Archive

Posts Tagged ‘cult’

Book Review: It Ain’t Me, Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)

Book Review: It Ain't Me Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)Summary:
River “Styx” Nash was born into the Hades Hangmen motorcycle club. He always knew he was set to inherit running it, in spite of his speech impediment, but he never expected to be running it at the young age of twenty-six. When a young woman shows up at their doorstep, bleeding and unconscious, he’s reminded of a girl he met at a fence in the woods when he was a boy….a girl who has haunted him ever since.

Salome grew up under Prophet David’s rule in the commune that’s the only home she’s ever known. When her sister dies, she finds the strength to run and somehow ends up in the arms of the man who was once a boy she met at the fence of the commune.

Review:
I’m being a bit charitable with my rating of this read because the juxtaposition of commune and motorcycle club (gang) is one I haven’t seen before, and I do think it’s interesting. Additionally, I do realize that these types of romances are basically fantasy so I try to cut them some leeway. That said, this book is not executed as well as it could have been for its genre. There are some jarring elements that take the reader out of the read, thus leading it to be less enjoyable.

First, it’s poorly edited. There are many clear mistakes such as saying things like “gotta to.” It reads like a first copy, not a final draft. Better editing would have really helped this book.

Second, you have to imagine that the reader who might pick up a romance featuring motorcycles might know a thing or two about them. While everything else surrounding the motorcycles can be pure fantasy, the motorcycles themselves should function like the real world (unless it’s scifi). Motorcycles, though, are treated in the book as basically cars with two wheels, and anyone who’s ridden one can tell you that’s not so, and a motorcycle gang definitely would know better than to treat them that way. One glaring instance of being unrealistic about bikes is when Salome first rides on one. The book sets it up that she has no idea what a motorcycle is. She’s never seen one before, she has zero idea how they work. In spite of this, the only riding instruction she’s given is to “hold on.” Even someone giving the most bare of instructions to a new passenger will tell them to follow the lead of the rider — to lean when they lean and not to counter-lean against the rider. This is basic safety and even a motorcycle gang would give those basic instructions because a passenger who is startled could easily cause the bike to crash and riders love their bikes. Similarly, in spite of Salome not knowing anything about motorcycles, she puts on the helmet with zero instructions. I have never seen anyone who’s never worn a motorcycle helmet before be able to put it on with zero instructions. The strap is complicated and almost always takes guidance. Additionally, we are to believe Salome is riding with someone who cares about her, yet he doesn’t check on her helmet at all. This is not something a rider who cares about his passenger would ever do.

The final thing I found jarring was descriptions of the abuse in the cult. I fully expected there to be cult abuse, but there are repeated flashbacks to the rape of 8 year olds whose legs are being held apart by bear traps. I personally find it extremely difficult to get into a romance that repeatedly flashes back to the graphic underage and violent rape of the main character. It made the book feel like it was at war with itself. Did it want to be a contemporary book about the horrors of cults or did it want to be a romance? You can be both, but that is a difficult book to write, and it’s important to either put all of the abuse in one area of the book (usually where the heroine informs the hero about it) or to make the abuse more minimal (ie maybe the heroine grew up in a cult that restricted her knowledge and movement but that didn’t rape her physically).

Ultimately, while I appreciate the interesting combination of main characters (leader of a motorcycle club and escapee from a cult), I found the execution to not live up to the unique premise. Primarily recommended to those interested in the fantasy of motorcycles with little personal knowledge of them. They will be more able to get fully into the fantasy.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It

Save

Book Review: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres (Audiobook narrated by Robin Miles)

April 16, 2014 3 comments

A sunset near tropical trees and a mountain rangeSummary:
On November 18, 1978, 918 people, mostly Americans, died on a commune named Jonestown and on a nearby airstrip in Guyana.  The world came to know this event as that time that crazy cult committed mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid.  However, that belief is full of inaccuracies.  Scheeres traces the origins of Jonestown, starting with its leader, Jim Jones, and his Christian church in Indiana, tracing its development into the People’s Temple in California, and then into Jonestown in Guyana.  Multiple members’ life stories are traced as well, including information from their family members who, perplexed, watched their families give everything over to Jones.

