We thank our hardworking reviewers for coming up with a list of the top 20 audiobooks of the year, among them Tracy Chevalier’s hard-hitting At the Edge of the Orchard and Helen Oyeyemi’s interconnected tales in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, as well as Jennifer Boylan’s story of her transition, She’s Not There, with an afterword written and read by Richard Russo, and Matthew Desmond’s LJ Top Ten Best Book Evicted, about precarious housing in Milwaukee.
Bachman, Frederik. Britt-Marie Was Here. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781508229407. Read by Joan Walker.
Sixty-three-year-old Britt-Marie has left her husband after his recent heart attack—news she received through his mistress. With limited choices, Britt-Marie becomes the caretaker of a neglected recreation center and the de facto soccer coach for a motley crew of local kids. Walker takes on the eclectic cast with inspired energy, enhancing Backman’s already delightful narrative with even greater charm. (LJ 7/16)
Carey, M.R. Fellside. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781478911531. Read by Flinty Williams.
Jess Moulson is in Fellside, a prison in Yorkshire, England, after a fire she set while high on heroin killed a ten-year-old boy. She is being haunted by a spirit in the shape of the child she was convicted of killing, though the spirit tells her he was dead before the fire. Williams’s detailed interpretation makes this ideal for fans of horror and the occult, legal and prison stories, and gothic fiction. (LJ 6/15/16)
Chambers, Becky. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Tantor. ISBN 9781515957270. Read by Rachel Dulude.
Chambers’s space opera is set on a tunneling ship called the Wayfarer that creates wormholes as shortcuts through the galaxy and examines sexuality, gender, genocide, and hope. Dulude does a wonderful job distinguishing the characters with distinct voices and makes the new languages and names more accessible than they appear in print. (LJ 10/15/16)
Chevalier, Tracy. At the Edge of the Orchard. Books on Tape. ISBN 9781101924983. Read by multiple narrators.
Meticulously researched, heartbreakingly beautiful, deceptively simple, and superbly narrated by Hillary Huber, Mark Bramhall, Kirby Heyborne, and Cassandra Morris, Chevalier’s novel pulls no punches. A hard-hitting tale of a pioneer family who can’t ever seem to get ahead. (LJ 6/1/16)
Ellis, Helen. American Housewife. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780735209527. Read by multiple narrators.
Many of the stories in Ellis’s darkly funny collection feature books to some degree—deep knowledge of commercial fiction helps a character succeed on a reality show—while others skewer such topics as bra fitting and escalating disputes with neighbors. Kathleen McInerney, Rebecca Lowman, Lisa Cordileone, and Dorothy Dillingham Blue provide appropriately sweet readings with real bite underneath. (LJ 3/1/16)
Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780735209824. Read by Dominic Hoffman.
Two hundred fifty years ago in what is now Ghana, two half-sisters are each given a special stone by their mother. Their fates, and those of their descendants, diverge until two present-day members of the family eventually meet in San Francisco and, unaware of their shared past, restore the family’s torn fabric. Hoffman’s narration of Gyasi’s magnificent epic shines across continents, oceans, and generations. (LJ 8/16)
Oyeyemi, Helen. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. Recorded Bks. ISBN 9781501905360. Read by Ann Marie Gideon, Piter Marek, & Bahni Turpin.
Oyeyemi’s singular voice is the key that opens the door to this beautifully imagined and finely wrought collection of loosely interconnected tales, all of which have a lock and/or key as one element. Expectations are met, then thwarted, and the pieces turn in unexpected ways. Characters surprise and, in surprising, delight. Gideon, Marek, and Turpin bring these incandescent stories to life in entrancing and wonderful ways. (LJ 6/15/16)
Towles, Amor. A Gentleman in Moscow. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780735288546. Read by Nicholas Guy Smith.
In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel. As the years go by, Moscow undergoes tremendous political and social upheaval, but these changes lurk in the shadows as Rostov and his Metropol family carry on, beautifully demonstrating the strength of the human spirit. Smith masterfully narrates this exquisite story, bringing to life an unforgettable protagonist. (LJ 11/15/16)
Woodson, Jacqueline. Another Brooklyn. Harper Audio. ISBN 9781504733588. Read by Robin Miles.
When she returns home to bury her father, a chance encounter with an old friend plunges August back into memories of Brooklyn in the 1970s in this revelatory record of memory lost and found, girlhood examined from adulthood, families born and families chosen, and mutable relationships and everlasting bonds. Miles’s rich elocution adds nuanced depth to Woodson’s already magnificent prose. (LJ 12/16)
Yapa, Sunil. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781478961253. Read by Aaron Landon.
