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Great books to listen to during your commute or road trip

A good audiobook can ease the pain of holiday travel, a bad commute or a boring workout, but a great one is worth listening to purely for its own sake. Here are some recent favorites. 

'The Library Book' by Susan Orlean

What Susan Orlean did for orchids and orchid
Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster Audio

What Susan Orlean did for orchids and orchid thieves, she now does for the Los Angeles Public Library, weaving an almost ridiculously riveting nonfiction narrative with top-shelf writing and indelible characters. Meet Harry Peak, the beautiful loser who may or may not have tried to burn the place down in 1986; a parade of head librarians including 19th century feminists and adventurers and present-day curmudgeons and activists; the tireless investigator herself, once a little bookworm making weekly trips to the library with her mother, now a nervous bystander drafted to help with an event for the homeless. Acute, engrossing, informative — i.e., vintage Orlean. (Simon & Schuster Audio, 12 hours 8 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'Judgment' by Joseph Finder

January LaVoy, gentle-toned mistress of many voices, delivers
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House Audio

January LaVoy, gentle-toned mistress of many voices, delivers a tale of one mistake turning into a deadly progression of bigger ones. Juliana Brody, a Boston judge, has a one-night fling with a man she met after an out-town-conference — and what happened there doesn’t stay there. Juliana is presiding over a case in which a company is being sued for sex discrimination only to discover that the man she slept with is one of its lawyers. Then — no surprise to the veteran listener of thrillers — come blackmail, break-ins, electronic bugging and a couple of murders. Juliana’s desperate attempts to make it all go away seem hopeless, as the deeper she goes, the more sinister the forces she’s pitted against turn out to be. Sex discrimination is nothing at all compared to what’s really at work. (Penguin Audio, 10 hours, 19 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'What You Have Heard Is True' by Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché was a 27-year-old poet and teacher
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House Audio

Carolyn Forché was a 27-year-old poet and teacher in the late 1970s when a charismatic near-stranger appeared at her door with his two young daughters in tow, having driven, he said, all the way from El Salvador. Forché knew of Leonel Gómez Vides through friends but had never met him; over the course of three days he would give her a crash course in Salvadoran history and politics and convince her to come visit the country, then in the grip of a military dictatorship and headed toward civil war. Once there, she wonders what she has gotten herself into. Is Gómez a CIA agent, as some suspect? A rebel sympathizer? In Forché’s mesmerizing account, subtitled “A Memoir of Witness and Resistance,” he is a character out of a Graham Greene novel, one who calls on her to open her eyes, see what is happening and write about what she has seen. Narrated by the author. (Penguin Audio, 12 hours and 17 minutes) — TOM BEER

'Women Talking' by Miriam Toews

It would be easy to believe the young,
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

It would be easy to believe the young, earnest reader of this audiobook (actor Matthew Edison) actually is August Epp, the only male in the hayloft as the women of Molotschna debate their course of action. The men and boys of this isolated Mennonite colony have been drugging and raping them and their children for years; now they are deciding as group whether to stay or go. None can read or write, so they have invited August, recently returned after being outcast years ago, to take minutes of the meeting. The philosophical, spiritual and sociological range of their discussion, its humor and drama, in fact everything about this unusual book (based on true events) is extraordinary. (Recorded Books, 5 hours and 57 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'The Scholar' by Dervla McTiernan

Emma Sweeney, a research scientist working for a
Photo Credit: Blackstone Audio

Emma Sweeney, a research scientist working for a pharmaceutical company out of a laboratory at the National University of Ireland, Galway, comes across a dead, badly mutilated hit-and-run victim carrying an ID card bearing the name Carline Darcy, a student at the university and heir apparent to the company Emma works for. Panicking, Emma phones her boyfriend, Detective Cormac Reilly, and so begins a sequence of blunders. Reilly, already in the doghouse with his superiors, should have excused himself from investigating a crime for which Emma is now a suspect. Too late, perhaps, he hands it over to his colleague, Sergeant Carrie O’Halloran, who has her own can of worms to deal with. That is only the beginning of a suspenseful, wickedly plotted tale of subterfuge, cutthroat careerism and murder, beautifully read by Irish actor Aoife McMahon. (Blackstone, 10 hours and 19 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones

"An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones (HighBridge Audio)
Photo Credit: HighBridge Audio

If you haven't yet read last year's big bestseller and Oprah Book Club pick, its he said/she said structure, voiced by Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis, works particularly well in audio. A preppy black couple from Atlanta, Celestial and Roy, have a run-in with the police while staying at a motel, resulting in Roy's arrest and conviction for a rape he almost certainly did not commit. About a third of the book consists of the letters sent back and forth during Roy's 12 years in prison, and these reveal old stories and family secrets that keep changing your perception of what's going on. Oprah loves books that combine a good story with serious ideas about race, class, and gender — “An American Marriage” is exactly that. (Highbridge, 8 hours and 59 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'Say Nothing' by Patrick Radden Keefe

