My Three Favorite Audiobooks of 2013

Selecting my favorite audio of 2013 was easy peasy. Mystery, suspense, action, and characters I loved spending time with. What’s not to love? Deadline written by Sandra Brown and narrated by Stephen Lang. My gushy review.

 

 

Second favorite was an easy call as well. After Hours written by Cara McKenna and narrated by Lucy Rivers. I loved the real-ness here. McKenna’s spare prose packs an emotional punch and Rivers’ reading is just right.

 

 

Third favorite has to be Mystery Man written by Kristen Ashley and narrated by Kate Russell. Kristen Ashley has finally come to audio! Yay for Kate Russell — she gets it. 

 

 

It was really a very good year for audiobooks. I listened to over 90 new productions and relistened to who knows how many old favorites. I’ll talk about more of my 2013 favorites in my next post. There are quite a few more I want to share!

 

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Forever His by Shelly Thacker

Audiobook narrated by Julia Motyka

The very idea of Forever His — a time travel romance set in medieval France — is so applealing to me that I jumped at the chance for a review copy. While I can say at the end of the day it was an okay listen, an unfortunate combination of plot devices I dislike, a hard-to-forgive hero, and a narrator who doesn’t sound very intuitive or invested in the story combined to ease my grade over into C- territory. For differing views, note that Forever His, originally published in paper in 1993, has an impressive number of glowing reviews at Amazon and Audible, so this may very well be a case of it’s not you, it’s me.

Having read through a ton of Old School romance novels since I fell in love with the genre way back in 1997, I’m very familiar with the hero who views all women as marriage trappers, the natural enemy of the honorable man. Sir Gaston de Varennes believes that accidental time traveler Celine Fontaine, dropped into his bed from 700 years in the future, is really his intended bride, selected from the enemy camp by the king in order to end a bitter, bloody feud. No matter what Celine says or does and despite evidence to the contrary, Gaston refuses to believe that she isn’t an infiltrator from the house of his archenemy, sent to spy, seduce, and steal his lands. 

You know when you hear “This audiobook has been divided into multiple parts to make the download faster…” and there has been no forward movement in the story or progress in the romance since the beginning? Yeah, that. The book is halfway over and he STILL believes she’s a lying, conniving spy but he’s all in favor of bed sport? This is where I wanted to quit because I just don’t seek out romance novels with distrust and hostility in lieu of romance anymore. I guess I can’t fault a book written in the popular style of its time, except this has been reissued and produced for today’s readers. (I certainly raced through Elizabeth Lowell’s backlist of “all women are lying, betraying bitches” category romances, gobbling them up like candy!) But, sadly, what’s missing here is passion — smoldering sexual tension. I didn’t feel Gaston falling in love with Celine. He treats her rather cavalierly, ignoring her as much as possible, and that does not tickle my romantic fantasies. 

Narrator Julia Motyka’s reading is servicable but not scintillating. She reads slowly and rythmically, often reminding me of library story time. She uses appropriate changes in pitch to signal which character is speaking. I increased playback speed to get through it faster, but I don’t much like the unnatural speed-reading cadence you get from that function. I lost interest when Gaston’s dickishness went on waaaay too long and nothing happened to pull me back in. 

Grade C-. I won’t seek out more books from this author or narrator. It wasn’t terrible and clearly a whole lot of reviewers liked it more than I did.

Review copy provided by the author through Audiobook Jukebox.

Deadline by Sandra Brown

Audiobook narrated by Stephen Lang

 At some point around the turn of the 21st century Sandra Brown became brilliant. Well, she was probably always brilliant, but the day came when she threw off the rules of genre fiction and let her inner storyteller fly without constraints. Brown is a supremely clever and compelling storyteller as well as a seasoned wordsmith and that is what keeps me coming back to her books for more. In any case, I have mad love for just about every word she’s written since I read Envy originally published in 2001. Sandra Brown  is my go-to, can-do writer of romantic thrillers and her annual new book has become my most anticipated of the year. She’s pioneered her own unique genre while honoring her romance writer roots and her romance reader fans; setting a meticulously crafted mystery/thriller at the heart of–and dependent on–a love story at its core. Or is it the other way around–romance at the heart of the mystery? Either way you choose to look at it, one needs the other, and it’s a happy confluence that pleases me greatly.

 I’ve been struggling with false starts and wholesale deletes in writing this review for fear of spoilers. I had an early print ARC  that I raced through with alarming speed while waiting not-so-patiently for the audiobook. Now that I’ve read Deadline and listened to it twice (okay, thrice), I realize that just about everything I was going to talk about is slightly spoilery. Since I’m a spoiler hater, I’m going to err on the side of caution and rely on the blurb to summarize the plot. I’m glad that I experienced Deadline knowing only what is revealed in the blurb and I reveled in Brown’s diabolical plot twists without having a clue as to where she was going. 

