Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks

Never Seduce a Scot by Maya BanksNever Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Series: The Montgomerys and Armstrongs #1
Published by Tantor Media on 9/25/12
Genres: Historical, Romance
Format: Audiobook
four-stars

 

Story: B+
Narration: A-

Once Upon a Time…:

There was a little girl who liked to be told stories that transported her to another world… and every now and again I find an audiobook that reminds of that joy I felt as a child at being read to. The fact that this audiobook was nominated for an Audie award in the romance category as well as its place as the first in a new series whose second book (soon to be released) piqued my interest prompted me to pick it up. I’m glad I did because I enjoyed this audiobook tremendously. Through much of the book, I felt a lot like a kid who was sitting down for story-time at the library (erm, not during the sexy bits though) – including moments when I talked back to the “reader” of the book as I got caught up in the story and couldn’t help myself.

In a Land Far Over the Mountains and Across the Ocean:

“Eveline Armstrong is fiercely loved and protected by her powerful clan, but outsiders consider her “touched.” Beautiful, fey, with a level, intent gaze, she doesn’t speak. No one, not even her family, knows that she cannot hear. Content with her life of seclusion, Eveline has taught herself to read lips and allows the outside world to view her as daft. But when an arranged marriage into a rival clan makes Graeme Montgomery her husband, Eveline accepts her duty -unprepared for the delights to come. Graeme is a rugged warrior with a voice so deep and powerful that his new bride can hear it, and hands and kisses so tender and skilled that he stirs her deepest passions. Graeme is intrigued by the mysterious Eveline, whose silent lips are ripe with temptation and whose bright, intelligent eyes can see into his soul. As intimacy deepens, he learns her secret. But when clan rivalries and dark deeds threaten the wife he has only begun to cherish, the Scottish warrior will move heaven and earth to save the woman who has awakened his heart to the beautiful song of a rare and magical love.” – blurb via Goodreads

There Lived a Princess:

There’s a lot in this story that’s reminiscent of Disney-version fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White. The persecuted heroine (take your pick from: Eveline fears marriage to a brute of a suitor who terrorized her; within her own clan she’s scorned by some for her seeming lack of faculties; after marriage to the chief of her clan’s mortal enemies she’s reviled for being an Armstrong as well as simple, etc.) eventually finds her prince in a castle (OK, a Scottish keep if you want to be picky), faces the hatred and mistrust of the keep’s women (evil step-sisters, anyone?), is set to work at menial tasks (including floor scrubbing), is kidnapped and rescued by her “prince”, and lives happily ever after.

Who Found Her Prince:

Although Graeme Montgomery is laird of his clan and a fierce warrior, he’s nothing but gentle and understanding when it comes to Eveline: traits I find uncommon in a romance hero outside of a beta hero construct, which Graeme definitely isn’t. The conflict in the story is primarily external to the relationship between the two. Graeme and Eveline both want to find a way to make their pairing work – initially because neither blames the other for their forced marriage or the history of war between their clans and eventually because they fall in love. It’s clan vs. clan conflict, Eveline struggling for acceptance by the Montgomery women, and the late-in-the-game appearance of an evil-doer that drives the story.

Until a Curse Came Between Them:

Eveline made a pretty stupid decision several years previously (for mostly understandable reasons) and is trying to find a way out of the consequences of that choice. That’s part of why she seems so young to me. Add to that the resistance and mocking she receives from the women of the keep and there’s a certain feel of grade school bullying that adds to my impression of her as very young and naive. It also sets her up as a very sympathetic protagonist. Since the story starts with her being pushed out of the protective arms of her family by marriage to Graeme, we meet her at the point at which she’s starting to grow up and trying to make the best of what she’s been handed. She has the requisite “plucky” moments but overall, her arc of character development was very enjoyable.

And Evil Swept Her Out of the Arms of the Prince, who Strove Mightily to Rescue her:

The tension ratchets up at the end of the story as Eveline finally has to contend with her long-ago suitor who is intent on preventing the Armstrongs and Montgomerys from uniting through the marriage and although the ending is never in doubt, several plot threads are tied up nicely and there’s a very smooth setup for the next book in the series.

And They All Lived Happily Ever After:

Really, I just found this to be a sweet story with very likable protagonists who are pitted against outside conflict but who triumph over adversity and find their HEA. Close family interaction – one of my favorite ingredients in romances – combined with a youthful heroine who teased a ghost of protectiveness from me and a caring hero who doesn’t act like an asshat left me with a happy smile on my face when I finished this one… within 12 hours after starting it.

