After Obsession (Review)

Title: After Obsession

Authors: Carrie Jones & Steven E. Wedel

Publication Year: 2011

Pages: 336

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

Source: E-book version borrowed from the public library

From the cover:

Although they’ve only just met, Aimee and Alan have a history together. They’ve been in each other’s dreams. They’re bound by something they can’t quite name. Something that rattles the windows, haunts the waters . . . and threatens to tear them apart before they get a chance to find out what their connection means.

There were things that I both loved and hated in this book.

Let’s start with the positive. I loved the alternating narrators, switching off between Aimee and Alan’s points of view. It was cool to get inside both of their heads and see the events of the story from more than one perspective, especially since so much of the conflict is internal. I also really liked the concept of the story, the attention to detail in the background of the setup – like the pieces about Aimee’s mother – and the inclusion of Native American culture. It’s really rare for YA books to include any kind of diversity, and this wasn’t just a token mention: Alan’s spirituality is a key element in After Obsession.

I wasn’t so keen on the unnecessary focus on the romance. I understood why the part about Aimee and her initial boyfriend, Blake, was important to include, and their messy breakup played an integral part in showing the damage that is being caused to their town, especially in terms of people’s moods and behaviour. What I wasn’t so happy with, though, was the way that Aimee and Alan became so close so very fast, even going so far as to say “I love you” to each other mere days after meeting. Even in the kind of crazy circumstances that happen in this book, that’s pushing it. I don’t think it’s realistic to imply to young readers that this kind of thing can – or should – happen. In all honesty, I actually feel like it’s a bit irresponsible to show that kind of relationship in a book that otherwise does a great job of bringing important issues to light.

Overall, After Obsession was a good read, but a bit problematic for me in some ways. If you’re okay with the things that bothered me, then you’ll probably really enjoy it!

Rating:

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape (Review)

Title: Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

Author: Jenna Miscavige Hill

Narrator: Sandy Rustin

Publication Year: 2013

Pages: 416 (audio length: 12 hours)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, was raised as a Scientologist but left the controversial religion in 2005. In Beyond Belief, she shares her true story of life inside the upper ranks of the sect, details her experiences as a member Sea Org — the church’s highest ministry, speaks of her “disconnection” from family outside of the organization, and tells the story of her ultimate escape.

In this tell-all memoir, complete with family photographs from her time in the Church, Jenna Miscavige Hill, a prominent critic of Scientology who now helps others leave the organization, offers an insider’s profile of the beliefs, rituals, and secrets of the religion that has captured the fascination of millions, including some of Hollywood’s brightest stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

If I wasn’t already skeptical about Scientology when I started reading this book, it would have completely won me over.

Beyond Belief is a terrifying story about how an organized religion in modern-day America can get away with all kinds of crazy things. I spent the vast majority of my time listening to this book completely outraged. Unlike in Shattered Dreams, I wasn’t finding myself all that frustrated with the narrator; rather, I was pissed off beyond belief (pun not intended) at the adults in her life. I couldn’t understand at all, in any way, how they could treat her and the other children in the book with such disregard. And I totally, completely couldn’t understand how things like that could happen with impunity in today’s day and age.

I completely sympathized with Hill as she recounted her rebellion against “the Church”, and I kept hoping that something miraculous would happen and her family and the others in the org would realize the harm that they were doing. But, of course, it all kept going on, even as she grew up, and regardless of where in the country she was living. It was horrifying.

By the time I reached the end of Beyond Belief, I had no words for how disgusted I was with the Church of Scientology. I never really understood how anyone could fall for a “religion” created by a science fiction author, and after reading this book, I truly believe that there is something very, very wrong happening in countries that allow this cult to continue to operate. I can’t believe that child neglect/abuse and human rights abuses can be happening to this degree right under the noses of so many people, and yet … they are. I hope that Hill’s story, if nothing else, will open the eyes of many more people to the truth of what is happening.

Rating:

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife (Review)

Title: Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist Wife

Author: Irene Spencer

Narrator: Laural Merlington

Publication Year: 2007

Pages: 432 (audio length: 14 hours 10 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

Irene Spencer did as she felt God commanded in becoming the second wife to her brother-in-law Verlan LeBaron. When the government raided their community – the Mormon village of Short Creek, Arizona – seeking to enforce the penalties for practicing polygamy, Irene and her family fled to Verlan’s family ranch in Mexico. Here they lived in squalor and desolate conditions with Verlan’s six brothers, one sister, and numerous wives and children. This appalling and astonishing tale has captured the attention of readers around the world. Irene’s inspirational story reveals how far religion can be stretched and abused and how one woman and her children found their way out, into truth and redemption.

