Saturday, September 30, 2017

Daughter of Gloriavale my life in a religious cult by Lilia Tarawa

It seems as though every country has at least one religious group that takes things to extremes and is branded as a cult - and in New Zealand one of those groups is the community that lives at Gloriavale.  For most New Zealanders it a place they have heard about in the news, or they might have seen one of the documentaries that shows the wholesome and spiritual side of the community - but in the case of Lilia Tarawa it was a life she lived.  In Daughter of Gloriavale she describes her life in the religious cult, and as she tells her story she also weaves through some of the history of Gloriavale and the man who leads them. 

It is a personal story, and also a story about the people in her life - people who have stayed with Gloriavale and people who have chosen to leave.  As you read through her life and the changing landscape of the Gloriavale it becomes clear that the community definitely falls under the definition of a cult - there is a charismatic leader who demands absolute obedience of his followers, the children are conditioned from a young age to be obedient and follow the faith, and leaving is very very difficult.  One of the things I noticed reading through is that in the beginning Gloriavale was a place of faith and genuine Christian living - everyone worked together in their faith, no one went without, and people believed in what they were doing.  Over time you can see that this changed to the elders making the decisions, and that social control became more stringent and controlling - that people lived in fear of consequences and in fear of their faith rather than celebrating it.

This is a personal story and at times it stretches belief, not because I doubt that the events happened, but rather because the author uses a conversational style - and it stretches the imagination that a young child could remember a conversation so clearly decades later.  This is not the first time I have struck this with a recounting of childhood and it struck a flat note with me then as well.  Taken as a whole Daughter of Gloriavale is not so much the story of escaping a religious cult, it is more about a young woman raised in an oppressive and controlling community that comes of age and makes her own way in the world.  It is however, also a fascinating glimpse into the world of Gloriavale and what happens when the cameras aren't rolling for positive publicity.

In some ways it was a relief to find that this memoir lacks the sexual abuse and physical abuse of other stories about religious cults - and while psychological abuse is just as damaging, it is a little less harrowing for the reader.  It is interesting that Fleur Beale has written the introduction to Daughter of Gloriavale, as she is the author of I am not Esther, which I had initially thought was about the Exclusive Brethren, but it has become clearer that she was referencing the community that became Gloriavale.  I have also discovered a book written by Fleur Beale about the community that has been added to my reading list to see what comes next.

Hopefully stories like Lilia's and other former members will encourage the government to investigate the community at Gloriavale, particularly in relation to the way they claim benefits on behalf of their community.  Faith and religion should have freedom in our country, but not at the expense of the people in that religion - and Lilia's story shows that Gloriavale does thrive at the expense of the people who live there, especially the children, and that families are being torn apart by the extreme views of the elders.  Hopefully when 'Hopeful Christian' leaves this world his cult will die with him and the people of Gloriavale will be free to continue the good parts of the community, and hopefully leave the bad parts behind.

If you are interested in reading more stories from people who have been raised in extreme religious groups or cults then try some of these stories.  Some of the stories are disturbing because of their references to sexual and physical violence towards women and children, so reader beware that there will be some unpleasant (but not gratuitous) reading ahead.  If you would like to read more then try:
  • The witness wore red by Rebecca Musser with M. Bridget Cook
  • Stolen innocence by Elissa Wall
  • Parents who kill by Carol Anne Davis
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
  • Behind closed doors by Ngaire Thomas
  • Beyond belief: My secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
  • Banished: Surviving my years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain
  • I fired god by Jocelyn R. Zichterman
  • Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, September 25, 2017

After the end (ebook) by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

After the end is the sequel to The end and I highly recommend you read the first book in the series first because this review contains ***SPOILERS*** and because this series is best enjoyed in order.

Having served his country Owen Taylor was looking forward to his well earned retirement and had visions of a quiet life by the lake - because he was betrayed on his last mission his retirement wasn't exactly by the book, and his new neighbours seemed to have a problem with him.  His quiet contemplation of the solution to both problems is interrupted by a blast from the past who wants him to do a favour for a woman whose husband was wounded in an operation that should never have happened.

The mission seems simple enough, track down a reporter who was somewhere he shouldn't have been - but the reporter seems to be pretty determined to avoid Owen.  To make matters worse it seems that there are other parties who are also interested in stopping Owen from reaching the reporter - and answers to what is really going on.  Luckily Owen doesn't have to rely on just his wits and training, because an old acquaintance is along for the ride and she is very good at what she does.

