My Absolute Darling – Gabriel Tallent

Gabriel Tallent’s debut (DEBUT!) novel, My Absolute Darling, is going to be difficult tomyabsolutedarling write about – not only because the subject matter is contentious, but because I don’t have an adequate vocabulary to express just how truly astounding this novel is. (I guess he gets the extra ‘l’ in his last name because when they were handing out talent, he got more than his share. Seriously.)

Julia (though everyone calls her Turtle) Alveston is fourteen. She lives with her father, Martin, in Northern California. Her mother is dead. Although her father sometimes works as a carpenter, the two of them are isolated and live pretty much off-the-grid. The only other adult in her life is her grandfather, Martin’s dad, who lives in a trailer on their property. Turtle goes to school, but she is friendless; she is more comfortable roaming the woods and shooting guns, than she is talking to kids her own age.

Turtle’s relationship with Martin is complicated. Martin is an imposing figure, both physically and intellectually. But he is also a seriously damaged man and it won’t take long for readers to see that the relationship between father and daughter is, among other things, abusive. But then, even that doesn’t adequately explain things.

After a meeting at school, where Turtle’s teacher expresses concern with her progress, Martin says “Is this the sum of your ambition? To be an illiterate little slit?”

His meaning comes to her all at once like something lodged up in a can glopping free. She leaves parts of herself unnamed and unexamined, and then he will name them, and she will see herself clearly in his words and hate herself.

There is always simmering violence in Turtle’s home, a house tellingly “overgrown with climbing roses and poison oak.” There are guns and knives inside, both of which Turtle knows how to use with startling proficiency.  Martin is a survivalist who fervently believes that “Humanity is killing itself – slowly, ruinously, collectively shitting in its bathwater….”

Turtle has learned to read her father, to anticipate what’s coming. It’s hard – very hard – to watch her negotiate with herself, or justify Martin’s abuse, particularly the sexual abuse. Tallent wisely chooses a limited third person point of view to tell Turtle’s story; I don’t know how readers could bear it otherwise.

She thinks, do it, I want you to do it. She lies expecting it at any moment, looking out the window at the small, green, new-forming alder cones and thinking this is me, her thoughts gelled and bloody marrow within the piping of her hollow thighbones and the coupled, gently curving bones of her forearms. He crouches over her and in husky tones of awe, he says, “Goddamn, kibble, goddamn.”

When Turtle meets Jacob and Brett, her world starts to crack open a little bit, but it’s not until Martin arrives home, after a protracted absence, with ten-year-old Cayenne in tow, that Turtle starts to reconsider her life. She knows she has to “really goddamn look at it without lying….”

Tallent said in a 2017 interview for Mashable that ” “…good books ask us to be courageous readers.” I think he’s right, of course, but I don’t think everyone will be able to stomach the violence in My Absolute Darling. That said,  this book is worth the effort.

First of all, Tallent’s a gifted writer. His descriptions of the natural world – almost a character in and of itself – are masterful. This is Turtle’s domain and it’s important. She can survive in the wild, and those survival instincts serve her well. Secondly, Turtle is a character you will not soon – if ever –  forget. She is tough because she has to be, but there is a tenderness about her, too. Her friendship with Jacob is unexpected and impossible, but also essential because it gives Turtle a glimpse into a normal world that has been denied to her. Finally, Martin is not a one-note villain. Although my feelings about him didn’t really waver, I still found some sympathy in my heart for him. That’s a tribute to Tallent because, mostly, Martin is a narcissistic monster. I believe Martin loves Turtle, but in a twisted, possessive, controlling way.

I highly recommend this book, although I understand that it won’t be palatable for many readers. It was on my short list as a potential selection for my book club, but I knew – even before I read it – that most of the women in my group would have a very difficult time with its subject matter. After reading it, I can say with certainty that I was right: they would have hated it. But I would argue that it’s compelling, intelligent and  worthy of the copious praise it has received.

Highly recommended.


Book Love – Debbie Tung

bookloveI discovered Debbie Tung’s Book Love while looking for something else…and so, of course, I had to buy it. Tung is a writer-illustrator based out of Birmingham, England, and Book Love captures, in black and white, her love for all things bookish which includes books, book stores, libraries, cozy places to curl up and tea.

