Book Review Series: The Bishop’s Wife (Plus: ebooks that read out loud and giving ebooks as gifts)

 

The Bishop's Wife (A Linda Wallheim Mystery)This mystery novel by Mormon feminist Mette Ivie Harrison is told from the perspective of Linda Wallheim, an LDS bishop’s wife in a predominately Mormon suburb of Salt Lake City. Linda is more progressive than the average Mormon in many of her views; she is pleased when her son joins the Gay Straight Alliance at his high school and isn’t scandalized by couples that marry outside the temple. However, her lifestyle is conservative, even more so than that of most Mormons. Although she is nearly an empty nester, she does not work outside the home and hasn’t done so since before the first of her five children was born.

With her sons grown up and no professional responsibilities, she has a lot of time available to serve as an unofficial assistant to her husband, the bishop. In fact, while the actual bishop is doing his paid day job as an accountant, Linda spends most of her day doing the sorts of things full-time professional clergy might do: visiting the sick and afflicted in her congregation (often at her husband’s request) and even counseling members who approach her for advice when they want a woman’s perspective, something the LDS Church’s male-only priesthood structure can’t offer them. Through these acts of service and her own nosiness, she becomes privy to intimate details of her neighbors’ lives. When tragedy takes place in her neighborhood, she is among the first on the scene. When news crews have lost interest, she is still there, both to help families cope and to search for answers.

Much of the narration is Linda explaining the peculiar customs and rules of Mormon life, with a particular emphasis on Mormon patriarchy. I suspect that this ethnographic detail would be interesting to readers unfamiliar with Mormonism and help them better understand the characters’ actions in context.

For a Mormon reader like myself, I found it easy to empathize with the characters and to understand their situations because they felt very familiar. Since I am also a Mormon woman living in a suburb of Salt Lake City—although I haven’t yet been a bishop’s wife—I’ve met many people like those in the book and grappled with many of the same thought processes as Linda. And sadly, the mystery unfolding in the novel reminded me of many similar cases in my own Mormon community. It was refreshing to read a novel that looked at Mormon life with a perspective that is both frank and friendly at the same time.

On the downside, Linda’s continuous explanations of Mormon policy and doctrine can get tedious to a Mormon reader because it is information we already know. A few times, I even felt like correcting Linda, but the explanations would have been even more tedious if she had tried for more technical or nuanced explanations. (Sealing cancellations versus clearances, anyone?) Not to mention the fact that the story is told from Linda’s perspective who, as a woman excluded from all-male church leadership, may not happen to know all the administrative details. In spite of this wee complaint, I enjoyed the Bishop’s Wife and I am excited to learn that this book introduces a new series.  I want to read the next book when it comes out.

I purchased the Bishop’s Wife as a kindle book and then added the audible narration. This was the first time I had tried this service.  In fact, several months back, I told my husband that I wanted someone to invent such a thing. I love to read, but I hardly ever have time to sit down and enjoy a book. While I prefer silent reading, there is a lot more time in my life to listen to audiobooks while I drive or do chores. I wanted someone to make an audiobook that was connected to the written e-book, so I could read on those rare instances when I had the time, but pick up right where I left off with the audio version when I was working.

“They have. The Kindle app does it,” he told me.

I thought he was talking about the annoying mechanical voice his old e-reader had, and clarified that I wanted a professional actor voice, like a stand-alone audiobook. But yes, that is what the Kindle Whispersync service does, and I loved it! It will be hard for me to commit to just reading or just audio in the future, now that I know I can have it both ways.

After buying the kindle book, Amazon invites you to add the audible narration. With Christmas approaching, I also wondered how to give a kindle book as a gift. I had only ever bought them for myself and sent them to my own devices. Am I revealing too much here about how woefully behind I am at using technology? Well, even if I am, I will tell you what I learned.

Could you buy a kindle book for someone else? Could you give it to them even if you don’t know their email address? Can the receiver exchange the gift if they already have that book, don’t have an e-reader or simply want something else? The answers to all these questions are yes.  More detailed answers are here at the Give and Receive Fire & Kindle Devices and Kindle Content as Gifts page.


This is a part of the Exponent Book Review Series and Cyber Monday Giveaway. By making a thoughtful comment on this post, subscribing to the Exponent, or making a donation to Exponent II by sending a PayPal donation to treasurer@exponentii.org, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of many books being reviewed! Check the intro post for information and terms. Entries accepted until the 5th of December 2015.

