15 Backlist Summer Reading Guide favorites that are even better on audio

15 Backlist Summer Reading Guide favorites that are even better on audio

Readers, I enjoy audiobooks whenever I can, in any season—but summer offers some special opportunities for listening. I can listen for hours and hours while pulling weeds and tackling projects around the yard, or enjoy audiobooks with my family on our annual road trip.

Our past Summer Reading Guides hold some of my favorite audiobook listening experiences, and I’m excited to share a whole list with you today. These books are great in any format, but the exceptional narration on these titles elevates the reading experience into something truly memorable.

When choosing my next audiobook, I’m always on the lookout for a favorite narrator or multiple narrators, a compelling story to keep me hooked, or a fabulous rereading experience. You’ll see that reflected on today’s list of my favorite backlist audiobooks from past Summer Reading Guides.

If you can’t download your next great listen fast enough, check out this year’s guide for a whole section of “Awesome on Audio” selections, with short descriptions to help you decide which book is right for your listening style.

15 of my favorite audiobooks from past Summer Reading Guides

The Likeness

The Likeness

Author:
Heather O’Neill’s range of Irish accents immerses the reader in this psychological suspense from Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad, my favorite of the series. (These books can be read in any order.) The story begins when detective Cassie Maddux is pulled off her current beat and sent to investigate a murder. When she arrives at the scene, she finds the victim looks just like her, and—even creepier—she was using an alias that Cassie used in a previous case. The victim was a student, and her boss talks her into trying to crack the case by impersonating her, explaining to her friends that she survived the attempted murder. The victim lived with four other students in a strangely intimate, isolated setting, and as Cassie gets to know them, liking them almost in spite of herself, her boundaries—and loyalties—begin to blur. 22 hrs 17 mins. More info →
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A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Author:
Renowned travel writer Bryson takes to the Appalachian Trail in this laugh-out-loud travel memoir. After returning to America after 20 years in England, Bryson reconnects with his home country by walking 800 of the AT’s 2100 miles, many of them with his cranky companion Katz, who serves as a brilliant foil to Bryson’s scholarly wit. A superb hiking memoir that skillfully combines laugh-out-loud anecdotes with serious discussions about history, ecology, and wilderness trivia. Droll, witty, entertaining. This is one of those rare occasions where I'd recommend listening to the abridged version, because Bryson himself narrates it. 5 hrs and 58 mins. More info →
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Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Author:
Shonda Rhimes narrates her own memoir, sharing what happened after her sister issued her a six-word wake-up call: You never say yes to anything. The epigraph bears quotes from Maya Angelou and Christina from Grey's Anatomy, which gives you a good idea of what you'll find inside. Rhimes is the queen of Thursday night tv, creating and producing smash hits like Grey's and Scandal. This time she's telling her own story about the year of YES that followed that single conversation. I especially loved the last chapter when Rhimes discovers what her big year was really about. 7 hrs 4 mins. More info →
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The Lost Book of the Grail

The Lost Book of the Grail

Author:
Charlie Lovett’s literary mystery invites readers to tag along on a scavenger hunt to chase down an ancient relic. Arthur is a staid and steady—perhaps a trifle boring?—old-school Brit; Bethany is a techie American who's come to his English library to digitize his beloved ancient manuscripts. Arthur's smitten, yet quite concerned—will she interfere with his personal quest for the Grail? Books, romance, and literary high jinx—what's not to love? This book is perfect for readers who love a page-turning puzzle, minus the murder and violence of many crime-driven mysteries. I couldn't put it down because I was equally delighted with the literary references and wanting to know what would happen next. I’m a sucker for a British accent, and Charles Armstrong’s here is impeccable. 10 hrs 52 mins. More info →
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The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give

Author:
Angie Thomas’s debut is amazing—and even more so in the voice of Bahni Turpin, my very favorite narrator. At age 16, Starr Carter has lost two close friends to gun violence: one in a drive-by; one shot by a cop. The latter is the focus of this novel: Starr is in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by a police officer. She is the sole witness. Thomas seamlessly blends current events with lower-stakes themes common to teens everywhere, with great success. Fun fact: the title comes from a Tupac lyric. 11 hrs 40 mins. More info →
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This Tender Land

