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The Ash Family

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THE ASH FAMILY by Molly Dektar was a bit of a roller coaster for me. I went back and forth between caring about the main character Berie, and wanting to shake her out of the haze she was in because of the cult (or "community") she joined instead of heading to college. I wish there was a little more about why Berie felt this cult was the answer to her struggles, and that it wasn't such a straight-forward cult narrative that we have seen many times before. The leader, Dice, was truly terrifying (as a good cult leader should be, I suppose). He straight up killed people, kept the members hostage (even if they didn't realize it), and was emotionally abusive. But his "teachings" were gibberish, and the land they lived on seemed awfully uninhabitable, so I spent most of the book wondering what on earth Berie was thinking when she insisted she wanted to stay for years.

The highs of the book made me want to keep going, but as with all roller coasters, the lows that followed those highs left me frustrated and I had a hard time muddling through. I feel like a good fictional cult needs to be somewhat enticing, but this one was depressing and worrisome from the beginning. The writing was wonderful though, and made me feel like I really was in the South Carolina mountains, as terrible and depressing as the cult members were while there. A solid debut novel with a few bumps along the gravel road.
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The Ash Family is an impressive debut.  I am always intrigued by any books revolving around cults or folks choosing to live off grid.  This novel and it's premise of a "family" was no exception. The story follows a young woman, newly identified as Harmony, as she goes from escaping her mother's expectations for her and finds herself with the Ash Family. There she begins to follow a new lifestyle of living off the land, zero connections to the fake world and looking for something that will allow her to feel connected.  Then people she finds herself bonding to begin to disappear.  Harmony is forced to really look at what is going on rather than what she wishes it to be. If you enjoyed The Girls by Emma Cline then this is an absolute must read!
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. With its unique storyline this book is indeed a very good book to calm your mind.
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Lyrically written and haunting story of a young girl who gives up everything to join what I would call a cult. It's not religion-based but instead it's an off-the-grid community who protests in the name of environmental activism even if it is often misguided. Berie who is renamed Harmony is recruited by Bay, a mysterious young man right after she decides that she is not getting on the bus to college even though her mother has paid for the experience. I found this story painful to read-Berie is really lead down a dark path and I was horrified by some of the choices that she made. At the end, I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to know what happened with the rest of her life! I've given it four stars because the story's language was so beautiful.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the ARC in return for my honest review.
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I loved this. I don't have much else to say so I'm going to repeat myself. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this.
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When I began this book, I was fairly certain it would end up as a DNF for me.  However, I was interested enough to keep reading and give it a chance.  While I did have some issues with the story, I also was intrigued and engaged with what was happening.

A young woman named Beryl is headed to college, but suddenly decides to go off the grid and join this “family”  and take a new name, cutting all ties with her former life.  I never did understand why Beryl’s  life was in such a state that she felt compelled to join this group and just disappear.

The writing reminded me somewhat of stories like The Handmaid’s Tale, where there are sparse details, so the reader must try and imagine what is going on behind the scenes.  I wasn’t that pleased with the ending.  I’m guessing it was purposefully written to be confusing.

I’m glad I stayed the course and finished the book.  I liked it in spite of a few issues I had with the story.  This is a debut novel, so I look forward to seeing future work from this author.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.
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For a book about a cult, this was rather bland. The cult leader isn't especially charming-no one is really-which caused me to constantly wonder why they stayed. Life for "the family" seems hard. They work all day and are never allowed any real enjoyment. I found myself asking what about this boring existence would make them want to stay? Some of the members would go off to protests, but we never get any first hand experience of that. This book has good bones, but needs to be punched up a bit. Overall, I just needed to see a compelling reason why anyone would follow this guy and live this life other than they just didn't have anything else better to do.
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The cult/off-the-grid-community premise is always an intriguing one for me. Knowing how intelligent people with seemingly great lives and so much potential become seduced by the idea of this kind of connection is fascinating to me. 

Molly Dektar creates a completely visceral and palpable universe in the woods - I smell the animals, I can taste the chicken fat covered bread, I can smell the earthy aroma of the Ash family. Despite feeling connected to it via the prose, I can't picture myself in that world. 

Our narrator, Berie, escaped her life in Durham, North Carolina without telling her somewhat estranged mother or her ex-boyfriend Isaac, when she ran into a charming drifter named Bay who frequently leaves the Asher commune to shop for new family members. Berie's constant struggle for acceptance and love throughout the story is heartbreaking, as is her continued waffling between doing what she wants and doing what she believes should should for her new family. A great read. Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!!
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Thanks to netgalley for the preview!

The imagery and descriptions in this book were wonderful. I could easily picture the forest and the animals and imagine the whole compound. I liked the idea of this book- a seemingly normal girl ditching college to join a commune or cult. We’ve all had those moments where we cannot deal with big changes and are tempted to run away. I think many readers will relate to that feeling.  I just felt like the book never piqued my interest.  I think I was continually  waiting for the moment Harmony was  going to wake up from the trance and try to run away. I felt like her exit from the commune was a little anticlimactic and I really wanted to see her triumphant over the people that had been brainwashing her. I didn’t love the book but I could see others enjoying it.
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For a book about a girl who leaves home for college but then ends up in a cult instead, I didn't feel like there was a lot of plot or a lot of getting to know Beryl/Berie/Harmony. You're getting the story straight from the girl, but I still felt removed from it. It's almost like someone was telling me about a movie they'd seen and focusing on camera angles and certain shots that mattered to them but neglecting anything about the movie that would have appealed to me.
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The Ash Family wasn't what I was expecting. In the beginning, we have Beryl, but by the end we have Harmony. Or is it Beryl again? I'm going to say neither, but that's my own opinion. Harmony went through quite a lot during her stay with the complex Ash family, and at the end of tenacious times, you never end up being the same person you were before or during. 

I enjoyed this book even though it left me confused. One moment I like Harmony, and then the next I didn't. Which makes her an interesting and realistic character. All of the characters in The Ash Family are multi-faceted in a way. You never quite know what you're getting from some of them, and the others whose personality you pegged from the beginning, you either love them or hate them. 

Overall, I really liked this one.
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I couldn't do it. I was super annoyed with the characters within the first two chapters. I called it half way through chapter three. Maybe I will try again at a later time... Apparently March is not the time of the year for me to attempt to empathize with cult members.
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As someone who has always found cults interesting and thought provoking, this book really missed the mark for me. I had no sympathy or positive emotions towards the main character and her motives for joining the "cult" were so blurry and weak that it made the overall  story suffer. There was also little to no character development for the leader of the cult or for the man who was supposed to be her romantic interest, Bay. The fact that the main character's love for Bay was so immature and, honestly, random, made that storyline laughable. Overall, I got the sense that the author just took a few details that emerge in the majority of cult knowledge and blew those to proportions that are unrealistic and unresearched. The reasoning behind the cult was weak and not intriguing which caused the overall story to lack any interest to me as a reader. This was just a miss for me. 

I appreciated this ARC from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I had issues with this book from the beginning. We had little to no background on Berie when her mother drops her at the bus station to go to college. She doesn't want to go to college but she's unclear about what she does want.

At the bus station she meets a man. And the next thing we know she is living in a cult with a lot of ugly, dirty people who are just a murderous bunch of brainwashed and damaged people, led by a liar. This girl is smart enough to get into a good college and she fell for a guy at the bus stop who took all of her stuff and yep she just jumped in the truck.

I am sorry to say that I did not care for a single character in this book. None of them were held responsible for anything and she thought she could just go back to her old life.

I know this is a debut novel, but it was very unbelievable to me. Does anyone even take the bus to college any more? Or get in a car with strangers? No.

I wouldn't recommend it.

NetGalley/Simon and Schuster
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A book about a young woman leaving home to attend college but is waylaid by a charismatic cult recruiter. Why she goes with him, and what she hopes to seek, I still don't know. She tries to fit in, and not want materialistic things she isn't supposed to want. The description of the farm, the writing for the most part is pretty good. The story, and cults in particular is not as successful. I am drawn to books about cults, but find them lacking in many areas. 
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for an ARC of this book for an honest review.
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This is the first book I've read about cult culture so I really wanted to like it but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I would have rated it 2 stars but I'm giving it 3 because the author is very poetic and she knows how to paint a vivid picture. Unfortunately, there were several parts of the book that were either confusing, left open-ended, or seemed to detract from the overall story.

Pros: 
- The story starts immediately. You don't have to read multiple chapters before the action begins.
- The writer does a great job of developing the main character, Beryl/Harmony, so you feel like you can sympathize with her and understand why she is so easily manipulated. But you also know you can't trust her because she has been brain-washed.
- There are enough suspenseful moments that keep you reading. I was always wondering "Will she leave? Will she stay? Will someone come? Will she die?"

Cons:
- There are numerous sad and/or gruesome animal slaughter scenes that made it difficult to continue reading. I think some of those moments could have been skimmed over, or even left out, without detracting from the overall ominous feel of the story. But, i'm a softy for animals so it sat uneasily with me. 
- There were several sudden changes of pace throughout the book that simply felt confusing. For example, a couple of characters are riding along in a car and then without building or warning, all the sudden there is a conflict and Beryl is hurt and crying. OR when Harmony is suddenly pulled out of bed for what could have been a very sinister moment, only to go lay in the grass and have an emotional cry. Maybe these were intentional but it left me turning back a few pages to see what I may have missed.
- The story ends with a lot of loose ends untied. I would have loved to see an epilogue. 

Overall I felt this book was average at best but I'd be interested to read another one of Molly Dektar's books to see what else she can write about. Thanks #NetGalley for the ARC!
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Fear the outside world! Life is dangerous!
Lured by a man she's never met, Berie joins what appears to be a cult, with a leader promising her a new life.
Under disguise using an alias Harmony lives off the fertile land in the mountains high above civility.
Do what you think will make you happy but remember choices come with consequences.
Brainwashing, escapism, cults full of promises--It's all in here with this new family and new community. Darkness is closing in!
Thank you to Molly, the publisher, NetGalley, and Aldiko for this ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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According to the Psychiatric Times, one percent of people have been involved with a cult. According to your local bookseller, though, at least 20 times that proportion of literary fiction readers have had some contact with a novel about a cult — and that number, friends, is rapidly rising.

