98 hours later.

the beginner's guide to audiobooks

I do book round-ups fairly regularly on the blog, but I’ve never done a similar audiobook round-up before. The main reason is that “reading” a round-up’s worth of audiobooks requires many more hours than reading the same books on paper, or my Kindle.

Case in point: this collection of five audiobooks I completed plus one I abandoned after the first hour tally 98 hours of listening time. I didn’t spend quite that long: I typically bump my audiobooks up to 1.25 speed after the first hour, which means the time I spent tallied … er, less than that. Slightly. But not much.

I downloaded Americanah on December 31 and abandoned the final book last week. Here are my mini-reviews after nearly three months of listening:


by Betty Smith, performed by Katie Burton

51M7AOWQZxL._SL300_I finally read this book as a book my mom loves for the reading challenge. I loved this audio version: Burton brings the story to life with her wonderful voice and authentic (but thankfully limited) accents. Expect a few weird jazzy interludes. My only regret is that I waited so long to read it. A heartbreaking and beautiful coming of age story. 14 hrs and 55 mins.


by Tana French, performed by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Faithful PlaceThis was the last Dublin Murder Squad mystery on my TBR list. I was reluctant to try the audio: her books can be violent, and it’s easier to skip those with a hardback. Several of you assured me it wasn’t as bad as I feared, and you were right (though I did fast forward through a few scenes). I loved Reynolds’ narration for its perfect pacing and flawless accent. Definitely one of my favorite French novels. (Note: each book stands alone.) 16 hrs and 17 mins.


by Jennifer Worth, performed by Nicola Barber

51WeYodF+uL._SL300_Worth wrote her memoir in response to a challenge: could someone do for midwifery what James Herriot did for vets? Her loving, detailed account of life in the East End slums of 1950s London is full of high drama: births and deaths, rickets and eclampsia, the workhouse and prostitution. Some of these stories are very hard to listen to (and never with kids in the car!), but they are uniformly good. Can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy. 12 hrs and 2 mins.


by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, performed by Adjoa Andoh

51LSHLo5hcL._SL300_Friends raved to me about this book, but the description didn’t grab me. I bought it on a whim thanks to an Audible 2-for-1 sale and was hooked from page 1 (or whatever the audio equivalent is!). A rich, layered novel that works on many levels. This was great to do on audio: I never doubted my pronunciation of Nigerian names and places—something that makes me batty with a hardback. (I do share my reservations here.) 17 hrs and 28 mins.


by George Eliot, performed by Juliet Stevenson

51TlUfPv7CL._SL300_This is a book I’ve been meaning to read forever: an Audible sale encouraged me to read it now. While it’s loooong, I’m so glad I read it (and not just because now I can see how many literary references I’ve been missing out on.) Juliet Stevenson was wonderful: now I understand all the reviews that say I will listen to anything she reads.  (While it’s available as a Whispersync deal on Amazon—and for just $2.99!—that version is performed by Kate Reading.) 35 hrs and 40 mins.


by Neil Gaiman, performed by the author

51bpHQYIblL._SL300_I’d heard that Neil Gaiman’s readings of his own books were simply wonderful, and I’ll admit I chose Stardust as my starting point because I loved the movie—despite the fact that I’d heard this was one instance where the movie is better than the book. One hour in, I’m abandoning the audiobook, despite the wonderful performance. The story just isn’t grabbing me. Also: now that I’ve listened to one hour of Stardust, I’m shocked that this is recommended as a children’s audiobook.  6 hrs and 27 mins.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books, and on the books YOU have been listening to lately. I converted to an annual plan on Audible so I have 16 credits waiting to be used—I need your suggestions!

P.S. All links go to Audible, where you can listen to a sample of the audiobook before buying. If you’re new to audiobooks, check out my (great big) beginner’s guide.


Leave A Comment
  1. kristen says:

    oh so sad you abandoned stardust. i read the book a few months ago and loved it, though it is quite different from the movie and i must say i enjoyed the movie quite a bit more! haven’t read Middlemarch yet, will have to check out the audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson!

      • Tory says:

        Please do! Or pick up the paperback, it is a pretty short read. I love Stardust 🙂 I enjoyed the movie too, but they made it into a more traditional love story which the book really isn’t.

    • I second that! Startdust is really so good. But it is NOT a children’s book (I think he could have edited out all the fleshy stuff to make it one…), it is a little bit of a slow start, but it comes together so well. It’s much better than the movie.

