Listen Up: Books We Recommend on Audio Instead of Print

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Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

Sometimes I stare at the audiobook and the book for what feels like an eternity debating which to read. Or whether to get both—because I want to hear the narrator but I can’t highlight the audiobook. Other times I’m holding the book and someone says, “Oh, you should have gone with the audiobook because the narrator was AMAZING!” Immediately I want to switch over to the audiobook. Since I’ve gotten great recs from fellow Rioters–and have myself a handful of books I always say “Go with the audiobook”–we thought we’d share our favorites in case you’re playing the which-version-to-get game.

Rioters recommend the audiobooks for these books:

Rachel Manwill

girl-with-all-the-giftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey: Finty Williams, the narrator for Carey’s creepy “are we or aren’t we” future sci fi novel, is so perfect as the voice for Melanie, a precocious child who doesn’t know that she’s a zombie that I have urged friends who read the print version to give it a re-listen on audio. I couldn’t imagine having the same wonder about the story, which unfolds in a suspenseful and dramatic rush, if I read the print version.

Galbraith_TheCuckoosCalling_HC-1The Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith (JK): The narrator for JK Rowling’s detective series, Robert Glenister, is likely the reason I’ve been (and will continue to be) a fangirl for Cormoran Strike. For few other authors/series do I patiently await release date, and I don’t imagine a time when I won’t have pre-ordered the audiobook months in advance. Glenister has a pitch-perfect way of giving Strike the gruffness his character calls for, while simultaneously not making Robin, his assistant, sound whiny and petulant, a balance not many deep-voiced narrators can strike (no pun intended).

year of yes by shonda rhimesYear of Yes by Shondra Rhimes: Basically Shondra and I are best friends now. After listening to Rimes narrate her own memoir, I believe truly in my heart that we are besties, and if I called her up and said, hey girl, I’m bringing over a bottle of red, she’d be like, Yas! Okay, actually not really, but listening to Shondra tell her story about the 180 she pulled on her life feels like having a really good and wise friend catch you up on her life after you haven’t seen her for a few years. It’s just really, really good.

TroublemakerTroublemaker by Leah Remini: On a recommendation for a bunch of other Rioters, I downloaded Remini’s memoir about her life in Scientology, her decision to leave the church, and the fallout that followed. Before listening to Troublemaker, I’ll admit I wasn’t any particular fan of Remini’s. I was aware of her work on King of Queens but I never watched it. Her membership in the Church of Scientology made me more than a little skeptical of her, lumping her in with Tom Cruise and John Travolta on the weirdness scale. But Remini is a gossipy delight as she narrates her own memoir, explaining how she got into the church as a child, her opinion of the more famous Scientology members like Cruise and Travolta, and the absolute clusterfuck of a scandal that finally forced her to leave. She’s forthcoming and kind and honest and, in her amazingly recognizable Brooklyn accent, she manages to not only understand how she got into Scientology, but to become an unabashed fan of her personally.

María Cristina García Lynch

As You Wish Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride written by Cary ElwesAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden: In a perfect world, Peter Falk would have lived long enough for me to pester him into recording William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and then I could play it whenever I was sick in bed. But in a perfect world, we probably wouldn’t get sick… Ah, well. I have no problem settling for listening to this book in good health. Come for Cary Elwes’ diction and stay for the colleagues who pipe up.

born standing up a comics life steve martin memoirBorn Standing Up by Steve Martin: I like a clear focus in memoir. And I love this memoir. I’m sure Martin could tell a great “I was born and then all of this happened to me and now I’m elderly” kind of story. But if I had to choose between breadth and depth, I’d pick this deep dive into how Martin came by his sense of humor and refined his stand-up act through trial, error, and serious thought. Once you understand why his ideas are better suited to a comedy club than the stadiums he eventually played in, you can forgive him for walking away when he did. The beauty of this memoir in audiobook form is that Martin is playing only to you. Venues don’t get more intimate. If you read this book, you’ll still learn a tremendous amount about the nature of performance. But you’ll miss Martin’s delivery (and banjo playing).

Matilda-Book-Cover-Roald-DahlMatilda by Roald Dahl: Kate Winslet does voices that make me super insecure about my read-aloud abilities. Like, I need to practice after my kid is in her crib for the night, and even so I’ll have no chance at avoiding my daughter’s disappointment when she comes across this rendition as a parent herself and asks me for a childhood’s worth of her money back.


S. Zainab Williams

Abhorsen-Book-Cover-Garth-NixThe Old Kingdom Series by Garth Nix: Because Tim Curry! Curry has narrated the three books in Nix’s series so far and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll return to narrate Goldenhand, the next in the series. Curry is so expressive and on point with his narration–his voice was made for dark fantasy.



Amy Diegelman

beauty queens by libba brayBeauty Queens by Libba Bray: This book about shipwrecked pageant girls is wonderful all on its own, but I just can’t imagine experiencing it without the audiobook. Bray narrates expertly, managing to give a distinct voice to each girl in the large cast, and the corporate interruptions for legal disclaimers and faux commercials selling increasingly ridiculous products push the audio above and beyond.


