Do You Hear What I Hear?


So about audio books . . .

I don’t listen to mine because I can’t stand to be read to, but I know I need to sit down and do that some day. Even then, I won’t be the audience for the books, so I won’t be a good judge. I’ve talked briefly to a couple of people who are the audience and who know what they’re talking about (hello, Molly and Jill) but this is something I really need more information on. I’ve heard that stage/screen actors are better than voice-over actors, and several people have said, “Yes, this actor,” or “Not that one,” but I’ve never really asked what makes a good audio interpretation.

So I’m asking now.

What makes a good audio?

Filed in X (Everything Else)

81 Comments to 'Do You Hear What I Hear?'

On July 9, 2007 at 5:57 pm Kelly said...

Now don’t laugh, but the actor who does Harry Potter audio books is absolutely fabulous. He amazes me with his ability to keep the voices he uses for the different characters consistent.

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On July 9, 2007 at 6:28 pm Brianna said...

Kelly, are you referring to Jim Dale (US versions) or Stephen Fry (UK versions)? If you’re talking about Jim Dale, then I 100% agree.

When it comes to my audio listening I really need someone who can deliver believable and distinct voices. If it all sounds the same then it’s hard to distinguish and it all buzzes into a single droning voice that puts me to sleep.

More important than voices, though, is that the reader GETS the book. Tone, character types and timing play a HUGE part in whether or not I enjoy what I’m hearing.

An example of a reader I absolutely love is Sandra Burr, who does quite a bit of Nora Roberts’ books. According to, she was a stage actress “from the time she was six years old,” and I think that may play a huge part in why I enjoy listening to her. She IS each character–she understands the characters she reads for in a way a lot of others I’ve listened to do not.

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On July 9, 2007 at 6:30 pm Brianna said...

Hey, I just saw that she’ll be reading Agnes and the Hitman!!! I just saw that she also read Crazy for You and Fast Women, so now I’ll need to go pick those up.

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On July 9, 2007 at 7:09 pm ClunyBrown said...

The first audiobook series I heard that really got to me was the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher read by James Marsters. The difference in the reading compared to the previous ones I’d listened to was amazing. I *do* think it’s because he’s an actor.

You can find samples here:

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On July 9, 2007 at 7:28 pm dee said...

I’ve only listened to a few audiobooks, and only after reading the actual book a few times. I can’t seem to ‘get it’ listening if I haven’t already read the words on paper.
My favorite audiobook is “Between, Georgia”, written and read by Joshilyn Jackson. I guess they don’t usually let authors read their own books, but she was an Actor before she was a writer, and they made her audition for it and everything. Knowing the story, since she wrote it and all, she reads it just like it sounds in my head, with this big dollop of South and emphasis on all the correct syllables.
Sorry, I know that’s not much help. Maybe just making sure that the reader is from the same geographical region as your main character? That seemed to make all the difference in BG.

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On July 9, 2007 at 7:29 pm Patte said...

Kelly and Brianna are right on target! A female reader with a mid-tone voice range (think Kathleen Turner or Sally Kellerman) is much easier on the ears than someone with a high-pitched tone. And please keep the music/sound effects to a minimum. It is distracting. Thanks and The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes truly rocks!! I couldn’t put it down and am counting the days until Agnes comes to visit!

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On July 9, 2007 at 7:46 pm Jenifer said...

I LOVE audiobooks. With a 30 minutes each way driving commute, I’ve always got a book I’m listening to for the drive. Sometimes it’s an old favorite, and sometimes it’s something new, but it’s almost always a book as opposed to music.

I agree that one of the main things that counts is that the narrator really understand the book and characters, so that she can make them come alive. I feel like the best books I’ve listened to have been like listening to a movie.

One thing that can ruin an audiobook is the narrator’s voice. I know there’s a large area of subjectivity in what people like in voices, but some are awful. I don’t know who the narrator was, and probably more than one person has read this book, but when I tried to listen to Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”, I had to turn it off after about 10 minutes. The narrator reminded me of Stevie (the kid in the wheelchair) from Malcolm in the Middle – totally breathy voice, like she had perpetual severe asthma and could never get a full breath in. It was tiring listening to it.

Though I know not everyone does, I love C.J. Critt as an audiobook reader. She read a lot of Janet Evanovich’s books (but not her newest ones), and also a lot of Patricia Cornwell’s. I feel like she can give a different voice to each character, without sounding over the top or fake.

I also really like Jim Dale’s readings of the Harry Potter books. After a few minutes, you really believe he is each of the characters he’s reading.

Tim Curry reads the Lemony Snicket books. My first listen of the first book, I didn’t love it so much. He REALLY acts them, including phlegmy coughing when it’s written in the story, and it kind of grossed me out. But they’re written for kids, and it was kind of funny, and once I tried again, I decided he’s actually a very good narrator.

The only book of yours I’ve listened to so far is “Welcome to Temptation”. Overall I liked the narrator, but she took some getting used to. At first she just didn’t “feel” like Sophie to me, and I generally like my narrator to feel like at least one of the main characters. But I was able to believe her more as Sophie as the book went on. And she did an amazing Rachel Garvey. Totally got the 20-year-old voice and speech patterns down beyond just the dialog that was written.

I don’t know how helpful that is on a generic basis. A voice that doesn’t totally sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, and an ability to give the different characters different voices are two biggies. And the different voices don’t have to sound so much like the character’s sex, or even their regional accent specifically (though having someone with a British accent read a southern American part wouldn’t sit well), but they need to be distinguished from one another and fit the overall character of the person they’re attributed to.

I’ll think about this some more and add anything I come up with. I love audiobooks almost as much as reading!

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On July 9, 2007 at 7:55 pm McB said...

I listen to a lot of audio books. It’s how I make myself do boring chores. The most important thing, to my mind, is the pacing. Some readers go too slow. One I listened to had a tendency to insert odd pauses that interrupted the flow for me.

Pacing is also the reason that some books adapt better to audio form. With audio, you have to get into the action pretty quickly, and include lots of dialogue. Otherwise the listener can get distracted and lose their place in the story. Jenny, your books do well because you do jump into the action right away. Also your dialogue, the banter, translates well with a good narrator.