"Say Nothing" by Patrick Radden Keefe (Random House
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House Audio

Of the many tragedies associated with the armed conflict that consumed Northern Ireland from 1968 to 1998, the fate Jean McConville — a widowed mother of 10 abducted by the IRA in 1972 and never again seen alive — is especially wrenching. Patrick Radden Keefe uses the McConville family’s story as a recurring touchstone in his dramatic account of the “The Troubles,” along with the doings of IRA cadres Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes, and Dolours and Marian Price. The book is an excellent primer on those years, as well as the period since the Good Friday peace agreement, as the Northern Irish reckoned with the legacy of violence and fear. Narrator Matthew Blaney’s brogue transports listeners directly to Belfast. (Random House Audio, 14 hours and 40 minutes) — TOM BEER

'You Think It, I'll Say It' by Curtis Sittenfeld

"You Think It, I'll Say It" by Curtis
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House Audio

In her bestselling debut novel, “Prep,” and ever since, Curtis Sittenfeld has proved herself a genius of insecurity, a hilarious chronicler of the inner workings of the anxious or jealous mind. In this smart, entertaining collection of 10 stories, mostly set in the time of Trump, many of her narrators deal with issues unresolved since adolescence. A lucrative career and a hot husband are little help when one narrator runs into the high school mean girl. A suburban housewife is obsessed with a hugely successful lifestyle celebrity whom she knew at summer camp. The one-time co-presidents of the senior class meet up for dinner; neither forgiving nor forgetting is on the menu. Read by Emily Rankin and Mark Deakins. (Random House Audio, 7 hours and 5 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'Feel Free' by Zadie Smith

"Feel Free" by Zadie Smith (Penguin Audio)
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House Audio

The acclaimed novelist's second essay collection is a real box of bonbons — one delicious piece after another, collected from Harpers, The New Yorker and elsewhere. Topics include Facebook, public libraries, Jay-Z, Key and Peele, Joni Mitchell, the Patrick Melrose novels and more; listening to it is something like binging on a great podcast from a one-woman magazine. Nikki Amuka-Bird's elegant British accent and intonation sounds a lot like the author herself, which is great, but she switches into different voices for the various characters and texts quoted. This type of acting is ever more popular in audiobooks, and some listeners love it; to me it can be distracting, particularly in a nonfiction context. (Penguin Audio, 13 hours and 53 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'Old in Art School' by Nell Painter

"Old in Art School" by Nell Painter (Blackstone
Photo Credit: Blackstone Audio

Dr. Nell Irvin Painter is known primarily as a historian — a Princeton scholar with a PhD from Harvard and the author of such acclaimed books as “The History of White People.” So why, at age 64, make the decision to retire from teaching and go back to school? Well, she wanted to paint. This lively, thoughtful and humorous audiobook — read irresistibly by the author herself — recounts Painter’s experiences at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design, where much younger students viewed her as a curiosity and professors decreed she would never, never be an “Artist.” Concealed within this personable memoir is a stinging art world critique; listeners will root for Painter all the way. (Blackstone Audio, 11 hours) — TOM BEER

‘The Line Becomes a River’ by Francisco Cantú

The U.S.-Mexico border has been the subject of
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

The U.S.-Mexico border has been the subject of countless news stories, but few accounts have the intimacy or immediacy of this one by the grandson of a Mexican immigrant, raised in Arizona, who joined the U.S. Border Patrol in 2008. Part memoir and part historical meditation, it traces Cantú’s growing disenchantment with his service — begun with vague intentions and hopes of understanding the immigration crisis better. Early sections show us the dehumanizing realities of his work. The absorbing final section follows Cantú after leaving the patrol in 2012; he befriends an undocumented immigrant, José, who is separated from his wife and children after returning to Mexico to see his dying mother. José’s story lends this searching book, read with sincerity by Cantú, a beating heart and narrative momentum. (Penguin Audio, 6 hours and 30 minutes) — TOM BEER

‘The Winter Soldier’ by Daniel Mason

Photo Credit: Hachette Book Group, Inc.

