea narrated by Rosalyn Landor took Solo Narration – Female (a big deal for a romance to win a category outside of romance). I rejoiced at the possibility that publishers may be considering audiobooks closer to romance listeners’ hearts. At the same time, I realized that we, as listeners, vote with our dollars. As part of the nomination process, publishers provide marketing information plus sales numbers.

2013 feels like a victory for romance enthusiasts with all five of the finalists falling into the romance category. Tantor leads the pack with two finalists and Brilliance, Hachette, and Audible each claiming one.

2013 Audie Romance Finalists

Don’t Cry for Me – Sharon Sala
Narrated by Kathe Mazur
Audible Inc.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie – Jennifer Ashley
Narrated by Angela Dawe
Tantor Media

Never Seduce a Scot
– Maya Banks
Narrated by Kirsten Potter
Tantor Media

Scandalous Desires – Elizabeth Hoyt
Narrated by Ashford MacNab
Hachette Audio

The Witness – Nora Roberts
Narrated by Julia Whelan

This year I’m listening to all five of the finalists. I chose The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie for my number one 2012 listen in my Romance Audio Bests for 2012 column and I doubt I’ll change my mind on that. I have also listened to the Hoyt and Sala. Next up is The Witness followed by Banks’ historical romance. By the way, Never Seduce a Scot does not include the erotic content Banks is known for.

I think I may just get a little excited this year about the Audie Awards.

Romance Audio Reviews

The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

Narrated by Moira Quirk

Review written by Lea Hensley

Many of us romance audio enthusiasts have longed to see Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Princes Trilogy in audio format. A popular trilogy in print, our wish carried with it an element of trepidation – would the publisher choose a sufficiently talented narrator for the job? Have no fear – Moira Quirk is fabulous.

With The Leopard Prince, Ms. Hoyt treats us to that rarely seen (but longed for) scenario of a non-aristocrat hero tied to an aristocrat heroine – Harry Pye and Lady Georgina Maitland. A wealthy landowner, Georgina employs Harry as her land steward. Unmarried although she is in her late twenties, Georgina is an independent lady with her own ideas of how things should be done. She knows Harry is off limits but can’t help her attraction to him and uses any excuse she can find to be in his presence. Harry, on the other hand, is mightily attracted to Georgina but refuses to be her plaything. He resists. He tries to shut her down. He behaves as society expects. She doesn’t.

With the increased usage of untrained narrators, my fear pertaining to the selection of a narrator for The Princes Trilogy was well founded. But resting in the hands of Hachette Audio, who is known for using seasoned narrators, I had hope and took a step rare for me. I purchased the first in the series, The Raven Prince, immediately upon its release without a word from any of my more adventurous romance audio friends who I often rely on to take that first step into the unknown. Not only was Moira Quirk a new-to-me narrator but she only has ten titles to her name.

Within five minutes, I knew I was listening to a winning narrator but I listened two hours before I started crowing to others about the excellence I was hearing. I’m inspired to use such words as marvelous and stunning when describing Ms. Quirk’s performance. Although she is a relatively newcomer to solo narrations, she not only knows how to perform an entire cast of characters effectively but she also understands the nature of a romance tale. Harry sounds completely sexy and male just as one would expect (with a good dose of hope) in audio. And Georgina’s character is made even more endearing with the narrator’s performance. Ms. Quirk gets Georgina – better than I ever did when reading in print. Not once did I wonder who was speaking. The narration is that good. With the first two entries in The Princes Trilogy, Moira Quirk has moved solidly into my auto-buy narrator list.

Crystal Cove Crystal Cove – Lisa Kleypas

Narrated by Tanya Eby

Review written by Kaetrin

Brilliance had a bit of a blip with Dream Lake, the third book in the Friday Harbor series, replacing Tanya Eby (who narrated the first two books) with Jeff Cummings. I haven’t listened to Dream Lake but I hear it was a fairly tragic experience for romance audiobook lovers. Happily, the blip is over and Tanya Eby is back for Crystal Cove – Justine’s book. I haven’t read Dream Lake either but my memory of Justine from the first two books was that of a fairly tough, earthy woman, very practical and not really looking for a traditional relationship. I think she had a bit of a personality transplant between Rainshadow Road and Crystal Cove. Otherwise my memory is terribly impaired. I liked Justine in both books but she seemed very different to me.

Unlike Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, which was a contemporary romance, or Rainshadow Road, which was contemporary with a touch of magical realism, to me Crystal Cove is best categorized as a paranormal romance (although it is officially a contemporary romance as well). If you think of it any other way, you might be disappointed as the paranormal features strongly in this novel.

Justine is a hereditary witch but hasn’t had much by way of training. She had a falling out with her mother four years earlier over Justine joining the coven. Jason Black is a man without a soul – when he dies, there will be nothing left of him to transcend.

When Jason and Justine meet, there is instant attraction. Even though Jason has a hidden agenda, he quickly falls hard for Justine. Justine takes a little longer to admit her feelings – particularly when she finds out about the “witch’s bane.” There isn’t a lot of courtship; the couple does fall in love very quickly, but what there was, I enjoyed. I could see the how and why, even if I would have liked more of it. I put it down to the truncated time frame of a romance novel.

Since Jason’s mother was half Japanese, he spent time in Japan. There he learned some interesting lovemaking techniques, which he puts to good use. I have only read/listened to Kleypas’ contemporaries for the most part so I don’t know if this is extraordinary, but it seemed to me that Crystal Cove was spicier than her usual – not that I’m complaining in any way.

Tanya Eby is a favorite narrator. I find her voice very pleasing to the ear. Her male characterizations are very good – Jason is described in the text as having a “deep baritone” with “shadows” in his voice and he is voiced exactly that way. Priscilla, Jason’s PA, is from Arkansas and her accent is also as expected from the narrative. Zoe and Justine are clearly distinguished one from another and the older ladies, Sage and Rosemary, are performed distinctly while sounding older as well. I noticed that Ms. Eby adjusts her narration at times in ways that truly enhances my listening experience. For example, there is a point where the text refers to the “dart of a hummingbird” and she speeds up just enough when she reads “dart” and adds some hum to “hummingbird” without going over the top in any way. It is those little things that add so much to the listening experience and make her narrations so enjoyable.

Crystal Cove ends abruptly. I wanted to see a little more of Jason and Justine together (that is a common complaint of mine when I am enjoying a book however!) but otherwise, I can recommend this book as a very sexy romantic paranormal romance, brilliantly narrated. And for some reason, now I want to listen to Nora Roberts’ The Search again.

Heartbreaker – Julie Garwood

Narrated by Tanya Eby

Review written by Carrie

I read Heartbreaker in print a few years ago and thought it was an average, but enjoyable, book. Then about a year ago I listened to Heart of Fire by Linda Howard and was impressed with Tanya Eby’s narration (Speaking of Audiobooks review). When I was offered Heartbreaker to review it seemed like a sure thing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

A killer calling himself the Heartbreaker is stalking a young lady named Laurent. Laurent’s brother is Father Tom, a Catholic priest. Heartbreaker tells Father Tom during confession that he intends to kill Laurent and sends a recording of the “confession” to the police, thus nullifying the seal of confession. Father Tom then contacts his best friend and FBI agent, Nick, for help. Nick moves in with Laurent to be her full-time bodyguard and together, they try to lure the Heartbreaker into showing his hand and hopefully making a mistake.

On this second trip through the book I was struck by the cookie-cutter language Garwood uses to describe her characters. I still like the main characters – I thought both Laurent and Nick were a little different than the usual FBI agent and his charge, but I cringed at some of the descriptions. Instead of showing her characters’ personalities through their actions, Garwood tells her readers how kind, wonderful and helpful Laurent is, and how honorable, good, courageous and loyal Nick is. In fact, the author goes into that kind of description with all her characters. The “old ladies” next door are gruff and nosy, but they’re really just sweeties at heart. The best friend is wise and always understanding. Stephen, the man who wants to bully Laurent into marrying him, is an overgrown spoiled child. The book is full of stereotypes.

Tanya Eby does a good job with the character voices, but how she chooses to emphasis words in a sentence didn’t work for me in Heartbreaker. I’m not sure how else to describe what bothered me. I feel she doesn’t get the characters emotions quite right. Her voice for the killer was a bit too demented at times, making him feel cardboard rather than real. But honestly, I’m not sure Eby is much at fault. Most of the problems are in the weaknesses of the writing, which is more noticeable when listening to the book. Eby, while a solid narrator, isn’t a miracle worker.

The suspense plot in Heartbreaker has an interesting basic concept and a clever twist at the end. There are a few holes and a few unanswered questions, but overall it is satisfying. The relationship between Nick and Laurent has some pluses, as well. Nick’s professional integrity keeps him “hands-off” while Laurent is his official charge, for example. But too much time is spent inside the characters’ heads while they think and rethink thoughts about each other, mostly with incorrect assumptions. While Nick and Laurent play at being in love, they forget to have a 10-minute adult conversation about their true feelings.

About That Night About That Night – Julie James

Narrated by Karen White

Review written by Kaetrin

I was about halfway through About That Night when I realized the suspense was not the main focus of the book and the entire storyline started making a lot more sense. Unlike other entries in the FBI/US Attorney series that carry a feel of romantic suspense (although all are categorized as contemporary romance), About That Night reads more like a straight contemporary romance.