Review:
I have a fascination with cults and groupthink.  In spite of not being born until the 1980s, I definitely was always vaguely aware of this cult that committed suicide in the 70s, always commentated on with great disdain.  I had previously read Julia Scheeres’ memoir, Jesus Land, which I found to be beautifully and thoughtfully written (review).  When I saw that she had written an investigative work of nonfiction, making the truth about Jonestown more accessible, I knew I had to read it.

Scheeres possesses a great talent at presenting people and events as they are with understanding for common humanity but also disdain for atrocious acts.  Scheeres excels at never turning a person into a monster, but rather exposing monstrous acts and asking how things became so messed up that something like that could happen.  Scheeres clearly did painstaking research for this book, reading through the FBI’s extensive archives on the People’s Temple and Jim Jones, interviewing survivors, and interviewing family members of the deceased, not to mention reading members’ journals.  The facts are presented in an engaging, storytelling, slightly non-linear way, which works excellently at drawing the reader in.  The book starts on the boat to Guyana, then flashes back to the origins of Jim Jones.  The members of People’s Temple are carefully presented as the well-rounded people they truly were with hopes and dreams and who made some mistakes.  They are not ever presented as just a bunch of crazies.  Even Jones is allowed a time as a preacher passionate for social justice before he turned into the control freak, whose paranoid delusions were exacerbated by drug addiction.  Scheeres takes an event that it is far too easy to put the stamp of crazy on, and humanizes it, drawing out the gray areas.  And this is all done while telling an engaging, well-written, factual story.

There are an incredible number of facts in this book, and the reader learns them while hardly even realizing it, since this work of nonfiction is so readable.  Among the things I never knew, I found out that the People’s Temple originally was a Christian church that was heavily socialist and then slowly turned into its own religion as Jones pulled away from the Bible, eventually declaring himself god.  When Jones was in California, he was heavily involved in politics, sponsoring people such as Harvey Milk for office, and breaking voting laws by sending his church en masse to vote in districts they didn’t live in.  Jones enacted weekly corporate punishment of individual members in front of all the other members.  He was bisexual, having sex with both male and female members of  the People’s Temple.  He became obsessed with the idea of suicide to make a statement and routinely badgered the higher members of the People’s Temple into accepting suicide if he ordered it.  He even tricked them multiple times into thinking that he had given them poisoned drinks, just to see who would obey and drink it.  The members came to Jonestown in Guyana expecting a utopia, since Jones had lied to them, and instead got a struggling farm on the brink of disaster, being run by a man increasingly paranoid and delusional and ever more addicted to drugs.  Once members were in Jonestown, they were not allowed to leave.  And many wanted to.  Last, but most important, the mass suicide was not a mass suicide. It was a murder-suicide.  Some of the members committed suicide willingly, but others, including over 300 children, were force-fed or injected with the poison.  Those who drank it drank it mixed with Flavor-Aid, a generic knock-off brand of Kool-Aid.  It astounds me how much the facts of these events from as recent as 1978 are now misremembered in the collective consciousness, especially considering the fact that documentation such as the Jonestown death tape are available for free in the public archive.

Overall, this book takes a misremembered event in recent history and exposes the facts in an incredibly readable work of nonfiction.  Scheeres presents the people who died in Jonestown with empathy and understanding, seeking to tell their whole life story, rather than one moment.  A fascinating look at a horrible event, and a moving reminder to never give too much power or faith to one person, and how very easy it is for groupthink to take over.  Highly recommended.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Book Review: The Red Church by Scott Nicholson (Series, #1)

March 22, 2014 2 comments

A glowing red church next to a silhouette of a tree with a blueish lit sky.Summary:
The Red Church was the base of a new cult started by Wendell McFall in the 1860s.  But when he took things too far and sacrificed a child, his congregation hung him from a tree.  Nowadays, the children of the town view the Red Church as haunted…and so do some of the adults.  When Wendell’s descendant, Archer, returns to his hometown from California, he brings the cult back with him in a new form. Archer claims he is the second son of God, and that Jesus was the first son who failed to deliver God’s true message.  When he reclaims the Red Church and murders start occurring, half the town suspects Archer, while the other half falls under his spell.

Review:
This book was loaned to me by someone who really enjoyed the series.  For most of the book, I felt that it was well-written horror but of a religious bent that isn’t for me.  However, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book.

At the beginning, the book feels like a horror story written by a Baptist person truly committed to their faith.  The main antithesis to Archer’s cult is the Baptist church in town.  At the core of the conflict are a married couple.  The wife falls firmly under Archer’s spell while the husband stays true to the Baptist church.  Their two small boys are caught in the middle.  The most interesting parts of the story are when the third person narrator focuses in on these two boys, showing their crises of faith and the siren call of the cult, as well as the confusion engendered when their mother and father fight over religion.  I could definitely see this reading as a richly crafted, frightening horror for someone who is Baptist, or at least Protestant, themselves.  For the non-Christian or non-religious reader, however, the frequent mentions of Jesus, capitalizing pronouns referring to God, and attempts at creating horror at the mere idea of not following Jesus fail to aid in establishing the horror.  They become something to skim past rather than part of the atmosphere of the book.

For most of the book, the basic plot of Archer versus the family and the sheriff and the crime scene detective flows nicely with just the right touch of horror.  Toward the end of the book, just who Archer is and what precisely is going on becomes muddled.  A lot of what happens with Archer and his church just doesn’t make a lick of sense.  In spite of the religious leanings of the book, I was still engaged and wanting to solve the mystery of Archer.  Instead, who he is and what the rules of the world are become increasingly muddled.  The ending generally should clear things up, not leave things more confusing than they were before.  That kind of confusing ending would be disappointing to anyone who read the book.

I also was disappointed by one particular aspect of the ending.  A person who was abusive gets forgiven because forgiveness is what the Baptist church teaches.  It bothers me when books brush off abuse as something just getting Jesus in your heart can fix.  It’s misleading and dangerous to encourage people to think that way.  Granted, this is a horror book, so it’s doubtful many children will be reading it, but that still doesn’t make it a good message.

The characters are interesting and widely varied.  The children, particularly, are well-written.  The scenes are well-envisioned and communicated.  I never had any issues imagining any of the scenes vividly.

Overall, this is a well-written horror book that flounders a bit at the end.  It is richly steeped in the Baptist faith.  As such, I recommend it most highly to Protestant horror fans who don’t mind a bit of a confusing ending that doesn’t answer all the questions.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

Buy It

Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

November 2, 2011 2 comments

Summary:
Martha calls her sister to come get her from the Catskills.  She’s been missing for two years.  Over the course of the next two weeks, her behavior becomes increasingly abnormal in ways her sister cannot understand, while the audience sees flashbacks to where Martha was for the previous two years–living in an abusive cult.

Review:
This is the best representation of PTSD I’ve seen on film to date.  Martha’s outbursts of violence, sobbing, and even loss of bladder control seem completely out of the blue to her sister and brother-in-law, but she and audience can clearly see what minor things brought them on.  Anything from a pine cone falling on the roof to a spoon clanking against a glass to a hand placed in just the wrong place on her body can set her off.

The audience is left with many gaping holes and unanswered questions in the plot line, but this is one of the rare instances where that works.  We are seeing things through Martha’s eyes in the bits and pieces typical of someone with PTSD.  The film is more about giving us a sense of what it is to be Martha than telling us the story.  It is a character study through and through.

The filmography feels documentary style instead of film style.  It is gritty and sometimes shaky.  This sets the appropriate tone for the film.

The acting is what seals the deal for this film though.  Everyone is excellent, but Elizabeth Olson is superb.  She *is* Martha Marcy May.  She acts from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.  I hope she continues to make wise movie role choices, because she could have a major acting career ahead of her.

The one drawback to the film is the ambiguous, sudden ending.  I get it that the director was trying to help the audience feel the paranoia Martha feels, but the ending was so jarring that it drew away power from the rest of the film.

Overall, this is a serious, powerful look at PTSD through the eyes of a sufferer.  I highly recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Movie Theater

Movie Review: Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (1973)

March 2, 2011 2 comments

Dracula holding a blond woman.Summary:
A Satanic cult is doing something evil in a castle above a dungeon full of female vampires.  Van Helsing is called in to help, and he insists that the king of all vampires, Count Dracula, is back.

Review:
My friend and I decided we wanted to have an old-school horror movie night.  We chose the film before seeing it was shot in the 1970s.  I immediately informed her that there would be boobies, mark my words.  1970s films are just *rampant* with boobs.  Especially horror films.  Sure enough, not even 30 seconds into the film, and there’s a naked woman on an altar having rooster blood (*cough* cock blood *cough*) poured onto her.

I honestly came away from this film with three distinct impressions: tits, blood, and vampire teeth.  I honestly cannot explain the plot to you, hence the short summary above.  It makes very little sense.  There are writhing vampire women, Van Helsing, Dracula, some sort of plot to put a super-uber black plague into the world, and an evil bunch of Satanists.  How that all fits together remains a mystery.  Yet I still found it immensely enjoyable as a giggle-inducing cult classic.

First, there’s the rampant unnecessary nudity so typical of the 1970s.  Then there’s the costumes that are obviously trying to be exotic, but just succeed in looking like the 1970s.  The insane plot becomes irrelevant when you’re faced with scene after scene of ridiculous costumes, sentences, and moments.  Nothing induces hilarity quite like a dungeon full of half-naked writhing vampire women being taken out by a bunch of sprinklers, because apparently any water works not just holy water.

All of which is to say, while I found this film hilarious and entertaining, you have to have a certain personality type to enjoy it.  If you like classic, serious old-school horror films, this isn’t for you.  If you like plots that make sense, this isn’t for you.  However, if you like 1970s romps full of unintentionally hilarious scenes and nudity, then you’ll certainly enjoy this film.  The vampires don’t hurt either.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

Buy It

Book Review: S by John Updike

November 29, 2010 2 comments

Giant red letter S on a green background.Summary:
Letters, both hand-written and recorded onto tapes, tell the story of Sarah, a North Shore housewife of a wealthy Massachusetts General Hospital doctor who one day in 1986 decides to go and join a commune in the Arizona desert.  Gradually through the letters both her past and her experiences in the commune are revealed.

Review:
I was intrigued by this book for multiple reasons.  I’ve always enjoyed epistolary novels.  I found Updike’s more famous novel, The Three Witches of Eastwick, endlessly entertaining.  Also, I’ve always been fascinated by communes and cults.  This book certainly contains all three elements.  Sarah’s letters compel the reader to get through them as quickly as possible.  Whether she’s discussing the commune or her past life on the North Shore, the letters are truly fascinating.  Perhaps this is partly because there’s a Stepford-wife like quality to Sarah’s past life, and her current life is so over the top from anything most modern Americans experience.  It provides a fascinating contrast.

The book therefore starts out strong, but falters more and more the further toward the end it gets.  The more about Sarah is revealed, the less sympathetic she becomes.  Additionally, due to the nature of the epistolary novel, some of her actions are not entirely revealed, thus leaving the ending a bit confusing.  Frankly, the ending simultaneously surprised and disappointed me.  I was left wondering what on earth Updike’s point had been.  Was it a feminist stance?  Was it misogynistic?  Was it just a portrait of a person?  The great variety between all these possibilities should demonstrate how confusing the ending is.

It’s interesting to note that Sarah is depicted as a descendant of Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter.  I’m sure this plays into the interpretation of the book a great deal, although personally, I am not sure how.

Overall, this epistolary novel starts out strong and engaging, but the ending leaves the reader a bit confused and let down.  If you’re a big Updike or epistolary novel fan, you will still enjoy the book enough to make it worth your while to read, but all others should probably give it a pass.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Swap.com

Buy It