Many of us remember being read to as children. That soothing tone, the perfected voices, the begging for just one more chapter. It was like magic to be read to, getting to listen to a world being built before your ears. Sadly, not as many people are willing to read to adults as they are to children. But this is a problem easily solved—audiobooks. Below are ten audiobooks perfect for bringing back the childhood joy of being read to, reviewed in our Audiobooks 2017 special section.
Twists, turns, and converging stories make for science fiction that’s an enjoyable listen.
Tom DeLonge left the band Blink-182 with some pretty lofty ideas concerning “unidentified aerial phenomena” (read: UFOs). With co-author A.J. Hartley, he explores them in Chasing Shadows, a thriller that he calls a mix of fiction and truth. Seat belts may not be required, but they are a pretty good idea.
This unabridged audiobook is read by the classically trained voice actor Paul Costanzo. His calm, self-assured voice rises only occasionally for highly charged dialogue, and leads through the stories of several key players.
They include Alan, a marine pilot assigned to a covert military unit after an incident with a bogey, and Jennifer, an environmental activist whose corporate mogul father has evidently committed suicide, though she suspects it’s murder. There’s Tomika, the savvy host of a website and podcast that debunks conspiracy theories, and Jersey, a young Polish boy taken into a Nazi work camp in 1939, who witnesses and is pulled into some international intrigue.
Jersey is the only character who’s presented in the first person. As the action progresses, it becomes clear that the story essentially revolves around his experiences.
As the story unwinds, it keeps the truth extremely close to the vest. What exactly is going on with these various characters in their divergent lives? In a mingling of different nations and interests, of technologies and secret operations, DeLonge and Hartley bring each of their stories together. They also challenge the notion of just what our pop-cultural definition of a “UFO” has been. Is it alien, or something perhaps closer to home?
Amid its twists and turns, fast-moving action, and converging stories, Chasing Shadows offers an enjoyable listen for conspiracy theorists and sci-fi fans. Ultimately, it’s your choice whether or not to believe.
BILLIE RAE BATES (January 23, 2017)
Purgatory Road is meant for people who like breakneck pacing and a somewhat mystical plot.
Purgatory Road by Samuel Parker tells the story of several people lost in the desert. Filled with personal discovery and mysterious circumstances, this novel is an action-packed adventure with a wide cast of characters and a variety of different personalities and goals.
When the book begins, there are several different characters and stories. At first, they do not seem to be connected. However, this rectifies itself and the initial confusion provides a stronger sense of payoff.
Jack and Laura, a married couple, are stranded on an abandoned highway and running out of supplies. Molly, a teenage runaway, is abducted by Colton, a gas station manager. Colton appears to be mentored by a sinister older man called Seth who encourages him along a destructive path. There is an obvious otherworldly feel to Seth, which sets the stage for Boots, a desert hermit who rescues Jack and Laura. Seth and Boots provide the opportunities for the characters to cross paths and interact. As the story develops it becomes clear that there is more to these two old men than it seems and both have more power than they let on.
The characters are straightforward and easy to differentiate. Each person has a distinct style of thought, and the narrator gives them all unique voices. The characters all undergo a change throughout the novel and get recognizable growth and evolution. The dialogue is realistic and flows.
While the characters and writing are engaging, much relies on aspects of the world in which the story takes place in that are never clearly established. Despite this, there is an active crescendo in the action and climatic resolve.
Purgatory Road is meant for people who like breakneck pacing, a somewhat mystical plot, and characters who truly become better people.
SHANA CREANEY (January 23, 2017)
The Education of Dixie Dupree is a compelling tale of survival, convincingly driven by the voice of Dixie herself.
Fans of southern fiction take note: The Education of Dixie Dupree by Donna Everhart combines atmosphere, skilled narrative, and a strong central character to deliver a memorable—if often harrowing—coming-of-age novel.
Set in small-town Alabama in 1969, Dixie’s reality is more Old South than new, a place where stretches of poverty remain untouched by social programs and each unhappy family is left to be unhappy in its own way. The story is told in diary form by eleven-year-old Dixie, youngest in a family of four that exhibits every form dysfunction imaginable.
