This past year was another landmark in the audiobook world, with growth in sales and the number of new titles. As more readers convert to listening, more local and national news outlets are offering audiobook reviews and bestseller lists. Just last month, the New York Times declared audiobooks “one of the breakout creative mediums of the year.” PW has been reviewing audiobooks for over two decades, so we are well aware of the special pleasures of the format. But the task of picking the best grows more challenging each year, as more is published, and increasing variety comes to the format. Of the 250-plus audiobooks we reviewed in 2015, here are our favorites.
Delicious Foods: A Novel by James Hannaham, read by the author (Hachette Audio)
Hannaham proves to be just as savvy a voice actor as he is an author, bringing his story to life in the audio edition of his latest literary tome, which is told from the perspective of a character who is literally the voice of crack personified.
Dragonfish by Vu Tran, read by Tom Taylorson and Nancy Wu (Blackstone Audio)
Actors Taylorson and Wu capture the emotional thrill ride of this debut crime novel from Tran.
Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link, read by a full cast (Random House Audio)
Nine audiobook vets take turns narrating the stories in Link’s haunting collection. There isn’t a bad performance.
Icarus by Deon Meyer, trans. from the Afrikaans by K.L. Seeger, read by Simon Vance (HighBridge Audio)
The most amazing thing about Vance’s narration is the way his forceful, crystal-clear, formal pronunciation of the procedural information gives way to the hard street voices of the fully dimensional detectives, in South African author Meyer’s excellent fifth novel featuring Benny Griessel of Cape Town’s Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations.
Mort(e) by Robert Repino, read by Bronson Pinchot (Blackstone Audio)
Pinchot delivers a sterling performance in this mind-bending dystopian tale about a household cat turned ruthless revolutionary soldier.
Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (Random House Audio)
McCann masters the rhythms of his own language in the novella and three short stories that comprise this collection.
The Tournament by Matthew Reilly, read by Katie Firth (S&S Audio)
Firth’s vocal expertise is on full display in this vivacious trip to the world’s first international chess tournament, in 16th-century Constantinople, complete with murders, political and religious intrigues, and the assorted opulence and decadence of Sultan Suleiman’s Ottoman Empire.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, read by the author (Random House Audio)
Coates, a national correspondent at the Atlantic, delivers a mesmerizing, must-listen performance in this audio edition of his powerful meditation on race in America.
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola, read by the author (Hachette Audio)
Hepola provides a gritty, no-nonsense reading for the audio edition of her memoir, which includes a shocking recording of the author at age 13 discussing a sexual experience with an 18-year-old.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the ‘Lusitania’ by Erik Larson, read by Scott Brick (Random House Audio)
Brick’s measured voice is a soothing counterweight to Larson’s tragic recounting of the 1915 sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania by a German U-boat.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson, read by the author (Macmillan Audio)
Lawson delivers a roller-coaster ride of a performance that elicits wickedly uproarious laughter and heartfelt emotional catharsis in the audio edition of her latest personal essay collection.
A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power by Paul Fischer, read by Stephen Park (Random House Audio)
Park successfully navigates Fischer’s entertaining nonfiction narrative about an early episode in the North Korea’s movie-obsessed crown prince Kim Jong-Il’s tyrannical career.
The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal by Hubert Wolf, trans. from the German by Ruth Martin, read by Paul Boehmer (Tantor Audio)
Boehmer’s performance in this audio edition is nothing short of fantastic. His rhythmic execution of this sordid true tale of indecency, false saints, and murder within a 19th-century convent in Rome is almost hypnotic.
The Seven Good Years: A Memoir by Etgar Keret, trans. from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston et al., read by Alex Karpovsky (Macmillan Audio)
Karpovsky, a prolific young actor best known for his role in HBO’s Girls, brings tremendous attention to detail and emotional depth to Israeli fiction writer Keret’s memoir.
The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, read by Colby Minifie (Listening Library)
Actress Minifie’s audio performance of Fowley-Doyle’s debut YA novel is spot-on. Her lyrical, youthful brogue is a perfect match for protagonist Cara Morris, an Irish teen whose family—including single mom, slightly older sister Alice, and step-brother Sam—becomes particularly susceptible to accidents once a year during the month of October.
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith, read by MacLeod Andrews (Listening Library)
MacLeod performs amazing vocal gymnastics in the audio edition of Smith’s YA tale, creating voices that are frightened, bold, cocky, confident, confused, charming, formal, warm, and dangerous. Listeners will easily find themselves immersed in the story.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, read by Kirby Heyborne and Ariadne Meyers (Brilliance Audio)
Meyers and Heyborne do an outstanding job infusing their performances with sentiment and warmth while also nailing the comic notes, lightening the mood in the audio edition of Niven’s teen love story.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, read by Euan Morton (Macmillan Audio)
Morton switches effortlessly back and forth between the voices of the two protagonists in the audio edition of Rowell’s YA novel. He’s just as impressive when rendering the many secondary characters. The result is nothing short of magical.
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, read by multiple narrators, music by Corky Siege (Scholastic Audio)
It’s hard to imagine a better way to experience this story than in the audiobook format. Music infuses the entire plot line; the characters are cellists, pianists, conductors, and singers, and they attend orchestras and have chamber concerts in their homes.