Cover Image: The Ash Family

The Ash Family

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The Ash Family left me feeling haunted, disturbed...in the most gripping way. 

This reminded me of “The Girls”, which I loved so much. I appreciated the ways that this story paralleled with my own life as a millennial from Appalachia finding my way.

“Harmony” is stripped of herself and born anew as a member of the Ash family, a family that prioritizes the environment and communal values. Together they live on a farm in the mountains of North Carolina where they must abide by the family rules. Dice is their fearless leader, full of wisdom and lessons to be learned.

Ah, Appalachia. I absolutely loved the setting for this story. You can tell that the Dektar is from Appalachia with the familiar way she describes the scenery, the weather, the plant life. The descriptive language had me feeling nostalgic and homesick for the mountains I grew up in.

It was very intriguing to read about holistic off-grid living in this way. It felt rewarding, daunting, harsh, purposeful, and powerful. Dektar did a brilliant job describing all facets of what this type of living must be like. 

This was definitely a creepy story that oozed suspense like any good psychological thriller does. It asks us what lengths we are willing to go to feel as if we belong. In what ways are we willing to sacrifice?

I really like the nuanced emotions woven throughout. I especially felt like the friendship between Harmony and Queen was so beautifully written. Unfortunately, for me, many of the other characters fell a little flat. I had more questions than answers and wasn’t able to connect with them as fully as I would have liked.

I loved the concepts of this novel, what a wonderful debut! 3.5 stars from me on this one.
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I was really excited about this book, and I wanted to love it — for most of the time I was reading it, I did really enjoy it. I’ve been fascinated by cults, and cult-like communities for a long time. I’ve read all I can about Charles Manson, and the Branch Davidians, and Jonestown. I’m fascinated with the leaders of these cults, and by the people who join them. Do the leaders actually believe what they’re spouting, or are they just trying to manipulate others to do their bidding? And the followers — how do they fall into this trap?

People are individuals, but members of cults — from what I’ve read — tend to have similar characteristics: they’re lonely, doing some soul-searching, and they feel as though they don’t fit into societal norms. They’re searching for their niche, the place where they can belong, and community of people who understand. They want a greater purpose, and don’t find it in their day-to-day lives. They’re vulnerable.

The same can be said for the protagonist of this novel, Berie. She’s 19, and she’s supposed to be headed to college — because this is what her mother and her boyfriend want and expect of her. She, however, wants something more — something “greater.” When she meets a man at a bus stop, she follows him back to his community in the hills of Appalachia, and becomes a member of the “Ash Family.”

She changes her name to Harmony, lives off of the land, hunts her own food, herds sheep, and engages in sing-a-longs and storytellings with the other members of the family. She does whatever she needs to to impress the leader of the family.

The leader of the Ash Family, Dice, is as general a cult-leader as one would expect. He does and says what he needs to in order to keep his followers in line — he acts as a benevolent and all-knowing force, and his “family” falls all over itself trying to keep him happy — ignoring the fact that much of what he asks for is illegal and deadly.

As Berie (Harmony) strives to earn the trust of the family, she falls deeper and deeper into their clutches, and completely abandons her former life and all within it.

This book contains all the ingredients of a perfect cult novel – the enigmatic leader and his slightly crazy (but not entirely incomprehensible or incorrect) beliefs; the brainwashed followers with horrible and tragic backstories, searching desperately for belonging; the slightly-less brainwashed followers who are in the beginning stages of disillusionment; the beautiful, but desolate setting (in this case the Smoky Mountains); finally, the slowly building and anxiety-inducing plot.

With all of these elements in place — well-written, expertly described, and strongly researched, I enjoyed reading this novel, and I read it quickly — staying up late to finish (and begin) new chapters.

Until the end. The ending of this novel left me wanting so much more. I saw it going in a completely different direction, and I also thought the ending would have a resolution. The plot continued to build and then it reached its climax… and (in my opinion) puttered out. The best metaphor I can think of for this is the cartoon cannon. At the back of the cartoon cannon, someone lights the fuse, and as the fuse continues to burn, you wait for the explosion… but then, once the fuse is fully lit, a little white flag pops out. That’s how I felt about the ending of this novel.