Although the abuse is piled on a little too thick, the book is saved from being a mere parade of lament by well-developed characters. Neither Dixie’s mother, older brother, nor father are one-dimensional villains, or beyond the reach sympathy. Rather, all suffer even as they inflict suffering on others. Dixie’s well-earned reputation as a liar stems more from her need to fabricate a bearable family image than from genuine deceitfulness, yet when victimized by a relative outside her nuclear family, her reputation bars the path to rescue, forcing her to a higher level of self-awareness and responsibility.
Told in simple, straightforward style, Dixie’s voice is believable throughout, and her resilience in the face of calamity keeps the pages turning. Although the book appears on many young adult lists, parental guidance is strongly advised due to the subject matter.
The diary format is perfectly suited to audio presentation, giving the story a smoothness and continuity multiple-character stories sometimes lack. Expertly read by professional actress Melissa Bentley, listeners will feel they’ve made a personal connection with Dixie, a heroine not soon to be forgotten.
The Education of Dixie Dupree is a compelling tale of survival, convincingly driven by the voice of Dixie herself.
SUSAN WAGGONER (January 23, 2017)
In this lusty and seductive listen, attraction blossoms into love.
What happens in naked yoga no longer stays in naked yoga in Divine Desire, a steamy romance from Audrey Carlan.
Mila Mercado, an aspiring artist and full-time yogi, clashes with Atlas Powers, a singer/songwriter and fellow yogi, from the moment they meet and she unknowingly enrolls in his naked yoga class. Though they try to resist it, the tension between them is too much, and they find themselves embroiled in what each fears most: a relationship.
Audrey Carlan is a bestselling author known for her romance series. Fans will enjoy catching up with series couples, including Amber and Dash and Trent and Genevieve, as they help Mila and Atlas negotiate their brushfire attraction.
Accessible, contemporary, and layered, the story draws readers in by creating depth of character. Blustery, uber-masculine sexual talk defines Atlas, though this softens as the book progresses and the character develops. Mia, like Atlas, suffered as a child, and that suffering colors her view of commitment, though only in romance, not friendship. The characters surround themselves with strong, helpful friends who often turn them to face their blind spots, and Carlan gives each supporting character sufficient motivation to round them into three-dimensional people.
Chapters alternate between the voice of Mila and the voice of Atlas. Carmen Vine’s Mila sounds scrappy yet vulnerable, a nice fit for the character. Joe Arden’s smooth vocals are perhaps too refined for the expletive-laced dirty talk of Atlas, but the audio is clean and spare, without distracting music.
The novel strongly errs on the side of erotic play, so listeners should select their listening companions carefully, but for those eager to hear a story of lust that then blossoms into love between two beautiful people, this audiobook will do the trick.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (January 23, 2017)
Blush-inducing and audacious, Melt will spark continued interest in this romance series.
Melt, the fourth audiobook in Helen Hardt’s Steel Brothers series, is a strictly-for-adults, raunchy romance between two unlikely people.
Narrator Alexander Cendese, who sounds like Gerard Butler after a double bourbon, handles Hardt’s material well. The story is dense, front-loaded with dialogue and enough backstory to synopsize previous material.
Jonah Steel is dealing with a heavy load of survivor’s guilt after his younger brother was kidnapped and tormented. His cure comes on the couch of a beautiful, reserved therapist named Melanie Carmichael, who has a few regrets of her own.
Melanie’s guilt comes from a professional failure: a former patient who committed suicide after confessing her love to Melanie. Melanie and Jonah’s guilt isolates them and soon they’re both desperate for connection. They break the doctor-patient relationship boundaries in blush-worthy sex scenes that are both intimate and naughty.
However, Hardt keeps things sweet, and emphasizes Melanie’s pleasure in being swept away: “It wasn’t a kiss of passion. It was a kiss of urgency: of need.”
This is a straightforward romance, with plenty of flashing dark eyes, running hands, throbbing, moaning, and gasping. Hardt is great at setting the scene, from bars and hotel rooms to the Steel family’s home, though Melanie remains the main attraction. Teri Clark Linden reads Melanie’s chapters—they alternate with Jonah’s, for a nice his-and-hers perspective plot—in a clear, feminine voice.
Melt doesn’t break new ground in the genre, but it is a nice addition to the Steel Brothers series and will keep the wheels rolling for audiobook number five. “All I cared about was doing a little carbo loading so I could get her back in the sack,” Jonah says. Now that’s good therapy.