Men, overall, seem to be better at it than women. Not always … I think it’s Susan Ericksen who reads the J.D. Robb “In Death” series, and she’s pretty good, although she can’t do an Irish accent. But there’s something about the pitch of a man’s voice that is better for reading. And when reading female charaters, the best of them just make their voices a little lighter … not higher, just “light.”

A woman’s voice, on the other hand, can be a bit too soothing. And sometimes they make the mistake of just deepening their voices, or overcompensate the gruffness, when reading male characters.

Ian Carmichael does a fabulous job with Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter mysteries. Well he played the character as well so that makes sense, but he does all the characters well. And Hugh Frasier reads the Hercule Poirot mysteries so well that you can picture the characters as if watching them on tv.

A good voice does not always make a good reader. Actors tend to do it better, I think, because when they read the characters, they ARE the characters. Makes a difference.

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On July 9, 2007 at 8:07 pm Diane L said...

I listen to a fair number of audiobooks and the reader is really important. I completely concur that Jim Dale’s reading of the Potter books is excellent. Davina Porter also does an excellent job reading Diana Gabaldon’s books. Those are two standouts but I don’t know what their backgrounds are in terms of being stage or voice over actors.
On the other hand, the reader of some of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books (whose name escapes me at the moment)does a pretty bad job with female characters-they always sound very whiny no matter what the character is supposed to be like.
The reader’s skill or lack thereof can make or break the book.

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On July 9, 2007 at 8:16 pm Michelle said...

I personally love stage actors doing audio books. Screen actors are great too, but if the person is too recognizable and I cant get their face out of my head when I hear their voice, it ruins the whole experience for me. But then that’s subjective too, because an actor who is recognizable to me wouldn’t necessarily be so to someone else.

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On July 9, 2007 at 8:19 pm gay said...

I don’t remember the name of the reader, but I love the woman who reads Elizabeth George’s books. And the reader for the Lord of the Ring Trilogy was fabulous, too.

But you are right… NO ONE beats Jim Dale. He is my absolute favorite. I think I would buy, rent, beg, borrow or steal an audiobook JUST because he was reading, regardless of author or subject matter.

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On July 9, 2007 at 9:02 pm Patricia said...

I listen to a ton of audiobooks (only way I can keep ‘reading’ and knitting). I have my favorites and completely agree the narrator makes a audio book. What I like is someone who can make the dialog sound like the different people (one of the hardest things is that you don’t see the quotes to know what someone is thinking or actually saying). I don’t mean silly voices, I mean honest to goodness voice inflection.
Next up is the narrator has to almost ‘act’ the characters. It helps give me the sense that the narrator has read the book before.

I have bought books because of the narrator too.

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On July 9, 2007 at 9:10 pm Becky said...

I just finished listening to “Lean Mean Thirteen” by Janet Evanovich (Lorelai King reads the most recent Plum releases, and she’s excellent.) and Janet talks about audiobook readers in an interview at the end. One point she made is that just like in a printed book, there has to be room for the listener to participate in the process. For example, if the reader uses a really strong accent, and it’s not what the listener pictured for that character, it can be distracting. As a listener, I can mentally add more to an accent, but something that’s too strong, or just wrong, can turn me off. (Am I the only one who thinks that Tina in the audio version of “Getting Rid of Bradley” sounds like she’s from New Yawk? What’s up with that?)

It’s personal preference, but I disagree that men make better readers than women. It always takes me longer to get into a romance read by a man than a romance read by a woman. I also disagree that actors make better readers than voice artists. My favorite readers are all (so far as I know) primarily voice artists, although most everyone seems to have at least some stage experience. And I prefer one reader throughout. I’ve listened to a few books that had multiple readers, and I find the switch between voices distracting.

A few of my favorite readers are Jim Dale, Simon Prebble, Lorelai King, and Johanna Parker. Bill Bryson is the only author I’ve heard who really does a good job as a reader, too. I can’t imagine anyone else reading his stuff.

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On July 9, 2007 at 9:27 pm Conscripted Cherry said...

I love CJ Critt- in fact I’m listening to her right now doing Evanovich’s “Motor Mouth”

Don’t like the guy who read DLD- he was wrong for all of the males, particularly JT

Susan Ericksen has done some of yours and lots of “In Death” books- I like her- most of her voices are what I hear when I read the book- some of her accents aren’t so good, but she’s good at the pacing

I would disagree that regional is always a good thing- one of the readers of the Stephanie Plum books has such a pronounced New Jersey accent she made my ears bleed, okay maybe not that bad, but I couldn’t make it through the first cd-

an ability to say foreign phrases in character- I know it sounds weird, but one book I was just listening to was a lower class girl who threw foreign phrases in to her conversation to sound smarter, and the reader pronounced them perfectly, totally wrong for the girl- pulled me out of the story each time-

Dick Hill is one of the most prolific male voice actors- he does Lee Child and tons others- a quick check on Denver Public Library came up with 96 books he’s read-

Debra Monk is one of the women I love- she does J A Jance’s Joanna Brady books- she does the people so you know who’s talking and she pronounces the Spanish and Native American well. I also like Harry Chase who does many of her Beaumont books.

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On July 9, 2007 at 9:44 pm Louisa said...

Elenna Stauffer does the GETTING RID OF BRADLEY, and yes, the accent on Tina makes me giggle. But, she had to differentiate the sisters somehow, and to be honest, my SIL has a strong East Coast accent while DH is completely without accent.
Still, I like Stauffer. These characters are rather young (GROB) and her voice fits. I think Barbara Rosenblatt is the gold standard. Can’t stand Kritt–she just pushes her voice out too strenuously. Jim Dale, yippee!

What makes a good narrator? Acting ability is one thing. However, the woman who reads The Copenhagen Connection has a rather flat delivery, which works well with the wry tone of the piece. She does act enough so that you can tell which character is which, but her delivery, esp, in exposition, is rather deadpan.

Budget is always a consideration, but I have really wished that there could be two narrators in each book, a man and a woman. The character voices have to be very distinct, because there’s no other way to know who’s saying what.

Just don’t let ‘em abridge the books. I hate that. So much gets lost.

So, which book are we talking about?