Central to my ravishment of Sandra Brown’s books is the audio performance. Stephen Lang is my second favorite Brown narrator because, well, he’s not Victor Slezak who is the voice of my dreams. This is not Lang’s fault and once I got over my snit that Stephen is not Victor, I allowed myself to appreciate Lang’s narration. In addition to the main protagonists Dawson and Amelia, there are numerous characters who are important to the story, each requiring a unique voice. Stephen Lang aces it in that respect, seamlessly delivering dialogue between/among the entire cast while consistently staying in character. I especially love his voicing of a certain villain. An unexpected choice, but oh so devious and insightful. And extra kudos to Lang for his heartbreaking reading of Flora’s journal. I don’t love Lang’s Amelia voice, finding her sound too soft and hesitant, bordering on apologetic, for an accomplished professional woman of aristocratic upbringing. A bit of a misinterpretation there, but I did get used to it. Hero Dawson’s voice is exactly right to my ear. Dawson Scott is a different sort of Sandra Brown hero and that’s all I’m going to say. Stephen Lang clearly understands him and I love him for that. 

So now I’m off for repeat listens of my favorite Sandra Brown books, a phenomena that occurs every year at this time. Hmm, I wonder what causes it. On deck: My Victor Slezak favorites Envy, Lethal, Play Dirty, Smash Cut, Rainwater, and Smoke Screen. Read by Dennis Boutsikaris, Ricochet.
 

Deadline rates an A+ for Sandra Brown who serves up another winner and for Stephen Lang who pretty much nails it.

Here is the blurb:

Dawson Scott is a well-respected journalist recently returned from Afghanistan. Haunted by everything he experienced, he’s pivately suffering from battle fatigue, which is a threat to every aspect of his life. But then he gets a call from a source within the FBI. A new development has come to light in a story that began 40 years ago. It could be the BIG story of Dawson’s career.

Soon, Dawson is covering the disappearance and presumed murder of former Marine Jeremy Wesson, the biological son of the pair of terrorists who remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. As Dawson delves into the story he finds himself developing feelings for Wesson’s ex-wife Amelia and her two young sons. But when Amelia’s nanny turns up dead the case takes a stunning new turn, with Dawson himself becoming a suspect. Haunted by his own demons, Dawson takes up the chase for the notorious outlaws…and discovers the startling secret behind their story.

 

Broken Silence by Karen Rose

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Audiobook narrated by Marguerite Gavin

One of the few good things about February is the release of a new romantic thriller from favorite author Karen Rose. This year a bonus novella following up with prosecutor Daphne Montgomery and FBI agent Joseph Carter from last year’s Did You Miss Me? is just the thing to prime the pump for Rose’s next novel in her gritty Baltimore detectives series. That said, I’m of two minds about recommending a novella with a large cast of previously established characters as a vehicle to entice new readers who might want to try out a new author. I lean towards no, new reader, go with one of Rose’s series from the beginning and enjoy the full ride. For those of us who are already happily drinking this author’s kool-aid I urge you not to miss this charming (the characters are charming, not the crime) epilogue that nicely rounds out the jagged edges left with Daphne and Joseph after their work on the case in DYMM.

Marguerite Gavin is an excellent narrator for Rose’s frenetically paced thrillers and I’m glad that she’s the voice of choice as the series continues. Rose’s trademark plots are compressed into a very short few days. Gavin convincingly conveys nail-biting suspense and the crimesolver’s sense of urgency as they race against the clock. Well done and a good author/narrator match.

Here’s the blurb:

After a traumatic kidnapping, Daphne’s boss insists that she take time off. But she refuses to sit on the sidelines when she meets a six-year-old girl who the police call Angel…Joseph knows that helping Angel is exactly what Daphne needs right now. But when Daphne gets Angel to talk, a mysterious and chilling crime begins to unravel–one that drives Daphne into the darkest corners of her past as she and Joseph track a ruthless killer.

Review copy provided by Blackstone Audio and Audiobook Jukebox.

Grade B+

Hush by Anne Frasier

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Audiobook narrated by Emily Beresford 

I’ve been a regular reader of Anne Frasier’s thrillers for almost as long as she’s been writing them. What a happy surprise to see that Hush has made its way to audio!

This is a tautly constructed police procedural, an intelligent and meaty story with a deliciously creepy serial killer. Chicago police detective Max Irving and criminal profiler Ivy Dunlap are refreshingly human and a welcome change from the stick figure kickass heroine and waxed-torso-of-steel hero so tiresomely prevalent in romantic suspense. They’re professionals who work together to stop the Madonna Murderer’s latest killing spree after a hiatus of sixteen years. A supporting cast of police personnel, reporters, victims and their families, and Max’s troubled teen son all play necessary roles as Max and Ivy close in on the crazy (yes, crazy) killer. 

Narrator Emily Beresford succeeds in bringing distinct voice to each of the book’s key characters. Maybe a little too crazy-sounding for the villain, but certainly entertaining. Very nice job from a new-to-me narrator.

Grade B+ for author and narrator. I liked it a lot!

Note: As I post this review the audible whispersync price is $1.99. Great deal.

Review copy provided by the author.

 

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.