lj ljThis year’s best audiobooks, chosen by LJ’s reviewers, demonstrate the format’s remarkable range. Genres on display among the fiction titles include literary fiction, mysteries, and Westerns. The nonfiction list addresses little-known religions, the sinking of the Lusitania, and memoirs about race, caring for an aged parent, and living with mental illness, among other topics. Authors reading their own work, professional narrators, and celebrities all appear. The wide variety ensures that there’s something here for every listener—enjoy!
Atkinson, Kate. A God in Ruins. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781478932635.
Atkinson’s latest, a companion to Life After Life, presents an epic, kaleidoscopic view of Teddy Todd, an RAF pilot in World War II, and his family over the course of nearly a century. Atkinson is a master of detail and character, with plot points revealed skillfully and with purpose. The controversial ending delivers a gut punch that should remind readers what’s at stake in war, in real life, and in fiction. Alex Jennings’s subtle, affecting performance does perfect justice to Atkinson’s powerful novel. (LJ 8/15)
Clegg, Bill. Did You Ever Have a Family. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781442385283.
The night before June Reid’s daughter’s wedding, June’s house erupts into a fiery ball, killing everyone inside—the bride and groom, June’s ex-husband, and her much younger boyfriend. June is the only survivor. In the wake of the tragedy, everyone in the community reacts differently. It’s heart-wrenching, honest, and unflinching. A beautiful look at acceptance, forgiveness, and, most important, hope. Clegg’s narration of his debut novel is magnificent. (LJ 11/1/15)
Hannaham, James. Delicious Foods. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781478900535.
Darlene is a college-educated African American mother who descends into addiction when her activist husband is killed; Eddie is her devoted son; and Scotty is the malevolent and self-centered voice of the drug. Hannaham narrates with a crisp and no-nonsense performance until he reaches Scotty’s portion of the story, imbuing the voice of the drug with all the sass and verve of a forbidden and powerful enticement. (LJ 7/15)
Hart, Elsa. Jade Dragon Mountain. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427264541.
Hart’s debut is a historical mystery set in the early 18th-century borderlands between China and Tibet. Once an imperial librarian, Li Du is now an exile, banished from his country. As Li Du is about to leave China, a Jesuit priest and astronomer is found murdered, and Li Du is hired by the man’s cousin, the local magistrate, to find the killer. Narrator David Shih’s powerful reading helps maintain the setting and the careful plotting and drama. (LJ 11/1/15)
Hulse, S.M. Black River. Tantor. ISBN 9781494508487.
Hulse’s evocative debut novel is a modern Western about a wounded retired prison guard from a small Montana town. He returns to mourn and scatter his late wife’s ashes but ends up rekindling a fraught relationship with his stepson, attending the hearing of an inmate who tortured him long ago, and mentoring a misfit youth who shares his passion for bluegrass fiddle. Narrator George Newbern performs the laconic but well-wrought characters with deserving aplomb. (LJ 5/15/15)
Kiefer, Christian. The Animals. Recorded Books. ISBN 9781490658629.
Bill Reed manages a small menagerie of disabled creatures in northern Idaho. Then a phone call from a former friend newly released from prison portends the imminent dismantling of Bill’s reputation and hopes of sharing a future with local veterinarian Grace and her son. The tense narrative gains momentum and twists as chapters alternate in time, up to the gripping conclusion. Kiefer’s masterly prose is frequently poetic, at times cinematic, heartbreaking throughout, and will thrill literary fiction fans, as will Richard Poe’s perfectly attuned, moving narration. (LJ 11/1/15)
L’Amour, Louis. The Diamond of Jeru. Books on Tape. ISBN 9781101914106.
Fans of Indiana Jones will enjoy this tale of a Korean War veteran battling headhunters in Borneo, the manuscript of which was found in storage 40 years after the author’s death, but the real appeal of this audiobook lies in its groundbreaking production values. The project took producer Beau L’Amour (Louis’s son) nearly a decade to complete; it includes a 21-person cast, authentic sound effects that were collected and recorded specifically for this production, stirring original music, and all the magic of old-time radio. (LJ 9/15/15)
Novik, Naomi. Uprooted. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780553410099.
Although the premise of the seemingly ordinary protagonist who is really a formidable magician is quite familiar, Novik’s modern fairy tale is much more than a coming-of-age novel; its richly imagined world, unflinching look at human nature, and underlying thread of humor make for a wholly compelling listening experience. Julia Emelin’s expressive voice and multiaccented narration perfectly capture the novel’s large cast of characters and Eastern European setting. (LJ 8/15)
Pitre, Michael. Fives and Twenty-Fives. Brilliance. ISBN 9781501227325.
This powerful novel examines the lives of the members of a U.S. Marine unit both during and after their service in Iraq. Pitre brings his personal history as a marine in Iraq to the work. His marines suffer from the same problems that have come to light in returning vets and interpreters, such as traumatic brain injury and getting lost in military bureaucracy. The characters speak as distinct individuals thanks to Pitre’s quality writing and the voice work of Kevin T. Collins, Nick Sullivan, Jay Snyder, and Fajer Al-Kaisi. The violence is handled with a reticence that makes it far more impactful than if it were described in grisly detail. (LJ 10/1/15)
Vu Tran. Dragonfish. Blackstone. ISBN 9781504619721.
Vu Tran’s first novel is about Suzy, a young Vietnamese widow who, with her preschool-aged daughter, risked a dangerous voyage to Malaysia and survived a refugee camp. Kidnapped from his Oakland home two years later and ordered by her dangerous third husband to find Suzy, her second husband, Robert, uncovers secrets he never suspected. Tom Taylorson provides a believable voice for Robert, while Nancy Wu narrates Suzy’s compelling backstory. (LJ 10/15/15)
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780147520517.
