Gather the Daughters

Gather the Daughter – Jennie Melamed

The lovely people of Bookbridgr sent me a gorgeous hardcover of this (seriously the dust jacket is beautiful) right around the time that the Handmaid’s Tale was wrapping up, it’s almost like they knew I would be hunting for something to fill the Offred sized hole that was left behind and this book, dear God this book. It, as the kids say, left me SHOOK.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

Honestly, I’m a bit lost as to where to begin with this. It was as hard to read as it was to put down.
That doesn’t explain a lot, does it?
Sorry, let’s try again.

This book reminded me of lots of other things, but at the same time it was so original. What we have is a cult like community where the patriarchy rules, each family is given their own profession, couples are paired up and allowed two children and when they become too old to be useful, they are put out to pasture. They are confined to their island and are not told anything of the world outside, much like The Giver, which is one of my faves. The only freedom allowed is for those considered children, every summer they’re allowed to live as though feral, in an almost Lord of the Flies kind of way. The adults remain inside and those girls unfortunate enough to start menstruating have to do their summer of fruition, which, like in Only Ever Yours, is when they’re gathered up and presented to a group of single men to be picked and matched up. By winter they’re likely married and pregnant and the cycle continues. In this society the birth of a boy brings celebration, the birth of a girl brings sorrow for before the girls belong to their husbands they belong to their fathers. Yes that sentence is heaped with innuendo and here’s the part where I chuck you some trigger warnings. This is a society where child molestation and sexual assault are not only normal but are insisted upon. There is also a character with an eating disorder, just fyi.

The story is told from the point of view of four girls aged between 17 and 13 living in this society and one of them sees something they’re not supposed to which throws this whole community into turmoil. Now you can see why it was so hard to read, these girls’ lives are horrific but Jennie Melamed tells it with such subtlety that it creeps its way into your subconscious and haunts you. Her author profile tells me that she’s a psychologist that works with abused children and you can tell that she’s someone who understands the sensitivities and employs them with care. A lot of the incidents in this book are inferred, nothing is gratuitous. The bio also tells me that she owns three shiba inu’s and frankly, that’s brilliant.

Gather the Daughters is a wonderful and horrific book (can that be possible?) that should be a must for anyone who’s into their dystopians or is interested in reading more about cults.

Here’s another thing, this hasn’t been done in a while, but this was so good it gets a Nick Fury Seal of approval.

Easy Way Out

Easy Way Out – Steven Arnold

When I requested this from bookbridgr, I only had a vague idea of what it was about and it turned out to be so much better than I anticipated! Though I do need to go through a few trigger warnings with you!

If you could help someone in pain, would you?
Evan is a nurse, a suicide assistant. His job is legal . . . just. He’s the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it. 
Evan’s friends don’t know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn’t know what he’s up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.
As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against legality, his own morality and the best intentions of those closest to him, discovering that his own path will be neither quick nor painless.
He knows what he has to do.
In this powerful novel, award-winning author Steven Amsterdam challenges readers to face the most taboo and heartbreaking of dilemmas. Would you help someone end their life?

So, now you’ve seen the blurb, you know why I think a little warning might be needed here. This is a book about assisted suicide, there are many instances of terminal illness, dying and hospitals, there is also some very explicit sex in there. Not that that’s a big problem, but sometimes its just not expected, you know?

Regardless of how you feel about assisted suicide and the right to die, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t think that a book about it could be enjoyable, but honestly, I’m not sure how Steven Arnold does it, but this book manages to engaging, warm and in places, funny, whilst dealing with the moral and practical sensitivities surrounding assisted suicide. It was interesting to see the subject from both sides and also to see what life is like working in a busy hospital and how difficult it is to care for people that you know aren’t going to get any better. I think one of the reasons why this book worked so well is that the author is a nurse and knows this world only too well.

While I would say that I don’t think this book is for everyone, it is a great read and certainly offers up an interesting subject.

I am Malala

I am Malala: The Story of the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

This had been on my TBR ever since I first heard the news of Malala and what had happened to her and was one of the books I wanted to begin my quest of non fiction with. Here we are almost a year later and we’ve finally gotten around to reading it after finding it at the library and bloody hell, I would feel like I had done the world a great disservice if I didn’t put it out there that this should be required reading.

