The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

The Shape of Desire by Sharon ShinnThe Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn
Narrator: Erin Moon
Series: Shifting Circle #1
Published by Audible Frontiers on 4/3/12
Genres: Fantasy, Romance

Story: B-
Narration: B-

Quick Review:

This book unwinds at a leisurely pace and has a real-world feel to it, despite the inclusion of shape-shifters. A woman who has spent fifteen years desperately in love with a man who keeps the supernatural aspects of his life a secret from her (and the reader) and who is now able to spend less than a week with her each month might not be a character every reader will warm to but her gradual journey to a contented life, some thoughtful meditations on love and the secrets we protect, and a leavening of humor balanced out Maria’s pining and a mystery plot whose resolution left me thinking Uh, OK.

The Plot:

Maria Devane has spent fifteen years watching the love of her life, Dante Romano, leave her for longer and longer stretches of time each month. Dante is a shape-shifter and as he ages, he spends more time in various animal forms. Although she has friends at work and a loving family, Maria has resigned herself to a life where she hides her relationship with Dante and pours her passion into a handful of days each month. When a co-worker’s abusive relationship spills over into her life and a string of wild animal attacks occur nearby, Maria is forced to question her own relationship and ultimately both her safety and what she’s willing to sacrifice for love.

My Thoughts:

Shinn’s stories have a quiet build to them that I appreciate. In her previous novels that slow build has been buttressed by the vivid fantasy world-building. With this book the world is realistic and while Dante and his family are shape-shifters, that aspect is envisioned both as a personality characteristic (where how it manifests in each Romano varies between the siblings) and as a part of their lives that they hide. We don’t see them shift, there isn’t a pack dynamic or a complex history surrounding their abilities, and while it acts as a point of conflict because it keeps Dante away from Maria for long periods of time and affects his sense of self-worth, it doesn’t add the dynamic to the story that a reader might be looking for. This book is not really about romance but rather is a book about love – what we’ll sacrifice for it and what the difference is between how we perceive it and how those outside the relationship view it – and the secrets we hide from those close to us.

As we learn more about Maria’s co-worker Kathleen and her abusive relationship, I enjoyed teasing out the parallels between her life and the choices Maria makes to maintain her relationship with Dante. When I talk about the man who expresses interest in a woman after she shows a willingness to keep secrets and hide a violent event from the police, who engages in behavior that can be emotionally and possibly physically harmful to his girlfriend, and who seems to exercise all the control in the relationship, I could just as easily be talking about Dante as Kathleen’s husband. When Maria reassures Dante that she will never leave him and voices the line “‘I love you,’ I say. ‘That changes the shape of everything else.’” it almost echoes Kathleen’s protestations of love for Ritchie.

Details are parceled out (a little late in the book for my tastes) about how Maria and Dante met and how Maria has explored the boundaries of her decision to stay with him. The climactic moment seemed somewhat awkwardly constructed but I was satisfied with the dénouement. I enjoyed this book because I like character-driven stories and the author has constructed Maria as a realistic and generally likable (if somewhat needy) woman but it is my least favorite of Shinn’s books to date. I know several ‘Maria’s: the quiet, hard-working, fun-to-be-around-when-among friends woman who, like we all do, has made compromises in search of happiness or in the name of love. That sense of her as a real person is something that is often absent in genre fiction and if you are looking for supernatural thrills combined with romance you might be disappointed.

The Narration:

This is my first listen to one of Erin Moon’s performances and despite a few issues I encountered, the narration was enjoyable. This first person presentation contains a frequently employed rise and then fall in pitch and/or trailing off at the termination of many of the narrative statements that set up a rhythm to the narrative that I found somewhat distracting. Dialogue, however, did not suffer from the same problem. It was crisp and reactive and the characters were fully-voiced and easy to individually pick out of the conversational crowd. I was irritated with some proofing misses such as “cumulates” instead of “culminates” (3:53:43), “Babler Stake Park” (9:56:50),“dulsitory” in place of “desultory”, gaping pronounced as gapping (8:06:45), “limned”pronounced limed (long i), and several others. Although some of the text directive didn’t come through in the tone of the narration, I was immediately drawn in by the subtle desolation given to Maria’s voice when Dante leaves and the vulnerability and confusion in Kathleen’s voice as she struggles with her decision to stay in an abusive marriage as well as the down-to-earth and snappy delivery given to Maria’s co-worker, Ellen. There were very natural character asides that were easily distinguishable as internal comments and not dialogue and the tone struck during Maria’s dryly delivered commentary was pitch perfect.

Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon Shinn

Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon ShinnAngels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon Shinn
Narrator: Coleen Marlo, Justine Eyre, Renee Raudman
Published by Tantor Media on 10/4/11
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

This audio collection of novellas was a resounding success for me, even though it does not include one of the stories (Meljean Brook’s Ascension) found in the text version. That’s quite a coup considering I usually avoid short-story collections like the plague. All three novellas were very entertaining and the narrations ranged from good to very good.

 

Angel’s Wolf – Nalini Singh

Story: B-
Narration: B

The vampire Noel is sent to Louisiana by Raphael, the Archangel of New York. Nimra is the angel who holds Louisiana. Noel was brutally assaulted while working for Raphael and he assumes he has been sent to Louisiana because he is damaged goods. In reality, Nimra requested assistance after an attempt on her life that could only have come from within her court. The two seek the traitor and find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other along the way.

An entertaining novella set in the world of the Guild Hunter series, Angel’s Wolf is an enjoyable romance with a dash of intrigue. I was slightly disappointed at the overall construction of the character of Nimra because I felt there was a lack of consistency between her softer personality and the entire construction of angelic nature that Nalini Singh has developed but it did remain true the male/female dynamics that play out in this series. I actually enjoyed this story more than I did the last two full-length novels in the Guild Hunter world.

I’ve always thought Justine Eyre’s unique sound was ideally suited to giving voice to the tough guild hunters and remote and often cruel immortals who populate Singh’s world and she doesn’t disappoint with this novella. I initially stumbled over Nimra’s accent but ended up being swept into the story. The delivery of some unexpectedly subtle emotional cues capped off a strong narration.

 

Alphas: Origins – Ilona Andrews

Story: B+
Narration: B+

Karina is chaperoning a school field trip when she pulls off at a motel for a pit-stop. When she and her daughter are attacked before they can leave, she is “rescued” by a frightening creature and the group of men who accompany him. She is forced to make a bargain to save herself and her daughter and agrees to be a blood “donor” for Lucas, the creature who rescued her.

Sound like a semi-typical vampire or werewolf PNR-type story? Yeah, not so much and I’m glad of it because I really enjoyed this one. A heroine who makes realistic decisions in a fantastical situation, totally unsexy blood drinking, interesting power dynamics, intriguing semi-sci-fi world-building, a hero whose actions are understandable but not necessarily appealing, and some engaging psychological musings made this a world and characters I would love to read more of.

True confession moment: I’ve listened to Renee Raudman’s narration before (primarily with Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series) and in the back of my mind I’d think . o 0 (it’s OK but not at all my preferred style).  The fact that I would then go on to listen to the next in the series always puzzled me (I can be a bit slow). With her narration of this novella, I found myself having an entirely different experience. While not dissimilar to her presentation style in other audiobooks, it did come across to me as slightly more subdued and I think that made the difference. It also allowed me to finally identify why I could categorize Ms. Raudman in the “not for me” category but still listen or re-listen to books narrated by her: Renee Raudman simply excels at bringing the listener along on the journey of discovery. I become utterly convinced that events are happening as she reads them and neither she nor I have any idea of the outcome; we discover it together. Combine some well-portrayed humor and emotional content with that particular skill and I enjoyed this audio-novella tremendously. Clearly I need to rethink my categorization of this narrator.

 

Nocturne – Sharon Shinn

Story: B
Narration: B-

Moriah is a woman with secrets but when she encounters Corban, a blind angel, she is unwillingly drawn into helping him. Corban has spent the last two years angry, bitter, and in isolation after a tragic accident took his sight and his faith. When Moriah pushes her way into his life, he is forced to put aside his resentment and start living again.

I really like Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series and I enjoyed this chance to venture back into that world and spend some time with the well-rounded and realistic characters that people it. The romance is a slow-build and it’s really the character development and push-pull interaction between Moriah and Corban that draws and holds my interest.

While I find her voice very appealing, Ms. Marlo either has or employs a very distinct cadence and I found the primary barrier to my being fully immersed in the story the fact that both the narrative and every character had that speech pattern, which inhibits my ability to perceive a realistic differentiation between characters, despite very clear pitch differences. With that said, the narration was still good and there’s such a lovely sense of realism when Moriah voices her amusement that I found myself smiling in response, not just hearing the humor being voiced but feeling it as well.