5 NZ audiobooks for your next road trip

Summer road trips are made for audiobooks. Listening to stories is a way to break up your journey one chapter at a time, ideal for drivers with eyes focused on the road and passengers who get motion sickness while reading in a moving vehicle. Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing book formats internationally, booming in popularity following the pandemic, and there's a growing appetite for local audio stories in Aotearoa too.  


Summer road trips are made for audiobooks. Listening to stories is a way to break up your journey one chapter at a time, ideal for drivers with eyes focused on the road and passengers who get motion sickness while reading in a moving vehicle. Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing book formats internationally, booming in popularity following the pandemic, and there's a growing appetite for local audio stories in Aotearoa too. While often released after their paperback formats, audiobooks by Aotearoa authors are becoming more readily available on platforms such as Audible, Google Books and Apple Books. And there's more on the horizon; in 2022, the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) received funding from Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, to create more Aotearoa audiobooks. Listen out for some New Zealand bestsellers in the audiobook form over the next few years.

My personal journey with audiobooks started as a way to relax on long commutes through Tāmaki Makaurau. I still love to read paperbacks, of course, but through the audio format, I've consumed books in genres I wouldn't usually tackle and found a way to re-listen enjoy old favourites, all over again. Not every book is well-suited to audiobook format: romance, crime and YA novels are particularly popular in audiobook due to the narrative structures of these genre. For these reviews, I've considered not only the literary aspects such as plotting, narrative and language but also the narration and performance of the reading. If you're going to listen to a book for 18 hours, you’d better like the narrator's voice.

These five New Zealand audiobooks are particularly well-suited for holiday listening.

PS Come to Italy
By Nicky Pellegrino
10h 2m (road trip and ferry from Wellington to Nelson and back)

Think of the audiobook of Nicky Pellegrino's P.S. Come to Italy as hype music for your holidays. There's no better time to read any of Pellegrino's dreamy Italian-themed novels than while you're on vacation, or at least en route to a getaway. Pellegrino's 14th novel — a 2023 New Zealand bestseller — follows Belle, a New Zealand woman who connects with Italian Enrico in an online dementia support group. While mourning the mental decline (and later death) of their respective partners, a friendship kindles. Enrico's invitation to stay with his family in Ostuni, Puglia (title of the book alert!) is an opportunity for Belle to reset. However, on arrival at Enrico's glamorous palazzo — it appears Enrico isn't the man Belle had expected.

Like all of Pellegrino's books, the descriptions of the hilltop town and sumptuous food in this novel transport the reader to Italy, but here the full degustation of characters really makes this book compelling. Free-spirited Kiwi Belle with her worn Birkenstocks and hair scarfs couldn't be further from the starchy Nonna Gilda and chi chi influencer Perla, but none of the characters ever feel like a caricature. Nor are Belle and Enrico's experiences of grief fleeting and forgotten — even in a dreamy location, grief is inescapable.

 What does take you out of the story from time to time is the narration. Jane McDowell voices all of Pellegrino's audiobooks, but her plummy British accent, Speech and Drama intonation often feel out of kilter with Pellegrino's relaxed writing style. McDowell seems a particularly poor fit for P.S. Come to Italy, given that significant portions of the novel take place in New Zealand, and she mangles the pronunciation of many te reo Māori words. These narration sins are somewhat washed away by Pellegrino's story, which will have you dreaming of swimming in the Adriatic Sea.


His Favourite Graves
By Paul Cleaves
Length 12h 5m (Christchurch to Queenstown and back)

Three-time Ngaio Marsh Award-winner Paul Cleave is a New Zealand crime-writing powerhouse. Scroll through his vault of audiobooks, and you'll also see a slew of translated versions with narrators with exotic names bringing his thrillers to life for his wide international audience. He's also been entertaining international critics for years, winning the Saint-Maur book festival's crime novel of the year in France for his debut novel The Cleaner (set in Ōtautahi Christchurch and soon to be a TV series) and its sequel, Joe Victim, shortlisted for prestigious US crime awards, the Edgar Awards and Barry Awards. Some of the international audiobook versions have alternative titles such as 'Christchurch Noir Three' — making me ponder whether Antipodean noir is the new Nordic noir? Do we need to catch up to Cleaves’ international hype here in Aotearoa?

His latest outing, His Favourite Graves, isn't set in the Garden City; it takes place in the fictitious small town of Acacia Pines, USA. Protagonist Sheriff Cohen's life is in dire straits. His senile father has accidentally burnt down his retirement home, leaving Cohen in financial ruin. His relationship with his sullen teenage son is also fractured. When one of his son's schoolmates is kidnapped, Cohen tracks down a likely suspect and makes a dodgy decision to keep the suspect captive to try and claim the reward money. Cleave is the master of misdirection, and just when you think you have the plot mapped out, there's an un-signposted hairpin turn followed by another twisting development that might make you rewind the chapter to double-check you heard it all correctly. Kris Dyer is a great crime narrator who keeps up with Cleave's pace, but his British accent is a curious choice for a novel set in the USA. With so many plot twists and psychologically damaged characters, the jar of the narrator’s accent only adds to the novel's feeling of discomfort and dislocation.


