'The Innocents'

Set in the early 19th century, Michael Crummey’s fifth novel is a brilliant, harrowing, and supremely moving tale of Evered and Ada, orphaned at ages 11 and 9 on an isolated cove in Newfoundland. The two survive by trading the cod they manage to catch and preserve for supplies from a ship that appears twice a year. They also scavenge and hunt, and the few visitors to their cove bring news of the world’s immensity and, eventually, of the mystery of why their parents lived in such austerity and isolation. The panorama of nature — the “feral ocean,” the woods and its beasts, the meadows and its streams and berry bushes — is beautifully conjured, as are the emotions the growing children discover within themselves. Narrator Mary Lewis, raised in Newfoundland herself, delivers the book in a manner that seems stilted at first but grows more appealing as Lewis moves further into the story, with its pleasing archaisms and evocation of balked communication. (Random House Audio, Unabridged, 9 hours)

'Westering Women'

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.

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