I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.
On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.
Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

I don’t need to tell you that women’s rights, including their right to education and their right to live as equals are under threat all over the world. Yes, in some places more than others, mostly in lands that are hugely far removed from anywhere I have ever been. For anyone that doesn’t know, Malala is a young girl from Pakistan who found herself being denied an education when the Taliban took control of the area where she lived. I don’t need to tell you that the Taliban don’t have everyone’s interests at heart either, I live in the west, so I am constantly being told that the Taliban are the enemy and this book doesn’t sway from that narrative. Malala, with the help of her father, who was an outspoken man who believed in equality and the provision of education for all, stood up for herself and girls everywhere living under Taliban rule, speaking out about the way in which women were denied the right to education and denied the right to go about their business. She was then targeted and shot in the head by the Taliban. (That’s not a spoiler seeing as it is literally in the title of the book) I said this should be required reading and honestly, Malala is an inspirational young woman, but her beliefs and her strength aren’t the only reasons why this should be read by everyone.

This book not only covers Malala’s story, but also the history of Pakistan, which I knew nothing about – how did I not know that Pakistan has only existed since 1947?! It also talks about the culture of Pakistan and in particular, Swat, the area that Malala lived, from reading this I now know a little more about the different tribes that made up the country, as well as how the Taliban came to be and how they managed to take control. Reading about life under Taliban rule was in equal parts horrifying and interesting. It reminded me so much of books I’ve read about life in Germany after the Nazi rise to power. I have seen people who have reacted with scepticism about this book in regards to how much Malala wrote herself and if any of the events were embellished, as well as making the point that life in Swat is not indicative of the whole of Pakistan and while to some extent I agree that despite her home being besieged, Malala was better off than many people living in Pakistan – there are many girls all over the world who do not have access to education. I’ve seen the same argument about Emmeline Pankhurst, yes she was wealthy and of a higher status in life than many of England’s women, but without her, what voice would women at the time have had? Whether or not you fully believe Malala’s account, she is a great role model for young women every where and a  wonderful advocate for education and this book is an eye opening look at a country that I’d not previously heard anything about.

Double feature: political biographies

Hello there, been a while since I either had enough thoughts to warrant opening this window or felt obliged to, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little out of practice. I am about to do a thing I’ve seen other bloggers do, but not something I’ve ever done myself. Apart from refer to myself as a blogger of course. Do people actually do that or is that like a thing that grown ups say? Anyway, I see on my subs that people like to take two similar books and do mini reviews in one, so I’m going to do that. Because originality.

*edit* mini review? lol.

Anyway, if you’ve been here before (hello! thanks for sticking around) you’ll know that I kind of set myself a goal to read more non fiction because I was in a bit of a fiction rut and well, the most accessible form of non fiction is biographies, so I’ve decided to start with those. And then I thought I’d make it difficult for myself by reading biographies of a political nature and, if you’ve been keeping up with my goodreads, I read two recently from two politicians that belong to the same party, but had very different political ideologies, so I thought I’d do a little discussion. Because why not.

Firstly, for any non Brits who might be reading or just anyone with a social life, who are these people?

In the Red corner we have Tony Benn, aka Anthony Neil Wedgeworth Benn, a titled gentleman who joined the Labour party as a socialist and was one of the countries longest serving MPs who tried to renounce his title so he could continue to fight for worker’s rights. He became a bit problematic for the Labour party at times because he was very sceptical about the direction of New Labour and wanted the party to continue to work with unions and stay firmly on the left. He also claimed the basement of the House of Commons as his own and would hang dedications to some of his favourite people there. As you do. He was an influential public figure who, while never making it to the front benches, did an awful lot of work during his time in parliament and wrote a number of books, one of which, Free At Last, a collection of his diaries from ’91 to ’01, I read recently.

