Over the past couple of years I have listened to a lot of audiobooks and have amassed a ton more in my library, to the point where I didn’t know how many I’d owned, which was a problem. It’s fine to let physical books accumulate and pile up all over the floor, but it’s a problem when you let that happen to audiobooks. It’s too easy to forget about virtual books when you’re not constantly tripping over them. The sheer number of unread audios that I own and their combined hours is probably more than my lifespan. Probably.
So organizing my audio shelf has been a long, on-going process that I’ve been meaning to complete for years now, but kept putting off because… virtual shelves, not tripping over them, and all that. Also, I didn’t have the right motivation until recently when a friend on Goodreads asked for some audio recommendations, good audio recommendations, that is. I knew there were plenty I wanted to list for her, but couldn’t recall what they were off the top of my head. So this list, or rather these lists, is a way of keeping track of the best ones, the ones that I know I would gladly recommend to anyone (with some caveats) and I know I would reread (relisten?) to them if I have the chance.
So here they are in alphabetical order by author because… just because that’s how I roll.
Peter Grant books (aka the Rivers of London series)
by Ben Aaronovitch (reviews)
read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
When an audiobook narrator and the main character of the book seem like they’re made for each other, magic happens. Literally. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is Peter Grant (if there’s a TV show, the role’s gotta his, right?). But not only that, he also portrays every character in the story, as well as London itself, so skillfully that I always forget I’m listening to the book rather than reading it myself. It’s a joy to listen to and always makes me feel like I’m right in London.
The Blade Itself (First Law Trilogy #1)
by Joe Abercrombie
read by Steven Pacey
I’m partial to narrators with British accents when it comes to high fantasy, and this book read by this narrator is one of my particular favorites. Steven Pacey not only makes the characters come to life, but he makes you believe that he really is each and every one of them. When the POV jumps from one to another, he moves seamlessly between them without missing a beat. And furthermore, I find that he’s as good with internal monologues as he is with action scenes. I really need to reread this trilogy in audio.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
read by Stephen Fry
So good and a lot of fun. Stephen Fry makes this book very enjoyable. I first read it some years ago on my own and didn’t really like it. I found the plot meandering and the prose too busy with too much going on to make much sense. Ironically, I’m a fan of books inspired by Douglas Adams’ writing style (Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez, Soulless by Gail Carriger, The Gates by John Connolly, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett). But the original itself? Was not a fan… until I listened to Stephen Fry read. This book is meant to be read out loud and you’re meant to enjoy the performance.
by Richard Adams
read by… unknown
I don’t recall who the narrator was, just that he was very good. I borrowed the recording from the library some years ago, but it’s not there any more and none of the other libraries have it. 😦 Anyhow. I just remember the narration was very good and made me love the book all over again. I would only recommend a listen if you read it way back when and had fond memories of the rabbits (and were permanently scarred by their violent deaths). (Watership Down was my Winnie the Pooh.)
The Goblin Emperor
by Katherine Addison (review)
read by Kyle McCarley
Otherwise known as “he who can pronounce basically any made-up fantasy word.” Just a few examples: Alcethmeret, Ulimeire, Istandaartha, Nazhmorhathveras, Verven’theileian, Untheileneise, Edrehasivar. The mind, it boggles. I liked this book on the first read, but it was the reread in audio that made me love it. (McCarley is also the narrator for City of Bones btw, which was okay overall but not as smooth or well-read as Goblin.)
by Sarah Addison Allen
read by Susan Ericksen
Once again, another book that I liked more on audio because of the narrator. This is sweet with a little bit of magic and lots of food (one of the main characters is a gifted caterer). Like Practical Magic (the movie, not the book), but cozier and softer around the edges.
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
read by Rosamund Pike (aka Jane Bennet herself)
Personally, I think Jane Austen’s writing is better in audiobook than it is when read by yourself (or myself), and that’s especially true for P&P because of all the dialogue and the internal monologues and the endless balls and gowns, not to mention all the explanation of appropriate fashion and mannerisms. Rosamund Pike does an amazing job bringing the characters and their predicaments to life with her narration, and I think she’s the best reader for this book. She’s got a voice that really brings the time period to life. (IMHO she’s even better than Kate Reading, who’s good but not time-period-enhancing good.)
