Guest Review: Audible’s Romance Package

Some of your have been very interested in the Audible Romance Package and we have a wonderful and thoughtful guest review from Reader Aidee Campa. Aidee has previously made an appearance on the site with her guest review of Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series!

I have the basic Audible membership, which means I pay $15 a month for one credit. I have personal experience working on audio projects—I’ve used them instead of complex visual presentations—and for projects that only lasted between 15 and 20 minutes, hours of recording and editing were required. And I didn’t do a lot of the editing or much of the recording. So $15 is a lot when I’m on a tight budget, but considering that I know what goes into audio production, and considering that I try to get books I’m fairly sure I will like and listen to more than once, I think it’s worth it. Also, Audible’s return policy is pretty generous.

The Audible Romance Package is an add-on to an existing membership. $7 additional is a good deal for unlimited access to a variety of romances, and a free trial is a thing I will rarely turn down. So I gave it a whirl.

“Binge” would be a good description of what I did during that trial month.

I have attempted to walk you through the various parts of the Romance Package, particularly the ones Audible highlighted when it first made this available. There have been some slight changes, but as far as I can tell, this is the general structure of the Romance Package. I also have included a list of the books I listened to during my trial month, with mini-impressions of them. And because you can access this program through your computer or the Audible app on your phone, I have run through some differences I noticed between the two.

Character Types:

Character types menu on Audible Romance
If you’re looking for romances about say, hockey players, then this is where you go to find them. It’s also where you can go for dragons, doctors, angels, zombies, divorced protagonists, and so on. They have an extensive list of character types, but they are gathered into three groups, which I guess are the ones they think we’ll be most interested in. They are “Athletes and Celebrities,” “Protectors,” and “Supernaturals.”

I noticed that there were two categories for rakish characters, “Bad Boy” and “Reformed Rakes.” Is the distinction here that “Bad Boys” live only in the 21st and 20th centuries, and reformed rakes stopped existing after 1950? A lot of rock stars, I feel, qualify as reformed rakes.

Also, if there is a “Governess” type, shouldn’t there be a “nanny” type, too? These are the questions I silently asked my computer as I looked through this page. And, lest we have to make painful distinctions between millionaires and billionaires, there is a type called “Filthy Rich.”

Interestingly enough, “Character Types” also encompasses such things as “Strong-Willed Heroines,” and “Tortured Soul,” as well as “Ugly Duckling” and “Virgin.”

Overall, the page is pretty useful. If you know you want to read more books about football players, or aliens, or bartenders, then look no further than this list.

Story Themes:

Story Themes menu on Audible Romance

This sorting option doesn’t just include “friends to lovers.” It also includes settings, like “steampunk” or “fairy tale retelling.” So, if fairy tale retellings are your thing, this is where you go to find them, and let me tell you, there are a lot—I know because I looked.

Just as they did with the Character Types section, Audible’s full list of themes is further down on the page, with three sections at the top. Again, I’m guessing they figured these options would be the most popular sets of themes: “Relationship Status,” “Setting the Scene” and “Wrong but oh so Right.”

“Relationship Status” includes friends to lovers, childhood sweethearts, one night stands, and so on. “Setting the Scene” groups together locations such as “Beach Romance,” “Vacation,” “Workplace Romance,” and “Road Trip.” And “Wrong but oh so Right” gathers together themes like “Best Friend’s Sibling,” “Brought Together by a Bet,” and “Infidelity.” Audible managed to concisely name themes and settings that commonly occur in romance, which is pretty impressive.


Categories menu on Audible Romance

“Categories” means (to me) subgenres. So, if you are thinking you’re in the mood for a Regency romance, or a romantic comedy, or a western romance, this is where you go for that kind of helpful sorting.

For those who want to know, Audible also has you covered if you’re looking for romances in 15th-16th century England, medieval romances, and Amish romances, among many other subgenres.