In the slightly less Red corner, we have Ed Balls. Aka… erm… Ed Balls. Though not aristocratic, he was a fairly middle class, left leaning chap who came from a Labour supporting family and after going to Oxford and Harvard, joined the Labour party and worked in the civil service before working alongside Gordon Brown in the Treasury and then head of the Children’s Department and Shadow Chancellor. I also recently read a book by him, the newer version of his autobiography, which has added bits about his time on a reality TV show. He is also one half of the countries first ever MP marriage, his wife is also a prominent Labour politician. Unlike Benn, who survived many a general election, Balls served two terms and lost his seat in 2015  and has since become more famous for his rendition of Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing and for the creation of Ed Balls Day, where we in Britain spend a day celebrating the fact that he once accidentally tweeted his own name.

Yes. If you’d ever gotten the notion that Brits are a bit daft, you’re absolutely right, we are.

It is also worth noting that Ed Balls served as part of the New Labour government that Tony Benn disliked so much and was around for much more of the modern stuff that was going on. His political career was working alongside Ed Milliband (yes he of bacon sandwich and then radio 2 fame), Gordon Brown (Scottish prime minister with a glass eye)  and Tony Blair (the long serving prime minister who kicked off the Iraq war), whereas Tony Benn’s dealings with Ed Milliband was because he was friendly with his dad and had Ed come in and do some work experience with him. (He refers to him as one of his original TEABAGS which is an acronym for the kids who would come in and work in the Benn archive, not whatever you were thinking.)

So, two very different people, but members of the same party and books of a similar subject. Let the discussions commence.

Out of the two people, Ed Balls is the one I remember most in parliament, as I was actually old enough to do politics when he was hanging around the commons, but Benn is the one that I knew (prior to reading these)  the most about because my grandad was also doing stuff with the unions, so it was a name that I’d heard a lot, but this is the first book of his I’ve read.

Both political memoirs were interesting, Benn’s historically as there was also mention of the Irish troubles and the Iraq war and a whole manner of other things that I am too young to remember and Balls’ because of the amount of anecdotes set during his time in the civil service or just generally while working in the Treasury or as an adviser to higher party members. To me being a massive nerd, both were fascinating glimpses at life in the House of Commons. Though we all know that the civil servants are the ones really running the country, I had no idea just how much is going on in those offices, I would say though, somewhere that Balls’ book slipped for me was the fact that I am not particularly numerically fluent and he spends a lot of time in the Treasury and talking about working for the Financial Times and other such stuff that went right over my head. Tony Benn’s book I found to be more warm and chatty and a more intimate picture of his day to day life, though it is worth mentioning that the book was a collection of his diary entries, he eventually published about sixty years worth of diary entries. Ed Balls’ book was more like structured essays around the themes of lessons he’d learned during his time in the public eye, so although anecdotal and revealing, the chapters didn’t feel as open as they did reading Tony Benn’s book, though certainly if you wanted to read something without having any prior knowledge, Ed Balls’ book would be a better place to start because stuff is actually explained as part of the text.

What is particularly interesting was learning about other political figures from these two men’s perspectives.
From Tony Benn you see Ed Milliband painted as the son of his friend who did a bit of work experience for him and was always seen as a nice young chap, who had ever so slightly disappointed him by choosing to work for someone Benn had little time for. From Ed Balls, you see him first as a close friend and then at very best, a work colleague. From Tony Benn, you see Jeremy Corbyn as being a upstanding member of the community, from Ed Balls you see him as the destroyer of the Labour Party. Both of them had similar complex thoughts about Tony Blair. But then Benn hated the idea of New Labour and Balls worked with Gordon Brown, so not much surprise there. What was surprising and quite nice to see was that while in PMQs and on TV, Labour and Tory were at each other’s throats, when it came to working for the country and generally getting stuff done, there as a bit of camaraderie. Benn had a civil, bordering on friendly relationship with both John Major and Ted Heath, whereas Balls actually entrusted George Osborne to look after his children. I doubt this is interesting to anyone but me, but the level of differences in opinion between these two people who have given their lives to one political party is just super fascinating to me. The idea that one party can hold so many different factions of people who, although having fundamentally opposing views, can still commit to the same ends. Both of them want the party to succeed, both of them care about the people who put them in that position, both of them care about the continuation of the health service and education, Benn wants these things achieved by socialist means and Balls by centralist. SO INTERESTING.