The Narration (aka “I’m Sure I Could Stretch the Fairytale Structure of the Review Sections to Include a Bard but…”):

Also in aid of leaving me with the impression of sitting down to be enthralled with a tale is Kirsten Potter’s delivery. Within a very clear and measured narrative is also an impeccable sense of timing that paces the story perfectly to maximize listener engagement during action-heavy sections and allow more quiet and contemplative reflection with scenes of softer emotion. The one delivery point with which I take issue is during sex scenes. That niggle about the narration kicked off a broader set of thoughts for me so although my discussion of what bothered me takes up a lot of page space, please be aware that it was a very minor thing. The narration was excellent overall and I absolutely recommend the audiobook version.

Romance is most often written in such a way as to make sex scenes (pardon the expression) the climax of the book or at least make it the linchpin of a character arc that’s been building for a while. Because structurally the story is peaking at that point in terms of pacing and emotional build-up, the addition of strong vocal dramatics such as overt breathiness or really ramping up the intensity of the delivery usually pushes it too far over the top for me. In general, subtle will always work better at those moments and Ms. Potter is close the least subtle narrator during sex scenes that I’ve heard. (You can and should take that with a grain of salt, however, since I skip the more theatrical narrators entirely.) Of course, attempts at straight analysis aside, it may also be that I’m a typically prudish American who feels uncomfortable if you’re talking too loudly about sex. ;-)

In a generic reflection on narrators/narration and romance audiobooks, I sometimes wonder how much narrators with formal training as stage actors have to work to pull back their performance in recognition of the fact that the audience is no longer twenty plus feet away from their voice but rather, in the case of earphones, mere millimeters. It also occurs to me that a narrator of a romance title who prefers to work with a different genre may (incorrectly, I would argue) perceive sex scenes as the point of the story and so maximize their emphasis there unnecessarily.

But enough of that. Back to the actual narration! I wouldn’t know an authentic Scottish accent if it walked up behind me and whispered sweet nothings in my ear (although I wouldn’t mind an opportunity to test that theory) but the accent Ms. Potter employed worked well with the caveat that I think the physical construction of how she achieved the accent made every character occasionally sound as if they should be carrying a handkerchief to mop up some spit spray when they spoke with emphasis.

In any story with multiple brothers (in this case, two different sets), voice differentiation can be problematic but that wasn’t the case here. Each brother (three in the Montgomerys and two in the Armstrongs) was distinct in voice and I had no problem determining who was speaking. Also of note since brothers in romance novels seem to invariably get their own story, all the voices were appealing. I could finish up here with additional comments on the technical aspects of the narration that made it a very successful listen for me but they all boil down to the same result: these characters felt real to me, the events were given immediacy, and I was immersed in the story to the point that I forgot it was being narrated.

four-stars

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Narrator: Lucy Gaskell, Morven Christie
Published by Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd. on 6/6/12
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
four-half-stars

Story: B+
Narration: A-/B+

Quick Review:

This was a very good book with clever plot building and strong writing. The way the story is constructed slowly ratchets the tension tighter and tighter until it snaps with a convulsive shock. The point of view is divided between two characters who are equally interesting and two audiobook narrators who bring their respective characters to vibrant life.

The Plot:

In the normal course of things, Maddie and Queenie would never have even met, let alone become friends. In World War II era Britain, however, things are far from normal. With so many men off fighting in the war the shortage of manpower at home opens doors for women in the workplace. Maddie had just obtained her civilian pilot’s license when the war started and after working as a radio operator, she was able to join the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and help ferry planes across Britain. As a well educated young woman fluent in German and French, Queenie ends up working as a Special Operations Flight Officer. When a plane carrying the two young women crashes in occupied France, one is captured by the Gestapo and one makes it to safety. The story is split into not-quite-half as each gets a chance to tell part of the story, starting with Queenie telling us Maddie’s story as her own situation is slowly revealed.

My Thoughts:

I’m struggling to figure out how to talk about this book because there was one big issue that bothered me and had my inner critic jumping up and down trying to point it out. My inner reader, however, whipped out some Ninja moves and cold-cocked my inner critic who went down for the count so my inner critic is going have her say and then I’m sending her to her room so I can talk about how very good this audiobook was. My main issue with the story was that the major plot conceit – that these two women would have the time and ability to write such detailed accounts with what seemed to me to be an unrealistic degree of omniscience – was difficult for me to buy into. Fortunately, that thought was rapidly drowned out by the story itself which captivated me.