  2. Amy says:

    Listening to audiobooks is a pretty new thing for me (and I tried it mostly because of your recommendation). So far I’ve listened to 3: The Secret Life of Bees (loved), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (wish I hadn’t) and Angels & Demons (can’t wait to read the rest in this series!).
    Yesterday, I just started listening to Crazy Love by Francis Chan (he reads it himself). It’s a reread for me, but I read it a while ago, when I was at a different point in my life, and it’s resonating with me on a completely different level now, and I’m loving the audio.

  3. Jillian Kay says:

    I couldn’t get through The Rosie Effect on paper so I switched to audio and loved it. I recently listened to The Night Circus read by Jim Dale and I loved loved loved it. Although I’ve listened to Jim Dale’s Harry Potter readings so often that I kept wondering things like “Why is Aunt Marge at the circus?”

    • Anne says:

      The Rosie Effect was one of the first audiobooks I listened to when I started getting back into them! I loved it.

      I haven’t read The Night Circus but I love Jim Dale. Hmmm. 🙂

    • Jaime says:

      Another vote for Night Circus. Jim Dale is fantastic! After seeing the Lunar Chronicles pop up on here several times, I finally started listening. I loved Cinder and am about to finish Scarlet. I usually try to keep my listening choices a little lighter in spirit and tone so I don’t end up feeling bogged down by balancing it with paper books.

      • Jill says:

        Yet another vote for The Night Circus! I read it a few years ago and really liked it, but when my book club picked it last year I decided to get the audio version. I loved it so much more! The prose is beautiful – really lyrical – and hearing it enabled me to enjoy that more. I also recently listened to The Golem and the Jinni, which really reminded me of The Night Circus. Unique premise, gorgeous prose, two opposing but drawn together main characters, and a vivid assortment of secondary characters. Highly recommend them both.

  4. Amy says:

    I am listening to No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I got the abridged version (6 hours v. 40 hours) and it is read by Edward Hermann. I love listening to him read. Also The Boys In the Boat read by Hermann. I just started Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This is a re read from ages past. I loved loved loved David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell read by the author. This is a fascinating book. It looks at how the underdogs come out on top. How so many ‘Davids’ defeat ‘Goliaths.’ One of his points is that the very things that we try to protect our children from are the very things that give them the strength to persist through difficulties throughout their lives. He gives examples of people with dyslexia and how they have navigated life so well because of what they have learned about their own ability to overcome hardships. I have a lot to say about this book so I am planning an all out post in the near future. I love your site, Anne! Thanks for what you do!

  5. Tory says:

    I am in the early hours of Middlemarch. My only issue with Juliet Stephenson is that I keep thinking I’m in a Jane Austen novel! It really is quite different (at least, I hope so – less Austen more Tolstoy.)

  6. Debbie says:

    Neil Gaiman is a noted children’s author. I believe he won the Newbery a few years ago. I don’t keep up with these things any more, but he may be doing some YA or adult novels as well. If so the reviewer wasn’t doing a good job. Many authors write for more than one age group. Madeline L’Engle comes to mind.

    • Maryalene says:

      Neil Gaiman has written some children’s books but the vast majority of his work is for adults. He’s my 16 year old’s favorite author so I’ve seen a lot of his work come through the house (and some has gone right back to the library because they weren’t appropriate IMO for even a 16 year old).

      I don’t think Anne was saying Neil Gaiman doesn’t write children’s books. I think she was just saying that she wasn’t sure Stardust should be classified as a children’s book. We haven’t read that one so I don’t have an opinion but it doesn’t surprise me. My experience with his children’s books are that they lean heavily toward being dark and intense.

  7. Miriam B says:

    Right now, I am listening to “The History of the Ancient World” by Susan Wise Bauer through Audible and “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” through Audiobooks. Thank you for your suggestion to listen to audio books at a faster speed. Since the Bauer book is almost 30 hours long, it would have been a huge challenge without using 1.5 speed.

  8. Missy G. says:

    I currently don’t have a Kindle or a smartphone that I can use to listen to audiobooks, but I absolutely love getting CD books from the library. Even though my commute is only 15 minutes or so, add in running errands and warming up the vehicle in the winter, and all that time adds up! I find that it also helps my sanity when I do find myself sitting in traffic. 🙂

    I love Sophie Kinsella’s books in audio format, with I’ve Got Your Number as a favorite. Her books are quick and light-hearted. I also really liked The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) as an audiobook, notsomuch on his (her?) second book Silkworm. It was a bit more gruesome. I’ll probably actually read the next book in the series, just to see if I can figure out the mystery before the answer is revealed.

    The last audiobook that I finished was Unbroken, which I highly recommend in this format. Edward Hermann is absolutely wonderful as a narrator, and Zamperini’s story is gripping and excellently written.

