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History, memoir, and fantastic fiction are among the spring’s standout audiobooks.                   

Audiobook releases coming in spring 2019 feature plenty of choices for every listener, regardless of their favorite genres or subjects. Memoirs by both public figures and ordinary individuals continue to be popular, while meaty history and social science titles give listeners something to savor. There’s a broad range of fiction on the horizon, with crime, historical, and sf/fantasy making especially strong showings. And the list of readers contributing to a new book from Oprah Winfrey gives new meaning to “full cast."

                                        


PERSONAL STORIES

Valerie Jarrett, president Obama’s longest serving senior adviser, describes her life before, during, and after her time in the White House in Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward (Books on Tape. Apr. ISBN 9780525624295; read by the author).

Suketu Mehta (Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found) addresses worldwide anti-immigrant sentiment in This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto (Recorded Bks. May. ISBN 9781250305633; read by Vikas Adam). He uses his own experiences as an Indian-born teen in New York City and a reporter working globally to make the argument that the United States and the West would benefit from more immigrants.

In Born with Teeth, Kate Mulgrew wrote about her early life, becoming an actress, and the child she gave up for adoption. She picks up the story in How To Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir (Harper Audio. May. ISBN 9780062846853) as she goes back to Iowa to care for her ailing parents. After her parents die, Mulgrew learns something that challenges her understanding of them and their relationship.

Nnedi Okorafor is best known for novels that imagine new worlds, such asBinti and Who Fears Death, but in Broken Places & Outer Spaces (S. & S. Audio. Jun. ISBN 9781508278603) the subject is the author herself and how she became a writer. When Okorafor was in college, a supposedly routine operation left her paralyzed from the waist down. During the months of recovery, she had vivid dreams and visions and began to put those fantastical ideas into words.

Kwame Onwuachi takes an unvarnished look at the difficulties and rewards of pursuing a dream of working in food in Notes from a Young Black Chef (Books on Tape. Apr. ISBN 9781984839909; read by the author). He discusses his start as a chef on a Deepwater Horizon cleanup ship, his time in renowned restaurants, and his appearance on Top Chef. He describes how difficult the industry is in general—his first restaurant closed soon after it opened—and how much harder it is for people of color to get established.

Oprah Winfrey straddles memoir and self-help in The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose (Macmillan Audio. Mar. ISBN 9781250317032; read by a full cast). Oprah opens each chapter by sharing her experiences and lessons she’s learned, followed by those of experts and luminaries in a variety of fields, with the goal of helping listeners figure out their purpose and pursue it with passion and focus. Among the dozens of celebrity readers are Brene Brown, Cheryl Strayed, Joe Biden, John Lewis, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jordan Peele, Gloria Steinem, Shonda Rhimes, Jimmy Carter, and Tracy Morgan.


SELECTED SHORTS AND GOOD SPORTS

New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum discusses the relationship between what we watch and the culture at large in I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution (Books on Tape. Jun. ISBN 9781984841285). In these essays, two previously unpublished, she explores such topics as the complexities of portraying sexual violence on screen and the changing face of female protagonists in the last decade.

Amy Hempel returns after almost a decade in Sing to It (S. & S. Audio. Mar. ISBN 9781508281351; read by the author), with 15 short stories about people looking for connection, whether it’s with shelter dogs or the woman with whom the character’s husband had an affair.

Meb Keflezighi was the first person to win both the Boston and New York City marathons as well as an Olympic marathon medal. He ran his last race in 2017 and reflects on his experiences in 26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career (Books on Tape. Mar. ISBN 9781984840691; read by Holter Graham). Here he helps runners apply the lessons he’s learned to their own running and lives.

John Urschel talks about his two loves in Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football (Books on Tape. May. ISBN 9781984839176). A former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens and a mathematician, Urschel shows how the two strands of his life developed, separately and together.

Brian Windhorst looks at how an athlete became an icon in LeBron, Inc.: The Making of a Billion-Dollar Athlete (Hachette Audio. May. ISBN 9781549115929). With plenty of details about James’s last season in Cleveland and high-profile move to the Los Angeles Lakers, this work shows how James has changed the game for elite athletes on and off the court.

 

CRIMINAL ELEMENTS

Back to fiction, Jackson Brodie returns in Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky (Hachette Audio. Jun. ISBN 9781549120695). He’s living in a quiet seaside village, investigating suspected infidelity, when a chance encounter with a man on a cliff leads him to become embroiled with dangerous criminals.

S.A. Lelchuk’s debut, Save Me from Dangerous Men (Macmillan Audio. Apr. ISBN 9781427298355), launches the PI Nikki Griffin series. Nikki is tailing Karen, a woman whose company suspects she may be selling secrets, when Karen’s life is threatened and Nikki intervenes. Karen tells Nikki that there are people after her, and soon Nikki is just trying to stay alive.

Sujata Massey follows The Widows of Malabar Hill with The Satapur Moonstone (Recorded Bks. May. ISBN 9781980027133). In 1922 India, two royal women cannot agree about the education of the young crown prince. They need a lawyer to weigh in, but the maharanis live in purdah and do not speak to men. The only person who can help is Perveen Mistry, India’s only female lawyer.

Many audiobook fans share an obsession—true crime podcasts—with Anna McLean, the upper-class Edinburgh housewife at the center of Denise Mina’s Conviction (Hachette Audio. Jun. ISBN 9781549118739). A podcast dredges up the details of Anna’s own dark, secret past. While she’s still coming to terms with the implications, her husband leaves her for her best friend, and Anna ends up going on the run with the friend’s husband, a former rock star.