CLAIRE FOSTER (January 23, 2017)
The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott
The Lady of the Lakes on audiobook is a magical escape to another time and place.
The Lady of the Lakes, an audiobook voiced by Cassandra Campbell, is a delightful look into the true love story of Scotland’s most famous poet, Sir Walter Scott. The historical romance is gripping and gratifying, incorporating historical detail into a timeless, literary love triangle.
From the first scene, Kilpack deftly weaves a story of Walter’s infatuation with Mina Stuart, a comely Highland lass. Walter is convinced that Mina is his muse, and she’s happy to play the part. Campbell, an accomplished voice performer, acts out their dialogue well, alternating tones and inflections to give the characters depth. Although the Scottish accent is challenging, Campbell rises to the task, and her reading is melodious and natural.
Mina, despite her passion for Walter and his writing, isn’t fully convinced that their love is the real thing. How much of it is authentic, and how much of it is just pretty wordplay? While she’s deliberating, she meets William Forbes—a man whose many virtues include not being a poet. Walter, likewise, is drawn elsewhere, to Charlotte Carpenter. As their love story unfolds, she and Walter learn that there’s more to marriage than rhymed couplets.
Kilpack’s double love triangle plot is tantalizing and keeps the action moving quickly. The Lady of the Lakes satisfies on multiple levels, adding details from actual letters, locations, and Scottish history. Although her characters seem too modern for their era at times, Kilpack never steps outside the context of the story; nor does she apologize for “the way things were” in late eighteenth century Scotland.
Perfect for a road trip or a long, relaxing afternoon, The Lady of the Lakes on audiobook is a magical escape to another time and place.
CLAIRE FOSTER (January 23, 2017)
This action-driven novel will appeal to those who like highly dramatic romance in a historical setting.
Set on Africa’s west coast in the late eighteenth century, Kay Marshall Strom’s The Call of Zulina is the first in a series of fast-moving historical romances in which Grace Winslow, daughter of a slave trader and an African princess, struggles to survive as a free woman.
Grace’s English sea captain father settled ashore as a slave trader, prospering in the ugly practice at his Fortress of Zulina. Seeking more riches, he demands that Grace marry a boorish Englishman. Instead, she slips from the family compound only to be captured. She’s taken to Zulina, where rebellious slaves are gathering. The latter half of the narrative focuses on the violent rebellion, a period when Grace turns from bystander to sympathizer to activist.
There’s a Cinderella aspect to the story, but Grace is a modern heroine: a strong woman not in need of rescue. With an African setting coming to light through references to local crops, baobab trees, and harmattan winds, the narrative speeds through chapters of conflict and violence, all rendered with florid, old-fashioned dialogue.
A woman with an English accent narrates, her voice offering solid inflection and natural pauses, and becoming passionate where appropriate. Oddly, the father’s voice is near Cockney, with an abundance of “methinks.” When it comes to rendering men’s voices and the voices of Africans, the narrator sometimes strains beyond naturalness.
This is an action-driven novel, one that can be quickly consumed. In audio, it unfolds at the narrator’s pace—more than nine hours here—and the format becomes a choice of convenience. Strom’s The Call of Zulina will appeal to those who like highly dramatic romance in a historical setting.
GARY PRESLEY (January 23, 2017)
Spellbinding and rich, this return to McCulley’s original text reveals Zorro at his most captivating.
Dashing swordsman Don Diego Vega, better known as Zorro, comes to life in Naxos’ audiobook Zorro Rides Again, read from the original 1931 Johnston McCulley pulp novel. Though Don Diego had hoped to settle down and marry beloved fiancée Lolita, his reputation and good name are being tarnished by an impostor. Rather than fighting for justice, the false Zorro is instead attacking the innocent, the elderly, and defenseless females.
By returning to the unabridged McCulley text, Zorro Rides Again minimizes more stereotypical or comic perceptions of the mysterious swashbuckling hero. Actor Bill Homewood’s deep British tones alternate with ornately Spanish-accented characters such as Zorro himself, Zorro’s father Don Alejandro, Fray Felipe, and Sargent Pedro Gonzales. Though women are not a major part of this adventure, Homewood voices them with a breathy and occasionally indignant contrast as they try to maintain their highly valued feminine virtues.
