Tag Archives: novels

Collected Audiobook Recommendations 2019

My deep dive into audiobooks in 2018 and newly found appreciation for this format has continued ever since. I am still listening to recorded books almost on a daily basis during my commute to work. Besides obvious benefits like the pleasure of reading, I can strongly recommend this as a daily routine, whether this is to get energized and sharpen your mind in the morning or to clear your head and relax after work. Below are the collected short reviews of all my “reads” in recent months in chronological order, most of which were already posted on social media throughout the year. As you can see, the list is heavy on fantasy novels. While I return to Neil Gaiman frequently, my highlights during the past year were two trilogies: I immensely enjoyed listening to His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I hope some of the titles below might inspire you to pick up an (audio)book, too, and immerse yourself in a great story!

“What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk. We need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, an experience that is going to be unlike anyone elseā€™s experience of the story.”

Neil Gaiman, Introduction to “Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances”

Startdust – Neil Gaiman

Another wonderful fantasy novel (and audiobook narration) by Neil Gaiman! If you haven’t touched his books yet, this would be a good one to start with – along with Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

Robin’s Sloan style in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was sometimes a bit too casual for my taste, but I still very much liked the story, in particular for its bookish setting and the involvement of (digital) libraries as a major part of the plot. Ari Fliakos does a great job as the narrator of the audiobook.

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

If you like fantasy, try Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass). I recently listened to all three audiobooks which are perfectly narrated by the author and a full cast. The fascinating story, its beautiful varying settings and characters kept me captivated for more than 30 hours!

The Magicians – Lev Grossman

The Magicians books (The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land) are a fascinating – and at times quite gritty – take on magic in a real world setting. The underlying story takes some time to unfold, but I absolutely enjoyed the trilogy from beginning to end. Mark Bramhall as the narrator is a perfect fit for the books. The TV series based on the novels is also worth watching!

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances – Neil Gaiman

I rarely read short stories, but will always make an exception for those of Neil Gaiman whose work I admire. The compiled stories in this collection all share Neil’s brilliant writing and are wonderfully inventive. Most of them include some kind of uncanny element, several times connected to an unexpected twist in the story. I enjoyed the entire collection, but if I had to pick one favorite, it would be “The Sleeper and the Spindle”. This story combines the classic fairytales of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, but does this in surprising ways by playing with the reader’s expectations and even introducing an element of horror.

What I love about Neil Gaiman apart from his fiction is how much he self-reflects on his profession, his work and those of the writers that have influenced him. He is sharing a lot of this in the introduction including background information to all stories appearing in the book (I recommend revisiting this part after you have finished the collection). As always, it is a pleasure to listen to him performing his own text.

Odd and the Frost Giants – Neil Gaiman

A charming little tale for readers of all ages of a young Viking boy encountering three prominent Norse gods in need of help. No previous knowledge is required to follow the story, but having recently listened to Neil’s take on Norse Mythology definitely added to my enjoyment of Odd and the Frost Giants.

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

The Testaments is a worthy sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale, providing more insights into life and power structures in Gilead. I really liked the dramaturgic development of the story that slowly weaves together three personal narratives into one overarching plot. This is transferred really well into the audiobook with three different narrators that fit perfectly in with their roles. I am really curious now to take a look at the TV series!

My new love for audiobooks – Seven lessons learned

In the beginning of last year, I tried something new and started listening to audiobooks during my daily commute to work. What began as an experiment, soon became routine. Over the course of the year I finished fourteen titles of various genres and authors and the list still keeps growing since then. In this post, I would like to share a few takeaways from this experience, including recommendations on authors and titles I particularly enjoyed, reflections on the joy of listening to audiobooks, and finally some thoughts on why and when audiobooks might be worth looking into for you.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors.