As any true book nerd knows, you can never have too many books. And there’s nothing worse than being delayed or stranded somewhere with nothing to read. We all appreciate an uninterrupted afternoon in a bookstore or library. We fall in love with fictional characters and settings, people and places that will stay with us for our entire lives. Tung knows these things, too, and she captures the magic of books in her simple drawings, which are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny or sweet, but 100% relatable for anyone who loves the portable magic of books.


If you love books…and all things bookish…Book Love is a delight. You’ll certainly recognize yourself in its pages.

You can visit Tung at Where’s My Bubble. And check out her book Quiet Girl in a Noisy World (which is actually on the shelf in my classroom library, although I haven’t read it yet.)

The Voice of the Night – Dean Koontz

I have read more than one novel by Dean Koontz, most memorably his 7939529 thriller Intensity.  I wouldn’t say I am a fan, really, but I know that I can depend on him to deliver a decently-written page-turner.

The Voice of the Night tells the story of fourteen-year-old Colin, who moves with his newly divorced mother to Santa Leona, a coastal town near San Francisco. There he meets Roy, a kid who is the same age, but who possesses all the qualities Colin lacks: charisma, confidence and good looks.  Colin has never really had a best friend before, and for some reason Roy seems to take a shine to him.

But it’s a sinister shine. Roy is fascinated with death. He wants to know if Colin has ever killed anything. He brags that he has, but Colin is pretty certain, at least at first, that it’s some sort of friendship test. When Roy brags about torturing a cat,

…Colin sensed that Roy was testing him. He felt certain that the gruesome story about the cat was just the latest test, but he couldn’t imagine what Roy had wanted him to say or do. Had he passed or failed?

Despite Colin’s uneasiness, Roy is “just about the best friend a guy could ask for.” Until he isn’t. And it doesn’t take long for The Voice in the Night to kick into high gear.

There are no adults in this book. Colin’s mother is running an art gallery and getting her post-divorce sea legs under her. She is rarely home. Colin’s dad takes him fishing once with a bunch of his friends, who are all drunk jerks. Roy’s parents, too, are MIA. When Colin’s relationship with Roy begins to unravel, he is all alone to try to figure it out. And more and more, Colin begins to feel as though his life depends on it.

The Voice in the Night clicks along without too much interference. The cast of characters is small, their motivations obvious and the conclusion, although a tad trite, is believable.

Educated – Tara Westover

educatedOur first book club pick for 2019 was Tara Westover’s compelling memoir Educated.  Born and raised in southern Idaho, Westover tells the remarkable story of living in the shadow of  Buck’s Peak, the youngest of seven children. Like virtually everyone else in the nearby town, Tara was raised as a Mormon, but as she says in the author’s notes “This is not a book about Mormonism.”

It doesn’t take long to figure out that Tara’s father is beyond the pale in terms of his beliefs and how they impact his children.  Not only is he a devout Mormon, he’s a survivalist. He preaches that the government is evil. Tara and her siblings don’t go to school, or to the hospital when they are sick. Tara didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was nine. When his mother suggests that Tara (and her sisters and brothers) should be attending school, he tells her that “public school was a ploy by the Government to lead children away from God. “I may as well surrender my kids to the devil himself…as send them down the road to that school.””

Instead of school, Tara helps with a variety of jobs around their property. Her three oldest brothers had helped their father build barns or hay sheds, but her two oldest brothers had recently left and then her brother Tyler announces that he wants to go to college. Tara is perhaps ten when Tyler makes this announcement and she has to ask what college is. Her father tells her that it’s “extra school for people too dumb to lean the first time around.”

The fact that Tyler leaves the mountain to attend school has a profound impact on Tara. He’s not like her oldest brothers, Tony (whom we learn very little about) and Shawn (the story’s villain). Tyler “liked books, he liked quiet.” He introduces Tara to classical music and it becomes their secret language. To understand the huge impact Tyler has on Tara’s life, one only has to note that her book is dedicated to him.

Eventually, Tara makes the decision that she, too, wants an education. This is remarkable because she’s had no formal schooling. Instead, she has to study on her own and pass ACT, a standardized test that will allow her to attend college without a high school diploma. She is motivated, not only by her desire to learn, but also by the increasingly violent and erratic behaviour of her brother, Shawn.

