Listen & Yearn | Audio Spotlight

Audiobooks continue their meteoric rise. The Audio Publishers Association’s (APA) annual survey reports that audiobook sales in 2015 totaled more than $1.77 billion, an increase of more than 20 percent over 2014. It was the second consecutive year that audiobook sales have expanded by 20 percent, growth the APA chalks up to increasing awareness of the format and the popularity of digital downloads.

The number of available titles expanded as well, from 25,944 in 2014 to 35,574 in 2015, an increase of 9,630, and the industry shows no sign of slowing down. So it’s no surprise that the tail end of 2016 and the first part of 2017 offer a dizzying array of options for audiobook fans. Some dearly departed authors will still have their voices heard in the coming months, and there’s a healthy mix of new talent and established masters in the audiobook arena. Narrator information is not available yet for most of these titles, so keep an eye out as the year ­progresses.

Historical murder and mayhem

Listeners who enjoy nonfiction crime narratives set in the past will have plenty of new releases to keep them busy well into the new year. In Tom Clavin’s Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West (Macmillan Audio, Feb.), two men who both lost lawmen brothers to violence team up against a rogue’s gallery of gunfighters and desperadoes to tame Dodge City and establish the rule of justice in “the wickedest place in the United States.”

The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story by historian Miriam C. Davis (Tantor, Mar.) examines the story of the serial murderer who panicked New Orleans from 1910 to 1919, in a complex story that includes false accusations against immigrants suspected of the crime, a corrupt legal system, and the involvement of the New Orleans Mafia.

5129hpzxrl__1477938705_85634In 1920s Oklahoma, over two dozen members of the Osage Indian Nation, owners of some of the richest oil deposits in the United States, were murdered one by one by a variety of gruesome methods, and those who investigated the killings tended to die in turn. In David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Books on Tape, Apr.), the young director of the newly created FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, turns to a Texas Ranger named Tom White, whose team infiltrates the region to uncover the plot.

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker (Blackstone, Mar.) is a historical crime narrative that promises to read like a thriller, with Louis XIV’s chief of police digging into a conspiracy of priests, poisoners, and witches to uncover the murder of two magistrates.

Timothy B. Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till (Dreamscape, Feb.) is about the 1955 murder of a 14-year-old black boy in Mississippi, a case widely considered to have moved forward the civil rights movement. Among the sources used by Tyson were the murder trial transcript recovered in 2005, a recent FBI report, and a rare interview with the wife of one of the killers.

Getting By and Getting Better

These self-help books and memoirs are focused on helping people make their way in the world the best they can. Sallie Krawcheck believes that the business world is evolving in ways that will need women’s skills of communication and connection. She explains how to get ready in Own It: The Power of Women at Work (Books on Tape, Jan.).

51ats51id2l__1477938779_17976Anne Lamott discusses approaching the world through “radical kindness” in Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy (Books on Tape, Apr.).

From Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, comes Books for Living (Books on Tape, Dec.), a celebration of reading that includes recommendations for books that address and answer life’s questions.

YouTube sensation Lilly Singh describes a “bawse” as someone who “exudes confidence, reaches goals, and smiles genuinely because they’ve fought through it all and made it out the other side.” This spring, she explains How To Be a Bawse (Books on Tape, Mar.).

Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life (Recorded Bks., Jan.) explores the author’s experimentations with microdoses of LSD to treat a debilitating mood disorder.

Facing the Future

Stories about the end of the world, ways the world could end, and worlds we wouldn’t want to live in never go out of style. Steven Hatch’s memoir, Inferno: A Doctor’s Ebola Story (Blackstone, Mar.), is the recounting of his time in Liberia fighting the disease in the face of war and extremely limited resources.

576362b47a726c3703345f57bc60e7c0__1477938855_78644We can hope that the real world isn’t approaching a dystopian surveillance state too quickly, but for those who believe in being prepared, world-famous and one-time-most-wanted (former) hacker Kevin Mitnick offers The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How To Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data (Hachette Audio, Feb.), a nonfiction guide to remaining undetected online for consumers and the general public.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (Hachette Audio, Mar.) envisions a flooded New York in which each skyscraper is its own island and explores how people adapt to the new landscape through the stories of the inhabitants of one building.

NK3 by Michael Tolkin (Feb.) and The Final Day by William R. Forstchen (Jan.), both from Blackstone, present very different apocalyptic settings. The near-future California of NK3 has been devastated by a North Korean virus that destroys memory, while The Final Day is set in a grim America trying to rebuild after an electromagnetic pulse wipes out electrical power nationwide, the United States cedes territory to China and Mexico, and martial law descends over the remnants of the country.