I had already suspected it from an earlier encounter with The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but now I know for sure: Neil Gaiman belongs to my favorite authors. The past year gave me the opportunity to catch up with many of his works that had been on my reading wishlist for a long time. Most of his novels can be described as fantasy, often with a dark touch and set in a real-world scenario. They are fairytales for younger and older readers you can get lost in while following the main characters on their journey. Being a well-known advocate for libraries, books and the power of reading, Neil also infuses his stories with these themes every once in a while which adds to their appeal. Reading the books is already a pleasure in itself, but listening to the audiobooks read by the author makes them even more compelling, since he is a brilliant narrator, too. If you want to get started with Neil’s novels, I suggest The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

The narrator’s voice can make a big difference.

You are going to spend several hours listening to the same person, so you have to be comfortable with the voice of the narrator. Luckily, most audiobook productions from major publishers collaborate with experienced narrators. Although I enjoyed all of the titles that I finished, there were a number of narrators that stood out: Neil Gaiman (most of his own work), Jesse Bernstein (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Rupert Degas (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle) and Adjoah Andoh (The Power). The sound of their voices and their narration style got me hooked right from the first minutes. What also fascinates me about them and other professional narrators is with how much ease they can switch between male and female characters and impersonate different dialects. But even if you don’t feel an immediate connection to the narrator’s voice, it might be worth continuing with the audiobook. I had this experience with Khaled Hosseini narrating his novel The Kite Runner: By the time I had finished the audiobook, his voice and the way of pronouncing local names and places made perfect sense, but it took me a while to get used to it in the beginning.

It’s worth revisiting childhood classics.

Childhood classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Winnie-the-Pooh make for a perfect audible delight in between longer titles or if you are short on time. Most of them only last a few hours and, as a prime genre to be performed for an audience, benefit from great narrators (in this case Jim Dale and Peter Dennis). Being only familiar with movie adaptations and other manifestations based on the original works, I greatly enjoyed listening to them for the first time.

It is okay not to finish an audiobook.

What is true for print books, can certainly also be applied to audiobooks: There is no shame in not finishing an audiobook, if you are not enjoying it for whatever reason. The narrator’s voice is not working for you? The book is not living up to your expectations? There are plenty of other titles still waiting for you, so just move on.

If you are frequently consuming podcasts, try getting started with audiobooks.

Before my audiobook experiment, I was frequently listening to podcasts, specifically in long form with up to three hours per episode. I believe this made the transition to audiobooks quite easy, because I was already used to immerse myself into the spoken word over a longer time. If you don’t want to get right into a 10+ hour novel, a good starting point for audiobooks could be popular nonfiction titles. Not only do they tend to be shorter than fiction, their style and content might fall closer to many podcasts that are usually nonfiction. The only title I listened to in that category was a quick, but entertaining 3-hour production of The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking.

If you can’t make time for reading books, audiobooks might be the solution.

Having a one year old toddler at home at the time, another reason for me to turn to audiobooks was that I simply couldn’t make time anymore to read print books. Audiobooks gave me the opportunity to satisfy my reading cravings and, in fact, to explore many more titles than I had been able to read before in the same time. Of course, it is also a matter of priorities: I don’t spend much time anymore listening to podcasts or new album releases when I am in the car. But the enriching experience and joy of listening to the mentioned titles and narrators makes it worth all the while.

Libby is a great (free) tool for accessing audiobooks.

One of the biggest motivators for me to give audiobooks a try was the fact that I have access to hundreds of them for free through my local library and I don’t have to use any fee-based platforms. This gave me the chance to freely explore different authors and to move on with other titles in case I didn’t enjoy a particular one. I have accessed all of the audiobooks mentioned in this post through the Libby app from OverDrive which is used by many public libraries around the world. Setting up the app is very easy and the User Interface encourages you to browse through the available collection. You can change the preferences to exclude ebooks and only display audiobook content. Offline access, bookmarks, adjustable play speed, 15 second fast forward/rewind and a number of other functions all add to the ease-of-use of the app. Therefore, if you would like to get started with audiobooks, first get in touch with your local public library to see if they have access to OverDrive or similar platforms.