In October, we shared those romance audios that rate an A for all three of the Gals. Now we’re sharing our Two Gal Favorites. Later we’ll have two similar discussions – Brenda and Melinda’s Shared Favorites and Lea and Brenda’s Shared Favorites. Also, for quick reference, I have included the titles of the Three Gal Favorites below.
Claire Randall is a former World War II combat nurse on a trip with her husband Frank when she comes upon an ancient stone circle that upon touching hurls her back in time to Scotland in 1743 – a time of war and border clans. Her modern dress makes her appear to be some sort of strange spy but the Clan MacKenzie takes her in after she exhibits her knowledge of healing – especially is saving the life of Jamie, a young Scots warrior. Soon Claire finds herself involved with Jamie Fraser, a courageous and honorable man, who is forced upon her by the clan to provide her protection from those who would seek to harm her.
Melinda: Outlander was my very first audiobook – I had already read it several times, and read online someone encouraging people to listen to the audiobook to experience even more of the series. WOW WAS THAT EVER TRUE! Even having read the book so many times, I’ll admit I’m a skimmer – my eyes just naturally jump over whole bits of prose for no good reason. Davina Porter is so wonderful, and hearing her give voice and accent to Claire and Jamie and all the characters completely changed the experience for me, especially hearing some of it for the first time since I skimmed.
Lea: Although Outlander wasn’t my first audiobook, it was one of my early listens. When I started listening to fictional audiobooks, I believed I needed to first read a book to fully enjoy the audio version. I guess my ear wasn’t attuned to the intricacies of listening (something I believe we need to develop). Outlander was my first straight listen and now I can’t imagine merely reading any of the books in the series. How could I have ever imagined the likes of the magnetic Jamie Fraser? And I wonder if my brain could have so completely wrapped around the sensible yet dynamic Claire?
Melinda: Well, I read the first four multiple times before embarking on the audio journey, but since I started audio, I haven’t “read” any of the rest – including the Lord John series. My own pitiful rendition of Jamie and Claire pales next to Davina Porter!
Lea: Davina Porter is simply magnificent and I must say that her narration of Outlander clearly ranks as my number one narration. Other romance readers stated the same in the 2011 Speaking of Audiobooks Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll with Outlander clearly taking the Favorite Romance Audiobook award.
To say that Outlander is rich is saying too little. To say it is an adventure doesn’t begin to speak of its numerous intertwined sub-plots that all build into one grand tale. To say it has many interesting secondary characters doesn’t begin to explain the personalities performed by Porter making each distinct and real. To say it is romantic, doesn’t begin to explain the intense deep love shared by Jamie and Claire – a love that transcends all others I have read to date. Maybe that’s due to the fact that I have watched their love grow and mature over many years with the first four in the series.
Melinda: Yeah! What you said! LOL! But that’s just the STORY – add Davina Porter’s voice to it, and you have really reached audio nirvana! I’m curious how the story and the characters will hold up to the mini-series treatment, although I think for video interpretation of such a long story, mini-series is the only way to go.
Lea: I’m one who is really looking forward to that mini-series. It looks as though Starz has picked it up. I’m hoping it becomes the next Game of Thrones!
For those thinking “It’s too long for me to listen to”, I agree that it can be a challenge at 32+ hours (and subsequent books in the series contain as many as 57 hours) but the investment carries such a payoff. Keep another audiobook on the side to vary your listening if you must (that’s what I have done each time) – just take the leap!
Melinda: You know, people saying it’s too long to listen to makes me think of people who say what a long trip it is to drive across Texas. Let me ask you this: If Texas was broken into five smaller states, would the drive be any shorter? NO! It’s the same with Outlander – I think anyone who isn’t planning to listen to several hours of audio probably ought to stay away from audiobooks altogether and stick with podcasts! Think of Outlander as one glorious journey that you hope never ends. There’s another adventure, another family, another mystery, right around the bend. Yes, Jamie and Claire are the main couple, but there are so many other characters and stories in the series. It’s the same as listening to several books, in every way.
Lea: And for those listeners who may pause at the time travel aspect, don’t let it hinder you from starting. Outlander is not science fiction – it’s a beautifully written historical tale around the time (and including) the Jacobite uprising in 1745.
