The King’s (and Queen’s!) Speech: A Majesty of Narrators!

If you’re a fan of British royal family-themed fiction, then almost certainly you’re a fan of two things: The Crown on Netflix, and Philippa Gregory. Out now is a new audio version of The Queen’s Fool, narrated by Yolanda Kettle, which follows The Other Boleyn Girl, narrated by Vanessa Kirby. Both Kettle and Kirby have been *spoiler alert* recent love rivals in The Crown, which got us to thinking, which other books have been narrated by The Crown stars? Let’s take a look!

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory, narrated by Yolanda Kettle

Philippa Gregory does it again!

Hannah Green is a young girl who is placed in the Tudor court as a holy fool to Mary I. Hannah, who has many of her own secrets, ends up trapped between the Catholic Queen and Elizabeth, her Protestant sister. She must choose between living a safe life of a commoner or risking everything for the fame and fortune of the court.

Yolanda Kettle’s narration really brings Hannah’s character to life. She has a very youthful voice, which is very apt for the characters in this novel.

Publisher’s Summary:

Winter, 1553. Pursued by the Inquisition, Hannah Green, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, is forced to flee with her father from their home in Spain. But Hannah is no ordinary refugee; she has the gift of “Sight,” the ability to foresee the future, priceless in the troubled times of the Tudor court. Hannah is adopted by the glamorous Robert Dudley, the charismatic son of King Edward’s protector, who brings her to court as a “holy fool” for Queen Mary and, ultimately, Queen Elizabeth. Hired as a fool but working as a spy; promised in wedlock but in love with her master; endangered by the laws against heresy, treason, and witchcraft, Hannah must choose between the safe life of a commoner and the dangerous intrigues of the royal family that are inextricably bound up with her own yearnings and desires.

Teeming with vibrant period detail and peopled by characters seamlessly woven into the sweeping tapestry of history, The Queen’s Fool is a rich and emotionally resonant gem from a masterful storyteller.

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The Secretary by Renee Knight, narrated by Victoria Hamilton

Christine Butcher is a devoted and loyal secretary to Mina Appleton. She listens, watches, and is privy to secrets that she always keeps safe…

But those years of discretion come at a high price—which Christine discovers at her peril.

Victoria Hamilton’s (Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother) narration is perfect for this novel. Her calm voice adds an eerie and suspenseful tone to this thriller.

Publisher’s Summary:

From her first day as Personal Assistant to the celebrated Mina Appleton, Christine Butcher understands what is expected of her. Absolute loyalty. Absolute discretion. For twenty years, Christine has been a most devoted servant, a silent witness to everything in Mina’s life. So quiet, you would hardly know she is there.

Day after day, year after year, Christine has been there, invisible—watching, listening, absorbing all the secrets floating around her. Keeping them safe.
Christine is trusted. But those years of loyalty and discretion come with a high price. And eventually Christine will pay.

Yet, it would be a mistake to underestimate such a steadfast woman. Because as everyone is about to discover, there’s a dangerous line between obedience and obsession.

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Drama: An Actor’s Education by John Lithgow, narrated by John Lithgow

John Lithgow’s (Winston Churchill) memoir, which he narrates himself, is an absolute treat. He talks in depth about his life, his family, and his career, which has spanned decades and various genres. His stories about his parents are poignant and touching.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I love listening to authors narrating their own memoirs, since it adds real depth to the story being told. And of course, an actor with such gravitas as Lithgow brings much richness to the narration.

Publisher’s Summary:

Emmy Award-winner John Lithgow presents a charming, witty, and revealing memoir about his family, his work, and his life in Drama—an intimate story of insights and inspirational reflections from one of America’s most beloved actors. Lithgow pays tribute to his father, his greatest influence, and relives his collaborations with renowned performers and directors including Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse, Liv Ullmann, Meryl Streep, and Brian De Palma. A compelling reflection on the trials, triumphs, and changes across his long career, Lithgow’s Drama illuminates the inner life of a celebrated talent, and points the way forward for anyone aspiring to greatness in their own life.

