Audiobooks to bring delight to the holiday season

Sometimes, all you need is a warm story to get through dark times, and the best four audiobooks of December 2020 have heart and optimism in spades.

Random House Audio, Recorded Books, Dreamscape Media
“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama; “Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics” by Dolly Parton; “Perestroika in Paris” by Jane Smiley; and “Murder at an Irish Christmas” by Carlene O'Connor.

Escapism and hope fill the top four audiobooks of December 2020, providing comfort for listeners as the end of a difficult year approaches. An intelligent fable, a seasonally appropriate mystery, and two uplifting memoirs are the perfect stories to usher in 2021.

“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama
Read by the author; Random House Audio; 29 hours and 10 minutes

Sounding authoritative at times, and intimate and relaxed at others, Obama narrates his rather lengthy memoir with polished professionalism. His familiar unhurried cadence, well-known to so many across the world, is calming; listening is reminiscent of a conversation with an old friend. His writing is as deliberate as his narration, but it never feels slow or tedious, despite the memoir’s length. (And this is only the first volume!) The first quarter of the narrative is devoted to his personal life, and frankly, it’s the most interesting section. Topics include his relationship with his mother, his education, his romance with Michelle, and his children. But the parts of the memoir that deal with the former president’s tenure in the White House are also surprisingly engaging: He peppers his memories of policy discussions and political fights with opinionated observations, colorful backgrounds, and very wry humor. Well worth the long running time. Grade: A

“Perestroika in Paris” by Jane Smiley
Read by Suzanne Toren; Recorded Books; 8 hours and 20 minutes

Jane Smiley is back with another of her horse tales – this one a sweet fable set in Paris featuring a lovely filly named Perestroika, or Paras for short. Paras is a racehorse who, after wandering away from her stable with a purse filled with the day’s winnings in her teeth,  finds a new life and new friends in one of the city's parks. A cunning dog, a bookish and cultivated raven, and a couple of argumentative mallards help her survive at first, but she soon finds shelter with an unusual orphaned boy and his great-great-grandmother. Even if you aren’t a fan of anthropomorphized critters, this conceit works thanks to Smiley’s convincing world. As always, she paints a bigger picture with smaller stories. Narrator Suzanne Toren is a huge asset, imbuing each creature, big and small, with a distinct personality befitting its nature. Grade: A-

“Murder at an Irish Christmas” by Carlene O'Connor
Narrated by Caroline Lennon; Dreamscape Media; 9 hours and 19 minutes

Though marketed as a "cozy mystery," “Murder at an Irish Christmas” has elements of a police procedural that add more detail, atmosphere, and humor than are often found in the cozy subgenre. Siobhán O’Sullivan, a member of the Irish Garda, arrives in West Cork with her family for a Christmas holiday. But when the local celebrity conductor is murdered, it’s back to work for her. Multiple red herrings are unearthed as she pursues the killer, and listeners get to know the villagers, her family, and her fiancé. Though it’s the seventh installment in the Irish Village mystery series, this title can easily stand alone. Caroline Lennon’s narration is sympathetic, funny, and rather endearing; her impeccable timing is enhanced by her lovely Irish brogue. Grade: B+

“Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics” by Dolly Parton
Performed by Dolly Parton; Recorded Books; 5 hours and 18 minutes

This delightful oddity is not really an audiobook in any traditional sense, but it is so entertaining and Dolly Parton is so charming that it doesn’t matter. Sometimes she speaks, sometimes she sings, and sometimes an unnamed man introduces the next topic. It’s a little offbeat, but past the nontraditional presentation is an enchanting, kind-hearted, philanthropic, and humorous performer. Parton gets a little earthy at times, but her candor, combined with her unique, chirpy voice, is entertaining – even for those who are not fans of country music. Grade: B

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