Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Audiobook narrated by Angela Dawe

Slave to Sensation

When I read Slave to Sensation in 2006 I closed the book and thought “Wow! This is the best paranormal romance ever.” Revisiting the origins of Singh’s Psy/Changeling series in audiobook format reminds me of all the reasons to admire the clever, deceptively simple world-building that imagines how things might be in 2079. The Psy are a race of cerebral beings who for the past hundred years have enforced Silence, a protocol implemented to breed all emotion out of the populace. The Changeling are the antithesis, shapeshifters who embrace life with passion.

Psy and Changeling view each other with suspicion and disdain while coexisting within an uneasy truce. Happy to report that humans are still around in Singh’s future, but we’re just a footnote and a fairly boring one at that.

When Lucas Hunter, Alpha of the Dark River leopard pack becomes certain that the serial killer preying on young changeling women is Psy, he proposes a joint business venture to the Psy ruling council hoping to ferret out the killer. Sascha Duncan, daughter of powerful council member Nikita Duncan, is assigned as liaison and Lucas wastes no time in employing his considerable charm getting close to this female who appears to embody the cold Psy ideal.

In truth Sascha is not the perfect Psy. She knows that she’s broken because she feels far too much. Sascha lives in constant fear of discovery and a rehabilitative mind wipe. When Lucas introduces Sascha to his warm and loving packmates, her icy barriers begin to crack. She yearns to love and be loved and Lucas knows he’s the man to make it happen. What follows is a heart-clutching romance between two polar opposites.

Angela Dawe’s narration has a smooth, steady cadence. Her reading of Sascha’s initial monotone is spot on and I heard her gradual thawing. Her voice for Lucas and the Changeling pack members is decidedly off kilter. I did not hear Lucas’ playful nature, his warmth, his growliness, and his sexy charm. Nor his strong alpha leadership. Key to these characters is how very different they are from one another. It’s clear in Singh’s text that this is a relationship of polar opposites, but I didn’t hear it in Dawe’s reading. I’m not sure that Dawe got it. Seems like a missed opportunity that I hope will be rectified as Dawe becomes more familiar with Singh’s premise.

I’m thrilled that the Psy/Changeling books have come to audio and I loved, loved, loved listening to Slave to Sensation.

Grade A for the book. Grade B for the narration.

Darker After Midnight by Lara Adrian

Audiobook narrated by HIllary Huber

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I’d listened to seven titles in Adrian’s Midnight Breed series before dropping out, so I thought I’d catch up with the gang in what was billed as the grand finale. Only oops! apparently minds were changed among TPTB and it was announced that this isn’t the last book after all. There will be at least three more which neatly explains the overwhelming presence of a younger generation of vampire in this book.

In fact, it seems that every character who ever set foot in a Midnight Breed novel has a featured role in what is ostensibly chase and Tavia’s book. Poor Tavia and Chase have to compete for air time in their own book with a boatload of HEA’d couples, all of them sappy with baby vampire fever.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that the Breed’s super evil archenemy Dragos is finally vanquished, albeit pretty easily after nine books of buildup. Normally I’d issue the standard warning not to start a series at book number ten, but I think you could with this one. Adrian painstakingly recaps the entire series mythology and you get to meet the whole Breed gang.

There is one significant difference between Adrian’s series and its obvious inspiration — JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. Ward’s vampires get it that they’re high camp wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more. Adrian’s Breed take themselves very, very seriously lacking even a lick of humor. A surprise Very Important Event for the Breed Nation occurs in the epilogue. I won’t spoil it — it’s a doozy — but I laughed out loud in a room by myself, in the dark and I don’t think I was supposed to.

Narrator Hillary Huber has consistently done a fine job with the entire series. She’s handled a good number of accents with aplomb. So many characters from previous books appear here that I often lost track of who was on stage at any given moment, but that’s not Huber’s fault and she kept as firm a grip on the narrative as was possible. I was not comfortable with the child Mira sounding so babyish but she’ll probably be all grown up and ready for her very own fated mate in the next book.

I enjoyed the first four or five Midnight Breed books before repetition and seriesitis set it. Number ten was a bit of a slog for me and I won’t be around for more of the same with the younger generation.

Grade C- for the book and a B for Hillary Huber’s spirited narration.

Sleepwalker by Karen Robards

Audiobook narrated by Kate Rudd

Karen Robards has written some of my favorite books and I’ve long counted her as a favorite author. Sadly, those juicy books that stir my blood were written a long time ago.

Sleepwalker is romantic suspense that is lackluster in the romance department and short on the suspense. It has plenty of action — car chases and shootings and such — that fall flat. There are elements of romantic comedy that aren’t all that comedic. I can think of dozens of contemporary romances with cute bickering couples that are far more entertaining.

Continue reading

Ravished by a Highlander by Paula Quinn

Audiobook narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

Why is the image so large? Well, duh.