The Reapers Are the Angels
by Alden Bell
read by Tai Sammons
There are so few narrators who can portray a teenager’s point of view in a believable way, while at the same time preventing the tone of the book from veering into
whiny YA territory. This book is definitely not YA, but the main character is a teenage girl trying to survive a zombie apocalypse by herself, so there are long passages in which she’s recalling the past. The writing is amazing and I loved this book the first time I read it. Then I listened to audio and enjoyed it all over again.
by Anthony Bourdain (review)
read by the author
Bourdain writes like the way he talks and vice versa, and he narrates the same way too–cocky but with the skills to back it up, honest, matter-of-fact, heartfelt, endearing (if you like that type of personality). I play this audiobook just to have it in the background when the house is too quiet just like other people play their favorite albums. It keeps me grounded.
A Natural History of Dragons (Lady Trent #1) (series)
by Marie Brennan
read by Kate Reading
Ms. Reading has a natural talent for high fantasies with lots of adventure told from female POVs, and Lady Trent is the perfect character for her voice and style. She and her husband, Michael Kramer, have read a ton of genre books together, but I much prefer her narration to his, so I usually seek out books that she reads by herself (P&P being one of them) and I always pass on books they read together because nothing puts me to sleep faster than Michael Kramer’s voice.
Vlad Taltos (series)
by Steven Brust (reviews)
read by Bernard Setaro Clark
Fun, fast-paced, and very funny. Bernard Setaro Clark is so good that I think I might listen to the rest of this series, even though I already own most of the books in paperback. Clark’s portrayal of Vlad and the stealthy (and often accidentally teleported because he’s so stealthy) Kragar and their friendship is my absolute favorite.
A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
read by the author
Very good and very funny. I loved the audio as much as I loved reading the book myself. However, I should mention that text books are hard to listen to for long periods of time. The mind tends to wander after half an hour. No matter how good or interesting or engrossing the text is, you’ll find yourself suddenly fascinated by dust motes and the molding on the ceiling.
Lilith’s Brood or Xenogenesis (trilogy)
by Octavia Butler (review)
read by Aldrich Barrett
A hard series to read, but since this is Octavia Butler, the pages just turn themselves. I read all three books back to back, turning to the audios whenever the reading got difficult, which was often, and I was able to make it through some of the toughest parts because, for some reason, listening to them made them easier to bare. It really helped that Aldrich Barrett has a voice that’s very easy to listen to.
Wild Seed (Patternist #1)
by Octavia Butler
read by Dion Graham
Similar to Lilith’s Brood, but mildly easier to read because the story is set on Earth… during the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and deals with shapeshifters indirectly involved in the slave trade, so not that easy, just easier to digest than aliens from outer space interbreeding with humans as part of a genetic trade agreement to repopulate the Earth… Anyhow. My point is Octavia Butler’s books are hard to read but so good. Thank audiobook for talented narrators like Dion Graham who make hard reads… more pleasant.
The Kushiel trilogy
by Jacqueline Carey
read by Anne Flosnik
Like Kate Reading, Anne Flosnik is another household name in high fantasy. I think her voice is a good fit for fantasies that feature courtly intrigue, a layered plot with many subplots branching off and then converging later on, with lots of moving parts, and royal families and their subjects squabbling, which is why she’s perfect for the Kushiel trilogy. However, I should mention that it took me more than half of the first book, roughly 15 hours, to get used to her narration style, but I’m glad I stuck with it because the scope of the story is huge and the payoff is very satisfying.
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)
by Gail Carriger
read by Emily Gray
Very funny and enjoyable. Emily Gray has great comedic timing and she really embodies Alexia Tarabotti’s style of flouncing tradition in favor of doing and saying whatever she wants, often times in public and at the most inappropriate moment. If I ever get around to picking up the second book, I will definitely go for the audio.
The Wayfarers (series)
by Becky Chambers
read by Rachel Dulude
Both readings of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit are excellent, but ACCO is slightly better IMO because it’s an emotional gut-punch, whereas Small Angry Planet is light and fun.
by Ron Chernow
read by Scott Brick (the unabridged edition)
This audiobook is 36 hours long and I only listened to parts of it when I couldn’t concentrate and my mind started to wander. So I’m not sure how the whole audiobook is, just the parts that I listened to were expertly read by an expert, Scott Brick. (Mr. Brick is also the narrator for one of my favorite mind bending sci-fis, The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. More on that when we get to R.)
Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 2 (to be posted later)