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.

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.

The Cows

The Cows – Dawn O’Porter

For serious though, did anyone expect me to just ignore the opportunity to read Dawn O’Porter’s new book? I loved Paper Aeroplanes SO MUCH and just look at this, just look at the blurb and tell me you aren’t excited? Honestly, the first paragraph was pretty much enough to have me flicking through pages joyously.

COW n.
/ka?/
A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.
Women don’t have to fall into a stereotypes
THE COWS is a powerful novel about three women. In all the noise of modern life, each needs to find their own voice.
It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.

Have you, like me, been endlessly searching for some good old women’s fiction with feminist undertones? Yes? Well, hold on to your hats cos I think this might be it. I mean, there are moments in this that are a bit… Over the top, but overall this was a well written, topical novel that has feminist themes and enforces the idea that all women are worthy and equal, not just to men, but to each other, in a way that isn’t hard going or text book like.

The Cows presents us with three very different women (one of whom is a blogger, like a super successful one, not someone needlessly shouting into the void like myself) all of whom are struggling with society’s ideas of what their lives should be like based on their gender. We have Tara, the working single mum, who has to deal with being in a male dominated work environment constantly being made to feel guilty about the fact that she has a child to look after and then there’s her daughter, who also makes her feel guilty about wanting to have and enjoying her career, who has an unconsensual video taking of her and how that affects her life. We have Cam, the aforementioned blogger, who has to deal with disdain from her sisters and her mother because her life dream isn’t to settle down and have children but to have experiences and relationships with lots of different people on her own terms and then we have Stella mourning the loss of her sister, desperately wanting to retain her femininity and settle down with a child.

At its core, this is a story about women fighting for things they want and along the way our three main characters have to deal with viral videos, online trolls, relationships with friends, family and lovers and the need for people to be individual and accepting of everyone. It questions feminism and equality by showing deep rooted prejudices, Tara regularly finds herself being put down by the men she works with and then realises that she does this to other women, feeling herself above them without knowing anything about their lives. Cam similarly likes to talk a good game about being a feminist, but inadvertently offends those with different views to her.

The Cows is an addictive, fast paced read that doesn’t hold back on its message. There are a lot of subjects people might find taboo, abortions, sex, periods, that sort of thing and if you are one of those people, probably one to avoid, but if not – you need to grab yourself a copy of this asap.

The Cows is out on 6th April, so get yourself to a book shop!

Hello me, it’s you

Hello me, it’s you – Various

I picked this up for review after seeing the blurb, you all know I’ve been trying to read more non fiction, and I love books in letter format, this is a compilation of letters from a group of young people aimed at their younger selves about their mental health issues and for once, I don’t have to provide trigger warnings, because the blurb does it for you!

“Keep smiling and being you. Don’t let the world change you”
Hello Me, it’s You is a collection of letters by young adults aged 17-24 about their experiences with mental health issues. The letters are written to their 16-year-old selves, giving beautifully honest advice, insight and encouragement for all that lays ahead of them.
This book was produced by the Hello Me, it’s You charity, set up by the editor, Hannah. Hannah was diagnosed with depression and anxiety whilst at university and found comfort in talking to friends about their experiences, realising she was not alone in her situation. This inspired the idea for the charity and book. Through the creation of materials such as this, the charity aims to provide reassurance for young adults (and their families) who are experiencing mental health issues and give a voice to young adults on such an important topic. The result of that will hopefully be a reduction in the negative stigma surrounding mental health and an increase in awareness of young people’s experiences. All profits go the Hello Me, it’s You charity, for the production of future supportive books.
Trigger warning: Due to it’s nature, the content of this book may be triggering. Contains personal experiences of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, trichotillomania and other mental health issues, as well as issues such as assault.

I always cringe a bit when I hear something referred to as being an ‘important’ book, but I’m going to make an exception for this one, because I think there is something very important about breaking down the stigma of mental health among young people, not just for those experiencing it, but those that have never been through it. From the moment I started reading this I thought, yes, this is a book I wished already existed, what we have is a group of anonymous writers talking about a series of different experiences and despite all of them being somewhat horrific, (trust me, been there, wouldn’t wish it on anyone) every single letter shares stories of hope, redemption, acceptance and ultimately survival. Each letter is uplifting in a weird kind of way and provides something positive to those dealing with mental health issues.
Having said that, I recently watched a video from Hannah Witton (she’s great, check her out if you haven’t already) about how she can sympathise with people with depression, but not empathise, having not been through it herself, and I think that is a problem for a lot of people in my life and the lives of the letter writers, we have well intentioned people around us, but they don’t know what to say, or how to make it better, this kind of book is exactly the sort of thing that those people need.

