by Barbara Nevins Taylor
Every time a great audiobook narration flows through my earbuds and a story unfolds like a movie, I want to tell the world.
So for June Audiobook Month, I put together a list of the best books I’ve listened to in the past six months. Some are new and others were published and recorded a while ago. But each will make great summer listening. I hope you enjoy.
A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James, narrated by Robertson Dean, Cherise Boothe, Dwight Bacquie, Ryan Anderson, Johnathan McClain, Robert Younis, Thom Rivera
This tour de force won The Man Booker prize in 2015. A great read, I’m sure. But the seven actors who perform the story take it to another place entirely, and lead you on a mesmerizing trip that starts in Jamaica in the 1970s.
The tough language, patois and raw brutality may put some off. But if you can deal with it, you’ll find yourself starting out in the Kingston ghettoes in 1976, in the middle of a story about Caribbean politics, the consequences of C.I.A. overreach, Cuba, the drug trade and murderers who kill as easily as they breathe.
In vivid street talk, each of the central characters tells his or her story in the first person during alternating chapters. So you get into the heads of Jamaican gangsters, C.I.A. agents and operatives, a writer-reporter for Rolling Stone, a young Jamaican woman who inadvertently gets involved and a few new characters as the story goes on.
James begins with the re-election campaign of Michael Manley and plans for a reggae concert to ease tensions between political groups. “The singer,” Bob Marley, looms large in the minds of the politicians, the gangsters and the C.I.A. Guess who doesn’t want the concert to occur?
A political plot aimed to unseat Manley leads the gangsters to shoot Marley, his wife Rita and his manager. It doesn’t end there. The characters continue their brutal tale of what follows during the next fifteen years in Jamaica, Miami and New York. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself repelled but in awe of the Jamaican bad men, the performers, the writer Marlon James and wishing the story would go on forever.
Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout, narrated by Kimberly Farr
Elizabeth Strout’s characters live on a different planet from those who people the Marlon James novel. Her beautifully crafted stories of midwestern angst take you into the lives of people in small towns who slowly discover surprising things about themselves and their neighbors. Anything Is Possible follows the people who made Lucy Barton’s life hell in Strout’s 2016 novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton. It tells the story of a novelist who comes to terms with how growing up in a small town, in an impoverished abusive family, shaped her. In Anything Is Possible we get the flip side of the story, the truth behind the lives of those who made Lucy Barton feel small: the gay father of a friend, the mom who runs off to live with a younger lover in Italy, the aching loneliness of a man seeking sexual fulfillment and more. Kimberly Farr performs the story and characters with pitch perfect accuracy. Her narration draws you into the people who’ve hidden aching secrets that come bubbling up to the surface in the most unexpected ways.
In the Name of the Family, by Sarah Dunant, narrated by Nicholas Boulton
If you like soapy, well-researched historical novels, Sarah Dunant does it perfectly. Her In the Name of the Family follows the Borgia family during the last years of Papa Borgia’s reign as Pope Alexander VI. She tells the story through the eyes of Lucrezia, Cesare, Pope Alexander VI and Niccolo Machiavelli. The rich cast of characters romps through late 15th century Italy, particularly Rome and Ferrara and the countryside in between. The Pope, to consolidate his political power, sends Lucrezia off to marry the heir to the Duke of Ferrera. She struggles to make the marriage to an indifferent husband work. While Cesare battles enemies and the pox, and Machiavelli, traveling with Cesare representing the rulers of Florence, tries to keep tabs on what the Borgias plan to do next. Whether they go to war against Florence concerns his masters most. Nicholas Boulton makes it all believable, fun and compelling listening.
Orphan X, by Gregg Hurwitz, narrated by Scott Brick
Gregg Hurwitz writes a thriller that keeps you on the edge as you worry about whether the hero will survive. They all do, don’t they? Yes. But. And the but counts here. Orphan X and the sequel The Nowhere Man really do make you wonder how Evan Smoak will get out of the mess Hurwitz puts him in. Narrator Scott Brick makes you feel for Evan as you join him on a roller coaster of violence that descends into the mundane domestic life of a California bachelor trying to hide his true identity in a high-rise condo filled with nosy neighbors, a single mom and a boy who needs a friend.
Smoak understands loneliness. As a child he was plucked out of an orphanage and trained in a clandestine U.S. program to become a black ops assassin. But his handler veered off script, treated him like a son and provided a humanist, literate education while teaching him to kill. That sets Evan Smoak apart from other orphans trained in the program by less loving tutors. We meet him after he breaks from the government to work on his own and use his cunning and combat skills to help people in need.
The Nowhere Man picks up where Orphan X left off and fills in more back story. Both audiobooks provide your money’s worth of fun, excitement and compulsive listening.
You can find more audiobooks in Audiobooks for Summer Listening Part 2