Women to be reckoned with

Audiobook listeners won’t lack for inspiring, tough, or complicated women in central roles. Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook (Recorded Bks., Feb.), set in Georgian London, stars a sheltered young woman who isn’t afraid to get a little blood on her hands in pursuit of her goals.

Coretta Scott King’s My Life, My Love, My Legacy (Macmillan Audio, May) tells her story from her education at Antioch College and her marriage to Martin Luther King Jr., to her role at the center of the civil rights struggle, the founding of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, lobbying to establish the national holiday in honor of her husband, and serving as a United Nations ambassador.

The Radium Girls: They Paid with Their Lives; The Final Fight Was for Justice by Kate Moore (HighBridge, May) is the true story of young women during World War I who worked painting watches, clocks, and military dials with radium paint—lucrative work considered both glamorous and vital to the war effort—and their fight for restitution when the companies that employed them denied all responsibility for the crippling health problems that resulted years later.

51t_7rwijol-_sx329_bo1204203200___1477938962_75734In Lydia Reeder’s Dust Bowl Girls: A Team’s Quest for Basketball Glory (HighBridge, Jan.), Sam Babb, the basketball coach of a tiny Oklahoma college, recruits young women for his team in exchange for free tuition. The Cardinals gave up security at home for Babb’s dream, gradually shaping a loyal, skilled, and soon unbeatable team that made its way to the national championships.

Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy (Books on Tape, Jan.) concerns the two women—an undocumented immigrant and the woman who takes care of her child when she’s detained—who mother the eponymous child.

Glenn Stout tells the story of a remarkable swimmer in the 1920s in Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World (Recorded Bks., Mar.).

Fantastic worlds

Sf, fantasy, and horror stories continue to flourish in 2017. Russian folklore takes center stage in Katherine Arden’s debut, The Bear and the Nightingale (Books on Tape, Jan.). Vasilisa was raised to respect household spirits. When her new stepmother forbids the practice, evil creatures begin to emerge from the forest.

In John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester (Macmillan Audio, Feb.), set in 1990s Iowa, townsfolk notice that movies from the local video store have a strange, black-and-white scene cut into the middle. Then store clerk Jeremy notices that the setting resembles a barn outside of town.

The 2017 American Gods TV series may generate even more enthusiasm for fantasy giant Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (HarperAudio, Jan.). It’s a novelistic retelling of Asgardian myth, a well from which Gaiman has often dipped in his past fiction.

Events in both Stephanie Garber’s YA crossover Caraval (Macmillan Audio, Jan.) and Heather O’Neill’s The Lonely Hearts Hotel (Books on Tape, Feb.) center on circuses. Garber’s Scarlett must participate in the magical Caraval to save her sister, while O’Neill’s Pierrot and Rose grow attached as children in a Montreal orphanage, but when they’re separated they have to find each other years later during the Great Depression to make their performance dreams come true.

61paippgitl__1477939032_95425Human travel to other planets is in the air. Four people spend 17 months in a realistic simulation of Mars to prove that they’re the best crew for a manned mission to the red planet in Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers (Books on Tape, Mar.), while a Czech astronaut undertakes a solo mission to Venus in Jaroslav Kalfar’s Spaceman of Bohemia (Hachette Audio, Mar.).

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 2009 novel reimagining encounters between humans and angels throughout history, A Time for Everything (Recorded Bks., Mar), here gets a new recording by Edoardo Ballerini.

Like many readers, Charlie Willett is a huge fan of legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. In Paul LaFarge’s The Night Ocean (Recorded Bks., Mar.), Willett researches a period of the author’s life about which little is known—and then disappears.

Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays (Books on Tape, Feb.) strands a man from a techno-utopia version of 2016 in our 2016, which seems like a dystopian horror show until he sees the intriguing version of his life in the here and now. When he has the option of returning to perfection, will he take it?

Fantasy fans can also look forward to Recluce Tales by L.E. Modesitt (Tantor, Jan.), which collects 21 stories, most new, from the author’s 25-year and 18-book-long Recluce Saga. The new collection includes an essay delving into how the author developed the magic system that rules Recluce and its surrounding territories.

Short story writer, essayist, and MacArthur Fellow George Saunders’s first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (Books on Tape, Feb.), finds Willie Lincoln, the recently deceased 11-year-old son of the 16th president, in a transitional state in a supernatural realm.

Veronica Roth, author of the “Divergent” trilogy, presents Carve the Mark (Harper Audio, Jan.), the first of two novels set on a violent world whose inhabitants use unique powers called “currentgifts.”

There are months to go before Game of Thrones returns to the air, but Dead Man’s Steel by Luke Scull (Recorded Bks., Feb.) may help bridge the gap; it wraps up a grim trilogy about war, magic, and ancient evil that may bring about the end of the world.