“The Winter Soldier” sweeps us away to the Eastern Front of World War I for a tragic love story. Lucius is a nerdy med student from Vienna who has treated only four patients — one for earwax — when he is drafted to a first-aid station at the front. Arriving at a crumbling church in Carpathia, he finds himself being schooled in amputations and lice prevention by a confident, forceful young nun. Written by a professor of psychiatry, the story focuses on the treatment of what we now call PTSD, but was then considered malingering and cowardice. An old-fashioned historical novel of the best sort, it is elegantly narrated by Laurence Dobiesz, an actor whose credentials include a stint on “Outlander.” (Hachette Audio, 11 hours 35 minutes) MARION WINIK

‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

Tara Westover's memoir of her rural Idaho childhood
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Tara Westover’s memoir of her rural Idaho childhood with a deeply paranoid survivalist father — working dangerous shifts in the family junkyard and enduring abuse from an older brother while finding her way to an education at Brigham Young and Cambridge universities — was a national bestseller. The audio edition, read by actress Julia Whelan, acquires another layer of force and drama from her performance; we witness a young woman learning to think for herself and develop her agency — in short, become a person. “Educated” will surely claim its place as a classic of the genre, along with such examples as Jeannette Walls’ “The Glass Castle” and Augusten Burroughs’ “Running With Scissors.” (Random House Audio, 12 hours and 10 minutes) — TOM BEER

‘The Mars Room’ by Rachel Kushner

Romy Hall, the main narrator of
Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster Audio

Romy Hall, the main narrator of “The Mars Room,” is a smart, funny, observant and fascinating woman. All of that she likely has in common with her creator, Rachel Kushner. But Romy Hall is a former lap dancer doing two consecutive life sentences for killing a man by smashing his head in — so it’s particularly interesting to hear her story voiced by the author. The man Romy killed was a regular customer at the Mars Room who became obsessed with her, began stalking her and tracked her down even after she left town to escape him. Romy gives an account of prison life that is both wry and despairing; she could almost stand it, but her separation from her young son is unbearable. She is an unexpectedly endearing character, given added dimension by Kushner’s voice. (Simon and Schuster Audio, 9 hours 41 minutes) — MARION WINIK

‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns

It is the time of the Troubles in
Photo Credit: Dreamscape Media

It is the time of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and an 18-year-old girl we know only as “middle sister,” a girl who loves 19th-century novels and long walks, begins to receive unwanted attention from an older man who is not actually a milkman but a member of the local paramilitary. In her tail-chasing, truth-seeking, endlessly detouring interior monologue, middle sister navigates the pitfalls of ordinary life in her district, divided by religion and politics, drenched in violence, driven by suspicion and rumor. The extraordinary language and rhythm of the sentences is the engine of this Man Booker Prize-winner, and to hear it read in the lyrical brogue of Tony-winner Brid Brennan is incomparably powerful. You might want to listen even if you’ve already read it. (Dreamscape Media, 14 hours and 11 minutes) — MARION WINIK

‘God Save Texas’ by Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright's amiable Texas twang animates his
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Lawrence Wright’s amiable Texas twang animates his “Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State.” Raised in Dallas and a longtime resident of Austin, the author of “The Looming Tower” and “Going Clear” offers an idiosyncratic survey of Texas history, culture and politics, taking in the Alamo and the Kennedy assassination, George W. Bush and Willie Nelson, the apotheosis of conservative politics at the Texas State House and liberal firecrackers like columnist Molly Ivins and former Gov. Ann Richards. Though Wright acknowledges the “legendary qualities of boorishness, braggadocio, greed and overall tackiness associated with my state,” he has an obvious affection for it; even the staunchest of skeptics will be charmed by his bemused tribute. (Random House Audio, 11 hours and 2 minutes) — TOM BEER

‘The Third Wife’ by Lisa Jewell

Adrian's third wife, Maya, has just been hit
Photo Credit: Dreamscape Media

Adrian’s third wife, Maya, has just been hit by a bus, possibly an act of suicide. Thus Adrian’s self-justifying view of his life begins to disintegrate. Wives, past and present, and their children have spent vacations together, but was it all really sweetness and light? Adrian finds ugly emails on Maya’s laptop, clearly the work of someone with intimate knowledge of the family. Jewell slowly excavates the true state of affairs, and the result is a masterful exposure of the undercurrents of a supposedly happy family. Read by Joe Jameson. (Dreamscape Media, 9 hours and 22 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

‘There There’ by Tommy Orange

This debut novel set in Oakland, California, is
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

This debut novel set in Oakland, California, is told through the perspectives of 12 different native characters, all heading toward the Big Oakland Powwow. One is an aspiring documentary filmmaker. One is a boy who has taught himself traditional dance by watching YouTube. Two young men are planning to rob the powwow to pay their off their debt to a drug dealer. Several characters are searching for lost parents, children or grandchildren, and as the narrative unfolds, the listener begins to figure out all the connections among them. The growing sense that something terrible is going to happen at the powwow will keep you glued your audioplayer. Read by Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Cuervo and Kyla Garcia. (Random House Audio, 8 hours) — MARION WINIK

‘The Great Believers’ by Rebecca Makkai

In 1985, Yale Tischman and his boyfriend, Charlie,
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

