I absolutely love listening to audiobooks – my Audible subscription has been my most worthwhile investment in recent years. Audiobooks let me work on my TBR while out and about, as well as enable me to enjoy books (certain slower paced classics, for example) that I might struggle to finish in regular book format. As with regular books, there are certain audiobooks that stand out from the crowd. They go beyond a simple narration of the story – they are outstanding performances in their own right, to the extent that I feel that I would have lost out on something significant had I simply read them in book format.
These are loosely ranked, but I enjoyed them all thoroughly and would recommend them to anyone wanting to get into audiobooks.
- Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (narrated by Allan Corduner and Samantha Bond)
I’ve also written a full review of this audiobook, which can be found here.
I’m not usually a massive fan of cosy crime novels set in sleepy English villages. I prefer gritty, modern crime with sharply written characters and shocking twists. However, I love Anthony Horowitz and have read quite a lot of what he’s written, so I thought I’d trust it to be good. As it turns out, this is a unique twist on the genre that brings it bang up to date for the 21st century. An editor is delivered a new manuscript by a famous cosy crime author (something of a modern-day Agatha Christie), warning the reader that its contents changed her life. The manuscript is then told (almost) in full, before ending abruptly and returning to real-life events before the big whodunnit reveal can be made. It turns out that several chapters are missing and the author has apparently committed suicide. As the editor searches for the missing pages, she also begins to dig into the author’s death – which starts to show bizarre parallels to the murder and investigation that we’ve just listened to in his final manuscript.
The two narrators (one male, one female) did a pretty good job with this. The fact that the novel-within-the-novel had a completely separate narrator to the real life part helped me to distinguish between them and made it even more disorientating when I was suddenly wrenched from this manuscript that I’d actually become quite invested in and back into the “main” story. The twists and turns are delivered with an excellent sense of pace and timing. I think I appreciated this as an audiobook because the thought of having it narrated to me encouraged me to pick up a book that I wasn’t too sure about, but which turned into one of my favourite crime novels of recent years.
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (narrated by Sissy Spacek)
I had read To Kill A Mockingbird previously, but it was some years ago and I had an at best hazy memory of the story. The deep Southern drawl in which this audiobook was narrated was absolutely spot on, bringing the mood and atmosphere of Maycomb County vibrantly to life. Spacek was wonderful at portraying the innocent childishness of Scout, Jim and Dill, as well as the slow, considered speech of Atticus. The story itself evoked so many feelings: sadness, anger, frustration, yes, but also amusement and fondness for the children and many of the other characters whose words, actions and emotions were so brilliantly expressed. If you are hesitant or intimidated by classics (I certainly can be), this is an amazing one to experience as an audiobook, and it’s definitely one that I won’t forget in a hurry.
- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (narrated by Stephen Briggs)
Roll up, roll up for dry, caustic British humour! This is the book that definitively proves that sarcasm is decidedly NOT the lowest form of wit. The world is about to end (next Saturday at teatime, if we’re being precise), angels and demons are at war… and both sides have accidentally managed to lose track of the Antichrist. That small problem aside, some of the parties involved have actually come to the conclusion that they’re quite enjoying life on Earth in the late 20th century and aren’t actually sure they want to destroy the planet in the coming Armageddon after all (they don’t have sushi or fast cars in heaven/hell).
Stephen Briggs’ amazingly sardonic narration borders on genius and marries perfectly with Pratchett and Gaiman’s unique brand of humour. He breezes through a wide variety of accents with ease, and has different, easily-recognisable voices for all the characters. Having read quite a few big, serious epic fantasy series of late, this small and rather innocuous-looking standalone was a refreshing and hilarious surprise. I have also not had a great deal of experience with Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman (something that I hope to rectify very soon!), so I really didn’t know what to expect – which I think increased my enjoyment. One of my favourite passages included four rather stupid bikers discussing which Biker of the Apocalypse they wanted to be, given that War, Famine, Death and Pollution were already taken (yes, really). One bizarre scenario of many, I assure you. I personally loved the biker who decided he wanted to be “Things That Don’t Work Even After You’ve Given Them A Good Thumping.” Just listen to it yourself – you’ll understand what I’m on about.
- The Martian by Andy Weir (narrated by R. C. Bray)
This won the 2015 Audie Award for best sci-fi audiobook, so, of course, I had to listen and see for myself. I may have got some funny looks for laughing out loud in public places (as I did for Good Omens, come to that). Another SFF read that shuns the usual deadly seriousness, this audiobook is packed with humour, and R. C. Bray’s dryly witty and sarcastic narration made me love Mark Watney even more. Set in a near future where humans are just beginning to explore Mars, a catastrophic dust storm means that Watney and his team have to abort their mission and get out. In the confusion, his crewmates believe he didn’t make it and so leave Mars without him. With a fast-dwindling supply of remaining resources, Watney must try and survive alone on Mars, hoping and praying that he will somehow be able to communicate with Earth and survive long enough to be rescued.
I’m actually glad I listened to this on audiobook because there were some passages where the science kind of went over my head (usually passages where Watney is trying to calculate journey times and distances and how to transform goodness knows what elements and compounds into water using goodness knows what very elaborate and complicated technique, etc.); however, I was enjoying the narration and performance so much that it didn’t really matter. When the perspective switched back down the rescue mission on Earth and there was a wider variety of characters to voice, Bray did an admirable job of distinguishing between them, giving each character a unique voice. I also found the pacing to be perfect – as the rescue mission ramps up and all the variables are hanging in the balance, the narration seems to intensify, becoming faster and more expressive to match the mood. The final attempted rescue and the constant switching between perspectives had me on the edge of my seat. If there is one novel on this list that I believe should definitely be listened to in audiobook format to maximise enjoyment, this is the one.
- 11.22.63 by Stephen King (narrated by Craig Wasson)
Oh. My. Goodness. I mean, I have liked pretty much everything I have read by Stephen King to a greater or lesser degree, but this was something else. I chose it because of its several thousand five-star reviews on Audible, and the people were not wrong (thank you, people). This is a 30-hour epic, but it absolutely flew by, and I found myself regularly checking (not without some dismay) how many hours I had left as the remaining time melted away. Telling the story of an ordinary English teacher who is shown a time loop that allows the user to travel back in time to a certain day in 1958, the novel follows him as he is drawn into a plan to travel back in time to prevent President Kennedy’s assassination on the 22nd November, 1963. In order to do so, he must live in the past for four years, blending in to his environment, holding down a job, making friends and, ultimately, falling in love. But the past is “obdurate” – it does not want to be changed, and as the date approaches, danger haunts his every move.
I literally wanted to give Craig Wasson a standing ovation (and maybe a hug) when I finished listening to this. Every character had a different voice, his accents were amazing, the narration itself was the most expressive and compelling I’ve ever listened to. Someone give that man a medal. Even though I am almost certain that 11.22.63 would have become a favourite however I’d experienced it, the performance of this audiobook brought so much to the story and helped to cement it as one of my top novels of all time.
So there you have it! I hope this helps if you’re looking to get into audiobooks. I’d love to hear recommendations from anybody, as well as to hear people’s opinions on the books I’ve mentioned!