As an avid audiobook listener, I’m always on the lookout for audiobook reviews. They’re surprisingly hard to find—most traditional review websites and publications simply review the book itself. But as all audiophiles know, when you’re listening to a book, the narrator is all-important. A bad narrator can ruin even the best book. A good one can turn an ordinary book into something miraculous.
Good audiobook reviews center the narration, giving listeners a sense of the narrator’s performance. Rather than focusing on plot, character, theme, and prose, audiobook reviews take note of how well narrators perform accents, whether their tone matches the tone of the book, and what the narration adds to the overall experience of listening to the book.
I’ve scoured the internet and come up with this list of the best websites offering good audiobook reviews.
Disclosure: I review books for AudioFile.
AudioFile is the only free, easily searchable website I’ve been able to find that provides useful, performance-centered reviews of audiobooks. Reviews are short and succinct, and while they do provide quick plot summaries and an overall analysis of the book, the narration is always front and center. You’ll find thousands of reviews for audiobooks of all genres. Reviews of new books usually come out shortly after publication.
If you’re trying to determine whether or not to read a book on audio, AudioFile should definitely be your first stop.
While Goodreads isn’t exactly set up for audiobook reviews, there are some tricks you can use to seek them out. The easiest way is to search the review text for terms relating to audiobooks. Right above the reviews for a book, you’ll see a small search bar that looks like this:
I’ve found that using terms like “audiobook,” “narration,” and “audio” will generally give you reviews that specifically mention the audiobook. You sometimes have to skim through the review to find the parts that address the narration, but if you’re already reading reviews on Goodreads, it can be useful.
You can also check to see if your Goodreads friends or reviewers you follow have an audiobooks shelf. I shelve all my audiobooks on Goodreads and always try to include at least a short note about the narration in my reviews.
There are also some Goodreads groups focused on audiobooks, where you can find recommendations, ask for recommendations, and discuss all things audio. The Audiobooks Group is quite active, as is the Romance Audiobook Group.
While we don’t publish straight-up reviews, we do have a lot of great audiobook content. If you’re looking for recommendations for stellar narrators, full-cast audiobooks, audiobooks read by authors, short audiobooks, romance audiobooks, or practically anything else, we’ve got you covered.
Book Riot also puts out a fantastic weekly audiobooks newsletter, which I highly recommend. Vanessa not only highlights new releases, always with some notes about the narrator(s), but always includes a favorite recent listen, complete with a review of the performance. The newsletter also collects great audiobook content from Book Riot and around the internet.
Disclosure: I review books for Booklist.
Booklist is a publication of the American Library Association. It’s a recommendation-only journal, which means that they recommend all the titles they review for purchase at public and school libraries. They do publish audio-specific reviews, but because it’s a subscription service, it’s not the best resource for individual readers (an annual subscription, which includes 22 issues and access to their online reviews, is $169.50). If you’re a librarian or work for an organization that subscribes, this is a great way to find audiobook reviews, as you can search their extensive database.
They do sometimes feature audio reviews free on their website, but because they are so few and constantly changing, it’s hit-and-miss whether you’ll find a review that’s useful to you. Booklist also puts out a free audiobooks newsletter, which features audiobook reviews.
You’d think Audible would be a great place to go for audiobook reviews, but you’d be wrong. While Audible users can post reviews after listening to an audiobook (and anyone can view these, even if you aren’t a subscriber), reviews rarely mention the narration. Most reviewers will simply say something along the lines of “great narration!” rather than commenting on the particular strengths or weakness of the narrator.
The only reason I mention it here is because listeners can give books star ratings, which are broken down into “overall,” “performance,” and “story”. If you want a quick sense of how much people like an audiobook, glancing at the “performance” rating can be useful. As an example, Becoming by Michelle Obama has a 4.9 star performance rating.
It is also interesting to note that when reviewers don’t like the narration, they’re more likely to mention it. These Truths by Jill Lepore, for example, only has a 3.8 star performance rating, and many listeners comment that they found the narration difficult.
If you’re looking for thoughtful audiobook reviews that center the narration, Audible is not your best bet, but if you just want a snapshot of how listeners react to a narrator’s performance, it’s a good resource.
Can’t Find a Review? Listen to a Sample!
Of course, in the end, a review can only tell you so much about a book. The best way to determine if you’re going to like an audiobook is to listen to a sample. I usually combine listening to a sample with reading a review (if I can find one). This ensures that I almost never listen to an audiobook I don’t like.
Both Audible and Libro allow you to listen to short samples of books even if you aren’t a subscriber. If you use Libby to check out audiobooks from your library, you can listen to a sample in the app before you borrow the book.