I can't vouch for these books in print. But in my ears they came alive.
Five Days at Memorial - Sheri Fink (narrated by Kirstin Potter): This is an absolutely riveting and horrifying story about the events that transpired at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after Katrina hit. No electricity, a failed generator, and hundreds of critically ill and elderly patients too frail to evacuate. In a move that was highly controversial, decisions were made to euthanize the most helpless patients with lethal doses of painkillers. It is hard to imagine such events occurring today, and brings up some highly discussable topics. Perfect for book clubs. Kirstin Potter is a wonderful narrator, but the real attraction here is the facts.
In the Kingdom of Ice - Hampton Sides (narrated by Arthur Morey): This bit of history about an ill-fated Polar expedition in the late nineteenth century reads like a thriller. An eccentric playboy benefactor, incorrect maps and misinformation, starvation, frostbite, a breached hull, trudging for hundreds of miles in the frozen tundra, madness...it just doesn't get any more fascinating than this. Like "Five Days at Memorial", the narration was well-done but the facts are self-sustaining.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - Ann Patchett (narrated by the author): Before I listened to this audio, I would have sworn that I wasn't into "essays". But Patchett's, written for magazines over the expanse of her career, are ones that will touch on something that will move you. MOST of them moved me. Stories about writing her first book, about her dog, about her failed first marriage and her successful second one, about relationships with family and friends, opening a bookstore, being persecuted because of the content of her books...it is absolutely perfect in every way. Patchett is so natural in her narration too. This is one audio that I want to purchase in print to keep forever.
Native Son - Richard Wright (narrated by Peter Francis James): This story knocked the wind out of me. Set in 1930's Chicago, it tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a young black man that makes a series of bad decisions that drags him into a downward spiral. It is gut-wrenching, and shows the desperation and hopelessness of the black man during that time. I suspect the novel in print would have an equal impact, but the narration is superb.
We Are Water - Wally Lamb (narrated by Wally Lamb, George Guidall, Maggi-Meg Reed, Tavia Gilbert, Richard Ferrone, Edoardo Ballerini, Cynthia Darlow, Therese Plummer): If you asked me to list my top 10 audios EVER, this one would be one of them. Lamb is a hell of a storyteller, in this case covering everything from a modern family and their individual struggles, gay marriage, pedophilia, racial prejudice...oh yeah you get it all here, as is Lamb's way. But the narrators? That is a loaded cast of voices, and they made this audio completely unputdownable. It unfolded like a movie right before me, truly some of the best narration I've heard. We read this in my book club, and some of the members refused to read it because of the pedophilia. It's too bad because while that was very hard to listen to, I believe it to be one of the best books written this year.
Someone Else's Love Story - Joshilyn Jackson (narrated by the author): Most of you know this, but I refuse to read a JJ book in print. All of her books but one are narrated by the author herself, and she is marvelous. Her stories are marvelous too...quirky, usually dysfunctional, Southern, and all center on very strong women. In this novel, she also throws in autism and a love triangle of sorts. And a girl who got pregnant without having sex. You have to read it to believe it. It is classic Joshilyn Jackson.
Every Day - David Levithan (narrated by Alex McKenna): While this book officially fell under the YA genre, it gets serious credit for tickling my brain and presenting a very unique premise (something you don't get often in ANY genre). Every day "A" (a spirit? a soul? a male? a female?) wakes up in a different body. A is at peace with its existence, and lives by the rules of not interfering or causing attention in its subject's life. Then A meets and falls in love with a girl. Suddenly every day is a mission to get close to her, which is difficult when each day A is a radically different person. It sounds a little wacky, but it works. It is beautiful. And very beautifully narrated.
The Martian - Andy Weir (narrated by R.C. Bray): If you've been anywhere near a book review this year, you will recognize this one. This book was all the rage! This won't be the only list you will see it on, particular in audio form. About a wise-ass brainiac that get accidentally left on Mars during an exploration mission, it makes science fiction accessible and LIKABLE by one and all. The narration of Bray provides the perfect snarky voice of a guy who is basically screwed but uses his last wit to stay alive. Oh and by the way, it's going to be a movie starring Matt Damon. Yep.
The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith (narrated by Robert Glenister): If you thought J.K. Rowling shot her wad on Harry Potter, you were wrong. This series started with "The Cuckoo's Calling" and set the groundwork with a protagonist who is a rumpled but genius private investigator, and his cute ambitious assistant. I felt that Cuckoo's mystery was a tad pedestrian and one-dimensional, but she let out all the stops on this one. The cherry on top was that the mystery occurs butt-deep in the publishing industry. Robert Glenister's narration is simply as good as it gets. He is amazing.
World of Trouble - Ben H. Winters (narrated by Peter Berkrot): This book is the third installment in The Last Policeman Trilogy, and yes, it is extremely unusual that the final book would be the mind-blower but it was. The premise of the trilogy is that a very large asteroid is going to hit the earth and end civilization as we know it. As time ticks down, people hunker down, pursue their bucket lists, kill themselves, get stoned on drugs. But Detective Hank Palace (a little on the spectrum I think) continues to solve murders, chase down missing persons, and try to save his little sister. The first two novels are good, but this one is remarkable. Not too many people can pull off the end of the world quite like this. The narrator isn't the best in the business, but his voice became Hank Palace and I was glad they kept him through the series.