"The Summer Before the War" by Helen Simonson, read by Fiona Hardingham. (Random House Audio)

The Summer Before the War

By Helen Simonson

Random House Audio. Unabridged, 15¾ hours (Listen to a sample)

Simonson’s novel delivers a bracing measure of early-20th-century small-town English life, its class bigotry and eruptions of scandal. Set in Rye, on the Sussex coast, and in the trenches of the Western Front, the novel gathers itself around Beatrice Nash. In a state of near destitution, she has come to Rye to teach Latin after her late father left her inheritance in a trust controlled by a high-handed relative. The novel is read by Fiona Hardingham, whose brisk, limber voice encompasses top-drawer gentility, jumped-up impertinence, yokeldom, the mid-Atlantic tones of a quasi-Henry James character, and the French torque of a Belgian refugee.


"Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul" by James McBride and Dominic Hoffman. (Random House Audio)

Kill ’em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

By James McBride

Random House Audio. Unabridged, 9 hours (Listen to a sample)

It is hard to imagine a better narrator than Dominic Hoffman for this wide-ranging consideration of James Brown. The book, which offers a big slice of American music and racial history, is written with admiration and outrage, especially at the siphoning off into lawyers’ pockets of the millions of dollars Brown left to educate poor children. Hoffman’s timbre, pacing and all-around panache wonderfully realize the oral quality of the book, the dialog, interviews and, above all, Brown’s riffs on his essential creed: “Mr. Bobbit!” he raps out to a long-time friend, “Don’t ever stay nowhere for a long time. Don’t make yourself unimportant. Come important. Leave important.” Or: “Kill ’em and leave.”


"High Dive" by Jonathan Lee, ready by Doyle Gerard. (HighBridge)

High Dive

By Jonathan Lee

HighBridge. Unabridged, 12 hours

Gerard Doyle reads this chilling, frequently witty, often poignant novel. It begins in 1978 with the recruitment of Dan, a young Irishman, by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. From there, it moves to the 1984 bombing of a Brighton hotel at which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her entourage were staying for a conference. Doyle, a native of Ireland, is a fount of regional accents, from the Ulster tones of the recruiter to Dan’s more southern brogue, on to the various English people at large. They include the eager hotel manager, for whom Thatcher’s visit will be “the route to promotion,” and his disaffected daughter, who is drawn to Dan. Doyle carries the general narration in a calm, kindly manner as befits this novel.


"The Tales of Max Carrados" by Ernest Bramah, read by Stephen Fry. (Audible Studios)

The Tales of Max Carrados

By Ernest Bramah

Audible Studios. Unabridged, 11-¼ hours (Listen to a sample)

First published between 1914 and 1927, these tales were popular rivals to Sherlock Holmes’s adventures. The stories are now brilliantly read by Stephen Fry, his voice seasoned, perhaps, by his role as the inimitable Jeeves. Carrados, a blind man, possesses prodigious deductive powers and preternatural acuity in his remaining senses. The formidable sleuth is assisted by a number of other characters, the personality of each admirably conveyed by Fry. Chief among them are Carrodos’s manservant, Parkinson, “an unquenchable stickler for decorum,” and Louis Carlyle, a private investigator specializing in “defalcation and divorce.”


"Now and Again" by Charlotte Rogan, read by Christine Lakin, Ade M'Cormack, Aaron Landon, Kiff VandenHeuvel, John Glouchevitch and Kathleen McInerney. (Hachette Audio)

Now and Again

By Charlotte Rogan

Hachette Audio. Unabridged 14-¾ hours (Listen to a sample)

Six readers tackle Rogan’s “Now and Again.” Narrator Kathleen McInerney devotes herself exclusively to sections reflecting the perspective of Maggie, the central character who discovers that her Oklahoma town’s munitions factory is irradiating its workers and that the federal prison holds innocent men in what amounts to slavery. Her campaign for justice is connected to a midwife, Dolly, whose sections are performed by Christine Lakin. Dolly, in turn, links the story to Iraq and her soldier fiancé, played by Aaron Landon.

Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks for The Washington Post.