Zorro Rides Again vividly recreates its setting of early nineteenth century Los Angeles, between Spanish and Mexican rule. Wealthy hacienda owners, Franciscan friars, reformed pirates, and pompous military officers populate McCulley’s fictional landscape, with its strong influence of Old World colonialism amid Native American settlements. The novel’s descriptive passages and Homewood’s rich narration emphasize this courtly and class-defined era of caballeros, Californios, and a general obsession with honor and revenge.
Additionally, some of the fight scenes of Zorro Rides Again—whether swordplay or a truth challenge among the Cocopah Indians—have an almost spellbinding quality. Deadly blades clash, clang and cut, or bare-chested men gleam with sweat in a knife battle by a flickering campfire. These intense details are balanced by quieter moments, such as Don Diego’s serene al fresco breakfast of melon, wine, and “fish fresh caught in a distant sea.” The audio chapters flow together in serial-like fashion, each ending at an intriguingly suspenseful point in Don Diego’s fierce quest to discover who else dares to wear the famed black Zorro mask.
MEG NOLA (January 23, 2017)
Angela Lin’s narration of this beautifully written novel makes this a listening experience worth savoring.
Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a multigenerational saga depicting the lives of three classical musicians during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Gripping, rhapsodic and heartbreaking, this is a novel replete with vivid characters and prescient themes. Narrator Angela Lin infuses the story with authenticity and vocal inflections that honor Thien’s delicate, complex narrative.
Lin’s voice provides a calming juxtaposition to the mournful opening of Thien’s novel, and her empathy is evident in her subdued narration. The story begins with young Li-ling, also called by the anglicized version of her name, Marie, recalling the sorrow of her father’s suicide amidst the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Another young girl, Ai-ming, soon enters the novel, which threads together their personal histories and their country’s history. Ai-ming’s own stories reveal a deeply emotional relationship that developed between her father, Sparrow, Li-ling’s father, Kai, and Sparrow’s cousin, Zhuli, while they all attended the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
Lin deftly portrays each character with accuracy and range. Her intonation between exposition and dialogue is immediate and distinct. With a voice actor’s ear for inflection, Lin also ably handles the modulation demanded by the English text, the Chinese words, the language of classical music, and Li-ling’s mathematical language. The age of each character, from Li-ling’s mother’s English-as-a-second language staccato accent to Zhuli’s exuberance and higher, youthful register, is made clear.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing is beautifully written novel about the brutality of political oppression and the eradication of art. Angela Lin’s gifts as the narrator of Thien’s moving tale make this a listening experience worth savoring.
MONICA CARTER (January 23, 2017)
Hardy’s mirth, patriotism, and melodrama are especially enjoyable in spoken form.
Actor Nicholas Rowe engagingly narrates Naxos’ audiobook The Trumpet Major, an unabridged version of the Thomas Hardy novel centered on two brothers, the woman they love, and the dreaded invasion of England by Napoleon’s armies.
First published in 1880, The Trumpet Major is set during the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century. Anne Garland and her mother, Martha, live in the quiet English town of Overcombe. Anne is a winsome and principled young woman, while widowed Martha contemplates remarriage to the local miller. Miller Loveday’s sons are military men, Bob enlisted in the Navy and John in the cavalry as the titled Trumpet Major. John is more serious in nature, while Bob is charming and impulsive. Both are in love with Anne, and she in her own way loves each back.
Hardy novels are often known for their detail and gradual pacing, and for their use of regional language. His longer dialogue passages can be a challenge to muddle through as text, but as part of an audiobook, these same pages are a delight. In particular, Rowe takes the character of miserly old squire Benjy Derriman and gives him a dimension of addled yet poignant humor. And while there are a wide range of other personalities in The Trumpet Major—including a cameo by King George III—Rowe keeps all distinct while maintaining the ever-shifting love triangle between John, Bob, and Anne.
As a romance, the slow twists and turns of The Trumpet Major intrigue, exasperate, and come to a bittersweet end. As a historically military tale, the novel captures England’s intense fear of Napoleon, the “Corsican ogre,” while also spotlighting the power and pageantry of the British royal forces. The Trumpet Major combines quirky moments and gestures with mirth, patriotism, and melodrama, and is especially enjoyable in this spoken form.
MEG NOLA (January 23, 2017)