My Life in Lashes: The Story of a Drag Superstar
By Kita Mean
Length 6h 51 m (Flight from Auckland to Sydney and back)

It's always a treat to hear the author voice their own audiobook and on the flipside, a huge letdown when an autobiography isn't read by its author (looking at you, Britney Spears). As a natural performer and comedian, it's not surprising that Kita Mean's lisp-and-all reading of her autobiography is funny, but it's also incredibly compelling, a bit like sitting down with the Auckland drag superstar for a glass of wine and a chat.

Kita is 37, and so there's a risk that she might not have enough to say for an autobiography — but that's not the case. Kita Mean's life is colourful whether she's 'in lashes' as the winner of Season One of RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under and 'sans falsies' and out of drag as Nick Nash. Tales of Nash's childhood in East Auckland's Cockle Bay, emo teenage life at Howick College and the time when his mum was dating Ken Ring (yes, you read that right, the 'alternative weather' conspiracy theorist) are thoroughly entertaining and help paint a picture of camp performer Aotearoa would grow to love.

The tea (or should that be cocktails?) keeps spilling when Kita Mean recalls her early days performing and a drag artist (referred to in the book under the juicy alias Pina Colada) who did her best to quash Kita Mean’s early career. There's plenty of goss — including life in the hotel room while filming Drag Race and her thoughts on a controversial 'Lipsync for your Life' in the penultimate episode — but this book is also very sincere. Kita shares her vulnerabilities about love and her body. She talks about how her 80-kilo weight loss following keyhole gastric sleeve surgery changed her as a performer and how life as a plus-sized person shaped her comedy.


How to Loiter in a Turf War

By Coco Solid
Length: 2h 24m (Onehunga to Long Bay, and back, in traffic)

When I first read Coco Solid's How to Loiter in a Turf War in its paperback form, I found myself compulsively reading out lines of text to anyone who would listen. These are a few of Solid's golden nuggets:

"She gives him a hurled brick wrapped up in a smile"


 "A bad day at the bus-stop can sometimes feel like a symphony of bullshit."


"I bet Māori and Filipino Gods eavesdrop more than other Gods too.Why did I get that combo?They stand around the fountain of youth like it's a watercooler.Comparing notes with the Greek Gods about my psychotic thoughts."


Solid's command of language, ear for dialogue, and kick-in-the-shins wordplay are an absolute treat, and this book is what Aotearoa's audiobook dreams are made of. Hearing the rapper / director / artist/ writer read her own text adds a level of performance, humour and intimacy that amplifies the original written words.

On one level, the story is a straightforward day-in-the-life narrative following three friends in Tāmaki Makaurau: the narrator Te Hoia, Rosina, an artist with a 'white boy weakness' and bakery worker Q (Te Hoia's secret crush). But the pared-back narrative is packed with complex observations about gentrification and colonisation. The friends are resilient to the 'revitalisation' of their home turf. The laugh defiantly while waving hotdogs in the face of Pakeha residential colonisers who talk about Māori and Pasifika families that used to live in the neighbourhood like they are "ghost stories while still maintaining that it's cool to live here."

This audiobook is short; you could listen to the whole book while weeding your garden, and with oxalis in hand, perhaps reflect on these words:

“That's the third person I know without a house. What the hell is going on? They're pulling us out of our own soil… like weeds. I'm not a weed."


Foul Lady Fortune|
By Chloe Gong
Length 18h 28m (Campervan tour of the South Island)

The sci-fi and fantasy genres are sometimes the trickiest to consume in audiobook format, particularly if these aren't your native reading territory. Stories that involve extensive world-building and long, detailed descriptions to explain out-of-this-world concepts often require the reader to turn back the page for a cheeky re-read and recap, but rewinding and relistening is much trickier in an audiobook.

I intended to review Tonight, I Burn by Paraparaumu Beach author Katherine J Adams, but I admitted to confused defeat on my sixth rewind of the witchy YA fantasy. Shanghai-born, North Shore-raised Chloe Gong's books are in the fantasy YA section as well, however, Gong's economic and direct language is particularly well-suited to audiobook format and a better choice for fantasy newbs like me.

Foul Lady Fortune is a spinoff of Gong's bestselling TikTok sensation These Violent Delights, following a side character, Rosalind Land. Set in 1931 in Shanghai on the brink of the Sino-Japanese war, four years after the events of These Violent Delights, Rosalind is brought back from the dead to become an immortal assassin working for the Chinese Nationalists. At the novel's start, tensions are high between the Nationalists and the Communists. A new threat emerges, a potential Japanese invasion, which sees Rosalind going undercover, posing as the wife of wealthy playboy Orion.

While 18 hours is long by audiobook standards (for reference, sci-fi tome _Dune i_s 21 hours and 2 minutes, and The Fellowship of the Rings Book 1 is 22 hours 38 minutes), the pacing of Foul Lady Fortune and excellent performance by narrator Emily Woo Zeller makes this a rollicking listen. There's also a sequel, so if your road trip takes longer, there's more story to listen to.

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  • 5 NZ audiobooks for your next road trip