In 1985, Yale Tischman and his boyfriend, Charlie, are the center of a circle of gay friends in Chicago, both flying high in their careers. But they have just buried their first friend to die of AIDS and now are eyeing one another, wondering who will be next. A second narrative, set in 2015, focuses on the younger sister of that first lost friend. She is in Paris, searching for her estranged daughter, staying with one of the few survivors of the Chicago group. Makkai gets the AIDS material right down to the smallest detail, and brings her intertwined stories to a devastating, painfully beautiful end. Read by Michael Crouch. (Penguin Audio, 18 hours and 17 minutes) — MARION WINIK

‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ by Charles Dickens

There are at least five unabridged audio versions
Photo Credit: Audible

There are at least five unabridged audio versions of Dickens’ exuberantly comic tale of selfishness, greed and exploitation, but this one stands out for its brilliant narration by Derek Jacobi. Novelist William Boyd reads his own introduction, noting that although the book has its faults, it is still “the most sheerly funny of all Dickens’s novels.” Not the least of its joys are two of Dickens’ most inspired scoundrels, the self-styled friend to mankind, Seth Pecksniff, and the ghoulish, bibulous Mrs. Gamp (“Leave the bottle on the chimley piece, and . . . let me put my lips to it when I am so dispoged.” ) (Audible Studios, 41 hours, and 33 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

‘A Well-Behaved Woman’ by Therese Anne Fowler

Set in New York's Gilded Age, this is
Photo Credit: Macmillan Audio

Set in New York’s Gilded Age, this is a fictional account of the life of Alva Smith, daughter of old but impoverished Southern gentry. It is Alva’s duty to repair the family’s fortunes through marriage to money; thus she nabs William Vanderbilt, grandson of the commodore. Shunned as war profiteers by the Knickerbocker elite, the Vanderbilts hope the alliance will redeem them. Much hard-nosed social intrigue follows, after which the novel turns its attention to Alva’s unfulfilling marriage to her playboy husband, her scandalous insistence on a divorce, a subsequent love affair and her eventual campaign for women’s rights. Read by Barrie Kreinik. (Macmillan Audio, 14 hours and 20 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'The Boys in the Boat’ by Daniel James Brown

This true story follows a boy named Joe
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

This true story follows a boy named Joe Rantz from a miserable Depression-era childhood to the rowing team at University of Washington, where he and his teammates — all working-class kids from around the state — fought their way to the national championship, then went on to Berlin to compete in the Olympics against the team rowing for Hitler. In Brown's stirring account, the boys, their coach and the British boat builder who fashioned their shells are unforgettable characters and true heroes. The sport of rowing is evoked in all its physical and metaphysical elegance, the embodiment of all for one and one for all. Read by Edward Herrmann. (Penguin Audio, 14 hours and 24 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'Crazy Rich Asians' by Kevin Kwan

The first audiobook in Kevin Kwan's trilogy, a
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

The first audiobook in Kevin Kwan's trilogy, a hit in print, is a whirling lazy Susan buffet of delights. Kwan’s hilariously detailed studies of the lifestyles and peccadilloes of Singapore billionaires are even better in audio, with gifted narrator Lynn Chen doing all the different American, English and Chinese accents. Kwan is Jane Austen meets Bret Easton Ellis meets Ruth Reichl — he knows his love and money, he knows his designers, and Alamak! (something like Damn! in Malay), can he write about food. You end up desperate to fly to Singapore and hit an open-air food market, then move on to Shanghai for six courses in a private dining room. All the brand names finally became a distraction, but for less fancy readers, there’s an addictive plot development every minute. The series continues with "China Rich Girlfriend" and "Rich People Problems," both available in audiobooks read by Lydia Look. (Random House Audio, 13 hours 53 minutes) — MARION WINIK

 

 

'Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl' by Carrie Brownstein

The audio edition of "Hunger Makes Me a
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House Audio

A memoir is the ultimate type of book to hear read by the author because, of course, it is the writer’s own true story. Of Sleater-Kinney and “Portlandia” fame, Brownstein is a guitarist and songwriter who came up as a fan and fiercely co-opted rock’s all-male “archetypes, stage moves and representations of rebellion and debauchery.” She has insightful things to say not just about rock but about growing up with a closeted gay father and an anorexic mother, about how the creative process works, about the “performance” of the audience at a concert, about the punk aesthetic, even about the value of Christmas ornaments. (Read by the author. Penguin Audio, 7 hours and 4 minutes) — MARION WINIK 

'True Grit' by Charles Portis

The audio edition of "True Grit" by Charles
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Portis’ most famous novel. Set in the 1870s, it tells the action-filled story of iron-willed, hard-bargaining Mattie Ross of Yell County, Arkansas, who, at 14, sets off into Indian Territory to avenge her father’s murder. With her are Marshall Rooster Cogburn, “an old one-eyed jasper,” and LaBoeuf, a foppish Texas Ranger. Mattie describes events from a distance of some 50 years on, and her manner is that of the strict Presbyterian spinster she has become. Tartt’s solemn voice and Portis’ genius combine to deliver an impeccably deadpan style, one filled with as much inadvertent humor as high adventure. (Read by read by Donna Tartt. Recorded Books, 6 hours and 19 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS 

