This year’s best audiobooks, chosen by LJ‘s reviewers, demonstrate the format’s remarkable range. Genres on display among the fiction selections include literary classics and short stories as well as urban fantasy and detective tales. The nonfiction list addresses college football, Winston Churchill, Arctic rescue missions, and the memoirs of an entertainment legend, among other topics. No narrator is on the list more than once; authors reading their own work, professional narrators, and celebrities all appear. The wide variety ensures that there’s something here for every listener—enjoy!
Baker, Jo. Longbourn. Penguin Random Audio. ISBN 9780804149426.
This brilliant and inventive novel features Pride and Prejudice’s belowstairs events in a classic tale of lost love, perseverance, and the early 19th century that will please even the most critical of Janeites. Emma Fielding brilliantly narrates this novel with her smooth English accent and does a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life through inflections in all the right places. A must-listen for fans of historical fiction, Austen, and Downton Abbey. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 12/6/13)
Barnhardt, Wilton. Lookaway, Lookaway. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427229328.
Barnhardt’s latest novel is a tour de force. The Johnston and Jarvis family saga spans several decades and is stunning in its honesty, cleverness, and dark humor. Narrated brilliantly by North Carolina native Scott Shepherd, who gives all of the characters distinctive voices with perfect inflections and tones, this engaging, inventive romp into the rise and fall of an eclectic Southern family is perfect for fans of Southern literature and dark family stories. (LJ 10/1/13)
Benjamin, Melanie. The Aviator’s Wife. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780365360357.
“Lucky Lindy,” Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, saw a fellow adventurer in Anne Morrow. Following a brief courtship, they began a married life of flying and exploring. Regrettably, their fame attracted the kind of attention that led to the kidnapping and death of their firstborn son. Anne had many achievements in her own right and her book Gift from the Sea has become a classic. Narrator Lorna Raver provides excellent transition from Anne’s educated East Coast voice to Charles’s earnest, reedy Midwestern tones in this fictionalized biography that will inspire listeners to explore further Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s fascinating and challenging life. (LJ 7/13)
Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War; The Complete Edition. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780449807897.
A series of interviews with a number of individual characters (each played by a different reader) explores a worldwide zombie pandemic from outbreak to aftermath. The production is excellent, and each member of the all-star cast (e.g., Martin Scorsese, Mark Hamill, Alan Alda) brings out the nuances of the text. The five hours of material added to the 2007 abridged edition is an incentive for libraries that already own the earlier work to pick up this one, too. (LJ 7/13)
Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names. Dreamscape Audio. ISBN 9781624066382.
This coming-of-age novel follows a young girl in Zimbabwe as she and her displaced family and friends must adapt to and cope with a harsh, violent world. Poignant and heart-wrenching prose tells the tale of Darling’s journey and extends a universal message of longing for a homeland that is forever out of reach. The narration by Robin Miles, who adjusts Darling’s accent throughout her life and circumstances, is inspired and masterly. (LJ 9/1/13)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Brilliance Audio. ISBN 9781480529953.
Fitzgerald’s classic novel depicts the times, sounds, attitudes, and lives of many Americans in the 1920s. Themes of reality vs. fantasy, hope vs. obsession, the idle rich, and the American dream are beautifully threaded together to offer readers a tapestry that has come to embody the time period. Narrator Jake Gyllanhaal gives an understated performance filled with nuance and a thoughtful appreciation of the written word. Never overpowering, Gyllanhaal allows time for readers to draw their own conclusions and investigate their own interpretations of the novel’s many facets. This fresh audio production will inspire readers to experience the classic anew. (LJ 9/1/13)
Messud, Claire. The Woman Upstairs. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780307913623.
In Messud’s latest intimate and piercing novel, Nora Eldridge’s life takes an unexpected turn when the cosmopolitan Shahid family moves in from Paris. She tries to get as involved in their lives as she can, until she ultimately realizes the cost of living vicariously through others. Cassandra Campbell does a lovely job of narrating Nora’s inner struggles. The listener easily gets lost in the beauty of her voice and the conviction of her efforts. (LJ 7/13)
Penny, Louise. How the Light Gets In. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427233011.
This amazing entry in Penny’s popular series integrates sociopolitical commentary with well-drawn and, by now, familiar characters as it wraps up many of the plots and themes that had their roots in earlier titles. As in all previous books in the series, literary detective fiction and philosophy are intertwined with humor, tragedy, love, betrayal, intrigue, friendship, and faith. Narrator Ralph Cosham moves seamlessly from character to character, adding depth to each. His narration, coupled with a suspenseful writing style, makes for edge-of-your-seat listening. (LJ 10/1/13)
Ruge, Eugen. In Times of Fading Light. HighBridge Audio. ISBN 9781622312283.
Ruge’s breathtaking debut novel presents the moving story of three generations of the Umnitzer family. This panoramic tale is set in Germany, Mexico, and Russia, moves forward and backward in time, and touches on the twists and turns that history took during the Cold War. It also contains a vast range of sympathetic and unsympathetic characters and passes from being funny to sad to tragic with ease. Simon Vance does an excellent job in presenting Anthea Bell’s translation. (LJ 11/1/13)
Russell, Karen. Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780385367462.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Russell’s latest collection of short stories concerns people to whom the very worst has already happened in most cases…or has it? Russell’s characters all experience bizarre, profound changes that leave listeners with a sense of unease and strangeness thanks to the weird and wonderful worlds she creates. The multiple narrators, including Joy Osmanski and Jesse Bernstein, do an extraordinary job. (LJ 6/1/13)
Anderson, Scott. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Blackstone. ISBN 9781482939965.