Educated is a riveting family drama and also the story of how an education (and I’m not even really talking about a formal education here, although Tara certainly has one of those, including a PhD from Cambridge) can change a person’s life. Despite the fact that Tara might describe her childhood as happy, there is no doubt that her father suffered from mental illness and her mother is complicit in the abuse she suffers at the hands of her brother, Shawn. Tara’s attempt to honestly portray her family and the things that happened to her makes for compelling reading.

Listen to Tara answer questions about her story here.

Highly recommended.



Rooms – Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is well-known in the YA fiction world, but Rooms is her first novel for roomsadults…although the distinction hardly matters, really. Rooms is the story of the Walker family, alcoholic mother Charlotte; twenty-something Minna, her single-mother daughter, and Amy, her granddaughter; and Trenton, her awkward teenage son. They’ve returned to the house they once called home to pack things up. Richard, Charlotte’s ex and the children’s father, has died and now it’s been left to them to pick up the pieces. They aren’t alone. The house is inhabited by two ghosts: Sandra and Alice.

All of these characters have stories to tell. Mostly they are stories of loss and dysfunction. Sandra and Alice, in particular, are trapped by their memories, which Sandra claims are “thick as mud.” These two women watch the Walker family stumble around with varying degrees of affection and distaste. Alice has tender feelings towards Trenton, who she remembers as a young child claiming that “For years, I’ve longed to see Trenton. He was the most beautiful child….” She can’t quite believe that the “absurdly tall, skinny adolescent, with the sullen look and dingy-dark hair”  who stumbles into the house all these years later is the same boy.

The Walker children don’t seem to have happy post-divorce memories of their father. Minna is caustic towards Trenton and indifferent toward her daughter. Trenton has clearly had a difficult time, too. He is virtually friendless and has recently been in an accident (the details of which are revealed slowly), which has left him physically damaged. He longs for someone in his family to tell the truth.

Everyone in his family lacked integrity. They were corrupt (antonym).  His mom, Caroline, was the worst. She had lied to everyone for so long, Trenton wasn’t even sure she knew the difference anymore.

Rooms doesn’t follow a linear narrative. There’s more than one story to be told here, and the ghosts want their fair share of the limelight. While Richard was still alive, Sandra and Alice took bets about where he would die. Alice wins, remarking “Richard Walker does not die at home. Thank God. I’ve shared the house with him for long enough.”

The house itself is a character. “It’s corners are elbows, its stairways our skeleton pieces, splinters of bone and spine.” Trenton takes a different view.

…they were just rooms, many of them empty and thus unfamiliar, like the rooms of a stranger’s house. It didn’t matter much. The past would come along with you, whether you asked for it or not.

Rooms is a family drama and a ghost story. It is a story about secrets, regrets and finding a way to forgive – yourself and others. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A bookish look back: 2018 in review

Although it doesn’t look like Jamie did one this year, here’s my year-end review pinched from The Perpetual Page-Turner

I have deleted some of her questions and added a few of my own, but the credit belongs to Jamie.

In addition, here’s a link to my Goodreads Year in Books, a fun little infographic.


Number of Books You Read:  54 + 2 rereads for school

You can see my shelf here

Number of Books You Re-Read: 3, but I only really count That Was Then, This is Now because I reread To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby every year I teach grades 10 and 12.


Best Book You Read In 2018?

Best YA: Sadie by Courtney Summers sadie

I read a lot of terrific YA this year, but Summers is always a cut above.

Runners up include: Mosquitoland  by David Arnold, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (which, incidentally, was the #1 best selling Canadian book for 2018), Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

My-Sunshine-AwayBest Other: My Sunshine Away –  M.O. Walsh

Runner Up: We All Love the Beautiful Girls – Joanne Proulx

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Final Girls – Riley Sager

This should have been right up my alley, but it was really just a ‘meh’ for me.

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2018? 

I was surprised at the positive buzz many of the books I really (really) disliked received.  For example, people LOVED Beartown and I detested that book. I also was not a fan of The Light Between Oceans and it got a lot of praise.

Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2018?

I probably pimped My Sunshine Away the most. So good.

Favorite new author you discovered in 2018?

