The best audiobooks allow you to immerse yourself in the world of a story in a way that just can't be done with a paperback, in that you can listen to a bestselling novel whilst walking, running, driving or powering through housework.
There are further benefits too; audiobooks mean we give our eyes a screen break, but the emotional and intellectual satisfaction we get from reading is still there. Researchers from UC Berkley analyzed scans and found the same areas of the brain lit up whether the participant was reading or listening to a book.
So whether the audiobooks you choose for this summer are plucked from a list of the best thrillers, the best romance books or is an entirely new genre for you, you can listen to it knowing that you're still gleaning all the benefits of reading straight from the page.
Best audiobooks: autobiographies
Nowhere For Very Long by Brianna Madia | Read by the author
The subtitle of Brianna Madia’s memoir is “the unexpected road to an unconventional life” and it’s a journey in several different ways. Madia and her husband sold up and left their middle-class world in Connecticut, firstly to travel around the United States in an orange van called Bertha. Life is precarious, but free and plays out against the dramatic scenery of the Western US and Mexico. But life on the road takes an emotional toll and the couple’s marriage starts to crack. Elegantly written, Nowhere For Very Long is one of the best non-fiction books from the last few years and will delight anyone who has ever dreamt of making a leap into a new life.
Maid by Stephanie Land | Read by the author
You may have seen the incredible Netflix show based on Land’s autobiography, but this is the raw true story untempered by the needs of TV drama. The book details Land’s struggle to bring up her daughter alone, working low-paid, insecure jobs and struggling with the endless tangles of the US welfare system. She takes on work as a cleaner and, in her words, becomes “a nameless ghost” drifting through her employers’ houses and lives. This is a story of resilience, hunger and an unfair system. Land has given a voice to those who rarely get to speak on the public stage and hearing her read her own words packs an extra punch.
And Away… by Bob Mortimer | Read by Bob Mortimer
Until 2015, it had not occurred to Bob Mortimer that he should sit down and write his life story. But during that year, the comedian was diagnosed with a heart condition that changed things for him, not only providing him with a gap in his hectic schedule in which to write, but also a springboard towards contemplating everything he had been through. Through the course of listening to his witty, surprising, and considered autobiography, you'll hear about the seismic effect of his father’s death, his short-lived stint in a punk band, why he ditched a promising career as a solicitor to become a full-time comedian, and how he ended up fronting a show about fishing. A thoroughly entertaining audiobook for fans of Bob both old and new.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama | Read by Barack Obama
Never have we needed a calm voice of hope and reason, and such is the soothing nature of this biography by the former US President. Barack Obama talks frankly about the challenges facing his beloved country, weaving the personal and political as he discusses his term in office and beyond. Endlessly fascinating and ultimately enlightening, it will regalvanise your belief in the power of positivity.
Educated by Tara Westover | Read by Julia Whelan
Tara Westover grew up in the Idaho mountains and spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating meager supplies. She watched the school bus roll past, but never got on it. Her father did not believe in education or conformity; and so Tara had no birth certificate, no medical record, no paper trail and no reason to question why. Until she did. Written following her abandonment of the place she called home in order to study first at Harvard and then Cambridge University, Educated is an astonishing true story about hope, family and identity, told beautifully in this audio edition by the talented Julia Whelan.
Best audiobooks: Romances
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane | Read by Sarah Novak
Laurie has been dumped by her partner and the last 18 years of her life feel like they've vanished. Even worse, she still has to work with her ex. She enters into an agreement with another colleague, Jamie. They will pretend to have a romance. They agree the terms on email, stage photos and pretend to be in love. The 'fake dating' plot is a popular one for romantic films and fiction, but Mhairi McFarlane proves why she's such a popular writer by giving Laurie, Jamie and the supporting characters depth and heart.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid | Read by Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan and Robin Miles
Seven husbands, but none of them was the real love of Evelyn Hugo's life. Monique, a recently divorced journalist, is surprised when Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo insists that Monique is the only journalist she will grant an interview to. Evelyn starts to tell her tale and reveals far more than the truth about her multiple marriages. This is fun tale of old Hollywood, packed with stardust and intrigue, dipping into sadness, frustration and layers of secrets. Author Taylor Jenkins Reid is good at the glamour of the recent past, having previously written about the 1970s rock scene in Daisy Jones And The Six, and Evelyn Hugo is another enjoyable journey.
Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen | Read by Rosamund Pike
There are a number of audio editions of this much-adored tale available, but what becomes rapidly apparent upon listening to this version in particular is that narrator Rosamund Pike—who played the part of Jane Bennet in the best period drama 2005 film adaptation—is a passionate Austen fan. Her lively, witty and joyful performance does the book proud, and is a welcome reminder of exactly why the ‘will they/won’t they’ story of proud Mr Darcy and prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet has endured for so long in the hearts of so many readers.
Rivals by Jilly Cooper | Read by Sherry Baines
Of all Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles, Rivals is perhaps the best loved. It is certainly the most accessible, given that it’s set not in the author’s preferred horsey world but in the cutthroat domain of television (although naturally, she still creates ample opportunity for sexy scoundrel Rupert Campbell-Black to feature). Listening to Rivals feels like catching up with old friends you haven’t heard from in years, and narrator Sherry Baines has a lot of fun with the multiple personalities and pun-tastic love scenes on offer. Downloading this will ensure you several days’ worth of rollicking good listening pleasure.
Luster by Ravel Leilani | Read by Ariel Blake
Edie is not so much living as existing. Her admin job in an all-white office is dull, she’s failing to indulge her passion of painting and she keeps sleeping with all the wrong men. Through this fog emerges Eric, a white, middle-aged husband and father to an adopted black daughter who convinces Edie that not only is his marriage open but that she should move in with his family. Exploring race, youth and the politics surrounding conventional relationships, Luster is a sharp-edged yet insightful and funny debut with a firecracker heroine at its heart—and the audio narration is brilliant.
Best audiobooks: Thrillers and horror
The Hotel by Daisy Johnson | Read by various actors
The Hotel was written by Booker Prize nominee Daisy Johnson especially for the BBC and is read by a range of brilliant actors including Anne-Marie Duff, Maxine Peake and Juliet Stevenson. The Hotel, it is explained, was built on cursed land in the East Anglian fens. Each chapter works as its own ghost story, full of strange imagination, but they all interlink eventually suggesting some reason as to why the site has so many unexplained deaths. This has the skin-prickling creepiness of a classic gothic horror, but is bought straight into the present day.
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley | Read by various actors
The party heading up to the hunting lodge in Scotland are really quite privileged and potentially somewhat annoying, but that doesn’t mean they deserve what happens. This is a modern mystery book and the isolated lodge, quickly cut off from the outside world, is an atmospheric and creepy location. Old grudges surface and the house fills with poison. The two staff members try to untangle what is happening, but they also have buried secrets. This is a fun and propulsive murder mystery and the audiobook has each part voiced by a different actor, giving you a personal performance in your headphones.
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins | Read by Rosamund Pike
From the best-selling author of The Girl On The Train, comes this heart-pumping thriller about three women linked by a violent murder. Hot-tempered Laura is known as a loner, and when she’s seen leaving the scene of the crime with blood on her hands, the simplest assumption is that she is the perpetrator. Miriam isn’t so sure; she knows from experience how damaging it can be to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then there’s Carla, reeling from the death of a loved one and desperate to find peace—but at what cost? Rosamund Pike does a seamless job of bringing Hawkins’ flawed female characters to life here, while the plot unfurls with delicious darkness.
Pet Sematary by Stephen King | Read by Michael C Hall
Often lauded as not only Stephen King’s scariest book, and now a popular book-to-movie adaption, but also one of the best horror stories of all time, Pet Sematary is certainly not for the faint of heart. The plot centers around a young father who moves his family from Chicago out to a quiet house in Maine, the garden of which backs up into a forest where the local children bury their pets. Visceral and terrifying yet deliciously addictive, this classic King tale is made even more chilling by Dexter star Michael C Hall’s quietly commanding narration. Listen…if you dare.
Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton | Read by Gemma Whelan
Game Of Thrones actress Gemma Whelan takes the narration reins of this chillingly beautiful novel about a school under siege from the indefatigably talented Lupton. As the title suggests, the action unfurls over the course of three hours, with chapters split between the viewpoints of trapped pupils, desperate parents, stricken teachers and the police officer racing against time to find and locate the shooters. Despite its subject matter, there is nothing gratuitous nor gory about this book; its power lies in the quiet intensity of its characters, the lyrical prose and a captivating climax that digs claws right into the heart. A true masterpiece.
- Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton from Audible
Best audibooks: Fiction
Our Friends In The North by Peter Flannery | Read by various actors
If you haven’t explored the audiobooks section on the BBC Sounds app, we recommend you do. There are free readings of books and dramatic adaptations, such as this version of the hit 1990s TV series Our Friends In The North. The story is as much about the state of Britain from the 1960s onwards as it is about the four main characters, Nicky, Geordie, Tosker and Mary. The drama adapts well to the new format and has new material: in the tenth episode Flannery picks up the story 26 years after it initially ended.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart | Read by Angus King
Set in 1980s Glasgow, this Booker Prize-winning debut novel has been captivating readers since its release in February 2020. Mum Agnes has been yearning for a better, simpler life for as long as she can remember, but when she is abandoned by her husband and left to raise three children alone, any hope that remained is stripped away and she seeks solace from the bottle. Shuggie is the son who stays, the one who refuses to give up on his mother, and the character you cannot help but root for throughout. Funny, sad, thought-provoking and beautifully human, it is a story which flourishes in audio thanks to the superbly raw and authentic performance of Scot Angus King.
We Are All Birds Of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan | Read by Taheen Modak and Sagar Arya
Set between 1960s Uganda and present-day London, this blistering debut charts the pivotal moments in the lives of two men. In Uganda, Hasan is struggling to keep his family and business afloat following the death of his wife when a new regime seizes power, while in London, 26-year-old Sameer is floundering despite riding high as a lucrative City lawyer. Called home by tragedy, Sameer begins to delve into a past that until now has been shrouded in secrecy, and what he discovers will change everything. A nuanced and enlightening novel about identity, self and what it truly means to belong.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | Read by Elisabeth Moss
Given how brilliant she is in the TV adaptation of this dystopian classic, it made perfect sense that Elisabeth Moss (Offred) was invited to read the audiobook of The Handmaid’s Tale, alongside her co-stars Bradley Whitford (Commander Lawrence), Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia) and Amy Landecker (Mrs Mackenzie). Margaret Atwood’s haunting tale packs as much if not more of a punch now than it did when it was first published in 1985, and as such, it more than warrants repeated readings. A brilliant audiobook and one of the best book club books to get conversation flowing.
Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders | Read by various actors
Winner of the Man Booker in 2017, Lincoln In The Bardo is the fantastical creation of American writer George Saunders, who is but one of an astonishing 166-person cast in this audiobook production. Also lending their voices to tell the story of supernatural cohorts squabbling over the soul of a president’s son are David Sedaris, Lena Dunham, Bradley Whitford, Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller and Don Cheadle, to name a mere few. The result is an endlessly riveting listening experience that is perhaps closer to theatre than simple audio—well worth downloading to enjoy in a single sitting.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott | Read by Laura Dern and a full cast
When the big Hollywood adaptation of Little Women arrived in cinemas, a whole new generation of fans fell in love with the irresistible story of the March sisters. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, it charts the lives and loves of Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg as they each make their way out into a changing world. Laura Dern took on the role of the sisters’ mother in the film, and here she takes over the narration alongside a full cast of talented actors, all of whom do a brilliant job of bringing Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale to life.
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Anna is an award-winning journalist with over 20 years experience as a writer and editor. The former Associate Editor of Stylist Magazine, Anna has also written for Elle, The Guardian, British Vogue and the New Statesman.
A self-confessed bibliophile, Anna has hosted live literature events and workshops and is also the host of new author recommendations podcast @readlikeapod.
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