Ready to get away? With stay-at-home life entering its fourth month for many of us, the need for escape has never felt stronger, even as opportunities dwindle and TV bingeing starts to pall. Take your headphones on a walk and hearken to these great audiobook escapes, the perfect prescription for cabin fever.
Finding refuge in a well-told tale has a long pedigree. Written just a few years after the Black Death devastated Europe, Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” tells of a group of 10 young men and women who flee the plague-ravaged streets of Florence, Italy, to hide out in a country house, where they gather each afternoon to regale each other with witty and often ribald stories. In Naxos Audio’s full-cast recording, each voice is captured by a talented actor, with the brilliant Simon Russell Beale unifying the whole as the bemused narrator Boccaccio himself, whose stark firsthand description of the plague gives way to mischief, merriment and music, with each day’s telling ending in a song.
Stir-crazy listeners will enjoy tagging along with M. Wylie Blanchet in her classic account of sailing along coastal British Columbia, “The Curve of Time,” read with lovely, forthright simplicity by Heather Anne Henderson. Left to raise five children on her own after her husband drowned in 1926, Blanchet home-schooled them in a remote cottage on Vancouver Island, varying their routine with regular camping holidays up and down the coast in their 25-foot cabin cruiser, Caprice. Northwest native Henderson deftly handles those local place names that so easily befuddle outsiders, making this smooth, snag-free sailing for solo or family listening.
For listeners looking to get further away, opportunities abound. Fans of “Poldark” and “Outlander” will enjoy bingeing David Monteath’s virtuosic readings of The Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett’s six-part swashbuckling epic of 16th-century Scotland. Monteath ably inhabits dashing anti-hero Francis Crawford Lymond, who returns from exile to clear his name and becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue revolving around the young Mary, Queen of Scots. Chess is the fitting central metaphor of this sweeping, populous series, but for readers willing to fully immerse themselves, the rewards are great: 146 hours of history, romance and adventure, which is over twice the running time of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” If that sounds daunting, the first two titles — “The Game of Kings” and “Queen’s Play” — can be enjoyed on their own. Needless to say, listeners who don’t enjoy a vigorous Scottish burr need not apply.
New York may seem a more familiar destination, but N.K. Jemisin’s thrillingly original fantasy “The City We Became” dreams the city that never sleeps anew. Threatened by an ancient xenophobic evil, the five boroughs spring to sentient life in the form of five avatars who capture the racial and cultural diversity of the great metropolis. Not just any narrator can meet the demands of Jemisin’s world-building extravaganza, let alone enrich the experience with flawless pacing, emotional depth and a panoply of skilled characterizations and accents; but Robin Miles is not just any narrator. The only drawback is that the rest of the trilogy is still forthcoming, but we can all use something to look forward to.
Narrator Tanis Parenteau pulls off a similar feat in her deft, heartfelt performance of Rebecca Roanhorse’s post-apocalyptic adventure “Trail of Lightning.” As rising waters endanger dwindling humankind, demons and demiurges from the Diné — or Navajo — myth world stalk the land, and monster hunter Maggie Hoskie reluctantly joins forces with a mysterious medicine man to rescue a missing girl. Here, and in the gripping sequel “Storm of Locusts,” Roanhorse weaves Indigenous legend and culture into irresistibly imaginative storytelling, and Parenteau is equally captivating as she vividly paints a world of wonder, darkness and desperation.
Marauding dragons take wing in the skies over Africa in Evan Winter’s action-packed sword and sorcery debut, “The Rage of Dragons.” With his rich baritone, narrator Prentice Onayemi brings a smoldering intensity to the journey of young Tau Tafari, a reluctant warrior who becomes an avenging hero and careens through epic battle sequences, finding himself and learning the value of peace. Winter lays out a land scarred by colonial conquest and rebellion, convincingly rendered by Onayemi in a variety of accents and registers. Fans of cinematic action will eagerly await the next installment.
On a lighter, more intimate note, Quan Barry’s “We Ride Upon Sticks” chronicles the remarkable turnaround of the 1989 Danvers High School girls field hockey team, whose players decide to take a lesson from the Salem witchcraft trials, pledging themselves to the devil, aka Emilio Estevez. Isabel Keating brings fitting angst and humor to the struggles of the ragtag band of misfit witches at the heart of this delightfully offbeat coming-of-age story, a special treat for anyone who grew up in the 1980s.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that “The Rage of Dragons” author Evan Winter is South African, but he is not. Winter was born in England to South American parents, and his ancestors are African.