Audiobooks Book Lists Book Reviews

Reading with Your Ears: 25 of My Favorite Audiobooks

August 22, 2013

Almost every summer, we get an email from Bart’s cousin and his wife. It says something along the lines of, “We’re off on our annual road trip! What should we listen to?”

And then Bart and I spend way too long reminiscing about all our favorite audiobooks and trying to remember which ones we’ve suggested in years gone by.

Last week, Madeline of Uber Chic for Cheap asked for recommendations, and I thought, “WHY do I not have a list of some of my favorite ones compiled?”

(I couldn’t think of any good answer (okay, I just finished this post and came back to answer this question -because it took a dang long time to put it together)).

I listen to a lot of audiobooks (3-4 a month, usually) and it’s hard to find really stellar ones because you need not only a good story and good writing, but ALSO good narration. As if finding a good PAPER book wasn’t hard enough.

But when an audiobook is good, well, there is almost nothing better. I’ll happily scrub grout (if I ever actually scrubbed grout, which, of course, I do not) if it means an excuse to listen to more.

So, here are some of my very favorites, broken up by category (the links go to my full reviews of the books):

Great for the Whole Family

  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. Only my favorite book of all-time is all. I worried the audio would ruin it for me, but it actually, unbelievably, IMPROVED what I already considered a perfect book. 
  • Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. I started this one without Bart and then 10 minutes in, knew I couldn’t listen without him because it was SO funny. Who knew a skeleton detective and his human sidekick could be so hilarious? (There is a whole series of these books).
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. Don’t let the word “princess” in the title fool you – this book is great for all ages, boys and girls alike, with as much adventure and intrigue as you could hope for. All of Shannon Hale’s YA and children’s books are done with a full-cast audio which is just really fun. 
  • The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud. Narrated by a powerful and snarky djinni who finds himself summoned by an apprenticed majician bent on revenge, we picked this one off the shelf at the library on a whim. This was the luckiest whim ever. After this book, we looked for everything Simon Jones narrated. He’s that good.
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. Short and really amazing, this story about an apprentice potter set in 12th century Korea won the Newbery. 
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Another Newbery winner, this one is a road-trip story. Sal tells her grandparents a long story about her neighbor to pass the time on the road, but only as the story winds down do you realize why they are on this road trip to begin with.

Realistic Young Adult Fiction

YA Historical Fiction

  • Bloody Jack Series by L.A. Meyer . This has some of the most amazing narration I’ve ever heard. Seriously on par with Jim Dale. Follows Jacky Faber who dresses as a boy and gets a job on a sailing ship as a ship’s boy to keep from starving in the streets of London. Hijinks of every imaginable sort ensue.  
  • Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. This is like Little House on the Prairie for young adults. Hattie inherits some land from a distant uncle and, since she’s an orphan, decides to go live on it and try to make a go of farming on her own. 
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Set during WWII, this story of two girls, one a pilot and one a spy, will totally rip your heart out (it’s got a bit of a slow start, though. Power through). 
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusack. This book about a foster child growing up in WWII Germany is narrated by Death and is unbelievablely good. I’ve read it in print and listened to it again last year for book club (this one’s being made into a movie). 
YA Fantasy
  • Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore. Graceling is really good, about a girl gifted with the grace of fighting who meets a boy also graced with fighting, and their joint efforts to save their kingdoms. Fire, a prequel, is even better. 
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. This is seriously some of the most breathtaking fantasy I’ve eve read. And I don’t even LIKE fantasy that much. 
  • City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I know some people don’t like this series, but I laughed my head off at this book (I kept rewinding (what do you call it when you’re using a CD?) to relisten to funny lines). Bonus, the movie is coming out soon!
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfield. I read these, and Bart listened to them. We both thoroughly enjoyed the first two in the series and thought the last one dropped off a bit. 
Adult Fiction
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This heart-wrenching book about a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s will make you paranoid you’re losing your memory too. 
  • I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella. Okay, I haven’t actually listened to this one, but I loved the book, and I have several friends who RAVED about how good the narration was. I’m going to trust them on it and give it a thumbs-up. Just funny, fluffy chick-lit. 
Adult Non-fiction

Any favorite audiobooks of your own? I’m always always looking for more suggestions. 
P.S. Listening on double speed is an excellent way to crank through even more audiobooks. 

