This year, I listened to 58 audiobooks which is more than my total number of books read and listened to the previous year. There were some real standouts and I managed to narrow it down to 6 favorites that I’d like to share with you – a science fiction (alternate history) where the book and audiobook narration blew my mind; 2 books of short stories (I’d never liked listening to collections on audio before these); fantasy, contemporary and a #CaribbeanRead. I think the diversity on this list also sums up my reading year – a little bit of everything.
Ring Shout, P. Djeli Clark
Narrated by: Channie Waites
Length: 5hr 36mins. I listened to the audiobook of Ring Shout mid-December (for #DiverseDecember), when I basically went down the rabbit hole of P. Djeli Clark books – first listening to A Djinn in Cairo, then The Haunting of Tram Car 015 and finally Ring Shout … which smacked me in the face with what I consider to be the BEST narrated audiobook I listened to all year. Channie Waites was simply phenomenal – taking on every character and every baddie in a unique way that had me feeling just about everything that Cordelia, Sadie and Maryse were going through as they battled the demonic “Ku Kluxes”. Channie Waites added a richness, an attitude and a vibrancy to the story that brought it completely to life and made the audiobook listening experience better than reading the book. And of course, P. Djeli Clark brought his A-game with this book. How the heck did he think of writing a book with the KKK, African myths, Lovecraftian monsters, and Gullah magic … in less than 200 pages?! And he made it work wonderfully. I mean – Djeli is a freaking World building genius – this we know if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned above – but there’s also the excellent strong ass female characters too. Needless to say, I loved this book hard.
Anxious People, Fredrik Backman
Narrated by: Marin Ireland
Length: 9 hrs and 53 mins: “Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage.”
Anxious People is a book about quirky characters and the thin line that can send us over the edge into bad decision making, complicated relationships and … well, it’s about messiness. Life is messy, people are messy, circumstances get messy and Backman delivers with a book that is well written, almost completely character driven (he’s so good at this), with humor and just have us rooting for giving someone a second chance. The audiobook narrator, Marin Ireland, gives each of the unique characters their own voice and impossibly made us feel their very essence.
Everything Inside, Edwidge Danticat
Narrated by: Robin Miles
Length: 6 hrs and 4 mins: Danticat has written a strong collection of 8 stories filled with complex characters many of which are Haitian-American, and all dealing with major issues involving loss, betrayal, feelings of longing or loneliness. It’s rare for me to come across a short story collection where every single story is fantastic – but this is one such. All the stories are moving and emotional. The audiobook narration by Robin Miles is excellent. As usual, Miles is able to deliver a unique voice to these characters along with a Creole accent to put us right there in the experience. Whenever I listen to Robin Miles narrate an audiobook I find it hard to believe that there is only 1 narrator because the characterizations are so distinct and unique for each person.
Augustown, Kei Miller
Narrated by: Dona Croll
Length: 7 hrs and 31 mins: Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything. So when her great-nephew Kaia comes home from school in tears, what she senses sends a deep fear running through her.
This is an amazing read – so so good – and the audiobook is definitely the best way to experience it. The narration by Dona Croll completely brings the book to life with an authentic Jamaican accent that will squat you right in the middle of this aspect of Jamaican life. And yes – Augustown is a real place in Jamaica, and yes “classism”and “colorism” is a real thing. Kei Miller puts these complex issues front and center in our faces by telling the story of Ma Taffy and her grandson Kaia. There is so much depth and richness to this story. This is one of those under-rated books that I wish more people would read – or rather, listen to as an audiobook.
If It Bleeds, Stephen King
Narrated by: Will Patton, Danny Burstein, Steven Weber
Length: 15 hrs and 12 mins: King put together an excellent collection of 4 novellas, but add excellent audiobook narrators in the mix … which means I couldn’t bear to be parted from listening for any significant length of time! King is the master of immersing you in a setting and making characters that are unforgettable. I’m no stranger to Will Patton as he’s narrated the Bill Hodges trilogy and The Outsider by King (as well as many other books). Danny Burnstein is relatively new to audiobook narration, and while I haven’t listened to anything else narrated by Steven Weber, he’s narrated books by Dean Koontz, Max Brooks and Harlen Coben, so I’m sure to listen to more from him soon.
The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1), Katherine Arden
Narrated by: Kathleen Gati
Length: 11 hrs and 48 mins: Vasilia lives at the edge of the Russian wilderness, where winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
Based on a Russian fairytale, the author manages to tell a rich, detailed story with an intricate and fast moving plot, and characters that you will love and despise. They feel so real, and I went through all the emotions with them thanks to the audiobook narrator – the heartbreak when Vasilia’s father lost his wife – the gruf way that women were treated – ugh! – the love the family felt for each other – and the mistrust of the villagers and most people for anything “too magical”. The book is simply magical and Kathleen Gati did it justice with her narration.
Honorable Mention goes to Pet, Akwaeke Emezi … because Christopher Myers narration of the Monster should win some kind of award.
I’ve had access to audiobooks this year using Scrib’d ($8.99/mth) and my local library (for the first half of the year). With Scrib’d, you can BORROW any audiobook or eBook in their impressive collection. I switched from using Audible around March last year (Reading Lately [First Time With Scribd]) and love the service. It’s not perfect – it seems to cut you off to newer titles after a certain number of books (seems like it’s about 5 or 6), and it can be a bit slow to load sometimes, but my experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I will continue to be a subscriber.