'This Could Hurt' by Jillian Medoff

The audio edition of "This Could Hurt" by
Photo Credit: Harper Audio

This savvy slice of corporate life finds heart and humor in a human resources bureaucracy. When HR chief Rosalita Guerrero has a stroke, the co-workers she has mentored rally around to protect her health benefits and retirement. While some at the company jockey for advancement, others find themselves out on the street. Readers of “This Could Hurt” in print raved about the humorous org charts that precede each section; these are supplied in PDF format to audio listeners because they don’t work when read aloud. On the plus side, the round robin of narrators makes Medoff’s expertly developed characters even more real. (Read by the author and others. Harper Audio, 12 hours and 52 minutes) — MARION WINIK 

'Happiness' by Animatta Forna

The audio edition of "Happiness" by Animatta Forna
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

Actor Robin Miles rises to the challenge of rendering the accents and cadences of several nationalities in this moving, abundantly peopled story. Jean is an American scientist come to London to track the population of urban foxes; Attila is a Ghanaian psychiatrist in London to present a paper on the mental disorders of victims of war. Theirs is the main story, but it comes to involve the lives of many others, including immigrants working menial jobs, each with a history, all banding together to find a missing child. The doings of migrant foxes, parakeets and coyotes create a tale of intersections — not always friendly — between immigrants and natives, humans and nature. (Recorded Books, 13 hours and 9 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS 

'4 3 2 1' by Paul Auster

The audiobook edition of "4 3 2 1"
Photo Credit: Macmillan Audio

Eight hundred fifty pages in print means 37 hours of audio — but listening to “4 3 2 1” in audio is worth the commitment, thanks to the author’s easy-on-the-ears baritone. Auster takes one character, Archie Ferguson, born in Jewish Newark in the 1940s, and tells his story four different ways, each with certain differences in his childhood that lead to four totally different outcomes. In one, his father’s family business is robbed, in another it burns down, in another it’s a wild success. In one of the stories, Archie dies young. Vivid descriptions of various historical events of the 1960s and ’70s abound. (Read by the author. Macmillan Audio, 37 hours) — MARION WINIK 

'The Woman in the Water' by Charles Finch

The audiobook edition of "The Woman in the
Photo Credit: Tantor Audio

Although this is the 11th installment in the adventures of Victorian sleuth Charles Lenox, it is a “prequel” to the series and a fine place to begin. English actor James Langdon narrates the tale in a calm, elegantly tailored voice. It is 1850, and Lenox, 23, has set up house with his valet and assisting investigator, Graham. The two live in the thrall of a formidable housekeeper who is a source of excellent comedy — as is the whole Deuteronomy of what befits a gentleman. The crime to be solved involves dead women found by the River Thames. Members of Scotland Yard — some of the resentful dunderhead class — are on the scene. The investigation involves several twists, and the solution is agreeably diabolic. (Read by James Langton. Tantor Audio, 8 hours and 48 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'Lincoln in the Bardo' by George Saunders

The audiobook edition of George Saunders' "Lincoln in
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Press play on the audio edition of Saunders’ acclaimed first novel, and you’ll enter a teeming netherworld of voices from the other side. They are the voices of ghosts inhabiting the Washington, D.C., graveyard where Abraham Lincoln comes to visit his cherished, newly dead son, Willie. They are voices you’ll recognize: Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader and Megan Mullally (as a foul-mouthed couple), David Sedaris, Julianne Moore, Nick Offerman and Don Cheadle, along with the author and 158 others. They are still alive, sort of, with all their grudges, hopes and feeling for the president as he movingly expresses his unimaginable loss. The author was reportedly delighted to have such a cast bringing his characters to life (so to speak), and you will be, too. (Read by the author, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and a full cast. Random House Audio, 7 hours and 25 minutes.)   — ESTELLE LANDER

'Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI' by David Grann

The audiobook edition of "Killers of the Flower
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Three fine narrators deliver this account of the coldblooded killings of the members of an Osage Indian family in the 1920s, crimes whose investigations were nonexistent or tainted by deep-seated racism. The Osage became millionaires with the discovery of oil under their Oklahoma reservation, making them targets of murderous operators. A sweet-voiced Ann Marie Lee reads the section concerned chiefly with Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who miraculously survived attempts on her life; country-growler Will Patton covers the section on the FBI agent who broke the case; and Danny Campbell finishes as the voice of the author who uncovered further murders. (Read by Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee and Danny Campbell. Random House Audio, 9 hours.)   — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?' by Mindy Kaling