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On July 9, 2007 at 9:55 pm Rosa said...

Different voices! And your books have so many characters, they have to be distinct. The reader for Fast Women was very good but she had to do like 5 male voices and they started all sounding alike. I like the man & woman reader idea – imagine a reader having to do all three Fortune Sisters, plus Xan, plus the three love interests and two secondary-interest couples. How could they be distinct?

The other thing is accent. Your books aren’t super strongly accented but the voice is very important. One of Janet Evanovich’s readers was so NPR that it just killed my mental audio of Stephanie’s voice. You can’t have a prissy reader or one who thinks everyone from Ohio sounds flat and nasal, and if stuff is going to happen in South Carolina it can’t sound like Southside Chicago, either.

I can’t imagine a man reading your books because they have such a strong female voice – but alternating male & female readers for the books with Bob would totally rock.

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On July 9, 2007 at 9:56 pm Cait said...

I can say what ruins an audio book for me: A full cast. In theory it sounds so good! In practice it usually sounds completely disjointed, and the chances that a character will be tragically miscast is just huge. I usually pick up audio versions of books I know I’m interested in, and I’ll listen regardless of how good the reader is- but I’ve never heard a full cast version I enjoyed.

Also: it’s almost always a bad idea for an author to read their own work. Sad, but true.

I like books read by stage actors, because (IMHO) they have more training in the nuance of voice. Film actors spend too much time thinking about their faces, and not enough time getting the exact tweaking of accent/voice/character right.

It’s important that each character have a distinct voice, and that the narration is neutral. (If the book is set in California, with Californian characters, a British accent on the narrator is jarring.)

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On July 9, 2007 at 10:36 pm Mary the CB said...

As a confirmed insomniac, I listen to audio books a lot. I agree stage actors are the best, and generally men are better than women. (It’s easier for a man to “thin” his voice into a feminine-sounding tone than for a woman to deepen her voice to sound male. The women tend to sound like they’ve got a sore throat or something.)

I agree with Jenifer that the woman who read Temptation took a bit of getting used to, but I was able to adjust. On the other hand, I love Nero Wolfe and I hate the actor who reads his books. Can’t stand listening to him.

Derek Jacobi was fabulous reading The Daughter of Time. Also Ian Carmichael was just right for the Peter Wimsey stories.

OT Question — the window on the right shows an excerpt from the HWSW workshop, something about Tom Cruise and mindless violence. However, when I click on the link, I’m taken to a closed lesson about Tightening the Story. Is that just me? (Running Firefox.)

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On July 9, 2007 at 10:47 pm Kristen in PDX said...

I have 7 Crusie books on audio – Faking It, Tell Me Lies, Crazy for You, Welcome to Temptation, Bet Me, Anyone but You, and Manhunting. (I’m a big fan and I drive a lot.) My favorite narrator among those is Aasne Vigesaa, who reads Faking It and Welcome to Temptation. At a very close second is Deanna Hurst reading Bet Me.

I listen to tons of audio books and my all-time favorite narrators are Simon Prebble and Barbara Rosenblat. Although I recently listened to Death on the Nile read by David Suchet (who plays Poirot on the A&E series) and I couldn’t believe how well he did all the other voices in the book.

I think that women who have a naturally low-pitched voice make better readers since they can read the men better. Then some of them just seem to have this tone (like Barbara Rosenblat) that sounds good to my ears. The best readers can create a distinct voice for each character, so you know who it talking/thinking. I’m always amazed at the skill of narrators to switch among the voices so quickly while reading.

(And I totally agree with the earlier comment about the accent on the Stephanie Plum books. I turned it off after 5 minutes. She may have a strong NJ accent in the book, but I don’t want to listen to 10 hours solid of it.)

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On July 9, 2007 at 10:49 pm distracted said...

I listen to audiobooks constantly, but I don’t think I could tell the difference between a stage versus voice-over actor. Many times though, I don’t think the narrator has any real concept or even interest in the book he/she is narrating. Nothing is more disappointing to me than to purchase an audiobook and find out I can’t stand the narrator.

I think Deanna Hurst’s narration of Bet Me is the epitome of perfection. She has great timing and great character voices. When I reread Bet Me, her voice *is* Min in my mind. However, Aasne Vigesaa’s narration of Welcome to Temptation is the opposite, in my opinion (no offense Mrs. Vigesaa), nothing at all like I want Sophie to sound. The timing just isn’t quite there either. Anyway, I can’t wait to hear the audio for The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, because the characters are so fun. =)

Side note, I vote for Stephen Fry in the Potter audiobooks.

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On July 10, 2007 at 12:04 am Kathryn in DC said...

I’m not an auditory learner, nor do I have a long communite, so I find it’s hard to listen to books. I do have one suggestions…use a male for male POV and a female for female POV characters. The Suzanne Brockmann audiobooks from Brilliance (?) did this and it helped me track the story more clearly when POV changed.

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On July 10, 2007 at 12:05 am Kathryn in DC said...

yeah, and I can type…NOT

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On July 10, 2007 at 12:15 am Jeanna said...

I have a serious audio book addiction. I’d have a hard time choosing a favorite — there are just too many, but if pressed, I think I’d pick Kathleen Turner reading Elizabeth Peters’s Vicky Bliss books (especially NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS). Barbara Rosenblatt, who reads her Amelia Peabody books is great, too, and has no problem running the gamut of male characters’ voices, in several different accents to boot.

I have to disagree about authors reading their own books, at least some authors. I have all of Douglas Adams’s books on audio, read by him, and they are wonderful.

What makes a good audio? Somebody who loves the book, and can capture the spirit of it in their reading. That sounds pretty vague, LOL. But it’s a hard thing to put your finger on, isn’t it?

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On July 10, 2007 at 12:24 am Anna Marie said...

The reader must have an engaging voice that varies slightly with the characters and a good sense of timing. A lot of times you can’t tell what the character is thinking from what the character is actually saying, if the narrator doesn’t have a feel for the characters. I also think that single authors should have different people narrate their titles, if the books aren’t a series or have different first person protagonist. I listened to two Anne Rice novels both with the same man reading them. He had a really dreamy voice, but I kept forgetting which book I was listing too. I had identified his voice so strongly with Armand that when I listened to Vittorio it got confusing.

