Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks

Tempting Danger by Eileen WilksTempting Danger by Eileen Wilks
Narrator: Full Cast
Series: World of the Lupi #1
Published by GraphicAudio on 6/1/2013
Genres: Romance, Urban Fantasy


Book: B
Performance: B

The Plot:

A bold new world where the magical and mundane co-exist in an uneasy alliance–and a cop balanced on her own knife-edged struggle is their only hope against a cold-blooded killer.

Lily Yu is a San Diego police detective investigating a series of grisly murders that appear to be the work of a werewolf. To hunt down the killer, she must infiltrate the clans. Only one man can help her–a were named Rule Turner, a prince of the lupi, whose charismatic presence disturbs Lily. Rule has his own reasons for helping the investigation–reasons he doesn’t want to share with Lily. Logic and honor demand she keep her distance, but the attraction between them is immediate and devastating-and beyond human reason. Now, in a race to fend off evil, Lily finds herself in uncharted territory, tested as never before, and at her back a man who she’s not sure she can trust.

This review contains spoilers only to the extent of what you would find if you read the blurbs for the next books in the series.

My Thoughts:

Listening to this graphic audio production was something of an experiment for me: in the past I’ve stayed away from any and all full-cast productions – especially those with sound-effects – because I dislike them…except, it would seem, for when I don’t. *sheepish look*

Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks was a book I had read before and I enjoy the World of the Lupi series. It’s one of the few series I read whose main couple are married for most of the books and, like J.D. Robb’s Eve and Roarke, the conflict that drives the stories is primarily external with a nice splash of realistic relationship issues here and there. Re-listening to Lily’s introduction to Rule over the murder investigation that kicks off the story was almost like experiencing the book for the first time because of the style of the production.

One of the things I like about the world that Wilks has created is that even after working my way through a glutted market of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal books containing werewolves and demons and their own mythology, it still manages to seem fresh. Part of that is because the books have a solid real-world feel in terms of the dynamics of character relationships, Lily’s police job and the procedural elements in play, and the political machinations that take place and when the more fantastic elements are layered over that foundation, it makes for solid and relatable world-building. This series also manages to take my least favorite PNR thematic element – fated mates – and make it not just palatable but an integral and enjoyable part of the series. It helps that the characters act rationally about it and there’s no “I must treat you badly because I can’t resist you” dynamic in play.

Structurally, the murder mystery is the primary focal point although Rule and Lily’s growing relationship adds a nice romantic element as well. Between the two primary protagonists, we get alternating views and I really like that split perspective. The peripheral characters are very well drawn and one of the areas in which Wilks excels in this series is integrating a large cast of characters and seamlessly weaving in multiple story-lines without confusing the reader.

The prejudice the lupi experience and the ways in which that complicates Lily’s investigation, the lupi hierarchy, family conflicts between Rule and his brothers and father, the resentment Lily experiences from some of her fellow police officers, the spiritual divide between Lily and Rule, the construct of magic systems and who has which abilities… there were just a lot of elements that blended together nicely to make this well-rounded story and I recommend it.

The Performance:

My initial thought was that the casting for this audiobook was excellent and while that is undoubtedly true, the vocal skills of each voice actor were uniformly strong, so credit where credit’s due. From the perspective of getting to hear realistic dialogue, well-delivered emotional content, and strong performances, I was entirely pleased. I did have to adjust to Lily’s voice. Her character was delivered well but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. Her voice was strong, tough, and typically West/Mid-west in inflection and intonation and I think I was expecting her Chinese mother and grandmother to have had more influence on her inflections. I don’t have any text-based reason for the disconnect, just my mental expectations as a reader. Rule, Cullen, Lily’s grandmother…well, the rest of the cast, really, completely met my expectations vocally.

There’s a pretty broad cast of characters who get more page time than might be expected and the full-cast production works well to highlight that. That’s definitely one thing a full-cast production has going for it: the ability to present the listener with perfect voices regardless of age, gender, background, etc. I’ll still never like music underlying the voices in my audiobooks and during kissing scenes the heavy breathing was little loud and the smacking sounds were annoying (if I never again hear the sound effect of someone slurping coffee, it will be too soon) but those ended up being minor quibbles because I enjoyed this production to a surprising degree and immediately moved on to the second one.

