Monday, May 21

Book Review: Turtle Valley

Title: Turtle Valley

Author: Gail Anderson-Dargartz

Pages: EBook - 201       

Summary: Kat has returned with her disabled husband and young son to her family’s homestead in Turtle Valley, in British Columbia’s Shuswap-Thompson area. Fire is sweeping through the valley in a ruthless progression toward the farm and they have come to help her frail parents pack up their belongings. Kat’s mother, Beth, (the now elderly protagonist of Anderson-Dargatz’s first novel, the award-winning The Cure for Death by Lightning) is weighed down by her ailing husband, Gus, and by generations of accumulated detritus. But there is something else weighing her down, a secret she has guarded all her life. Kat is determined to get to its source before fire eats up all that is left of the family’s memories.

Kat has her own burdens. Her father is dying, and the family has chosen to keep him home as long as possible in defiance of the approaching flames. Beth is showing signs of early dementia. And her husband, Ezra, is a husk of his former self, stolen from her years ago by a stroke and now battling frightening mood swings and a trick memory. Once filled with passion and hope, their relationship has become more like that of nursemaid and invalid.

Now thrust into contact with her parents’ neighbour Jude, her lover before Ezra, Kat finds his strength attractive, as well as his ongoing passion for her. As she considers her choices in love, Kat discovers that her grandmother, Maud, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance, was once faced with a similar dilemma when forced to choose between the capricious violence of her shell-shocked husband, John Weeks, and the rugged constancy of their neighbour Valentine Svensson. Leafing through Maud’s scrapbooks and long-hidden love letters, Kat begins to unravel the mystery of her grandfather’s disappearance in the mountains. She is to find that like most family secrets, this one is tangled amidst generations of grief.

As sparks rain down upon them, Kat tries to hold her family together, soothing Ezra’s rages, comforting their son, Jeremy, tending to her mother’s fragile mental state and striving to keep her father at home and comfortable as he nears death. Masses of ladybugs swarm through the house and panicked birds smash windows. Shadowy ghosts flit in and out of the encroaching smoke. All around them the landscape burns and terrible choices must be made. What can be salvaged? What will survive after Turtle Valley has burned?

My Rating: 6.75/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: The book started off strong, as it started with showcasing the effects of living with someone who has suffered a brain injury and dementia. The author explored this by showing how family members were affected and there was definitely some symbolism between the fire engulfing the forest around the and how dementia engulfs a person and their family.

Unfortunately, I found that there were too many elements to the story, too many people who were suffering from dementia or affects of a stroke that it took away from the story and the emotional connection that could have been there. Instead it was split three ways and any emotional connection that could have been there was scarified because there were too many elements to the story.  I also found that there were far too many "family" secrets wrapped into the story as well as side plots and memories of the past brought in. There was enough information in the book for at least three separate stories, instead it was wrapped into one, and in order to finish the story, they all seemed to take away from the importance of each other. It almost feels like the story was being pulled in multiple directions, and in the end, it doesn't come together well. I would have preferred less family secrets, memories of the past. The book could have been complex without having to have a lot of elements to make it complex.  

I also couldn't stand Kat as a charter. I found her to be selfish and self involved. Especially with the appearance of her old lover. It sickened me to see her flirt with him, when her husband, who is not the same after suffering a stroke was right next door.

Overall, it wasn't bad, but for me to many elements in the book took away from its potential to be a great book.

Would I recommend it to read: To some readers I would. It wasn't a bad book however, as I said above, I did have a lot of problems with the book, and I think some readers would also be bothered by this. Others would likely devour the book.

What to read next: Left Neglected


  1. It sounds like this book was just too cluttered with too many different elements to really be a success. I thank you for being so thorough and honest about your reactions to this one. I think I will skip it.

    1. That's exactly what happened, to many strings pulling at the book that took away from the story.