Best Audiobooks of 2023 (so far)

recommended by Michele Cobb

AudioFile Audiobook Reviews

AudioFile Audiobook Reviews


As summer kicks off in the northern hemisphere, it's a great time to relax and listen to a good audiobook. Michele Cobb, publisher of AudioFile magazine, shares her favourite new audiobooks from the first half of 2023—from cozy mysteries and beach reads to the memoir of an ER doctor during Covid.

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

AudioFile Audiobook Reviews

AudioFile Audiobook Reviews


We’re looking at audiobooks that came out in the first half of 2023. How did you choose these five?

These are the books that I remember the most from this year. If you asked me for my favorites of 2023, these are the ones that immediately come to mind. Four of them are novels, one is a memoir.

First up is a cozy mystery: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Sutanto. Tell me what you liked about this book and, also, what’s special about the audiobook.

This is about a very fun character. She’s called Vera Wong and she runs Vera Wang’s Tea House in San Francisco. That’s on purpose: she wants to ghost off the name Vera Wang—but her teahouse is not very successful.

She comes down one morning and there is a dead body. She sets out to figure out who the murderer is. She works through four different suspects—you’ve got the journalists, the brother of the dead man, his widow—and she gets to know each of them. She’s really trying to figure out who did it by inserting herself in their lives, which is a unique way to approach solving a mystery.

Eunice Wong, who reads the book, does a marvelous job. There is a lot of accent work. There’s something about the way she captures each of these characters that really drove it home for me. She’s having a good time. She’s got the annoying son; she’s got the two podcasters. She’s really relishing those characters so any moments in which I might be taken out of the book, she’s dragging me back in. It’s really a master class in characterization and narration, that keeps things moving along.

When I finished the book I thought, ‘Oh she’s got to solve another mystery and they’ve got to get Eunice to narrate it!’ It’s that marriage of a great text and a great narrator that I always talk about. It’s a very good example of that.

Let’s talk about the memoir you chose next. This is Code Gray by Farzon Nahvi, who is writing about his time as an ER doctor in Manhattan.

This book kicks off in the time of Covid. You’ve got all these doctors not knowing what is going on. They’re from all over the country and they’re texting each other on this text chain. What struck me about this book is how well-written it is. It drops us into the fact that there are things which are broken in the American healthcare system.

Support Five Books

Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you're enjoying this interview, please support us by .

The doctor does a nice job of taking us through what’s happening, but also his career and his insider take on healthcare, which is really fascinating. It’s incredibly disheartening, but he is able to talk about mistakes that he has made and how important communication is with the patient. He really makes you feel something for the doctor within the system because, oftentimes, when you ’re receiving healthcare, you’re just feeling frustration. It’s slow, no one is telling you what is going on. To get the doctor perspective was fantastic.

He doesn’t narrate the book. He reads a little bit at the beginning, which is cool to hear but I don’t think I could survive it for six hours. Thank goodness they had a professional narrator because there is so much empathy and emotion required with this book. The narrator, Aden Hakimi, really captures that. He does an amazing job.

To be a good doctor, write a good book and be a good audiobook narrator would be quite a set of skills…

I think he would be fine, he just wouldn’t be able to capture the emotional spark. It can be very difficult in a nonfiction book, finding the emotional storyline. We totally get it here. We think about, ‘How do doctors protect people?’ In terms of Covid, they didn’t just have to think about the patients, they had to think about themselves and their families. They didn’t want to bring the disease home.

It brought these layers that are very timely and made the book extremely memorable.

Let’s go on to your next choice which is a work of fiction: I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai. Her previous book was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize, and this one has been reviewed in both the New York Times and the New Yorker.

This one was fun for me because I love a good mystery, but it also has a true crime podcast focus. It’s about a woman who is a podcaster. She went to high school in New Hampshire—a made-up boarding school—and she returns to teach some classes.

It turns out a student had been murdered while she was there and someone who worked at the college was convicted of the murder. Now as a teacher, with her students, she reinvestigates, ‘What actually happened to her classmate? What happened to the person who was ultimately convicted of her murder?’

It was an intriguing listen. The main character’s life is a mess. Her husband is going through a scandal. You’ve got the layers of the mystery, her personal life and her returning to a place where she didn’t have the best experience.

Julia Whelan, the narrator, does a fantastic job. There’s also a very small piece done by JD Jackson, who plays the convicted killer and speaks to her from jail.

Let’s move on to your next choice: The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley.

How often is it that books have people whose lives are a mess? Here’s another one. It’s about a lawyer. She has a messy life. She goes on a date, moves in with the guy, and gets sucked into his life in Brooklyn and ends up in a gun cult.

I like that true crime aspect to things. It’s a work of fiction, but here she is, in a bad relationship. She doesn’t realize she’s come into a survivalist group and some problems are going to arise from this. How does she get her life back?

Bahni Turpin narrated this, which for me closed the deal.

She’s a narrator you love?

Yes, Bahni Turpin is fantastic. I think of her as being a strong person. It was interesting to have someone who in my mind’s eye is really together playing a lawyer who’s like, ‘I’ve fallen in love with a guy and now I’m living with him and I’ve been sucked into something.’ It happens over time, so she doesn’t really realize that everything has fallen apart in her life. To hear someone like Bahni, with that strong voice, crumbling was really fascinating.

I wonder how the author came up with the idea of writing a book about a gun cult.

There are survivalist cults everywhere! This one just happens to be in Brooklyn.

The final book you’ve recommended is another novel. This is Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson. Is this one quite funny?

It is funny, but it is surprisingly empathetic. It’s about a family of real estate moguls. They’ve got three kids and you’re hearing the perspective of the two daughters and the daughter-in-law. One daughter has gone off on her own, she’s married a successful businessman and she is not involved in the family business or working. The other daughter is taking the family’s money but is working for nonprofits doing good works. Then you’ve got the daughter-in-law, who is married to the son who works in the family business. She is a graphic designer from Rhode Island (where I live) and gives her perspective on this family. It’s full of privilege. None of the characters should be likeable, but yet somehow they are.

This is a beach read in that it’s quick, fun, and fluffy. People aren’t learning a ton, but they are redeemable.

Marin Ireland, the narrator, is a Golden Voice for AudioFile—newly crowned. She takes the heightened emotion out. She can make someone sound empathetic and yet tired and resigned to what’s happening. Even if they’re an unlikable character, the way she voices them makes them more relatable. She makes them seem like they are going through something that you can sympathize with. Somehow, she brings sympathy to characters that are not sympathetic. I don’t know how she does it.

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

June 7, 2023

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at [email protected]

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb is Publisher of AudioFile Magazine, Executive Director of the Audio Publishers Association, and a partner at Forte Business Consulting, which provides Business Development services for the publishing industry.

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb is Publisher of AudioFile Magazine, Executive Director of the Audio Publishers Association, and a partner at Forte Business Consulting, which provides Business Development services for the publishing industry.