I was intrigued by several aspects of the production. I don’t know that I would call it abridged so much as I would call it an adaptation. Having read the book, I had it on hand to compare to the performance and while certain things were omitted, it was more along the lines of descriptions of things that were given voice through sound effects. I was more surprised by the way dialogue was altered slightly with similar wording inserted in place of what was actually written – almost as a person might accidentally do while reading aloud. The story remains wholly intact, though.

Overall an enjoyable audiobook that, if you’re like me and tend to avoid audio dramas, just might change your mind on that. One thing that really assisted me in making a decision about whether or not to buy this audio was the fact that GraphicAudio has an extended sample available on SoundCloud so I’m linking to it here:



Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

Loyalty by Ingrid ThoftLoyalty by Ingrid Thoft
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Published by Penguin Audio on 6/18/13
Genres: Mystery
Format: Audiobook

Story: C+
Narration: B+

Quick Review:

A feisty PI, dysfunctional family dynamics, good narration by Rebecca Soler, and a plot that moves along nicely make this a decent, if not groundbreaking, listen.

The Plot:

Josefina “Fina” Ludlow quit law school and became an investigator in her family’s law firm. The firm focuses on personal injury claims and has made its fair share of enemies in the police department so when Fina’s brother, Rand, becomes a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, not only will Fina have to untangle a web of family secrets, she’ll have to do it while racing to beat a hostile police detective to the truth.

My Thoughts:

Loyalty is constructed of two different story-lines that eventually converge into one. The astute listener (which was not me, in this case) will quickly see at what point they are likely to intersect but the story is engaging and well-paced enough to keep both the clue-solver and the clueless listener involved.

Fina’s father and her three brothers are all lawyers in the family firm but Fina flunked out of law school. In punishment, her father set her to working her way through various jobs at the firm and she found her place (and a mentor and true father-figure) with the firm’s private investigator. She lives at her (deceased) grandmother’s condo and splits her affections between her friend (with benefits) and massage therapist, Milloy, and her friend (with benefits) and inside source at the cop shop, Christian. She maintains contacts in various professions and social strata of Boston – including among the criminal element – and utilizes them when working a case. As she leverages some of them, it becomes clear that Fina’s investigation is seriously irritating someone because they keep trying to kill her or beat her up.

I like a tough PI protagonist as much as the next reader but the combination here struck me as somewhat awkward at times. Sure, Fina was more than willing to take a swing at a bad guy but she spent a lot of time collecting bruises from being run off the road or punched in the face to discourage her investigation. Then, when she confronts some of her more questionable contacts face-to-face (where her primary threats seem to be “I have a gun” or “don’t make me come back here a second time”) she strikes fear into their hearts? I felt that was more “tell” than a pattern of “show” in terms of how tough Fina is.

Fina loves her family but her father is forceful and controlling and she struggles to balance her desire to please him with how she wants to live her life and what she thinks is right. This sets up a nice internal conflict for Fina to accompany the external conflict of the search for her missing sister-in-law, although I would have enjoyed a deeper look into the dynamics there. The steps Fina goes through to track down her sister seemed logical and grounded, in contrast to many mysteries that rely too heavily on coincidence. Boston is the setting for the story but my sense of the city as a character came strictly from the accents used in the narration rather than atmospheric descriptions in the text.

I was slightly bothered by the fact that most of the adversaries Fina encountered in her investigation were categorized as physically unattractive: possessing cleavage that probably had to be “excavated for crumbs” at the end of the day (Lt. Pitney), or fat (multiple characters) and balding (Mark), or egregiously unfashionably dressed (multiple)  in contrast to the Ludlow’s fashionable attire and Fina’s beauty, rapid metabolism, and athletic nature. It’s a simplified bad guy vs. good guy shorthand characterization that limited the dimensions of the story for me.

It took a while for the story to get going, not because it was poorly paced but because none of the characters are particularly likable so I needed a better understanding of what their motivations were and how the plot pieces were going to start to twining together before I could sink into the story. The plot winds up to a very strong climax and Fina’s internal conflict as she finally uncovers all the components of her sister-in-law’s disappearance and how her family will be affected was particularly engaging.