  9. Kendra says:

    I would second The Cuckoo’s Calling. I would also highly recommend To Kill a Mockingbird read by Sissy Spacek. I wish she did more audiobooks! I think the only other books she’s done are her own and I just might listen to them.
    Thank you for this. I hope you will be doing more audiobook reviews.

  10. Jill says:

    If you’re looking for a narrator that can’t go wrong, search audible for the incomparable Ed Hermann. I loved, loved The Johnstown Flood – a really fascinating microhistory. My husband just finished listening to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein and said it was wonderful as well.

    Other audio wins for me:
    The Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
    A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
    Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
    Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
    Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

    And a couple I wish I’d skipped:
    Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott
    The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

  11. KIMBERLEE says:

    Just finished Watership Down, read by Ralph Cosham. Got it for myself but my 10 year old daughter got hooked as well and insisted that I wait until she was in the car to listen. We loved it. Audible also got her hooked on the Anne of Green Gables series, which she would never have read on her own.

  12. MelissaJoy says:

    “This was great to do on audio: I never doubted my pronunciation of Nigerian names and places—something that makes me batty with a hardback.”

    Agreed. I do not listen to many audiobooks but I could see how this would make “reading” move along quickly with someone else pronouncing the difficult-to-me names and places.

    I read Things Fall Apart many years ago with my book club. The discussion stands out as being rich but also one where we would stumble through pronouncing names. Did that take away from the discussion? Maybe, but we were all stumbling together 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Things Fall Apart has been on my list for FOREVER. And it’s interesting that you mention it in this context, because Americanah inspired me to bump it up my reading list.

  13. MelissaJoy says:

    Middlemarch is fantastic! It’s a book worth returning to time and time again even if it is just to re-read passages. (A friend of mine reads it annually which amazes me.) I am intrigued by this Juliet Stevenson.

  14. MelissaJoy says:

    Finally, you mentioned earlier that Spotify has audiobooks. We listen to Jim Weiss there but who is a good narrator that is accessible on Spotify for adult novels/non fiction? I haven’t done an extensive search but I don’t know who I am looking for either.

    My daughter loves Cherry Jones (who doesn’t?) narrate all of the Little House books. (She is not on Spotify.)

  15. Hannah says:

    We never really did audiobooks when my kids were little, but we listened to ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ not too long ago and it was wonderful–not least because I didn’t have to do the reading! Win-win.

    • Hannah says:

      P.S. I did listen to Maggie Gyllenhaal read Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar.’ Her voice was moody and languid, which fit the book’s overall vibe. But it also lulled me to near-sleep on more than one occasion.

    • Jaime says:

      I found the CDs of Madeline L’Engle reading A Wrinkle In Time at our library’s book sale. Might very well be the best fifty cents I’ve ever spent!

  16. Liesl says:

    Don’t waste your time with reading Stardust. I read the novel a number of years ago and was so disappointed – the ending was completely anti-climatic and terrible, and I felt like Tristran and Yvainne had no literary chemistry whatsoever. I recently read the graphic novel version because I felt like I should give it another try – and while I thought it was better than the novel (the illustrations added a lot) – I was still super disappointed by the ending and I felt like Tristran adn Yvainne falling in love was completely unbelievable. So, save your hours for something better… like watching the movie 🙂

  17. Huh. Your thoughts on Stardust are really interesting. I liked the movie but LOVED the book and thought it was way better. I read it, and didn’t listen to it, and I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. I’m also baffled by the comment that it’s a children’s book? I haven’t heard that before but I definitely disagree. I do think you should give this book another try at some point though!

  18. Courtney says:

    I’m just finishing The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Wow…I didn’t really know what to expect but it has been incredible. I will definitely be reading her other books.

  19. Lynn K says:

    I audiobooks on my ipod when I’m cleaning and since I discovered this trick 3yrs ago my house is a LOT cleaner. I download my audiobooks from itunes. Each month they have select books on special for $5.95.

    My favorites so far:
    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (fantastic!)
    Lolita by Nabakov read by Jeremy Irons
    The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony
    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Ann Bronte

    And my new guilty pleasure is celebrity memoirs read by the author. I cannot stresst this enough – do not scoff at this until you have had the pleasure of Rob Lowe in your ear, reading both his memoirs, Love Life and Stories I Only Tell My Friends. He will make you laugh out loud and cry (in fact, I dare you not to become emotional when he talks about his son going off to college). Plus he does other celeb’s voices.

    Others I enjoyed:
    How I Slept My Way to the Middle by Kevin Pollack
    Untied by Meredith Baxter
    I Must Say by Martin Short
    My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall
    (Do yourself a favor and do NOT listen to Garry Marshall’s book. His phlegmy reading made me ill. Seriously. But it had great stories so if you were inclined, just read it.)

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