Tell Me Something Good: Best Recent Audiobooks

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 19th, 2016

Before I mention some of my recent best listens, I want to send out a request to publishers to make  digital audiobooks as readily available as print ARCs. I am trying to read so many books from current and upcoming seasons; audiobooks are an invaluable help for my ordering. So pretty please,  publishers, consider posting audio content to Edelweiss and/or NetGalley.

I have been on an audiobook tear lately. Booksellers are supposed to be reading months ahead of publication dates so that we can make informed orders for upcoming books. This means that we never, ever catch up with the current season’s or—heaven forbid—last season’s books that we’ve been dying to read. While I try to be more strict with myself about the books and ARCs I am reading (future and current seasons), I am more lenient with my listening self.

I’ve gotten some fantastic audiobook recommendations from ShelfTalker readers over the years. Sixty-three of you responded to the post, Audiobooks So Good, You’d Listen Twice. A bunch of you also replied with great ideas to Lend Us Your Ears: What Shall We Listen to Next? And now it’s a couple of years later, and I’m asking for more ear candy goodness.

Here’s the best of my recent listening:

ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan — I had been wanting and wanting to read Echo, since I am a big fan of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s writing. And while the little-kid bookworm in me is delighted by thick books, the behind-schedule bookseller in me eyes them longingly and worriedly, knowing the time they will take to read. (This is one of the outrages of bookselling: the thing one loves most becomes very difficult to pursue entirely as one wishes.) Anyhow, a customer was in the bookstore recently looking at our display of Echo. She raved about the audio version. Musical instruments, especially a certain silver harmonica, feature large in the plot, and the audiobook, she said, has music with it. SOLD! I immediately used one of my Audiobooks.com credits to download Echo, and found it an absolute delight. It’s the kind of story that hooks you into one character’s story, and then when you are utterly invested, switches to another character despite your mute protestations, and then you get just as swept up in the new narrative, when it switches one more time. There are multiple frames in this story, and something about listening to it aloud made me think a lot about the fun Muñoz Ryan had with the structure of Echo. I will warn listeners that they might feel the need to go out to their local music store, as I did, and purchase a Hohner Marine Band C harmonica. And possibly sign up for online lessons. *cough*

THE PASSION OF DOLSSA by Julie Berry — You laughed at her Splurch Academy, admired the spare, poetic gorgeousness of her All the Truth That’s in Me, and snickered at the wickedness in The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. Now Berry has tackled another ambitious project, a historical novel called The Passion of Dolssa, which has earned three starred reviews. This one also cried out to be listened to—and what an experience it was! As with Echo, a multitude of narrators tell the tale. (One of them is Jayne Etwhistle, who did the fabulous The War That Saved My Life; see below). This story takes place in mid-13th-century Provence, during a very scary period when Inquisitors from the Church terrorized villages. Dolssa is an enigmatic young noblewoman who speaks to Christ, her “beloved.” She has a light and purity of passion that affect all who meet her, and she seems to have healing powers. All of these threaten the Church, particularly a young friar bent on destroying her. The other main characters in this book include three lively, independent, and wily sisters, who discover and hide Dolssa. The amazingly funny, fierce Botille, who is really the story’s heart, plays an especially big role in this tale. Not for the faint of heart, The Passion of Dolssa doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of that dangerous time period. But the story is so masterfully wrought, and the characters so vivid and memorable, that it lingers long after the listening. This is a book I won’t forget.

THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley — Speaking of narrator Jayne Entwhistle, she is also the brilliant voice of Ada, the main character in Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s World War II novel about a resilient girl and her little brother. Ada’s club foot has made her an outcast, scorned by her mother, who keeps Ada hidden in their shabby London apartment. The mother dotes on Ada’s little brother — yet, in a happy, uncommon twist in children’s literature, Ada does not resent Jamie. But she does dream of a better life for herself, and when opportunity comes in the form of a train taking London children to safety in the country to avoid bombings, Ada takes action. She and her brother end up in the care of a reluctant guardian, and the situation transforms all of them in various ways. Not enough can be said about the wonderfulness of this book. Ada’s resilience, spirit, and inchoate determination to value herself in the face of a very difficult beginning — not to mention the brisk yet gentle care from their unprepared guardian —makes readers want to cheer. And Entwhistle’s fierce, often funny, Ada makes us laugh out loud.

Recent adult audiobooks of note I’ve listened to include Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove (bonus! the audio version lets you in on the fact that the Swedish name “Ove” is actually pronounced Oo-vuh) and Britt-Marie Was Here. Both books are fabulous character studies of two loners who find unexpected grace and community. Lovely books, both of them. Backman truly deserves his long bestseller status.

Okay, those are my contributions. What shall we all listen to next? Your recommendations will reach many readers, so spread the word about your audio favorites!

9 thoughts on “Tell Me Something Good: Best Recent Audiobooks

  1. Cindy Brewer

    I second your comment that publishers should provide audiobooks just as they do paper ARCs. I spend at least an hour and a half commuting each day and listen to books on CD all of that time. There are so many titles I might not have gotten to read and subsequently promote if not for the availability of audio. Having to purchase them myself can become costly and I cannot count on local libraries to get them, especially in a timely manner. I think my favorite audiobook was The Book Thief. The authenticity of the narrator was incredible!

  2. Sheila Averbuch

    Ooh, how many can I say?

    YA
    —–
    WE ALL LOOKED UP by Tommy Wallach – multi narrators, all great personalities, and a wonderful setup: high school teens are facing the end of life as they know it because they’re about to graduate, and because an asteroid with a 66.66% chance of destroying earth is also coming any day now. The inclusion of a character whose dad has terminal cancer is a thought-provoking touch.

    MIDDLE GRADE
    ———————–
    ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer – almost endearingly antique now, because this tech-heavy tale is predicated on turn-of-the-century gadgets, but a great listen. Marvel at the vocal gymnastics of the narrator who manages to (rather acceptably) do American (though that’s his weakness), upper class British, Cockney, Irish and Northern Irish accents. Fab fight scenes, and while the old police drama tropes are heavily used, he does it so well.

    WILD GIRLS by Pat Murphy – narrator Coleen Marlo is my all-time fave and this tale of two girls who find the strength to be themselves and face difficult truths about their families when they take a writing class together. Fabulous.

  3. Cathy Berner

    Elizabeth – I just listened to and loved YOU KNOW ME WELL by David Levithan and Nina LaCour. So well done – both story and performances. And I listened to it on Libro.fm, an audiobook company that works with indies. They offer new audiobooks each month for free to indie booksellers. It’s a great resource!

  4. Laura Bovee

    A hearty second to your plea for publishers to make audio ARCs more available! Audios allow me to double up on my reading time and get more books read – Plus, there are just some books or authors that are a better experience in audio.

    I also loved the audio of “The War That Saved My Life”. Other recent good ones have been “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline (I was really late to that party…), “Still Life” by Louise Penney (also late…), and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (amazing – I really can’t recommend it highly enough). Among my all-time favorites: “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman and “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. Listen to them even if you’ve already read the books!

  5. Melissa Posten

    I just finished Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle and it was tremendously good. Before that, I listened to Jackaby books 1 and 2 by William Ritter, and they are now on my all-time favorites list.

    Short but sweet and hilarious are Doreen Cronin’s Chicken Squad books, which our whole family loves.

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