This is one of those audiobooks that I keep wanting to talk about in ways that aren’t necessarily about the text of the story, which unfolds in such an interesting way that I’d hate to spoil any part of it. I want to be able to convince you that this was a really good audiobook by telling you I finished it in one day and spent hours at a time listening because I just couldn’t make myself take out my earphones. That I would just nod and smile when someone spoke to me, pretending I could actually hear a word they said as I walked away. That I stayed up hours past my normal bed time (hey, it was a work night!) and, yes, the book made me cry. Have I convinced you? Let me try another tack.

The story structure is interesting, not just because it is written as what are essentially diary entries but also because we start out with Queenie, held prisoner by the Gestapo, telling Maddie’s story. When she reaches the point in the story where they meet and she’s talking about herself, it’s almost always in the third person. While this initially struck me as odd, that sense of distance made me uneasy about what Queenie wasn’t telling the reader about her current situation. As she details Maddie’s time transporting planes, the various airports she flies into, and the military officers and civilians fighting the war from British soil, we get a well-developed sense of both the time-period and the friendship growing between these two complex characters.

Interspersed with Queenie’s recounting of Maddie’s history are slowly revealed bits and pieces of the treatment Queenie is receiving under the direction of Hauptsturmführer von Linden, a character who begins to take on an unexpected depth. When the narrative switches over to Maddie’s diary the transition is smooth and my normal reluctance to switch character view point never materialized. Maddie’s story starts with the plane crash and details more current events. She finds safety with French resistance members and while she waits for a rescue flight back to England that is a long time in coming, she learns of Queenie’s capture. I was anxious for these two characters’ stories to merge again and as events started to gain momentum and everything began to unravel and the truth at the heart of the story was revealed, I was riveted.

The Narration:

The narration was very good. Morven Christie provided Queenie’s part of the story and I initially thought she was underplaying the emotion but as the story progressed it became clear how very well that delivery matched Queenie’s personality. At the point at which that seeming composure faltered, I was also forcibly reminded why audiobooks are such an effective method of transporting the listener into the story: less than a second of a shaky indrawn breath just prior to a single short sentence being spoken and my anxiety over where the story was going was tripled. In addition to using her native Scottish accent for Queenie, Ms. Christie seemed to effortlessly flow between English, German (accent and actual German), French (accent and actual French), and American – including actually singing parts of two different songs, one in German and one a Robert Burns song. The character voices were excellent, the impression of moment-to-moment scene discovery was fully realized and, after my initial opinion of the emotional content was revised, I was wrecked by the delivery of dramatic scenes.

Lucy Gaskell takes over as Maddie at a bit over half-way through. In some respects, this was the weaker of the two narrations – French and German accents weren’t believable in dialogue and sometimes Maddie sounded happier than I thought she should given what was going on – but much like the story completely overwhelmed my objection to the narrative-via-diary plot conceit, the character and personality of Maddie were so very vivid in Ms. Gaskell’s voice that I was never less than convinced she was Maddie. In addition, the range of emotions Maddie goes through were very effectively delivered. Overall, I was very pleased with the dual narration.

four-half-stars

Pride & Passion by Charlotte Featherstone

Pride & Passion by Charlotte FeatherstonePride & Passion by Charlotte Featherstone
Narrator: Rebecca de Leeuw
Series: Brethren Guardians #2
Published by Harlequin Enterprises on 12/1/11
Genres: Historical, Paranormal, Romance

Narration: A- (I feel a bit like I just drove a Ferrari to the corner mini-mart during rush-hour to buy a Twinkie)
Story: B-/C+ (I heard three distinct stories and was mildly dissatisfied with all of them rather than getting one cohesive story with multiple intriguing plot lines)

I’ve been feeling a bit disaffected with my usual run of reading material and I’m afraid this audiobook was unable to lift me out my slump. While the narration was very good and there were aspects of the story that snagged my interest, I struggled to pick out single and fully-developed plot line to follow and felt there was a lot of potential in this book that wasn’t reached. I’m not sorry to have listened to it and on a good day, in a cheerful mood, without having recently read a book that did very well what this book only partially succeeded at with a few of its character/plot threads, the stumbling blocks I encountered might have seemed less obvious. Bianca Amato/Rebecca de Leeuw’s (Both the same person – the former name being given at the start of the audio, the latter being what Audible shows) narration was excellent. She has a lovely voice and delivered a nice range of character voices that covered the emotional spectrum.

For me, the book read kind of like this (huge apology to Goodreads user Lilli Perspice for kiping one of her review styles… only applying it much less effectively):

Book: “Cross my palm with silver and I’ll tell you a tale…”

Me: *hands over money*

Book: “Meet Lucy Ashton as she visits a fortune-teller in an effort to connect with her first lover who has gone missing after murder, mayhem, and fire in the previous book.”