The Narration:

I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Soler’s performances in the past (most notable with Cinder) and this audiobook was no exception. She does an excellent job encapsulating Fina’s personality and easily transitions between characters with distinctive changes in tone, accent, and pitch. The accents were well done: typical American, Boston-specific accents used intermittently (among the characters, not within the same character), light Hispanic, and a couple of nicely done mild Southern drawls. She conveys the bored teenager with aplomb while moving into the domineering patriarch with equal skill. Her pacing was good and overall, the production was very clean.

It didn’t get a perfect grade from me because a) I’m starting to prefer slightly more natural-sounding narrative and b) the reactive nature of the dialogue between characters, while good, still felt somewhat as if each character was recorded in their entirety and then another had all their lines recorded and… you get the point. This was certainly not the case but that impression was caused by every character having very smooth and consistent pacing in their dialogue with no breaks or leveraging of pauses to really humanize and individualize the characters as well as the presence of an almost metronomic regularity in conversational “call and response.” Overall, it was still a good narration that should suit any listener.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Penguin Audio via the audiobookjukebox.com Solid Gold Reviewer program.


Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Written in Red by Anne BishopWritten in Red by Anne Bishop
Narrator: Alexandra Harris
Series: The Others #1
Published by Penguin Audio on 3/5/13
Genres: Fantasy
Format: Audiobook

Story: A-
Narration: C

Quick Review:

An excellent story with a new twist on werewolf/vampire origins, vibrant characters, intriguing world-building, and very good pacing make this a highly recommended read. The narration, however, was something of a challenge for me.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this story immensely; so much so that I ended up buying a copy of the e-book with the intent to revisit the intriguing world of the terra indigene. The prologue gives a short snippet of how humans and the Others found themselves coexisting in Thaisia and I was immediately wrapped up in thoughts of an alternate history where colonists landed on the coast of what I picture as North America (given the references to the Great Lakes and Sparkletown in the west where movies are made) and, à la the Roanoke Colony, disappeared. Subsequent settlers encountered the powerful natives who viewed them as prey but they were eventually able to bargain with them for small plots of land and access to natural resources in exchange for the goods and technology human ingenuity could produce.

The natives learned to assume a human shape and moved between that and their natural forms which were generally either an animal form or, in the case of the Sanguinati, a mist-like form that can draw blood through the skin of its prey. That was a refreshing world-building perspective for the origin of werewolves and vampires. More frightening than the Others whom the humans interact with, however, are the elemental powers that dwell in the heart of the terra indigene lands.

When Meg Corbyn stumbles into the Courtyard, shivering and under-dressed for the winter weather, the first person she encounters is Simon Wolfgard – leader of the Others in Lakeside. Simon is considered progressive among his kind. Human settlements often have a Courtyard – a large area of land off-limits to humans where the Others live and can keep an eye on their human “tenants” – but Simon has set up a shopping area where humans are permitted and interaction between the races takes place. Gruff and growly Simon reluctantly agrees to hire Meg for the job of Human Liaison and timid, on-the-run Meg thinks she’s finally found a place where she can hide from the powerful consortium who kept her enslaved in order to use her abilities as a cassandra sangue or blood prophet.

At this point, I was pretty sure I had a handle on how this story was going to be constructed and although I did slide into the story like I was pulling on a familiar and comfy sweater, I didn’t get too far into it before I realized someone had turned my monochromatic wardrobe into something brilliantly colored and patterned and I couldn’t stop reading.

Simon is confused by his urge to care for, rather than hunt, Meg. She doesn’t smell like prey so in his confusion he snaps and snarls at her at every turn. Meg is something of a tabula rasa, holding only a limited set of visual and auditory experiences that were provided to her via media by her Controller in order to give her just enough experience of the world to prophesy and, in theory, not enough to enable her to successfully escape and evade imprisonment. As a character, this made her an interesting foil for the community of Others she is surrounded by. The contrast between the predatory and powerful terra indigene and the very young-seeming and innocent Meg is a dynamic that worked to strengthen and ground the characters of the various Others that Meg is surrounded by. It was almost as if her naïveté and inexperience set her up as a negative space that ends up defining the shapes (characters) surrounding her and allowing the reader to see them more clearly and in more detail.