It has been a slightly torturous wait for this next book in the Owen Taylor series - because I knew it was out there and had to wait for my reserve to come in!  Patterson and DuBois have a good rhythm and style together, and have carved a niche in the thriller/adventure genre here with a series that blends together believable action sequences with a main character that has a wicked sense of humour (black like most people who end up in armed service or emergency services) and a strong sense of justice. 

I sincerely hope there are more to come in the series, and it would be interesting to see Owen's world expanded into a full length novel of his own in the future - although these short punchy missions seem more authentic for the world of black ops and conspiracies.

If you like this book then try:
  • The end by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois
  • The witnesses (ebook) by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois
  • The shut-in by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski
  • The house husband by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski
  • Private Royals by James Patterson and Rees Jones
  • Heist by James Patterson and Rees Jones
  • Black and Blue by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Let's play make-believe by James Patterson and James O. Born
  • Chase by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Airport code red by James Patterson and Michael White

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Without trace by Simon Booker

For four years Morgan Vine has been a champion for her childhood friend Danny Kilcannon - who was convicted for the murder of his step daughter Zoe and the supposed murder of his wife Rowena.  Morgan is one of the few people who believe he is innocent, and apart from documenting his innocence on a website, she has also managed to get inside the prison to see him regularly using a book group.  When new evidence surfaces and Danny's appeal is successful he is finally free, but it won't be smooth sailing for the man dubbed the 'killer canon' by the press - and it won't be smooth sailing for Morgan either. 

She has been struggling to make ends meet as a freelance journalist and has had to take cleaning jobs on the side to pay her bills.  She lives a simple life, one that is complicated when her teenage daughter suddenly reappears on her doorstep.  Lissa has always been challenging, and she is not thrilled that her mother is spending time with a man convicted of murder.  Morgan is happy Danny has been released at first, but then little niggles of doubt start to appear.  He is not the man she remembered, and there seems to be something off about their relationship.  When Lissa suddenly disappears Morgan tries not to look at Danny, but the appearance of a sex tape shows all too clearly that Danny got to know her daughter very well indeed before she disappeared.

Caught between two cases, Morgan tries to get to the bottom of the story about Danny while also searching for her missing daughter.  As the days stretch out and Lissa remains missing, Morgan can't help but wonder about Danny and what really happened to his step daughter Zoe and his wife Rowena.  When the man who testified about Danny is severely injured and nearly died Morgan starts looking into his story and stumbles across a shocking secret.  Someone is determined to keep Morgan in the dark about what really happened all those years ago, and with Lissa missing Morgan might be so distracted that she never sees the danger coming until it is too late.

I have been on something of a British crime binge this month, and I have discovered some amazing new authors - including Simon Booker.  This is the first book of his I have read, but I found it thoroughly engaging and I finished it in one sitting.  Morgan is an interesting character, she is not afraid to take risks when it comes to her personal life and her career, but on the flip side she is not so willing to take risks in terms of her personal life and her family.  Lissa is a strong willed and spoiled contrast to her mother, and Danny is an enigmatic character that you can't quite pin down as a good guy or a bad guy or just as someone who has been changed by his years in prison.  The cast of characters is small and everyone has their roles, but as the story develops you realise that not everyone is who or what they seem (or what the clichés tell you they should be).  

This is a well balanced story that not only develops the story and gives you something to sink your teeth into in terms of the 'whodunnit' aspect, but it also has strong character development so you learn more about the characters as you go along which is a very satisfying way of getting to know the people behind the story.  Some people may not like the way Booker has used the tool of visiting the past in some of the chapters, but these glimpses of the past inform the reader about who Morgan and Danny are and where their friendship has come from - and he does it very very well.  I can't wait to read the next book in the series and see if Booker can keep up the quality of the series - because I really liked Morgan Vine and her world.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Killing trail (ebook) by Margaret Mizushima

Deputy Mattie Lu Cobb is settling into her new role as the only K-9 officer in Timber Creek County.  Competition for the role was fierce, and not everyone is happy that Mattie won the role.  She may have had three months of intensive training with her new partner Robo, but all partnerships take time to become rock solid and Mattie has a lot to learn about working with her partner and trusting his skills as well as her own.  When they are called to a suspicious scene in the mountains Mattie is not sure what they will find - but a dead body was not on the list.