The audiobook edition of Mindy Kaling's "Is Everybody
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Kaling’s big showbiz break — which came when she and her roommate turned their parlor-trick imitation of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon into an avant-garde Off-Broadway show — may be one of the greatest examples of the “follow your bliss” school of career advice you’ll ever encounter. Though serious topics like bullying and body image make an appearance in this fluffy memoir, this is largely a silly, lighthearted collection of stories, lists, and shticks that goes in one ear and out the other, providing giggles along the way. Perfect for road trips with offspring who love “The Office”: B.J. Novak and Michael Schur make cameo appearances. (Read by the author. Random House Audio, 4 hours and 37 minutes.) — MARION WINIK

'A Separation' by Katie Kitamura

The audiobook edition of Katie Kitamura's "A Separation"
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

A chill wind blows through this enigmatic literary mystery, narrated by a woman whose charming but adulterous husband — from whom she has been separated for several months — has disappeared to a Greek village to do research. The wife, read with perfect dispassion by actress Katherine Waterston, checks in at Christopher’s hotel, where the staff quietly seethes with secrets and class resentments and the landscape has been razed by forest fires. Our narrator has resolved to ask Christopher for a divorce, but no one has seen him for days. The wait allows her ample time for reflections on marriage and fidelity, absence and loss. Whodunit readers looking for a neat resolution to the mystery may not be satisfied, but “A Separation” sure succeeds as a mood piece. (Read by Katherine Waterston. Penguin Audio, 6 hours and 53 minutes.) — TOM BEER

'The Sympathizer' by Viet Thanh Nguyen

If François Chau, the narrator of this fictional
Photo Credit: Audible

If François Chau, the narrator of this fictional “confession,” is not a brilliant, tortured, half-Vietnamese operative who went to college in the United States and then worked as a Communist mole in the South Vietnamese top command during the war — then he sure fooled me. The very slight accent and huskiness in Chau’s voice adds an intensity and immediacy to Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which combines an edgy espionage plot with lethally sharp cultural commentary and moments of startling lyricism. Favorite part: when he’s a consultant on an idiotic American film about the war, filmed in the Philippines. (Audible, 13 hours 53 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail' by Cheryl Strayed

At first I was skeptical -- why was
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

At first I was skeptical — why was someone named Bernadette Dunne narrating Cheryl Strayed's account of her life-changing 1,100-mile solo hike and not the author herself? But as I listened, Dunne's voice took over and I was caught up in the drama of this story about a young woman's physical and emotional journey. Now I can't think of Cheryl's ridiculously heavy backpack or those too-small hiking boots — let alone the sensual pleasures of Snapple lemonade — without hearing Dunne's knowing delivery in my head. (Random House Audio, 13 hours.) — TOM BEER

'LaRose' by Louise Erdrich

Perhaps you have heard: This book begins when
Photo Credit: HarperAudio

Perhaps you have heard: This book begins when a man accidentally shoots the 5-year-old son of his neighbor on the border of a North Dakota reservation. That tragic premise unfolds into a rich, knowing, sometimes mystical, often funny story of family, friendship, morality and healing. There is no better way to make sure you don’t miss a nuance of dialogue or description than to hear it in Erdrich’s warm, understated, regionally inflected tones, her voice filled with tenderness for these blighted and beautiful characters. (HarperAudio, 14 hours 37 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain' by Bill Bryson

Some books are better listened to than read,
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

Some books are better listened to than read, and Bryson’s acerbic, slapdash “The Road to Little Dribbling,” narrated by Nathan Osgood, is one. It’s a book to enjoy while doing something else, as its scattershot approach requires little readerly concentration but is abundant in historical tidbits, curmudgeonly wit and inspired fulmination against the plagues of present-day Britain. Among these are litter; cellphone loudmouths; misspelled, ill-punctuated public notices; urban renewal; and cars. Osgood’s sandy-textured voice, at times affable but more often affronted, provides an entertaining, like-minded companion for the listener stuck in traffic. (Random House Audio, 14 hours) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'Beautiful Ruins' by Jess Walter

A wonderful way to reexperience a favorite book
Photo Credit: HarperAudio

A wonderful way to reexperience a favorite book is to listen to the audio edition. Jess Walter’s sweeping, big-hearted novel — about an American actress in Italy for the making of the 1963 film “Cleopatra” and the Italian hotelier who falls for her — was already one of my favorite books of 2012. The audio edition made me love it even more. With its many characters and globetrotting plot, “Beautiful Ruins” is be tailor-made for a cast of readers. But the entire novel is narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, who deftly juggles accents (Italian, Welsh, Scottish) and emotional registers both comic and romantic. Ballerini’s performance is a work of beauty in and of itself. (HarperAudio, 12 hours and 53 minutes) — TOM BEER