Departed authors

Audio fans can look forward to some new work from prominent authors who have died. The estate of best-selling author Michael Crichton releases Dragon Teeth (Harper Audio, May), written by Crichton before his death in 2008. It’s the fictionalized story of real-life rival paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh as seen through the eyes of their apprentice in 1878, a time of intense interest in paleontology and fossils in the American West.

Brilliance is releasing a slew of Erle Stanley Gardner’s classic Perry Mason audio titles in the coming year, including The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe and The Case of the Perjured Parrot (both Jan.). Most of these will be short listens for mystery fans in the mood for something vintage and concise.

9780857534835__1477939098_83600The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner collects 14 stories for kids by the late and much-missed Terry Pratchett (Harper Audio, Dec.). The publisher notes that these stories from early in Sir Terry’s career not only are “the perfect introduction to the world of Terry Pratchett” but show the early seeds of ideas that the author developed further in his later writing, making it a collection of potential interest for adult fans as well.


Below are the forthcoming titles mentioned in this article.

Arden, Katherine. The Bear and the Nightingale. (Books on Tape, Jan.)

Clavin, Tom. Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West. (Macmillan Audio, Feb.)

Crichton, Michael. Dragon Teeth. (HarperAudio, May)

Darnielle, John. Universal Harvester. (Macmillan Audio, Feb.)

Davis, Miriam C. The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story. (Tantor, Mar.)

Ellis, Janet. The Butcher’s Hook. (Recorded Bks., Feb.)

Forstchen, William R. The Final Day. (Blackstone, Jan.)

Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. (HarperAudio, Jan.)

Garber, Stephanie. Caraval. (Macmillan Audio, Jan.)

Gardner, Erle Stanley. The Case of the Shoplifter’s Show. (Brilliance, Jan.)

Gardner, Erle Stanley. The Case of the Perjured Parrot. (Brilliance, Jan.)

Grann, David. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. (Books on Tape, Apr.)

Hatch, Steven. Inferno: A Doctor’s Ebola Story. (Blackstone, Mar.)

Howrey, Meg. The Wanderers. (Books on Tape, Mar.)

Kalfar, Jaroslav. Spaceman of Bohemia. (Hachette Audio, Mar.)

King, Coretta Scott. My Life, My Love, My Legacy. (Macmillan Audio, May)

Knausgaard, Karl Ove. A Time for Everything. (Recorded Bks., Mar.)

Krawcheck, Sallie. Own It: The Power of Women at Work. (Books on Tape, Jan.)

Lafarge, Paul. The Night Ocean. (Recorded Bks., Mar.)

Lamott, Anne. Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. (Books on Tape, Apr.)

Mastai, Elan. All Our Wrong Todays. (Books on Tape, Feb.)

Mitnick, Kevin. The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data. (Hachette Audio, Feb.)

Modesitt, L.E., Jr. Recluce Tales. (Tantor, Jan.)

Moore, Kate. The Radium Girls: They Paid with Their Lives, The Final Fight Was for Justice. (HighBridge, May)

O’Neill, Heather. The Lonely Hearts Hotel. (Books on Tape, Feb.)

Pratchett, Terry. The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner. (HarperAudio, Dec.)

Reeder, Lydia. Dust Bowl Girls: A Team’s Quest for Basketball Glory. (HighBridge, Jan.)

Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. (Hachette Audio, Mar.)

Roth, Veronica. Carve the Mark. (HarperAudio, Jan.)

Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo. (Books on Tape, Feb.)

Schwalbe, Will. Books for Living. (Books on Tape, Dec.)

Scull, Luke. Dead Man’s Steel. (Recorded Bks., Feb.)

Sekaran, Shanthi. Lucky Boy. (Books on Tape, Jan.)

Singh, Lilly. How To Be a Bawse. (Books on Tape, Mar.)

Stout, Glenn. Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World. (Recorded Bks., Mar.)

Tolkin, Michael. NK3. (Blackstone, Feb.)

Tucker, Holly. City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris. (Blackstone, Mar.)

Tyson, Timothy B. The Blood of Emmett Till. (Dreamscape, Feb.)

Waldman, Ayelet. A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. (Recorded Bks., Jan.)

Jason Puckett is Librarian for Communication and Computer Science and Virtual Services Librarian at Georgia State University Library, Atlanta; a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker; and the 2015 LJ Audiobook Reviewer of the Year. He is the author of Zotero: A Guide for Librarians, Researchers, and Educators (2d ed. coming 2016) and Modern Pathfinders: Creating Better Research Guides (both ALA Editions)

This article was published in Library Journal's November 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.