Endings are important to me, and I was disappointed when I put the book down. However — with this said, if you enjoy cult stories, I still think you should give this one a read. This is Dektar’s first novel and it’s a strong novel at that. It’s well-written, fast paced, and ultimately engaging. Additionally, you might feel differently about the ending (if so, let’s chat).

The Ash Family is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and will officially hit shelves on April 9, 2019.

*Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the e-arc of this novel.*
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The premise of this novel seems very interesting; who isn't fascinated by what leads people on the path toward cult living? What I didn't get was a clear enough path to the characters reasons why, so it let me feeling like I missed the point.
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Before joining the Ash family, Berie is seeking something more in her life.  She meets Bay, an enigmatic man who speaks to her soul.  Berie moves to a compound, becomes Harmony, and begins her life with her new family.
Cult stories always fascinate me, and The Ash Family is a great depiction of such.  What makes a person disbelieve and disavow everything in their life to follow the ideas of another?  Would you choose a new life to replace your old one? At what cost?
“Three days or the rest of your life...”. But whose life is it when you choose to follow?
A great read by Molly Dektar, looking forward to more from her.
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If there was one book I was excited about, it was the “Ash Family” by Molly Dektar. It tells a story of a young woman named Berie who leaves her family and college life behind to join a cult and becomes Harmony. Throughout the story she tries to fit in any way she can, however, she is always questioning things which isn’t very popular throughout the cult. To be honest, I was very disappointed in this book. I had such high expectations, but I found it to be quite boring. I watched my boyfriend play Fry Cry and thought the story would be like that game and it wasn’t. I wanted something more out of this book. I thought there would be a lot more action and there wasn’t. Hence, the 3-star rating.
I do want to say thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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The Ash Family tells the story of “Harmony” as she flees her college bound path and ends up with a group living in the wilderness. She easily buys in to everything the leader, Dice, feeds her, but it’s quickly clear to the reader that this is not what she was looking for. (Not-so-spoiler spoiler alert: it’s a cult!!!) 
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Like many people, I find the dynamics of a cult intriguing. How does anyone fall for any of the cult babble?! But it happens. And it’s scary. I enjoyed this story but I wanted more. How did she get to this point in her life? And the ending was not enough. A solid 3 star, it was good, kind of book.
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This book kept me on the edge of my seat.  The Ash family seemed sketchy to me the entire book and I was rooting for Harmony to "wake" and leave.  I had a hard time understanding what made her want to join with them in the beginning, but I think that is due to my own feelings of family.  I can't imagine what would drive her to that.
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So I guess Dektar was giving is a 'cult 101' class with this story.
I was left feeling a bit *meh* after reading it, I was obviously expecting something else. I thought it was going to be a slightly dark and twisted novel. I found more of a soul search inspirational novel that wasn't quite fully executed.

Putting those pre conceived expectations for fiction occult novels aside, Dektar wrote some interesting characters. 
Our little friend, Berie aka Harmony, is 'chosen' to come and live with the Ash Family. I would have to say that is just about the most exciting thing that happens to her. There are a few disturbing events, however, most of the details of these events are questionable. Not only do we have an unreliable narrator but the family that she lives with is seeped in manipulated 'truths'. Dektar certainly had me hating Dice, the fearless leader, and wanting so much more from Bay.
I guess you could read this and question your own priorities or maybe see how people are manipulated every day into seeing reality in the way society (in this case with the mask of a cult leader) dictates. I kept waiting for the moment of 'aha' to hit whenever Berie was going through one of her muddled brain/grasping at the secrets of life moments. I just never really got on board. I am not claiming to be enlightened, this one just didn't flip my switch.
I would be willing to read another novel by Molly Dektar just to see what kind of range she has as a writer. I just wouldn't necessarily recommend this one.
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I’m always fascinated by this type of cult novels, but there have been so many written in the last few years that in many respects, we already have a pretty good idea of we are going to get. 

