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.
Marin Ireland uses her many theatrical gifts in her fine narration of this bittersweet novel. The listener is treated to an exceptional audio experience in which the narrator plays all the parts with nuance and wit. At once a send-up of Swedish mores and a deeply humane story of contemporary struggles, this novel has characters galore — a banker with a guilty conscience, a father-and-son police team, and an inept bank robber who just wants to make rent, among others. Often laugh-out-loud funny, the set piece revolves around the taking of “the worst group of hostages ever.” (Read BookTrib’s review here.)
Actress Marisa Tomei’s dramatic reading takes the listener inside the mind of a teenage girl struggling to understand who she is. Giovanna has had a sheltered upbringing by her well-educated parents in an upper-class section of Naples, Italy. But when she overhears her father say she is becoming ugly, like her Aunt Vittoria, she insists on meeting the conniving, vulgar aunt her father despises. Tomei, in her first solo audiobook narration, brings depth to Giovanna as she privately expresses her innermost thoughts but speaks to her family with a sullen teenage attitude.
Robert Bathurst is just about perfect delivering the 16th Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel. The Gamaches have left Three Pines, Québec, for Paris for the birth of their newest grandchild and to spend time with his godfather, billionaire Stephen Horowitz, and with his estranged son, Daniel, a Paris banker. In a novel filled with stunning surprises and moments of tenderness and love, 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. (Read BookTrib’s review here.)
Moira Quick expertly narrates a complicated sci-fi puzzle. Harrowhark Nonagesimus is in training to save the universe. However, her body and mind betray her at every turn, and no one — not even she — is as they seem. The plot is mind-bendingly complex, but Quirk adroitly steers Harrow through all its twists and turns, even when they defy logic or reason. As the story progresses and layers are slowly peeled back, Quirk’s portrayal of Harrow is revealed to be both shockingly insightful and tragically poignant. A magnificent, powerhouse performance.
Imogen Church’s extraordinary narration of Ruth Ware’s newest suspense novel will keep listeners glued to their earbuds, unable to do anything else but listen wide- eyed and rapt. In an homage to Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None), Ware has taken the premise of people trapped in an isolated house with an unidentified killer and cleverly adapted the who, where, and what to the 21st century, pumping up the dread with parallel first-person narratives. It’s witty, cunning and addictive. (Read The Big Thrill’s review here.)
Listening to award-winning author Zadie Smith read her collection of six personal essays about life in the year 2020 is such a transcendent experience that when you’re done, you might well start again from the beginning. That voice — London-born, smooth, warm, well modulated with a hint of gravel and exquisite articulation. The pace — quick but not too fast. Her “here’s the thing” attitude. Her lovely singing. Yes, singing. And the folks who pass though her essays — a homeless man, an island-born immigrant, a fellow macchiato drinker — Smith gives them individual voices with a skill worthy of a professional narrator.
Imogen Church’s lively narration pairs well with Willan’s informative, often playful survey of women cookbook writers (in the UK and U.S.) who changed culinary history. Church’s deliciously entertaining and painlessly educational interpretation serves up fascinating insights about food and its preparation. The audiobook traces changes in kitchens from Hannah Woolley’s hearth fires of the mid-1600s to today’s stovetops presided over by well-known giantesses Julia Child and Alice Waters, noting what each profiled author offers as distinct contributions.
Narrator Janina Edwards perfectly captures the graceful cadence and dignity of a woman in her 90s as she reminisces about her childhood in Depression-era Memphis. She pays tribute to her stepbrother, Robert Johnson, who took her to county fairs and entertained children by singing nursery rhymes and playing guitar. Author Annye Anderson fills in the gaps between Brother Robert, who came to Sunday dinner after playing the juke joints on Saturday nights, and the hugely influential “chased-by-hell-hounds” legendary Delta-blues guitarist whose 1937 recordings are now part of American and pop culture myth.
In this volume of more than three dozen short pieces, author/narrator Helen Macdonald introduces listeners to a literary Wunderkammer — a collection of “strange things … concerned with the quality of wonder.” Although some essays begin with a human-oriented subject (migraines, a lonely childhood, Brexit), almost all of them make a connection to the natural world, especially birds. Macdonald’s unforced, gentle performance allows her passion for and wonder at nature to shine. She isn’t preachy, instead focusing on nature as healer, refuge and source of never-ending awe.
Narrator Caroline Lee inhabits this mystery set in Katoomba, Australia. Teachers are setting up a picnic for 19 kindergarteners when five of them, including the granddaughter of homicide detective Kate Wakeland, mysteriously vanish. Lee’s delivery of both the narrative and the dialogue is flawless — diverse emotions and local, Indian and Chinese accents are spot-on. After more than three years, four of the children are returned, making the pursuit of the others even more desperate. The impeccably rendered conclusion fits the gripping story.
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."