This Tender Land

Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn: this tough and tender coming-of-age story focuses on four Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. After a tornado demolishes the last of life as they know it, they realize no one is going to save them—and so they make a plan to save themselves that starts with escaping down the river. Scott Brick’s wistful, urgent narration elevates an already exceptional tale, making for an extraordinary reading experience. 14 hrs 19 mins. More info →
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Nothing to See Here

Nothing to See Here

Author:
Need some momentum in your reading life? This quick and wholly original read about two kids who spontaneously combust when angry will make you laugh—and then get you right in the feels. The story centers on an important political family that has a tiny little problem—and if the secret gets out, their political aspirations are over. Wilson perfectly blends realistic emotional drama with just the right amount of weirdness, which lets the author address serious things—life, work, power, ambition, relationships—without getting precious about it. Marin Ireland's narration hits just the right notes. 6 hrs 40 mins. More info →
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Daisy Jones & The Six

Daisy Jones & The Six

What book did MMD readers most frequently cite as their favorite audiobook of 2019? This one. A full cast elevates Taylor Jenkins Reid’s rock-umentary about a fictional 1970s band into a best-of-the-year experience. The plot revolves around Billy Dunne, the tortured, talented lead singer for the Six, and Daisy Jones, the beautiful, soulful girl with a troubled past who catapults the Six to fame when she begins singing—and writing—their songs. We know from the beginning that the story is about why the band broke up, and the reasons are both expected and hold a big surprise, unfurled in an engrossing story of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. 9 hrs 3 mins. More info →
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Code Name Hélène

Code Name Hélène

Author:
This WWII novel tells the story of Nancy Wake, the unsung French Resistance leader who was #1 on the Gestapo’s most-wanted list by the end of the war. The real Nancy was larger than life; bold, bawdy, and brazen—a woman who, as the only female among thousands of French men, was not only respected as an equal, but revered as a leader. The story is set during WWII, yes—a setting the author says she came to kicking and screaming, because there are a lot these days—but at its heart this is a story of friendship, and of love. Nancy leaps off the page with her Victory Red lipstick, snappy one-liners, and incredible bravery. The audiobook version is excellent: Barrie Kreinik's narration makes Nancy leap off the page, and Peter Ganim joins to narrate scenes told from husband Henri's point of view. 17 hrs 17 mins. More info →
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The Mother-in-Law

The Mother-in-Law

Author:
More Barrie Kreinik? Yes please! The Aussie narrator voices this wholly satisfying domestic mystery. In the ten years she's known her, Lucy has never felt her mother-in-law Diana approved of her—an especial disappointment because she'd hoped Diana would finally be the mother she'd never had. Yet she’s distraught when the police show up to announce that Diana has died by apparent suicide—and even more so when they reveal that the evidence points to possible murder. As we get to know the family members, we discover each of them had a motive to harm Diana, and stood to benefit from her death. This one kept me guessing till the end. 9 hrs 12 mins. More info →
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The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society

Author:
Richard Armitage (!!!) narrates this charming historical novel set in the 1940s that features a village united around Jane Austen, and the readers who love her work. Jane Austen lived out her last days in the sleepy village of Chawton, and in the days just after World War II, her legacy still looms large. Times are hard, and we meet several villagers burdened with their own private sorrows, who are doing what they’ve always done: turning to the works of Austen for solace. When a local business attempts to buy the Austen property and raze her cottage, the villagers band together to preserve her legacy. At one point, a character muses that Austen’s works present “a world so a part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic.” The same can be said of Jenner’s wonderful book. 9 hrs 55 mins. More info →
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Clap When You Land

Clap When You Land

Novels in verse such as this one spring to life when they’re read aloud—especially when they’re read by the author herself, the talented Elizabeth Acevedo. She dedicates this novel in verse to the memory of the lives lost on American Airlines flight 587, the passenger flight that crashed en route to Santo Domingo from JFK on November 12, 2001. Taking this historical event as her leaping off point, she tells the story of two teenage girls—one in New York, one in Santo Domingo—who are shocked to discover they are sisters in the aftermath of the crash, when the truth of their father’s double life was unceremoniously revealed. The girls tentatively bond as they explore the pain—and love—they share, leading up to a triumphant ending. 5 hrs 32 mins. More info →
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Beach Read