And this was the case with the Ash Family. There was not much to set it apart from those that came before it, but it was not a bad book. 

I enjoyed the prose, and thought that the depiction of everyday life in ‘the Family’ was well done, but I was not especially taken with the protagonist, Harmony. 

She is, expectedly, naive, but she doesn’t seem to grow emotionally as the novel unfolds, which I found surprising. I’m not sure if it was by design, to demonstrate the insidiousness of cults, but as a result, the ending left me feeling unsatisfied and it felt a bit unbelievable. 

I received a complimentary ARC from Simon and Schuster, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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There’s just something inherently fascinating about cult stories: What makes someone give up their life to join one? How do they become seduced by it despite the red flags? When and how to utopian ideals transform into something dangerous and controlling?

Seeking something more out of life than college and settling down, 19-year-old Berie joins the Ash Family, a community of eco-terrorists living off the grid in the woods of North Carolina.

Drawn to their “essential” lifestyle, she is determined to do anything to earn the trust of the Family’s charismatic leader, Dice. As suspicious events start happening, Berie is torn between her ties to those she cares about both inside and outside the Family and her devotion to their mission of giving up the self for the purpose of the community and the environment.

Debut novelist Molly Dektar creates such a vivid setting, atmosphere and mood. There’s a subtle feeling of ominous tension that she teases out, while simultaneously lending insight into Berie’s desperate need for belonging. Her ambivalence is what keeps her so interesting as a character: constantly teetering between doing what she wants to do and doing what she feels like she ought to do—and often confusing the two.

Fans of cult novels like Emma Cline’s The Girls and lush mysteries like Abby Geni’s The Lightkeeper’s will certainly like this one.
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Nineteen-year-old Berie was on her way to college when a charismatic man, she met, changed her mind. Bay represented everything that Berie was looking for, freedom, saving the environment, and belonging to a family. Even though Beri’s mother worked, scraped, and sacrificed to send her daughter to college, Berie followed her new friend Bay, instead. 

Beri was told she could stay at the Ash farm for three days or for the rest of her life. When Beri decided to stay on, she was accepted into the Ash family and given a new name. It was a culture shock, at first, for Beri, when she was required to relinquish her possessions, work long hours on the farm, and bathe only once a week. But, once Beri, aka Harmony, had the new routine down, she felt good. And, the longer Harmony stayed, the more comfortable she became with the leader’s strange thinking, and the Ash family’s backward way of doing things. It was all wonderful until Harmony realized that when people left the farm, they usually didn’t survive. 

I enjoyed this book and found the storyline fascinating. I am always amazed at how easy it is for some people to accept a cult’s teaching and then become trapped in that lifestyle. A friend tried to help Harmony escape, but it was the Ash family’s leader who had Harmony’s loyalty. 


Thank you,  Simon & Schuster and NetGalley, for my advanced review copy.
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Berie is supposed to be on her way to college, and her Mom thinks she is on her way to the airport. But Berie meets Bay who is charming with a magnetic personality just what you would expect in a cult recruiter. Berie decides to follow him, although it might be just for a few days to see how she likes it. A story about how easy some find it to prey on the vulnerable lost souls.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Warm and engagingly written, this novel has shades of both Station Eleven and The Girls. Not as wide a range of characters as I would typically like, but an enjoyable debut nonetheless.
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I thought this was interesting but definitely not for me. Seeing a first-person fictional story about joining a cult is pretty unique in itself and the writing was truly great. I was engaged the entire time that I was reading this. 

That being said, the ending was a bit chaotic which felt very forced with how the author's writing style had been up until that point. Overall it was great though, definitely an interesting read even if it turns out that I'm just not that interested in this type of novel.
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This book left me with really mixed feelings. It was well-written and I couldn't put it down towards the end, so I'm glad I read it. At the same time, I just really didn't like the characters, what was happening, or how it ended. To be fair, I don't think I was supposed to - it's about a cult, after all. 