Rylann Pierce is an Assistant US Attorney, newly returned to Chicago after some years in San Francisco. She first met Kyle Rhodes nine years earlier in a bar at the college they both attended. Kyle was attracted by Rylann’s smile but had to work fairly hard to get her to agree to a date. When she finally did, it was not to be – Kyle’s mother is in a car accident and they don’t see each other again until nine years later in a courtroom where Rylann is urging the Judge to modify Kyle’s jail sentence after the events in A Lot Like Love.

Kyle is the infamous “Twitter Terrorist” and for an Assistant US Attorney, this represents something of a problem. Added to that, Kyle becomes a witness for one of Rylann’s cases which means he’s a “no go” zone.

A lot of time is spent setting up Kyle and Rylann’s back stories which means we see less of their developing relationship. At the mid-point of the book, I was wishing the two had more scenes together.

In terms of the narration, Karen White gives Rylann the sexiest heroine voice yet. It’s kind of low with a timbre to it that is not quite husky. Audibly, there’s not a great deal of differentiation between Rylann and Kyle – the difference was very subtle. But between that and the dialogue tags, I was able to follow who was talking all the time. I will say that the Daniela accent grated on my ears. It didn’t sound particularly Brazilian to me – I guess I was expecting more a Penelope Cruz type accent.

I prefer Karen White’s narration when she doesn’t add extra commas to the text. There are many times where a sentence is delivered with an extra pause to add a level of snark, which I don’t think, is native to the book. Rylann and Kyle do trade quips (and that’s the best part of their relationship) but I don’t think it needed any padding. I’ve made this criticism before so possibly it’s just me. But, when there are no extra pauses, I love her narration. I love that her heroines in a series clearly sound different. Jordan (A Lot Like Love) and Cameron (Something About You) and Rylann are all performed distinctly. And Ms. White delivers the zing and the attraction between Kyle and Rylann very well.

Rylann’s turnaround at the end seemed too abrupt for the time dedicated to the setup versus the limited amount of time the couple actually spent together. Therefore, the ending felt rushed to me. I did love Kyle and his future plans – I thought they were clever and realistic. Rylann was fortunate her boss was Cameron though, because involvement with a convicted felon could have been more of a career issue than it turned out to be.

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– continues to grow and now has 485 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley


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03/05/2013 3:22 pm

Lea, I agree with you 100% about Moira Quirk narrating the Princes Trilogy!
I am currently listening to The Leopard Prince and falling in love with Harry all over again…I loved the book when I read it, but now it’s like he is actually in the room! I also like the way she has brought Lady Georgina to life!
I have the first four Maiden Lane books by Elizabeth Hoyt on audiobooks as well, and really enjoyed Ashford MacNab as the narrator…Scandalous Desires is my favorite!! :)


03/04/2013 4:48 pm

I’m dependent on the library for my audiobooks so the only finalist I’m familiar with was The Witness by Nora. Julie Whelan does a very good job. Angela Dawe isn’t one of my favorite narrators having listened to her in NR’s Bed of Roses and Crusie’s Maybe This Time.

In reading the rest of the article, I also enjoy Tanya Eby’s narrations.

But I am on a serious glom in anything narrated by Susan Boyce. She is by far my favorite narrator. I have listened to some books I would never have picked up (Dorothy Garlock and Iris Johansen) and they have become some of my favorite romances to date. I wish she would do more romances or even one of the J.D. Robb books.


Lea Hensley
Lea Hensley
03/04/2013 10:10 am

Thanks LeeF! I have such a good time with our Romance Audiobooks group and, of course, Speaking of Audiobooks.

I’ll be interested to hear if The Madness…. is your number one pick for the Audies.

Reply to  Lea Hensley
03/05/2013 1:20 am

@Lea I dare you not to love The Witness! :)

03/04/2013 8:46 am

I am SO glad that the Audie awards are starting to pay attention! The Witness is up next for me (I already listened to and LOVED The Madness….). I hope to listen to all five nominees by year end.

Thanks for taking the plunge for all of us on The Princes Trilogy. I am going to read all three books again before listening but they are high on my list of what to do with my next three credits at Audible.

When I read the Julie Garwood series that contains Heartbreaker with all of the Buchanan siblings, I enjoyed reading them. However, I don’t think I would find the books on audio to be my cup of tea. I have the same problem with some of Sandra Brown’s books. I’ll be more likely to use my credits for Julie James and FBI/US Attorney series.

You have done such a good job growing the Goodreads group. Thanks for all your hard work!

Reply to  LeeF
03/04/2013 11:14 am

I totally agree with LeeF! I don’t participate much in the discussions but really appreciate what I great job you have done Lea with the audiobook group and the discussions.

I haven’t been listening to as many audiobooks for a a variety of reasons but will be starting again. I am glad that the Audies are getting more in touch with our genre.

Based on your rec I think I’ll go get the Jennifer Ashley book. That was a five star book for me when I read it a couple of years ago and would enjoy hearing it read to me.