Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 1

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.

Watership Down
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.)

Garden Spells
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.

Kitchen Confidential
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.

Alexander Hamilton
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.)

Continues on:
Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 2 (to be posted later)

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The Book of Jhereg (Vlad Taltos #1-3) by Steven Brust

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Jhereg: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Yendi: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Teckla: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: December 16, 2016 to April 30, 2017

Amazing books. Amazing journey. Very memorable characters. I love Vlad and this world of dragons and dragon people and their layered politics, and I can’t wait to get started on the second omnibus.

I have a thing about reading series in order, and it was with a lot of reluctance and much hand-wringing that I read this series out of chronological order. I had gotten almost the whole series in these omnibus editions that “organized” the books in publication order (i.e. definitely not chronological order), and figuring out where to start or jump in took up too much time. So I just started with the first book of the first omnibus, which was Jhereg, and soon found that the order was not that big a deal for this series, as many people have told me before.

The order in which you read doesn’t affect your enjoyment that much because each book could be read as a standalone–sort of, “technically.” I could explain further now that I’ve read the first three books, set in three different points of Vlad Taltos’ life and career, but the explanation is… gonna get complicated, more complicated.

Suffice it to say I really enjoyed all three books, maybe the third one a little less than the previous two, but that’s only because it contained too many real life implications that mirrored some of my own and reading about those things are never fun.

The writing is great, however, and I never felt it faltering once. This doesn’t mean much unless or until you take into account the series’ complete timeline and you see where each book falls (how years apart they are, how much happens in between). Only Then you would realize the depth and complexity of this world and how writing a series out of order like this is unbelievably difficult. Steven Brust did this all the while maintaining continuity and coherence AND not letting the overarching story line falter, not even once.

It’s amazing, and I’m nothing short of impressed.

Teckla (Vlad Taltos #3) by Steven Brust

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: January 31 to February 15, 2017

I read this book a year ago and I still haven’t gotten over it yet. It’s the book I like least in the series, but it’s the only one that I remember most vividly.

The most frustrating thing about this book is experiencing the end of Vlad and Cawti’s marriage through Vlad’s eyes. Well, everything is experienced through Vlad’s eyes since he is the only narrator, but with this book, you feel the limited first-person narration the most and you see all the ways in which it lacks finesse. But then again, this is how we all experience the end of a relationship, right? One-sided and most of the time without closure or answers.

The end of the book once again mimics real life in that there are no resolutions. Things are still tense between Vlad and Cawti, and they are still drifting apart, pulled by different ideals, and you don’t know what the future holds. You don’t even get to know whether or not they separate or stay together, and these books being written out of order makes it all the more frustrating.

In the last book Yendi, we see when Vlad first met Cawti, back when he was a burgeoning crime lord with lofty ideas and she was hired by one of his rivals to assassinate him, and she almost succeeded. They somehow managed to hit it off and got along well together. That led to the beginning of a quick romance, one of the more realistic portrayals that I’ve seen in these kind of fantasies. So it was endearing to see that.

(It’s like everything was going so well. What happened??? Life happened. Of course. Too much realism bleeding in my fantasy. Can all of this just go away or not? Because I don’t read fantasy for the realism. This seems repetitive and unnecessary to say at this point, but I thought it was obvious. I don’t read fantasy for the realism. Please bring back convoluted political intrigue and add more dragons and flying castles. No more relationships falling apart gradually over time. Ok thnx.)

When we get to this book though, Vlad and Cawti have been married for some years, they’ve risen through the ranks of the Jhereg, made a name for themselves, and are very well off and comfortable (for Easterners). But they are drifting apart. We don’t know why or what led them to this point. We just know Cawti was drawn to the uprisings in the Eastern quarters of the city, and Vlad wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t see the point of this movement. He saw it as futile, but she had hope. This was just one more thing piled on top on an already strained relationship.

So to go from Yendi to Teckla, from the beginning of a relationship to its unexpected end in such a short amount of time, is… sad. I’m sure some of the later books will focus on the marriage some more, but I just didn’t expect to read the beginning and the end back-to-back like this. It was unsettling and left me feeling conflicted. That’s my main problem with this book anyway. Everything else though–the writing, the plotting, the intrigue, the scheming–is still good and very much the same as the 2 previous books.

Yendi (Vlad Taltos #2) by Steven Brust

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 17 to 31, 2017

Imagine The Godfather, but told from the perspective of a young snarky Vito Corleone who’s all alone and setting out on his own. He’s fighting to make a name for himself as an assassin and mob boss in the Dragarean underworld. He’s got a small network of semi-legitimate businesses and a corner of the city to himself. He’s trying to establish his territory while fighting off stronger, wealthier, more experienced neighbors who are moving in on his turf. He’s fighting on multiple fronts, all the while trying to stay on top of Dragarean politics.

This book has a lot of things going on and the action never stops. Just when you think it can’t get anymore twisty, it gets one more twist in. Turn the page and something new is happening to Vlad. In the midst of all this mess though, Vlad is still an engaging, funny storyteller, and I can listen to him talk all day long.

Like Jhereg, this book is out of order, but unlike Jhereg, it’s near the beginning of Vlad’s tale. So it’s a good place to start the series. You get to know Vlad on his way up the social ladder, but you also get to a glimpse of the things he’s been through that have made him who he is today. He’s still got that optimistic (but also realistic) outlook on life and his place in the world about him that I like. The tone is light and funny and a stark contrast to the story he’s telling, which has a variety of people out to kill him including his future wife… which makes it a little bit funnier because he’s so matter-of-fact about it.

Notes for future reference:
when Vlad first met Cawti and she was paid to kill him

Jhereg (Vlad Taltos #1) by Steven Brust

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: November 23 to December 9, 2015

Surprisingly good and satisfyingly good. The kind of good that makes you anxious to get to the next book. The kind of good that makes you glad there are over ten books in the series. The kind of good that makes me not care about book orders. Maybe it’s a good thing these books are written out of order?–is a thing I never thought I’d say. But I have a good feeling about Steven Brust and I trust he’ll deliver.

It’s been awhile since high fantasy has been this good for me, and it’s been even longer since I liked a POV main character in high fantasy enough to know that I’ll like whatever trials and tribulations he’s put through. And I like Vlad Taltos. Thus far, he’s already shown himself to be a multifaceted character full of nuance, and I can only imagine he’ll get more complex with each book.

Plus, there are dragons everywhere.

* * * * *

Trying to figure out the order of this series is giving me a serious case of involuntary twitching. So far from what I’ve gleaned on various forums and reviews, the publication order is completely different from the chronological order.

*more twitching*

But the order in which you read these books does not matter. At all. Because they were purposely written out of order.

*bangs head on desk*

Why.

(I have a thing for publication order)

* * * * *

Publication order goes like this:
Jhereg
Yendi
Teckla
Taltos
Phoenix
Athyra
Orca
Dragon
Issola
Dzur
Jhegaala
Iorich
Tiassa
Hawk

But chronological order goes like this:
Taltos
Dragon
Yendi
Jhereg
Teckla
Phoenix
Jhegaala
Athyra
Orca
Issola
Dzur
Iorich
Tiassa
Hawk

The only book I have is Jhereg, so I’m gonna start there.