More from the Listen List Committee | The Reader’s Shelf

Judged by a committee of librarians, the Listen List had members narrowing a field of 58 nominated audiobooks to 12 winners. There were plenty of runner-up titles still worth attention. Here are seven of them.

Roy McMillan offers a narration master class in Conclave (7 CDs. 8 hrs. Random Audio. 2016. ISBN 9781524757311. $40) by Robert Harris. McMillan captures the cloistered tension and immoral chicanery that swirls within the Vatican walls after the Pope’s mysterious death and the election of his replacement. With a divine ability to craft accents, McMillan perfectly mirrors the emotional strain in Harris’s mesmerizing, character-driven thriller. Complex plot twists and arcane Latin rituals are clearly illuminated through the reader’s cinematic pacing and accurate pronunciations, ­resulting in an understated yet compelling ­performance.

Fredrik Backman’s Beartown (11 CDs. 13:15 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2017. ISBN 9781508230977. $39.99) transports listeners to a remote, wintry community where hope is scarce and hockey reigns absolute. A devastating assault on a teen girl rocks the town to its core, throwing long-held beliefs into doubt and pitting neighbor against neighbor. With chameleonlike fluidity, narrator Marin Ireland embodies the unique residents, from posturing youth to jaded hockey coaches. She expertly conveys the layers of the characters’ fear and anger as they desperately search for answers. Ireland’s low-pitched rasp communicates the unforgiving landscape of  Beartown, which teeters on the brink of disaster.

The Guns Above (digital download. 12 hrs. Macmillan Audio. 2017. ISBN 9781427295804. $26.99), the debut steampunk adventure by Robyn Bennis, finds Josette Dupre captaining the airship ­Mistral on a test drive that turns into combat. Kate Reading’s skilled narration brings to life ­Josette’s commanding voice and sarcastic slings aimed at Lord Bernat, who replies with aristocratic snobbery and hides his uncle’s assignment to spy on her. Shouted battle instructions, whispers from cloudbound ships, and high-pitched squeaks from the crew add to the rip-roaring skirmishes, booming cannonballs, and fighting gore in the first of the “Signal Airship” series.

In Magpie Murders (12 CDs. 15:45 hrs. Harper Audio. 2017. ISBN 9780062677648. $44.99) by Anthony Horowitz, a star author hands in his ninth Atticus Pünd manuscript and plunges his editor into a plot unlike any she’s experienced. Narrator Samantha Bond captures all of editor Susan Ryeland’s curiosity and annoyance as she chases after clues—on and off the page—and grows determined to catch a killer. Reading the manuscript itself, narrator Allan Corduner subtly uses intonation and tone to evoke the German Pünd and a motley group of English villagers in Horowitz’s homage to classic British detective fiction.

Days Without End (7 CDs. 8 hrs. Blackstone. 2017. ISBN 9781504796569. $34.95), Sebastian Barry’s lyrical love story, combines boyish exuberance with the heartbreak and horrors of war. Young Irish immigrant Tom McNulty recounts meeting John Cole, the love of his life, and their service as U.S. soldiers during the Indian and Civil wars. Narrator Aidan Kelly’s voice is lilting and poetic, suited to an enthusiastic storyteller with a knack for seeing the humor in almost any situation. His rendering of Barry’s beautifully expressive language draws listeners in with excellent pacing.

Juanita McMahon brilliantly animates Sarah Perry’s characters in her narration of The Essex Serpent (12 CDs. 14:45 hrs. Harper Audio. 2017. ISBN 9781538416860. $59.99). Listeners hear newly widowed Cora Seaborne flourish in strength; sense the wonder of her strange son, Francis; and feel Cracknell the fisherman spit and sputter. Opposites attract as Cora and the pious vicar William Ransome approach the ­centuries-old mystery of the Essex serpent. Martha, Cora’s saucy friend and nanny, provides a touch of comedy to this late 19th-­century English tale. ­McMahon gives them each her full attention, creating a wholly formed listening ­experience.

In Jennifer Wright’s Get Well Soon: ­History’s Worst Plagues and the ­Heroes Who Fought Them (6 CDs. 7:45 hrs. Blackstone. 2017. ISBN 9781504798983. $76), each chapter addresses a different plague, discussing causes, reasons for the spread, the response from medical and political leaders, and its aftermath. The author’s unique style also allows for some more lighthearted moments. Narrator Gabra Zackman does a wonderful job accentuating the tongue-in-cheek aspects of these riveting accounts and will leave listeners with the impression that some ancient plagues were better handled than modern ones.

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

This column was contributed by Mary Burkey, Library Consultant, OH; Sarah Hashimoto, Jackson District Library, MI; Pam Spencer Holley, Library Consultant, VA; Lauren Kage, NoveList, Durham, NC; Lucy M. Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library District, MO; Dodie Ownes, Denver Public Library; and Christa Van Herreweghe, University City Public Library, MO. Selections and annotations are in the order given

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