Tag Archives: audiobooks

What Makes a Good Audiobook Great?


A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called The Joy of Audiobooks, in which I outlined some of the reasons I love audiobooks so much, and why you might too. I thought about revisiting the topic for audiobook month this year too, but when I re-read my earlier post, so much of it still applied, I figured there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I’ve been giving thought to another topic:

What makes a great audiobook? And conversely, what makes an audiobook not so great? I’ll be sharing my opinions on the topic today, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it too.

The Content

I’ve been known to claim I’d happily listen to certain favorite narrators read the phone book. And to an extent, I would. But really, if I’m being honest, I’d much rather listen to them read something I’m actually interested in. Especially if it’s something that lends itself well to the audio format.

Let’s face it. The phone book is meant to be searched as needed, not read linearly. The content makes a huge difference in the reader’s enjoyment. That’s why reference books with complex charts that readers may need to refer back to and graphic novels that rely heavily on images to communicate meaning probably won’t make for great listening experiences.

But that’s okay. Print formats have a place on our shelves too, right? 😉

The Narrator’s Voice

In my reviews, I tend to talk a lot about characters’ voices, but the narrator’s own voice generally comes through in the bits of exposition scattered amongst the lines of dialogue.

A particularly raspy or shrill or otherwise distracting voice can ruin an otherwise good audiobook. Some vocal habits like trailing off in volume at the ends of sentences, overemphasizing the ends of words, frequent mispronunciations, and extraneous noises like loud breathing outside of character, can adversely impact a reader’s enjoyment.

On the other hand, a pleasant and natural sounding voice can blend itself into the background, allowing the story space to shine.

Characters’ Voices

The characters’ voices a narrator creates for an audio production can make or break the audiobook. While I’ve heard there are readers out there who prefer an audiobook read matter-of-factly and without the use of distinctive voices for different characters, I tend to think that approach takes much of the fun out of the format. Personally, I love it when a narrator makes good use of differences in character voices.

Emphasis on good use. Too unique or nasal or whiny and a character’s voice can quickly become annoying. Similarly, too much exaggerated effort in creating a character of the opposite gender, can lead to some eye-rolling moments for the reader.

But on the other hand, one of the worst performances I’ve had the dubious honor of listening to was one where the narrator made absolutely no effort to distinguish voices or to pause between speakers. This made it harder for me to connect with the characters, but even more problematically, I found myself getting lost in conversations, unsure when one character stopped speaking and the next began.

In short, when it comes to character voices, moderation is a good thing. Variations in voices within a range comfortable for the narrator can translate to a fabulous listening experience for the reader.

Pacing and Enunciation

Pauses between paragraphs or lines of dialogue, and especially between scenes and chapters can be important to the reader’s understanding of the audiobook. Likewise, a narrator reading excessively fast or slow can result in a frustrating listening experience.

At the same time, judicious use of variations in pacing, such as speeding up the reading during a high-intensity moment in a thriller, or slowing to savor a romantic or otherwise emotional moment for the characters, can heighten the reader’s connection to the story.

As for enunciation, clarity is king. If I can’t understand what’s being read, or even if it requires too much concentration to catch all the words, it’s going to impact my enjoyment of the story.

Continuity Within a Series

I realize contracts and rights negotiations and timing and … life … can get in the way of keeping the same narrator throughout a series. But (for the people out there who decide these things) please, pretty please try?

One of my favorite audio series was mostly read by one narrator who did a fabulous job of both British and southern accents across genders. I was spoiled, and I fell in love with the characters. And then my heart was broken when a short story featuring the same characters was released by a different audio publisher with a different narrator who didn’t attempt their accents at all. It felt like I was meeting brand new people rather than visiting with old friends.

That was when it hit home just how much difference it can make for the character voices and reading style to be consistent from one book to the next within a series. Just listening to the voices in one book can bring back memories of the characters as read in an earlier book months or years ago and help tie the stories together.

So, yeah, sometimes it works to bring back the same narrator, and sometimes things get in the way of that, but whenever possible… pretty please?

That Special Something

So far, we’ve discussed content, the narrator’s voice, characters’ voices, pacing and enunciation, and continuity within a series as factors in making an audiobook great. But not everything can be that simply explained.

Sometimes, there’s just that special something that takes a good audiobook and makes it great. Could be a spot on accent. Could be an excellent use of music or sound effects. Or maybe it’s when the narrator verbally acts out stage directions like laughter, tears, singing, or slurred speech. You know, actually chuckling, rather than just reading “He laughed.”

