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.

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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-.

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.

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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Jacob by Jacquelyn Frank

Audiobook narrated by Xe Sands

If you’ve ever read a paranormal romance starring Ye Olde Fated Mates, you already know what’s on the checklist. Let’s just get this part out of the way.

Hero: A demon (the good kind) living in demon central compound with his warrior brothers protecting humankind against the supernatural forces of evil. Jacob is The Enforcer, tasked with preventing consorting (of the hooking up kind) between humans and demons because simply horrible, apocalyptic things will happen if such a mating occurs. I was never really sure why, but what’s important here is that Jacob is an A+ paranormal hero with all the bells and whistles.

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Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Audiobook narrated by Holter Graham

If you like dark werewolf tales told in a darkly sexy voice, I urge you to start at the beginning with Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series. In this third book alpha dominant Charles Cornick and his newly mated bride Anna Latham are settling down with his remote Montana mountain pack. Their uneasy relationship is about to be tested anew. Charles’ father Bran is the Marrok, ancient alpha of all North American werewolves. Charles had been the Marrok’s lone wolf enforcer for hundreds of years when he rescued Anna from an abusive pack and his wolf claimed her for his mate. Since Bran recently revealed the presence of werewolves to the world he’s adopted a zero tolerance policy for impolitic misbehavior. Charles has become reluctant executioner of immature werewolves for malfeasance that would have allowed them a second chance in more lenient times.

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