Anderson’s fun and informative popular history chronicles T.E. Lawrence’s experiences in Arabia before, during, and immediately after World War I. This work tells as well the stories of three other spies: a Palestinian Zionist, a German agitator, and an American oil company employee. Their tales weave in and out of Lawrence’s narrative and are also used to show what was happening in other areas of the Ottoman front. Malcom Hilgartner’s clear reading allows the well-paced writing to deliver an engrossing experience. (LJ 11/15/13)
Benedict, Jeff. The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. Penguin Random Audio. ISBN 9780804148436.
Entertaining and engaging throughout, this candid look into modern college football covers everything from financial and sex scandals and lurid recruitment methods to the ugly politics of NCAA relations, but it also finds room for a few inspirational feel-good stories. Despite their brevity, these consistently well-written pieces dig deep into their subjects and provide vital insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Mark Deakins’s narration convincingly conveys a variety of moods and personalities. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 12/6/13)
Ephron, Nora. Crazy Salad & Scribble Scribble. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780385367363.
These two collections of essays, originally published in the 1970s, are here available as an audiobook for the first time. While immersed in the issues of the time, both collections have a remarkable relevance 40 years later, covering everything from Ephron’s obsession with breasts to Watergate to the genesis of People magazine. Kathe Mazur’s smart, conversational tone is a fine match for Ephron’s revealing and humorous voice, giving readers the feeling of having spent an afternoon in the company of one of our very smartest friends. (LJ 11/1/13)
Fink, Sheri. Five Days at Memorial. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780804128117.
Fink’s meticulous and extensive research is apparent in this detailed description of a large urban hospital in New Orleans in crisis during Hurricane Katrina. The first half of the book vividly describes the situation in the hospital during the storm, and the equally engrossing second half addresses the legal cases resulting from the aftermath of medical professionals’ controversial actions. Reader Kristin Potter narrates professionally and evenhandedly.
Hainey, Michael. After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story. Tantor. ISBN 9781452613017.
Hainey was a young boy when his father died suddenly. His mother refuses to talk about the death, and Hainey believes there is more to the story than he has been told. Here Hainey deftly weaves family history and personal memory into his quest for the truth about his father, creating for the listener an incredible and captivating story. This compelling memoir is read by Dan John Miller, whose voices, pacing, and talent for conveying nuance and emotion bring Hainey’s text to life. (LJ 10/15/13)
LeDuff, Charlie. Detroit: An American Autopsy. HighBridge Audio. ISBN 9781622312047.
Passionate and scathing, LeDuff’s incisive, pithy brand of reportage—in which he takes any force killing “his” Detroit personally—is powerful and immensely enjoyable. With the same critical eye he uses on others, LeDuff entwines his personal life into the narrative, effectively breaking down any “us vs. them” posturing. Eric Martin’s narration is exactly right, reflecting all of LeDuff’s sincerity, outrage, and despair. This masterly snapshot of a city in ruins translates superbly to the spoken word. (LJ 9/1/13)
Moreno, Rita. Rita Moreno: A Memoir. Penguin Random Audio. ISBN 9781611761399.
One of a handful of performers to have achieved EGOT status (by having won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards), Moreno here presents a story that evolves from her hardships as a young Puerto Rican woman in New York in the 1930s to her struggle for fulfilling roles in the Hollywood of the 1950s and finally to success, as well as a happy marriage and motherhood. Moreno provides a dramatic, heartfelt reading, underscoring the pathos and joys of her highs and lows. (LJ 5/15/13)
Seeger, Pete. The Storm King: Stories, Narratives, Poems: Spoken Word Set to a World of Music. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781619698307.
This collection features iconic folk singer and social activist Seeger narrating his own spoken-word selections as set to a wide swath of musical styles including classical, American folk, jazz, New Age, and even Tuvan throat singing. It is a credit to producer and percussionist Jeff Haynes that the efforts of more than 40 musicians (including Dar Williams and Richie Stearns) are channeled into roles that uniformly support and highlight Seeger’s words throughout. His reading is folksy and intimate, projecting all the intelligence and acumen of his remarkable life. An especially interesting and lovely experiment, this program deserves to be heard. (LJ 9/15/13)
Shelden, Michael. Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill. Recorded Bks. ISBN 9781470343729.
Shelden here presents a detailed, well-researched look at Winston Churchill from age 26 to 40 (1901–15), including his entry into national politics and meteoric rise to political power. Shelden explores the eagerness and ambition of the young man coming into his own as he takes on the best and brightest political figures of his day. John Curless’s British accents are perfect and add a rich dimension to this biography. (LJ 7/13)
Zuckoff, Mitchell. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II. Harper Audio. ISBN 9780062283443.
Zuckoff here writes an account of the U.S. cargo plane that crashed into the Greenland ice cap on November 5, 1942, and the subsequent attempts to rescue the survivors. Four days later, the search and rescue plane also crashed. The ensuing narrative is a fascinating reminder of the sacrifices of American military personnel and their families. Well read by the author, this is an extraordinary tale of adventure and heroism. (LJ 9/1/13)