This year's new-kid-on-the-block was Galaxy Audio, which began releasing its ambitious series of Stories from the Golden Age audiobooks in July. These full-cast recordings (with music and sound effects) brought a number of L. Ron Hubbard vintage pulp fiction titles to life at an economical price ($9.99 for a two-CD production). The company has already completed production on more than 80 Hubbard tales to be released over the new few years.

The April 2008 release of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes II marked a huge achievement for Naxos Audio: it completed the task of bringing every word Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes to audio. Narrator David Timson began the project 10 years ago and, after 57 stories, four novels and 60 CDs, he finished up with the final six stories Doyle wrote featuring Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Although we've narrowed the best audio releases of 2008 to four titles, our additional lists of the finest releases in various categories show what a strong year it was for audiobooks.

The Four Best Audios of 2008

The Chopin Manuscript by Jeffery Deaver and others, read by Alfred Molina. (Brilliance)

Deaver and 14 other mystery writers each contributed a chapter to create this audio-only production for After a year available as download-only (and winning an Audie for Audiobook of the Year), Brilliance released it into retail markets in November.

PWon Molina: “Alfred Molina's excellent reading matches the novel's breakneck pacing, while he smoothly portray numerous characters of diverse ethnicity and gender.”

Alfred Molina on Chopin: “Reading The Chopin Manuscript was a great deal of fun. Firstly, it was a very dense and complex plot, full of twists and turns. The story was intelligent and demanded something from us, the readers. Secondly, the structure was constantly taking one by surprise. Under normal circumstances, when you read a book, you begin to tune in to the writer's rhythm with each chapter. It's part of the joy of reading. However, with Chopin, each chapter was like a U-turn in my head. It kept me on my toes both as a reader and narrator. A new “voice,” as it were, was required for each new chapter, as the next writer made his or her presence felt.”

Lush Life by Richard Price, read by Bobby Cannavale. (Macmillan)

“Bobby Cannavale is a very fine actor, and he really understands these characters,” said Garet Scott, who produced the Lush Life audio. “Only rarely do a book and a reader complement one another so completely. To me, this is an even better audiobook than book; and it's a great book.”

PWon Cannavale: “He adds dimension and surprisingly subtle touches to all of Price's already rich characters.... Cannavale delivers Price's sometimes mind-boggling slanguages (including cop-speak, Ebonics and a sort of restaurateur rap) as smoothly, effortlessly and clearly as an expertly trained Old Vic thespian interprets lines from the Bard.”

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, read by Richard Poe. (Recorded Books)

When Oprah Winfrey chose Wroblewski's debut as a book club pick, she told her audience, “It is so engaging, so gripping, so epic that I wanted absolutely everybody to share the joy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.”

PWon Poe: “Poe brings the story to life with such ease that listeners will forget they aren't actually reading the book. This is an instant classic that will resonate for years to come.”

Richard Poe on Sawtelle: “David's book was a joy to read because I could feel the Wisconsin ground under my feet. He so thoroughly and accurately imagined his world, all I had to do was dwell in it. From high drama to the everyday, each scene rang true.”

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris, read by the author. (Hachette)

Sedaris first caught the public's attention reading his work on NPR. Since then, he continues to hone his writing by reading his pieces aloud on cross-country tours twice a year. “David's writing process is intricately bound up with performance and the spoken word; the interplay between these two areas is incredibly fruitful for both him and his publishers at Hachette Audio and Little, Brown,” said Maja Thomas, Hachette Audio senior v-p, who's produced and directed all of Sedaris's audiobooks. On March 31, he embarks on a 32-city tour. Engulfed just earned Sedaris his third Grammy nomination.

PWon Sedaris: “Sedaris's sparkling essays always shimmer more brightly when read aloud by the author. And his expert timing, mimicry and droll asides are never more polished than during live performances in front of an audience.”

