You make me feel like there’s something good in the world I can hold on to,’ Aaron says. He kisses me again, draws me so close it’s almost hard to breathe. ‘I love you, Gem. And I promise I’ll hold your heart forever.’
When Gemma meets Aaron, she feels truly seen for the first time. Their love story is the intense kind. The written-in-the-stars, excluding-all-others kind. The kind you write songs about.
But little by little their relationship takes over Gemma’s life. What happens when being seen becomes being watched, and care becomes control?
Told in both Gemma’s and Aaron’s words, this is a raw, moving exploration of gaslighting in teenage relationships that skewers our ideas of what love looks like.
Karen Gregory has been a confirmed bookworm since early childhood. She wrote her first story about Bantra the mouse aged twelve, then put away the word processor until her first child was born, when she was overtaken by the urge to write. Her first novel, Countless, published in 2017, was shortlisted for the Leeds Book Award and longlisted for the Branford Boase. Her second novel, Skylarks, was published in 2018. Karen lives in Wiltshire with her family.
What I Thought
This starts out like a love at first sight teen romance, where main character Gemma gets swept away by the enigmatic Aaron. As do we to a certain extent, despite knowing that something is going to go wrong.
Gemma is overshadowed at home by her football playing younger brother Michael and Aaron sees this – and her.
With beach picnics and expensive gifts Gemma falls deeper and despite friends concerns she fails to see the warning signs. And that’s because they are so subtle at first. Things that are easily dismissed or put down to coincidence.
This is an interesting look at gaslighting in a relationship, made even more complex by the addition of Aaron’s point of view, one that doesn’t immediately portray neon flashing lights but indicates that something has gone wrong in a past relationship.
The author makes it clear in a postscript that having his point of view included doesn’t excuse any behaviour but it helps the reader explore the psychology of the phenomenon from both sides.
I loved the inclusion of Gemma’s family dynamic and it was intriguing how particularly her parents relationship set some foundations for certain behaviours to be seen as normal. That’s what is very tricky with emotional abuse in particular, in most relationships – even with friends – things are said that can be hurtful or occasionally manipulative, when does it become abuse?
Set in college we see how important friendships are to teenagers in navigating their transition between child and adulthood. Gemma’s great love is country music and songwriting and her changing relationships with her family, friends and activities are powerful indicators of what is happening. In isolation her relationship with Aaron can definitely be seen as romantic, but in the wider context the cracks show.
All in all this is a very powerful read that reminded me of You by Caroline Kepnes. Trigger warnings for emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Do check out what the other reviewers on the tour thought.
Thank you to Faye Rogers and Bloomsbury for the gifted copy for the purposes of this honest review.
On Sunday I had an interview with author MJ Marinescu on the best bits of being a writer and today here’s the synopsis and an extract from his book Forsaken Genesis.
The world has changed in more ways than one. Most humans live in the safety of the hive cities, massive industrial complexes walled off to the outside world. Yet, the dangers of the wilds are no longer limited to the outskirts. Rumours abound of strange things in the night. Sightings of subhumans and citizens being abducted, whisked off by men in vans or worse. The Department of Control keeps a close eye on the citizens of Avalon but who are they protecting?
Melissa thought the world outside the facility would be safe. Free from the pain and the incessant tests of the men in white coats but what she finds is a world unknown. Fleeting memories call to her like a siren song pleading for her to remember. Can she figure out her strange dreams and the shadowed figure who hounds her in her sleep? She must discover who she is and come to terms with the truth that may have been kept from her for good reason if she hopes to survive in this strange new world.
MJ Marinescu has always dreamed of being a novelist. Writing stories from a young age, the author has never faltered from that dream as well as devoting time to fitness and martial arts. Born in Ottawa Ontario, the author now lives in Calgary Alberta and enjoys art, animals, and nature. You can keep up with MJ on Twitter @MJMarinescu or at the official website
Johnathan surveyed the scene of the crime, the flashing lights of the Department of Control perimeter drones warning the public to remain at a distance. Another disappearance in a string of similar incidents over the past few months. The difference this time was that he arrived before whoever was covering them up.
“How did you find this one so fast Faye?” Johnathan asked.
“I knew the person involved. There’s something else you need to know, but I wanted to tell you in person,” she replied, a look of concern on her face as she regarded him.
Johnathan scratched his unkempt beard, the stress of the recent mysterious cases beginning to show on him. “Well?”
Faye motioned for him to follow her as she stepped through the laser perimeter. The drones scanned both detectives as they crossed, running their images through the department’s databases. The building was lit only by the shouldermounted flashlights as they headed down the hallways.
Avalon was the first of the industrial hives of humanity, a pinnacle of the modern age, but despite the prestigious title, the city was not immune to squalour and crime. This building, like countless others, was one of the many places untouched by the reach of the city’s everincreasing supervision.
Faye stopped outside what remained of a door. Another of the drones kept watch, reporting everything back to the department where it would be catalogued and filed. “John, look at me. We’ve been partners for a long time. We’ll figure this out, okay, I promise.”
Johnathan looked at Faye, gazing at her into the room. The air hung with the burned solder and copper, but also pine, which seemed out of place. Pushing his way past Faye, he stepped into the apartment. Torn furniture littered the simple room, but most of the area was filled with cybernetic scraps, paint cans, and other hastily abandoned equipment. “Junkers? What does this have to do with our case?”
“Not only junkers, John, they were trying to control the Awakening. Now they’re gone,” she spoke, barely above a whisper.
