AudioFile editors are proud to celebrate another year of exceptional audiobooks and audio artists. Below you’ll find their favorites from this year’s fiction genre.
Read by Perdita Weeks (Hachette Audio)
Author Madeline Miller and narrator Perdita Weeks transform the ancient Greek drama of Circe, witch of Aeaea and daughter of Helios, into a fresh and vibrant tale for contemporary listeners. Long depicted as a villainous foil for male heroics, the witch is redeemed and enriched by Miller’s nuanced writing.
Weeks’ cool British intonations and attuned performance capture Circe’s evolution from youthful uncertainty amid scorn from richly characterized fellow deities to a confidence earned from centuries of island exile. Her first-person perspective creates intimacy as she engages fabled figures, such as Odysseus and Athena, and grapples with the pleasures and dangers of everyday life. An accompanying PDF identifies the countless gods and goddesses, titans, monsters, and mortals who appear throughout Circe’s immortal life.
CLOCK DANCE by Anne Tyler
Read by Kimberly Farr (Random House Audio)
Narrator Kimberly Farr delivers a subtle, often wry portrayal of Willa Drake. We experience Willa’s child’s eye view of her parents’ marriage; her own youthful marriage, motherhood, and early widowhood; and her older years as a conciliator who tries to soothe everyone, especially, Peter, husband #2. When her son’s ex-girlfriend, a woman she has never met, is shot, Willa insists they fly to Baltimore to help.
Farr delivers Willa’s interior monologues with a wonderful combination of angst and humor; Peter, son Sean, and each of the Baltimore neighbors have distinct personalities, and Farr is a credible, precocious 9-year-old. Beautifully written and performed, Anne Tyler’s novel reminds us that families come in all shapes and sizes and that not all those we call family are bound to us by biology.
Read by Michael Crouch (Macmillan Audio)
An expert performance by Michael Crouch highlights life-changing moments in a family. As the Bliss, Texas, High School homecoming dance is underway, recent graduate Hector Espina, Jr., enters the school and shoots the drama teacher and three students. He runs into Oliver in the hallway and shoots him in the head before committing suicide. Ten years after the shooting, Oliver survives in a vegetative state in an institution for hopeless cases.
Crouch is one of those actors who is especially magical creating women’s voices. His male characters range from gruff to gentle. Crouch’s ability to alter not only his voice but also his attitude is outstanding. He transforms what has become a tragically familiar news story into an intricate, nuanced puzzle about real people and real consequences.
Read by Fenella Woolgar (Hachette Audio)
Fenella Woolgar’s masterful narration transforms Juliet Armstrong into a friend who is confiding a lifetime of secrets. This WWII novel revolves around the time Juliet spent transcribing recorded conversations of British fascist sympathizers–they believed they were reporting to the Gestapo but were in fact sharing their secrets with an MI5 officer.
Woolgar’s interpretations of Juliet’s wry asides and commentary, peppered throughout the text, are hilarious, and she convincingly portrays a broad cast of characters, from plucky Cockney-accented errand boys to elderly women conspiratorially sharing their shocking views. Woolgar’s melodious voice and dry wit carry listeners through the decades as Juliet’s secrets race to catch up with her.
WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje
Read by Steve West (Random House Audio)
London-born narrator Steve West effortlessly mixes tones of mystery, uncertain memory, sophistication, and innocence in Ondaatje’s latest novel. The story features a 14-year-old boy whose parents suddenly disappear from his life when they take jobs in faraway Singapore after WWII, leaving him and his older sister in the care of some suspect but otherwise caring characters.
Soon the boy finds himself getting a quick back-street and back-canal education in dog racing and other unsavory vocations while desperately trying to reconnect with his mother and finally discovering what she did during the war. A wholly original listening experience.
WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan
Read by Dion Graham (Random House Audio)
This memorable audiobook takes a young slave from captivity to freedom as narrator Dion Graham wrings every heartfelt emotion from the story. Edugyan’s work embodies the fear and brutality of 1800s slavery, using beautifully turned phrases and clear-eyed observations–which Graham takes to another level–to give voice to the horror and high adventure of Washington Black’s life.
Graham modulates the tension in his voice as a single fateful event causes Black and his mentor to leave the plantation and traverse the globe. Graham lets the characters mature in his delivery as Washington travels from the steamy sugar cane fields of Barbados to the arctic plains of Canada. Listeners will be rooting for this most unlikely of heroes.
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