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On July 10, 2007 at 12:49 am downundergal said...

Cant really comment on audio books as haven’t really ever listend to any – except a fairy one with my daughter once and I cried my eyes out at the end making it hard to see the road.

But (off topic), I did want to say have just finished reading TUMF and I loved it and can’t believe that reviewer called it an anthology. WTF? It was totally seamless.

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On July 10, 2007 at 5:17 am francois said...

I’m not really an audiobook person, but I’d be more inclined to go for one with a name I recognised as an actor. Particularly if they have a lovely voice like Stephen Fry…he could make the phone book compelling.

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On July 10, 2007 at 5:41 am McB said...

Jenny, several months ago I listened to a wonderful piece I downloaded from called “Reading Between The Lines: From Page to Production” which had some popular narrators along with producers etc. involved in the audio process. Very interesting hearing about the behind the scenes stuff and some amusing stories as well.

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On July 10, 2007 at 6:42 am Kieran said...

I once listened to a Susan Elizabeth Phillips audiobook that drove me crazy because the female narrator lowered her voice to read the guy parts, and she was awful–I couldn’t appreciate the hero for that reason. Every time he spoke, he sounded like a girl lowering her voice!! I much prefer a narrator who uses nuance in tone and inflection to differentiate between characters.

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On July 10, 2007 at 7:48 am Jenifer said...

I wonder if the JE audiobook that Rosa is referring to is Seven Up read by Tanya Eby for Brilliance Audio. This version was only available on cassette tape, but she’s the only narrator of Evanovich’s books that I think has any particular accent, and it was a truly horrible audiobook. The book has since been recorded by Lorelei King and is much better. I absolutely could not listen to the Tanya Eby version, and they got a lot of complaints about it before it was finally re-recorded by someone else.

It kind of felt like Fran Drescher was reading the book, only more annoying. :)

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On July 10, 2007 at 8:03 am me said...

I also like an actor who can do different voices. I’ve got one where the reader does about 8 voices all with different regional accents, both men and women, and they’re all good except for the hero, who is from Boston, and the reader basically did a JFK impersonation, with his inflections and pauses and everything. Totally wrong. Especially during the romantic scenes. It was funny and a little repulsive, which were not the emotions they were trying to convey.

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:13 am Kimberly said...

I am blind, so my entire book experience is through audio books, both the ones you can buy in stores and the ones produced by the National Library Service. I think a narrator’s job is much the same as an author’s– that being to get out of the way of the story. If I stop visualizing what’s happening and start hearing the reader or zoning into the words, author’s or narrator’s, then somebody is doing something wrong. What I hate is when an audio book tries to be a performance– with multiple voices or silly sound effects. I want just the facts, M’am, thanks.

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:18 am Louisa said...


I’m trying to picture Marilyn Monroe breaking up while in the throes of passion with a certain Bostonian–who didn’t really have to imitate JFK . . . .Yeah, it’s a sickness.

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:32 am jenny said...

Yeah for me it’s an ability to modulate their voice and do the different characters. Nothing’s more boring than someone who speaks the whole book the same way. You want them to get the jokes and do it somewhat jocularly when it’s funny. I have liked your audiobooks! :)

I think the Lemony Snicket books with Tim Curry would be an excellent example. Matthew Perry read Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs and I thought that was the best celeb matchup ever. Robert Evans’ “The Kid Stays in the Picture” is read by him, which is amazing, because it just sounds like he’s telling you stories around the fireplace.

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:35 am Sindy said...

i have a 45 minute drive to work and i love listen to audio books while beeing on the road. for me it´s most important that the reader “gets” the book and is able to play with nuances to distinguish people. i once had a special edition of “pride and prejudice” with an actress who clearly didnt know most of the words – much less how to pronounce them. Other than that i prefer somebody with a deep voice – but maybe that´s just me :-)

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:52 am Teble said...

YMMV, but I have to disagree with Kieran regarding the narrator of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books. I think Kate Fleming (aka Anna Fields) was one of the best audio book readers I’ve ever heard. And I listen to a TON of books. The way she could change her voice to sound like different characters (a Frenchman, a sarcastic bitter woman, a Brit, a three year old girl, a little old man, etc.) is just amazing. She had her own audio company ( based in Seattle. I’m so sad that NBC was the last of Susan’s books that Kate will read to me, as she died last year.

I also enjoy Suzanne Toren, who reads Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mystery series. I enjoy the narrators for Cecilia Ahern’s If You Could See Me Now, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and I like both C.J. Critt and Lorelei King–although changing back and forth from one Evanovich reader to the other is unsettling until I get used to it.

I listen to audio books every day–while folding laundry, walking my dog, driving, any task which forces me to sit still. I’m not so good with the sitting still.

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:54 am Teble said...

Crap. I posted the wrong article about Kate/Anna’s death. Here’s the correct one:

I can’t read it without crying.

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:56 am Victoria said...

Get a voice actor that will act out the book.

Voice actors do the best audiobooks. Sometimes that means movie actors, some times it means stage actors, sometimes it means people who do cartoon voices. A lot of actors depend on visual cues to get things across to the audience and become readers when dealing with voice-ony formats. Story telling takes a different set of skills than just “reading out loud.”

Most of the audio books I’ve heard are read, not acted. It’s not so much how distinctive the speaker’s voice is, it’s how well they can differentiate between the characters by using voice tricks.

The best audio book reader I know is the woman who reads the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. She acts out all the parts and can do male characters without lowering her voice out of her natural speaking range. She uses different vocal textures, varying pronunication, and speaking speeds to differentiate between the characters. I also like how she handles the internal dialog and descriptions.

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On July 10, 2007 at 12:49 pm Cherry des Isles said...

Well, the very first (and only, but for $$$ issues) audiobook I own is…Welcome to Temptation, read by Agne Vigaase (sp?) and I loved it! I thought she did the voices well, which, will a subjective appreciation, must be partly true because I read the book AFTER and I could “recognize” all the characters.

I think the two main ingredients for a good voice are the pitch and the ability to create distinct characters/voices.