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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, narrated by Vanessa Kirby

When Mary Boleyn comes to court, she falls in love with Henry VIII. However, she’s forced to step aside for her sister, Anne, when the King’s attention for Mary starts to wain.

As Mary realizes her family’s ambition is overriding her own needs and wants, she decides not to take it lying down…

Vanessa Kirby’s (Princess Margaret) regal narration style is so appropriate for this historical listen. The determination and strength of Mary’s character really come through in her reading.

Publisher’s Summary:

When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane, and soon she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. With her own destiny suddenly unknown, Mary realizes that she must defy her family and take fate into her own hands.

With more than one million copies in print and adapted for the big screen, The Other Boleyn Girl is a riveting historical drama. It brings to light a woman of extraordinary determination and desire who lived at the heart of the most exciting and glamorous court in Europe, and survived a treacherous political landscape by following her heart.

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Forever and a Day: A James Bond Novel by Anthony Horowitz, narrated by Matthew Goode

Anthony Horowitz, a famous and talented writer in his own right, has taken on the character of James Bond to create an amazing origin story, with all of the excitement, intrigue, and passion that we all expect from the world’s favorite spy.

Matthew Goode (Lord Snowdon) is every inch the right narrator for this book, bringing the suaveness needed for the James Bond character.

Publisher Summary

A spy is dead. A legend is born. This is how it all began. The explosive prequel to Casino Royale, from bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.

Forever and a Day is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera, taking readers into the very beginning of James Bond’s illustrious career and the formation of his identity.

***

M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. “We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.”

“‘It’s Bond, sir,’” the Chief of Staff replied. “James Bond.”

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time. 

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. 

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organized crime. 

It’s time for James Bond to earn his license to kill.

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Pet Sematary by Stephen King, narrated by Michael C. Hall

If you had to pick an author who really symbolizes everything great about the horror genre, most of us would pick Stephen King.

Pet Sematary is a horror classic, centered around the character Louis Creed, who moves his family to a lovely small town that seems too good to be true.

Michael C. Hall (John F. Kennedy) is very compelling and right on the money as narrator for this book. With his background in thrillers in TV shows like Dexter, he brings a great presence to this listen.

Publisher’s Summary:

When Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job, and moves his family to the idyllic, rural town of Ludlow, Maine, this new beginning seems too good to be true. Yet despite Ludlow’s tranquility, there’s an undercurrent of danger that lingers…like the graveyard in the woods near the Creed’s home, where generations of children have buried their beloved pets.

Behind the “pet sematary,” there is another burial ground, one that lures people to it with seductive promises…and ungodly temptations. A blood-chilling truth is hidden there—one more terrifying than death itself, and hideously more powerful. An ominous fate befalls anyone who dares tamper with this forbidden place, as Louis is about to discover for himself…

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STAFF PICK: Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

Title: Girls with Sharp Sticks
Author: Suzanne Young
Narrator: Caitlin Davies

Girls With Sharp Sticks, by Suzanne Young, New York Times bestselling author of The Program was an exciting new addition to Audiobooks.com in March. I have to admit, it was the intriguing cover of this book that drew me in and then with a description likening it to Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale, I was ready to dive right in. This comparison made me wonder if Girls with Sharp Sticks could go toe-to-toe with such hard-hitters, but it definitely held its own!

Girls with Sharp Sticks is set at Innovations Academy, an old technology factory turned finishing school for girls. From the moment the story opens, there is the looming feeling that there’s more to this academy and these girls than meets the eye.

The protagonist, Philomena (Mena for short), is a model student at Innovations Academy, but begins to question certain practices and suspects that there’s something that they aren’t telling the students. This leads to lots of shocking revelations and twists and turns that keep you hooked.

