Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Favorite Audiobooks

2011 has been an especially satisfying year for my audiobook listening experience. I believe there is an art to teaming the best narrator with each story. And that art is further enhanced when the narrator is on the same wave as the book's author. Then add in the magicians who do the editing. To create a great listening experience from a great book, there is a considerable amount of time, consideration and effort.

There have been many wonderful matches between great narrators and exceptional stories this year. I've listened to 47 audios and hope to add at least one more. Coming up with my favorite list was quite challenging. However, I do have to say that since I haven't had a chance to listen to HELL'S EMPTY on audiobook yet, that helped a teensy bit!

After much hemming and hawing and re-reading my reviews, I've come up with my favorite audiobooks of 2011:
10. FALLEN (written by Karin Slaughter; narrated by Shannon Cochran) - if I am completely honest, and when you get through my list you'll see I really have no choice but to be honest, I have a harder time listening to female narrators than I do male. Very rarely do I find a female narrator who does male characters justice in crime fiction, at least for my ear. Cochran is one of the best I've heard. And not only did she exhibit a wonderful range for the gender of the characters, she gave each character a distinct sound within the Southern dialect, which was not over-the-top ridiculous like many can be. It had been a little while since my last dance through Slaughter's fictional world and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy her characters. This audiobook was a delightful treat for me. Kudos to the AudioGo team that made FALLEN happen.

9. PORTRAIT OF A SPY (written by Daniel Silva; narrated by Simon Vance) - I haven't had a chance to review this one, yet, but last year I finally discovered Silva's Gabriel Allon series and I jumped at the chance to listen to the newest on audio this year. Vance achieved a great feat in delivering a convincing Gabriel for me. It's hard to do when I've read the character first and developed an image and sound in my brain. But I have to say, I prefered Vance's to my own. Harper Audio gets the nod for this great audibook.

8. THE ALIENIST (written by Caleb Carr; narrated by George Guidall) - I know everyone on the planet but me had read this book prior to 2011, but have you listened to George Guidall read it to you?  Guidall is a master at picking up subtle nuances and humor, which were vital in THE ALIENIST. And while I've listened to him bring Walt Longmire to life book after book, Guidall still manages to completely recreate himself for each character in each book, so there were no echos of Walt only the sounds of the world Carr depicted through his words. The masterminds at Recorded Books get an enthusiastic round of applause on THE ALIENIST.

7. THE PALE BLUE EYE (written by Louis Bayard; narrated by Charles Leggett) - This audiobook was an astounding combination of story and narrator. Leggett nailed Edgar Allen Poe and, boy, did he ever tap into Bayard's humor.  THE PALE BLUE EYE was entertainment at its finest. The folks at AudioGo (formerly BBC America) did Bayard's fine work justice.

6. CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER (written by Tom Franklin; narrated by Kevin Kenerly) - Books like CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER can present special challenges that result in the audio being either a phenomenal performance or a dreadful bomb. The sense of time and place, the depth of character, the range and intensity of theme. Kevin Kenerly nailed ALL of it. A tip of the hat to the Blackstone Audio folks for this exceptional production.

5.  A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE (written by R.J. Ellory; narrated by Kevin Kenerly) - Maybe I should start up Kenerly's fan club? As with CLCL, Kenerly takes the challenges of a richly complex novel and gives them pitch-perfect sound. The atmosphere is vital to this novel and it's obvious that Kenerly is keenly aware of its importance. The mystery is enhanced through his tempo. Both of these novels are ones I imagine narrators would be tempted to over-dramatize. He doesn't go down that road, and the results are hauntingly effective. Exquisite. Again, the Blackstone Audio crew are responsible for this great audiobook.

4. THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE (written by Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis; narrated by Katherine Kellgren) Kellgren does a such a superb job of setting the book's tone in this narration. Kaaberbøl & Friis have created female characters who are determined, yet struggling. They are simultaneously fearful and persistent. Kellgren motivates the audience to feel that internal conflict, which I feel is essential to comprehending the full extent of this novel. This is another one from those AudioGo pros!

3. FUN & GAMES/HELL & GONE (written by Duane Swierczynski; narrated by Pete Larkin) I paired these two books up because they share the same author, the same narrator and the same trilogy. Pete Larkin not only understood Swierczynski and his humor, he appreciated the work at every level. Larkin IS Charlie Hardie: the gruffness of Hardie's life experiences, the submission to fate, as well as Hardie's intuition, intelligence and curiosity. As I've mentioned before I think these audios are the perfect storm of audiobooks and Hachette Audio is the team responsible for making that storm happen.

2. SHIBUMI (written by Travanian; narrated by Joe Barrett) I was so pleasantly surprised with SHIBUMI. Too often a books I love are ravaged by over-eager narrators who makes the writing sound like a daytime drama. SHIBUMI has the content to possibly encourage that, but I should have had faith in one of my favorite narrators, Joe Barrett, who just does not ever over dramatize. Nicholai Hel would have no place in his world for drama. He's calm; he's in control; and he's at peace. Barrett exemplified both that and Trevanian's beautifully sensual, rich novel. He also nailed the esoteric essence of the novel. Thanks to Blackstone for making this one happen.  

1. GOOD GRACES (written by Lesley Kagen; narrated by Lesley Kagen) I battled with the order of these last three as I think they are all spectacular, but I decided on GOOD GRACES for the top spot because Lesley Kagen pulled every emotion possible from me in the course of this audiobook. I laughed at things I remembered during my childhood; I cried for honest mistakes that change your world; I raged at intolerance; and I melted from the innocence of youth. It was a perfect audiobook experience for me. Nice job AudioGo!

So that rounds out my favorite audiobooks for 2011. What was on YOUR list of favorites that you listened to this year?

Check back tomorrow for my final post - my favorite overall reads of 2011.


Beth F December 29, 2011 at 8:03 AM  

Adding ALL of these to my list. I listened to 60+ audiobooks last year but not any of these. I own CLCL but haven't found a moment to listen. I blame Game of Thrones. I'm on the fifth book now. in total that series alone was close to 200 hours.

dog eared copy December 29, 2011 at 9:46 AM  

YAY! I'm so happy to see both Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and A Simple Act of Violence on your Favorite Audiobooks List this year! I loved Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter myself and; I loved working with KK on A Simple Act of Violence. I think he happens to be one of the more overlooked narrators out there so I'm really glad to see that you're a KK fan girl! :-D

Chris Grabenstein December 29, 2011 at 10:07 AM  

Thanks for the list! I'm looking for a new Audible Listen now that I've finished Stephen Kings time travel book 11-23-63.

bermudaonion December 29, 2011 at 11:42 AM  

I've read Fun & Games, but haven't listened to any of them. I have Fallen on audio, though, and now I'm excited about it.

The Lacquered Lady December 29, 2011 at 12:57 PM  

I was listening to the Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva and the audio quality was not what I expected. The voice kept coming in and out. I finally just went out and read the book. Just an fyi.

Teresa December 29, 2011 at 1:28 PM  

Oooh I read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I'll bet I would have enjoyed the audio version as well. I completely agree with you on both Fallen and The Boy in The Suitcase. Great list.

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