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On July 10, 2007 at 12:53 pm Cheri Micheletti said...

The most important thing is the voice/tone. I, too, have listened to many audio books, and not listened as well, because the narrator made me cringe. My two all-time favorites, which may be useless to you because I agree that you need a female voice, are Graeme Malcolm’s reading of The Tale of Despereaux (yes, it’s children’s book, but just listen) and Sean Bean’s reading of The Tales of King Arthur. Both raise interesting issues about accent, voice (as in persona, not tone and timbre) and gender. (I don’t know, Sean Bean may also be raising issues of sex appeal–there’s just something about that Yorkshire accent that makes me want to wrap it around myself. Would you mind writing something for him? I’d really appreciate it.) Men impersonating women is more problematic to me than the reverse. That said, the only books I’ve turned off have had female narrators, and they weren’t always fiction–e.g. Spook, Science Tackles the Afterlife. The archness of the narrator’s tone made me want to slap her, although, to be fair, some of that was in the book. Someone mentioned using two narrators, male and female–I’ve heard that done very well, and can hear it with my mind’s ear for your books

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On July 10, 2007 at 2:03 pm Susan D said...

The most off-putting to my ear is readers who think they can sound like someone they’re not. Men (far too often) read women’s voices in a soft, girly tone, so we will get it that it’s a woman. Just as bad is the adult reader who assumes that children must be depicted with what borders on a speech impediment.

I record books for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and we all love what we do. Essentially, we do NOT use accents or voices (gruff=male, girly=female). It’s Tone all the way. If the character is excited, scared, bored, dismissive, whatever, that’s what we try to get across.

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On July 10, 2007 at 2:13 pm Diane (TT) said...

Thanks, everyone, for the excellent suggestions of audiobooks that they enjoyed! I love them, as MCB does, for listening to while I wash dishes or do other dull chores, and sometimes while I’m doing handwork, such as counted cross-stitch (which, unless you’re doing a pretty simple pattern, does NOT work well with television or movies!). And I have NO problem listening to a book I’ve already read, so I’ll definitely look into the Sayer recordings – and maybe Sean Bean, since he does have a lovely voice! As for hearing Spike read the Dresden files – my library hasn’t got them, or I’d definitely be there!

I enjoy the Jim Dale Harry Potter recordings (I’ve listened to some of them a few times), but he does make Hermione sound whiny.

My all-time favorite things to listen to in the car were the Patrick O’Brien books, read by Patrick Tull. He was wonderful, did many excellent accents. The guy who read the books for Books on Tape (I think the Patrick Tull were Recorded Books) was awful – he had the most annoying voice. Good for shrewish Killick, perhaps, but for no one else.

I was just listening to Drop Dead Gorgeous – not bad, but I didn’t really like the gravelly way she did men’s voices. And I can’t remember who did the Redwall books, but I didn’t like the way he did some of the major mouse characters. Again, not bad, just not great.

So, yes, a variety of tones for a variety of characters, but even if the book’s overall voice is a little snarky (as, of course, it will be), I think no one wants to listen to a snotty-sounding reader.

My library puts in the reader as an author, so now I can search for audiobooks by reader, instead of going through all the author’s work to see if there’s anything on CD. Very cool. I just requested a TON of stuff. We’ll see how much I get through.

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On July 10, 2007 at 9:55 pm ZaZa said...

I didn’t like the woman who read Bet Me, for many reasons. For one thing, you have a very distinct voice, very snarky, often with snappy, old-style, man-woman patter. The woman who read Bet Me read it very flat, and the way she paused after each bit of dialogue, then intoned, “he said,” drove me nuts.

I was just talking to a friend about this as we were making an 11 hour drive. She does long drives a lot and has heard a wide variety of audiobooks. That “beat, ‘he said’,” was one of the things she mentioned as being hideously annoying, too.

I had to learn to “read” for television and talking head stuff years ago, and they encouraged us to read the dialogue as if we were speaking it and make the dialogue tags seem part of the speech, kind of like you might read a book to a child, but appropriate to the actual content. That way it was seamless and didn’t bounce the listener out of the flow.

Also, it’s kind of nice to have the different characters done with distinctive voices, but that can go way wrong if there are too many “voices” and the actor/reader isn’t especially good at them. I got Joshilyn Jackson’s Between Georgia on CD because she was the reader. Joss’s had theatrical training, she knows her own work, and she did a pretty darn good job, especially since her regional Southern accents are impeccable.

Personally, I’d love to hear you read one of your books, just to hear your snark come through. Hey, you and Bob could do your collabs, with him reading the parts he wrote and you reading the parts you wrote. Although you’d probably have to put a Glock to his head to get him to do it.

You really have to do some listening and decide what you prefer. ;+)

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On July 10, 2007 at 10:04 pm RachelC said...

Roald Dahl recorded a number of his children’s books, which are great fun. I have his audio versions of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’

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On July 11, 2007 at 12:02 am Jenny said...

Well, you’ve been busy.
So I have a great reader on Agnes and the Hitman? Excellent.

And kudos to Jocelyn Jackson for reading her own book, but I’m never gonna do it. I read at the speed of light so I’d be a disaster. As for Bob, unless you’re into long silences . . .

Derek Jacobi read The Daughters of Time? Okay, NOW I’ll listen to an audio book. That must be wonderful.

McB, thanks for the tip-off the NPR thing; I’ll definitely find that.

We had a male and female author on DLD, and got some bad feedback on it, which may be why there’s only a female author on there. I guess. I know nothing. But Brilliance is a great company to work with, I do know that.

This is all such good stuff. Mollie and I were clueless about this, so this will help a lot. Thank you!

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On July 11, 2007 at 12:41 am Tara Gelsomino said...

I work for BBC Audiobooks America now (formerly at Romantic Times) and before I started there I hadn’t really ever listened to audiobooks. I find that I actually prefer listening to books I’ve already read.

From the production side of things…multiple narrators can be very effective but costly which is probably why they’re not done that often.

We almost never have the author read his own work if it’s fiction (non-fiction occasionally) …it’s usually best left to professional actors who can basically bring life to the characters instead of just read you a book. Even the best speakers don’t always engage the text in a way that’s enjoyable for the 10 hours or so that an audiobook can average. (We don’t do any abridgements on the library side. Our new trade division has done a couple abridged novels but we also always release Unabridged.)