Beach Read

Author:
This warm and delightfully meta take on love, grief, and second chances is a joy in any format, and truly special in Julia Whelan’s inimitable voice; so many of you say she is your Very Favorite Narrator. January is a 29-year-old romance writer who no longer believes in happily-ever-after. Demoralized and broke, she moves into the lake house she inherited when her father died, hoping to lick her wounds and finish her current manuscript. But then, in a cruel twist of fate, she discovers her neighbor is the beloved literary fiction writer Augustus Everett, her college rival (and crush), whom she was hoping to never see again. But it turns out Gus has troubles of his own, and so the two make a bet to get their writing back on track. 10 hrs 13 mins. More info →
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The Happy Ever After Playlist

The Happy Ever After Playlist

Author:
This romance is so much fun, especially as narrated by the duo who brought you The Friend Zone, Zachary Webber and Erin Mallon. After an adorable (and extended) meet-cute involving a stray pup, Sloan strikes up a flirty text thread with the dog’s owner, who’s out of the country for work. The texts turn into emails, and then hours-long phone calls; the two haven’t met in person but the connection is undeniable. But can a touring musician make a relationship work—and does Sloan even want it to? You’ll have more context if you read The Friend Zone first, but this novel stands on its own, and the witty banter made this an absolute delight. This one has been on my mind lately: I'm thinking of listening again! Heads up for a steamy open-door scene or two. 9 hrs 17 mins. More info →
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The Almost Sisters

The Almost Sisters

It’s rare for an author to narrate her own novels, but there's no one I’d rather hear read Joshilyn Jackson than the author herself, in her just-right Southern accent. This is perhaps my favorite of her books; it's about a complicated Alabama family and the "two Souths" it inhabits. The story begins when Leia is summoned home to Alabama to clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and while she's there, she has to break the news to her conventional Southern family that she's pregnant—and has no plans to marry. But Leia can't share her own news before other powerful, long-buried family secrets start to pour out—her stepsister's unraveling marriage, her grandmother's worsening dementia, and a shocking secret hidden in the family attic. 12 hrs 39 mins. More info →
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Have you listened to any great audiobooks lately? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

P.S. If you haven’t yet, make sure you download your 2021 Summer Reading Guide!

P.P.S. Topple your TBR with 20 backlist favorites from ten years of the Summer Reading Guide or 20 novels that will transport you to the shore.

15 Backlist Summer Reading Guide favorites that are even better on audio

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  1. Mary Hawkins says:

    The entire DC Smith series by Peter Grainger is narrated by Gildart Jackson. He captures perfectly the droll sense of humour that is trademark DC. There is so much intelligence and brilliant writing in this series and Mr Jackson more than does it justice.

  2. Shannon says:

    This is a great list, and I’ve listened to several myself! However, I disagree that the Dublin Murder Squad series can be read in any order! Particularly with Frank Mackie’s character, which crosses over several books, you really need to see the build up in the proper order.

  3. Aimee says:

    Listening to People We Meet on Vacation right now – listened to Beach Read last year – and enjoying it! Just finished Last Garden in England on audiobook and while maybe it isn’t a traditional “summer” read, it was so very good and the narration was fabulous.

  4. Katherine says:

    I am listening to The Huntress by Kate Quinn and it is amazing! I think I would love this book in any format but it is amazing on audio.

    • Terry Kessinger says:

      I loved the Huntress! I love the style and the narration is so good! If you haven’t listened to it yet, I highly recommend The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and narrated by Polly Stone. It was incredible.

