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My Progress:

12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

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My Progress:

28 / 51 states. 55% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

24 / 50 books. 48% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

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48 / 50 books. 96% done!

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40 / 52 books. 77% done!

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27 / 40 books. 68% done!

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10 / 25 books. 40% done!

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12 / 26.2 miles. 46% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

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26 / 100 books. 26% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

65 / 104 books. 63% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

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44 / 52 books. 85% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

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71 / 165 books. 43% done!
Friday, January 29, 2021

Mormon Mentions: Katie Tallo

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

(Note:  In 2018, Russell M. Nelson—president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsmade an impassioned plea to members of the Church and to the media to always use the full and correct name of the Church instead of referring to it by its various nicknames.  This led to the renaming of many Church entities, including its famous choir, which is now The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.  Although I have been trying to think up a clever new name for this feature that is more in line with President Nelson's request, for the moment it remains "Mormon Mentions.")


Whenever I read a book that is set in a real place, I'm always curious to know which details about it are  true and which are made-up to suit the story.  Elgin—a town in Ottawa, Canada—plays a big role in Dark August by Katie Tallo.  The way she describes it, especially as an abandoned village decimated by a toxic waste explosion, makes it sound like a fascinating place.  Unfortunately, she did not include an author's note explaining what in the book is factual and what is not, so I had to do some digging on my own.  Here's what I found:

While Elgin is, indeed, a real place, the whole toxic waste explosion/ghost town thing is 100% fiction.  If you Google the town, you will see that it's a teensy (population: about 300) village southwest of Ottawa that appears to be a quaint, lovely place to live.  

On the second page of Dark August, Elgin is described as "a settlement carved from nothing in the 1830s by Mormon missionaries."  This bit of history appears to be true-ish.  This website attributes the town's founding to members of the Halladay Family, but it does mention that missionaries from the Church arrived in the area in the 1830's and, in 1834, a large group of converts left the area for Mormon settlements in the United States.  Church history websites (like this one) confirm the presence of missionaries there, who converted many people in the area.  Genealogical information from FamilySearch also confirms that Halladays were prominent in the area in the 1800's.  However, it appears that Tallo's characters were not based on real members of the family. 

If you know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you probably know that it has always valued both community and missionary work.  A number of towns and cities in the United States (especially in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California) as well as several in Mexico and Canada were, in fact, settled by early pioneers, missionaries, and members of the Church.  The city I live in is one of them :)

Dark August An Absorbing Small Town, Big Secrets Thrill Ride

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Augusta "Gus" Monet learns that her great-grandmother has passed away, she feels sad knowing she has no living relatives left, even if she had no great love for the lady herself.  Although the bitter old woman took in 8-year-old Gus after her mother died in a car accident, the crone had little use for children, and immediately sent her ward off to boarding school.  At 20, Gus has become a lonely grifter, following her con artist boyfriend around from city to city and mark to mark.  The inheritance of her great-grandmother's house in Ottawa represents a chance for Gus to make a clean start, sans loser boyfriend.  Without telling him, she goes "home" and takes up residence in a dilapidated house with a loyal mutt named Levi.  

As Gus explores her new digs, she comes across a box of old case files that belonged to her police detective mother.  She remembers her mom spending hours poring over these same papers and photographs, obsessing over the wrongdoings of Kep Halladay, a powerful, small-town senator whose guilt she was desperate to prove.  When Gus starts studying them for herself, she becomes just as caught up in the mystery, just as eager to bring the missing senator—whom she is sure is responsible for her mom's "accident" (among his many sins)—to justice.  Shannon Monet risked her reputation, her career, and eventually her life trying to take the man down.  Can Gus accomplish what her mother couldn't?  

Ignoring ominous "No Trespassing" signs, Gus hikes in to Elgin, the idyllic village where the Halladys once ruled supreme.  Abandoned in the wake of a toxic waste explosion, the place is now a ghost town, its charred streets and storefronts spooky in their post-apocalyptic emptiness.  As Gus explores the ruins, she comes to see that Elgin is not as unoccupied as it seems.  The secrets of the town's tortured past still linger in its poisoned air and someone will go to great lengths to make sure no one—especially not the too curious daughter of a nosy policewoman—sniffs them out.     

My library is open for limited browsing of a small, "curated" selection of books, one of which was Dark August, a debut novel by Katie Tallo.  I hadn't heard of it before but found the plot summary's mention of an abandoned town too intriguing to pass up.  While the setting captured my initial interest, the story sucked me in from word one.  Gus and Levi make an appealing duo and I definitely wanted to know what they were going to do next and how everything was going to turn out for them.  In addition, the plot of Dark August is complex and twisty, the setting is atmospheric and unique, and the vibe is tense and creepy.  How could I not be completely riveted by this well-crafted thriller?  While I did see a few of its plot curves coming, overall I found this novel an absorbing, satisfying read.  As you can imagine, Dark August is not the easiest, most uplifting book in the world, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  

(Readalikes:  A million titles should be coming to mind, but I'm drawing a blank.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, blood/gore, disturbing subject matter, and references to illegal drug use, sex, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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