I didn't like the main character one bit, but I have to give credit to the author for creating her - it was an act of brilliance to make this chick the narrator of the story. She's troubled, she's selfish, she's got more bad characteristics than good ones, and she's definitely disturbed too. Yet I didn't for one second think of her as an unreliable narrator - no doubts that the story as she told it was meant to be the real story. I love the backstory about her big head injury back in high school, too - repeated just enough to make us wonder how that might have affected her, but not enough for us to excuse her lack of emotion or concern for others.

I don't think this is intended to have a sequel, but I would be interested to see another book about the Ash family told from a different character's perspective (maybe Sara or Bay?), maybe picking up where this one leaves off.
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I dont usually read books about 'fictional' cults...especially when there are SO many actual cults to read about but I gave this one a chance.
Unfortunately, for me this book was a bit of a miss. While I could empathize with "Harmony' about wanting to find meaning in life and escape others expectations, the leader 'Dice' was not charismatic or enchanting, so it was difficult to see how anyone would follow him or the family.

The story itself was a quick and fast read, so if you need a weekend book to pass time - this book will work great.
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Molly Dektar is going on my list as a must by author. I was blown away by her beautiful writing. 

Berie is on her way to college, but unsure of her place there. When she meets a man named Bay at the bus depot, he convinces her that college isn't right for her, and he knows a place she can go. Without a word to her family Berie follows Bay back to a farm deep in the North Carolina mountains, where a commune called The Ash Family works and lives off the land. Bay introduces Berie to Dice, the charismatic, sinister leader of the family. Dice tells her she's welcome to stay for three days or for the rest of her life, no in between. 

Berie falls for what the family says they have to offer, but all is not what it seems.
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It took me several chapters to really understand the author's poetic flow, but once I did, I really enjoyed the story.  This book is written with such beautiful imagery that you are vividly transported into Harmony's world.
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This is a quiet, mesmerizing book about the powers of a cult over lost, lonely or confused young souls.
Beryl is on her way to college, financed in part by her mother selling a cherished piece of jewelry. In an act of defiance, she walks away from the bus, leaving her backpack and following Bay, an enigmatic young man who isn’t good-looking but is heavy on the charisma. Beryl is swept up in the methodology and habits of the Ash Family farm, a co-op in their eyes, a cult to outsiders. The author, Molly Dektar, does a fantastic job writing and weaving the emotional traps and the hypnotic senseless speeches and opinions of the leader, Dice. I’ve never been in a cult but I could easily see the inner workings and trappings being exactly as described by Dektar; the manipulating to make the weak feel that they can’t survive without the blessing and approval of the leader. Dice and his sidekick Bay are scrupulous and eerily haunting in their control of the others.
This isn’t a feel-good happy ending book. It’s a realistic picture of weak and lost young souls who can’t find it in themselves to stand up so they lean on those who shouldn’t be trusted. I thoroughly enjoyed each page of this slowly engulfing sinkhole of humanity; a glimpse into a world that you know is out there but wise enough to avoid.
(I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thank you to Simon & Shuster for making it available.)
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Dektar sets the scene for the reader immediately, through the eyes of our narrator, Berie. Except Berie is not supposed to tell anyone her name in this new place, she needs to leave it behind. She’s given a choice – stay with us for three days, or the rest of your life.
 
Without much thought, Brie adopts this new life for herself at the Ash Family Farms, leaving the “fake world” behind. She reveals herself as someone eager to please, eager to fall under a spell. She wants to prove herself to the Ash Family. But quickly, the cracks in this community start showing – evasive answers, hushed whispers, disappearances. Berie soon starts questioning herself - and everything around her. In some ways, it felt like a quiet Bluebeard fable mixed with those news stories you hear about but can't quite wrap your head around.
 
This novel is rather slim and Dektar’s writing is propulsive, I read this book practically in one sitting. I found myself, like Berie, not sure how I let the time get away from me.
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