In 1685 Scotland highlander Robert MacGregor and his kinsmen happen upon a convent under attack by unknown soldiers, arriving just in time to rescue two lone survivors. Rob feels honor bound to take novice Davina and her guard Edward Asher to safety at Camlochlin, his family’s well-guarded keep hidden in the mists on the Isle of Skye. Asher confides to Rob that Davina’s life is at stake and she will continue to be hunted down by the King’s enemies. Davina’s true identity is a Big Secret, but the warning from the King’s Guardsman regarding the King’s Enemies is, well, a Big Clue.  Continue reading

The Second Chance Cafe by Alison Kent

 

Audiobook narrated by Natalie Ross

I’m a bit late in discovering Alison Kent, but the good news is that she has an extensive backlist to explore. Kent is nothing if not versatile. I’ve enjoyed her works of romantic suspense, sweet home town stories, an angsty reunion, steamy encounters, and incredibly hot cowboys. All good!

I want to call The Second Chance Cafe a sweet romance — and it is — but it’s not uncomplicated nor without angst. There are enough conflicts, obstacles, and hardships here to keep it from being too sweet. I know that I can count on Alison Kent for real grown up characters who behave like adults — flawed adults who struggle to do the right thing.

Grade B for a lovely story and for Natalie Ross who is terrific as usual.

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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Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson

Audiobook narrated by Kathleen Early

I started reading romance novels about the same time Rachel Gibson started publishing them. I’m pretty sure I read Simply irresistible circa 1998 when it was new. I remember that I loved it — really, really loved it. When I saw there was to be a new audio production of the beloved story I had such tender feelings for, I was a little afraid to test my memory and see if my first hockey romance was as good as I remembered.

There’s an awful lot of talk in online romanceland about tropes-tropety-trope-tropes that serve a purpose for some reviewers to in allowing them to pigeonhole, condemn, dismiss, the lovely things about romance novels that made me fall in love with them in the first place.

Let’s see, here we have a bimbo-ish heroine, an alpha asshole hockey star hero, a meet cute, a one-night stand, a secret baby, a long separation, infidelity, an impossibly cute kid, and a woman who rejects help from her very rich (this was before billionaires were all the rage) baby-daddy.

I loved every word of it! It was fresh back then and holds up very nicely thank-you-very-much in the hands of a talented writer of Rachel Gibson’s skill who knows how to deliver a romance. It’s warm and funny and hot and sexy.

Narrator Kathleen Early does a pretty good job. There are narrators who could have punched it up some, but the story is most important here and Early didn’t add much nor detract from it.

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.

You Belong to Me by Karen Rose

Audiobook narrated by Marguerite Gavin

 Karen Rose’s romantic suspense has set the high bar for tightly plotted, realistic police procedurals with a romance organically woven in. You Belong to Me kicks off a new series set in Baltimore and as anyone who is familiar with her style knows, the action starts with the discovery of a murder victim and the tension doesn’t let up until the last page. Medical examiner Lucy Trask and homicide detective JD Fitzpatrick literally meet over their victim’s corpse and team up to solve what turns into a series of brutal murders. Soon it becomes apparent that all of the victims hail from a nearby small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which just happens to be the home town Lucy left behind as a teenager. JD realizes that convincing Lucy to spill the town’s secrets is the key to stopping the murder spree. But as much as Lucy wants to help, she’s as much in the dark about what turned someone she may know into a mad serial killer as the detectives are. Reluctantly agreeing to return to the place that holds dark secrets and memories for her, Lucy and JD work together, get their man, and fall in love. The entire book takes place over the course of a few days and the pace is frenetic.

Mackenzie’s Pleasure by Linda Howard


Audiobook narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris


In this third installment in Linda Howard’s Mackenzie family series, youngest son Zane is tasked with taking his SEAL team into hostile Libya for a stealth rescue of a kidnapped ambassador’s daughter. While this book was originally published in 1996 by Silhouette Intimate Moments, Howard deftly shows how to create a beloved classic that stands the test of time, as relevant and believable and romantic today as it was back then.

Zane Mackenzie is a dream man. He’s a warrior patriot, supremely competent and confident, smart as hell, handsome as sin, patient, loyal, and loving. This is not a complaint. Barrie Lovejoy, being pretty smart herself, once rescued by such a delightful specimen of manhood, knows that he’s The One for her. Fearful that they may not make it out of Libya alive, Barrie asks Zane to make love to her. And what a love scene! Zane is a generous, ideal lover and their lovemaking ranks as one of the most memorable and erotic scenes I’ve ever read. I fell in love with Zane right along with Barrie.

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.

Honor Bound by Sandra Brown

Audiobook narrated by Renee Raudman

I took a chance on this 2012 production of Sandra Brown’s 1986 category romance when I saw Renee Raudman’s name on it. Brown’s heroes from the 80s and 90s tend to be misogynistic jerks who do something awful to the heroine, thus requiring an extreme grovel.
But wait! Honor Bound is a precursor to Lethal and Smoke Screen in which the hero kidnaps his heroine for entirely justifiable, perfectly good reasons, of course. A nice serving of raw emotion and issues not easily solved. And hero Lucas Greywolf is not a jerk. Yay!
I liked it. THREE QUARTER MOONS for Sandra Brown and Renee Raudman. A very nice author/narrator pairing.