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Over the River and Through the Woods: Audible Books for Holiday Travel

Sometime in the next week or so, millions of Americans will hit the road for family visits on Thanksgiving — and then all over again one month later.

With an aging Mom in Upstate New York, a son in Mississippi and a “fully retired” vacation schedule, I myself do a ton of driving; through it all, I lean heavily on Audible, where top-tier performers deliver an endless stream of audio books at a modest monthly fee.

Here are 10 picks from that service for your holiday travel; I tried to stay family-friendly, while throwing in a couple of adult actioners (Horowitz and White) for Dads who drive while others doze.

August Isle, Ali Standish: Young-adult charmer set in the title’s fictional Florida locale, where youthful protagonist Miranda meets a magical mix of mystery, history, family, friendship, and adventure. Standish’s ending has enough closure for any five other tales; probably my fave of the 100-plus books I read this year.

Black Widow, Randy Wayne White: Popular author of nearly 60 books, White is best known for his series of Florida-based thrillers featuring marine biologist and retired NSA agent Marion “Doc” Ford. Blending ecology, atmosphere, and sizzling suspense, they’ve been labeled “the thinking-man’s action novel.” Black Widow might be his best — though it’s not for kids.

The Blue Castle, L. M. Montgomery: The Anne of Green Gables writer also penned many stand-alones — including this gripping story of Valency Sterling, a 29-year-old woman oppressed by a dreary and judgmental family. Diagnosed with a likely fatal heart condition, Valency suddenly finds freedom in no longer caring what her miserable clan thinks. That might sound downbeat, but many LMM fans — including yours truly — consider this her finest hour.

Forever and a Day, Anthony Horowitz: This second of Horowitz’s three James Bond books is as good as anything Ian Fleming wrote — and I say that as a lifelong fan of that 007 creator. Exciting, realistic, and impeccably written, Forever is set before Fleming’s first foray in Casino Royale. Audible also offers every original Fleming title read by celebrity performers — including Kenneth Branagh, Rosamund Pike, Tom Hiddleston, Dan Stevens, and Bill Nighy.

Have a Nice Day, Billy Crystal & Quinton Peeples: Sweet and swift, this is the hilarious story of a U.S. President rethinking his priorities after he meets the Angel of Death. It was performed live in New York by a stellar cast including Crystal, Kevin Kline (as POTUS) and Annette Bening — with narration by Dick Cavett!

Once Upon a Christmas Carol, Karen Schaler: Another short & sweet winner that, as it turns out, has nothing to do with Ebenezer Scrooge; it is, rather, a cheerful rom-com about a pop singer’s Yuletide return to her hometown, where she reconnects with a one-time love — and with her own musical soul.

Rifles for Watie, Harold Keith: Newbery-winner about plucky Jefferson Davis Bussey, a Kansas youth who signs on with the Union in the Civil War. Carefully linked to actual events, the story eventually sees Bussey working as a spy, where he learns that the Confederate soldiers are just ordinary men like him. One of my all-time favorite books, Rifles has a little of everything: action, history, humor, young romance, coming-of-age, powerful themes — and a dog!

The Secret History of Christmas, Bill Bryson: Popular nonfiction master Bryson reads his own book detailing a wealth of trivia about the winter holidays. Comical, expert and often surprising, this is an “Audible original” — though it’s also available on CD.

The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells: David Tennant reads Wells’s thrilling tale of extraterrestrial invasion, which holds up remarkably after 125 years: prescient technology; peerless prose; a killer ending; and a careful critique of both British imperialism and animal mistreatment — with humans learning what it’s like to get bulldozed by a militarily superior force.

And I’m breaking alphabetical order to put this last, since you may want to wait a few weeks:

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens: Audible offers more than 20 versions of the seasonal classic — including performances by Tim Curry, Patrick Stewart, and Hugh Grant. Stewart’s, of course, is irresistible; but look likewise for R. D. Carstairs’s adapted dramatization — with a large cast, including narration by Sir Derek Jacobi.

Happy travels: and God bless these — everyone!