Audiobooks are gaining popularity in the book blogging world as sites like Audible.com and Audiobook.com are making audiobooks more prolific, lowering the price of audiobooks and allowing authors to affordably have their titles narrated to this expanding market. This expansion has of late, trickled into our niche, as authors begin to offer their audiobooks up for review along with their print and eBook titles.
Audiobooks are a different creature then a print or eBook, though. They bring into the review another equation, that of the narrator. And as any fan of audiobooks can tell you, a bad narrator can demolish the enjoyability of a book.
With this added equation, you need to know how to critique a narrator. What if she or he was terrible, how do you relay this? Should you mention certain things, should you leave off others? Aren’t you glad you have me? I have a quick list of what to pay attention to when critiquing a narration.
Depending on budget, most audiobooks use only one narrator. I personally prefer male narrators, if they are talented, I don’t mind the female voice. Granted if they lack talent, making the female sound like a gurgling drag queen, it also ruins it. But, female narrators will more often effeminate the male voices and if it is a strong male lead, this ruins things for me. Case in point. Jeaniene Frost’s series, one of my favorite series and favorite male characters, hate it in Audiobook. The narrator makes Bones sound like a drugged out Willy Wonka.
Here is Tavia Gilbert doing BONES voice in THIS SIDE OF THE GRAVE. She literally almost ruined Bones for me. Even though she did do a good job with Vlad.
A good narrator can voice both male and female voices so well you won’t even realize that it is a female speaking with a male tones, or vice versa. A good narrator will change pitch and tone to get the desired result. An accent or purring is not needed, just a slight shift in the voice can make an audiobook great as opposed to weak. Renée Raudman is a great narrator, who I discovered via her narrations of the Kate Daniels series. I also highly recommend Jay Snyder who does some great apocalyptic novels. Then there is James Marsters who does the Dresden Files, which I have yet to finish, but love.
Here is James Marsters in STORM FRONT:
If you like Paranormal Romance, oftentimes in the audiobooks, the characters are from a wide range of areas, forcing the narrator to show off their talents with accents. Sometimes it is unknown what a “Krinarian” accent sounds like, but a good narrator will make it work. There is nothing worse then a narrator that just ignores an accent. I came across this in The Redhead series by Alice Clayton. The narration is done by Keili Lefkovitz and the main character is often described as “the brit” but when Keili does his voice. No British accent.
Top of the charts though, is Raul Espanza who narrates Nancy Farmer’s series (The House of the Scorpion & The Lord of Opium) which is full of Spanish terminology and ethnic names and places. Then there is the excellence that is Phil Gigante. He is one of my favorite male narrators, which mainly comes into play with his sexy beast portrayals. His accents are sublime!
Here is a clip of Phil via Karen Marie Moning’s website – she offers free ringtones with Phil’s voice:
Breath & Smoothness.
Can you hear background noise? Can you hear the narrator breathing or turning the pages? You think this is silly but one narrator drove me crazy because her voice sounded wet. Like she had a build-up of spit in her mouth. It was disgusting and I couldn’t get into the novel because of this. Things to listen for is the breath, is it a struggle for them to continue the story? Does the pacing sound off like they are speaking too slowly? Heavy breathing or short quick breaths could also disturb the narration. It has to sound effortless, if not you will notice it and the point of a good narrator is to not notice that they are narrating. To get lost in the story. Like an actor playing a role. You don’t want to realize it is Brad Pitt, you want to just see the role he is playing.
An example of this is one of my favorites a great actor and also a great audiobook narrator, Alan Cumming. As a trained actor his accents and pacing make other narrators look like rank amateurs. Other great actors as narrators are Jeremy Irons and Jesse Eisenberg (yep he narrated Holly Black’s CURSE WORKERS). And if you havent experience Jim Dale’s narration of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, you are missing out. Here is Alan Cummings narrating MacBeth:
Does their voice vary from characters? This is a really big deal, because if all the characters sound the same, when the dialogue plays out you will get confused. Especially when a novel has a lot of characters, like in Libba Bray’s BEAUTY QUEENS, which she narrated herself and did a wonderful job. Her voices might have been slightly exaggerated, but it fit the book, because Brays writing was slightly exaggerated as a satire, so it worked.
Libba Bray narrates her own BEAUTY QUEENS:
Overall you want to gauge your reaction to the narrators voice. Just like you wouldn’t just say “I hated the book” you don’t want to say, the narration was terrible. You want to point out the reasons the narration was bad. Any of those four points above will usually cover it. Good luck! And have fun listening.