Marceline Cook

aftermathAftermath: Journey to The Force Awakens by Chuck Wendig: Narrated by Marc Thompson this book has something that many audio books don’t, SFX throughout. Here we get Tie’s screaming, droids beeping and lasers enough for anyone. The Star Wars sounds that you can’t help but recognise add a lot more immersion to Wendig’s novel. It’s joyful fluff for your ears.


Teresa Preston

The Book of Night Women by Marlon JamesThe Book of Night Women by Marlon James: Narrated by Robin Miles. Dialect is often a challenge for me to read, especially if it’s a dialect I rarely hear in my day-to-day life. So I’m glad I went for the audiobook version of this remarkable, complex novel about life on a 19th-century plantation in Jamaica. I’ve recommended this book many times, in print and audio, but I can’t help but wonder how much my love of the book hinged hearing the dialect with my ears, instead of reading it with my eyes.

Jessica Pryde

aristotle-and-danteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Does there have to be any other reason? No, but there is. I have had a history of getting bogged down in texts like this when trying to read them, but the poetry of Saenz’s words just flows so easily in audio. And now, I will forever hear the narrative voices of Ari and Dante the way LMM reads them, with their inflections and their warmth, even if I read the next book (there’s a next book coming!) in print. But I doubt I will.

Sonja Palmer

Helene Wecker_The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: This is a long one, and the book itself is beautiful (confession, I own an audiobook copy and a hardcover), but I’m so, so glad I listened to this one. The audiobook adds so much to it. The narration is almost soothing in a way, but George Guidall definitely still imbues this story with so much emotion you grow to deeply care about the golem and the jinni’s lives and the people within them.  I still think about how he says these characters’ names in my head. I know it is over 19 hours, but the book itself is lovely and the audiobook makes it even better.

The Fishermen by Chigozie ObiomaThe Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma: I listened to this book, and I really thought Chukwudi Iwuji did a good job giving each of the character’s distinct voices, and conveying the dramatic stakes and tragedy of what was going on in this book. I think hearing it narrated brought home further the anger and love that these characters feel.


Katie MacBride

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (BBC Audio Recordings, 2000): This audio version of The Handmaid’s Tale is unlike any other audiobook I have listened to. It’s performed by a full cast of characters and includes a few unobtrusive sound effects (the sound of a door opening and closing, the clack of footsteps as they walk down a hall) that give the listener the kind of dramatic performance usually reserved for the theater. Atwood’s classic is given rich and honorable treatment in this 3-disc performance. That said: as is often the case with adaptations, this version is missing a few scenes from the novel and slight alterations are made to other scenes to compensate. So this isn’t the same thing as reading the novel (I’m looking at you, high school juniors). If you’re already familiar with Atwood’s book, however, and just want a wonderful dramatized version of it to listen to on your commute, this is an absolute winner.

Ashlie Swicker

throne of glass paperbackThrone of Glass (series) by Sarah Maas: I read the first two and wasn’t sure I was going to hang for the rest of the series. I like almost all of the hallmarks of these books (teenage assassin girls, various romantic entanglements, heists and capers, magic, an almost laughable collection of perfect traits offset by something like a large appetite or a fiery temper), so I wasn’t sure why I was put off, but I almost gave up. On a whim, I added whispersync to my Kindle version so I could grade papers while I slogged through the third installment and imagine my surprise when I was hooked. I loved how Elizabeth Evans brought the characters to life, and have listened to the latest in the series, Queen of Shadows, two times this year. That’s forty hours of Elizabeth Evans in my ears in 2016, and it’s still not enough.

Kate Scott

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo MbueBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: I love it when an book gives the narrator a chance to really stretch their vocal muscles, and Behold the Dreamers does just that. Prentice Onayemi performs a wide range of accents and voices, including serious Wall Street executive, classic New Yorker, Pidgin English, and a range of Cameroonian accents. There is even singing! Onayemi sings a little during the novel and the audiobook opens with a song performed by Clara Mbue. It’s hands down the best audiobook I’ve listened to this year.

And my recommendations:

ember in the ashesAn Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir: This is one of those epic books that sucked me in from the beginning and took me on a hell of an adventure. But the reason I recommend this book ALL THE TIME is because of the audiobook’s narrators. Fiona Hardingham and Steve West alternate narrating the Elias and Laia chapters and I don’t know what kind of magic their vocal chords produce but they put me under a spell that makes me want to listen to them forever and ever. They bring the tension, emotions, and characters alive to the point I swear I could reach out and touch them.

The Cutting Season cover by Attica LockeThe Cutting Season by Attica Locke: I’m a big fan of Locke’s and this is my favorite of her books—it’s also the only one I read the audiobook for and I think that played a part in bumping it up on the list. Quincy Tyler Bernstine has a lovely voice and drew me in to the point that I honestly felt myself on that plantation trying to solve the mystery along with her. I’ve found that not all mysteries work in audio because sometimes it’s hard to follow along with all the information/clues but in this case the audio never gets confusing and instead adds a new layer that allows the reader to feel like you know Caren, Belle Vie’s manager, in real life.

The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel GonzalesAnd I recommend the audiobooks of both The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales and Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel for the same reasons: they’re both multi-genre books with a very fun element and each has a cast of at least four narrators that makes them feel like you’re listening to a fun show. I even passed on a galley for the followup to Sleeping Giants because I’m looking forward to it on audio.