I first discovered the joy of audiobooks a couple years ago. Being a life-long reader and bookworm, I was delighted to discover additional ways to consume books. I only wish I had discovered them and how well they fit into my life sooner (particularly as an escape hatch during tough or stressful times).
There are so many ways to listen and so many amazing audiobooks out there that as soon as listening to books became a staple of my reading life, I was super excited to tell everyone about my favorites and how I listen to audiobooks.
While I love listening to nonfiction books on audio, this post focuses on more escape reading and typically, nonfiction is not in that category for me.
When I am needing some escape reading, I find that audiobooks are the perfect platform. I particularly love to listen to a few specific genres of fiction, with a few re-reads (re-listens?) thrown in for good measure.
I am not typically a re-reader of books. Once I know what is going to happen, I have a hard time getting excited about experiencing a story for the second time. Listening to an audiobook after having read the print book, however, is just different enough of an experience that it works for me.
I find this to be an especially good tactic for when I am going through a tough time and can’t focus on print book or even the attention required when listening to a new-to-me story on audio.
Mystery/thriller was my gateway into fiction audiobooks, and it was how I discovered how wonderful audiobooks can be great purely for escape.
In addition to mystery/thriller and re-reads, I also really love listening to books from these genres for escape reading: fantasy, celebrity memoir, and horror. To me, each one of these genres provides a feeling of being transported whether it be into a new world, inside a favorite celebrity’s mind or life, or into a creepy ghost or monster story.
So, here is my list of the best audiobooks that are perfect for finding comfort during tough times from all my go-to escapist genres. Some are books I have already listened to and others come highly recommended, but all are good choices for tunneling into different worlds and providing a much-needed brain break from your current reality, whatever that may be.
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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 1996)
My thoughts: This one is forever being recommended to me as the perfect escape, but I have not had a chance to listen to it yet. I have read a few others by him and I find him to be very good at fantasy or other-worldly stories while also being a talented writer. Gaiman narrates himself and is supposed to be particularly good.
Synopsis (from Publisher): Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2003)
My thoughts: I don’t typically re-read books, but I find re-reading a book on audio I have already read in print to be perfect for when I am having trouble focusing on a book. I hear so many amazing things about this entire series on audio and when looking for a getaway from the real world, what better place to visit than Hogwarts?
Synopsis (from Publisher): A global phenomenon and cornerstone of contemporary children’s literature, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is both universally adored and critically acclaimed. Now, experience the magic as you’ve never heard it before. The inimitable Jim Dale brings to life an entire cast of characters—from the pinched, nasal whine of Petunia Dursley to the shrill huff of the Sorting Hat to the earnest, wondrous voice of the boy wizard himself.
Orphaned as an infant, young Harry Potter has been living a less-than-fortunate life….But then the letters start dropping on the doormat at Number Four, Privet Drive. Addressed to “Mr. H. Potter” and stamped shut with a purple wax seal, the peculiar envelopes are swiftly confiscated by his relentlessly cruel family. But nothing stops Rubeus Hagrid, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man, from kicking down the door and bursting in with astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard—and not only a wizard, he’s an incredibly famous wizard. Hagrid spirits him away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, setting into motion an incredible adventure (Banks run by goblins! Enchanted train platforms! Invisibility Cloaks!) that listeners won’t ever forget.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager, 2017)
My thoughts: When adult fantasy books are recommended, it seems like this one is always at the top of the list. I got a physical copy of the second one in this series, The Kingdom of Copper, from a recent book exchange and everyone in attendance raved about it (while also quickly adding that I must go back and read this one first!). I think it will be perfect to tackle on audio.
Synopsis (from Publisher): Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly she has power; on the streets of 18th-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent…But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to question all she believes. For the warrior tells her an extraordinary tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire and rivers where the mythical marid sleep, past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises and mountains where the circling birds of prey are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass – a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In Daevabad, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. A young prince dreams of rebellion. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say to be careful what you wish for….