Really, I think this and Reasons to Stay Alive should be compulsory reading in school, if it helps one person going through a mental health crisis, that is enough and if it helps those who aren’t help someone that is, that’s even better.

The Dead Inside

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The Dead Inside – Cyndy Etler

I was sent a copy of this from Netgalley, I figured if I wanted to continue my quest to read more non fiction, getting a memoir in in January would be a good way to start, this was difficult reading and you know me and my trigger warnings, there are going to be LOADS of them in this review.

For readers of Girl Interrupted and Tweak, Cyndy Etler’s gripping memoir gives readers a glimpse into the harrowing reality of her sixteen months in the notorious “tough love” program the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway kids.”
I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight.
From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was…well, it was something else.
All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world.
To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.” 

I don’t really know how to start with this, it’s kind of hard to review a memoir, like, this is stuff that happened to someone and they are presenting you with themselves, not characters and plot for you to critique. Also, this isn’t really the kind of book you enjoy, its the sort of thing you experience. That said, Cyndy’s story is extraordinary and very eye opening. As well as that, the subject matter of this is pretty harrowing in places.

The book starts in Cyndy’s mid teens, she is living with her mum and step father, who she has a very abusive relationship with and chronicles the moments leading up to her incarceration at Straight Inc, which is primarily a drug rehabilitation centre, where she found that she and her fellow in mates were treated terribly. I think the thing that makes all this so harrowing is the fact that its all true, these are things that actually happened. Cyndy actually was abused by her step father, something her mother seemingly didn’t notice or didn’t mind. She was regularly assaulted by the group of people she was hanging out with and when she enters the Straight programme, things go from bad to worse. I don’t want to talk to much about it, I think the power in the words lies in their shock factor, but I will just say that this isn’t an easy book to read, it certainly isn’t light bed time reading, it is, as I said earlier, an experience.

As always, when I read something and talk about it here, I do like to warn you guys if I think it might be triggering, so just so you know, we have brainwashing, sexual assault, drug abuse and domestic abuse. So if any of those things affect you, probably best to give this book a miss. If though you, like me, fancy spreading your wings into the realms of memoirs and non fiction and want something with a bit more substance than your traditional celebrity autobiography, do consider this. While it was harrowing and difficult, seeing how Straight Inc was run, seeing how the brainwashing worked, was fascinating, in a morbid kind of way. My one criticism of this was that I felt the ending didn’t have much closure, though goodreads tells me there is a sequel, so I’m hoping that everything will be wrapped up there.

Anyway, thank you to Netgalley for sending a copy over and should Cyndy see the reviews for this, I’d like to thank her for sharing her story and I sincerely hope that she is in a much better place physically and emotionally now.

Relativity

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Relativity – Antonia Hayes

Hello and welcome to not only a review of this wonderfully charming book, but also to day three of the Relativity blog tour! Thank you to Little Brown for sending me a copy of this and letting me be part of the tour, I was certainly sold by the blurb alone, but in case you aren’t, let me tell you a little more about it.

Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.
His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can’t shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.
Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father’s absence in his life. When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.
Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

 If you know me IRL, you’ll know why I was sold at the first line of the blurb.
Anyway, I don’t even know where to start with this. This book is charming. It is endearing. It is delightful. It is heartbreaking. It is bittersweet. It seamlessly pieces together three strands of the same family each with their own distinct voices and agendas, all while tying in the theme of life, the universe and interconnectivity. Firstly, we have Ethan, Ethan likes science and is wicked smart, but Ethan is on the cusp of becoming a man and he wants to know why the other kids think he’s weird, he wants to know where he came from and who he is. Which makes things hard for his single mother Claire, who really doesn’t want Ethan’s dad back in his life, no matter how much she might have once loved him and when you find out why and what she is protecting Ethan from, it’s kind of heartbreaking.
Then there is Mark, the dad in question, who you both sympathise and despise as the story starts to unravel.

At its heart, Relativity is a warm, tender, family drama that leaves you feeling a bit fuzzy inside. Its unlike anything else in this genre I’ve read before, you have the coming of age aspect to Ethan’s story line, the redemption of Mark and the development of Claire, but with added substance, the physics theme and how it ties together really makes this stand out and actually, I don’t think there is an audience that it doesn’t cater for. You want something to lose yourself in, Relativity is for you. You want a book about families sorting out their differences, Relativity is for you. You want something out of this world, something intelligent with discussions about particles and theoretical physics, Relativity is for you. Its a novel that starts with the universe and ends with gravity and whether you are a nerd or not, you’ll be hard pushed not to see the beauty in its pages.

I don’t really know what else to say other than Relativity is a real gem of a read.

I haven’t done this in a while, but it even gets the Nick Fury Seal of Approval.

nick fury