It was also interesting to see how much politics has changed over the course of these two people’s lives and how things like social media have influenced both voters and politicians. Twitter didn’t even really exist through most of Tony Benn’s time in parliament, yet Ed Balls is arguably more well known for being viral on social media than he was for his time in politics. I certainly knew of him more for Ed Balls Day and being on TV than for his work in government. Sorry about that Ed, but I feel more informed now I’ve read your book!

So there we are, some rambly thoughts about two different political biographies in an overlapping time frame, but by members of the same party. I think I’d like to read about more political figures, I did spot Ken Clarke’s book when I was at the library, so maybe I’ll venture into the Blue Corner next time I’m perusing the shelf and of course, I am always open to recommendations from you guys!

Like I was going to leave this post without linking you to an actual man that actually served in government doing a rendition of Gangnam Style on live TV.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

It feels like everyone and their mum has read this book, like to the point where it has even spawned a super popular television show! I’d been debating buying it for some time after failing to locate a copy at the library and then as if Penguin had heard my prayers, they sent me a copy! How wonderfully kind of them! So here we go, my thoughts!

A murder . . . a tragic accident . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
But who did what?
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Right, first things first, I haven’t seen the TV show yet, so I don’t know how to two compare, is it any good? Let me know!
Secondly, I have waaaaaay too many thoughts for this review to be in anyway coherent, so you know. Brace yourself.

One of the first reviews you find on Goodreads for this book starts with: Probably the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I’ll ever read and honestly, I think that’s the best way to describe this book… Though with a slight amend, I didn’t think this book was funny, not in the laugh out loud sense anyway, there were a few moments of smirking into the pages, but overall, I found it kinda flippant and shallow in its approach to the core subjects, kind of like the characters within I guess, but it certainly isn’t a serious book about domestic abuse, murder, bullying and the other issues this story. The other thing this book manages to do is be subtle and obvious all at the same time. How is that possible? Does it translate well onto screen? You’re so distracted by the Renata vs Madeline is my kid a bully story that the big issues seem to come flying at you when they’re presented, even though on closer inspection, they were there the entire time.

So here’s the thing, when this book starts, we have what is essentially a lot of tedious playground related nonsense. A group of yummy mummy types bunching together and ganging up on each other, being bitchy and using their children to get at each other and I found myself wondering what exactly everyone was raving about with this book. Like I usually don’t have any time for women tearing each other down, but there was something about the interview extracts littered throughout and the count down to trivia night that made me stick with it. What we have is several stories of differing seriousness being interwoven with a few more trivial life moments. Like on the one hand, Madeline’s vendetta against Renata and her grudge holding against her ex after everyone else has moved on is a bit distracting when you have Celeste and everything going on in her life and the trauma that Jane is unsuccessfully dealing with and come the end when the truth is out and the full story revealed you’re struck by its brilliance, it’s ‘why didn’t I see that coming?’ even though it is there from the very beginning.

Basically, there are many things about this book that annoyed me, but there are also many things that surprised me and captivated me and I think I’ll be hard pressed to find anything else like it.

The idea of you

The Idea of You – Amanda Prowse

I know all I seem to be doing is posting reviews of things I’ve gotten from NetGalley recently. Oh well. Sorry not sorry. I really wanted to enjoy this more than I did, I picked it because I wanted to read more out of my comfort zone and experience stuff that isn’t primarily YA, but there was just something about this that didn’t gel with me.

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.
But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…
This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

 In very basic terms, this is a book about a woman who desperately wants children.

