Every month, AudioFile Magazine reviewers and editors select the best new audiobooks — from memoirs to satire, historical fiction to mystery and cultural commentary. These listening recommendations offer plenty of variety, inspiration and escape. Queue up these audiobooks.
Poet Natasha Trethewey’s emotional delivery adds to the impact of this harrowing memoir. Trethewey was 19 when her stepfather murdered her mother. She recounts her mother’s childhood in the segregated South and her own childhood in Mississippi, where she grew up the child of an interracial marriage. It is particularly powerful to hear Trethewey tell her story aloud. Though this memoir is a difficult and often viscerally painful listen, it’s a worthwhile one — a nuanced exploration of trauma, race, family, violence, healing and art.
Euan Morton, the one-man all-star cast of this hilarious, raunchy, twee, utterly sui generis audiobook, is really dazzling. Moore starts with the Fool from King Lear, sends him off with a giant apprentice named Drool, and shipwrecks them in a mythical Greece. There’s an Athens inhabited by Oberon, Titania — a Queen of Amazons — and a Theseus several thousand years old, also rude mechanicals (Bottom the Weaver!). In the adjoining enchanted forest, there’s a pack of lascivious fairies and even goblins that seem to come from the world of Harry Potter. Oh, and there’s a plot! Who has killed the Puck, Robin Goodfellow? Morton never misses a joke or a beat, misreads a line or misses the pitch of a magical character. Standing O, Mr. Morton.
Narrator Rueben Uy brings life to a Filipino mother-and-son duo who are “hiding and hiding.” The story is told through the point of view of prodigal son, Excel, who returns to his mother’s cramped California apartment after a brief stint in a desert town, where he’d hoped to reinvent his life after spending so much of it trying to hide his undocumented status. Throughout, Uy deftly embodies diverse characters — from a Serbian grandpa who works with Excel to a string of Excel’s mother’s “boyfriends.” Along the way, he gets listeners to care about what will happen next to this quirky, loving immigrant family.
In Dublin, maternity nurse Julia Power grapples with a web of concurrent social issues as she cares for patients during the flu pandemic of 1918 near the close of WWI. A fateful few days unite Julia with two other seemingly dissimilar women: Kathleen Lynn, a compassionate physician with ties to the contentious Irish independence movement, and Bridie Sweeney, a vibrant young volunteer from a Catholic boardinghouse. Narrator Emma Lowe’s layered characterizations include distinct Irish accents and diction that illuminate the backgrounds of the protagonists and hospital staff. The pregnant women in their care are depicted with particular sensitivity; their pain, joy and loss are all keenly felt.
Sophie Amoss’ superb narration enhances the raw and electric prose of author Sarah Gerard’s second novel. The blunt force of 20-something Nina’s reckless behavior comes through in Amoss’s almost careless tone and unforced pacing. Amoss engages the listener’s sympathy for the impetuous, erratic Nina even while conveying the explicit details of her involvement with several remarkably unsuitable young men. Amoss’s compelling performance guides listeners through the visceral appeal of this audiobook, allowing them to empathize with Nina amid her frequent missteps and bad decisions.
Narrator Cassandra Campbell exquisitely evokes the existential dread that permeates Josh Malerman’s well-wrought follow-up to his popular sci-fi suspense novel, Bird Box. America remains rife with creatures that drive viewers insane. Blindfolded and hooded, Malorie has kept her now-teenage children safe for 16 frightening years. Then they learn that Malorie’s parents may be alive, and so begins a journey of terror and hope. Campbell’s vivid audio portraits of fierce Malorie, rebellious Tom and conflicted Olympia heighten the drama and draw listeners into a story that takes place as much inside the protagonists’ heads as in the action.
Robert Bathurst is just about perfect delivering the 16th Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel. The Gamaches have left Three Pines, Québec, for Paris where Gamache spends time with his godfather, billionaire Stephen Horowitz, and with his estranged son, Daniel, a Paris banker. When Horowitz is nearly killed in a deliberate hit-and-run, Gamache and son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir uncover a conspiracy reaching into the highest international corporate echelons. Bathurst’s gently nuanced performance offers insights into Gamache’s childhood; his relationships with his children; his deep bond with wife, Reine-Marie; and with Horowitz, his surrogate father. Listen to all the Gamache audiobooks for maximum satisfaction. (Read BookTrib’s review here.)
Author and narrator Bruce Feiler draws powerful lessons from more than 200 life stories from diverse individuals across the U.S. His genuine interest in finding meaning in change and his depth of understanding make him the perfect narrator for his audiobook. While Feiler doesn’t have a traditional narrator’s timbre, he masterfully conveys authenticity and emotion while sharing the stories that illustrate the points he is advocating. This is an important listen for those experiencing a lifequake.
With comfortable Southern charm, narrator George Newbern, a Little Rock native, delivers this decades-spanning account of Hot Springs, AR, when it was the uncontested gambling and sin capital of North America. From the 1870s through the 1960s, bookies, mobsters, hookers and card sharks flocked to the home of the “healing waters” to chase their fortunes. Newbern reflects the author’s easy humor when mentioning the likes of Babe Ruth, mobster Frank Costello, the Andrews Sisters and even a young Bill Clinton as occasional visitors and performers. A wonderful slice of Americana.
Canadian actress Michelle St. John narrates this exhilarating novel with a sure sense of pace and a strong grip on its intense emotions. Her characterization of the protagonist, Joan, gives her nuance yet reveals her toughness. The rendering of the Indigenous descendants of Ontario’s Métis people is done expertly. The plot focuses on Joan’s quest to bring back her wayward husband, who has been entranced by a rugaro (a mythical half-man, half-wolf). Author Cherie Dimaline is a gifted stylist, and her fine novel ranges seamlessly from family to the land to legend.
AudioFile (www.audiofilemagazine.com) is the magazine for discovering more about audiobooks. It reviews and recommends the best listening, most interesting performances, and what audiobooks are worth your listening time. AudioFile reviews about 50 audiobooks per week, features narrator profiles, and awards exceptional performances with AudioFile’s Earphones Awards. AudioFile publishes in print, newsletters and a blog, and podcasts daily recommendations on "Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine."