Brenda: Oh we of little faith (in unknown narrators). What a wonderful surprise Dreamscape Media has brought audiobook lovers with the release of Linda Howard’s Midnight Rainbow!
Here at AudioGals, all three Gals consider Linda Howard one of their favorite authors in print and audio. Midnight Rainbow, from 1986, has been wished for numerable times as an audiobook by both you and I, has it not Lea?
Lea: Oh, yeah. We were missing five, now it’s four, very popular Howard titles in audio format – Duncan’s Bride (1990) and the Kell Sabin series (Midnight Rainbow – 1986, Diamond Bay, Heartbreaker – both 1987 releases, and White Lies – 1988). Even five years ago, when I first started writing the Speaking of Audiobooks column at AAR, romance listeners were wishing for these titles. And, they have been included on the Gals’ Wish List from day one.
Brenda: Quick aside – those great titles aren’t even available as Kindle editions – what’s up with that? When Midnight Rainbow appeared at Dreamscape Media as a December release, our hearts beat in anticipation and trepidation. Anticipation that a long wished-for title was coming to audio – trepidation at seeing an unknown narrator listed to deliver a favored classic.
Who can forget blond, tiger-eyed Grant Sullivan? The burned out special ops agent lured from retirement to rescue a wealthy American’s daughter? Or forget the irrepressible Priscilla Jane Greer currently the “guest” of a ruthless Costa Rican official? Jane’s employer was in possession of a top secret microfilm shortly before he died in her room. Multiple government and criminal factions want that microfilm and speculate whether Jane knows something she’s not telling. The well-planned rescue is thwarted halfway through its execution, sending tough as nails Grant into the steamy jungle with quirky, resourceful Jane. This change in plan is less than ideal but he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to see her safely home. The action and adventure are as excitingly fast paced as their quick blooming attraction; there isn’t a dull moment on either front. Lea does this description coincide with your memories of this treasured tale?
Lea: I read Midnight Rainbow in 2002, my first year of reading romance, and it remained vivid in my mind even as I read hundreds of other “enjoyable but forgettable” romances. I absolutely loved the characters, their interaction, and surprisingly the romantic suspense element. Not only was it Linda Howard’s first romantic suspense, it was mine. I had avoided that sub-genre fearing the action would take away from the romance. No such problem here. For the majority of the book, it’s only Grant and Jane on the unbeaten path seeking another way out from those pursuing her.
Brenda: Yes, I’d forgotten Midnight Rainbow falls under the road trip category!
Lea: Another element I find vastly entertaining is the humor. From the first scene with Grant sitting in the rain forest planning Jane’s rescue to their last minutes together, I found myself relishing their amusing (and at times downright comical) reactions and interactions with one another. I can easily see the beginnings of Howard’s witty writing that culminated in another personal Howard favorite, To Die For. And Jane and Grant remind me of Blair and Wyatt.
You know, after reading dozens of romantic suspense tales, it’s remarkable how well Midnight Rainbow stands the test of time. Its suspense is top notch without being too over the top – something we see far too often in today’s romantic suspenses. And surprisingly, it’s not dated although it was written in the 1980s. Brenda, what are your thoughts?
Brenda: I thought the same about the dating – change microfilm to a micro chip, needing to find cell phone service instead of a pay phone, mention Afghanistan instead of Vietnam, and you have a current romantic suspense title. Another reason this story works today? In Midnight Rainbow Ms. Howard wrote a heroine with a backbone (her first such heroine IMO). Jane faced a nightmare in her past, resulting in a determination to live life on her terms. She’s a heroine you root for as she turns Grant’s preconceived notions of her inside out.
Grant is one of Howard’s dominant macho heroes but he isn’t the Neanderthal I find in her earlier books. Not to say Jane doesn’t shed a tear or have moments of vulnerability, but my encompassing impression of Howard’s first eight titles is of crying women being walked over by insolent men as reflected in my review of The Cutting Edge (which is faultlessly narrated by the way). In comparison, Midnight Rainbow with smart well-developed lead characters who know when to push and when to give is a breath of fresh air. With a proactive heroine the hero comes to respect, the two together are a combustible combination that will make you laugh – when you’re not holding your breath. What are your thoughts on this topic Lea?
Lea: Although I love an alpha hero, I can barely make it through some of those earlier Howard titles these days. Oh, I read them all during my Linda Howard glom back in 2002 and 2003. All That Glitters and The Cutting Edge are especially problematic.
Grant, however, is the right amount of alpha male – not overbearing, just sure of himself and his mission to protect and deliver her to safety. Jane is strong with the ability to endure and Howard lets that fact sneak up on you. She has the right amount of understandable kickass while still being a somewhat normal everyday woman. Her tears? Never bothered me a bit. I’m one who thinks tears make a heroine more real and the tears don’t flow in copious amounts as in Howard’s earliest books.
Brenda: Jane’s tears are well deserved – I would have been catatonic in the same circumstance! :D
Now let’s talk the all-important narration. We were both vocal doubters when seeing unknown narrator Brenda Sweeney’s name at Dreamscape. We’ve both been disappointed more than a few times by unskilled narrators assigned to favorite authors’ backlists in the past. But we held out hope, seeing her background included an established acting career – something we’ve found dramatically increases a narrator’s chances at success in our ears. I’ll be the first to say within 15 minutes, I was thinking “she is going to do it – she is going to pull this off” and by the one hour mark I was all but turning cartwheels in delight at Brenda Sweeney’s decidedly skilled audio presentation. How long was it before you had an impression of what was to come audibly Lea?
