'The Evening and the Morning'

This prequel to Ken Follett’s chronicles of Kingsbridge, which began with “The Pillars of the Earth,” brings the series to four volumes and over 140 addictive hours of romance, perfidy, vengeance and strangely enthralling building specifications. John Lee narrates the book, as he did its predecessors, and his fluid, Celtic-inflected voice is now somehow integral to the story. It is A.D. 997 and Edgar, his brothers and mother are refugees from a Viking raid. Edgar finds work in the hamlet of Dreng’s Ferry with Dreng himself, an all-around blackguard, but eventually Edgar’s intelligence and capability propel him into the building trade. Meanwhile Lady Ragna, daughter of a Norman lord, has the misfortune of marrying into a family of noble brutes, chief among them the ealdorman Wilfwulf, her philandering husband, and Bishop Wynstan, his philandering brother. Edgar and Ragna are drawn to each other, but their mismatched birth and the dark maneuvers of others would seem to doom their union. The huge novel, rich in historical detail, hums along irresistibly on alternating currents of outrage and retribution, trial and triumph, hatred and love. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 24 ⅓ hours)

'Shuggie Bain'

Douglas Stuart’s first novel — a brilliant, heart-rending work that has been shortlisted for both the National Book Award in fiction and the Booker Prize — is set in decaying, working-class neighborhoods around Glasgow of the Thatcher era. This is an arena of closed coal pits and industrial plants, of unemployment, idleness and alcoholism. In the midst of it is Shuggie, a gentle, sensitive boy, the son of a callous, flashy taxi driver for whom Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, left her steady, indulgent first husband. A melodramatic, self-destructive alcoholic, Agnes is, nonetheless, adored by Shuggie, whose days revolve around her problem — placating her, attempting bootlessly to keep her from drink and creating a ruckus. Stuart’s genius at evoking place, predicament and intense emotional states, is wonderfully served by the narrator, Angus King, a Scotsman himself. His moderate (which is to say, intelligible) Glaswegian accent brings further authenticity to the town’s argot: dreich, stour, boak — words that reek of wretchedness. Based in the author’s life, the novel, for all its grimness and woe, is the most accomplished, moving book I have listened to — or read — all year. (Dreamscape, Unabridged, 17 ½ hours)

'His Only Wife'

Set in Ghana, Peace Adzo Medie’s deeply felt debut novel is the story of Afi Tekple, who is shoved into an arranged marriage to Eli. Behind the match is Eli’s wealthy mother, universally known as Aunty. A hard-nosed manipulator, Aunty is determined to separate her son from the hated Liberian woman with whom he has been living for years. Eli provides Afi with a flat in Accra where, dismayingly, she discovers she will live alone, her husband showing up only sporadically. Still, Afi eventually falls in love with her husband, agonizingly so. Despite promising to leave the other woman, Eli temporizes endlessly. The situation is humiliating, but Afi finds no support in her own family. This is only to touch on the events and characters in this powerful story. Soneela Nankani, a talented voice actor of East Indian and West African heritage, narrates the book, her performance perfectly conveying Afi’s bafflement, hurt, anger and growing resolve to untangle herself from other people’s machinations. (Workman Audio, Unabridged, 9 hours)


Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.

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