Annie Ward’s Beautiful Bad (Harlequin Audio. Mar. ISBN 9781488205828; read by Xe Sands, Vivienne Leheny, and Paul Fox) introduces Maddie and Ian. The pair met in the Balkans when he was serving in the British army and she was visiting her best friend, aid worker Jo. Sixteen years later, before a violent death, they’re married with a son and living in Kansas. In therapy, Maddie reveals the couple’s complicated past with Jo and her fears about Ian’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

NOTABLE NONFICTION

In the 1850s, as the Civil War loomed, the New York Times sent Frederick Law Olmstead, a young travel writer from Connecticut, to explore the South and look for common ground with the North. Tony Horwitz follows that journey in Spying on the South: Travels with Frederick Law Olmstead in a Fractured Land (Books on Tape. May. ISBN 9781984888662).

Daniel Okrent examines the legacy of the eugenics movement in The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America (S. & S. Audio. May. ISBN 9781508279914). With the immense popularity of modern true crime, many fans are casting their ears back in time as well. Cara Robertson feeds their obsession with The Trial of Lizzie Borden (S. & S. Audio. Mar. ISBN 9781508280514; read by Amanda Carlin), which is based on transcripts of the trial, both published and unpublished contemporaneous reports, and Lizzie’s own letters.

Emily Bazelon chronicles the experiences of two young people in the criminal justice system in Charged: The New Movement To Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration (Books on Tape. Apr. ISBN 9781984840752; read by the author). Bazelon explores the process from arrest through sentencing, illustrating the power prosecutors wield over their cases—and people’s lives.

 

LOOKING BACK

W.M. Akers’s debut, Westside (Harper Audio. May. ISBN 9780062931504), is set in a magical, Prohibition-era Manhattan. A 13-mile fence divides the island, with the wealthy Eastside separated from the hellscape of the Westside, where Gilda Carr lives. Gilda is an investigator of "tiny mysteries," such as the case of Eastsider Mrs. Copeland’s missing glove. After Gilda sees Mr. Copeland’s murder on the Westside, she finds connections between that crime and her father’s death, as well as evil forces controlling her city.

Juliet Grames based her debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna (Harper Audio. May. ISBN 9780062917614), on her own family’s legends. The titular Stella lives in a village in Italy, where she’s considered odd and cold, though she works hard to protect younger sister Tina. The family immigrates to America just before World War II, and as Stella and Tina mature, a deep divide grows between them.

In The Island of Sea Women (S. & S. Audio. Mar. ISBN 9781508266860; read by Jennifer Lim), Lisa See focuses on Korean haenyos—female divers who harvest seafood—­Mi-ja and Young-sook. The best friends live on the island of Jeju during Japanese colonization, World War II, the Korean War, and beyond.

Set in London’s Spitalfields silk district in the 18th century, Sonia Velton’s Blackberry and Wild Rose (Blackstone. May. ISBN 9781538479148) is the tale of Esther Thorel, who longs to design silks; Sara Kemp, a lady’s maid who finds the Thorel household full of hypocrisy and lies; and Bisby Lambert, a talented weaver working in the Thorel home. Friction in the household is mirrored outside as journey­man weavers riot.

In G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King (Brilliance Audio. Mar. ISBN 9781978649217; read by Elmira Rahim), Fatima is a concubine in the royal court of Granada. Her friend Hassan has a secret: by drawing maps, he can change reality. Fatima and Hassan find themselves in danger when people close to the new Spanish monarchy see Hassan’s gift as witchcraft that should not be tolerated under Christian Spanish rule.

 

FANTASTIC FICTION

When Rajeev Balasubramanyam’s economist protagonist is the victim of a hit-and-run bicycle accident, his doctor insists that he take a break from work and enjoy himself. As a result, Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss (Books on Tape. Mar. ISBN 9781984840905; read by Ramon Tikaram).

In Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors (Harper Audio. May. ISBN 9780062934307), Dr. Trisha Raje, born into a distinguished Indian immigrant family, seems too uppity to modestly raised DJ Caine, now a star chef. But as San Francisco’s top neurosurgeon, Trisha alone can save his sister’s life. Here, preconceptions get ditched, even as the doctor defies her family.

Balli Kaur Jaswal follows up Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows with The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters (Harper Audio. Apr. ISBN 9780062899125), in which three British-born Punjabi sisters attempt to fulfill their mother’s dying wish: that they make a pilgrimage together to the Golden Temple in Amritsar to carry out her final rites.

In Alexa Martin’s Fumbled (Books on Tape. Apr. ISBN 9781984883087; read by N’Jameh Camara), Poppy Patterson is a single mom who’s happy with the life she’s built. T.K. Moore, the starting wide receiver for the Denver Mustangs, is living his dream, though he still thinks about his high school sweetheart. Then their paths cross unexpectedly.

Aliens live among us in Cadwell Turnbull’s The Lesson (Blackstone. Jun. ISBN 9781538584583). Specifically, the very advanced Ynaa have lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the last five years, entering into an fragile peace with local humans. But after a young boy is killed by an Ynaa, that peace begins to fray.

Noted poet Ocean Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Books on Tape. Jun. ISBN 9781984888853), centers on twentysomething Little Dog, looking into his family’s history in Vietnam before he was born.

While patrons’ listening preferences are as varied and surprising as the patrons themselves, the immersive experience of a well-narrated audiobook enhances any story; these titles are a great place to start. 

 


This article was originally published in Library Journal's March 2019 issue.

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Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose (sklose@mediasourceinc.com, @sklose on Twitter) is Media Editor, Library Journal.

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