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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, narrated by Andy Serkis 

This was my first journey to Middle Earth, even though I gave The Hobbit to my nephew for Christmas when he was 13, 20 years ago. I found it helpful to look up the general plot before I listened, so I could stay on track with the relatable hero Bilbo Baggins and his journey from timid, stay-at-home hobbit to courageous conqueror. Not only did I stay on track, but Andy Serkis’s narration had me entranced. As the actor who plays Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movie series, Serkis brings deep affection for his movie character and all the characters, evoking empathy, fear, suspense and understanding. 

At the end of ten hours, I could say of Bilbo, along with Thorin, "There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." Parents should know that The Hobbit was never meant as a children’s book, and there are scary scenes involving giant spiders and other terrifying creatures. Still, for older kids on up, this audio version of Tolkien’s classic is a triumph of story and narration. (10 hrs, 25 mins)


Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America by Russell Moore, narrated by Russell Moore

Russell Moore, who, along with Beth Moore (no relation) and others, was basically run out of the Southern Baptist Convention on a rail for his critique of Donald Trump and sexual abuse cover ups, calls the American Evangelical church to repentance and renewal. I found it fascinating to listen to Moore, a genial Southern gentleman with a dry sense of humor, as he detailed his upbringing in the SBC, his love for the denomination, and his exodus from it. With a pastoral voice and reasonable, fair evaluation of the state of the evangelical church, Moore puts into words the dissonance and distance many evangelicals feel about what their upbringing taught them and the current age of tribalism and lust for power. 

He urges listeners to return to the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel, and to disentangle themselves from the barnacles of politicized Christianity. I liked his voice, with its slight drawl and amiable tones, but he sometimes has a tendency to cut off his words at the end of them. (6 hours, 46 minutes)


Dust Tracks on the Road by Zora Neale Hurston, narrated by Bahni Turpin

If I meet Zora Neale Hurston in heaven someday and she doesn’t sound just like Bahni Turpin, the narrator of her autobiography, I will be shocked. Turpin, in my opinion one of the best living narrators, embodies the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God with a warm and personal rendering of Hurston’s life story in her own words. And what words they are! 

I found myself not only transported by the storytelling (the first two thirds are the best; it slows down in the final chapters), but gasping at the sheer beauty of Hurston’s prose: “I was only happy in the woods and when the ecstatic Florida springtime came strolling from the sea, transglorifying the world with its aura. Then I hid out in the tall wild oats that waved like a green tea veil. I nibbled sweet oat stalks and listened to the wind soughing and sighing through the crowns of the lofty pines.” Lady Z surely had the most glorious way with words.

(11 hrs, 22 mins)


The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson, narrated by Jim Seybert

What is shame? How does it manifest itself in our lives? In this eye-opening book, psychiatrist Curt Thompson uncovers how shame works best when we don’t know it’s working at all. Shame, he says, is like a parasite of the soul, worming its insidious way into our relationships and vocational lives. The damage shame causes is manifold, as it seeks to destroy our identity as beloved children of God. We must know how to spot it, first, in order to dismantle it, and Thompson is well equipped to help the reader identify those negative messages that bind us. Like many reviewers, I found this book to be illuminating as Thompson shines a spotlight on hidden shame. I wish the narrator didn’t sound so stuffy and professional, though. Somehow the narration offset the author’s warm and relational wisdom. (8 hours, 2 minutes)


Reframe Your Shame: Experience Freedom from What Holds You Back by Irene Rollins, narrated by Irene Rollins

Here is another book on shame (I was on a bit of a kick!), this one quite different in content and narration. Irene Rollins narrates her own vulnerable story of hiding an addiction to alcohol while acting like the perfect wife, mother and leader of a megachurch. She is the ideal narrator as she brings passion and authenticity to her story and the hard-won wisdom she gained from her years-long struggle to get sober. 