Anyway it was very interesting reading your comments! And cool to see several of our familiar narrators mentioned. Derek Jacobi’s reading The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle this fall for BBC too. Any books you guys are dying to get on audio that you haven’t been able to find? I’m looking for new titles…

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On July 11, 2007 at 8:17 am Jennifer Talty said...

I honestly haven’t listened to too many books on tape. When I drove to Virgina alone with the kids, they watched movies in the back, and I listened to Timeline on tape. The readers voice drove me nuts and I think that alone took me out of the story. I can still conjure up that sound and it sends a shiver down my spine and not in a good way. There were a couple of others, but honsetly, the voices drive me insane. I’ve got enough voices inside my head, I don’t need more.

I do however read my own books out loud. I’ve heard other authors they say they read too fast to do it, so I guess being dyslexic here is a good thing. I read slower than my 10 year old. Of course, my kids always laugh when they hear me in my office, reading.

I’ve used things like TEXT OUTLOUD to have my stuff read to me, but agian, the voices drive me nuts. I’ve tried buying “real” sounding voices so sometimes i flip flop – read myself, let Text read for me.

Books on tape – only when I’m in a car for long periods of time and I’m the one doing all the driving.

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On July 11, 2007 at 10:29 am McB said...

Jenny – It was a BBC thing, or whatever they call the audiobook arm of the BBC. And Jacobi was one of the guests. I downloaded it from Audible via iTunes. I didn’t know Jacobi had read Daughters of Time, I’ll have to look for it. I do love listening to the Cadfael books, though.

I think the better readers, rather than changing their voice or taking on an accent, alter speech patterns as they change characters. So their voice is sometimes clipped, sometimes flat, sometimes rapid, lazy etc. It gives each character a different feel without sounding so fake.

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On July 11, 2007 at 10:50 am Syne Mitchell said...

I find audio books most effective if there is:

1) a single reader (ensemble cast productions, I find jarring)

2) a reader who does distinct voices so well that I forget they’re being done by one person (ie: a really good reader does opposite-gender characters so well that I get to the end before I think: “Hey, those female voices were read by a guy!” or vice-verse.)

3) reads at the natural pace of the book

4) has a pleasant voice

5) fades into the background, so that you fall into the story and forget that you’re “reading” via audio

I think about audio quite a bit, as I produce a monthly craft podcast:


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On July 11, 2007 at 2:02 pm Erika said...

Audio books (in my opinion)is all about the reader. I have checked out several books that I thought, I can’t wait to listen to this book, and then the reader was AWFUL and I had to return it unlistened to. FYI ~ Aasne Vigessa who reads both “Welcome to Temptation” and “Faking It” is wonderful.

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On July 11, 2007 at 2:54 pm Jeanna said...

Jenny, DAUGHTER OF TIME is wonderful, you’ll love it.

Teble, thanks for posting the link to the article about Kate Fleming/Anna Fields, even though I was crying by the time I finished it. I’ve listened to many, many audiobooks read by her — she was one of the best. They have a new reader for Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series now, a man, and it’s just not the same. I listened to Anna Fields reading those books before I read them myself, and she did it so well that now I hear her voice in my head when I read them. What a loss of a great talent!

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On July 11, 2007 at 8:37 pm Inge_ Cherry Pi said...

I recently drove 16 hours and survived thanks to books on dvd. I loved it, but had one “throw the listener out of the story” moment. The reader read opossum as OH-possum. Over and over and over.


Make sure that the reader can actually pronounce the words correctly.

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On July 11, 2007 at 10:03 pm Evanne said...

I’m devastated to learn of Kate Flemings death – she was a brilliant reader. And would’ve been my recommendation for Jennifer Crusie stories. She did several for SAP…

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On July 11, 2007 at 11:41 pm Reb said...

Jenny, what’s happened to Cherry Forums? I just got an error:
This Domain ( Has Been Disabled


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On July 12, 2007 at 12:25 am Mary the CB said...

The Daughter of Time
by Josephine Tey

The title is from Aulius Gallius: The daughter of Time is Truth

What was cool in D.J.’s reading was that although I’d read the Daughter of Time a couple of times before listening to the audio book, still he was able to bring out nuances that I hadn’t noticed — things that enhanced my appreciation of the story.

A really good reader, you’d pay to hear him* recite a telephone directory.

One thing about audio books, a book being read out loud is like a crucible test: you cannot distract the reader from bad writing by following it with flourishes of wit or humor. Everything is exposed and pinned down by the reader’s voice. I was able to tolerate reading indifferent books, because I could skim the boring parts. But having to listen to them be read out loud was excruciatingly dull.

*yes, or her.

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On July 12, 2007 at 12:43 am Infogenium said...

I have listened to a great number of audiobooks (insomnia has its advantages) and the “thing” that makes them “good” is the when the reader makes you forget they are the narrator and draw you into believing they are the characters themselves.
Please don’t hate me – but I have to note that the worst ones I have ever heard have been narrated by the authors themselves – I am not sure why this is. I have heard some authors at bookshop readings and they are always great – maybe I was unfortunate in my choices but it seems to be a pattern…

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On July 12, 2007 at 1:15 am patmc said...

have faking it, which i listened to as soon as i got home from the hospital, actually stopped mid 3rd time cause i found Bet Me…so i’m listenin to that now…with fast women paid for from ebay not gotten yet.

love the reader AasneVigesaa for Faking It. not as crazy about the reader or Bet me, but she’s not distracting, sounds like she has a bit of a lisp. she makes Liza sound like kim catrell’s part on Sex and the City…which is a bit distracting.

course, now i want to be a reader…having done little theater and singing….jon just keeps laughing when I hit a book i’m reading saying, “i could read this” “you are readindg that” “no, i could READ this”
” i know, your lips are moving when you read” sigh. never mind…

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On July 12, 2007 at 2:47 am Kale said...