I saw myself in Mena with the way she was vulnerable yet strong and her unfaltering dedication to her friends was what drew the strongest connection for me. Listening to this book was exciting, suspenseful and it made me want to yell “GIRL POWER!” from the rooftops.

It helps that the narrator, Caitlin Davies, portrays the characters distinctly, so that you are immersed in the shut off academy in the mountains. There are definite times where I got lost in Mena’s world so much so, that I didn’t even realize it was one single person narrating each one of the characters. This is especially true for the creepy feeling I got every time Davies would read the lines from the Guardian, one of the staff at Innovations Academy.

If you’re a fan of The Program series from Suzanne Young, then this listen is right up your alley. Girls with Sharp Sticks has many of the same themes throughout it and a similar dark, dystopian-type setting to it that you will find all too familiar.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, mystery/thriller that will have your ears glued to your headphones, Girls with Sharp Sticks is the perfect next listen for you. I think there’s definitely more to this story, so I’m looking forward to the next installment from Young to see what other twists she can throw into the mix.

Publisher’s Summary:

Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this start to a thrilling, subversive near future series from New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young about a girls-only private high school that is far more than it appears to be.

Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardian, they receive a well-rounded education that promises to make them better. Obedient girls, free from arrogance or defiance. Free from troublesome opinions or individual interests.

But the girls’ carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back.

Bringing the trademark plot twists and high-octane drama that made The Program a bestselling and award-winning series, Suzanne Young launches a new series that confronts some of today’s most pressing ethical questions.

Read more and sample the audio →

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STAFF PICK: The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

Title: The Perfect Girlfriend
Author: Karen Hamilton
Narrator: Anne Marie Lee

It’s funny how the genre of a novel can change the connotations of the title. If this was a cozy mystery, or a romance novel, I feel like The Perfect Girlfriend would be a delightful little tome involving baking and kittens. However, since this Karen Hamilton novel is a suspense-filled thriller, we know that there will probably not be a bunch of cozy cake puns.

In this novel, we meet Juliette. She talks at length about Nate, who we very quickly discover is not her current boyfriend, but her ex. While Juliette sees their relationship as being the great love of her life, Nate doesn’t feel that way, and requests “space.” Juliette develops one single purpose – to get Nate back by becoming a perfect match for him. She still has a key to his apartment, so she lets herself in and tidies up, leaves wine on the table, and moves things around. He’s a pilot, so she becomes a flight attendant on his airline, and begins befriending his coworkers. She also bugs his phone, monitors his movements, and reads his personal emails. A little extreme, methinks.

Karen Hamilton does a great job of making Juliette build up from someone who’s dealing badly with a break-up at the beginning, to an obsessively delusional person by the end, so it’s only partway through that you begin to think “oh, wait, this is madness.” Also, Nate and his friends and family are not particularly endearing characters either, so it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him, even when he’s experiencing the extreme consequences of Juliette’s obsessions.

Without giving anything away, (because I don’t want to spoil any of the twists and turns) there are two really cool ways in which the author gets you invested in Juliette’s story. The first is how you get facts about her background (is Juliette who she says she is? Is she even called Juliette?), so you repeatedly feel sorry for her, then angry with her, then sorry for her again. We don’t know if these are true, but they give us some idea of how she views herself. The second narrative device Hamilton employs is using the supporting characters’ perceptions of Juliette to help you understand who she really is. Juliette is such an unreliable narrator that you cannot trust anything she says, so it’s nice to have these moments of clarity through the eyes of others.

Anne Marie Lee’s narration is perfect for this book. I imagined that to manipulate so many people, Juliette would have to sound unassuming and calm, both of which are qualities that Lee brings to this listen.

If you’re a fan of thrillers with lots of twists and turns, this is definitely the listen for you!