The victim is a local teen, and she is not the only victim - her dog was also shot and left for dead.  Dealing with a death is hard enough in a small community, but when the person is murdered and seemingly an innocent victim it is even harder.  As Mattie and the rest of the team get more involved in the case it becomes clear that the death is not an isolated random act, that there is some connection between the death and rumours of drug use in the community.  With a tough no nonsense detective from out of town marking her territory around the case, and Mattie trying to squish her K-9 and patrol duties into her day it is no wonder she is feeling stretched a little thin and jumping at shadows.  Life is never easy when you're a police officer, and sometimes working in a small town makes it harder to do your job - not easier.  People are keeping secrets, and unless Mattie can work out what those secrets are, more lives are at risk.

I was reading Killing trail as an ebook while also reading a tree book and I kept finding myself tugged between the two books - and ended the struggle by leaving the tree book at home to read in the evenings and reading Killing trail during my lunch breaks.  Mizushima has an easy to read writing style that almost reads itself, and the mix of characters kept the story interesting and diverse enough that it really felt like it reflected a relatively small community.  The biggest draw card for me for this series was that the main characters are a dog handler and her police dog - and it felt like a solid representation of those working relationships.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Ryder Creed series by Alex Kava, and while Mattie is no Ryder Creed she is an interesting character in her own right and fits in a similar space of brining those relationships into the literary world.

I have already downloaded the sequel, Stalking ground, so I can keep reading this engaging and interesting series.  Luckily there is a third book in the series, but I may have to pace myself with the rest of the series as it looks as though the author writes one a year - which means a wait until 2018 for a fourth book in the series.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Road closed by Leigh Russell

Road closed is the second book in the DI Geraldine Steel series, and while you can read it separately I highly recommend reading the first book in the series, Cut short, before you read Road closed.

When a man dies in a gas explosion in his home in the early hours of the morning it is easy to suspect the wife of the crime, after all she did leave the home and had the opportunity to turn on the gas before she left.  It doesn't feel right to DI Geraldine Steel, and when it soon becomes clear that there is another person who has died under suspicious circumstances in their home the team starts to suspect that there is more to the story than they first thought - especially when the intruder seemingly strikes again.  This is a flaming hot case, and with each new discovery and each new obstruction, Geraldine and the team are more determined to solve the case so they can bring peace to the families of the victims - before there are more families to comfort.

It is another hot case for DI Steel and the team, and she is grateful to have DS Peterson on the case again, even if it does seem that he is not the same cheerful and outgoing partner he was on the first case.  That said though, neither is Geraldine, who is left reeling when she discovers a family secret that could tear her life apart.  Balancing personal and work life is always a challenge when you are on the police force, especially when you are dedicated to your job - something that not everyone understands.  As the case gets more involved Geraldine finds herself pulled between her professional and personal lives - a place she knows all too well after the breakdown of her first relationship.

One of the best things about the way Cut short was written is that the story unfolds from two different sides - the side of Steel, her police colleagues and the community - and the side of the killer who we initially see in short glimpses, but over the course of the story we come to see him more and understand what his motivation is and what is happening.  This switching point of view technique is overused by some, but Russell uses it to great effect and I stopped noticing after the first few times, as the story flowed seamlessly.  A great read and I have already gotten my hands on book two in the series to see what happens next for DI Steel and her team.

I really enjoyed reading Cut short, which I had loaded onto my phone so I could show customers at work when they asked about ebooks, but I was a little surprised at just how much I liked the series.  As soon as I had finished Cut short I requested a copy of Road closed so that I could keep going with the series - this time in tree book format.  I was not disappointed as Russell has once again delivered a solid thriller that gives you glimpses of both sides of the story, but still keeps you guessing about what the whole story is and what might be coming next. 

I have been watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent on DVD the past few weeks and in a lot of ways both Cut short and Road closed remind me of those police procedurals, where you are given bread crumbs to help you piece together what is happening - but you have to pay attention to figure it out before the end.  This is a good, solid series that deserves to be discovered, and while that may seem like I am damning the series with faint praise, if you saw the number of books I discard after a few pages each month you would realise it is not faint praise at all.  A great police procedural that avoids cliché and predictability, and keeps you guessing - which is a rare find indeed.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Cut short (ebook) by Leigh Russell

Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel has just moved into a new apartment in Woolsmarsh and is looking forward to a fresh start - she was not expecting a killer to be lurking in the shadows of what seems to be an idyllic place.  The first murder victim was discovered by accident, her strangled body found buried under leaves in a park popular with families in the community.  It seems like an average murder inquiry, until the second body is found and public pressure mounts for the police to find the killer quickly before he can strike again.

