Sandra Dallas, inspired by the 1951 movie “Westward the Women,” gives that tale a bold, feminist spin. It is Chicago, 1852, and Maggie, mother of 4-year-old Clara, is on the run from a violent, degenerate husband when she learns of an expedition organized by two clergymen to take women of high moral standing to the California goldfields as potential wives to miners. Maggie and her daughter join 43 other women and embark on the punishing 2,000-mile trek across the continent by wagon train, through the high plains, mountains and desert. Not everyone makes it: Disease, accident and deprivation take their toll, as do encounters with brutal men, some of whom have pursued members of the group from Chicago. While the weak, disrespected women do have their foibles and failings, they gain strength and determination, bonding together in a powerful sisterhood. Narrator Angela Dawe’s warm voice varies seamlessly to capture the many characters, their fear, fortitude, and, in some cases, vileness. There is nothing subtle about this adventure, but it is exhilarating and hard to resist. (Macmillan Audio, Unabridged, 9½ hours)
'The Family Upstairs'
Lisa Jewell, master of suspense and switcheroo plots, presents Libby Jones, a woman who was adopted as a baby and at 25, learns of an inheritance from her birthparents. This, astoundingly, turns out to be a house in London’s posh Chelsea area. More troublingly, Libby also learns that her parents, the Lambs, seemed to have belonged to a cult, committing suicide along with an unidentified man, while Libby lay unharmed upstairs in a crib. Her teenage siblings, Henry and Lucy, were missing, presumed dead — until now. The events leading up to the deaths are revealed through flashbacks from the points of view of Henry and Lucy, their sections ably narrated by Dom Thornburn and Bea Holland. It’s an enthrallingly sinister story involving the arrival at the Lamb house of a guru-like despot. Libby, whose sections are narrated by Tamaryn Payne in an appropriate young Londoner’s voice, enlists the help of a journalist to investigate the mystery and eventually the threads come together to produce one final surprise. (Simon and Schuster Audio, Unabridged, 9½ hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.