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53 Comments

  • Reply preethi August 22, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I've listened to each of the last three on audio and agree they are really excellent. I think audio is particularly great do non-fiction and humor. Dan and I listened to Wednesday wars on audio together on the metro when we first moved to dc so that has great memories. We're reading code name verity right now and you're right that it is a little slow, so I'm glad to hear it picks up. Just finished between shades of gray on audio an really enjoyed it. John Adams by McCullough is also excellent on audio, I think.

  • Reply RA August 22, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I second The Wednesday Wars, Still Alice, and the Laini Taylor books! I listened to I've Got Your Number on audio, and it was very entertaining. I love Jayne Entwhistle, and she narrates the Flavia de Luce books on audio, too (Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie et al).

    I would also add to the list:

    Fiction:
    Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan (favorite book of the year so far)
    Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
    The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton
    The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
    Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

    Nonfiction:
    Quiet, by Susan Cain
    Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson
    Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss

    • Reply RA August 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm

      Me again! I just stumbled on this interview with Jayne where she talks about the process of preparing to record audio books. Fascinating!

  • Reply april August 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I've read a lot of those books, but I don't get enough time in the car by myself to listen to many audiobooks. I listened to The Bloodletter's Daughter and quite enjoyed it. I also listened to a couple of the Jo Nesbo books and I can suggest: don't listen to them. Yes, read them. Do not traumatize yourself by listening to them (lots of torture scenes)

  • Reply Chrissie August 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Bookmarking this for future reference – thank you! I'm listening to "Unbroken" right now and love that it's narrated by Richard Gilmore – so awesome. I also loved "The Wednesday Wars" and Gladwell's books on audio ("Outliers" is also my favorite!). I would add Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling's memoirs to the list (both are narrated by them and had me laughing out loud), "The Book Thief" (amazing in print but really excellent narration as well), and anything by Neil Gaiman. Thus far I've listened to "The Graveyard Book" and "Stardust" – he does his own narration and basically I'd like him to read me all my books ever, he's that good.

  • Reply Shelly August 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    You mentioned Jim Dale and I will second that recommendation. He narrates the Harry Potter series, which is my favorite audio series EVER. SO SO GOOD.

    Other than that, I've listened to a couple of Nick Hornby's books on audio, and they were all very good.

    • Reply Stephanie August 28, 2013 at 3:55 am

      His Harry Potter narration is genius! It

  • Reply Norby family August 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I'm a little surprised you didn't include the Harry Potter series. Best narration I've ever listened to, seriously!

    • Reply Janssen August 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      I love the Harry Potter series too, but I figured they are so well-known they didn't need inclusion here. I feel like they're the gold standard of audiobooks.

  • Reply Amy August 22, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I see someone else beat me to the Flavia de Luce series, so I'll just add my voice that the narration on those books is FABULOUS. Two other favorites are "Garlic and Sapphires" and "Rebecca."

    I have to admit that even though I listened to three of the Books of Bayern on audio, I never fell in love with the full-cast audio. So often, it felt really stilted and compartmentalized – like one of the characters would be talking and then the narrator would break in with, "she said" or "he asked." I do think kids would enjoy it, but I found it annoying (and yet, I still listened to three books with it . . .)

  • Reply Melanie August 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I also think Malcolm Gladwell is a really excellent narrator. My Life in France, Julia Child's memoir is great as an audiobook, as are the James Herriot books. I've listened to almost the entire Maisie Dobbs series on audio and enjoyed it.

    Uglies on audio, really? I started the audio and hated the narrator so much after a few minutes that I stopped listening. I read the series in print and liked it, but I just couldn't do the audio. To each their own!

