It’s that time of year. I know every year you anxiously wait to find out what The Guilded Earlobe has chosen as his favorite audiobooks of the year, with your audible credits and library’s Overdrive website ready to go.
A few things to note. This is a list of my favorite audiobooks that were produced in the calendar year 2011. Some of the books may be older, but their audio versions appeared in 2011. I am in no way a literary expert. This list is judged solely on how much I enjoyed the novel and its narration. This list is heavy on Genre and speculative fiction titles, because that is what I read most of. At the time this list had been written I was just about to finish my 165th audiobook of the year. While I did receive some of these titles for free as review copies, that in no way impacted their rank, nor have I been compensated in any way to promote any of these titles.
In 2011 I began actively blogging and reviewing audiobooks. This definitely affected my reading habits, since I was more aware of trends and the hype of the publishing industry. In 2010 I spent a lot of time listening to complete series, where as in 2011 I listen mostly to standalone novels and took more risks in my overall selection of books. I think that change has helped make more well rounded list. I hope you find something on this list that tickles your interest.
1. I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells
Read by Kirby Heyborne
I really struggled with what audiobook to pick as my number one of the year. Dan Well’s John Cleaver series is a wonderful look at a young man who fights against his dark nature. In many ways John Cleaver is an anti-Dexter, a character with a “dark passenger” that doesn’t give into its control. I Don’t Want to Kill You is the finale of the series, and may be the best finale of a series I have read in a long time. The ending of I Don’t ant to Kill You affected me more than any other book this year and still haunts me every time I think about it. Kirby Heyborne deserves a lot of credit for the work he does narrating this novel. I suggest if you haven’t read this series that you take on the first novel in print, then the final two in audio.
My Interview with Author Dan Wells
2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Read by Wil Wheaton
Random House Audio
Ready Player One will be on many Best of lists, maybe even topping a few. It’s a fun ride through 80’s nostalgia and a sci-fi dystopian near future. In my opinion, the audiobook version, narrated perfectly by Wil Wheaton is the best way to experience this novel. Wheaton’s grasp on geek culture allows his to not only voice the characters of the novel, but capture all it’s bells, beeps and whistles.
My Interview with author Ernest Cline
3. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Read by Kevin Kenerly
In the year of the Zombie audiobook, Isaac Marion’s zombified reimagining of Romeo and Juliet is the best Zombie audiobook of the year. Kevin Kenerly is brilliant in his reading, giving the novel a breezy flow that underscores the themes of the novel so well. Warm Bodies is currently in production for a movie version, so listen to the audiobook to prepare yourself for this event.
4, Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane
Read by Stephen Boyer and Emma Galvin
Children of Paranoia is a story of a secret war between two anonymous groups that is raging on our streets. I have heard many people list this novel of dystopian. It is not and it is not science fiction. What makes this novel so effective is that it is taking place in our world, behind our backs. Despite the deep secrets of the war, that even the participants don’t understand, Shane gives it such a feel or reality that it’s frightening. Children of Paranoia was the biggest surprise novel of the year, and Stephen Boyer and Emma Galvin adds a lot of depth to it with their reading.
5. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Read by Mark Bramhall
If any novel gives Ready Player One a run for tickling my nostalgia bone, it’s The Magician King by Lev Grossman. The Magician King and its predecessor The Magicians is a twisted adult and often brutal version of the fantasy novels I loved as a kid, particularly The Chronicles of Narnia. Mark Bramhall takes on the role of storyteller as he leads us through the dark sides of our world as well as the magical land of Fillory.
6. The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
Read by Peter Giles
I have always loved legal thrillers, yet I feel the best years of the genre were the 1990’s and since then, the novels have moved from solid Courtroom procedurals to basically detectives with a bar card mysteries. It’s been nearly 20 years since some of my favorite legal thrillers, like Philip Friedman’s Inadmissible Evidence, and Turow’s Presumed Innocent. Then Michael Connelly, a non-lawyer, but arguably the best procedural writer in the business, comes out with the Mickey Haller series. The Fifth Witness is my favorite legal thriller in over a decade, and wonderfully delivered by narrator Peter Giles.
7. Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory
Read by David Marantz
Raising Stony Mayhall is a book the reminded me in many ways of Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump, in that it’s the tale of a young boy, whose somewhat different, who goes on to live an amazing life that affects many people. The major difference is that Stony is a zombie. Raising Stony Mayhill hasn’t received the hype it deserves. It is a really good book, and should be able to reach past its genre and pull in fans of types. With all the hype of the blending of literary and genre titles, this book succeeds where so many other have failed. David Marantz does a wonderful job bringing this story to life, and is a narrator to look out for in the future.
8. The Ridge by Michael Koryta
Read by Robert Petkoff
The truly supernatural aspect of Michael Koryta’s novels is they somehow when you think he’s put out a novel that cannot be bettered, he betters it. The Ridge starts with an unsettling image of a lighthouse built in the hills of Kentucky far away from any body of water. In The Ridge Koryta blends a gothic history with modern day thriller to present one of the more unsettling novels of the year. Robert Petkoff continues his streak of enhancing Koryta’s novels with his wonderful narration.
9. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill
Read by Holter Graham
Neil Gaiman Presents
If you would have told me that one of the most engaging characters of the year would have been a half-bull/half man who speaks in grunts and short gruff sentences, I probably would have told you, “Yep. Sounds about right.” Thanks to Neil Gaiman, whose audiobook line is now bringing us some of his favorite novels into audio, audiobook fans are finally meeting this wonderful character. Holter Graham does a wonderful job narrating this slice of life tale of a mythological creature in a very real American south.
10. The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry
Read by Ray Porter
Jonathon Maberry has been my author revelation of the year. I have listened to more Maberry audiobooks (9) this year than any other author by far. Maberry’s Joe Ledger series is on of the tightest, well plotted action series around. Ledger is such a wonderful engaging character that you become totally invested in his actions. Ray Porter seemingly becomes Joe Ledger in his reading of this novel. He utilizes heavy sighs, a cracking voice, and flushes of emotion to really bring Ledger to life.
11. Swan Song by Robert McCammon
Read by Tom Stechschulte
While Swan Song is nearly 25 years old, it has finally been given the audiobook treatment. Swan Song is one of my all time favorite novels. It is the tale of America after a full nuclear exchange. It is a book I have read at least 5 times, and I was looking forward to reentering a world I knew so well in audiobook form. What I wasn’t expecting was to discover a hidden poetic beauty in its prose that was brought to life by Tom Stechshulte.
12. Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey
Read by MacLeod Andrews
Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series is quite entertaining, but Aloha From Hell takes a giant leap forward in quality. Kadrey really outdid himself with this twist on Dante’s Inferno told from the perspective of his punk rock protagonist. MacLeod Andrews continues to blow me away with his characterizations, as he really gets into the heads of these characters bringing them to life in a scarily realistic way.
My Interview with Narrator MacLeod Andrews
13. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Read by Wil Wheaton
John Scalzi takes a risk that pays off in his reimagining of H. Beam Piper’s classic scifi story Little Fuzzy. It’s a nice quick tale of a prospector on an alien planet who meets some cute, Fuzzy creatures. The question is, are these cute little animals, or sentient beings? John Scalzi’s tale of what it means to be human is delivered smoothly in Wil Wheaton’s direct narrative style. My only complaint was that the novel ended a bit too quickly.
14. The Infernals by John Connolly
Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Simon & Schuster Audio
This is quite a year for novels set in hell. Irish Author gives his own hilarious slant to Dante’s Inferno in this endearing sequel to The Gates. It’s full of wonderful characters, otherworldly adventure, and a series of laugh out loud footnotes that truly enhances the overall story. Tim Gerald Reynolds gives what is perhaps my favorite narrator performance of the year. It was simply a joy to listen to and a book that should appeal to everyone from children to adults.
15. Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry
Read by William Dufris
Despite my love of Zombies, Dead of Night is probably the only zombie novel this year to actually scare me. Maberry uses the essence of his zombies to horrifying effects. William Dufris adds to the chills with his wonderful characterizations.
16. Deadline by Mira Grant
Read by Chris Patton and Nell Geisslinger
The fourth and final Zombie book of my top twenty. As the second book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy, we find ourselves in the midst of a world that has adapted to living with zombies, and the ever present dangers of the Kellis-Amberlee Virus. In Deadline, the science takes center sage and Grant handles it with loving detail. Chris Patton does an excellent job capturing the brokenness of Shaun Mason. All that and an amazing ending that makes Blackout one of my most anticipated releases of 2012.
17. The Cut by George Pelecanos
Read by Dion Graham
Pelecanos introduces a new series character, Spero Lucas, an Iraq war vet who works as an unlicensed Investigator. While Spero is fascinating in his own right, it’s Pelecanos rhythmic urban prose that wins me over every time. Dion Graham turns Pelecanos’ prose into poetry making this audio a joy to listen to.
18. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Narrated by Nick Podehl
The long awaited sequel to Rothfuss’ debut Fantasy novel The Name of the Wind was well worth every minute of the wait. The Wise Man’s Fear is a series of moments in the life of a young man who will grow to be a legend. Rothfuss brilliantly shows us how tales are altered to become legends, yet still maintaining a feel of truth. Nick Podehl handles a novel full of poetry and unique communication styles perfectly.
19. Germline by T.C. McCarthy
Narrated by Donald Corren
While Germline is considered a military science fiction novel, it is unlike any Military scifi novel I have read. This isn’t a grand tale of space adventure, but a gritty realistic look at a future on our own planet. Germline is more akin to Matterhorn then Honor Harrington. It’s characters are flawed, and their orders murky and inconsistent. Donald Corren allows the nature of the narrative to affect his reading in just the right way, allowing us to hear the transformation of the characters as they move through each phase of the story.
20. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Narrated by Jim Dale
Random House Audio
While the story may be about two magicians manipulated into a secret contest by their mentors, the real hero of this tale is Morgenstern’s lush, gorgeous prose. The story is full of beautiful moments, but it is the underlying sense of a mysterious darkness that separates it from many of the other novels people have attempted to compare this one to. Jim Dale adds a truly magical feel to the reading of this novel.
I have two honorable mentions. Both of these titles totally blew me away. The only reason they didn’t make the list was that they were not released in 2011.
Honorable Mention #1: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor Read by Anne Flosnik
Honorable Mention #2: A Quiet Belief In Angels by RK Ellory Read by Mark Bramhall