Fiction37 by Maria Beaumont, read by Kate Reading. (Blackstone)America, America by Ethan Canin, read by Robertson Dean. (Random House)The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, read by Christopher Evan Welch. (HarperAudio)Bleeding Kansas by Sara Paretsky, read by Susan Ericksen. (Brilliance)Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey, read by Ben Foster. (HarperAudio)Cadillac Orpheus by Solon Timothy Woodward, read by Dion Graham. (HighBridge)The Cure for Modern Life by Lisa Tucker, read by Scott Brick. (Brilliance)The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, read by Lincoln Hoppe. (Random House)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, read by Martin Wenner. (Random House)The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, read by Michael Boatman. (HarperAudio)The Golden Age by Tahmima Anam, read by Madhur Jafrey. (HarperAudio)Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, read by Susan Denaker. (Christian Audio)Home by Marilynne Robinson, read by Maggi-Meg Reed. (Macmillan)The Labrador Pact by Matt Haig, read by Simon Jones. (HighBridge)Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts, read by Cassandra Morris. (Hachette)More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss, read by Arthur Morey. (Penguin)Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, read by Jefferson Mays. (Recorded Books)Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons, read by Jane Alexander. (Hachette)PW said: “An example of how a good novel can become magnificent when it is beautifully told.”The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte, read by Simon Vance. (Random House)The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, read by Kathleen McInerney and Peter Francis James. (HarperAudio)The Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer, read by Roger Allam. (Macmillan)Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen, read by Maggi-Meg Reed. (HighBridge)The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, read by Wanda McCaddon. (Blackstone)Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk, read by Todd McLaren. (Tantor)The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer, read by S. Epatha Merkerson. (Macmillan)Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley, read by Anne Heche. (Hachette)The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, read by John Lee. (Tantor)Classics
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes II by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by David Timson. (Naxos)
Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie, read by Hugh Fraser. (BBC Audiobooks America)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, read by Oliver Ford Davies. (Naxos)
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by Glen McCready. (Naxos)
Native Son by Richard Wright, read by Peter Francis James. (Caedmon)
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, read by David Timson. (Naxos)
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White, read by Neville Jason. Naxos.
PW said: “Its humor, intellect and playfulness feel as contemporary as a Harry Potter novel.”
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, read by Hugh Laurie. (CSA Word)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, read by Juliet Stevenson. (Naxos)
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, read by Campbell Scott. (Caedmon)
Fun Fiction
Celebutantes by Amanda Goldberg and Ruthanna Khalighi Hooper, read by Gigi Bermingham. (HighBridge)
PW said: “Fans of Ugly Betty and The Devil Wears Prada provide a natural audience for this entertaining production.”
The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum, read by Ariadne Meyers. (Random House)
Remember Me? By Sophie Kinsella, read by Charlotte Parry. (Random House)
Secrets of a Shoe Addict by Beth Harbison, read by Orlagh Cassidy. (Macmillan)
Wedding Belles by Haywood Smith, read by Cynthia Darlow. (Macmillan)
The Black Tower by Louis Bayard, read by Simon Vance. (Blackstone)
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, read by Susan Jameson. (Hachette)
The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters. Read by Simon Vance. (Tantor)
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, read by Dennis Boutsikaris. (Hachette)
Death Was the Other Woman by Linda L. Richards, read by Joyce Bean. (Brilliance)
PW said: “Thanks to the brisk, upbeat narration, this is a lark you won't want to miss.”
Exit Music by Ian Rankin, read by James MacPherson. (Hachette)
Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich, read by Lorelei King. (Macmillan)
The Goliath Bone by Mickey Spillane with Max Allan Collins, read by Stacy Keach. (Blackstone)
Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear, read by Orlagh Cassidy. (Macmillan)
L.A. Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker, read by David Colacci and Susan Ericksen. (Brilliance)
The Lemur by Benjamin Black, read by John Keating. (Macmillan)
The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat. (Recorded Books)
Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell, read by Tim Curry. (Random House)
The Private Patient by P.D. James, read by Rosalyn Landor. (Random House)
The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black, read by Timothy Dalton. (Macmillan)
Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie, read by Simon Vance. (Tantor)
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Anathem by Neal Stephenson, read by William Dufris and others. (Macmillan)
PW said: “This audiobook goes the extra mile... a delight for the ears.”