  5. Nicole says:

    I love the audiobook versions of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. The books are way better than the Netflix series (although that’s pretty good too). Narrator George Guidall embodies the dry wit and wisdom of the title character. A I really enjoyed the whole series.
    Another favorite for mystery fans is the Armande Gamache series by Louise Penny. The first books in the series are narrated by Ralph Cosham. After Cosham’s death, Richard Bathurst took over narration. Both men do a fabulous job of bringing the small Quebec village of Three Pines, and the French Canadian accents of the characters, to life.

    • Emily B says:

      I agree about George Guidall in the Longmire series! I’m actually currently listening to book #16, the most recent release. I don’t believe I would have stuck with the series if not for the narrator’s perfection as Sheriff Longmire.

    • Jen W. says:

      I agree about Three Pines, although I nearly cried when I heard about Cosham’s death (I came to these books about a year ago and am not caught up).

      • Susan says:

        Yes, that just happened to me 😢 We listened to several books back when we could take road trips 😉 and during the pandemic I decided to start at the beginning of the series.

  6. Jill S Fitzpatrick says:

    I recently went back and listened to The Poet X after having listened to all of Elizabeth Acevedo’s other books, and now I tell everyone to listen to her books! Fabulous author, must be listened to get the full impact of her poetry and prose.

    • Kathleen says:

      Thank you for this list! So excited to add more books to my TBL! I definitely listen more than read these days. I really enjoyed listening to The Bromance Book Club series, the Wayward Children series, and American Dirt.

  7. Liz Wright says:

    I would add two historical fictions of very different genres. One, Dear Mrs, Bird takes on London during the Blitz. The other, Call Your Daughter Home, covers South Carolina in the mid 1920s.

  8. Pam Eaves says:

    I’m currently listening to Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave. Set in WWII London, it’s a beautifully told story of four friends. Luke Thompson’s narration is brilliant.

    • Camille says:

      EBIF is one of my all-time favorite books! I love how the author builds up beautiful words but isn’t afraid to gut you the next moment.

  9. Jan Roberts says:

    I’m in the middle of Eternal by Lisa Scottoline. It’s SO good! One of the narrators is Eduardo Ballerini, and he’s fantastic at anything he reads.

  10. Lydia says:

    I recently listened to and loved Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo! And I’m currently listening to The Night Circus – both highly recommended on audio.

  11. Tracie says:

    I recently finished Watership Down on audio and it was FANTASTIC!! Peter Capaldi was an amazing narrator. I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I had read it with my eyes. It was a great way to finally read this classic!

    • Sandra Renegar says:

      I love Watership Down read in my own head (I must be near to reading it a dozen times). Peter Capaldi’s British accent set the target just right!

  12. Janyre Tromp says:

    Saskia Maarleveld, the narrator for Kate Quinn’s books, is FANTASTIC. And I blew threw Ruth Ware’s One by One in just a few days…of course I was throwing mulch during those days 🙂 But a fast-paced thriller was exactly what I needed to keep me going.

  13. Nancy Hatden says:

    I’m just finishing The Big Burn by Timothy Egan. Chilling and fantastic! It’s a great true story of Teddy Roosevelt and the establishment of the national parks as well as the bravery of the first forest rangers. Helps me know my country better as well as the people who worked so hard to save it.

  14. Susan says:

    What a nice list of books, thank you. Some I have read, some I own and TBR, and I just downloaded the audio of This Tender Land two days ago. I am currently finishing the audio of This Promised Land by Barack Obama. He narrates it himself and his voice is so nice to listen to.

  15. Cecilia says:

    I’m listening to American Dirt and the narrator is excellent. However, I really want to know if that is your bag in the photo and if so where did you get it? It is awesome!

    • Suzy says:

      I LOVED American Dirt, I don’t care about the controversy, it was a GOOD story and, yes, the reading was so well done.

    • Alanna says:

      I agree with audio version of American Dirt! I couldn’t stop listening. A buddy of mine tried reading it and struggled with the names and places. It was really easy to follow on audio. I also don’t care about the controversy. It’s one of those stories that I still think about on a regular basis.