Some category names confused me. “What is “Hero” supposed to be?” I asked my computer. I am here to tell y’all that “Hero” category is meant to include heroic romance heroes—characters who rescue heroines and/or other people—like SEALs and other highly trained types. Which differs from “Detective,” another subgenre on this list.

I didn’t look through all of the books in this category, but I think Audible specifically picked male heroes doing the rescuing, not the other way around—though if I’m wrong, please feel free to clarify that in the comments.

Also, “Animals & Beasts” means shifter-types—think Shelly Laurenston/G. A. Aiken.

The category content overlaps, too, which means one book can appear in more than one category.

Steaminess Score:

A screenshot of some books under the "sweet" steaminess score

This one is the least helpful to me, because it’s not as textually organized. However, it does seem to be fairly accurate. It claims that Keepsake by Sarina Bowen is “sweet,” and Bittersweet is “O-O-OMG.” I argue that Rock Wedding is on the sweeter spectrum, especially if you compare it to the first book in that series, but I guess it also qualifies as “O-O-OMG.” Typing that, and listening to my screen-reader read it aloud, has been very entertaining for me.

Through careful investigation—also known as my clicking on titles that I read already and looking for the steaminess score—I have figured out that there are four levels on this scale: “Sweet,” “Simmering,” “Sizzling,” and “O-O-OMG.”

I want to know the criteria for these selections.

It’s possible that the levels are displayed on the main “Steaminess Score” page (ed. note: there is a scale with an indicator of level from sweet to o-o-o-mg), but my screen-reader doesn’t see them, and doesn’t tell me they exist.

Eventually I figured out that if I go to the product page of a particular book, my screen-reader does see a labeled graphic that says “How steamy is it? Sweet” and so on.

I don’t like this sorting option too much because I don’t understand how they’re sorting these books, and it’s not accessible for me. However, I suspect that some people might enjoy this way of picking their romance books, especially if they prefer their books to have “O-O-OMG” levels of steaminess, or “Sweet” levels.

Take Me to the Good Parts:

The Take Me to the Good Parts section focusing on great moments of flirty banter in books

I don’t think my computer likes this feature, but it is kind of interesting. I am not uncomfortable with hearing explicit content read aloud—unless it’s on speaker and/or there are other people around. What this feature is supposed to do is play snippets from different “good” parts of the story—the first meeting, maybe a part where there’s sexual tension, or the declaration of love scene.

This means that technically, you’re getting more than your typical sample from Audible. The usual excerpt that authors/publishers make is available is very tiny and not particularly representative. If you want to figure out if you’ll be okay with a particular narrator reading explicit content out loud, this is a very helpful feature. I think there are certain voices that make listening to explicit content jarring, which brings up the question of whether you want the narrator to sound like they’re reading a grocery list or reading sexy times.

Mobile and Web versions:

I use the Audible app on my phone with a built-in screen-reader, and I use a screen-reader on my laptop, so it’s possible some of my issues could have to do with that. I found that it was difficult to use the different sorting options that the romance package offers on the phone. The only way I knew if a book was part of the romance package was if I searched by author or title, and I don’t know all the authors or titles in the world that have audiobooks available on Audible, so that clearly isn’t a good way to go about finding things.

However, on the computer, I could use the sorting options I outlined above. The mobile version of the app has a screen for books in the romance package. On that screen there were a few different sections: “Your Favorite Authors” “Editors’ Picks” “Only from Audible” “Start a New Series” “Dual Narration.” I don’t know how they decided on the authors/books under “Your Favorite Authors.” Conversely, I found it easier to remove books from the Romance Package when I reached my ten book limit on my phone than on the computer; the phone tells me the titles, but the computer doesn’t. Those are the differences I noticed.

I think this feature of Audible is meant to be used primarily on the phone through the app, but it would be a lot easier for me to navigate if all of the Romance Package sections, including the various sorting options, were also available.

Now for the books. These are the books I listened to, with a brief review for each in order to help you make your binging choices appropriately.

  • Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen – This is the first in her True North series, and it’s narrated by two people who do an excellent job. I personally enjoy having the characters who are telling the story have their own, dedicated narrators, but I have heard some people do not. I didn’t find the resolution for this romance as compelling as I would have liked, but it was good overall, and the external conflicts were resolved in what felt like a believable way (that being said, I am not knowledgeable about the food industry). Also, there are a lot of food descriptions.
  • Steadfast by Sarina Bowen – This is the second in the True North series, and discusses living with an addiction intimately, so keep that in mind. It’s grittier than the first book in the series, but I could definitely believe in the HEA.
  • Keepsake by Sarina Bowen – This is the third one in the True North series, about perhaps one of the quietest secondary characters. I was really excited about this story, because it talks about religion and faith intimately and how they can affect your life. It also talks about living with PTSD. I devoured all of these books and was very upset that the fourth book isn’t in the Romance Package.
  • Pucked by Helena Hunting – There is a hockey player and a junior accountant—although the junior-ness is a little fuzzy for me—and they fall into a relationship. I really enjoyed this book because it made consent really sexy—I generally think it’s sexy, but try arguing that in front of a bunch of college students. However, there was near-constant slut-shaming, and the only reason I could see for this being in the book is to distinguish between the heroine and all the other women the hero has slept with. This one is also performed by two narrators.
  • Pucked Up by Helena Hunting — This is the sequel to Pucked, and was interesting to me because it was told strictly from the hero’s point of view. He has a learning disability, and having him narrating the story let me experience how he interacted with the world differently, which was cool. Again, near-constant slut-shaming—and since it was told by the hero, I’m even more baffled by its existence. If you were hoping for on-the-ice scenes of any kind, this isn’t the book for that, but we are shown what hockey players theoretically do off-season.
  • The Courtship by Grace Burrowes—I DNFed this one because the narrator’s voice was too soothing for me. I loved reading Burrowes, but because of the language and wording, and the plum British accent, my brain got very relaxed, which I am not fine with if it’s a first-time listen.
  • How to Date a Douchebag: The Failing Hours by Sara Ney – I liked this book. Again, it was told by two narrators. It was like Beauty and the Beast in college with no magic.
  • Most Valuable Playboy by Lauren Blakely—I also DNFed this one. It has a good premise, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t get invested in the story. It may have been the narration, but I’m not sure.
  • Kulti by Mariana Zapata – I DNFed this one. I didn’t even get to any slut-shaming bits, I just found it really weird that the heroine was so upset that Kulti didn’t wait to marry her. It was weird to me; I also don’t idolize people to that point, so I had a hard time identifying with that kind of reaction.
  • Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck by Molly Harper – This one is a prequel novella to Harper’s new series. It’s read by Amanda Ronconi, who generally has a knack for highlighting all of Harper’s humorous storytelling bits. She’s like Harper’s Renee Raudman.
  • Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh – I read this book before, but I enjoyed listening to it. It nicely wrapped up the series.

I really enjoyed the Romance Package. You can only keep 10 audiobooks from the romance package in your library at one time. I really liked 3 or 4 books, so I had to do some juggling of books to keep my access. I haven’t figured out what I need to do in order to permanently keep a book if I originally got it through the Romance Package.

Luckily, it was easy to remove books from my library. My only complaint is that I was so engrossed in my books, I couldn’t keep up with my podcasts.

What would my grade be?

I’d probably give it a B-, because it’s not consistent across all platforms and some of its nifty features aren’t fully accessible.

Also, not all of a particular author’s work will be available through the package; Bountiful by Sarina Bowen, which would appear to tie together two of her series which are available through the package, is not available, so you have to purchase it.

But for $7, if that’s in your budget, I would recommend it for people who have super long commutes or who prefer audiobooks to print or eBooks. You have a lot of variety, and a lot of audio to enjoy.

NB: If you don’t already have an Audible subscription, the Romance Package is $15 a month on its own.

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