Publisher Summary:
YOU’VE NEVER READ A LOVE STORY AS TWISTED AS THIS.
Juliette loves Nate.
She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him.
They are meant to be.
The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.
She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.
True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

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STAFF PICK: The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz

Title: The Lost Night
Author: Andrea Bartz
Narrator: Kristen Sieh

Sometimes, a book can really sum up a particular time in history, or a feeling. When I had just finished university, two books really spoke to me. One was Generation X, by Douglas Coupland, and the other was The Graduate by Charles Webb. Both of these novels summed up the feeling of having been given opportunities, but not living up to them, and not knowing where to go next in life.

If you lived in Brooklyn in the late 2000s, then The Lost Night may very well be your “Zeitgeist” novel. Set in a time of mass unemployment and economic uncertainty, this dark “whodunnit” is a unique murder mystery, since you’re very much enveloped in the dark world that the characters inhabit, in addition to being wrapped in the mystery itself.

In 2009, Edie is a graduate with the world at her feet – or so it seems. From the outside, she has a supportive family, friend group, and is incredibly talented and bright. But one fateful night, she’s found dead – an apparent suicide, leaving her friends and family devastated. This brings the drug-fueled party lifestyle that her friends are living to an abrupt halt. Lindsay (the main narrator, and Edie’s best friend) is so anguished that she decides to disappear, from both Brooklyn and her friends, for a decade.

Fast forward ten years, and Lindsay’s life has changed dramatically from the hedonistic party lifestyle she once had. After a meet up with Sarah, another friend of Edie’s, Lindsay starts to suspect Edie’s death was not a suicide. After she discovers a disturbing video from the night in question, she becomes convinced that there was foul play. This is further backed up by the fact that Lindsay is unsure of where SHE was on that night, due to random blackouts. So she begins to investigate, which ruffles feathers, disrupts and breaks relationships, and ultimately, leads Lindsay to confront her own violent past.

The story is told mostly from the perspective of Lindsay, who is not a very reliable narrator, since we know that she cannot remember what happened. A few of the chapters are also narrated by other friends in the group, which adds perspective, but also confusion. This multiple-narrators format really lends itself to audio and reinforces the notion that Lindsay’s story alone isn’t enough to solve the mystery. Kristen Seih‘s narration (who narrates the Lindsay sections) really adds to the darkness and suspense of the story.

The end of the book has a great twist. Of course, I’m not going to ruin it for you, but because of the different perspectives that you hear the story from, you go from character to character, wondering if they are the murderer, or if it was ever a murder at all….

I would recommend this listen to anyone who was in their twenties in the early 2000s, and anyone who is a fan of Paula Hawkins or Gillian Flynn.

Publisher Summary
“Tightly paced and skillfully plotted, The Lost Night is a remarkable debut.”—Jessica Knoll, New York Times bestselling author of Luckiest Girl Alive

What really happened the night Edie died? Years later, her best friend Lindsay will learn how unprepared she is for the truth.

In 2009, Edie had New York’s social world in her thrall. Mercurial and beguiling, she was the shining star of a group of recent graduates living in a Brooklyn loft and treating New York like their playground. When Edie’s body was found near a suicide note at the end of a long, drunken night, no one could believe it. Grief, shock, and resentment scattered the group and brought the era to an abrupt end.

A decade later, Lindsay has come a long way from the drug-addled world of Calhoun Lofts. She has devoted best friends, a cozy apartment, and a thriving career as a magazine’s head fact-checker. But when a chance reunion leads Lindsay to discover an unsettling video from that hazy night, she starts to wonder if Edie was actually murdered—and, worse, if she herself was involved. As she rifles through those months in 2009—combing through case files, old technology, and her fractured memories—Lindsay is forced to confront the demons of her own violent history to bring the truth to light.

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STAFF PICK: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Title: The Hunting Party
Author: Lucy Foley
Narrators: Moira Quirk, Imogen Church, Elle Newlands, Morag Sims, Gary Furlong

When I was 12, my mum and I used to go to the library every week, and I would get four Agatha Christie novels, read them all in a couple of days, return them, and then pick out another four the following week. This was my first introduction to the mystery genre, and it lead me into becoming a big fan of everything mystery, thriller, and suspense.