The point of contrast that I was less satisfied with was the ingenue/femme fatale dichotomy of Meg vs. Asia Crane. Asia has been hanging around the Courtyard and trying to pique Simon’s interest. Her real goal is to star in her own TV show and in order to achieve that, she’s taken on the job of infiltrating the Courtyard to learn more about the Others on behalf of a shadowy figure in Sparkletown she calls the “Bigwig.” Her manipulative, jaded, sleep-with-someone-to-get-what-she-wants personality was such a contrast to the innocence of Meg that it made her seem overdone as a character and villain.

All of that doesn’t mean Meg is a weak or unfinished character. She may be unworldly and somewhat fearful but she does stand up to Simon when it’s important and her struggle with her itching need to prophesy when she senses danger might be near is affecting. Given how very young and stressed she seemed, I was actually slightly uncomfortable being an observer to her process of cutting herself to bring on a vision and the pleasure/pain combination this engendered in a cassandra sangue.

Providing a completely human perspective on life in Thaisia among the Others is Lieutenant “Monty” Montgomery. Monty has been transferred from the big city of Toland to podunk Lakeside in disgrace. His new captain makes him the intermediary between the police and the Others. Through his eyes we learn how the Others handle trespassers (hint: they eat them), how humans generally view the Others, and exactly how much control the terra indigene can exert on the human settlements if the whim strikes them. Monty is a well-developed and interesting character but really, my main comment about him at the moment (if you’ve read the book) is a question: why on earth is his daughter’s name Lizzy Borden?

There were a double handful of supporting characters and every one of them was an integral part of the story. As they wove their way in and out of the story, I never begrudged them page-time in favor of more Meg or Simon. Meg ends up baby-sitting Simon’s nephew, Sam, who was traumatized when his mother was killed by humans when she and Sam were out for a run. Meg and Sam are simply adorable together. The scenes where some combination of Simon, Meg, Sam, or Nathan (another Wolfgard member) engaged in playtime or Meg was introducing them to the delights of dog snacks and dog beds were very amusing. The nosy and acquisitive nature of the members of the Crowgard clan who keep an eye on Meg was another humorous aspect of the book that nicely rounded out the story.

Great characters, interesting world-building, a nice blend of humor and tension, and a well-paced and satisfyingly dramatic ending with a wrap-up that left me looking forward to finding out what’s next in the world of the Others make this a recommended read in text form.

The Narration:

As a performer, Alexandra Harris has a very pleasing voice. In addition to that, she created a voice for Meg that was nicely youthful and she did a very good job vocally reflecting the character’s lack of worldliness . Her voice for Sam was also well done and she’s one of the better narrators I’ve listened to in terms of delivering a believable child’s voice. She then deftly ages her voice for the character of Erebus in such a way as to immediately convey both his position as the oldest of the Sanguinati and his unimaginable power.

On the whole, though, I had a very difficult time engaging with the narration of this audiobook. My initial thought was that I was being read to rather than being so drawn into the story that I lost awareness of the narrator but I kept rejecting that thought. After all, there was very good voice differentiation and the narrative section was performed differently than dialogue (both critical factors in preventing a “you’re reading not narrating” impression) so why should I feel like I was being read to? As the book progressed though, I returned again and again to that initial analysis and here’s what it boiled down to for me: the combination of very deliberate enunciation, single-speed pacing, and a tendency toward artificial inflection intended to mimic emotion rather than express something actually felt prevented me from enjoying the audio.

Deliberate enunciation: being able to understand the narrator is critical but rather than leveraging the performance marker of chewing the syntax to highlight the author’s intent, the way in which the story was deliberately and precisely spoken was reminiscent of how a reader might slow down and speak very clearly and with simplified dramatization when reading to a child. That had a secondary effect of making me feel like this book was distinctly young adult or even middle grade…which it isn’t at all. (Not to mention the YA audiobooks I’ve listened to have all had the same presentation as “adult” books.)

