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Light audiobooks with smart themes, great characters, and fast-moving stories are the perfect choices for easy summer listening in 2020–especially if you’ve been having trouble focusing on books.
Each week, as the worries, stresses, and bad news of this crazy year pile up, I turn to one thing I can control: the weeds in my yard.
I move around the flowers and shrubs with a singular focus, clearing out the bindweed and other invaders that spring up faster than I can keep up.
While I might otherwise be frustrated, this year I’m grateful for the simple, physical task.
And as I methodically pull the weeds and trim the overgrown shrubs, I listen: to audiobooks–more audiobooks than I’ve ever listened to before.
After initially struggling with audiobooks, I’ve finally found my sweet spot–just in time for the year when I need them most.
Smart-but-Light Audiobooks for When You Just Can’t Focus
When literary, dark, or heavy books just aren’t working for me, I like to turn to what I refer to as “smart-but-light” reads.
These books aren’t pure fluff. They often have characters facing difficult issues and personal struggles. But the way these smart-but-light books are written slot them perfectly into that place between too serious and too light.
My audiobook tastes fall narrowly into that space: a little humor, a small cast of characters, and a fast-moving story with enough stakes to make me care, and I am hooked.
I’ve gotten better at choosing these books–which don’t always land on my more-serious print reading list. But in this strange year when it’s been tough to sit and focus on print books, these delightful audiobooks have saved my reading (not to mention my well-weeded yard).
Author: Linda Holmes
On the verge of leaving her husband, Evvie Drake gets word that he has died in an accident. In a confusing swirl of regret, grief, and anger, she struggles to move on.
Her best friend Andy introduces Dean, a professional baseball player recently sidelined. He needs some downtime and an escape from the spotlight, and she needs to pay the bills.
Delightful and charming, but also realistic. The romance wasn’t instant, but hard-won as Evvie and Dean each worked through their difficulties. Wonderfully narrated by Julia Whelan (my favorite audiobook narrator).
Author: Rebecca Serle
Dannie Cohen–a successful lawyer who’s just gotten engaged–is rocked when she awakes in a different apartment, with a man she doesn’t know. She’s five years in the future and can’t imagine how she got there.
And then she wakes and is back. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s on a collision course with that vision of the future. She tries to move forward and does–until she meets the man from her vision.
This is a love story, but not in the way you expect, with great characters and relationships, and I couldn’t stop listening.
Author: Clare Pooley
When elderly Julian Jessop leaves a notebook in Monica’s cafe, she is intrigued by the question inside: “What would happen if you shared the truth?”
So begins the notebook’s journey through six strangers, each examining their truths and finally coming together to form unlikely friendships.
Filled with quirky characters and lovely connections, this is a little bit rom-com but more of a feel-good story that’s the perfect comfort read (or listen).
Author: Margarita Montimore
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1982, and at midnight, Oona will turn 19 years old. But after midnight, she wakes up 32 years in the future, in a 51-year-old body–and she learns that this is now her life, leaping back and forth in time at the turn of each year. She never knows where in her timeline she’ll land or what her previous year’s choices will have wrought.
This is a fun time travel premise that isn’t too deeply examined–there’s no science-fiction explanation here. Instead, the focus on Oona and her relationships with her friends and family, and the ways she learns and grows in her non-linear life. The small cast and uncomplicated time travel element make this an easy listen.
Author: Katharine McGee
An alternate history story–what if the U.S. was a monarchy?–that’s light, fun, and addictive. Told mostly from the perspective of teens and young adults inside or close to the Washington royal family, the story speculates on royal life in the age of social media.
Princess Beatrice is the first female who will ascend to the American throne, and the pressure is getting to her. Pushed now to choose a husband, Beatrice is starting to feel the sacrifice is too great. Meanwhile, her twin siblings, Samantha and Jefferson, have their own romantic dramas and royal pressures.
This was just the right tone for my audiobook listening–light and still intriguing.