Not that the Ash Family, eponymous commune of Molly Dektar’s debut novel, would call themselves a cult. They prefer something much more grandiloquent: they call their North Carolina compound the “real world,” in contrast to this fake world of smoke and mirrors and blog posts and antibiotics.

We see their world through the eyes of Berie, who decides to play hooky from her freshman year of college to hop in a truck with Bay, a dirty dude with “a busted-looking face and gentle canine eyes” whose idea of flirting is to poke a red-hot stick into an infected wound his passenger got from a rusty splinter while breaking into a house to steal winter coats because “property” is an illusion.

It’s hard to see the Ash Family’s attraction, an early deficit the novel never quite makes up. Dektar throws Berie — who becomes “Harmony” in the family — straight into her new life, so we largely have to take the narrator’s occasionally expressed word for it that the first two decades of her life have left her troubled and discontent.

The family’s rule is that you either spend three days with them, or a lifetime. Once Harmony’s trial period has elapsed, Dektar starts jumping spans of weeks and months with surprising speed. That allows her to describe the changing of seasons and the rhythms of the family’s (more or less) self-sustaining farm life, but it leaves character development stretched uncomfortably thin.

Harmony’s landed in a wild, foreign, uncomfortable, and pretty scary situation, but after a few colorful incidents we’re given to understand that she soldiers along and even comes to love her new family life. There are only a few key family members we learn much about, one of whom is a friend named Queen. It’s obvious that Harmony’s relationship with Queen will cause problems, because otherwise there won’t be much of a plot.

As the seasons come and go, Dektar puts Harmony through a series of mystical and metaphorical tests that become ever more troubling, but never really conveys a sense of struggle. Harmony seems like a spectator of her own life, in a manner that seems more a product of style than substance.

What we learn about Harmony’s actual wants and needs is fairly minimal. She wants to hook up with the ugly-sexy Bay, but he’s not into it for reasons that we never quite grasp. (What else, or who else, is he doing with his time?) She grows to enjoy the farm life, and rarely if ever misses her phone or her friends or her underwear. Typical evening entertainment consists of singing hymns and listening to allegorical stories told by the family head, a dude named Dice, and that’s basically enough for Harmony.

Because Dektar never really gets a handle on Harmony’s connection to the family, it’s hard for us to understand her choices when the stakes start to rise. An obvious point of comparison is Emma Cline’s acclaimed The Girls (2016), a novel inspired by the Manson cult, and The Ash Family suffers by comparison because Cline keeps a careful focus on her protagonist’s processing.

By contrast, The Ash Family feels gauzy and distant even at its most shocking moments. Dektar makes Dice’s cult seem transparently appalling, and yet we have to accept that Harmony becomes tied to the group through mechanisms that are never fully elucidated. It’s one thing to have a character who doesn’t fully understand herself, it’s another to have one who hardly even bothers to try.
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The Ash Family is a farming commune in the mountains of North Carolina. Berie is a young woman who doesn't know what she wants and has let her mother and her boyfriend tell her what to do until the moment she leaves for university and decides not to go, turning around and taking a bus to Asheville. At the bus stop, she encounters the charismatic Bay, who brings her to the Ash family farm and where she learns to work with farm animals, and is drawn into the close and tightly controlled group led by Dice, who also leads the inner circle of his group in a little light eco-terrorism. Berie is desperate to be trusted enough to join them and throws herself into the endless tasks involved in pulling a living out of the land. She's also desperate to get time with Bay, who is often gone recruiting new members and desperate to be accepted and find a home within the Ash Family. 

As Molly Dektar's debut novel goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the Ash Family is not a benign group and equally clear that the members are being kept under tight control and surveillance. Berie's need for belonging can't entirely hide the less savory aspects of the commune from her, especially as her one friend is protecting a secret and Berie will not be able to remain free of the consequences. And, back in Durham, there are people worried about her and while they might be able to tell her that they want her to come home, whether or not Berie leaves is entirely up to her. 

While the novel does sometimes feel predictable and research into cults makes itself known, Dektar's writing is strong and clear. Berie is a wonderful character, very much an eighteen year old, but also a young woman who has a moral compass and who develops into someone who knows herself over the course of this novel.
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I couldn't wait to read this one since it was set in my state of North Carolina but to be honest I am still trying to wrap my head around this one. It tells the story of Berie who is about to go off and attend college but when she meets a mysterious man at a bus stop she travels to the NC mountains to join the "Ash Family." This family lives off the land and has untraditional views of the world. Once settled into this life it begins to control her mind. How will this life continue to play out for her?

This was a very interesting book but is definitely not for everyone. If you have an interest in clans, cults, or commune living then this book may be for you.
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