Set during the 1999 protests at the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, Yapa’s debut pivots around teenage runaway Victor, as well as the police chief, two of his officers, two protestors espousing nonviolence, and the Sri Lankan deputy finance minister. Landon’s precise attention to pitch, accent, and emotion gives Yapa’s fiction an immediacy that underscores the ongoing collision of crowds and authority. (LJ 3/15/16)
Boylan, Jennifer. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780735206465. Read by the author.
Originally published in 2003 and updated in 2013, Boylan’s groundbreaking memoir chronicling her transition from James to Jenny is available in audio for the first time. Narrated by Boylan, the audiobook offers a unique gift impossible in print: the author’s best friend, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Richard Russo, who undergoes his own evolution in understanding and accepting Boylan’s transition, reads his afterword. (LJ 6/15/16)
Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780147526809. Read by Dion Graham.
Desmond’s eye-opening book, which follows the lives of several families and individuals living in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee, clearly conveys that one will never truly understand poverty without grappling with the crisis of precarious housing. This timely examination of some of the root causes of systemic poverty is flawlessly read by Graham. (LJ 8/16)
Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781442397132. Read by the author.
Duckworth combines decades of research with personal narrative, everyday and famous examples, accessible research in lay language, and solid narrative skill to enlighten, teach, inspire, and champion the efficacy of grit to improve just about every facet of one’s life. Duckworth’s narration underscores her commitment, her insight, and her grit. (LJ 9/15/16)
Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780399566189. Read by Sunil Malhotra & Cassandra Campbell.
Neurosurgeon Kalanithi died in March 2015 at the age of 37 and was, by all accounts, an exceptional human being. This posthumous release is an exquisite treatise on how to live. The transition from Malhotra, who reads the main work, to Campbell reading Kalanithi’s widow Lucy’s epilog signals that Kalanithi is truly gone. The voice change will break listeners’ hearts. (LJ 3/15/16)
Miranda, Lin-Manuel & Jeremy McCarter. Hamilton: The Revolution. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781478913641. Read by Mariska Hargitay.
Miranda, Hamilton’s creator and star, and McCarter trace the origins and progress of the hip-hop musical based on the life of the Founding Father from loose “mixtape” to Broadway production and cultural phenomenon. The audio edition includes the full libretto with annotations by Miranda. The bulk of the narration is earnestly performed by Hargitay, with McCarter reading his introduction and Miranda reading (and sometimes singing) his own annotations. (LJ 6/1/16)
Roach, Mary. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Brilliance. ISBN 9781511367936. Read by Abby Elvidge.
Roach investigates the science of the U.S. military, studying sleep deprivation in nuclear submarines, smelling stink bombs used in World War II, and viewing shark repellent research designed to help conquer sailors’ and pilots’ fear of being eaten alive. Elvidge’s wry narration matches Roach’s distinctive, self-deprecating, humorous writing style. (LJ 9/15/16)
Voigt, Emily. The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish. Tantor. ISBN 9781515955658. Read by Xe Sands.
Treasured as a good-luck talisman and status symbol, the Asian red arowana has become critically endangered. Voigt, intrigued by the extremes to which devotees will go, succumbs to the obsession herself, visiting farms where arowana are bred in captivity, as well as New Guinea, Myanmar, and the Amazon, where she hopes to see the fish in the wild. Sands does an extraordinary job bringing to life the world of exotic fish and capturing the suspense of Voigt’s travels. (LJ 9/15/16)
Wariner, Ruth. The Sound of Gravel. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427268143. Read by the author.
Wariner narrates her powerful memoir about growing up in a polygamist Mormon sect in rural Mexico during the 1970s and 1980s. Her reading complements the candid nature of her story while perfectly highlighting just exactly how bleak and disheartening her circumstances were. (LJ 3/15/16)
Wilber, Del Quentin. A Good Month for Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427260819. Read by Johnny Heller.
Twelve murders and three police-involved shootings hit hard the already overworked homicide squad of Maryland’s Prince George’s County in February 2013. These investigators are not the stuff of fiction, nor do all the cases get wrapped up with a neat little bow. Heller’s well-executed narration enhances the experience. (LJ 9/1/16)
Yang, Kao Kalia. The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681681627. Read by the author.
In Hmong tradition, song poets recount the history, tragedies, and joys of their people and homeland, keeping the past alive. Yang’s exquisite prose crafts a deeply moving tribute to her father and the Hmong people, as well as to the struggles facing immigrant families. (LJ 8/16)