This Valentine’s Day, treat yourself to a happy ending with these romantic audiobooks. Not a romance reader? You may be pleasantly surprised by just how delicious these tales of love and courtship can be, especially when spiced with wit and sauced with passion by a skilled narrator. Here are some love stories for tastes ranging from platonic to erotic and everywhere in between.
Who doesn’t love a good rom-com on a rainy afternoon? In her reading of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s “The Ex Talk,” Emily Ellet is instantly relatable as Public Radio producer Shay Goldstein, wrestling with her insecurities while butting heads with her know-it-all new co-worker, Dominic Yoon. It isn’t hard to see where this is all heading as the snappish duo’s acrimony leads to their being unwillingly cast as exes in a new “reality” podcast pilot, but the awkward, tenuous journey from burning hatred to sizzling attraction is brilliantly played out by author and narrator alike.
The hurdles facing Shanti and Sanyu in Alyssa Cole’s “How to Catch a Queen” are far from ordinary. He is the insecure new king of the corrupt, chauvinistic African kingdom of Njaza, and she is his new “trial wife,” an outspoken and ambitious commoner from the more developed rival nation of Thesolo. Narrator Karen Chilton lends her rich alto to a range of Pan-African cadences and accents to capture the bristling political tensions of an evolving post-colonial country, and the dawning mutual respect and affection of its king and queen, made sovereign through each other’s love.
Chloe Fong is all business, a perfectionist whose days and nights are dominated by her to-do lists, as she works to support her chef father in the 19th-century Kentish village of Wedgeford. One pesky item that she hasn’t been able to cross off that list is Jeremy Yu, or “posh Jim” as the villagers call him. Unlike most, he prizes her fierce independence, but how will she react when she finally learns he is a duke, the absentee lord of the whole village? Mary Jane Wells reads Courtney Milan’s lighthearted “The Duke Who Didn’t” with all the warmth and humor this feel-good romance demands, highlighting the story’s tenderness and wit, and vividly describing some mouthwatering dishes that may have you torn between falling in love, and calling for takeout.
The growing diversity of historical romance is also on display in Seattle author Olivia Waite’s Regency-era “The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics,” narrated with supreme versatility and sensitivity by Morag Sims. Helpless to emerge from the shadow of her deceased scientist father, astronomer Lucy Muchelney finds a surprising patron in Catherine St. Day, the widowed Countess of Moth. The pair’s reawakened sense of agency in a society dominated by men ignites a less intellectual passion between them which no amount of petticoats can impede. This magnificent mix of strong heroines, intriguing historical detail and simmering sensuality continues in “The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows.”
Narrator Cornell Collins excels at capturing the wide range of British dialects and classes in K.J. Charles’ steamy, action-packed romantic adventure “Slippery Creatures.” Home from World War I, country boy Will Darling is all at sea and likely to capsize in the bewildering and malevolent world of London, when the dashing and sophisticated mystery man Kim Secretan throws him a rope. Soon the duo’s pulses are pounding with danger — and desire. This winning trilogy continues with “The Sugared Game,” and the third installment is due this year.
Burning passions not your thing? Celebrate Galentine’s Day with Emily Rankin’s measured, thoughtful reading of Jessica Francis Kane’s “Rules for Visiting.” May Attaway has often preferred the company of plants to people, but finding herself suddenly unmoored at 40, she resolves to visit four old friends who have since devolved to Facebook “friends.” Rankin’s bemused and slightly detached reading makes room for the listener’s own feelings and thoughts around what friendship really means. Or for Palentine’s day, check out John Hopkins’ astute and compassionate narration of Ronan Hession’s “Leonard and Hungry Paul,” the understated tale of two best friends who take refuge in each other’s company, gradually realizing how surprisingly wonderful love can be, especially when unclouded by mere romance.