writer, teacher, traveler, and lazy gardener

Tag: audiobooks

Prick Up Your Ears

For you audiobook lovers, here are some recent standouts. I’m recommending them not just because the stories are engaging, fascinating, and heartrending. They have so much more going on in the form of using multiple narrators! Now I’ve written before about how a mediocre narrator can sink an otherwise wonderful story. Where these three audiobooks shine is in the casting of a distinct and skillful voice talent for each character. This not only adds to the character’s point of view, it enhances the storytelling, and practically quadruples the entertainment value!

My latest favorites:

2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

In the year 2140, global warming has caused the polar ice caps to melt thus raising coastal water levels by 50 feet. Portions of New York City are underwater and what remains is now an intricate canal system, like a “super Venice.” Well-heeled New Yorkers now live in skyscrapers and the less fortunate squat in crumbling, water-logged structures from midtown to Battery Park. The cast of ten characters weave a story that mixes socioeconomic commentary, technological foreshadowing with plenty of sardonic New York attitude. I’d say the book is more futurist fiction than science fiction. The narrators are stellar and bring lots of humor to this watery world.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Where are multiple narrators best suited? In an epistolary novel, of course! Shaffer and Barrows’s story is centered around a smart and spirited heroine, and the formidable members of a book group (of the title) formed during the WWII German occupation of the Isle of Guernsey–located in the English Channel. The tale is told in moving detail about the impact of the occupation on the characters’ lives through a series of letters. There’s lots of history, drama, charm, and romance, rendered with nuance by a strong cast. The Netflix movie is pretty captivating too.


Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

This one really falls into the sci-fi category. The first novel of a trilogy, the series is about a community–the ancestors of an expedition from Earth–that live on a sunless planet. They long for the day when they’ll be rescued and returned “home” to Earth. Beckett has created a fascinating world of mythmaking and language — where the audiobook really excels! Narrators perform with various British accents indicating class structures as well as clever wordplay to depict this future-primitive planet.


If you have any audiobook recommendations with lots of narrators, let me know!


Narrators: They Can Make or Break a Story

Audiobooks are God’s gift to multitaskers. The slogan “When your hands are busy and your mind is free” couldn’t be more apt. I listen to them frequently when cooking, gardening and while photo editing. For the past several years, listening to an audiobook has become my go-to sleeping aid. I pop in my earphones, the narration begins and a few minutes later I’m snoozing away. I’m sure my hearing is suffering a bit, and I often wake with cords wrapped around my neck, but I’ve come to rely, if not look forward to, having someone “read” me a bedtime story.

Sometimes a narrator is ill suited to the task. I’ve found mediocre ones can sink a terrific story. I ditch that audiobook fast. An exceptional narrator can add vocal shadings and emphasis, elevating a story to new, enjoyable heights.

Here are some of my favorites:

Juliet StevensonBritish actress Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply, Bend It Like Beckham) is such a narrator. She reads Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. The story itself is epic, wondrous and rich with characters and botanical details. What Stevenson adds is simply incredible. She can do English, Dutch and American accents. She even speaks Tahitian! Her reading is filled with emotion, subtlety and humor. Pairing Stevenson with this historical novel was a sublime choice. I now must listen to everything she’s narrated.

British actor Nathaniel Parker known for playing the lead in the Inspector Lynley Mysteries is hugely entertaining in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. Like Stevenson he can do all the regional English accents, Scottish, Irish, Russian, and more. He can deftly turn a phrase, has wicked comic timing and performs with gusto. He narrates all the books except for a middle one in the series. I assumed he wasn’t available at the time because he was off “chasing murderers” with DS Havers on the Moors. He returned for the final book and all was right in my Artemis-Fowl-listening universe.

Authors don’t usually make great narrators but Bill Bryson is an exception. His continental accent formed by living in the U.K. and the U.S. adds to the “fish out of water” theme prevalent in many of his books. While his writing and observations are already wry, his sly verbal articulation contributes to the humor. Some of my favorites are At Home: A Short History of the Private Life, In a Sunburned Country and A Walk in the Woods.

I just have to mention Jim Dale. Another British narrator … detecting a theme here? He’s renowned and beloved for narrating the Harry Potter books. Like all great narrators, he’s expressive, versatile and has the ability to give a performance that can create a lump in your throat and make you giggle with joy.

Lastly, there’s actor/narrator David Pittu. I think my opinion of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch would’ve been less favorable if I had read it. Like others, my patience tested, I would’ve skimmed through big chunks of the novel’s 783 pages. However, the audiobook was a different experience.  Pittu made the story come alive. Especially the character Boris—Tartt’s Russian Artful Dodger. When Boris exited the book for a time, my interest waned. But when the character returned along with Pittu’s spirited reading of Boris, I kept with it. I came to really appreciate and admire the novel. Here’s an example of how a good narrator can actually mitigate some of a book’s flaws.

Happy reading … or should I say, listening!

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