Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best Of 2016: Audiobooks

audiobook reviews, best audiobooks
It's that time! I'm reviewing my year in reading starting today!

I've done a lot of writing about reading this year. In many cases, I've written about these books in the newsletter, in Writerly Wednesday, on Goodreads, or at Literary Quicksand, the book blog to which I contribute. So, I'm lifitng some sentences from myself for these blurbs. It's fine.

Here are the stats: I've read 63 books this year, including 17 audiobooks. This was an interesting year for audiobooks in that there were several books I loved, but that I wished I'd read on paper.  So, here are the best five audiobooks - books that do really well in this format - in alphabetical order by author.

wintergirls review, laurie halse anderson
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Narrated by Jeannie Stith.
Anderson is a master at writing teenaged girls with real and scary problems. Two years ago, I had this author on my list for The Impossible Knife of Memory, about a girl whose dad suffers from PTSD. In Wintergirls, eighteen year-old Lia details her spiral into mental illness and near-fatal anorexia. Her conditions intensify following the death of her ex-best friend Cassie, herself a bulimic who had called Lia 33 times on the night she died. Lia's pain gives rise to a raging fantasy life that terrified me and held me transfixed. Narrator Jeannie Stith conveyed Lia's desperation and confusion believably.

boys in the boat, daniel james brown
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Narrated by Ed Herrmann.
Brown's work is a riveting emotional portrayal of individual sacrifice and team dedication against the backdrops of the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler. Brown's primary subject is Joe Rantz, a sympathetic underdog from rural Washington, who together with eight other guys from the UW crew team, aim for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As narrators go, Ed Herrmann ranks among the best I’ve heard. He emotes without condescension or smarm. Nothing in his performance – not even the closest of crew races – seems overdone. Full review at Literary Quicksand.

just kids, patti smith, review
Just Kids by Patti Smith. Narrated by the author.
Smith's memoir, the story of her creative partnership with Robert Mapplethorpe, is a hypnotic and spare tribute to the artist's life.  Smith's writing floats along conversationally, deceptively simple. You're just reading, taking in the stories about art and life in the 1960s and 70s, until you’re  stunned by the beauty of a particular sentence. It happens over and over again. I loved hearing Smith reading this herself. At one point in the recording, she sings a few bars, and I had chills. Full review at Literary Quicksand.

the martian, andy weir
The Martian by Andy Weir. Narrated by R.C. Bray.
The Martian is totally not my kind of book. In a super-sciency sci-fi novel (originally published serially on a blog!), Mark Watney gets left behind on Mars by his crew who understandably mistakes him for dead. As he's not dead, he describes his situation - the compromised equipment, the dearth of food, the loneliness and isolation. Watney's first person narration, interspersed eventually with vignettes of NASA problem-solvers on earth, kept me listening. R.C. Bray delivers it with a perfect deadpan, accentuating the strong humor (and strong language). This is a funny thriller with a happy ending, great for a road-trip with teens.

Monica Wood
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Narrated by Chris Ciulla.
My takeaway from this book is that "It's never too late." An odd eleven year-old Boy Scout befriends Ona Vitkus, a 104 year-old woman whom he convinces to both record memories ("shards" of her life) on tape AND to pursue a Guinness World Record (World's Oldest Licensed Driver). This is not a spoiler, as it happens right away: the eleven year-old dies of heart failure, and the 104 year-old befriends his sometimes-absent father, Quinn, who takes over the scouting duties. Chris Ciulla effectively conveys Quinn's crushing grief, the boy's lingering recorded voice, and Ona's high, breathy sarcasm, as well.

Here are the other audiobooks I listened to this year in alphabetical order by author. 
This year, I'm including a short blurb! Links go to full reviews I wrote for Literary Quicksand.

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - Charming, gimmicky, saccharine, and ageist.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly - Good writing, good plotting, fun characters.
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk - Filmy, dreamy, too smart.
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler - I admire the book, but not the narration. Read the paper.
  • Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois - Engrossing, page-turning, self-important.
  • A Sudden Crush by Camilla Isley - Frothy, frivolous, fairty-tale fun
  • Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson - Far-fetched, but endearing.
  • Great House by Nicole KraussSerious, layered, accomplished, complex- read the paper.
  • Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty - Not my favorite Moriarty, but she's still my favorite.
  • After You by JoJo Moyes - Great fun to revisit Louisa Clark. A satisfying sequel.
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell - Cool sentences and word choices. I'm not into history enough to love it a lot.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - An important book about whiteness, blackness, and the enduring trauma of American slavery. Read a paper copy.
Click HERE for booklists from 2014 and 2015.

Next up: On Friday, I'll publish my list of nonfiction faves from this year's reading.

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