The case is not going to be easy to solve though as there seems to be no connection between the two victims, and some of the potential suspects seem to be unusually averse to dealing with the police which makes it more challenging to sift through the clues.  Determined to prove herself Steel throws herself into the case with her trademark single minded focus, but that focus on the case leaves her on the outs with some of her new colleagues, and to a certain extent from her new boss.  As the case gains more attention and everyone waits for the next victim, Steel finds herself facing threats at home because someone knows she's with the police and is determined to leave their mark on her life.  Can Steel and her team solve the mystery before another victim is found, or will the killer get away with murder?

I find British police thrillers to be rather hit and miss - some are exceptional reads, while others are complete misses where I give up after a few pages.  Cut short fell somewhere in the middle of the field, but was definitely towards the better end of the spectrum.  I liked DI Geraldine Steel from the start, mostly because she seems like a real person right from the beginning, coming to terms with the loss of her long term relationship and uncertainty around her new team.  The rest of the police in her unit also feel very real too, people you can recognise without drifting too far into the cliche - a nice change from some of the other crime novels around at the moment.

One of the best things about the way Cut short was written is that the story unfolds from two different sides - the side of Steel, her police colleagues and the community - and the side of the killer who we initially see in short glimpses, but over the course of the story we come to see him more and understand what his motivation is and what is happening.  This switching point of view technique is overused by some, but Russell uses it to great effect and I stopped noticing after the first few times, as the story flowed seamlessly.  A great read and I have already gotten my hands on book two in the series to see what happens next for DI Steel and her team.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Buried heart by Kate Elliott

Buried heart is the final book in the Court of fives trilogy and this series needs to be read in order for the most enjoyment!  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first two books in the series so read Court of fives and Poisoned blade before you read anymore of this review (you have been warned).

Jessamy thought she knew what it meant to live in two worlds, but she is starting to realise that she never really knew either world.  Her father is part of the Patron class and has risen to the rank of General, something he always dreamed of but it meant leaving behind his Commoner wife and the daughters they raised together.  Despite everything that has happened Jessamy strives to find a place in Patron society, even if the only way she can do that is to run in the Fives, a game she suspects has its roots in the beliefs of her mothers people - the Commoners that have been suppressed and oppressed by the Patron class for centuries.  The only bright spark in her life is her secret relationship with Prince Kalliarkos - but even that is not a real safe haven in these uncertain times.

When a foreign force threatens the people of Efea no one is safe, Patrons and Commoners alike are in danger from the invading force and the forces fighting for control from within.  With every passing day Jessamy finds her eyes opened by the corruption and greed that drives the Patron class, and with each day she finds herself drawn into the Commoner rebellion that is growing in strength.  A time is coming when Jessamy will need to choose a side, and it will be a difficult and heart wrenching decision to make.  On one hand she has the chance to free her mothers people and save her country from corruption before the new king is corrupted - but that would mean turning against her father and her love.  On the other hand if she sides with her father and the new king then her mothers people will suffer for centuries to come - except for those killed for their part in the uprising.  What path will Jessamy follow - and what will it cost her?

I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the Court of fives trilogy, partly because so many fantasy series aimed at teenagers seem so focused on being clever and original that they seem to miss the point - that their stories need to be readable, and that their worlds need to be believable.  I loved, loved Jessamy and her world, partly because she was flawed and made bad decisions.  It was also clear that she was having to work through the story, figuring things out for herself rather than having the answers dropped in her lap in a neat package.  It was also somewhat heartening that although Kate Elliott did tone down some of the violence and depravity of war, she didn't entirely shelter her teen audience, and you get a real sense of the loss and the death that is involved in a tricky and twisted story such as this.

There is a strong mythology that underlies this trilogy, and while magic isn't an all powerful force that saves the day, it does lay a solid and believable foundation on which this story is built.  In our not so distant past it was not uncommon for contries to invade each other and take control, burying the indigenous culture under their own.  This is also true of hundreds of years of religious 'conversion' where indigenous cultures were converted from their own belief systems so they could be saved.  I may be wrong, but there is a distinct feeling that the world of Efea has a middle Eastern feel, or maybe from Egypt.  I didn't get a chance to read the novella that goes with the series, but this is a highly recommended series and I hope that Elliott writes more series aimed at teenagers because she created a world and characters that I came to care about and that is a rare thing these days. 

The best part is that I read the series as an adult and found plenty to enjoy so this is one of those unique series that adults and teenagers can enjoy together.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla