Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Secret History of Cults, by Peter Haining

The Secret History of Cults: Bizarre Rituals and Murderous Practices RevealedHeaven's Gate.  Jonestown.  The Manson Family.  Branch Davidians.  These are all cults with which most people are familiar.  What is is about the leaders that led them down their doomed paths?  How can a person become so enraptured with a man that he or she would willingly give their lives?  This book describes various cults the world over, and attempts to explain the power these leaders have over their flocks.

What a huge pile of disappointment this book was.  It had the potential to be really interesting, but sadly it was not.  The book is divided into three sections, and the first section just seems laughable.  First off, for a book of "case studies" there is absolutely NO citation of the information written.  The first part reads more like what most people think or suspect, as opposed to documented statements of fact.  I get the idea that informants may need to remain anonymous, but with no other citation, the stories just seem far fetched.

In the other two sections, on almost every page, a lengthy direct quote of someone else's research is listed, yet there is no bibliography at the end of the book.  Also, on nearly every page, there are multiple typos, mispellings, and errors.  I am not an editor, but these were glaring mistakes, and so many, I suspect the book was not edited.

The subject matter of the book was great, and the last 2 sections touched on quite a few cults I had never heard of, so I did learn some things from the book.  However, I probably could have learned just as much, if not more, from a few quick internet searches.

Like I stated, this book had all the potential to be good.  But it just wasn't.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Good Sister, by Drusilla Campbell

The Good SisterSimone has always been different, fragile.  Growing up, Roxanne, her sister, was always responsible for taking care of her, making sure life was not too difficult.  It is a pattern that continued into adulthood, putting a tremendous strain on Roxanne's life and relationships.  Why must she always put Simone first?  But no one expects Simone to react so harshly to the realities of life.  When Simone attempts to kill her children, Roxanne is faced with how hard it is to truly be a good sister and do the right thing.

What a powerful, dramatic novel this is.  The themes in the book, including parental abandonment, abuse, mental illness, and postpartum depression, are not easily approached, but Campbell does so with finesse.  I really loved the character of Roxanne, and like that we learn about her history.  While her childhood was pretty unhappy, she is not a tragic character.  In fact, her struggles seem to have made her more determined to find happiness.  I do think Simone, on the other hand, is terribly tragic, and yet I do not empathize with her all that much.  I find her to be a willing victim, and to enjoy her own helplessness most of the time.

The book is very engaging, and hard to put down.  In fact, I read it in one day.  The non-linear storyline leaves you wondering exactly what is going on, which you do not find out until almost the very end, so you have to push forward, through Simone's decline, to get to the place in time where the book actually starts.  I think that structure worked very well for the book, and quite enjoyed it.

Overall, this is a sad tale, and one that seems ripped from recent headlines about mothers harming their children.  While not an easy book to handle, emotionally, I think it is a wonderful novel that I would highly recommend.

A touring review copy was provided for courtesy of Crazy Book Tours.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, by Jerome Charyn

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A NovelBefore she was a well known poetess, Emily was just a girl.  She was a student at Mt. Holyoke Seminary, a beloved daughter, a sensitive sister, and a great romantic.  Read all about the various loves and losses of Emily, and her time in Amherst.  She was unlike anything the town had ever seen, a truly unique woman.

Long a fan of her poetry, I sadly know very little about the life of Emily Dickinson.  So, much of this amazing book went over my head I fear.  Jerome Charyn does a masterful job of weaving established facts about Emily's life and the people in it with his own imaginings of what it was like to live in her mind.  Charyn slips into the mind of Emily, and write a novel full of wonder and heart.

Rarely does a modern author capture the same rhythm and flow of a classic writer, and attempts to do so are typically unconvincing.  But Charyn defies the law of averages, and makes one forget they are not reading straight from Emily's diary.  He channels her spirit brilliantly, and we really feel as if we know Emily by the end of the book.  We share her pain, as well as her pleasure.

I think this is a wonderful novel that weaves together elements of classic literature with modern literature in a new, fresh way.  I recommend this to every fan of Dickinson's poetry, nay, of all classic poetry.  Charyn talks about reaction to the novel in this video.

I am among the faction who love the novel, and am grateful for the chance to learn more about my dear Emily.  Take this opportunity to do the same.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher, as part of the book tour.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pulse, by Kailin Gow

PulseKalina is having a hard enough time dealing with the death of her ex boyfriend.  Then, suddenly, his two sexy half brothers show up and inform Kalina that they are all vampires, and Kalina's blood is a precious substance as taught by prophecy.  Kind of a lot to take in for a teenager.  And now, both brothers are pursuing her.  What's a girl to do?

I am often hesitant to get too into any of the many young adult vampire sagas floating around the literary sphere these days, but I do occasionally make exceptions.  In the case of Pulse, I think I made a good choice.  Gow's vampires are edgier, more dangerous, and a lot less sparkly that the Twilight crew.  Some will hate that fact, but I loved it.  I like vampire stories to have a little, well, bite, and Pulse certainly does.

Yet Gow wisely remembers who her target audience is, and makes the book the perfect, and rare, blend of age appropriate and still believable.  It touches upon teen sexuality, which, let's face it, IS something teens deal with, but does so in a tasteful way, the way a teenage mind would.

I love the age old story of the love triangle, and Gow skillfully has Kalina teetering between the boys, while we all wonder who she is going to pick.  And even as she makes a choice, a twist comes in at the ending to make you wonder, what now?  I can't wait to find out the answer to that question.

All in all, this book is appropriate for young adult readers, and I think it will appeal well to all fans of vampire and paranormal books, particularly those containing the element of romance.  Well done.

A touring review copy of this book was provided by Traveling ARC Tours.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Exploits, by Poppet

ExploitsStefanie think she has met her prince charming when she meets Gary.  Unschooled in the ways of love, she quickly, and willingly, becomes his slave, dressing in the way he commands, acting in the way he directs, and surrendering all to him.  As Gary shapes her into something dark, she starts to see the dysfunctional aspect of their relationship.  The problem is, she is not sure it is a problem that needs to be fixed.

This book is explosive, and not for the faint of heart.  It is raw, gritty, and probably hits a lot closer to home than a lot of women would care to admit.  Just because a woman does not have bruises or scars does not mean she is not abused, as this book will clearly show.  Personally, I found the story a bit intoxicating, and frightening at the same time.  I have known men like Gary, and come perilously close to being in Stefanie's 3 inch high heeled shoes.  I felt a real connection with Stefanie's character, and found the writing to be incredibly believable.  Yes, the language and sexuality in this book are in your face.  But the story would not have been true to itself if it had been sugar coated and glossed over.

This is definitely a book intended for mature, adult readers, but I think it is important for younger adult women to hear this story.  I was 23 when I met a man much like Gary, and had no idea what he was doing was abusive.  If more women are made aware of how damaging exploitive relationships are, perhaps less women will end up damaged.  I loved the book, and would recommend it to every woman I know.

A review copy was provided courtesy of the publisher.