Framed as a letter to his teenage son, Coates’s account of race in America works as both memoir and meditation. Most striking perhaps are the author’s thoughts on the frailty of the body and the fear that those who grow up black in America learn to feel for the safety of their bodies and those of their children. The choice to have Coates narrate works exceptionally well—his delivery is understated but powerful and gives a real voice to the anger and sadness behind the haunting lyricism of his writing. (LJ 9/15/15)
Costello, Elvis. Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. Books on Tape. ISBN 9781101924969.
Costello’s memoir is a nonlinear exploration of his life and career, weaving stories of his childhood and family history in with tales of rock fame. The author includes the requisite stories of the famous recording artists he’s met and worked with but also analyzes his own lyrics, meditates on the absurdities of American and English cultures, and doesn’t shy away from his own failings and missteps. Costello’s reading is as expressive, heartfelt, and articulate as the text itself, which is funny, sincere, and sad by turns. (LJ 12/15)
Fuller, Alexandra. Leaving Before the Rains Come. Recorded Books. ISBN 9781490637044.
Fuller follows her two previous memoirs about her childhood during the Rhodesian wars with this third memoir about the dissolution of her marriage and her return to Africa. Fuller’s family again plays a large role as the author reflects on the circumstances that shaped both her personality and her expectations for her life. The audiobook features narration by the author, heightening the intimacy of the story. (LJ 6/15/15)
Hodgman, George. Bettyville. Recorded Books. ISBN 9781490659046.
Hodgman’s poignant and funny memoir is about returning to his hometown of Paris, MO, to take care of his 90-year-old mother, Betty. In addition to musings on his return, Hodgman shares family stories about his grandparents and his parents, as well as reminiscences of growing up gay in the 1970s, when coming out was beyond imagining. Hodgman shows that you can indeed go home again, but don’t be surprised by the changes. This wonderful story is impeccably narrated by Jeff Woodman. (LJ 9/1/15)
Jobb, Dean. Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation. HighBridge. ISBN 9781622315765.
The story of con man Leo Koretz is told in parallel with that of the man who eventually captured him, Chicago state’s attorney Robert Crowe. Through his Bayano River Syndicate, Koretz sold stock in worthless Panamanian land that he did not even own, telling investors that it contained vast oil and lumber reserves. After the scheme collapsed in 1923, Koretz moved to Nova Scotia to buy a hunting lodge. A strange set of events led to his capture in 1924. Narrator Peter Berkrot has a distinctive voice that matches the 1920s era perfectly. (LJ 6/15/15)
Larson, Erik. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780553551648.
Like the Titanic before her, the Lusitania was believed by many to be unsinkable. The German navy thought otherwise. The year is 1915, and England and Germany are at war. This European conflict provides the background for one of the most dramatic stories of life and death on the high seas. With perspectives taken from the crew and passengers as well as the German submarine commander, the drama unfolds through many twists and turns culminating in a fateful encounter on the Atlantic Ocean. Larson’s work is full of tense, heartbreaking, and unforgettable moments. Scott Brick’s narration is wonderful, occasionally taking on prophetic tones when highlighting the interesting quirks of history that led to the disaster. (LJ 5/15/15)
Lawson, Jenny. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427264787.
Lawson’s newest memoir is about her determination to embrace life—to be “furiously happy”—despite her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression. It’s enthusiastically profane, consistently hilarious, and often surprisingly heartfelt and vulnerable. Between (and in the midst of) stories about her quest to hug koalas while wearing a koala costume in Australia and her plans to laminate her cats to prevent shedding, Lawson talks frankly about how mental illness hurts the quality of her life but also how it’s taught her to value and take joy in new and unexpected aspects of living. The author’s narration is as sincere, heartfelt, and touching as her words. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 10/9/15)
Newkirk, Pamela. Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Oto Benga. Dreamscape. ISBN 9781681410616.
The exploitation of Ota Benga, a Congolese man who arrived in the United States in 1904, became an international sensation after he was displayed in the monkey house at the New York Zoological Gardens, caged with an orangutan. Newkirk examines the circumstances surrounding Benga’s captivity, the worldwide controversy arising from the situation, and Benga’s attempts to become Americanized. Bahni Turpin brings the work to life, giving Benga dignity under the most undignified of circumstances. (LJ 8/15)
Norris, Mary. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Recorded Books.
Norris has scrutinized punctuation, spelling, and grammar in The New Yorker’s legendary copy department since 1978. Her laugh-out-loud narrative—part memoir, part usage guide—examines the toughest grammatical challenges faced by writers. Grammar has never been so entertaining thanks to Norris’s lively narration; accessible, often irreverent, prose; and colorful literary examples ranging from Moby-Dick (Who put that hyphen on the book’s title page when it isn’t used in Melville’s text?) to The Simpsons (Mr. Burns’s excellent grammar “marks him as a villain”). (LJ 7/15)
Russell, Gerard. Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East. Tantor. ISBN 9781494508777.
A fascinating and compelling look at members of minority faiths in the Middle East, including Mandeans, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Druze, Samaritans, Copts, and Kalasha. Russell deftly intertwines personal stories of his travels with historical sources, interviews, and contemporary news to illustrate the challenging political and cultural environment that members of these communities face. Narration by Michael Page gives the book a smooth, conversational flow, allowing listeners to relax into Russell’s expressive writing style. (LJ 5/15/15)