Lover at Last by JR Ward

 Audiobook narrated by Jim Frangione 

With 16 hours invested in this audiobook that runs 22 hours and 22 minutes — I’m outtie. A few reasons why.

Ward has really lowered the bar on what qualifies as “tortured hero” for this new woobie generation. When you consider that Z was chained down, raped, and beaten for hundreds of years and that V’s daddy was the Bloodletter and his mommy the cruelly insane you-know-who, Quinn’s anguish over his unpleasant (yet imminently survivable) childhood in the lap of luxury is almost laughable. Quit your whining, boy!

Each of the original brotherhood vampires has a BIG backstory. They are full-blown ancient badasses worthy of their own books. Quinn and Blay are drama llamas — self-obsessed new adults. Yawn. No wonder there’s so much filler.
 
I lost track of the huge cast of new characters and story arcs stuffed in this book. I could not have been less interested. In fact, listening to it was a very effective sleeping pill.
 
My inner nitpicker went into overdrive but I won’t bore us all with the details. So much wrongness. The good news is that I’m finally done with future releases in this series. I’ll happily reread the good ones. The excellent entries are books 1-5 and 8. It’s hard to understand how a writer working within the world she created and with her own characters can be so uneven. 
 
Narrator Jim Frangione reads rather than performs and he did his usual Yeoman job as he has with the entire series. Although I thought I heard him occasionally sounding distracted or bored here; or maybe that’s just me projecting my feelings.
 
I have to grade Lover at Last a D. Jim Frangione’s narration rates a B-.

Own the Wind by Kristen Ashley

Audiobook narrated by Angela Starling

I’ve eaten up quite a few books by a Kristen Ashley (including this one) so I knew what to expect — over the top sexy biker dudes and their old ladies, the drama, the lingo, the overall crazy, the sex. Ashley is an enormously popular author for good reason. She knows how to deliver the the whole package.

So I’m wondering why this plum package was entrusted to a new and inexperienced narrator. Angela Starling is no better than adequate. Specifically, she does not differentiate between characters at all. Her male voices all sound just alike as do her women. No. No. No. Smooth-talking Shy is read in a staccato monotone in obvious contradiction to book Shy.

Ashley’s books are hero-centric and a narrator who fails to get that isn’t up to the job. Audiobook narration requires its own skill set and I hope the day arrives soon when producers realize they can’t stick just anyone in a booth and hope for the best. 

Ashley’s book is a hoot and I call it an A. Narrator Starling came thisclose to ruining it. She gets a D and a lump of coal. I doubt I’ll listen to Own the Wind again or buy the next one. Too bad.

The Darkest Hour by Maya Banks

Audiobook narrated by Harry Berkeley

I was in the mood for a rip-roaring jungle rescue romance and I thought that’s what I was buying. Sadly, that’s not what I got. The first hour or so was promising with a band of extreme commandos rushing in to save the day and I wondered if I’d been wrong in avoiding Banks’ popular romantic suspense series. (The sharing and caring Colter brothers erotica — yurk.) But all too soon the story congealed into mawkish goo once the Kelly clan completed the actual adventure part of their big adventure.

I know that authors write formulaic books because those books sell well. But the cliches in this book are so worn out that I have a mental image of Banks selecting interchangeable tropes from a drop down menu in constructing her book. Here’s what she picked:

* Idealized small town
* Adorable mom and dad to litter of hunky military black ops brothers
* Helpless, fluttery heroine in need of rescue
* Amnesia (yes! amnesia!)
* Protective warrior brothers suffocating and stifling the little woman

But wait! There’s more! Banks proves that just because an author uses well-worn banalities, that doesn’t mean she’ll get it right. For example, after the boys rescue Rachel and swear they’ll protect her with their very lives, they’re careless enough to let the bad guys get to her and do her harm on three (3!!!) occasions. What kind of superhero is that inept? Hero Ethan is a patronizing jerk right up to the very end, although he’s right about his brothers wanting to do his wife. It’s creepy how all the brothers drool over Rachel while infantalizing her. Run, Rachel, run.