Single speed pacing: the unwavering consistency in pacing made the humor that’s sprinkled throughout the book fall flat because there was nothing to lift it out of the surrounding lines. On the other end of the spectrum, even the occasional use of the word “fuck” by a character – something that usually stands out because of its placement as an emphatic pejorative – was rolled into the sentence as if it was just any random noun or adverb. As events were progressing (theoretically) at a fast and furious pace as they reached the climax of the book, the narrative pacing didn’t appropriately reflect that forward motion and it also made transitions between scenes invisible, leaving me momentarily confused when we switched days/characters/locations.

Artificial inflections: the performance marker of Emphasis (to paraphrase producer Paul Ruben who defined the performance markers I keep in mind when reviewing) asks the listener ‘is the emphasis in the delivery emerging from an immediate discovery of the events taking place and so is organic (natural) or is the emphasis modulated (forced) in order to “juice” the narration?’ I doubt the narrator is consciously trying to punch the narration up but the delivery doesn’t strike me as organic. It holds a more intentional tone that might be better suited to voiceover delivery. Character voices had much more vibrancy and a somewhat more organic flow (as, of course, they should) but I still felt a dissonance with natural speech patterns and completely realistic expression of emotions.

While the author’s text is the heart of the story, a strong narration of the audiobook version can do amazing things in terms of enhancing the reader’s experience with a book. Unfortunately, the narration detracted from the text for me and made it a lesser experience that I might have wished.


Disclaimer: I received this audiobook without cost from Peguin Audio via the Solid Gold Reviewer program at Audiobookjukebox.com

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


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.


A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry

A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. HenryA Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry
Narrator: Abby Craden
Series: Troy Chance #2
Published by Dreamscape Media on 2/5/13
Genres: Mystery
Format: Audiobook

Story: B
Narration: B

Quick Review:

An enjoyable listen, this one is a slow scraping away of layer after layer of one man’s life in search of the reason he died. The location is well-drawn and atmospheric, the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional, and the narration – which I found enjoyable – has aspects that lead me to suggest you seek out samples to see how suitable it is for your listening tastes.

The Plot (via Goodreads):

“Freelance writer Troy Chance is snapping photos of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival ice palace when the ice-cutting machine falls silent. Encased in the ice is the shadowy outline of a body–a man she knows. One of her roommates falls under suspicion, and the media descends. Troy’s assigned to write an in-depth feature on the dead man, who, it turns out, was the privileged son of a wealthy Connecticut family who had been playing at a blue collar life in this Adirondack village. And the deeper Troy digs into his life and mysterious death, the murkier things become. After the victim’s sister comes to town and a string of disturbing incidents unfold, it’s clear someone doesn’t want the investigation to continue. Troy doesn’t know who to trust, and what she ultimately finds out threatens to shatter the serenity of these mountain towns. She must decide which family secrets should be exposed, what truths should remain hidden, and how far her own loyalty can reach.

A Cold and Lonely Place, the sequel to Learning to Swim, follows Troy on a powerful emotional journey as she discovers the damage left by long-hidden secrets, and catches a glimpse of what might have been.”

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed Sara J. Henry’s 2011 release Learning to Swim and had a pretty high level of anticipation for the second book starring Troy Chance. If you’re thinking of jumping in with the second book though, it works very well as a stand-alone read. The sense of place in both books is exceptionally well-drawn and the character of Troy is easy to connect to while still retaining the personality flaws that make her realistic. With A Cold and Lonely Place, the speed of the action slows down a bit but the story has more interpersonal depth and that suited me nicely.

This isn’t a mystery where there are clues dropped and the reader should feel triumphant for arriving at the solution before the end of the book. Rather, it’s a slow reveal – layer by layer – of the life of the dead man and the lives that intertwined with his. Although the majority of the book is focused on Troy’s efforts to understand who Tobin Winslow was and what events in his life led him cross-country to his death in the town of Saranac Lake, there’s also a nice narrative tension drawn between Troy’s first person musings on her resistance to personal connections and her actions – often protective and always empathetic – when it comes to those she’s close to. The plot was effective at providing the framework for that part of the story to run like a low-voltage current throughout.