    I've been wanting to re-read both Code Name Verity and The Book Thief, so I'm excited to know that they have good audio versions. I'm almost done with the Harry Potter series on audio and I've started thinking about what I'll listen to next.

    • Reply Janssen August 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      That's funny you mention that, because I wrote here that I read them and Bart listened to them, and you pointing that out reminded me that I didn't actually do the listening. But he loved the audio (and still frequently imitates the narrator), and his cousin loved the audiobook too.

  • Reply Diane August 22, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Edenbrooke bu Julie Donaldson recently got me to Boise and back, thoroughly entertained (drove by myself)

  • Reply Rachel August 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    What do you know- I just picked up Outliers on CD, now I can't wait to start. I loved the audio version of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" read by Amy Chua (can't remember if you also listened.) And, I can attest that "I've Got Your Number" was fabulous to listen to.

  • Reply Madeline August 22, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I'm listening to Graceling right now and I'm loving it. I'm even more stoked to read the prequel that you like even more!

    I am so excited to work my way through this list. Thanks again Janssen!

  • Reply Amy Lee Scott August 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    I listened to Bloody Jack and it is totally awesome! I'm having a lot of fun with the Mysterious Benedict Society as well. Can't wait to see if my library has some of these–I'm almost done with the audiobook I'm on (Virals by Kathy Reich, a mix between supernatural teen goodness and Bones, aka, a guilty pleasure to the max)!

  • Reply Michael and Tasha August 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    My all-time favorite audio books are the Bertie and Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse. We listened to them on every family road trip growing up, and I have vivid memories of cracking up despite being desperately carsick, and to this day I think of heliotrope pajamas whenever I drive I-80. They're great to read, but even better to hear.

  • Reply Renee August 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    This could not come at a better time. I just accepted a promotion at a new office and my commute just doubled if not tripled with traffic. I have started listening to more and more audio books and needed this list!

  • Reply Kathleen August 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Okay, you HAVE to listen to the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix. It's narrated by Tim Curry which is amazing (I refused to read them, insisting on listening because he added so much to it) but the story itself is just fantastic. It's a really unique world, strong female characters, not predictable at all. The third book in the trilogy is everything you dream it would be.

  • Reply debby August 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    we grew up listening to cheaper by the dozen on long roadtrips. so many great memories from that.

  • Reply kimmie August 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    What? Goose Girl isn't on the list? That's my all time favorite audiobook. Princess Academy is high up on my list too though. I thought the first few Bloody Jack books were great but then OMG by the 9th book I was just sick of it. How come Jacky and Jaimy have such a doomed relationship? How come Jacky keeps getting into trouble? Haha 🙂 I will have to check out the rest of these recommendations!

  • Reply JoLee August 22, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I am a huge audiobook fan, so this is a fun post for me. You have some good ones on this list. I loved listening to the Bartimaeus books and Unbroken with my husband. I have so many good suggestions. I'll try to rein it in. I really enjoyed listening to At Home by Bill Bryson. It was basically all I talked about for weeks. My husband and I love listening to Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books. (The Eyre Affair is the first in the series. It's good, but the rest are even better.) Holly Black's Curse Workers series is also great on audio. My husband and I still talk about Neil Gaimon's Anansi Boys and we listened to it years ago. You've inspired me, and now I want to do a post on this topic too. I'll send you think link when I put it up, if you'd like.

  • Reply Yaneth August 22, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Hi! I was wondering if you have read the 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear and if so, what are your thoughts…

    • Reply Janssen August 25, 2013 at 2:13 am

      I haven't. In fact, I haven't even HEARD of it!

  • Reply Naomi O'Connell August 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    I have read lots of these in print already, but I think listening to them would be a totally different experience (I drive long distance a lot so they could be perfect!)

  • Reply Naomi O'Connell August 22, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Oh Janssen, I I forgot to mention that you should either read or listen to the rest of the Shadowhunter books! They get so much better! I would recommend reading the first three of the Mortal Instruments, then going back to read the prequel series (three of them called the Infernal Devices) then finishing up the Mortal Instruments ones. I actually enjoyed the Infernal Devices most I think, they are set about 200 years earlier and are really really good! (So many exclamation marks! Can you tell I'm excited?)