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April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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15 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    I haven’t heard of WhisperSync before, I’ll have to check it out!

  2. Erin says:

    This seems like a good book. Sounds like a series I would enjoy.

  3. Ziff says:

    Thanks for the review. This sounds like an interesting book! And I particularly love this:

    “In fact, while the actual bishop is doing his paid day job as an accountant, Linda spends most of her day doing the sorts of things full-time professional clergy might do: visiting the sick and afflicted in her congregation (often at her husband’s request) and even counseling members who approach her for advice when they want a woman’s perspective, something the LDS Church’s male-only priesthood structure can’t offer them.”

    I love that the author is (maybe unintentionally?) pushing the idea of expanding women’s responsibilities in this area. A novel is a great way to show how this could actually play out. What an excellent idea!

  4. Sarah says:

    My no-mo friend sent this to me and I sort of laughed it off w/o looking more into it. Then I started seeing good reviews out. And NOW! I am excited and will have to read this!!

  5. Kristine says:

    I purchased this book over the weekend and it only cost $1.99 on the kindle! Well worth the price.

  6. Gemma says:

    I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book last year and enjoyed it. I have been a bit judicious about recommending it to others since I have seen that a number of LDS Amazon reviewers got hung up on the administrative details April mentions as well as the way the book explores the difficulties and downsides of life in a patriarchal religious culture. Personally I appreciated Harrison’s depiction of Linda’s struggle to negotiate her faith and to live her religion authentically though she feels constrained by the expectations placed on her as a Mormon woman and as the wife of a bishop. Linda has doubts, fears, and anger alongside a strong impulse to love and serve her neighbors. It was nice to see a serious exploration of the lived experience of a religious woman in fiction.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I have this one on my to read list. Maybe I will bump it up!

  8. Jen says:

    I think I have heard other good things about this book. I will have to check it out!

  9. Jsf says:

    I was disappointed in this book. I was eager to read it after hearing the author interviewed on Radio West, but I was let down in the end. I thought the writing was very poor and the story too contrived.My husband ended up reading it too and he guessed the “who done it” right from the start. I was sorry it didn’t end up being what I had hoped.

  10. Patty says:

    I read it and enjoyed it. I expected a viewpoint of the church from the inside. The explanations were a bit much. Anyone else read Andrew Hunt’s books? (City of Saints, A Killing in Zion)

  11. charlene says:

    I really wanted to like this book, and didn’t all that much, but I think a lot of it is my fault for wanting it to be a different book than it was.

    I wanted it to be a book where the relationships between women in the Relief Society were what was used to track down the murderer, like a Mormon Miss Marple. Instead I got a book where the emotional plot was about Linda forging her own relationships with other LDS women for the first time and acting like this was a huge deal and something that was completely out of the ordinary. And, I mean, I get that — I’ve definitely felt a huge part of my life like I didn’t really have that connection with other LDS women — but I do feel that it’s an ideal of both LDS gospel and culture that those connections ought to exist (whether they do individually for me personally or not), and I felt like the LDS Church was depicted as a place where no one even thought about this as something that ought to be true for the Relief Society women.

    Also, I thought all the people telling Linda she was super non-judgmental were a bit much, considering all she does during the book is form judgments. I mean, I didn’t mind that about her, as it’s a mainstay of the mystery genre to form (mistaken) judgments, but it was sort of weird when people then praised her for her open non-judgmental mind.

  12. cfg says:

    My book group recently read this and thought it was very poorly written and just plain dull. The gratuitous explanations of every aspect of Mormon culture dragged the plot along and we, far from Utah culture, felt the heroine was not credible. Most of us shared a library copy and I am grateful I didn’t even pay for a kindle version.

  13. Kay Cookie says:

    My book club read this book earlier this year and I was initially interested (I liked how she portrayed a Mormon woman stradling the line between faith and frustration with some parts of church structure), but found the story line completely crazy and unbelievable. And the ending … well, it seemed disturbing. The male characters with the exception of her husband really had issues.

  14. Kari says:

    I admit I’m kind of a book snob and don’t really like reading Mormon novels. I do like that this book has a feminist protagonist that I could certainly relate more too.

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