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.

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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.

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The Drowning of Arthur Braxton

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The Drowning of Arthur Braxton – Caroline Smailes.

This isn’t the weirdest book I’ve ever read, but it is certainly unique and that is why I am telling all of you that you have to go and read it!

An urban fairy tale from the acclaimed author of 99 Reasons Why.
Arthur Braxton runs away from school.
He hides out in an abandoned building, an old Edwardian bathhouse.
He discovers a naked woman swimming in the pool.
From this point on, nothing will ever be the same.
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is an unflinching account of the pain and trauma of adolescence and of how first love can transform the most unhappy of lives into something miraculous. It is a dark and brooding modern fairy tale from one of our most gifted writers.

Also, the author totally favourited my tweet about this book without me even having to mention her or anything. So, there’s that. Not that that made me want to write this review or anything. I’m not complete trash. (I am.)

So, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, let me tell you a story about my search for this book, how I finally got to read it and what I thought of it. Also the circumstances in which I read it were pretty interesting too. Basically, a lot of this is going to be word vomit, bare with. I first heard of this book when perusing some of my fave blogs, several book bloggers I read regularly had picked this up, all but one of them raved about it, all of them said it was different than anything else they had read, naturally I was intrigued. But what intrigued me even more was the fact that I couldn’t find this book anywhere. I went to Waterstones in Bath, Bristol and Wells. That’s three different counties. None of them stocked it, but they could if I wanted to pay over a tenner for it. I’m a cheap skate, aint nobody got funds for that. I searched online, again a few places had it but with hefty price tags. I thought to myself, Arthur Braxton must be a wiley so and so, everyone says how good it is and yet, it is no where to be found.
About a year or so later, Luke Cutforth (he’s a YouTuber in case you didn’t know) announced that he was going to be making the feature film version of the Drowning of Arthur Braxton and started up a kickstarter to get the funds to actually make the thing. Suddenly this book was everywhere. Thanks Luke Cutforth! I eventually, after a year of searching, found it on the kindle store for a whole 99p. But now having read it, I probably would have spent the tenner and thought it was worth it. I mentioned it in fact in my last library haul. Now comes the weird circumstances in which I found myself reading it, I got picked for jury service (I might write a blog about the experience – but of course, not the trials and or the other jurors, because I don’t fancy going to prison), for those that don’t know, jury service involves a lot of sitting around doing nothing. Naturally, I read a tonne of books, Arthur Braxton I managed in one four hour sitting waiting to be selected for a trial. Dear God it was glorious. Mostly because the opening of Arthur’s introduction goes like this: “Not only do I have a boner, but I’m running through the yard with my pants around my arse and its raining on my cock.” Or words to that effect.

You have never felt anxiety if you’ve never had to shield your kindle from hundreds of other jurors whilst reading that sentence. Honestly, how could you not fall a bit in love with a story where your titular character is introduced in those circumstances?

Anyway, that’s enough about me, let’s talk about this book. So, I said at the beginning of this (which literally feels about a million years ago) that this wasn’t the weirdest book that I’ve ever read, but that it was still pretty unique, I will warn you, this isn’t your regular old teen read. This is a story told by several different characters surrounding an old swimming bath which was believed to have magical powers. Our main two narrators are the titular Arthur Braxton (though he doesn’t show up until a little way in) and Delphina (who shows up even later), there is also my favourite character of the lot, Laurel, who’s story broke my heart a  little. The blurb refers to this book as an urban fairytale and I think that sums it up pretty accurately, this is a story ground in mythology, but set, pretty much in modern day Wales, with modern day happenings and modern day people that happen to coexist alongside this strange, magical world surrounding the bathhouse known as the Oracle. There are several narrators, each of whom are around the same age when telling their version of events and I felt that each of them had their own unique voice and their own way of speaking. Laurel and Arthur both had a casual colloquial way of talking, Arthur’s was much cruder, granted, but I did feel like I was sat down opposite a teenager I vaguely knew being told about their experiences with the Oracle. I noticed a couple of reviews criticised the author’s use of slang, that they didn’t like Laurel and Arthur saying ‘probs’ instead of probably and things like that and yeah, at first I was a bit like God, how annoying, until I realised that at times I say probs, maybs and IRL and the worse thing is, they’ve become so ingrained in my vocabulary that half the time it’s not even ironic use any more. I did say I was trash at the beginning of this post, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Because of that, I got over my literary snobbishness fairly quickly. Whilst I am a writer, I love words, I love being articulate and I love language being used properly, I also love the idea of slang and how individuals use certain phrases and tailor words to their own style. All that stuff fascinates me, so that was one thing I really loved about the Drowning of Arthur Braxton. It felt real, even though this is obviously a work of fantasy.