I have the same problem with audiobooks. I read faster than the reader does, and it’s really easy for me to zone out, thereby missing a chunk of the book. I do appreciate audiobooks if the reader is fun and I’ve already read the book. I’ll pick up any Pratchett audiobook that Stephen Briggs does, because I loved the way he read “Going Postal.” He did the voices, with slightly different accents or ways of speaking for each character. It made it a lot of fun to listen to.

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On July 12, 2007 at 9:19 am JulieB said...

Back to taking this off-topic. I saw Reb couldn’t get on to the forums last night either so I didn’t post, thinking maybe Molly was doing maintainance. But I can’t get on today either. Anyone know what’s up?

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On July 12, 2007 at 10:01 am Louisa said...

In iTunes there is a control to speed up or slow down the reading, if I’m not mistaken.

CherryForums is down, due to no fault of any Cherry or group of Cherries. Jenny posted on JCF. The code broke and they guys who can fix it are not around this very moment, but will be. She swears the rent is all paid up.

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On July 12, 2007 at 10:02 am Louisa said...

In iTunes there is a control to speed up or slow down the reading, if I’m not mistaken.

CherryForums is down, due to no fault of any Cherry or group of Cherries. Jenny posted on JCF. The code broke and they guys who can fix it are not around this very moment, but will be. She swears the rent is all paid up.

However, it looks to me like quite a lot of sites are either unresponsive or very, very slow. New virus? Or just lots of kids out of school and cruising the net.

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On July 12, 2007 at 10:30 am Diane (TT) said...

I have to agree with whomever said “no full-cast audio”. I’m listening to a Tamora Pierce right now that is, and I’m NOT enjoying it much – the changes in voice are distracting, as are the “musical” interludes. Back and forth between a man and a woman as with DLD is much less jarring than full cast.

I agree about skipping over boring parts when reading being an issue with audiobooks – I tried to listen to Anne Rice’s Violin and thought I was going to drive off the road to make it stop. I, too, read a lot faster than anyone could read aloud, but since I’m listening for company and entertainment while I drive, cook or clean, speed is not an issue with me – I need it to last a while!

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On July 12, 2007 at 11:20 am Bob said...

I have a hard enough time listening to myself.

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On July 12, 2007 at 12:23 pm JulieB said...

Louisa: Thanks for the update.

Diane: If I’d known about the time-honored tradition of throwing books at the wall, I probably would have done it with “Violin.” And that’s probably the only book I have read that I would have considered doind someting that drastic.
I couldn’t bear to send it to a friend in Iraq — I thought that would be cruel, but I did just donate it to the library after years of glaring at it for taking up room in my bookcase. But man. All I could think about was screaming at the character to call the damn morgue already. I probably don’t need to say I didn’t finish it.

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On July 12, 2007 at 3:13 pm Jenny said...

For those of you who were worried, Bob and I will not be recording our novels ever. Under no circumstances.

Non-fiction is an entirely different beast.

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On July 12, 2007 at 8:36 pm Jenifer said...

I’ve just thought of another example to illustrate that the tone of the narrator must really match the book/main protagonist.

For the Sue Grafton alphabet mysteries, I was really loving Mary Peiffer as the narrator. She read all the books up through N is for Noose, I think. She really got Kinsey and read the books well. Then I got the next book, read by a new narrator. Her voice was great, and I believe she reads well. But, she sounds an awful lot like Ellen DeGeneres – not just the voice, but the intonations and the funny inflections. It was like listening to Dory from Finding Nemo. Her voice was great, and there are many books I’d enjoy if she read them. But, Dory and Kinsey Millhone are EXTREMELY different personalities. It was all wrong, and I won’t listen to any of the rest of the alphabet series. I’ll read them, but I couldn’t get past the first 10 minutes of that audiobook, because the narrator simply didn’t fit.

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On July 12, 2007 at 10:43 pm Rosa said...

Oh god, we got “Lullabye” by Chuck Palahniuk for a long road trip. It has this repetitive verse in it. I think in print I would just sort of skip it after the first few…ten…at least 30 times it appears. But instead we had to hear it over, and over, and over.

Same with The Road, which we listened to on the way to Corpus Christi this winter (from Minneapolis). Long, drawn out, unending misery and hopelessness. I can read books like that, I went back and read it after we got back and liked it, but I just can’t bear with the reader while he goes through all that misery.

(You notice when I’m not alone the book choices get much manlier. Actually, even when I’m alone these days because I was out painting the garage listening to Welcome to Temptation and the dudes next door turned off the jackhammer or powersaw or whatever it was JUST at a crucial moment and totally cracked up through the fence. Ahem.)

I should go get the audio of DLD, though. My boyfriend might be willing to listen to it and I listened to eight hours of the Dalek Wars on the last trip so he owes me.

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On July 13, 2007 at 1:58 pm McB said...

Going Postal is a great audio. But I didn’t care for Wyrd Sisters. I did listen to the whole thing and got used to it after a while, but initially the pacing was just too slow.

I no longer listen to full cast audios, but that has more to do with wanting to draw out the experience. A book that takes 6 hours to read is cut down to about an hour when it is converted to a cast recording. That’s barely enough time to get anything done.

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On July 13, 2007 at 2:45 pm Courtney said...

I agree with everyone who mentioned the importance of doing the voices well. Some audiobook readers don’t do the voices of the characters and that’s fine. If, however, they do the voices, it has to be done well or it completely ruins the book for me.

Two examples:

Jim Dale, the reader of the US version of the audiobooks for Harry Potter, does a fantastic job overall. However, for some unknown reason he did this very gutteral, phlegmy voice for Narcissa Malfoy. Her description in the novel is quite ethereral and nearly fairy-like. And she sounded like a Russian man with a head cold.

In the latest J.D. Robb book, the reader made the incredibly sexy Roarke sound like the lucky charms leprachaun which is not remotely sexy and instead made me laugh hysterically every time Roarke had a line of dialogue. Peabody sounded like she had a mouth full of marbles and Feeney was a super from the Bronx.

The Jim Dale complaint didn’t ruin the book for me as Narcissa is a minor character that only appeared in two scenes. The J.D. Robb book was such a disaster I Had to return it to the library.

Just my thoughts!

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On July 13, 2007 at 2:54 pm MaryK said...

