Yakkety Yak – Tell Me a Story #YakketyYak

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My journey with audio book reviewing and figuring out one question:

What do you look for in an audio book narrator? 

Until recently it was rather a moot question for me.  I didn’t listen to audio books.  However, in the fall of 2014, this started to change.

I listened to my first audio book that August, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and narrated by the incomparable Davina Porter.  It took me nearly three months to listen to all 32 hours and 43 minutes of the beast.  (Incidentally, that’s the one to snag if you want to get your free Audible trial credit’s worth.  Haha!)  But at that point, I thought, wow, getting a story in audio is amazing.  I must do this again.

And serendipity, right on the tail of that thought, Shari and I were approached by the lovely Esther from Audible inquiring if we would accept audio books for review.  Both of us bobbed our heads gleefully and off we went.

Audible handles their review offerings differently, at least with me, I get offered a book at a time and all I know is that it will have a romance element of sorts to meet our blog’s requirement.  Like getting the surprise book box each month.  So as a result, I started getting my first audio book review offerings.

Being woefully ignorant, I went with what I knew best; I reviewed the book.  Not a problem.  But I should probably say something about that narrator, right?  The first book was a train wreck for me.  Both narrator and book weren’t a match- for me or for each other.  I could only say that the narrator’s voice annoyed me.  It niggled that I felt inadequate to express more than that.

This was that moment when I realized (don’t laugh) that all narrators are not created equal.  My satisfaction and enjoyment in Ms. Porter telling me Outlander was not a given each and every time.

The next few offerings were eh, take it or leave it ones with alright narrators.  I wasn’t able to really say much one way or the other about them in my reviews.  They didn’t impress me, but I didn’t think they were bad.  I kept thinking that I should say more, but didn’t know what because I still wasn’t seeing the narrator aspect of the book well.

I saw my first blog discussion post that December asking people what narrators they liked and what it was they liked about them.  I think it was a post at Loupe and Melanie’s Hot Listens blog which I found when I discovered their blog.

I thought, ‘oh wow, this is great.  Now I can see what other people will say about this.’

But then I had a good laugh.  The responses were all over the place.  People had decided opinions about what narrators they liked, but as to why?  That’s where it was a wide variety of reasons.

Just like the wide variety of reasons people like or dislike the book.  I figured out from reading the responses that what part of the problem was is that I hadn’t established my own taste in narrators.  I knew I liked Davina Porter, but now I had to figure out why her and not others.  This is good, I thought, I’m getting closer.

Later, in the same month, I came across a month long event hosted by April @ Eargasm’s blog that was probably the biggest help even though it wasn’t specifically answering my big question.  See, April was hosting a different guest narrator each day.  She interviewed them and the questions talked about what they thought their strengths and challenges were.  There were actually many responses and they were well articulated good ones.  But the one response that most struck me, was a simple one.

The narrator is there to tell a story and needs to do whatever they can to stay out of the way of the story.

This was the crux of it.  The voices, accents, timing, tone, emotions, pacing, and pretty much every voice acting skill was there to tell a story.  In the end, did they tell a good story?  Did they get all the mechanics right so the story shone through?

Aha!  Yes, this was what I needed.  This is exactly what I am looking for in a narrator.  Tell me a story so that the story shines through.  And some do it so well that the story comes alive and has made it even betterAnd this was what I needed to know so that I could determine my ideal of good narration and get that across in a review.

Here are the list of narrators that have made the cut for me and I actually now look to see what books are on their backlist:

  1. Dorian Bane
  2. Nick J. Russo
  3. Davina Porter
  4. Jennifer Van Dyck
  5. Ulli Birve’
  6. J.F. Harding
  7. Susan Duerden
  8. Valerie Gilbert
  9. Lorelei King
  10. Brock Thompson

This list isn’t long compared to others and it is dominated by mostly those who narrated review books through Audible or Riptide Publishing who have graciously provided the opportunity.

I do want to expand my list and have added Luke Brown to my audio narrator wish list.  Who else would you suggest?

Oh, and the big question, you guessed it, “What do you look for in an audio book narrator?”

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.
  • The narrator has to be able to pull me in. Im listening to one now and the man doing the womens voices is…annoying. Its a historical romance set in King Authors time so his voice his perfect for the men in the story. This is another audio where they had dual narrators.

    • I agree. The narrator has the job of keeping my interest. I like it when the narrator goes understated with the opposite gender instead of trying to overdo it.

      • so true…if a narrator can pull of both voices, Im good.