Lea: Delight can be such a wonderful word when you are an audiobook enthusiast always on the hunt for that next perfect listen. It didn’t take me but ten minutes to realize with pleasure that Brenda Sweeney understood the nature of this story and that I loved her interpretation of the hero. Less than an hour in, I knew I had an A listen on my hands. Thank goodness I had you to reach out to and squeal, “It’s working!” Someone at Dreamscape did more than just choose a talented narrator. Together with Brenda Sweeney, they “got” exactly what romance fans needed to hear in Midnight Rainbow.
Brenda: While Grant’s voice had me swooning from the start, I needed to hear his interaction with Jane before bringing out the pom poms. Comparing our timelines, I’d say we came to our “it’s a winner” conclusion at the same point – imagine that?
Lea: Ha! Yeah, imagine that!
Brenda: Narrators on the top of my “to listen” list bring more than distinct voices to a story, they bring personalities, attitudes, and varying circumstances alive with pitch, pace, and proper stress as the words flow out. Brenda Sweeney excels in those aspects as she vocally captures Grant’s ambivalent determination to pull off the rescue, then the heart racing tension as he slips into the guarded plantation to Jane’s room. The delivery shares Jane’s calm yet terrified panic as danger comes calling, her silent struggle to free herself, and the desperation that drives her into the dreaded darkness.
Cue the jungle – Ms. Sweeney brings out the foreign beauty and uniqueness of the surroundings. You feel the discomfort of exertion and see perspiration roll as the vegetation clings to our protagonists. You’ll be swearing, laughing, and sweating as you plunge from unexpected danger to hot chemistry and back again right along with Grant and Jane.
I’ve detailed the atmosphere and feeling the narrator expertly wraps us in Lea. As to her voicing ability as she portrays Grant’s Georgia born hard-assed “I’ve seen it all” personality and Jane’s “life won’t get me down no matter what” resilience? It is simply put – superb.
Lea: Okay Brenda – I don’t think I can improve on your comments!
Yes, the suspense – both from others out to cause harm and as a result of Grant and Jane’s wariness of one another, the sizzling attraction between the two combined with a genuine sense of camaraderie, the misery of hiking in a jungle, the fully developed portrayal of each personality – Brenda Sweeney gets them all – perfectly.
Returning to the humorous aspect – this time for the narration. Ms. Sweeney doesn’t miss even one of Howard’s witticisms and improves on each with the delivery, placing just the right amount of emphasis according to the written word.
Brenda: Here’s a line I find hilarious because Linda Howard addresses an issue rarely mentioned, but oft wondered about by a woman as she tries to imagine herself on the run for her life. Ms. Sweeney delivers it with just the right touch of exasperated desperation.
Lea: And since Howard tends to write hero centric books, I have to comment on Grant as performed. When have I heard a sexier, true-to-life, sounding male character delivered by a female narrator? Very few times indeed. She so completely gets Grant’s character and what we, as romance listeners, need to hear from our heroes, that I’m a little astounded. Her performance of Grant was one of the best I have heard from any female narrator in all my years of romance listening.
Brenda: So true Lea. Talk about a narrator fading into the background? All I know is Grant with that slightly growling southern drawl is hot! If I wanted to really nitpick I could say I noticed there were times the narrator ran out of breath before she ran out of words but it was rare. Personally, I had to come to grips with the young bubbly voice used for Jane; it didn’t fit my notion of a 29-year-old world traveler. But I quickly noted the descriptive tags for Jane such as:
“her face was as open and innocent as a child’s, with a child’s enthusiasm for life shining out.”
At which point I relaxed and went with Ms. Sweeney’s choice of tone which aptly expresses Jane’s personality in the way Linda Howard wrote her.
Lea: I too had pause (only a little) at the higher pitch (bubbly didn’t bother me – she is bubbly). But that mostly had to do with the voices that played in my head when I read (or reread) this favorite. My mind gave her a lower range.
As soon as I finished listening to Midnight Rainbow, I immediately started relistening for several reasons. First, I just didn’t want it to end. I love to relisten to favorites. Second, I wanted to watch for the humor and was so pleased to find that Ms. Sweeney really did pick up on each instance. Third, I wanted to see if I agreed with her interpretation of Jane’s character and I do. Yes, I wish she hadn’t chosen to go with such a high pitch but it didn’t sound fake. Jane fools those around her. She’s smart and insightful but doesn’t care all that much if others pick up on those facts. For all I know, she did in fact speak in a higher voice. Howard gives no indicators otherwise.
Brenda: Always a fan of accents, I also enjoyed her delivery of the various Costa Rican locals – both the good and the bad guys. In fact there wasn’t one character (accent or not) that didn’t have a completely distinct voice throughout the whole story. Impressive! It was a listen that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning to finish. I can’t remember the last time that happened.
My final take – I’m thrilled with Ms. Sweeney’s narration! I’ve listened twice and know I’ll do so again. If the audio was physical, I’d place it on my prized keeper shelf right next to the Silhouette Intimate Moments paperback copy (seen above) of Midnight Rainbow that resides there.
Lea: Yes, thrilled is the right word! I’m now only hoping that Dreamscape has the rights to these other missing Howard books. I’d love to see Brenda Sweeney narrate each of those titles.
My final grade (if it’s not yet obvious), is an A for Narration and an A for Content. How about you?
Brenda: I’m in agreement on the grading and yes please, bring us Brenda Sweeny with the other missing Linda Howard gems.
Brenda & Lea