Dreaming Void by Peter Hamilton, read by John Lee. (Tantor)
Hellstrom's Hive by Frank Herbert, read by Scott Brick. (Tantor)
The Incredible Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson, read by Yuri Rasovsky. (Blackstone)
A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire, read by John McDonough. (HarperAudio)
Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, read by Scott Brick. (Macmillan)
The Tangle Box by Terry Brooks, read by Dick Hill. (Brilliance)
Boots on the Ground Before Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman by Mary Tillman. (Tantor)
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken. (Hachette)
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. (Random House)
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews. (Hyperion)
PW said: “Her performance represents a shining achievement in vocal quality.”
Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter by Sidney Poitier. (HarperAudio)
The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan. (HarperAudio)
The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. (HarperAudio)
A Mercy by Toni Morrison. (Random House)
No Man's Land: A Memoir by Ruth Fowler. (Penguin)
The Other Great Depression by Richard Lewis. (Phoenix)
The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg. (Random House)
A Remarkable Mother by Jimmy Carter. (Simon & Schuster)
Up Till Now: The Autobiography by William Shatner. (Macmillan)
At First Sight by Stephen J. Cannell, read by Scott Brick. (Brilliance)
Blue Heaven by C.J. Box, read by John Bedford Lloyd. (Macmillan)
Duma Key by Stephen King, read by John Slattery. (Simon & Schuster)
Every Which Way But Dead by Kim Harrison, read by Marguerite Gavin. (Tantor)
PW said: “A cross between The Sopranos and Dracula with lots of Sex and the City on the side.”
The Finder by Colin Harrison, read by Jason Culp. (Macmillan)
Moonraker by Ian Fleming, read by Simon Vance. (Blackstone)
Sail by James Patterson and Howard Roughan, read by Dylan Baker and Jennifer Van Dyck. (Hachette)
The Whole Truth by David Baldacci, read by Ron McLarty. (Hachette)
Call Me Ted by Ted Turner, read by the author and others. (Hachette)
Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History by Ted Sorensen, read by the author. (HarperAudio)
Inheriting the Trade by Thomas Norman DeWolf, read by the author. (Brilliance)
John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman, read by Graeme Malcolm. (HarperAudio)
Lets Face It by Kirk Douglas, read by Jason Alexander. (Blackstone)
Standing Tall by C. Vivian Stringer, read by Karen Chilton. (Random House)
Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir, read by Rosalyn Landor. (Brilliance)
Too Fat to Fish by Artie Lange, read by the author and others. (Random House)
PW said: “One of the funniest and most touching readings audio fans are likely to hear all year.”
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari, read by Mirron Willis. (Random House)
Waiter Rant by the Waiter, read by Dan John Miller. (Brilliance)
Full Cast/Multiple Voices
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, read by Rebecca Lowman, Arthur Morey and others. (Random House)
The Good Rat by Jimmy Breslin, read by Richard M. Davidson with Richard Mover and Kaipo Schwab. (BBC Audiobooks America)
The Great Secret by L. Ron Hubbard, read by Bruce Boxleitner and a full cast. (Galaxy)
PW said: “A wonderfully rich and textured experience, complete with realistic sound effects and moody atmospheric music.”
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barlow, read by Paul Boehmer, Juliet Mills and others. (Random House)
Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw, read by Kate Burton, Roger Rees and others. (L.A. Theatre Works)
Othello by William Shakespeare, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan McGregor and others. (Naxos)
Poe's Children: The New Horror: An Anthology, edited by Peter Straus, read by John Lee and others. (Random House)
Selected Shorts: Wondrous Women, read by Holly Hunter, Marian Seldes, Harold Gould and others. (Symphony Space)
Spy Killer by L. Ron Hubbard, read by Lori Jablons and others. (Galaxy)
Testimony by Anita Shreve, read by Ellen Archer and others. (Hachette)
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley, read by the author. (Penguin)
PW said: “Crosley's dry, ironic narration is the perfect match for her collection.”
Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black, read by the author. (Penguin)
The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Raising Children for Fun & Profit by Jill Conner Browne, read by the author. (Brilliance)
Things I've Learned from Women Who've Dumped Me by Ben Karlin, read by Stephen Colbert, Dan Savage, Larry Whitmore and others. (Hachette)
Why We Suck by Denis Leary, read by the author. (Penguin)
The Bush Tragedy by Jacob Weisberg, read by Robertson Dean. (Blackstone)
Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind, read by Phil Gigante. (Brilliance)
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind, read by Dick Hill. (Brilliance)
Homo Politicus by Dana Milbank, read by Johnny Heller. (Tantor)
Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman, read by Oliver Wyman. (Macmillan)
Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris, read by Lloyd James. (Tantor)
PW said: “This outstanding audio is intriguing, lively, entertaining and educational.”
The Slaves' War by Andrew Ward, read by Richard Allen. (Tantor)
Take Back Your Family: A Challenge to America's Parents by Rev. Run and Justine Simmons, read by the authors. (Penguin)
Taking on the Trust by Steve Weinberg, read by Pam Ward. (Blackstone)