  • I love audiobooks. I like a narrator who is great at the different voices. I don’t want to be guessing who is speaking. Lorelei King is the only narrator on your list that I’ve tried. I did a post for Audiobook Month with my favorite narrators. It list most of my favorites along with why I love them and what series/books I like with those narrators. I have so many series that are audio only because I love how the narrators add to the story. Some are even Audible Studio books, so you could request them from Audible.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

    • I remember your post. It was very helpful and I listened to their samples. I like that Robert guy for sure, but haven’t tried one yet. I’ll have to check into this Audible Studio. I didn’t know about that. Thanks, Melanie!

  • oh I just love audiobooks and you listed some great narrators here. Susan Duerdan is fantastic, and is one of my favorites. I can see why using Outlander for your credit from audible though. hehe I always try to use the longest books for my credit so I can get the most out of it. I do find that narrators can either make or break a story.

    • I only listened to Susan once, but it was enough. I want more of hers. Haha, yes, grabbing the longer ones to make the most of the credits. 🙂

  • I don’t listen to audio books so I can’t answer that one.

  • I’m fairly new like you are. I’ve found there are a LOT of terrible narrators but I’ve found some really good ones as well. I want distinct voices for each character and if a male narrator I want a decent heroine’s voice from them (and same if it’s a female narrator doing a male character). That’s usually my breaking point for them. If they do a terrible job on the opposite sex or all characters sound the same (one I listened to everyone male/female/80yrs old/30 or 5 years old sounded exactly the same. Nope! lol

    I like Sophie Eastlake, I’ve only listened to him once so far but enjoyed Jeffrey Kafer as well. Very sexy voice and did a great job with the steam scenes. I really like Moira Quirk– I think that’s how she spells it. She does the Gail Carriger steampunk ones and totally brought them to life. With ya on King. Yay!

    • Yes, that is annoying when the opposite genders aren’t done well. I’ve come close to calling it when that happens. I haven’t had the same for all the characters yet, but I think I’d be like you on that one.

      Thanks for the narrator suggestions. I’ll have to watch for those. Ooooh, the Gail Carriger books. I’m getting set to try my first one this week.

      • Oo I hope you have a good time with the Carriger ones. Which series are you starting with? I’ve done the young adult ones and had a good time. Now on to the others 😀

        • I’m in the middle of Soulless which is the first book of the adult series. It’s good. The humor was a fun addition. I’ve heard the YA is really good, too and plan to read that. The YA is written later, but some of the characters in the YA are mentioned in the adult so they can go together easily.

  • I’m SUPER picky. I need a narrator who actually becomes the characters and not seem like they’re just reading. But … okay, I can’t stand it if their mouth sounds wet when they talk, or their lips smack. lol. There are audiobooks and narrators people love, but the sounds their mouths make drive me into a irrational rage. I’m weird. Allison McLemore is one of my top favorites. And Luke Daniels.

    • The ones who really get into their characters seem to be the best. Haha, I think I’d find the lip-smacking annoying too, Christy, but fortunately I haven’t heard that one yet.

      I’ll have to check out Allison McLemore, but Luke Daniels has come highly recommended so I’ll get to his eventually. 🙂

  • i have only recently within the last year or so started listening to audio books and I totally love them. My favorite narrator is Nicole Poole. She narrated Dannika Dark’s, Seven series and her Mageri series. I also enjoyed Tavia Gilbert narrate Caged by Amber Lynn Natusch and First Drop of Crimson by Jeanine Frost, The Frost Maiden’s Kiss was narrated by Saskia Maarlveld(hope I spelled it right)and I really liked her. As far as men, so far my only favorite is Sebastian York. I am sure my list is going to change as I go along. I’ve actually only had one that I completely didn’t like-well mainly for the men’s voices, that is. So I have been lucky so far that way.

    • Oh wow! Thanks, Lorna! This is a good list. You know, I think I did like Saskia and Sebastian, too. I just checked and have listened to one apiece from them and did like them. 🙂

  • Great post, Sophia! I need a narrator to make me feel as if they actually lived through the story… That they are telling me something they have experienced – even if it’s a paranormal or dystopia 😀 See, I’m really easy!
    I have some narrators who really do it for me, as well. Those who can pace the story, change their voice and accent to the different characters and make me fully believe in them are awesome!
    Here are three off the top of my head:
    Nicole Poole
    Bahni Turpin
    Sebastian York

    • I think being easy like that is a good thing b/c then you’ll probably find so many more to enjoy, Lexxie. 🙂

      Oh good, thanks for the list of narrators. I just realized when I saw Sebastian on Lorna’s list that I have listened to one of his and liked it.