Celebrity Memoir Audiobooks
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (Dey St, 2014)
My thoughts: I just finished listening to this one, and I was completely delighted by just about every second of it. I read the print book about the time it came out a few years ago, but I found the audio to be a completely different and even more wonderful experience. Poehler narrates alongside Seth Myers, Carol Burnett and Kathleen Turner to name just a few and her vocal talents plus her funny special guests make this completely hysterical and unforgettable.
Synopsis (from Publisher): …While listening to Yes Please, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll become convinced that your phone is trying to kill you. Don’t miss this collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haikus from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers. Offering Amy’s thoughts on everything from her “too safe” childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and “the biz”, the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a “face for wigs” – Yes Please is chock-full of words, and wisdom, to live by.
Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe (Henry Holt & Co, 2011)
My thoughts: This one is on my “to listen soon” list and it comes highly recommended for fans of Rob Lowe. Mostly containing stories and anecdotes from Lowe’s early years in acting, I can’t wait to learn some behind the scenes stories from his life (particularly from filming of The West Wing, a favorite TV show of mine.)
Synopsis (from Publisher): A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye. A teen idol at 15, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at 20, and one of Hollywood’s top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio who was uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-70s Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood. The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics, both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the 80s, leading to his quest for family and sobriety. Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last 25 years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.
Bossypants by Tina Fey (Reagan Arthur Books, 2011)
My thoughts: Similar to Yes Please, this one is perfect for listening even though I read it in print a few years ago. It’s queued up right now on my library holds list and when it comes in, I intend to get lost in stories of SNL, 30 Rock and more from Fey’s life and career as a comedian.
Synopsis (from Publisher): Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update”, before “Sarah Palin”, Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both of those dreams come true.
At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon – from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.
Open Book: A Memoir by Jessica Simpson (Dey St, Feb 4, 2020)
My thoughts: I watched the Nick and Jessica Newlyweds show back in the day, and I always was drawn to Jessica Simpson’s charm and honesty. Still, I was not sure I would like this book UNTIL so many of my book friends raved about it. I listened recently and found it completely fun, endearing, moving, uplifting and just the perfect audiobook escape. (Bonus: Read by Simpson herself, she offers a pretty extensive insight into her on-again, off-again relationship with musician John Mayer. I really had no idea.)
Synopsis (from Publisher): Jessica reveals for the first time her inner monologue and most intimate struggles…This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie. Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her listeners if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first.
Now, America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality TV pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites listeners on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before….Her audiobook shares the wisdom and inspirations she’s learned and shows the real woman behind all the pop-culture clichés – “chicken or fish”, “Daisy Duke”, “football jinx”, “mom jeans”, “sexual napalm…” and more. Open Book is an opportunity to laugh and cry with a close friend, one that will inspire you to live your best, most authentic life, now that she is finally living hers.
Includes six new songs by Jessica Simpson, available exclusively in the Open Book audiobook. Performed by the author featuring her music throughout.
The Dry by Jane Harper (MacMillan Australia, 2016)
My Thoughts: This was one of the first mysteries I listened to on audio and given the Australian setting, I feel the Aussie-accented narrator to be almost a necessity when experiencing it. I have gone on to listen to Jane Harper’s two other books, Force of Nature and The Lost Man, (all have the same Aussie narrator) and I am waiting with breath that is bated for her next book which I will most definitely opt to listen on audio as well.
Synopsis (from Publisher): After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now, more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.
Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica (Harlequin MIRA, 2014)
My Thoughts: Switching perspectives between different characters, slow but compelling story and a crazy twist at the end makes this one perfect for audio. I love when characters are each voiced by different narrators…so entertaining!
Synopsis (from Publisher): …Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, Colin Thatcher seems at first like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.
Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and Detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan (Scribner, 2017)
My Thoughts: This one has so much going on from the first page. I love the dark and twisty ride the reader is taken on to discover the main character’s past trauma plus how she is connected to the young boy who kills himself in the first few pages. This one checks several boxes for me in that it is a compelling and smart story written well with a bit of a dark side.
Synopsis (from Publisher): ...Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, her eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs – the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.
But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions…They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message…
As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long-buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold along with an obsessive local cop and “the Hammerman,” a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Scribner, 2014)
My Thoughts: I listened to this trilogy last year in addition to The Outsider on audio and cannot recommend all four of those books enough. Will Patton is an amazing narrator with incredible talents for creepy-sounding voices. Also, I love the good guy vs. bad guy storyline and the way King tells much of the story from the perspective of the bad guy (without giving too much away). A bonus is the introduction of Holly Gibney, an introverted protagonist who suffers from anxiety. I thoroughly hope King writes more books in this series!
Synopsis (from Publisher): In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again…In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack…Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.
Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books, April 7, 2020)
My Thoughts: I flew through the print version of this one recently and it was a joyous escape from reality. It’s a little on the gory side, but the story is so inventive and fun (with a side of Hendrix’s signature snark) that I hope to listen on audio soon.
Synopsis (from Publisher): Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a real monster.
Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her ambitious husband is too busy to give her a goodbye kiss in the morning, her kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on thank-you notes and her endless list of chores. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club…This predictable pattern is upended when Patricia meets James Harris, a handsome stranger who moves into the neighborhood to take care of his elderly aunt and ends up joining the book club…But there’s something off about him. He doesn’t have a bank account, he doesn’t like going out during the day, and Patricia’s mother-in-law insists that she knew him when she was a girl, an impossibility.
When local children go missing, Patricia and the book club members start to suspect James is more of a Bundy than a Beatnik, but no one outside of the book club believes them. Have they read too many true crime books, or have they invited a real monster into their homes?
The Troop by Nick Cutter (Gallery Books, 2014)
My Thoughts: I sampled this one recently and can’t wait to get back to it. It comes highly recommended in the horror genre, and is the perfect scary story for listening to keep my hands free for gripping the edge of my seat!
Synopsis (from Publisher): Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip – a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfre. The boys are a tight-knit crew…For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there – which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked…It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal…And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (HarperCollins, 1934)
My thoughts: I actually have not read this iconic whodunnit but included it because I feel I know the story pretty well so it would not be in the “hard to focus on” category. Plus, the version with Dan Stevens narrating sounds delicious!
Synopsis (from Publisher): “The murderer is with us – on the train now…”
Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.
Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again….
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
My thoughts: This is a rare book I have actually re-read in print (several times), and I think it is high time I listen to the audio. Bonus: This version is narrated by Rosamund Pike, and I hear it’s ridiculously good.
Synopsis (from Publisher): One of Jane Austen’s most beloved works, Pride and Prejudice, is vividly brought to life by Academy Award nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). In her bright and energetic performance of this British classic, she expertly captures Austen’s signature wit and tone. Her attention to detail, her literary background, and her performance in the 2005 feature film version of the novel provide the perfect foundation from which to convey the story of Elizabeth Bennet, her four sisters, and the inimitable Mr. Darcy.
In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters try to find their way in the repressive strictures of 19th-century society. Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and the experience of falling in love, and she superbly describes a world which, despite being more than two centuries old, still resonates with modern concerns.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Penguin Classics, 1959)
My thoughts: I am currently working my way through this creepy classic and loving her talented writing mixed with the iconic and ancient story about “the” haunted house. I listened to We’ve Always Lived in the Castle and was transported by the atmospheric story about a disturbed family all living together in a crumbling mansion. Being a horror lover, this classic is a must-read and has been on my list for awhile.
Synopsis (from Publisher): Past the rusted gates and untrimmed hedges, Hill House broods and waits….Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and self-closing doors, but Hill House is gathering its powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own.