  16. Nichole says:

    I just listened to Michael Leviton’s memoir, “To Be Honest”, about growing up in a family that encouraged utter and total honesty. Always. About everything. It’s read by the author himself and I loved hearing him trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situations he was describing! A short listen, less than 6 hours, and I truly loved every minute. My library had it on Hoopla. ☺️

  17. Teresa says:

    I’m currently listening to Flygirl by Sherri L Smith. It’s narrated by Bahni Turpin who also narrated Abilene in The Hell (also a great audio!). I would listen to just about anything she narrates. Also, Greenlights narrated by Matthew McConaughey himself.

  18. Sandy Hoenecke says:

    The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V E Schwab and narrated by Julia Whelan was a great listen. It is long at 17 hours but it is so worth the time. A lot of housework and puzzle time was spent listening as I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

  19. Melissa says:

    I’ve been taking a lot of pleasure from listening to Rosamunde Pilcher while I’m gardening. Two weeks ago it was Coming Home, followed by a re-listen of the Shell Seekers. A few weeks back I listened to The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow, which describes the events of Pride and Prejudice (and then well beyond) through the eyes of Mary Bennet. I’m not always a fan of books that re-enter the exact world that Jane Austen built, but man, did this one turn that old familiar story–usually as comforting to me as breathing–on its head. It gave me a whole new (and somewhat less sympathetic) perspective on many of the characters in the original. And it just told a good story. In all honesty, I’m more of a Mary than a Lizzie, and it was refreshing to see the world through her eyes. I recommend it!

  20. TIFFANY W. says:

    I’m in the middle of listening to 99% Invisible by Roman Mars. It’s much like his podcast, only better bc he ties his objects/ themes together in the same chapter. I’m really enjoying it.

  21. Suzy says:

    I just finished Once in a House on Fire, a memoir read by the author, Andrea Ashworth, and what a good writer she turned out to be after a terrible childhood (with a sweet accent!)
    Now I am really, really enjoying The Arsonist by Sue Miller, also read by the author. It’s slow and calming and I’m relating to all the characters.

  22. Colleen Heidecker says:

    Where to start – so many on those list were amazing as audiobooks! I love when I’ve listened to many of the suggestions. Right now, I am listening to a lot because I head out for a long walk every night!

  23. Diane says:

    Two audiobooks I thought were fabulous are Beartown by Frederic Bachman and Heft by Liz Moore. Liz Moore is getting more attention recently but I listened to this backlist years ago and was blown away by the feelings it brought. I’m sure it would also be good in print, but I highly recommend the audio with the two amazing narrators.

    • Alanna Angel says:

      The Beartown narrator, Marin Ireland, is my absolute favorite narrator! Have you listened to Anxious People? Her narration is spot on. It’s the only audio book I’ve listened to twice.

  24. Dana says:

    The Amelia Peabody series (historical, cozy mysteries set in Egypt in the late 1800s–early 1900s) are narrated by Barbara Rosenblat in the audiobooks, and she does such a great job! Even the voice of Emerson

  25. I listened to The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. It was great! Zeller did a fabulous job with the Southern and Chinese accents, male and female.

  26. Laura Haynes says:

    I recently checked out Charlotte’s Web (on audio) read by author EB White based on a recommendation from Gina Sheridan’s book “Check These Out: One Librarian’s Catalog of the 200 Coolest, Best & Most Important Books You’ll Ever Read” and my kids (boy age 10, girl age 15) and I all loved listening to it during carpool to school. It was so good! There was just something about the author’s voice reading the book, even though it one we all had read before, and of course, watched the movie too, that just made it so we all wanted to keep listening and pick back up as soon as we were in the car again. As we prepare for an upcoming summer road trip, I am curious, do you have any suggestions for a not so new (so I can check it out from the library) audio book the kids and I (and the hubby) would enjoy listening to together?

  27. Valencia Taylor says:

    Just finished Daisy Jones & the Six. Excellent on audio. I also really enjoyed The Mother-In-Law. The Jane Austen Society is a comfort listen for me.

  28. Mary H says:

    I’m currently listening to David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. It’s a free listen on the Audiobook Break podcast. So many great characters and Nicholas Boulton (narrator) really brings out the humor in the book.