Her tone is conversational, as if she is in the room with you relating how it was for her to hide her addiction until she couldn’t anymore, and her life came crumbling apart. Her strength in overcoming her addiction is evident – there is strength in the struggle – and she gives all the credit to the Holy Spirit for helping her eventually break free. On one level, this book is for those who are grappling with serious addictions and their loved ones, but those who perhaps have “soft addictions” to, say, food or scrolling, will find Irene’s story and counsel to be inspiring. Short and powerful. (6 hours, 49 minutes)


Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Last year, the Audible Original Drama of Northanger Abbey, featuring an A-list cast of British actors, made my list of favorite listens. But even then, sight unseen, or rather “listen unheard,” I knew that I would probably prefer a straight narration of the book itself without all the bells and whistles of an audio drama. This prediction proved correct as I adored listening to all eight hours of Jane Austen’s first novel, a satire that pokes fun at the Gothic romance novels of the Regency period. 

Young Catherine Morland really does become the heroine of her own life as she navigates one of the worst experiences ever – humiliation at her own silly behavior. When her overactive imagination gets the best of her upon visiting a mysterious, Gothic mansion, Catherine must pick up the pieces of her own self-made mess and move forward, stronger and wiser for having learned from her debacle. Juliet Stevenson’s narration is a delight. The British actress adds spunk, pathos, bravado, obsequiousness, etc. to whichever character calls for it, and the result is a captivating, entertaining experience that transports the listener. (8 hours, 17 minutes)


Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are by Lysa TerKeurst, narrated by Lysa TerKeurst and Jim Cress

Bestselling author Lysa TerKeurst has a singular way of weaving her own vulnerable story with insights from Scripture and psychology, and she always does her homework. In this book, the well-loved Bible teacher lays bare some of the relationships in her life that have seriously infringed upon her personal boundaries. Of course, as she herself admits, she never used to have any boundaries at all – she had to learn them the hard way. 

Combined with “thousands of hours of counseling intensives and extensive theological research,” Lysa’s story shows her readers and listeners how to love people well “without losing the best of who you are.” Sometimes this means saying goodbye and wishing people well on their journey, while not allowing them access to your heart anymore. One unique feature of this audiobook is that Lysa’s therapist, Jim Cress, chimes in at regular intervals, lending his therapeutic expertise to whatever she is discussing and giving listeners the best of both worlds: the real-life nitty gritty and clinical expertise. Highly recommended. (7 hours, 27 minutes) 


Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, narrated by Prince Harry

If you haven’t already delved into one of the bestselling books of the year – and possibly the decade – there’s still time to enjoy Spare the best way, via listening to Prince Harry himself. Harry has a voice that is intimate, tender and affecting. I was transfixed from the opening scene, when Harry returns to his former home at Frogmore Cottage to meet his brother, Prince William, and father, now King Charles, on the day of his grandfather Prince Philip’s funeral. You can cut the tension with a knife as the Windsor men reunite amid great strain, yet there is an unmistakable undercurrent of love, too. 

Throughout the book, called a “scorching account of life in a golden cage,” Prince Harry breaks the listener’s heart as he relates his grief for his mother, Princess Diana, who died when he was just twelve. It’s shocking to realize that for years young Harry was in denial; he truly thought his “mummy” was out there somewhere, alive and waiting for the right moment to return. As sad as much of this book is, Harry also exhibits a playful, joyful side when he talks about meeting his eventual wife, Meghan Markle. 

Things do get a bit deep in the weeds during the lengthy middle section where Prince Harry recounts his military career and a deployment to Afghanistan, but overall this hefty memoir moves at a steady clip and keeps the listener’s attention until the conclusion. Some have slammed Harry for leaning into a victim mentality here, but I disagree. I am actually amazed at how fair he is, in light of the difficult things he has endured. Christian listeners may wonder why, when Harry and Meghan’s faith seemed so much on display at their wedding, it is almost wholly absent in his personal story. A shame because this dear prince needs the healing presence of the King of Kings just as much as anyone. (15 hours, 39 minutes)

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