A lot goes into writing a good book. Great characters, a compelling plot, evocative language, striking sentences. But when you’re listening to a book, other elements are added in, too. The talents of the narrators who are performing the story become important, as do things like audio quality and presentation. Hence, even the best books can be marred by a bad translation into audio — and sometimes a great audiobook can elevate something that might not have caught your attention into a new favorite.
Here are 10 audiobooks from 2019 that are the whole package — great stories, beautifully narrated by stellar performers to create a compelling whole. Download one of these books for your commute or just to curl up with beside the fire and let the words carry you away.
By Orrin Grey
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, narrated by Louise Brealey and Jack Hawkins. 8 hours, 43 minutes.
This New York Times bestseller took fans of twisty psychological thrillers by storm with its shocking tale of a woman whose sudden and inexplicable murder of her husband — followed by her equally inexplicable silence — draws the interest and then the obsession of a talented criminal psychotherapist. In audio form, the book is elevated to an even higher degree through “strong performances by two British narrators,” according to AudioFile magazine. Louise Brealey performs Alicia Berenson, the “silent patient” of the title, while Jack Hawkins plays the forceful psychotherapist who sets out to unravel her mystery.
Find Me by André Aciman, narrated by Michael Stuhlbarg. 8 hours, 21 minutes.
Call Me by Your Name was not only a hit as a book, it was turned into an Oscar-winning film. In the sequel, which follows the life and loves of both that book’s protagonist, Elio, and his father Sami, narrator Michael Stuhlbarg’s “elegant performance and Aciman’s sensitive writing keep things touching without ever being sentimental,” according to AudioFile magazine, where the book was an Earphones Award winner for 2019.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, narrated by Tom Hanks. 9 hours, 53 minutes.
Read by Tom Hanks (yes, that Tom Hanks), The Dutch House is a restrained and touching real-life fairy tale from acclaimed novelist Ann Patchett that chronicles the lives and unbreakable bond of two siblings, and the house where they grew up — and from which, as adults, they have been exiled by their “wicked” stepmother.
An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, narrated by Barrie Kreinik and Julia Whelan. 11 hours, 40 minutes.
Narrators Barrie Kreinik and Julia Whelan alternate between the two leads of this breathless story of deceit and deception. Jessica Farris is a young woman in New York City who signs up for a study in ethics from Dr. Shields because she needs the money — but the study quickly becomes something much more intense, and much more personal, than she bargained for.
The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch, narrated by Scott Brick. 11 hours, 8 minutes.
They say that truth is stranger than fiction—and sometimes it’s also more thrilling, as in this tale of a conspiracy hatched in the midst of the Revolutionary War that targeted none other than George Washington himself. Narrator Scott Brick “makes the pages come alive” in this Earphones Award winning audiobook, “enhancing the drama but never overpowering it.” (AudioFile magazine)
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, narrated by Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, Judy Greer, Pablo Schreiber. 9 hours, 3 minutes.
Reese Witherspoon recommended this book, which captures the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll spirit of the ‘70s through its chronicle of a fictitious, iconic rock band. It’s being developed into a TV series with Amazon Studios, but in the meantime, the Earphones Award winning audiobook is performed by a full cast, including actors Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, and Judy Greer.
Whisper Network by Chandler Baker, narrated by Almarie Guerra. 12 hours, 44 minutes.
Almarie Guerra “projects the Southern accent and sassy tone that are needed” (AudioFile magazine) in this parable of the #MeToo movement that sees several women taking steps to ensure that their boss, who has a reputation for sexual harassment, doesn’t become the new CEO of the company where they all work.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, narrated by the author, Tara Lynne Barr, Marin Ireland, Mena Suvari. 11 hours, 24 minutes.
Written after eight years of embedded reporting, Lisa Taddeo’s true account of the sex lives and inner desires of three American women was called “THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR” by author Elizabeth Gilbert, who said that it “blew the top of my head off.” Introduced by the author herself, the audiobook is read by three narrators, each of whom take on the role of one of the eponymous three women, and bring their characters to thrilling, intimate life.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, narrated by JD Jackson. 6 hours, 46 minutes.
An “unvarnished” but compelling performance by JD Jackson highlights this story of survival and idealism in Nickel Academy, a reform school in segregated Florida in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. The story itself is intricate, intimate, and often harsh, but “Jackson’s deep, gravelly voice remains steady” (AudioFile magazine) as he guides us through this harrowing and vitally important moment in American history.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, narrated by the author. 8 hours, 42 minutes.
In his latest book, celebrated Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell tackles the difficulties, biases, and blind spots that we face when trying to understand people we don’t know — focusing not just on interpersonal relationships, but on our relationships with celebrities and public figures, as well as decision making in police work, in the courtroom, and beyond. Reading his own book, Gladwell proves a “fabulous narrator,” adding a “sparkling energy to his writing” in this Earphones Award winner.