AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks of January


Each month, our friends at AudioFile Magazine share a curated list of the best audiobooks for your literary listening pleasure.

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JANUARY FICTION

djinn waits audio

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years by Shubnum Khan| Read by Soneela Nankani
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Penguin Audio | 10.25 hrs.]

Soneela Nankani dynamically narrates this unique mystery. Sana and her father move to an old South African estate turned housing for those seeking shelter, and stumbles into the bedroom of the estate’s former resident and her djinn. Although the djinn is depicted as an invisible entity, Sana’s interactions with it are performed with so much care that listeners will feel the genuine connection between the two characters.

grandmother begins the story

A Grandmother Begins the Story by Michelle Porter| Read by Michelle Porter, Jani Lauzon, Tara Sky, Tantoo Cardinal, Dakota Ray Hebert, Bernard Starlight, Elle-Màijà Tailfeathers, Wesley French, Jenny Pudavick, Lisa Cromarty, Monique Mojica, Alison Deon, Jacob MacInnis, Yolanda Bonnell, Brefny Caribou
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Algonquin Books | 8.75 hrs.]

Sixteen narrators, many Indigenous, join their voices to deliver memoirist/poet Michelle Porter’s haunting debut novel. Matriarch Mamé, voiced by actor Tantoo Cardinal, has passed on but can’t settle in the afterlife as connections to her daughter, granddaughter, and great-great-granddaughter keep her tethered to this world. These vibrant, determined women are surrounded and supported by others, including bison, two dogs, a car named Bets, and even the prairie itself. Porter’s dreamlike writing is enhanced by a delicate soundtrack interwoven with a playful fiddle and gently thrumming drums.

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The Bullet Swallower by Elizabeth Gonzalez James| Read by Lee Osorio
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Simon & Schuster Audio | 10 hrs.]

Lee Osorio’s deep voice with a hint of gravel is well suited to this historical novel, a blend of gritty Old West adventure and Latin magical realism. Mexican bandito Antonio Sonoro is nicknamed “the Bullet Swallower” after a disfiguring encounter with Texas Rangers. Antonio wreaks havoc on everyone, unlike his good-natured grandson. Osorio inhabits the Mexican, Texan, and modern Californian characters with evocative accents. Adept at ramping up the action during shoot-outs and escapes, he also soothes with a sonorous narrative voice that carries listeners to the thoughtful and moving conclusion.

day michael cunningham audio

Day by Michael Cunningham| Read by Julianne Moore
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Random House Audio | 6.5 hrs.]

Julianne Moore performs this pandemic family saga told in three sections. Each section is set on April 5 of a different year and reveals more about the family members, weaving together the threads of their lives. Moore’s narration is engrossing and moves easily among the different characters’ points of view, giving each family member emotional depth and development. This moving family story will stay with listeners long after Moore has delivered the last word.

orbital audio cover

Orbital by Samantha Harvey| Read by Sarah Naudi
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Recorded Books | 5 hrs.]

Sarah Naudi offers a luminous narration of Harvey’s latest sci-fi, which follows four astronauts and two cosmonauts aboard a space station orbiting the Earth. In a measured, thoughtful tone, Naudi provides a window on the crew’s life in orbit, from the dreary mundanity of a malfunctioning toilet to the unsettling awe brought forth by a space walk. Naudi skillfully moves between the solemn, meditative language and the exquisite images that speak volumes. This delicately narrated audio, layering the otherworldly with the ordinary, makes for a transfixing, unputdownable listen.

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JANUARY NONFICTION

listen audio cover

Listen: On Music, Sound and Us by Michel Faber| Read by Nathaniel Priestley
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Harlequin Audio | 12.75 hrs.]

Nathaniel Priestley’s creative pitch patterns and British enunciation give wonderful vitality to Michel Faber’s colorful prose and expansive thinking about music. The Scotland-based writer’s idiosyncratic opinions on how music connects with the human race can sound snarky and unsubstantiated, but are invariably entertaining. This top-shelf writing could not have found a better narrator than Priestley, who consistently finds the exact vocal tone to express one hundred percent of this author’s originality.

my venice audio

My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon| Read by Suzanne Toren
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Recorded Books | 7.25 hrs.]

Suzanne Toren’s exquisite enunciation and no-nonsense manner meld beautifully with Donna Leon’s sardonic, witty reflections on Venice and its denizens. Author of the much loved mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, American-born Leon has made her home in the watery city for more than forty years. Toren’s pleasant mid-range voice invites listeners into the alluring calli y piazzas, while her professorial, often wry tone warns them to beware. Trash in the canals, nightmare real estate transactions, tourists in Bermuda shorts—Toren narrates it all with perfect timing and a wink.

the palace audio

The Palace: From the Tudors to the Windsors, 500 Years of British History at Hampton Court by Gareth Russell| Read by John Telfer
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Simon & Schuster Audio | 14.25 hrs.]

Along with its many other pleasures, this engaging audiobook demonstrates how vast and, at the same time, how very intimate five centuries can feel. John Telfer narrates the story of England’s Hampton Palace with gusto, grace, and fine enunciation, clearly relishing the narrative’s rich historical and sensory detail and its many points of high drama. The sharpness of detail and the narrator’s high spirits breathe new life into the telling and make this exceptional listening.

dolly parton audio cover

Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones by Dolly Parton| Read by Dolly Parton, Holly George Warren, Rebecca Seaver
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Random House Audio | 4.5 hrs.]

Renowned singer Dolly Parton is center stage as she describes how her clothing choices over the years represent who she is. The production takes a Q & A format: Dolly’s niece, Rebecca Seaver, also the director of Dolly’s archived clothing collection, poses the questions. Seaver’s engaging manner leads to Dolly’s spontaneous clothing-related reflections during different periods of her life. Dolly’s commentary is characterized by her rich, lilting vernacular; her candidness; and her storytelling gift. Stories are punctuated with laughter, song excerpts related to the narrative, and a dynamism that is pure Dolly.

thank you audio cover

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly Stone, Ben Greenman, Questlove [Fore.]| Read by Dion Graham
AudioFile Earphones Award

[Macmillan Audio | 8.25 hrs.]

Dion Graham doesn’t just embody the spirit of musician Sly Stone’s voice—his performance also accentuates the lyrical rhythm of Stone’s prose. Sly and the Family Stone’s early albums in the 1960s are landmarks of popular music, a feat Stone worked meticulously to craft. His stories place listeners firmly in the spaces he occupied then and give perspective on why he disappeared for so long. Throughout, Graham sustains an authentic cool. His voice subtly slows down, pauses, and cracks as Stone expounds upon his older years. It’s a kind of music unto itself.



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