Maybe, a narrator’s emotional connection to what he or she is reading shows through in the final production and draws the reader in. Or maybe multiple readers worked together to create a seamless theatrical production.

Sometimes it’s easy to point to one or two, or ten features of an audiobook that come together to make for a fabulous read. Other times, it’s not so easy to explain why the total experience is greater than the sum of its parts. Either way, I love discovering and listening to a great audiobook.

A Dozen New Christian Fiction Audiobooks, Coming This Fall 2017

I’m always on the lookout for a good audiobook to pass the time on my commute to and from work. I’ve tracked down a dozen new releases, coming this fall that sound like they could be just what I’m looking for.

September Releases

Justice Buried by Patricia Bradley
Read by Joell Jacob
Memphis Cold Case, Book 2
Romantic Suspense from Tantor Media
Also available in print from Revell

Crisis Shot by Janice Cantore
Read by Alice Anne English
The Line of Duty, Book 1
Suspense from Blackstone Audio
Also available in print from Tyndale House

With You Always by Jody Hedlund
Read by Susan Hanfield
Orphan Train, Book 1
Historical Romance from Tantor Media
Also available in print from Bethany House

Rule of Law by Randy Singer
Read by Carol Mercer-Meyers
Suspense from Blackstone Audio
Also available in print from Tyndale House

Hometown Girl by Courntey Walsh
Read by Teri Clark Linden
Contemporary Romance from Brilliance Audio
Also available in print from Waterfall Press

November Releases

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden
Read by Morgan Hallett
An Empire State Novel, Book 1
Historical Romance from Recorded Books
Also available in print from Bethany House

Perennials by Julie Cantrell
Read by Brittany Pressley
General Fiction from Blackstone Audio
Also available in print from Thomas Nelson

Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter
Read by Julie Lyles Carr
Blue Ridge Romance, Book 1
Contemporary Romance from Brilliance Audio
Also available in print from Thomas Nelson

In This Moment by Karen Kingsbury
Narrator to be announced
The Baxter Family, Book 2
Contemporary Romance from Simon & Schuster Audio
Also available in print from Howard Books

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay
Read by Emily Sutton-Smith
Contemporary Romance from Brilliance Audio
Also available in print from Thomas Nelson

A Matter of Trust by Susan May Warren
Read by Cynthia Farrell
Montana Rescue, Book 3
Romantic Suspense from Recorded Books
Also available in print from Revell

Heart on the Line by Karen Witemeyer
Read by Stephanie Cozart
Ladies of Harper’s Station, Book 2
Historical Romance from Recorded Books
Also available in print from Bethany House

So, which titles look good to you?

Autumn’s Audiobook Options


So, yeah, I’m a big fan of Christian fiction and of audiobooks.  Combine that with my librarian-ish tendencies to try to pair books and people, and you get a post kind of like this one….

For readers of Christian fiction who love audiobooks, or simply want to give them a try, here’s an overview of Christian fiction titles coming to audiobook this fall.  I’ve organized the discussion by subgenre, to hopefully help you find some titles to suit your taste.  And if you do find something you like in this post, please take a moment at the end to leave a comment and let me know.  Oh, and I’ve got a question for you at the end, on your feelings regarding audiobooks.  I hope you’ll stick around and share your thoughts!

Amish / Mennonite

For fans of Amish and Mennonite fiction, there are quite a few options this season, including releases by a number of popular authors, and a few titles featuring Christmas themes in preparation for the holidays.  Beverly Lewis’s The River and Cindy Woodsmall’s A Love Undone are sure to be popular choices.  If you’ve been following Leslie Gould’s The Courtships of Lancaster County series, you’ll be happy to know that the fourth book, Becoming Bea is available this fall.  Looking to start a new series?  Check out Kim Vogel Sawyer’s When Mercy Rains, Book 1 in The Zimmerman Restoration Trilogy.  And when you’re ready to get into the Christmas spirit, look for Christmas at Rose Hill Farm by Suzanne Woods Fisher or An Amish Second Christmas, a collection featuring four romances by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, Ruth Reid, and Tricia Goyer.