So why did I finish it? Narrator Harry Berkeley makes these guys sound so much better than they are. While listening to his sexy, gravelly voice I kept forgetting that I didn’t like the book — at all. How’s that for a narrator win?

Banks’ erotica leaves me cold and now her romantic suspense. Nice cover, though.

Grade D for a disappointing book and an A for Harry Berkeley’s heroic narration.

Knight Awakened by Coreene Callahan

Audiobook narrated by Susan Crowley

The promise was there and there were some spectacular moments but this book never came together the way a book should. It read like a series of blackout sketches that left me feeling punked. Add in the nonsensical “history” and the author’s penchant for referring to her characters by different name and allowing them unchecked navel gazing plus hour after hour of irrelevant detail — all of which should have been cut by half — and I’m not a happy listener. I never thought I’d wish for an abridged audio but I sure did with this one. I can’t figure out why the author bothered to provide a 14th century date since this is straight up fantasy complete with magic and dragons. There wasn’t even a wink and a nod given to historical accuracy; every character speaks in 21st century slang.

While I liked a lot about Susan Crowley’s narration, the text kept getting in her way. Excessive repetition is even more annoying when read out loud. The phrase “nape of her neck” is clearly one of the author’s favorites as it seems to appear thousands of times and hearing it over and over again stepped on my last nerve. By the way, we have only one nape and it’s “of” our neck. It is analogous to saying “nose of her face” or “fingers of her hand.” And while I’m nitpicking, every time I heard the heroine’s name Afina my brain heard a mispronunciation of Athena. Was the hero’s name Xavian or Ram? And I have to mention one of my top ten romance novel pet peeves: the sheltered virgin who instinctively knows how to give a world class blow job. Please. Knight Awakened is the first in a paranormal series published by Amazon’s Montlake digital imprint. Montlake gave the series a big PR push when they should have given it a ruthless editor. It’s bloated and lacks continuity and coherency. Too bad because the author is an imaginative storyteller. Grade D for a book that coulda been a contender and grade B for a narrator who enhanced it as well as she could.

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Deadly Heat by Cynthia Eden

Audiobook narrated by Justine Eyre

As someone who came to romance through romantic suspense, I’m predisposed to love a firefighter and an FBI agent on the trail of a murdering arsonist. Sadly, my niggles with Deadly Heat started (very!) early and rapidly grew into festering pustules of disbelief and dread that it was going to get worse. It did.

Charlottesville, Virginia firefighter Lora Spade, cavalierly disregarding pesky chain of command, takes it upon herself to call in the FBI because she alone is convinced that a serial arsonist is preying on her town. The FBI, inexplicably, responds with blinding speed (as if POTUS had called), sending in top brass and crack special agent Kenton Lake and team to save the day. Lora and Kent are seized with instant lust, indulging in erotic fantasies at the most amazingly inappropriate moments; for example they’re thinking the sex thoughts while trapped in a burning building and again (my favorite part) over a crispy corpse on the autopsy table. Nothing stops these two bunnies from their mental lusting. Problem is that it was jarring — not organic at all — and I could not stop my eyes from trying to roll out the top of my head. Within hours of their first meeting they lay it all out in a conversation that goes something like this: ‘You’re hot and I want to fuck you.’ That pretty much set the tone for the romance part of the program.

Aftershock by Jill Sorenson

Audiobook narrated by Piper Goodeve

I’m a thriller fan from way back and the thriller aspect of Aftershock is well-constructed, taut, suspenseful, and, well, thrilling. Being buried alive under a collapsed freeway with a bus full of violent felons isn’t exactly a stroll through Disneyland. I like that the earthquake occurs at the very beginning allowing the listener/reader to get to know the characters as they cope with disaster. Sorenson doesn’t sugarcoat the grim and gritty reality of the survivor’s plight. Garrett and Lauren as well as the cast of secondary characters are meaty enough to sustain this darn good thriller.