Listening to this book was painful.

Not because it was poorly written, or because the narration was bad. Not at all. It was painful because I just wanted to shake the author and everyone around her throughout pretty much the entire story. It was like watching a disaster happen and not being able to stop it.

Shattered Dreams is a great book, telling a difficult story. Irene is not the only person to have gone through the things she talks about in the book. I think it’s important for other people to read memoirs like hers and truly understand what has happened to them and, in some cases, is still happening to people in our society. I’m not saying that it’s common or specific to one religion or culture or another, but I think it’s important that we pay attention to these kinds of stories.

Reading this book was difficult, especially the parts about living in poverty, health issues, and the death of children. But it was also very difficult for me to hear about the way Irene and the other wives are treated, maybe because I feel personally like multiple marriages can work if people respect each other, and it’s so obviously not the way things were done in this community.

If you’re interested in learning about the experiences of women living in polygamous marriages, especially in the context of America and Mexico in the mid-1900s, Shattered Dreams is the book for you. It’s hard and distressing to read, but really enlightening.

Rating:

MaddAddam (Review)

Title: MaddAddam

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publication Year: 2013

Pages: 416

Genre: Fiction, Dystopian

Source: E-book version purchased from KoboBooks.com

From the cover:

Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, newly fortified against man and giant pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. Their reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a debilitating fever, so it’s left to Toby to preach the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.

Zeb has been searching for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. But now, under threat of a Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters. At the center of MaddAddam is the story of Zeb’s dark and twisted past, which contains a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.

Combining adventure, humor, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood — a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.

(This is the third and final book in the Oryx & Crake trilogy, after Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.)

There are really no words to describe this book adequately. It’s the kind of finale where, if you enjoyed the rest of the series, you’ll love this one, too.

The dark humour and attention to detail that Atwood is known for is definitely one of the strong points of this book. It just made the crazy things happening seem more realistic. Really, it’s one of the best dystopias I’ve ever read, and I do love them, so that’s saying a lot.

To be honest, it had been quite a while since I had read the other books in the series. I wish that I had gone back and re-read them before tackling Maddaddam, because I was a bit rusty on the major events in the story and, in particular, the different characters. It was still a good read, but I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed it a hell of a lot more if I had read it closer to when I finished the previous books. If you’re planning to read this book, you should probably think about doing that as well.

Rating:

Black Widow (Review)

Title: Black Widow

Author: Jennifer Estep

Publication Year: 2014

Pages: 394

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Source: E-book version purchased from Kobo

From the cover:

There’s nothing worse than a cruel, cunning enemy with time to kill — and my murder to plan. With wicked Fire elemental Mab Monroe long gone, you’d think I could finally catch a break. But someone’s always trying to take me down, either as Gin Blanco or my assassin alter-ago. Now along comes the Spider’s new arch-nemesis, the mysteriously named M. M. Monroe, who is gleefully working overtime to trap me in a sticky web of deceit.

The thing is, I’m not the only target. I can see through the tangled threads enough to know that every bit of bad luck my friends have been having lately is no accident — and that each unfortunate “coincidence” is just one more arrow drawing ever closer to hitting the real bull’s-eye. Though new to Ashland, this M. M. Monroe is no stranger to irony, trying to get me, an assassin, framed for murder. Yet, as my enemy’s master plan is slowly revealed, I have a sinking feeling that it will take more than my powerful Ice and Stone magic to stop my whole life from going up in flames.

(This is the twelfth book in the Elemental Assassin series, after Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies, Venom, Tangled Threads, Spider’s Revenge, Thread of Death (novella), By A Thread, Widow’s WebDeadly Sting, Kiss of Venom (novella), Heart of VenomThe Spider, and Poison Promise.)

Most of the villains in this series have relied on brute force and violence, and it’s been fun reading about Gin taking them all down. Mab’s daughter, Madeline, was introduced at the end of Poison Promise, and is the main villain in Black Widow. Unlike the other villains so far, Madeline doesn’t rely on straightforward attacks, instead coming at Gin and everyone else in a more sneaky, backhanded way.

Even while I was agreeing with Gin’s curses aimed in Madeline’s direction, I was enjoying the conflict. Estep did a fantastic job crafting the tangled web of tricks that Madeline put into place to try to get rid of Gin. It wasn’t the same kind of thing Gin usually faces, where she can just hack and slash her way out of everything.

Rather, there was more strategy and sneakiness going on in Black Widow than in the rest of the series combined. And now it’s got me seriously looking forward to the next book, even though this one was just released.

Rating:

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