With the holiday season now in full-swing, it can be easy to teeter on the edge of full-on panic mode. For all the delights the season can bring, it is also ripe with potential frustrations and the possibility of anxiety-inducing calamity. There’s the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the gift wrapping—and perhaps most trying of all, the travel. Basically, during the holidays—perhaps more than any other time of year—we can all use a moment (or several) of escape. Whether you’re looking to veg out during a gift-wrapping session, a plane ride’s worth of distraction, or a way for everyone to pass the time during a family car trip, a great audiobook is just the ticket. Here are a few of our sci-fi and fantasy favorites to bring you through this yuletide season with at least a modicum of your sanity.
Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Adapting a graphic novel to an audiobook format is a tricky proposition particularly when a fair amount of exposition is presented visually. To get around this, Locke & Key employs a full production approach including sound effects, a full cast, and a narrator to fully immerse listeners in the unnerving world of the Locke family and Key House. After the traumatic murder of their father, the Locke children relocate across the country to their father’s family estate—Key House—in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. They discover a house filled with dark family secrets, otherworldly doorways, and powerful supernatural keys.
Read by: Various
Runtime: 13 hours and 23 minutes
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Blake Crouch’s latest speculative thriller is mind-and-time-bending trip that examines the way memory shapes our perceptions of reality. Across the world people are being driven mad by memories of lives they have never lived. As the terrifying epidemic spreads, an NYC detective and a neuroscientist race to an bring the chaos to an end.
Read by: Jon Lindstrom and Abby Craden
Runtime: 10 hours and 47 minutes
Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey
Take some cues from Harry Potter, a bit of Raymond Chandler’s brand of hard-boiled private detective, and a little classic whodunit and you’d end up at Sarah Gailey’s Magic For Liars. This contemporary fantasy centers around a down on her luck PI who takes on a murder investigation at a posh school for young mages. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the narration by Xe Sands is a pitch perfect blend of wry weariness and thorny misanthropy.
Read by: Xe Sands
Runtime: 9 hours and 7 minutes
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
If you’re looking for something to scratch your young adult fantasy itch without veering into the genre’s well-worn tropes, Children of Blood and Bone is just the ticket. Building its brilliantly realized world from West African myth, Children of Blood and Bone presents its coming-of-age fantasy through a under-utilized prism creating a story that is at once familiar but also startlingly fresh.
Read by: Bahni Turpin
Runtime: 17 hours and 44 minutes
The Hike by Drew Magary
This delightfully strange and genuinely unsettling yarn centers around Ben, an everyman type staying at a rural Pennsylvania hotel for a business meeting. Unfortunately for Ben, a seemingly normal afternoon walk in the forest turns into frightful odyssey through a bizarre land of fairy tale and myth where nothing is quite as it seems.
Read by: Christopher Lane
Runtime: 8 hours and 4 minutes
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Gross
This fascinating novel from World Fantasy Award winner Theodora Gross centers around Mary Jekyll—the orphaned daughter of the notorious doctor. Alongside Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary begins a pursuit of her father’s murderous former assistant, Edward Hyde. However, she quickly finds herself entwined with a group of women experimented on by the infamous doctors Moreau, Frankenstein, Rappaccini. What follows is a subversive, feminist trip through Victorian England told through the lens of a delightfully fourth-wall-breaking literary device.
Read by: Kate Reading
Runtime: 13 hours and 38 minutes
Meddling Kids by Eduard Cantero
Ever wonder what adult life would be like for those groups of kid detectives like the Famous Five and the Scooby Gang? Eduard Cantero has the answer. Meddling Kids centers around the now-grown-up Blyton Summer Detective Club—a former group of tween sleuths who got caught up in an unsettling and traumatic mystery in the summer of 1977. Now as adults in various stages of disarray, the surviving members return to the summer town of Blyton to finally get to the bottom of what actually happened that fateful summer.
Read by: Kyla Garcia
Runtime: 12 hours and 54 minutes
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
From Alice and her Wonderland Adventures to the Pevensies and Narnia, fantasy literature is littered with tales of children stepping through a portal to magical worlds. But, what happens when those youngsters inevitably return home? That is precisely what the absurdly prolific Seanan McGuire explores in Every Heart a Doorway. It is a poignant, thought-provoking examination of life after a portal fantasy and whether or not one can ever truly go home again.
Runtime: 4 hours and 44 minutes
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
Set in 1491 against the backdrop of the Reconquista, The Bird King centers around Fatima, a young concubine to the sultan. When the Spanish monarchy arrives to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima realizes that her dear friend Hassan’s magical gifts will make him a target of the Spanish Inquisition. Together, Fatima and Hassan flee across the Iberian Peninsula in search of safety on a mythic island whose shifting borders will hopefully shield from their deadly pursuers.
Runtime: 14 hours and 8 minutes
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch tells the story of Sunny Nwazue, a Nigerian albino girl whose affliction has made her an outcast among her classmates. However, when she discovers that she is one of the Leopard People—a kind of witch—Sunny befriends three other students and quickly finds herself caught up in a deadly struggle with a dangerous killer and powerful witch. Okorafor’s impeccable world-building and dizzying imagination make this one a must-read, or in this case a must-listen.
Runtime: 8 hours and 49 minutes
Keith is a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife, son and three cats. When not writing about books and movies, Keith tries to be optimistic about humanity—he usually fails. He generally has opinions, sometimes he shares them on Twitter @keith_rice1.