Those readers/listeners wanting to immerse themselves in stories set during Biblical time periods have some great options to choose from.  Keepers of the Covenant continues the Restoration Chronicles series Lynn Austin began with Return to Me, exploring the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Oasis Audio is releasing audio editions of popular and award-winning Biblical fiction titles from Tessa Afshar including Harvest of Rubies and Harvest of Gold, both set during the time of the prophet Nehemiah.  And if you’re looking for a story set during New Testament times, look no further than A.D. 30, the start of a new series from bestselling author Ted Dekker.


What better way to get into the Christmas spirit than with some seasonally inspired holiday audiobooks!  I already mentioned a couple of Amish Christmas themed titles with the other Amish titles, but for fans of romantic suspense and/or short story collections there’s more Christmas loveliness to be had right here.  Fans of romantic suspense will want to start their holiday season with Colleen Coble’s new releases, All is Calm: a Lonestar Christmas novella and Silent Night, Holy Night, a collection featuring characters from two of the author’s series.  Can’t get enough Christmas themed stories?  Check out Robert J Morgan’s, 12 Stories of Christmas.

Contemporary Romance

Readers (listeners?) of contemporary romance will find a lot of options from Zondervan and Brilliance Audio this season, thanks in large part to the Year of Weddings Novella series.  Titles releasing this fall include A September Bride by Kathryn Springer, An October Bride by Katie Ganshert, A November Bride by Beth Vogt, Love at Mistletoe Inn: A December Wedding Story by Cindy Kirk, and Winter Brides, a collection featuring novellas by Deborah Raney, Betsy St. Amant, and Denise Hunter.

Contemporary Fiction

Want more contemporary novels?  The Promise by Beth Wiseman is a real discussion starter, taking place partly in Pakistan.  And fans of Jan Karon’s Mitford series, will find the tenth installment available this fall, entitled Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.


I could only find one speculative fiction title releasing in audiobook this fall, but it sounds like an interesting one.  Fans of Stephen R Lawhead’s Bright Empires fantasy series can get the audio edition of book five, The Fatal Tree, beginning in November.

Historical Romance

If you like Western-themed historical romances with humor, there’s not one but TWO new series starting out with audio editions to look into.  Mary Connealy’s Tried and True starts out her Wild at Heart series, and Trails & Targets serves as book one in Kelly Eileen Hake’s new Dangerous Darlyns series.  For fans of Regency romance and those following Sarah E Ladd’s Whispers on the Moors series, Book 3, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall is among those releasing this fall.  Rounding out the historical romance category, To Everything a Season starts off a new series by Lauraine Snelling, set in Red River Valley.

Suspense & Romantic Suspense

For romantic suspense, check out Irene Hannon’s Deceived, the third book in her Private Justice series, or one of the titles by Colleen Coble listed under the Christmas category, above.  For more suspenseful reads (listens?) consider Motherless by Erin Healy, In the Heart of the Dark Wood by Billy Coffey, or, for a story set on a Greek island with a secret, try The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn.

So tell me, do you consider yourself an audiobook listener?  Or more a fan of ebooks or print books?  Does it depend on the book, availability, the narrator, price, your schedule, or other factors?

Not sure how you feel about audiobooks or wondering how I feel about them?  Or just not sure where you can find a copy of one that interests you?  Check out my earlier post, “The Joy of Audiobooks.”

The Joy of Audiobooks

Audiobooks are awesome! Enough said, right?

I’m sure for some of you I’m preaching to the choir, so feel free to chime in with a hearty, “Amen!” at any point, should you feel moved to do so.

Still skeptical?  Hear me out.  You might just decide to give audiobooks a shot.  And if you do, I suspect you’ll be glad you did.


An audiobook playing on my smartphone.

What’s so great about audiobooks?

1 – Performance.

A skilled reader can add the element of performance to the written work, giving it an added dimension, much as skilled actors can bring a play to life.  You could read the play or the book and enjoy it immensely, or you could witness the performance with the possibility of enjoying it even more.  It’s all the same words in the same order either way (assuming your edition is unabridged, as most  current audiobooks are).  The essence of the story is still there.  But the interpretation by the narrator, if done well, can bring a book to life in a whole new way.

Of course, the flip side is that an audiobook read poorly can take away from the enjoyment of the book.  So, if you’ve tried an audiobook and been unimpressed by the narration, perhaps it would be worth trying another, maybe one read by a different narrator.  The trend is for audiobooks to be read by skilled professional actors and actresses, many of whom are making a name for themselves specifically as audiobook narrators.  It’s not unusual for audiobook listeners to identify their own favorite narrators and seek out titles read by those narrators.

