When I thought about how best I could contributed to #RomBkLove almost my first idea was romance audiobooks with a focus on narrators. For those of us who love romance audio, we know it’s all about the narrator. A fantastic narrator can lift an okay book and make a great book come to life in new ways. I’ve said before that audio is a transformative medium. The listener experiences the story through the lens of the characterisation, tone, pacing and pitch of the narrator. When they get it right, it’s magic.
There are many brilliant narrators. My list of favourites is long but I’ve chosen just 6 to highlight today, paired with some of my favourite audiobooks from their catalogues.
Please join in by commenting, either here or on Twitter, using the #RomBkLove tag and share your love of romance audio. Who are your favourite narrators? Which romance books work best for you on audio? What is the best romance audiobook you’ve listened to lately? Which romance audiobook are you looking forward to most in the next month or two? What romance audiobook would you recommend to a newbie?
~ Kaetrin ~
When I was thinking about what book or series to use to highlight Sean Crisden’s narration skills, I couldn’t go past Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers series – American Dreamer, American Fairytale, American Love Story and American Sweethearts. All great books on their own, in audio they shine. Sean’s accents in particular get a workout as he performs characters from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti and New York, among others. I felt like I got the flavour of this series even better on audio. Between Milo’s hyperactive enthusiasm, Patrice’s smooth rhythm, Easton’s more clipped tones or JuanPa’s relaxed vibe, Sean demonstrates a real connection to the characters which comes across to the listener. Apart from that there is no confusion as to who is talking (an important factor which cannot be discounted on audio), the distinct vocal differences between the cast members – consistently demonstrated across the series – build upon the characterisations in the text and serve to give them that something extra that can only be found in an audiobook.
I first listened to Sean’s narrations more than seven years ago and I have heard his skills develop significantly over that time. The emotional depth he displays in his more recent performances, along with the work he has clearly put into his accents and character voices have paid off and he’s become one of my go-to narrators.
I first listened to a January LaVoy performance when I heard her narrate Nora Robert’s The Liar, then later, Shelter in Place and Under Currents (please note the latter two books need Content Warnings for mass shooting and family violence/domestic abuse). Hideaway out later this month – I have preordered it – also features January and it promises to be another winner. Her narrations are always immersive experiences, with a great variety of character voices and accents and the ability to portray all age ranges from child to great-grandma believably. January’s pacing and tone and pitch are consistently excellent.
I haven’t listened to it yet, but I read and enjoyed Alexa Martin’s Intercepted and I am 100% confident the audio experience will be fantastic given who the narrator is.
I’m keen to hear January narrate more romantic comedies – if her performance in Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely – where she was a member of a full cast recording – is anything to go by, her comedic timing is as good as her character voices. It’s clear the whole cast had a lot of fun with it – there are some videos over at YouTube about the making of the audiobook which provide added proof.
Greg Tremblay (who also narrates under the name Greg Boudreaux) burst onto the audiobook scene a few years ago and has become a firm favourite with everyone I know who has listened to one of his performances. He narrates characters of all genders believably – they sound like I’d expect them to sound and this only helps me sink into the story. Greg’s accents are great, his timing and emotion are always apt and he delivers intimate scenes ranging from vanilla to super kinky without overdoing things, letting the words speak for themselves.
Most recently I’ve listened to Greg narrate Syncopation by Anna Zabo and I am listening to Counterpoint now – with Reverb (a book I read and loved last year) soon to be released on audio as well. Featuring the lives and loves of queer rock band Twisted Wishes, each book has a stand alone romance and books 1 & 3 also have a suspense plot. One focus of the series is found family which, it turns out, is a bit of catnip for me.
I first heard Greg on Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint series – I listened out of order and started with Catalyst, then went back and listened to Tinderbox, Firestorm and later, the novella, Inferno. These are fantastic romantic suspense books but note the following Content Warnings: violence, harm to children, sexual abuse, sexual assault, genocide, war, famine. (While the subject matter is sometimes heavy in these books, they never approached torture porn for me.) After my first listen, I was hooked on Greg’s narrations and there have been many books I’ve picked up simply because it was his voice I was going to have in my ears.
Emily Woo Zeller has narrated all of Ruby Lang’s Uptown series books – Playing House, Open House & House Rules. So far I have only listened to Open House but the others are on my radar. The narration in Open House was very very good. Emily brought her own interpretation of the characters to build on what was in the text, showing Tyson somewhat removed from those around him and rendering Magda (a character who could have been perceived as prickly, although I didn’t find her so) very sympathetic. It’s not quite an enemies to lovers story – Tyson and Magda are never true enemies and their journey from being on opposite sides of an issue near and dear to their hearts all the way to a HEA gives Emily plenty of scope to showcase a wide range of emotions. The wider cast are also portrayed with skill, especially the various older ladies of the community garden and Magda’s extremely grumpy and difficult-to-please uncle.
Emily also narrates Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test – a fabulous book which features an arranged marriage trope and Jessie Mihalik’s excellent Consortium Rebellion series – Polaris Rising, Aurora Blazing and the forthcoming Chaos Reigning. I have read these books but have them on audio to revisit the stories. We audiobook listeners often listen to books we’ve already read – especially when the narrator is a favoured one, it’s both a treat and a way to find new aspects to a story. Sometimes, a skilled narrator can reveal something which was previously opaque or provide an insight to subtext (sadly often lost on me) so I’m looking forward to Emily showing me all the things I missed the first time.
I first heard Vikas Adam in the delightful full cast recording of Instant Gratification. Like January LaVoy, he clearly had a blast recording it. There’s also another Lauren Blakely book where he’s a cast member – Overnight Sensation (that one’s on the TBL). The full cast recording is a real treat to listen to and there are more and more of them being released lately I’m happy to say. While Vikas’ sections of these books were fairly small they nevertheless led me to seek out more of his work.
In addition, my teen son has been recommending Vikas’ narrations ever since he started listening to Rachel Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, which begins with Nice Dragons Finish Last. (My son also assures me there is a romantic thread in this series with a HEA. My recommendation for this SFF series is one step removed but I trust the source.)
So I cued up Unfit to Print by KJ Charles recently (Content Warning: reference to prostitution for financial reasons) and was pretty impressed by what I heard. The main characters in Unfit to Print are Vikram Pandey, an English-born Indian man with an Oxford education and Gil Lawless, the illegitimate son of a wealthy white man and a Black maid who has been rejected by his family and has subsequently rejected pretty much everything from his father’s class – including the accent. They met in school (before Gil was turfed out by his half-brother upon the death of his father) and fell in love – though neither named it so at the time. Thirteen years later, they are once again in each other’s orbit as they join forces to try and find a missing Indian boy who has been doing sex work for money on the London streets. The romance is sweet and charming, with Vikram and Gil distinctly and well portrayed by Vikas, both in terms of pitch and accent and also in characterisation.
My experience of Vikas’ work in Unfit to Print makes me keen to listen to the Heartstrikers books and to seek out more from him.
One other narrator I wanted to mention is Kwaku Fortune. I had the pleasure of listening to his performance in Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare last year. Kwaku co-narrated with Carrie Hope Fletcher and the book made my top 10 list of the year. To date, Kwaku has (as far as I can tell at least) only narrated the one romance audiobook but I am sincerely hoping he does more. The Flatshare has a delightful and unusual premise and I was completely charmed by it. (FYI, Kwaku appears in the definitely not-a-romance Normal People which is streaming at present. He plays Phillip.)
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All books mentioned are personal recommendations unless otherwise specified
All photographs used with permission