Now, I said at the start of this that I wanted to enjoy this. I really did, but it just didn’t gel with me. Here’s the thing, I have known for a long time now that my reading habits tend towards YA novels and while this is fine and I love YA novels, I am not the intended audience for those books. I am in my late twenties, I should not spend so much time reading about high school drama. So, when I spotted this in the women’s fiction section on NetGalley I thought hmmm, family drama, with adults, yes, good. And it is good. I just found that I couldn’t relate to it at all, turns out I’m not the intended audience for this book either and I think this is entirely down to the fact that our protagonist Lucy is in desperate want of children and I’m not.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against children, I used to be one after all and I love spending time with my brother’s children, they’re hilarious. My nephew told me I was his best friend and then played a game where his Power Ranger repeatedly pooped on my head. Children are great! But, I never have had the inclination to have any of my own, so I found it difficult to understand some of Lucy’s motivations and expectations because it was all so alien to me, I can’t even imagine wanting children so to read an entire book about someone made it hard to really gel with her. While I do think  that people can do whatever they want with their lives, I am a little concerned that Lucy literally pinned her entire worth on whether or not she could have a baby and like… Is that not a bit worrying to anyone else?
That being said, I enjoyed the characters in this book and their various motivations, though Lucy was a bit one track minded and I found it difficult to relate to her, I did really enjoy her relationship with her step daughter and I loved Jonah. Well, most of the time anyway (like where do I get one of those IRL, can you get them online?) and the family drama was so well done, there were times where I felt like I was gossiping with a friend about this group of people.

I think this is exactly the sort of thing I would recommend to my mum and definitely the sort of thing that ought to be thrown in a suitcase and jetted away to a beach somewhere to be enjoyed in the sun, I’m just disappointed in myself that I didn’t manage to gel with it as well as I’d like.

Things I Should have known

Things I should have known – Claire LaZebnik

I feel like I inhaled this! It helped that I was left alone on a sunny Saturday and had nothing to do but sit in the breeze and read this! So what we have here, is a fun, engaging, easy read about teenagers and high school romances with a difference, because it also has characters on the autism spectrum and idk about you, but I haven’t come across many books about kids on the autism spectrum.

Things Chloe knew: Her sister, Ivy, was lonely. Ethan was a perfect match. Ethan’s brother, David, was an arrogant jerk.
Things Chloe should have known: Setups are complicated. Ivy can make her own decisions. David may be the only person who really gets Chloe.
Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.
Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own, so Chloe and David have to tag along. Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen-yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

So the thing is, the bare bones of this is about kids dealing with stuff, and what is a YA novel if not a book about kids dealing with stuff. I’ll start with our narrator, Chloe. Chloe’s older sister Ivy, is autistic, so she kind of has to parent her a bit, add to this mix the fact that her dad died of cancer and her mum has remarried someone that although means well, Chloe isn’t all that keen on. Despite this, Chloe is sociable and fairly happy with her high school life, she has lots of friends, gets good grades and has a super cute athletic boyfriend, all the standard teen drama stuff. The story really kicks off when Ivy sees Chloe with her boyfriend and comments that she’ll never have a boyfriend which makes Chloe decide to play matchmaker by sizing up the other kids in Ivy’s class at a school for teens with special needs and picking one at random, who just happens to be the younger brother of one of her classmates. Who she doesn’t like. Do you see where I’m going with this?
David and Ethan’s story is equally as interesting even without the added dimension of Ethan and Ivy seeing the world differently. They live in a world where their parents are living separate lives which barely involve either of them and their new step mother in particular has difficulty accepting Ethan.
While there are some aspects of this story that are a tad predictable, of course Chloe is going to form a special bond with the guy she’s hated this whole time, of course there is going to be bumps in the road of her match making, there is a lot to like about this book, namely the fact that it deals with autism and it deals with LGBTQA+ aspects of autism.

The only other book I’ve read with a similar character to that of Ivy and Ethan is the Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, which is a great book, if you’ve not read it before, but this is the first one I’ve come across featuring autistic teenagers trying to navigate dating and socialising. Slight disclaimer – I don’t know many people with autism, so I don’t know if they would have a different opinion on how well Ivy and Ethan are portrayed and I would love to hear their thoughts on this book, but for me, I thought it was well done and about time that characters like Ivy and Ethan were featured in books and on TV. It was also great seeing Chloe and watching how protective and caring she is and how she reconciles how frustrated she gets with Ivy and the situation and the guilt that follows. I just feel that now having finished it, that this book was so heartwarming and well presented and I want to see more stories like this.