Run, commute, clean, garden, and generally run your life with these handpicked audiobooks.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, narrated by Joan Walker (Simon & Schuster Audio) Elsa’s only friend is her grandmother, and her only refuge is the Land of Almost-Awake, a place created by her grandmother and populated by magical beings and fairy stories. When Elsa’s grandmother dies, the Land of Almost-Awake seems to be the only thing she has left – except the scavenger hunt of apologies her grandmother left for Elsa to deliver to friends and neighbors. Walker’s narration hits Backman’s story in the sweet spot, allowing Elsa to be quite precocious for a 7-year-old, but not in an obnoxious way. This charming Swedish story is all the more charming in audiobook form.
We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, narrated by Emma Bering and Robbie Daymond (Random House Audio) Diffenbaugh tells the story of two generations of immigrants: Letty who has given her children’s everyday lives over to the care of their grandmother while she alternates between working to support them – as well as family back in Mexico – and partying and her studious, scientifically-minded son Alex. Both Alex and Letty are point-of-view characters, and both are well-served by the narrators who represent them. The two voices alternate beautifully, helping to draw the listener into the story and compel her to keep listening.
Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Parisby Alex Kershaw, narrated by Mark Deakins (Random House Audio) Reminiscent of the work of Erik Larson, Avenue of Spies is a fascinating work of nonfiction detailing the lives of some individual influential players in the resistance against the Nazis in occupied France. Mark Deakins seems to know the story of this brave family as well as Kershaw himself does, at least as far as the confidence with which he delivers the narrative. This history is told descriptively, yet still economically and provides listeners with a very instructive snapshot into the realities of resistance in Paris during World War II.
Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey, narrated by Kimberly Farr (Simon & Schuster Audio) Although frequently thought of as lesser than – or even simply equal to – her husband Ferdinand, Isabella of Castille was an incredibly powerful ruler in medieval Europe, far more so than Ferdinand. Downey does a very thorough and evenhanded job going through Isabelle’s life from before it seemed even a possibility that she would rule Spain through her death and the tribulations of her daughter Juana who was supposed to follow her on the throne. Farr narrates very clearly and with just the perfect amount of emotion to keep listeners interested for the over 21 hours it takes to tell the story of Isabelle’s life.
Armada by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton (Random House Audio) We’ve already told you about Cline’s rollicking meta-science fiction story, but trust us when we say that if you’re going to delve into Armada, you really should do it with Wheaton as your guide. Growing up as he did in the world of science fiction television, Wheaton knows the ins and outs of the genre like the back of his hand and that comes through in his narration. Cline’s story also calls for a variety of voices and different accents, each of which Wheaton nails beautifully.
Red: A History of the Redhead by Jacky Colliss Harvey, narrated by Jacky Colliss Harvey (Hachette Audio) In Red, Harvey shares the science, culture, and history of redheadedness throughout history. Harvey mixes up the three perfectly to keep the narrative fresh and flowing, keeping away boredom for any listener who may be less than interested in one of these three subjects. In addition to being the author, Harvey is also the narrator and does a very good and professional job, which is not always the case with author/narrators. If you have even the slightest interest in the genetics of red hair, the way redheads are treated in today’s culture, or the history that influenced today’s culture you will listen to Red with rapt fascination. —Jen Karsbaek