I would definitely read anything M.O. Walsh wrote. I also enjoyed YA authors David Arnold and Becky Albertalli.

The-Woman-in-the-Window-A_-J_-FinnMost action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

I read a lot of ‘thrillers’ this year. I really enjoyed The Woman in the Window.

That was a fun book to read.

I also really loved (and couldn’t put down) I Will Always Write Back because I was so invested in the real-life correspondence between Martin and Caitlin.



Favourite cover of a book you read in 2018?

I was really drawn to the cover of Frances Hardinge’s YA fantasy Cuckoo Song cuckoo song

It’s got that whole creepy doll thing working for it.

Most memorable character of 2018?

Sadie from the book by the same name. Hands down. She broke my heart.

But I actually encountered several memorable characters this year and I would be remiss to leave them out.

Runners Up: Mim from Mosquitoland; Joe from You; Frenchie from The Marrow Thieves and Simon from Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Most beautifully written book read in 2018?

My Sunshine Away

Honestly, that book had it all. It’s a page-turner, it’s heart-breaking, it’s so beautifully written. Read it.



Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2018?

I don’t think I read any life-changing books in 2018, but I certainly read books that were challenging, Margaux Fragoso’s memoir Tiger, Tiger and and thought-provoking,  I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda w/ Liz Welch.

Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2018?

I could quote a million things from My Sunshine Away, but then that would ruin the pleasure of reading those words for the first time and you are going to read that book, right? Instead, I will leave you with this little gem from Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

…people really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2018?

That Was Then This is Now – S.E. Hinton, 159 pages

Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes, 450 pages

Book That Shocked You The Most (Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)

Courtney Summers….I’m looking at you!

OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Simon & Blue – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship of The Year

Martin & Caitlin – I Will Always Write Back

Favorite Book You Read in 2018 From an Author You’ve Read Previously

Sadie – Courtney Summers

Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2018?

I loved Beck from Mosquitoland.

Best 2018 debut you read?

Probably The Woman in the Window

Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Hands down, Cuckoo Song 

Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Geesh, looking back over the books I read in 2018…they’re all pretty gloomy. Most FUN to read? Maybe Simon because I just loved him and his friends so much.

Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2018?

There were definitely some lump-in-the-throat moments while reading The Marrow Thieves

Also, not gonna lie, My Sunshine Away and I Will Always Write Back gave me all the feels. I was too devastated by Sadie to actually cry.

Hidden Gem Of The Year?

I know, I keep saying it, but My Sunshine Away was a complete surprise.

Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Sadie. I had to wait a few days before I wrote my review. Seriously.

Most Unique Book You Read In 2018?

Again, I have to give it to Sadie. If you have not yet discovered Courtney Summers, you are in for a treat…and by treat I mean prepare to be devastated by just about everything she writes. In a good way.

Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?



OMG – so many books pissed me off this year with their suckiness.

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

Beartown – Frederick Backman

Dear Mrs. Bird – AJ Pearce



Favorite review that you wrote in 2018?

Although I was not even remotely fond of the book, I like my review of The Little Paris Bookshop

Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

My trip to Italy and Paris in July.

Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2018?

I love when I get to interact with authors – usually when they respond to a tweet about their book. This one was my favourite of 2018:



Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

Incidentally, it was my review of Rob Lowe’s book Stories I Only Tell My Friends which received the most views (and some retweets, too).

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

I set my reading goal at 50 this year…just so I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t make it. I definitely had some reading struggles this year, but overall, it was a good reading year.

looking-ahead-books-2015-1024x278One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2018 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2019? Oh, please. I did do a cull of my tbr shelf…and by that I mean I took all the books off the shelves and read the blurbs and sorted them into piles of donate/reshelve/read in 2019, but let’s face it…rules are made to be broken.

Book You Are Most Anticipating for 2019 (non-debut)?

My son gave me J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s novel Ship of Theseus for Christmas. We’ve long been intrigued by this books, so I am looking forward to reading it.

I wrote that in 2015! Still haven’t read the book because I think it requires some dedication. That said, it did make it onto the 2019 reading pile.

2019 Debut You Are Most Anticipating

There are probably loads of books I will want to read, but I just found out that Tim Johnston has a new book, The Current,  coming out in January and I will definitely be purchasing that because I loved Descent

One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2019

Stay the course.