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
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 →
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 →
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
. 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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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.
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