'Spook Street' by Mick Herron

Photo Credit: Recorded Books

No one is more gifted than Gerard Doyle in giving voice to crime novels in which irony and black humor abound. He is superb in Herron’s fifth installment in the adventures of the “slow horses,” a group of losers and addicts who make up a pariah section of Britain’s intelligence service lodged in the gloom and decay of Slough House. The plot is a tasty can of worms and enough back story is provided for this novel to stand alone. Doyle maintains disciplined deadpan in conveying the wry humor with which author Mick Herron presents this rum bunch of ne’er-do-wells — and the result is intoxicating. (Read by Gerard Doyle. Recorded Books, 10 hours and 30 minutes.)  — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'Arcadia' by Lauren Groff

This enthralling novel -- the predecessor
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

This enthralling novel — the predecessor to “Fates and Furies,” Groff’s 2015 hit — follows its main character, Bit Stone, from his childhood on a hippie commune in New York State in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, in several jumps to the year 2018. Never setting foot outside Arcadia until his teens, Bit’s world takes the shape of the Grimms' fairy tales he reads at 5: He is struck mute by his mother’s sadness, he is lost in a snowy forest, he is caught up in the dramas that rage in the land, complete with potions, midwives and a power-drunk king. The narrator is Andrew Garman, whose understated reading style works perfectly with Lauren Groff’s gorgeous prose. (Recorded Books, 11 hours 8 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' by Neil Gaiman

Listening to Neil Gaiman read "The Ocean at
Photo Credit: Harper Audio

Listening to Neil Gaiman read "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," I stopped every so often to remind myself that this was the voice of the man who had actually written the novel — a first in my audiobook consumption, and it brought another level to the experience. The fantasy — and to be sure, this story involves a "willing suspension of disbelief" — seemed easier to accept hearing it from the guy who actually thought up such frightening creatures (a monster in the form of a nanny — what could be more terrifying than that?) (HarperAudio, 5 hours 48 minutes) — BARBARA SCHULER

'Eligible' by Curtis Sittenfeld

You'll look forward to traffic jams if you've
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

You’ll look forward to traffic jams if you’ve got this delicious “Pride and Prejudice” update to listen to, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, one of the voices on the award-winning audio of “The Help.” Transporting the Bennett family and their supporting characters to Cincinnati, giving them a reality TV show and modern complications galore, Sittenfeld doesn’t sacrifice the heart-throbbing energy of the love story. Oh, Liz! Oh, Darcy! (Random House Audio, 13 hours 22 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls' by Anton DiSclafani

This girls'-school-gothic debut novel set in the 1930s
Photo Credit: Handout

This girls'-school-gothic debut novel set in the 1930s South takes flight like a stallion over a high jump thanks to a brilliant reading by Adina Verson, lately of Yale Drama School. As thrilling an invention as the unfurling plot is the narrator herself — fearless, selfish, singularly powerful 15-year-old from a Florida citrus farm, whose erotic awakening rocks first her family and then the boarding school for debutantes to which she is exiled. (Penguin Audio, 11 hours 36 minutes) — MARION WINIK

‘The Wright Brothers’ by David McCullough

How much do you really know about the
Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

How much do you really know about the Wright brothers? There’s more to the Dayton, Ohio, bicycle mechanics than the groundbreaking 1903 airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. David McCullough’s book puts their story — one of thoughtful study, rigorous scientific experimentation and calm persistence, founded on sober Midwestern values — into sharper focus. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian brings to his account an attention to detail and no-nonsense tone that Wilbur (born 1867) and Orville (1871) themselves would have admired. That tone comes through clearly on the audiobook, narrated by the author, sounding like a professor emeritus at perfect ease with his material. (Simon & Schuster Audio, 10 hours 2 minutes) — TOM BEER

'Room' by Emma Donoghue

This powerful bestseller was read by the ensemble
Photo Credit: Hachette Audio

This powerful bestseller was read by the ensemble of Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff and Suzanne Toren. The late Friedman, a woman in her 40s, read the part of 5-year-old Jack so convincingly that I found myself uttering words of comfort to the fictional little boy whose world is defined by the room where he and his mother are held captive. Friedman died after delivering healthy twins in 2011, an irony almost too painful to bear. (Little, Brown and Company; 11 hours) — MARJORIE ROBINS

'Nobody's Fool' by Richard Russo

Set in the fictional town of North Bath,
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Set in the fictional town of North Bath, New York — a blue-collar backwater whose prospects dried up with its hot springs years ago — this big-hearted comedy from 1993 zeros in on Russo’s signature demographic: misfits, cranks, losers and dreamers fallen on hard times. Donald Sullivan, known as Sully, is a construction worker and practical joker dealing with a bum knee, a crumbling love affair, many longstanding feuds and frenemies, and a boomerang child who has left his wife and come home to plague his own divorced parents. Dangling over everyone is the dazzling possibility that a new theme park will be built on the edge of town and revive its prospects. As poor as they may be, you won’t want to leave North Bath when the book is over. The good news is you won’t have to — there’s a sequel, “Everybody’s Fool.” (Random House Audio, 24 hours 16 minutes) — MARION WINIK