Living on separate continents, Lord and Lady Tremaine (Camden and Gigi) appear to have a good marriage. No one knows of the events surrounding their marriage ten years ago that left it fractured and beyond repair. Petitioning for divorce, Gigi is ready to move on with her life but Camden isn’t about to let her free unless she agrees to an outrageous demand.
Lea: Although I read Private Arrangements first (and loved it), the audio version completely captured me. My enthusiasm was so great that I named it The Best Romance Audiobook of 2009 over at Speaking of Audiobooks.
Virginia Leishman had excelled in her narration of Jo Goodman’s Let Me Be the One and I was anxious to hear her performance of Private Arrangements. It was one of those magical times for an audio listener when the audio version improved a favorite in print.
Camden and Gigi are both flawed characters with a story that plays carelessly with those invisible yet expected rules of romance behavior. I can’t say this qualifies in the least as a light historical read. But their multi-layered personalities only made the tale work that much better for me.
Melinda: On re-reading by audio, I liked it even better. Somehow the narrator brought out the characters and made Camden’s reaction seem more rational than when I first read it. After all, she had maneuvered both Cam’s cousin as well as Cam into marriage, theoretically just to get a dukedom. Since she didn’t confess when she had the opportunity, he was crushed because he was so in love with her and he thought she wasn’t really in love with him at all. It was an ego-buster, for sure.
Lea: My one word of caution – the sequence of events may be a bit confusing for those who haven’t first read the print version. My advice is to just be aware that those shifts will occur and you’ll soon find yourself in sync with the story.
Melinda: Oh yeah, the time issue. Sherry Thomas has really perfected the story-telling-by-flashback method, but it can keep you guessing where you are in time, because she’ll tell a chapter or two in the “present” and then a chapter or three in the “past” – all of which is in our past, since it’s historical. However, I thought it was easier to keep track of in the audio – but maybe that’s because I had already read it. Since I skim so much when reading print, I know there were times I had to flip back to see what year we were in because I wasn’t paying attention when it was written at the beginning of the chapter. In the audio, the narrator tells you – plus, as you say, pay attention to the shifts, when they are younger, obviously so – and I think you will have no trouble following along.
After a coach accident, Lydia Bedford Brown, a daughter of an English viscount, is stranded with Sam Cody, a Texas rancher, who looks to be no more than a drunken cowboy. Surviving in the wilderness, the two become close only to see it all end upon their rescue.
Melinda: I know I’ve gone on and on about The Indiscretion and Rosenblat’s incredible gift, going from Sam – drunken Texan cowboy – to Lydia –high society Brit – and back with several other characters in between. Rosenblat is just amazing, and the story is so, so… Judith Ivory! Wacky’s not the right word – cracked is more like it. Ivory has a sort of cracked sense of humor with these characters, and I mean that in the most complimentary way, in spite of that word sounding not quite complimentary! They aren’t the usual characters, and the story is funny and unique.
Lea: I’m a total Judith Ivory addict. All of her print books work for me (including her Judy Cuevas titles) with Sleeping Beauty at the top of that list. However, in audio, The Indiscretion ranks number one. Barbara Rosenblat is marvelous – bringing these characters to life and portraying their change in situation so effectively. It was one of my early romance listens and remains strong even with its original audio release date of 2002. That big box of cassette tapes still resides in my book closet. It’s more of an emotional attachment to my early days of romance listening rather than the fact that I’d ever listen to cassettes these days but if The Indiscretion was suddenly unavailable digitally, I’d pull out my old boom box and listen away. That’s how much I enjoyed it.
Melinda: I’m not as fond of Sleeping Beauty – in spite of it being obviously narrated by Davina Porter under a pseudonym or vocal doppelganger Violet Primm – or Beast, also narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. The Proposition, narrated by Steven Crossley, is another excellent example of Ivory’s unique approach to historical romance, and I love Crossley’s narration as well as the story. And – I’m dying for someone to record Untie My Heart because I think that is my favorite Ivory title! I would have to say, though, The Indiscretion is truly one of my top go-to relistens, for the humor, for the wonderful story and characters, and for top-notch narration skills.
