Best Audiobooks: November 2018

A grisly discovery on an idyllic Irish estate; a darkly comic debut novel written in a jail cell; a riveting history of Los Angeles’s Central Library. Fascinating stories can be found in the most unexpected of places.

By David Adams

The Library Book by Susan Orlean, narrated by Susan Orlean

From a profile of a renegade horticulturist (The Orchid Thief) to the biography of a celebrity canine (Rin Tin Tin), New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean has never met an obscure, unlikely subject she couldn’t turn into a riveting narrative. Her latest trick of journalistic alchemy is The Library Book, which uses the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library as a launch pad for a fascinating journey into the history and significance of one of LA’s most overlooked public institutions. What Orlean finds among the stacks—the polymath citrus farmer who became the library’s head of research, the struggling actor who played a central role in the LAPD’s arson investigation, and patron inquiries that keep the current staff on their toes—will surprise and delight bibliophiles everywhere.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, narrated by Catherine Steadman

Who says beach reads are for summer only? This taut psychological thriller about British newlyweds who find a bag full of money while scuba diving in Bora Bora is a scorcher no matter how cold it is outside. Anybody who’s seen No Country for Old Men knows that Erin, a documentary filmmaker, and Mike, a recently laid-off investment banker, should swim away from the suspicious cash as fast as they can. But it’s too late—they’re hooked. And despite Erin’s wicked Googling skills (much hinges on the legal difference between flotsam and jetsam), there’s no wriggling free from the mortal danger the couple soon finds themselves in. Debut novelist Catherine Steadman does a fantastic job narrating the audiobook in Erin’s wry, amusing voice, and no wonder—she not only wrote the character, she’s also an Oxford-trained actress who played Mabel Lane Fox on Downton Abbey. Maybe producer Reese Witherspoon will cast her in the coming movie adaption.

Cherry, by Nico Walker narrated by Jeremy Bobb

Debut novelist Nico Walker tells the story of a young man who drops out of college, serves as a combat medic in Iraq, gets hooked on OxyContin and heroin back in Ohio, and starts robbing banks to feed his addiction. The story is his own. He wrote the novel on a typewriter in a federal prison in Kentucky while serving an 11-year sentence for bank robbery. To his great surprise, it became a New York Times bestseller admired by his literary idol, Thomas McGuane. Walker is a gifted dialogist whose precise comic timing works like a pressure release valve in the novel’s bleakest, tensest moments, and audiobook narrator Jeremy Bobb has a downbeat, world-weary charm that fits the story like a glove. The audio edition includes a fantastic early aughts soundtrack (Modest Mouse, Dinosaur Jr., etc.) that makes it a truly immersive listen.

I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson, read by Abbi Jacobson

Abbi Jacobson, co-creator and co-star of Broad City, reveals a more vulnerable—but still hilarious—side of herself in this essay collection. Framed around a solo cross-country trip she took in the wake of a romantic breakup, these anecdotes and reflections are like taking a ride with a smart, funny friend who’s not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve. Jacobson finds comedic inspiration everywhere—from a girl whose flip-flops are tucked into one strap of her tank top to the preposterously young age of Julia Roberts’ character in My Best Friend’s Wedding—and is a keen observer of the ways in which talented, ambitious women are perceived differently than their male counterparts. She’s also unafraid to tackle life’s big questions: “Why does the pen they give you to sign the check or the important document never work?” “Is there a point in time when you stop feeling like you’re eighteen?”

Emma by Jane Austen, read by Emma Thompson, Joanne Froggatt, Aisling Loftus, Isabella Inchbald, and others

Jane Austen intended the title character of this comedy of manners to be “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” She underestimated her powers of persuasion—countless readers were charmed by Emma Woodhouse, and that was before Alicia Silverstone delivered her iconic Valley Girl interpretation of the character in Clueless. This lavish new audiobook narrated by Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson and some of England’s finest young acting talent is packed with devilish wit, meticulous plotting, and rich character development that makes it one of the funniest stories of all time.

The Witch Elm by Tana French, narrated by Paul Nugent

If you’re not familiar with Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, now’s the time to introduce yourself to one of the finest suspense novelists working today (and an entrant on Celadon’s Halloween reading list). Her first standalone thriller features a privileged young man whose happy-go-lucky life gets derailed when he heads home from the pub one night and is beaten nearly to death by two burglars. Suffering brain damage and memory loss, Toby Hennessy joins his ailing uncle at Ivy House, the family estate. But his hopes for a peaceful convalescence are dashed when a human skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree on the property. French’s supple prose and rich character development meet their match in Paul Nugent’s pitch-perfect narration. His mellifluous Irish accent and colloquial tone draw you seamlessly into Toby’s world — which makes the hairpin twists and turns of the novel’s final chapters all the more jaw-dropping.

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