"The Mirror Thief' by Martin Seay

You get Venice served three ways in this
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

You get Venice served three ways in this dizzying debut novel with a trio of linked stories and echoes of “Cloud Atlas,” “The Name of the Rose” and “The Goldfinch.” The mirror thief of the title is Crivano — a 16th century alchemist who has come to Venice to steal the closely guarded secret of mirror making. In the second story, Crivano’s tale is the subject of “The Mirror Thief” — a fictional book of poems that is the obsession of teenage Stanley Glass, a juvenile delinquent running boardwalk scams in Venice, California, in the 1950s. And in the novel’s framing story, set in 2003, a retired Marine named Curtis Stone searches Las Vegas — and its Venetian Hotel, of course — for Glass, now an old man involved in an elaborate casino heist. There’s a lot to keep track of — including criminal plots and metaphysical considerations of mirror images — but narrator Edoardo Ballerini, a master of accents, delivers it all with infectious brio. (Recorded Books, 22 hours 1 minute) — TOM BEER

'The City of Mirrors' by Justin Cronin

Bereft. That's me after finishing the final book
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

Bereft. That’s me after finishing the final book in Cronin’s vampire (here known as “virals”) trilogy. I will sorely miss these intricate, intriguing characters, having had a six-year relationship with the complex work that started in 2010 with “The Passage.” With four years between the second book, “The Twelve,” and this last one, the story was at first tough to recall, which explains the biblical-like prologue recounting the tale thus far. Narrated by Scott Brick, the book — a love story, really — time-travels with no regard for chronological order, from Harvard in the present day to some thousand years after the virals were at last destroyed. Or were they? Cronin leaves just a hint of doubt, which translates to a lingering hope that maybe, just maybe, Cronin will return here someday. (Random House Audio, 29 hours 30 minutes) — BARBARA SCHULER

'The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York' by Robert A. Caro

Combine former Newsday reporter Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Combine former Newsday reporter Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning opus with Robertson Dean's narration and you have an audiobook that keeps you enthralled for its 66-plus-hour duration. At first awed by the accomplishments of this unelected "master builder" (responsible for Long Island's parkways and multiple New York City bridges), by the end I saw Robert Moses as an intolerant, manipulative, close-minded genius. The bonus was learning much I didn't know about the history of Long Island and New York State along the way. (Random House Audio, 66 hours 11 minutes) — RONNIE GILL

'Even This I Get to Experience' by Norman Lear

TV writer-producer extraordinaire Norman Lear, now in his
Photo Credit: Penguin Audio

TV writer-producer extraordinaire Norman Lear, now in his 90s, has talent, humor, insight and candor that match his longevity. Just as his ’70s sitcoms (“All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “Maude”) hooked the nation, his autobiography engages listeners with stories of his charming but frequently felonious father, a model for Archie Bunker; his World War II flying missions over Europe; his three wives and six children (born 48 years apart); his political and social activism and, of course, the string of hits that changed television. (Penguin Audio, 19 hours) — ANN SILVERBERG

'The Light of the World' by Elizabeth Alexander

It is the rare grief memoir that one
Photo Credit: Hachette Audio

It is the rare grief memoir that one can recommend to people struggling with their own losses. But even the title of this exquisitely written book, one of Newsday’s Best Books of 2015 and a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, tells something of its true subject — which is love and beauty, more than loss and grief. Hearing poet Elizabeth Alexander (known for reading at President Obama’s first inauguration) tell in her clear, warm, deeply intelligent voice the story of her adored husband Fichre’s sudden death a few days after his 50th birthday somehow feels like receiving a blessing. The audio comes with a PDF of the late artist/chef’s delicious-sounding recipes. (Hachette Audio, 4 hours) — MARION WINIK

'Accelerated' by Bronwen Hruska

An ADD-medication conspiracy is killing third graders at
Photo Credit: Blackstone Publishing

An ADD-medication conspiracy is killing third-graders at an elite Manhattan private school. Narrator Mauro Hantman's nice-young-guy delivery works well for the main character, Sean Benning, a photo editor at a celebrity tabloid whose kid is nearly a victim, but the piece de resistance is Hantman's imitation of Bill Clinton in a party scene. Commercial fiction full of knowing New York status details — a temporary cure for adult ADD? (Blackstone Publishing, 10 hours 36 minutes).  — MARION WINIK

'Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World' by Matthew Goodman

In 1889, the New York World sent scrappy
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

In 1889, the New York World sent scrappy reporter Nellie Bly traveling east from New York while The Cosmopolitan magazine's Elizabeth Bisland headed west, racing each other in an attempt to circle the globe in fewer than 80 days. As these trailblazers faced the vagaries of train, steamship and ferry travel, Käthe Mazur's narration offered a picture window on international ports, stunt journalism and budding feminism. (Random House Audio, 18 hours 57 minutes) — ANN SILVERBERG

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