Author: Jenny Colgan
English librarian Nina Redmond has lost her job–and the world of libraries is changing in ways she doesn’t like. She has an idea to buy a van and start a roving bookstore, and when she finds the perfect van in the Scottish Highlands, she also unwittingly finds the perfect place to start her store.
Filled with charming characters, sweet romance, lots of book love, and a setting so vivid you can almost smell the fresh air, this book reached the part of me that adored the escapism of Under the Tuscan Sun (movie version for that one!). Give this one a listen if you love a light story about books and enjoy a good Scottish brogue.
Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Adrienne is new to Nantucket and desperately needs a job. Despite her lack of restaurant experience, Thatcher Smith hires her as the hostess. Thatcher himself is intriguing, but so is the talented and notoriously private chef, Fiona. Adrienne falls in love with life in the restaurant, while growing closer to Thatcher and trying to unravel the secrets surrounding Fiona.
This is perfect summer reading/listening; light and easy to follow, with enough gravitas to make me care about what happens next. Also, the food descriptions were mouthwatering!
Author: Abbi Waxman
Lilian Girvan is still grieving her husband, who died in a car accident three years ago. Her life is full with her two young daughters, her job as an illustrator, and her sister, who helps keep everything on track.
When her job requires her to take a gardening class to illustrate a book, she thinks it will be a fun activity for all of them. She doesn’t count on a class full of quirky people who become unlikely friends–and an intriguing instructor who makes her wonder if she might be ready to date again.
This audiobook hit my sweet spot for audio fiction–light, easy to listen to, a little funny, and a fast-moving story.
Author: Robin Benway
This story of of three siblings–separated into adoption and foster care–who find each other as teens is a heartwarming, complicated, and realistic exploration of the many meanings of family.
The tone and pace of this audiobook are perfect: the issues are heavy, but because these are teens, it is sprinkled with levity. The relationships and trust that these three build with one another, through all of their personal difficulties, is charming–these are characters you want to root for.
Author: Katherine Center
Maggie has a lot going for her: an exciting new job, a new condo, and a brand-new fiancé. When an accident puts her in the hospital, the dream life starts to crumble around her. Her long-disappeared sister Kit suddenly reappears, while her fiancé Chip falls apart.
Maggie is also stuck with Ian for a physical therapist, a cranky (but attractive) Scot who shows her no mercy. Amid all of this, she is trying to make peace with her new normal and figure out just what her future holds.
By turns funny, sad, romantic, and hopeful, with none of those characteristics taking over the whole story, this is perfect on audio.
Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Leia Birch Briggs is a successful comic book artist whose life has turned upside down: she is pregnant. And the father is a man who was dressed as Batman at a comic book convention. In the midst of this, her beloved grandmother, Birchie, is revealed to have dementia.
Leia quickly travels to Alabama to assess the situation and move Birchie out. She finds Birchie and her lifelong friend Wattie harboring more than just the secret of Birchie’s illness, forcing Leia to reconsider what she knows about family, race, loyalty, and commitment.
Joshilyn Jackson has a way of adding levity to serious issues, without losing the overall gravity of them. She’s also a fantastic audiobook narrator.
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Shirin is a normal teenage girl who is new at her school. She loves breakdancing and wants only to blend in–impossible, in the year following 9/11 when she is Muslim and wears a hijab.
She is proud of who she is and the choices she makes, but also tired of being a target. She is suspicious of anyone who tries to get close to her, including Ocean James. He is intriguing, but she can’t imagine why he would want to be her friend–or more.
This YA novel is easy to follow on audio, and Shirin’s struggles as a Muslim teen post-9/11 were interesting and sympathetic.
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Korede would do anything for her sister, Ayoola–and she does, when Ayoola starts killing her boyfriends. After Ayoola’s panicked phone calls,
As Korede realizes that her sister is veering into serial killer territory, Ayoola sets her sights on the doctor Korede is in love with herself.
You wouldn’t think a serial killer novel would be so entertaining, but My Sister, the Serial Killer was darkly funny and slightly absurd, while maintaining the gravitas of what was happening in the story.
Where to Get Audiobooks
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