I was intrigued by this book, because the premise seemed very like And Then There Were None, but apart from the idea of a group of people going to a remote house in the country, this psychological suspense thriller is quite different.

A group of old college friends spend every New Year’s Eve together. Now in their thirties, they have grown apart but still continue to plan this event (even though you get the feeling that for many of them, it’s not something that they want to be a part of). This year, they have chosen to stay in a secluded Scottish hunting lodge, which is the perfect place for them to unwind and reconnect with each other…in theory.

They arrive on December 30th, but within a day, a blizzard has trapped them inside the lodge, and by New Year’s Day, one of them is found murdered. But who did it? One of the other guests? A lodge staff member? Or one of the friends themselves?

Lucy Foley does an amazing job of creating characters who, on one hand, are sympathetic enough for you to identify with, but on the other, have enough secrets and faults to make you dislike them, and think that they might be the murderer. The chapters are narrated by a series of narrators, so you can’t be entirely sure that the accounts you are listening to are at all accurate. Not only do you not find out who the murderer is till the very end, you also aren’t entirely sure of the victim until part way through, which is quite an interesting twist on the “whodunnit?” theme.

In an almost Breakfast Club way, each character is quite different, and at points, somewhat stereotypically so. Miranda is beautiful, but troubled. Katie is seen as quiet and plain, but is hiding a secret. Emma seems like the perfect girlfriend and friend, but is she? Emma’s boyfriend, Mark, seems calm, but has a wicked temper, and Miranda’s husband Julien is certainly hiding something, but what is it? And what about the staff at the lodge? Heather, Doug and Iain? Who would choose to live in the middle of nowhere, unless they had something to hide or were running away from something?

The multi-narrator format of this book really lends itself to the audiobook format. It feels like a group of people are narrating an account of what really happened – which makes it even more spooky.

I truly loved this book. I went through the whole thing in one day, and didn’t want to stop listening. If you’re a fan of Ruth Ware or Gillian Flynn, this is definitely the listen for you. So far my favorite listen of the year!

Publisher Summary:

Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

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STAFF PICK: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendriks and Sarah Pekkanen

Title: An Anonymous Girl
Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Narrator: Julia Whelan and Barrie Kreinik

After getting pulled into the deep end of The Wife Between Us fan base, I was ecstatic to hear that Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen were coming out with a new thriller, An Anonymous Girl (and devastated that I had to wait an entire year before I could listen to it). I always get anxious with anticipation whenever an author I love (or in this case, authors) comes out with a new audiobook. Will it live up to my expectations after being blown away by their first work? In the case of thrillers, will it follow a similar climax be too predictable? Of course, the very best suspense audiobooks are the ones we think we have figured out before being knocked off our feet and high horses.

When Jessica, a struggling makeup artist signs up for a psychology study conducted by Dr. Shields, she thinks she’s in for answering a few questions and collecting an easy check. But the questions are uncomfortably intense, and Dr. Shields is more interested in Jessica than she ever could’ve imagined.

The more Dr. Shields is inserted into Jessica’s life, the more paranoid she grows — but so does the money she’s being offered. A wicked game of cat and mouse is played throughout the book, which had me hooked right from the beginning. I was so pleased that Julia Whelan performed, as she did a fabulous job narrating The Wife Between Us. She speaks fluidly in a low, tantalizingly suspenseful tone. Having her paired with Barrie Kreinik made me extra glad I listened to the audio version of this book.

Each time I thought I had things figured out, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen threw me for a loop. Just as their last one did, this book kept me up into the wee hours of the night so I could finally get to the end. I was sad when I did, but one can hope that this powerful duo will return with another delicious thriller.

An Anonymous Girl.

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