June is always an exciting month at AudioFile, because it’s when we introduce the year’s new Golden Voices narrators! This year’s three inductees are all incredible narrators, of course, and some of my personal favorites. Each of them has read so many great titles that it’s hard to pick just a few to highlight, but since it’s Pride month, I thought I’d celebrate some of the fabulous LGBTQ+ audiobooks they’ve narrated.
Kevin R. Free is beloved to so many (including me!) as the voice of Murderbot from Martha Wells's incredibly fun sci-fi series. He’s also read all of Brandon Taylor’s works to date, including his newest, THE LATE AMERICANS. I have made sure to listen to each of Taylor’s books since his debut, REAL LIFE, partially because Free’s narration is always so good. There’s something about his melodious, expressive voice that perfectly matches Taylor’s lush, descriptive prose.
That’s the case with THE LATE AMERICANS, a melancholic exploration of class, race, art, ambition, and human connection. It’s set in Iowa City, and it follows a group of grad students—poets, dancers, musicians, writers—as they navigate friendship, love, and sex. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, which gives Free a chance to show off his vocal range, as he subtly alters his voice for each character. But there’s also an even, alluring sameness to his voice that suits the novel perfectly. The characters move in and out of each other’s lives in so many messy ways but they’re all struggling with the same big questions. Free’s narration ties it all together. His performance also highlights Taylor’s beautiful prose—everything about the way he interacts with the work is smooth and natural, almost as if he’s not reading at all, but speaking directly from the heart.
Marin Ireland’s character work is always a treat. She can take on just about any character voice with ease, from kids to teens to adults. I personally love her narration in Lauren McBrayer’s LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE. It’s an understated, meditative performance of a quietly beautiful book. The story centers on Merit, a wife and mother who feels like she’s lost most of her identity, instead becoming consumed by her role in the family. When she decides to go back to work as an architect, she soon develops a close friendship with her boss, Jane. As the two tumble into love, Merit begins rethinking her past, present, and future. The book is intensely focused on Merit and Jane, and Ireland gives them both memorable voices. She portrays Jane with an easy confidence, a light Danish accent, and a smooth, even tone. Merit’s voice is a bit more emotional, with lots of changes in pitch and volume depending on who she’s speaking with—Jane, her husband, her kids, her somewhat judgmental mom friends. Ireland’s incredible character work and attention to detail make this a supremely satisfying listen.
Nicholas Boulton’s talent for accents and flair for the dramatic makes him the perfect narrator for Alexis Hall’s utterly delightful and extremely silly queer historical road trip romp, SOMETHING FABULOUS. Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, knows there is a right and proper way to do everything, which is why he’s perplexed when his Very Proper Proposal to his old childhood friend does not go over well. She literally flees from him, and then, to Valentine’s continued astonishment, her twin brother, the bubbly and hopelessly romantic Bonny, insists that he and Valentine go after her to make things right. It turns out that making things right consists mostly of Bonny being very annoying and saying truly shocking things, which, once again to his astonishment . . . Valentine quite likes.
It’s hard to describe just how joyful and hilarious this book is, but listen to a few minutes of Boulton’s exuberant narration and you’ll get the idea. He leans into all of Hall’s comedic absurdity (and the underlying tenderness that makes his stories so compelling) and the result is magical. He voices Valentine with a stiff gruffness that slowly melts away as he begins to loosen up and let down his guard. He gives Bonny a higher, more excitable voice, perfectly capturing his many exclamations, sighs, dramatic overtures, and crude jokes, not to mention the gentle teasing and wise but reproachful monologues. Even the side characters are memorable. The whole production is nothing less than audio perfection.