Me: . o 0(OK, nicely mysterious set-up. It seems to go with the “Brethren Guardians” subtitle the book has…sort of a semi-paranormal feel…) “Keep talking.”

Book: “Here’s the heroine’s emotionally remote father who wants her to marry Adrian York, the Duke of Sussex. Here’s all the characters from the previous book. Here’s Adrian, the manly yet tortured love interest who pines for Lucy behind a stoic facade.”

Me: “Alright. They seem to be an interesting group. Go on.”

Book: “Check it: small info dump on Lucy and what happened to her lover and how she still yearns for him and thinks Sussex is a stiff prig.”

Me: “Info-dumpling consumed, can we move on now?”

Book: “Meet the other women who are/will be part of this trilogy of books. See what good friends they are?”

Me: *tapping fingers on desk impatiently* “Is this going somewhere?”

Book: “Hey, I know, let’s have a musicale!”

Me: *yawns*

Book: “How about some more verbal wrangling between Lucy and Adrian? I’ll even throw in another woman in case I want to add a Big Misunderstanding later!”

Me: “I hate the Big Misunderstanding.”

Book: “Don’t worry, that will never develop into anything.”

Me: “Well, what will develop? I’m getting restless.”

Book: “Hmmm, Lucy appears to be attracted to bad boys.”

Me: “That could be interesting.”

Book: “Naw, that won’t be much of a factor in this story. Hmmm, Lucy appears to have shut down emotionally as a response to being ignored as a child.”

Me: “That could be… wait, isn’t she so madly passionate for her first lover that she goes to a mystic to try to find her true love? How is that emotionally closed-off?”

Book: “Don’t worry about that disconnect, the whole thing won’t really come up again. Moving on…hmmm, look at this, some role reversals: Lucy is the selfish and bratty character who disparages the one who loves her and Adrian is the idiot who follows her around until she realizes what she has.”

Me: “Yeah, sorry, that’s just not working for me. Lucy is a self-involved and immature child.”

Book: “Here, try this on for size: Lucy gets a note from her missing lover. She goes to meet him but is intercepted by the Duke.”

Me: “Now you’re talking.”

Book: *Sexy Hijinks ensue*

Me: “Wait! What is it with the ‘best sex evah! with free orgasms for all involved the first time our romantic duo rub up against each other…literally rub’ scenario? *rolls eyes* And enough with the ‘I will do this to you and I’ll take this from you and he never did this for you’ stuff. Can we have a little mutual cooperation please?”

Book: “OK” *flips pages while muttering* “The next morning, Lucy cries over the urchin boy who was her only friend as a child. It turns out her father chased him away for being a gutter snipe. Lucy goes to Adrian’s after getting a letter. There’s a dead body at Adrian’s. Lucy’s father shows up and Lucy accuses Adrian of trying to maneuver her into a compromising position so they are forced to marry but fortunately the whole Brethren gang was there to give the appearance of respectability. Lucy runs off to visit the fortune-teller again and goes missing. Oooh, look, mysterious Templars to catch your interest.” *waves Templars in your face then tosses them over its shoulder before you get a good look*

Me: “What was that?”

Book: “Nothing, nevermind.” *keeps flipping pages rapidly and muttering* Lucy and Adrian both end up at a masked ball at the club owned by the mysterious Orpheus. They find themselves in the same room, separated by a sheer curtain, and under the influence of some strange combination of ether, absinthe, and opium smoke. Seduction begins but is interrupted by Lucy’s father. Now they really are compromised and have to get married.”

Me: “That whole scene was just weird.”

Book: *Stretches, rubs spine, and sighs* “I’m tired of the mystic, the secret guardians of artifacts, and the psuedo-paranormal vibe. Here, have a traditional historical romance.”

Me: “Uh, what?! Wait, all that took up 4/5ths of the book and now they’re married and finding love over the labor pains of a whelping spaniel?”

Book: “Roll with it!”

Me: *gazes wistfully out the window as original Major Plot runs alongside the carriage, rapidly loosing ground*

Book: “Oh fine! Here, have a wacky plot-twist!”

Me: “That’s just a bunch of b…aloney! That could never happen!”

Book: “Oh no! Now there’s danger, kidnapping, false-trails and one of the Brethren Guardians is framed – all in the last chapter. Whatever will be the fate of the most interesting character in the book?”

Me: “Now this is good stuff! What happens next?”

Book: “Sorry, that’s all for now. Come back in six months or so.”

Me: “WHAT!?”

Book: *exasperated* “Was there anything you liked about me?”

Me: “I hope you don’t think I’m shallow when I say you have a lovely cover and your voice is amazing.”