I like to mention trigger warnings when I write reviews, because honestly, though I loved this book, I wouldn’t want to put anyone through any unnecessary trauma, while this is a fairy tale of sorts, there are a lot of very real, very horrible things that happen in this book. There is child neglect, there is divorce, there is rape, there is bullying, there is mental health issues, there is suicide. If any of these things are triggering for you, I won’t be at all offended if you decide to leave Arthur Braxton, if they’re not and you’re, like I was a year ago, intrigued as to how a modern day fairy tale encompasses all those things while introducing a character talking about his genitals being rained on, then by all means pick this up. It is weird, it is addictive, it is probably the most crude thing you’ll pick up, but it is also funny, it has a lot of heart and it is so well written, you’ll soon forget about the slang and the complete randomness of the Oracle bathhouse.

All you really need to know is that I enjoyed this so much I am giving it the Nick Fury Seal of Approval and you know when you see the Nick Fury Seal that this was a damn good book. I’m sure now that the film version has been funded that this book will see a bit of a revival in terms of popularity and when the film finally gets made I think I’ll be one of the first people in queue to see how exactly they’re able to transfer it onto the big screen.

To find out more about what’s happening with the film you can click here to go see Luke’s video!
In the mean time, head to the book store of your choice and see if you can find this!

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A Monster Calls

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Oh dear God, I was not expecting to cry as much as I did reading this, I was not expecting to get so immersed and I was a bit unprepared for this book and so, I want to try and make your life as easy as possible by preparing you for this book.

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.

I went into this knowing nothing but that it was a Patrick Ness, and therefore, had to be wonderful. I wasn’t wrong, this book is wonderful, but where I was expecting high fantasy and literal monsters, what we got was a metaphorical one, a silent and invisible killer, the suffering of a young boy and the utter unfairness of mortality.
Yeah. It’s a bit deep.

I don’t want to give too much away about this story, I think one of the reasons why this book had such a profound effect on me was that it took me by surprise, I didn’t know what it was about, I didn’t know what I would witness and I think in the world of the internet, we’ve kind of lost that beauty of opening a book and being completely taken aback by it. I mean goodreads is great and all, but SPOILERS.

This is going to be the shortest review in history because there is so much I want to say about this book and so much I can’t say because there simply aren’t words to express how unfortunate and short life can be for some people. I am not articulate enough to tell you how utterly brilliant this book is, both in conception and execution. Patrick Ness is a genius, something I’ve known since reading his Chaos Walking series a while back, but while those were brilliantly written, this was on a whole new level. If you’ve not experienced Patrick Ness, you need to. If you’ve not had tears rolling down your face after reading a book you thought was about literal monsters, you have not known greatness.

Basically, read this.
I want to give this the Nick Fury Seal of Approval… But would that cheapen the moment… Probably… I’ll tag it as such, but just imagine there is a seal with an eye patch here.
Also, Patrick Ness is one of the authors appearing at YALC this year, so if you’re able to go (I really want to because I went last year and it was amazing) you totally should.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

So you know how I’m always moaning about how I can never find any LGBT fiction that is satisfying and about more than someone being gay? Well, guys, the search is officially over, I have found the book, it is beautiful and heart breaking and basically perfection.

I’ve wanted to read this book from the moment it started winning awards back last year, I finally found a copy and oh my good God, why did I wait so long?

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. 

It’s a bit of a weird thing to say, but this is a quiet novel, it reflected the personality of the narrator perfectly. Ari is the kind of kid who is happy with silence and his own company. But he’s also angry at just about everything, including his best mate Dante, who is by far the biggest ray of sunshine that I have ever come across in a novel.

This is different from any LGBT fiction I’ve read before, its rare enough to come across decent LGBT fiction, let alone fiction about POC. Everything about this book was perfect, the setting, the characters, the narration, the prose, every single thing. And that is a rare gift indeed. Benjamin Alire Saenz, you deserve every award you’ve been given for this book and more.

This gets my Nick Fury Seal of Approval.
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