  29. Debbie Swartzel says:

    I recently listened to The House on the Cerulean Sea. Everything in the write up raised red flags that this book wouldn’t be for me, but I was mistaken! Once I bought into the magical realism, this audio book was a joy. I smiled every time Chauncey spoke and would not have gotten that on the page. A fable for the ages.

  30. Crista Saunders says:

    Shantaram
    Novel by Gregory David Roberts

    This book is a wonderful epic story of the exile experience. I relate to the story because I was a American living in the Middle East for several years. The narrator of the audiobook is incredible. He is able to incorporate an Australiancome Indian, American and Arab accents. I feel like through the audiobook you really connect to the characters.

  31. Stephanie says:

    Per Anne’s suggestion, I just finished listening to Nothing to See Here, and loved the narration! The story is funny and had me chuckling out loud more than a few times. I wonder if it would have been the same just reading the book.

  32. Rebecca says:

    The Midnight Library narrated by Carey Mulligan is just gorgeous! Hi from Melbourne, Australia everyone! 🇦🇺

    • Alana says:

      Hello Melbourne Aus from Sydney Aus – sorry to hear you’re in lockdown again, but thank goodness for audio books.
      I want to endorse a couple mentioned above (The Dutch House, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – both excellent on audio).
      I’ve just finished one which really blew me away, especially since I can find some ‘twisty psychological thrillers’ a bit tedious. This one surpassed all expectations in narration ( Tamaryn Payne, Bea Holland, Dominic Thorburn, all brilliant) and plot (engrossing, solid pace, and not dumbed down – all developments plausible) … it was ‘The Family Upstairs’ by Lisa Jewell.

  33. Sharon says:

    I recently listened to two non-fiction books (not a genre I pick for enjoyment to read but audio books seem effortless), H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, read by her with her delightful British accent and The Falcon Thief by Joshua Hammer read by Matthew Lloyd Davies. Again a British narrator. Both enthralling stories that made me want to keep listening and walking!

  34. Geneva Eby says:

    Audio books are not my go to but I want to add more listening to my reading life…. I recently started The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. It’s a delight!

  35. teresa walker says:

    I’ve just finished listening to The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali, narrated by Mohzan Marnò. A 5-star book for me & the narration was wonderful!

    • Julie says:

      100% agree! Loved the audio and learned so much from this book and all the research it led me to after I finished. I’m ashamed at how much history I am clueless about but thankful for books that make me want to take “deep dives.”

  36. A says:

    The Astonishing Life of August March by Aaron Jackson is such a great summer read and Joel Froomkin does a hilarious, colorful interpretation on the audiobook!

  37. lisa says:

    I am listening to The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Borland. I love British stories about bookstores and this one doesn’t disappoint.

  38. Sue Baum says:

    My husband and I recently enjoyed listening to “A Time for Mercy” by John Grisham as read by Michael Beck. He does all the voices, from small children to aristocratic sounding Mississippi lawyers. He’s amazing! Also, the story and characters were complex and interesting. Recommend for your next road trip!

  39. Sylvia Smith says:

    I love having an audiobook to distract myself from the tedium of housework and yard work. Just finished “Home Front” by Kirstin Hannah. The narrator did an excellent job drawing me into this emotional story.

  40. Shirley Jones says:

    I have really enjoyed listening to Hollywood Park! The memoir is read by the author, who is a musician! This makes the audiobook so interesting!!

  41. Suzanne C says:

    Since I’m doing the ReadChristie2021 Challenge, I’ve been listening to an Agatha Christie on audio every month. I love the ones narrated by Emilia Fox- she’s got such a pleasant voice.

  42. Pam says:

    I absolutely loved listening to This is Happiness by Niall Williams, narrated by Dermot Crowley. Such a great listen that I bought the book.
    You will want to underline something on every page…truly beautiful writing!
    Also loved the hilarious Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse, narrated by the amazing Jonathan Cecil with his numerous British voices. So good!

  43. Nancy J says:

    We first read books read by Rodger Clark with The Searcher by Tana French. He is so great. We’ve been listening to him read the Evan Evans series by Rhys Bowen. Love listening to him!

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