A chill washed over him as his mind toyed with the possibility. “How is that possible? Wait. You said you knew the person involved? Faye?”
She motioned with her eyes for him to follow as she placed a finger to her lips. Continuing through the room, Faye stepped out onto the landing through the broken window. The city’s neon lights and loudspeaker announcements rang out over the heavy rain and the constant patter of water on metal. A set of rusted fire escape stairs snaked down the side of the building.
Johnathan looked back into the room before following his partner down the precarious stairs. When they reached the bottom, he asked again, “Where are we going?”
“I don’t want the drones to hear, okay?”
He raised his hands in mock surrender. “Okay.”
“I promised her I wouldn’t say anything, but after tonight I have to. It’s Jane.”
The name hit him like a truck. “My Jane? What about her?”
“Look, I investigated this fellow a couple of weeks ago. He was working out of the room upstairs. When I came in, I saw Jane. She was with him.”
“What the hell does that mean? It couldn’t have been Jane. She said she was going to visit her mother in France.”
“I’m telling you, John, it’s the truth. She only told you that she was leaving town for a while because she’s afraid. She told me that she was showing signs of Awakening. She was desperate and trying to find anything that could help, so she turned to the junkers.”
“Son of a…” he trailed off, tapping on his communicator. “Call Jane,” he commanded as the device complied.
“John, stop. I made her tell me where she was staying, but that isn’t the only problem now.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me?” He pressed the communicator again, disconnecting the call as the voicemail message played. “All right, I’m listening.”
“It wasn’t the Order of the Shield who got here first. It was the Grove.”
“Like the Grove? I thought they were a myth?”
“Well, if my contact is to be believed they’re real. I don’t have any reason to doubt him, and now shortly after he contacted me, he’s gone dark,” Faye said flatly.
“Okay, so the Grove is real if we believe your guy, and he was working on helping the Awakened. The Grove must also be after them, like the Order. The disappearances, the coverups, they must have all been Awakened. This means the government is working with the Order, and if they’re in on it, the department must be too.”
Faye quirked an eyebrow. “Now you see why I didn’t want the drones to hear.”
“This is insane. We sound like conspiracy nuts. I’ve been with the department for twentyfive years. Nothing like this has ever come up.”
“Well, this whole Awakened business is very different from normal problems.”
“True. So, where’s Jane? If she’s mixed up in this, I need to get to her first.”
Faye pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and handed it to him. “Be careful, John. If the department is part of this, you can’t use any of their gear. Don’t even take your car there.”
“Good idea. Thanks, Faye. You can handle the rest of the work here?”
She nodded, then strolled off towards the front of the building leaving him alone in the alleyway. Johnathan read the address on the paper, turned off his communicator and ran off.
~~ * ~~
Jane opened her eyes groggily as the bright, white light of the room assaulted her. She tried to move but soon realised she was restrained on a table. Panic set in as she struggled against the bonds trying to remember how she got here. She was sitting in one of Overdrive’s socalled safe houses. He had set her up temporarily while he worked out the last few things he needed for his cure. A loud crash from the next room woke her up. What would John do? she thought, looking around the room, trying to find any clues.
The room was large and filled with state of the art equipment, better than any she had at the hospital. Some of them she did not recognise but could hazard a guess as to their purpose. Aside from the equipment, the room itself was dull. She glanced around for insight into the area. Thick windows surrounded her. One window revealed a hallway with doctors, or she assumed they were doctors by their attire, walking this way and that, each accompanying a young girl. Patients of some sort, they all wore the same drab robe, ranged in age from five to their late teens, and all walked with the same sleepy demeanour.
From the second window, she could see two men conversing. One man was some sort of chairman if she had to guess. His perfectly tailored suit, slickedback hair, and sunglasses commanded authority and a sense of selfimportance. The second man, another doctor. Judging by their body language, they were speaking about her.
The third set of windows revealed a room similar to the one she found herself in. The same bed, machines, and a girl in her late teens who struggled against her bonds. Her wild mane of dark hair flailing as she did. Unlike the other girls Jane had seen, this girl seemed scared, either the drugs they used to keep the children docile had worn off or were otherwise ineffective. She watched the girl struggle violently while the doctor in the room ignored her antics as he busied himself with something Jane could not make out. It reminded her of a video she had seen as a child. A rabbit restrained, struggling so frantically until it broke its own neck trying to escape whatever tests the doctor had planned.
Her thoughts were cut short as the door to her room opened. She stared as the man in the suit strode off down the hall. The doctor he had been speaking with approached her with a predatory smile, like a child who had been given permission to keep the cricket he captured.
“Sorry to keep you, Mrs. Edwards.”
“How do you know my name? Where am I? What’s going on here?”
“We know a great deal about you, and soon I hope to know more. Please give me a moment while I prepare the serum.”
Jane could hear him moving things behind her but could not see. What little hope she had remaining that this may be an actual hospital died as the stark realisation hit her. Panic once again set in as she struggled against her restraints. The girl in the other room looked at her before the doctor pressed a switch causing the windows to tint.
She felt a sharp pain in her neck from the doctor injecting her, causing the room to spin and his words to fade as she tried to make sense of them. She lay helplessly as he picked up instruments to run his assessment of her. The way he went about his business with casual disregard shocked her, and she wondered how many other people he had done this to. At that moment, she realised the last thing she had told her husband had been a lie and that she was never going to have the chance to tell him the truth.
The blog tour runs until Sunday so do check out the other posts.