Tag Archives: debut novel


By Tara Westover

Wow, what an incredible read! I was mesmerised by Tara Westover’s story and absolutely devoured this book. Tara is an amazing young woman who emerged from an uneducated, physically hard and often abusive childhood not as a damaged victim, but as an educated doctor of history with a strong sense of who she is.

Tara grew up in Idaho, the youngest of seven children of survivalist Mormon parents who didn’t trust doctors, the schooling system or the government (called the Illuminati by her father). Home schooling was abandoned after a vague attempt and Tara ends up working for her fundamentalist father in his junkyard. He is by turns cruel, tender, abusive and paranoid. Apart from her demanding and often dangerous job, Tara helps her mother with her herbalism and packs peaches for their post-apocalypse bunker.  One of her brothers becomes deeply disturbed, violent and abusive, causing Tara deep emotional scars, guilt and self-doubt. At 17, she decides to go to college, against her parent’s wishes and beliefs. There she discovers learning – and starts to explore a world she never knew existed. So successful is she that she’s accepted on a short programme to study at Cambridge, where it becomes even more obvious to her how much she doesn’t know and how distorted her family’s beliefs have made her thinking.  Her first relationship fails as she cannot bring herself to tell Nick about her family. How could she admit that when her father is seriously injured in a junkyard accident that hospital is never an option, and that he is treated at home by his mother? Instead of giving in to her parents and her background, Tara decides to take control of her life by becoming educated and questioning everything she’d been taught to believe. At the time of writing, she had been awarded a PhD in history from Cambridge.

This book is beautifully written and totally compelling. A must read.

Book blurb:

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.


99 Red Balloons

By Elisabeth Carpenter

I loved this psychological thriller. 99 Red Balloons is a clever, well-written debut novel that caught me up right from the very beginning. When asked to describe her novel in one sentence (by author/blogger Sam Carrington), author Elisabeth Carpenter says, ‘two girls go missing, decades apart, and family secrets are slowly revealed’. The story gallops effortlessly along with a large cast of very believable characters and great dialogue. Elisabeth skilfully blends a number of different threads, each told from a different point of view. She led me totally astray – cleverly misleading me for most of the story. It’s a great ride – a skilful, suspenseful roller coaster of a book which left me breathless. Highly recommended if this is your genre.

Book blurb:

Two girls go missing, decades apart. What would you do if one was your daughter?

When eight-year-old Grace goes missing from a sweetshop on the way home from school, her mother Emma is plunged into a nightmare. Her family rallies around, but as the police hunt begins, cracks begin to emerge.

What are the secret emails sent between Emma’s husband and her sister? Why does her mother take so long to join the search? And is Emma really as innocent as she seems?

Meanwhile, ageing widow Maggie Taylor sees Grace’s picture in the newspaper. It’s a photograph that jolts her from the pain of her existence into a spiralling obsession with another girl – the first girl who disappeared…