  • Reply cakeistheonlythingthatmatters.com August 22, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    JIM DALE! The only thing I listen to on tape is the Harry Potters!

  • Reply Anna @ IHOD August 22, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    You are an answer to my prayers! Was JUST wondering what to start with. Been wanting to try some new ones. Thank you!

  • Reply Catherine Sorensen August 22, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    I also listen to a lot of audiobooks and some of my all-time favorites are The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (fully cast and AWESOME), The #1 Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith (for me, the accent of the audiobook narrator at least doubles the pleasure of the stories), The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey and most recently The Apothecary by Maile Maloy (this is BY FAR my favorite audiobook that I listened to this year – SOOOO GOOD).

  • Reply bethany August 23, 2013 at 4:34 am

    I got tired of the screaming and fighting in the car (we have a long drive back and forth to my son's therapy school) and so started listening to the Hank the Cowdog books on CD. Everyone laughs out loud, even me. They are fantastic (read by the author) and you don't have to go in order. So I just pick up whatever they have at the library without worrying about what number it is.

  • Reply authorcaitlinjacobs.com August 23, 2013 at 4:36 am

    Janssen, this list is PERFECT timing! I'm moving to China on Monday and that 15 hour flight is going to be long long long. I'm not usually one for audiobooks but I think this will be just perfect. My plan is to stay awake for as much of the flight as possible, in the hopes that I can beat most of the jetlag. This list will rock my world on that flight. We'll see how I do. 🙂

  • Reply Amy Sorensen August 23, 2013 at 5:57 am

    I really struggle with audiobooks, because for me the voice reading has to match the sound of the voice in my head as well as the feel of the story, and that doesn't happen very often. (I thought the narrator for Swamplandia! was particularly jarring.) But I did LOVE the audiobook for The Postmistress. The voice matched the story perfectly, and the story was intriguing (something about the Holocaust that I've not read before). there's quite a bit of swearing so it's not really a family one, but one I thoroughly enjoyed.

  • Reply Maggie August 23, 2013 at 6:12 am

    I was just listening to the dryness of "A Brief History of Time" this morning and feeling annoyed that I couldn't come up with a more engaging option. Then I read this post. "Wednesday Wars" certainly made cleaning out the bathroom cupboards more fun today. Thanks for this timely post.

  • Reply Emily August 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I love love love the audiobook of The Phantom Tollbooth. It's read by David Hyde Pierce and he is a stellar narrator.

    I also really enjoyed listening to The Book Thief, though I found that I tended to miss more turns as I drove when I listened to it, because I'd get a little too sucked in to the story.

  • Reply Laura H August 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Excellent list but I must add Catch Me If You Can. I loved the reader. So much better than the movie

  • Reply Manda August 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I really enjoy listening to audiobooks on road trips, but you have inspired me to listen to them while working on projects at home. I've been trying to figure out the best way to go about it and I am wondering what you do. Do you check out books on CD from the library and upload them to your phone? Or something else?

    • Reply Janssen August 25, 2013 at 1:02 am

      I generally download them straight from the library's website, but I do occasionally go the CD upload route. It's just so much slower!

  • Reply Jodi August 23, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    This is a good list to put together. I love audio for long road trips, but I'm always concerned to pick something random because it HAS to be a good because I'm stuck with it (or with nothing) for a long time. Admittedly, I often go for a junk food read that I know will be enjoyable enough when I have no other ideas (um…Nicholas Sparks).

  • Reply Sammy August 24, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Oh I love love love these wrap up posts. THANK YOU! Also, I've gone into a regency phase (been there for 6 months now) and I can't get out. I rely mostly on you to pull me back to our time. I'm hoping I haven't missed a list of your 25-30 all time favorite books? Have you done one? You know you want to!! I've got to make sure I've checked them all off. And yes I could go to your goodreads… but I'm too lazy and your two sentence catchy phrases are way more fun than looking at star ratings.