I found this story to be character-driven but that shouldn’t be taken to imply the pacing was slow (granted, I do have a distinct preference for character-driven novels, even when the pacing is slow.) The book unfolded smoothly with constant forward motion but any chills passed on to the reader were more due to the author’s skill in constructing the quiet winter setting than the presence of dramatic action sequences.

The basic premise for Troy investigating Tobin’s death is that a) he was the boyfriend of one of her roommates and b) the newspaper she often writes for allowed a shoddy and biased article to be published and is trying to make amends by asking Troy to write an in-depth exploration of the dead man and his life. This initially struck me as slightly contrived but as the story progresses and Troy comes into contact with Tobin’s sister, Jessica “Win” Winslow, the way in which the details of the story spin out made me forget about that. The arc of Jessamyn’s (Tobin’s girlfriend and Troy’s boarder) story – although it wrapped up a bit more neatly than I would have liked – was well integrated with ongoing events and I was struck by the fact that in both Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lonely Place, Troy’s initial involvement in the mystery is sparked by her (almost maternal?) protective instincts.

I enjoyed how Troy’s preconceptions about who Tobin was and, to a certain extent who Jessamyn is, slowly shifted with every new interview she did and each new bit of information she gleaned. She herself reflects on the assumptions she initially made and how she was proved wrong. Tobin’s history turns out to be far more complex than expected and it’s the mystery in his past that holds the key to the momentum of the story more than the current one.

This was an audiobook that took a solid story-line about a suspicious death and spun it out into a broader examination of not so much whodunit as how did events reach that point. The small town feel of Saranac Lake and a sympathetic protagonist who feels more disconnected in her relationships than she actually is grounds the reader in the story and the supporting characters are interesting in and of themselves. Overall, this was an enjoyable listen.

The Narration:

The second book in this series comes with a change of narrator and for the most part, that worked well for me. With the first book, I wasn’t sure Suzanne Toren brought an age-appropriate voice to the character of Troy. With this one we have a younger sounding narrator but again there’s a slightly rougher quality to the voice (Was that intentional, Dreamscape? To ease the transition to a different narrator?)

I’m of two minds on Abby Craden’s narration and it took me a while to pin down exactly why. Just in terms of the quality of her voice, I found her performance appealing. She has throaty voice with a scratch in the lower register that I find very pleasing and her narrative delivery was relatively soft and intimate. That worked extremely well for nailing the performance marker of The here and now and as the story unraveled I felt like I was right there seeing events through Troy’s eyes with a sense of immediacy.

In terms of delivery choices and how I perceived them – it took me half the audiobook to be able to relax into the narration and immerse myself in the story because Ms. Craden has a very specific rhythm to her narrative voice that I had to accustom myself to. She regularly ended a sentence (or, just as often, made a comma or em dash sound like the end of a sentence) by raising the penultimate syllable and dropping the last one. The pause and sense of closure this generated wasn’t egregious but it was noticeable. It didn’t come across as used in aid of navigating the subtext of a phrase/sentence and as the narration went on it created a disruption within individual sentences as well as generating a rhythmic nature to the narrative that didn’t sound natural to my ear. That persistent two syllable pitch rise/fall was the only barrier I had to total immersion in the story.

The range of character voices were unique although anytime a character was angry they expressed it with the exact same clipped “spitting nails” delivery. Each bit of dialogue sounded as if it was from the specific point of view of the character speaking and the back and forth within conversations was reactive and realistic. A lot of the chapters (and a few of the larger scenes within a chapter) ended with a wrap-up statement (and I don’t even know if there’s a term for that but I’m going to label it “wrap-up”) similar to those foreshadowing lines some authors use at the end of a section such as “I left the gun in my purse. That turned out to be a mistake.” (except Ms. Henry eschews the use of heavy-handed foreshadowing lines) and I found the narrator’s delivery of those lines oddly effective at giving me a gut-punch sensation and setting my sense of anticipation for the next chapter.

My split opinion of the narration is basically this: I liked the narration and particularly like the timbre of Ms. Craden’s voice. I’ll pick up another audiobook narrated by her without hesitation although I won’t expect to be able to immediately lose myself in the story. I do suggest you look for an audio sample first, to see if her performance melds with your personal tastes.