2 – Multitasking.

Read more, guilt free.  I’ve been known to read while doing laundry, while doing dishes, while jogging, while driving, while changing a diaper, and while cooking dinner.  All thanks to the audiobook.  The beauty is that you have your hands and your eyes free to do other tasks, unlike when you’re reading a print or electronic book.  At this point, I should probably confess to having read a paperback book while walking to class on more than one occasion back in college.  While this is possible I don’t necessarily recommend it.  Audiobooks work much better when you’re trying not to run into other people or inanimate objects.

Want some more multi-tasking ideas?  Check out this Goodreads discussion on some of the things people do while reading audiobooks.  As a bonus, I find that I’m less impatient with the time it takes to do housework when I’m listening to a book at the same time.  Ditto for jogging.  I tend to want to run a little longer if I’m in the middle of a chapter.

3 – Practice Listening.

Our culture tends to focus on the visual, on the written word.  The ability to decode written words and understand what they’re communicating is an essential skill and one worth practicing.  But historically, oral storytelling played a huge role in communication.  Even today, in our social media heavy world where we’re tied to our smart phones, tablets, and laptops, listening is an important skill to practice as well.  The ability to focus in on what’s being said, understand the content and the emotion behind the spoken words, and respond appropriately will serve you well both socially (conversing with friends) and educationally (attending a lecture).

And believe it or not, it really is a skill that benefits from practice.  The first few times I listened to an audiobook, I found myself easily distracted.  The words would continue along at their own pace until I realized that I couldn’t tell you what had just happened.  For this reason, there was a lot of rewinding involved in the first few audiobooks, until I got the hang of really paying attention.  Fortunately I didn’t let this discourage me, and a few books later I realized I didn’t need to rewind nearly as often.  With years of practice behind me now, I’ve become much better at paying attention to the spoken word, even when multitasking.  That and making judicious use of the pause and rewind buttons when there are interruptions requiring my attention.

If you’re still in the early phase of trying out audiobooks and finding yourself easily distracted, give it time.  Try a few books.  You may find one holds your attention better than another, and you may find, as I did, that listening to an extended narrative becomes more natural with practice.

Where to get your audiobooks?

Audiobooks are becoming more and more commonplace.  In many cases, the audiobook edition becomes available at the same time as the print and electronic editions, so you don’t have to wait.  You can find them available in CD editions as well as downloadable in a variety of electronic audio formats including MP3, WMA, and M4B.

As a librarian, I like to plug the local library whenever possible.  And this is a great opportunity to do so.  Many libraries loan audiobook CDs as well as downloadable versions of a wide selection of audiobook titles.  It’s definitely worth taking a look to see what’s available from your local library.  You can’t beat the price!

If there’s a waiting list for a popular title or (gasp!) the title you want isn’t available through your local library, and you don’t mind paying to get it now, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase audiobooks.  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, christianaudio, Christianbook.com, audiobooks.com, and downpour.com are all great places to look for your favorite books in audio format.  Some of these retailers even offer monthly subscriptions.  Be aware, the selections can vary, so if one retailer doesn’t have the title you’re looking for, you may want to try checking another.

And if you’re interested in listening to free recordings of books in the public domain, or want to try your hand at volunteering to help create an audiobook, check out LibriVox.

For More Information:

If I’ve piqued your curiosity, come back here to my blog again next week (consider subscribing now to help you remember) for my first audiobook review.  I’ll be sharing my review of Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry.  I’ll continue to blog reviews of “regular” Christian fiction that I read in print or electronic formats, as well as throwing audiobook reviews into the mix.  I hope you’ll give audiobooks a chance, but either way, bear in mind, with my audiobook reviews I’ll be considering the story and the performance separately to help you decide which format you might prefer for a given title.

For myths debunked check out “Listening to Books is Cheating” and 7 More Myths About Audiobooks from BookRiot.

Check out the Audiobook Insights blog for a variety of information about the audiobook industry.   And if you’ve ever wondered if it should be “audiobooks” or “audio books” you’ll find your answer.

If you’re looking for some particularly good examples of audiobooks, check out the list of Audie Award winners and finalists.  There are a wide variety of categories in which the award is given annually, including Book of the Year, Solo Narration – Male/Female, Narration by Author, Multi-voiced, and best in a variety of genres, including Inspirational / Faith-Based Fiction.

Do you already love audiobooks?  Do you plan to give them a try?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy reading… and listening.