As a commuter, I listen to a lot of audio books. So far, my favorite narrator has been Lloyd James reading Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion. He’s an excellent example of a reader who “gets” the book; and he does a phenomenal job of bringing the characters to life. When he reads the dialog, he creates character with his voice. You can listen to his Dondo voice and get a complete picture of Dondo’s character.

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On July 13, 2007 at 3:08 pm Steph said...

I used to ‘read’ alot of books on tape so here are some thoughts:
1) I loved that there were two readers for DLD. I just didn’t like the male reader.
2) Barbara Rosenblat is great. American accent. British. Contemp. Historical. It’s all good.
3) I enjoyed the reader for Fast Women.
4) Just listened to audio books read by Bill Clinton and Jeremy Irons. If you ever have to pick between the two as readers go for Mr. Irons. :)
5) Mostly what I appreciate are the readers who can craft different voices/sounds for the various characters so I know who I’m listening to without being pulled out of the story.

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On July 13, 2007 at 5:12 pm Jill said...

I’m back.
Jenny’s if you want to listen to one of your books do not start with DLD. You will cry and tear your hair out. Aasne Vigesaa is good-she did WTT and FI. Susan Erickson did ABY and she is excelent. She is the ‘voice’ of JD Robb and some of Nora’s.
The one thing that absolutely drives me nuts in a reader is if they try to ‘force’ the character–either their personality or their accent.
What makes a good audio book is first the written dialog/story. Then an understanding of the characters (by the reader). And a reader who has a good voice.
Seems to me that a lot of readers are people who have acting experience.

One thing I would like to see added to audio books is a very brief intro by the author. Nora is starting to do that , right ? As a listener I’d enjoy that.

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On July 13, 2007 at 8:37 pm Louisa said...

Well, it appears I was wrong.
ITunes has re-invented itself a few times since I saw that bit about changing the speed at which audiobooks are read. If it’s still there, I can’t find it any more.


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On July 13, 2007 at 9:08 pm Mary the CB said...

McB, are you talking about the the BBC version of Wyrd Sisters? I love Pratchett, but that was not the best thing they’ve done. In that case, I think it was at least in part the adaptation, not just the actors.

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On July 13, 2007 at 11:56 pm Jenny said...

We all have a hard time listening to you, Bob. It’s the heavy breathing.

The Forums. Oh, God. There is nothing wrong with the code. The server insists it’s a problem on our end. There is no problem on our end, we have been through the code and it’s fine. Their guy and our guy got into it, our guy asked their guy if he was on crack, and Mollie said, “Good time to switch servers.” We should be up on the new server tomorrow. And since it’s the same server as my website and this blog, from now on when one goes down, they’ll all go down. Because We Are Efficient.

And I now have a list of readers to recommend to Brilliance and another list of audio books to try. As always, you are all terrific and helpful and I exploit you shamefully. Thank you.

So to show my gratitude, I gave you a game to play in the next blog. I’m warning you, it’s worse than solitaire for being addictive.

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On July 14, 2007 at 8:09 am McB said...

Mary – it was the reader. She read very slowly and inserted odd…………. pauses. I kept finishing the sentence for her.

Jenny, enjoying the game.

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On July 15, 2007 at 7:53 am Louisa said...

Okay, OKAY!!!

I found it! The control for the speed of the audiobook playback is on the iPod, not in iTunes. So, anyway, for those who listen to audiobooks on the iPod, from the initial screen, go to Settings>Audiobooks>slower,normal, faster.

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On July 15, 2007 at 11:35 am Barb said...

Didn’t see two of my favorites listed here, so decided to add my two cents.

Victor Slezak read “Envy” by Sandra Brown and he was simply out of this world.

And my favorite Brit reader is Davina Porter – she is simply fantastic beyond the pale. Her reading of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon just cannot be beat!
I will listen to ANYTHING she reads in audio format!


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On July 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm CrankyOtter said...

I usually only listen to audiobooks when I’m on long trips. But the better ones have an ability to read the book like I hear it – well inflected and with differening voices for the dialogue. Yet it has to be seamless and not something that jumps out at you and pulls you out of the story.

Also, a lot of people love the Patrick guy who does Suzanne Brockmann’s audiobooks, but I keep wanting to ask him to swallow, gargle, or cough, but get that dang frog out of his throat already. I can listen to it but he drives me a little crazy.

If you have M/F POV scenes, getting M/F readers is nice too, but not wholly necessary.

Oh, good diction. Critical. Basically someone who can act well with just their voice.

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On July 21, 2007 at 10:57 am Sara said...

I began listening to books 10 years ago and now buy all my books in audio format. I agree with all of the comments on what makes a good or bad reader, and most important to me is the reader’s ability to change her/his voice. I want to be to distinguish each characters and not get confused as to which character is talking. My biggest pet peeves are whiny voice, voice that is too pitchy and readers that don’t convey the emotions of the character. I guess that’s why some of the best readers are actors and actresses.

Best readers I have listened to are:

Sandra Burr readings took Nora Roberts’ descriptive narratives to the next level

Simon Prebble & Dick Hill I think are two of the best male readers

Anna Fields who read Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s book was a fantastic reader, unfortunately passed away last year. I will miss her reading the next Phillip’s books.

Cristine McMurdo-Wallis whose version of the JD Robb books are better the Erickson version, IMO. The tone of her reading is darker and gives the story a little more edge.

When I encounter a bad reader I revert back to the traditional way and read the book instead. One unfortunate example is Don’t Look Down – bought the audiobook, so excited when I got it, popped in the car and hmmmmmn uh hmmm. The female reader was okay but I couldn’t stand the male reader, I didn’t think his voice reflected the character of the hero. So not wanting to ruin the Jenny’s book, I had to stop after the second chapter, got the hard copy and opted to read it instead.

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On July 23, 2007 at 12:43 pm Rebecca said...

I especially like the full cast audio and the books with a male and female narrator. I liked DLD’s audio with the two narrators.

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On July 31, 2007 at 10:34 pm Kio said...

For me the best readers/performers are ones who feel the story. Because they make me feel the story. They do more than just read. With the tone of their voice and inflection I don’t just understand what the characters are saying, but how they are feeling and dealing – it brings the characters and the story to life.

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