Lea: Yes, please Untie My Heart! Or Bliss or Dance or even Angel in a Red Dress (all Cuevas titles)! And while I’m wishing, dare I say that I’d love to see Sleeping Beauty recorded with another narrator (of my choosing of course)? Hidden Davina Porter she may be, but I had to really work at enjoying her interpretation.
Drea Rousseau is a woman pretending adoration for a man she can’t respect – drug lord Rafael Salinas. Offering Simon “the Assassin” a bonus for a job well done, Salinas is surprised when Simon asks for Drea – just one time. Reluctant but agreeing to give them the afternoon, Drea is terrified, hardly believing the turn of events. What follows between Drea and Simon is intense and not for the faint-hearted. It spurs Drea into revenge against Salinas resulting in an exciting, suspenseful tale as Drea takes off running and Simon pursues her at Salinas’ request.
Lea: Linda Howard ranks high when it comes to personal entertainment with me grading at least 75% of her titles a B+ or higher. Some of those keepers are outstanding in audio while others fail with a less than stellar narrator. Death Angel, however, touched me as no other and is clearly my favorite Howard audio. It’s not your usual setup with a hit-man hero and a drug lord’s mistress as the heroine and it took me quite a while to convince myself to read it in print. But once I did – wow – it worked for me on many levels and brought more than a few tears to my eyes. Joyce Bean builds the intensity in the suspense portions while effectively delivering the heart wrenching scenes. Add to that her exacting delivery of each character and all I can say is “Bravo!”
Melinda: I loved the suspense, the skillful story-telling, the powerful transformation Andie undergoes from feeling worthless to finding her power within, and especially Simon’s own redemption, because he had so much further to go than she did. But at first I found Joyce Bean’s narration stilted and unnatural – she over-enunciated so many words that I wasn’t sure I could stand to listen to it for 10 hours. However, the power of the story overwhelmed me enough to overlook this small quibble, and I gave it 5 stars. It was my first time to hear Joyce Bean – she’s good, I mean she’s really a pro, but she isn’t one of my favorite narrators. I will say I don’t think I have had this same reaction (“stilted and unnatural”) to other books she’s narrated – maybe I’m just getting used to her style!
Living in Mexico, Milla Edge is a new mother savoring every minute with her baby, Justin, when he is kidnapped. Ten years later, he is still missing and Milla is divorced from Justin’s father. In the intervening years, Milla has founded Finders, a group specializing in finding missing children. Now she has a lead on the kidnapper and together with Diaz, a bounty hunter and assassin, they travel to Mexico to continue the search.
Melinda: Cry No More in print had me breaking down and sobbing several times, too hard to go on, but I was able to do the audio with no more than several tears running down my cheeks and a box of tissues nearby. I think perhaps knowing what was coming, what the ending was, made it easier on my nerves in the audio.
Lea: When I think of Cry No More, I feel that keyword “cry” because that’s what I did. I may have set some sort of record for crying while listening to an audio. I had yet to read the print version so it held that first time impact for me plus I believe Joyce Bean delivered its intense emotion perfectly. Cry No More marked a change in my personal opinion of Bean’s narration as well. I considered her narrations average before and after, well, she moved into the excellent category. This was confirmed by her performance of Howard’s Death Angel and the first three books in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series.
Although I imagine Melinda and I could identify many more Two Gal Favorites if we discussed it more thoroughy, it was delightful to talk with someone who loved what I love! Now for those Three Gal Favorites I promised earlier.
After the Night by Linda Howard Narrated by Natalie Ross
Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Narrated by Anna Fields
Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Narrated by Anna Fields
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley Narrated by Angela Dawe
Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer Narrated by Kate Forbes
Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts Narrated by Stechschulte
One Summer by Karen Robards Narrated by Anna Fields
Kill and Tell by Linda Howard Narrated by Natalie Ross
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris Narrated by Johanna Parker
All four Julie James titles narrated by Karen White:
Just the Sexiest Man Alive
Something About You
A Lot Like Love
About That Night
And although we featured Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Match Me If You Can and Natural Born Charmer in our discussion, the entire Chicago Stars series are Three Gal Favorites narrated by Anna Fields:
It Had to Be You
Nobody’s Baby But Mine
Dream a Little Dream
This Heart of Mine
Match Me If You Can
Natural Born Charmer
Hope you are now convinced to give these treasures a try if you haven’t already!