  • Reply Suzanne August 24, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    As it is widely acknowledged that Jim Dale is the best narrator of all time, I must give a plug for The Night Circus. Seriously my favorite audio book (favorite book?) after the Harry Potter series.

    Also, I really enjoyed the audio version of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Otherwise, I must second your selections of The Amulet of Samarkand. Simon Jones is fantastic (really, all the best narrators are British, aren't they?).

  • Reply Neil & Michelle Harrison August 24, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Awesome list! Pinning for later use. I listen to audio books a lot–and have gone through the Bartimeus books and the bloody Jack series on your recommendation. I'm currently on book nine of the Maisie Dobbs series, so I'll be looking for a new series to start soon. Thanks for taking the time to compile the recommendations!

  • Reply Lady Susan August 26, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Alan Cumming narrates the Leviathan Series by Scott Westerfeld, and he gives Jim Dale a run for his money on my favorite narrated series. The books are brilliant and the narration is priceless. Mr. F. and I adored them.

    I second (third) the Scorpio Races too as another great audio book.

  • Reply Stephanie August 28, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Anything narrated by Jim Dale (Harry Potter, A Christmas Carol) and Catch Me If You Can is absolutely fantastic!

    • Reply lisa mentzer December 17, 2016 at 4:10 am

      Jim Dale also does The Christmas Carol… awesome

  • Reply Kelli August 28, 2013 at 3:55 am

    I've never commented on your blog before, but I LOVE audiobooks–I listen to them while I train for marathons. What Alice Forgot–a book recommendation I got from your blog–was my first audiobook, and I loved it! Some recent favorites are The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom and The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. I'll give another shout-out for Code Name Verity–it did start slow, but was definitely worth it.

    • Reply lisa mentzer December 17, 2016 at 4:11 am

      What Alice Forgot was an awesome book. We did it as a book club. Haven't listened to it, though

  • Reply Angela August 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Anything by Malcolm GLADWELL in the car makes for an interesting journey.
    If you like 13 REASONS by Jay Asher, a book already dripping in voice, you will like the audio as well.
    And for a very different reading experience try listening to ROOM by Emma Donoghue. I read the book first then listened to the audio.

    Keep your ears open.

  • Reply Amanda September 2, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Thank you for making this list! My husband's not a big reader, but he loves audiobooks. He's listening his way through Harry Potter right now, so I pinned this for future reference 🙂

  • Reply Doralyn September 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    I'm new to your blog as a friend just introduced me. So, maybe you've covered these. I inhale YA fiction. And it seems I have some of the same favorites. Among my favorites as well are Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and the Alice series by Susan Juby.

  • Reply Aleya December 17, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    I've never listened to an audiobook in all honesty, but I am an avid reader. I've added many of these to my list of books to read, and many of these I have already read! Two of my ABSOLUTE favorites on this list are City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Thanks for a great list!

  • Reply Tina's Blog January 29, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    I just can't do audio books – but perhaps I am just not practiced enough. I find myself daydreaming a lot while listening. However, we did do some of the Little House series and all of the Superfudge series by Judy Blume. We had already read them together, yet they were fun to return to while we were driving somewhere and then if we had a few minutes in the car where we couldn't hear the story or whatever, it wasn't a crisis since we already knew what was happening.

  • Reply Connie September 15, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    I happened upon this in my quest to find my next Audio book. My favorite Audiobook and book of all times is not in your list. Perhaps because this blog is a couple years old. But please tell me you have listened to The Goldfinch. I cannot stop thinking about this book and the narration was superb. In fact it won an Audie for narration and a Pulitzer. I love it so much I am listening to it again because I miss the characters so much.

  • Reply Julie T August 10, 2016 at 2:01 am

    Okay, my daughter Heather told me about "As You Wish" by and about the cast of Princess Bride and its making- it was fabulous for a road trip! And one of my all-time favorites is The Help- won a major award for narration and was so authentic I felt like I was totally in the room with them all! I've listened three times it was that good! THANK YOU for taking the time to do this!!

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