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text 2018-05-13 11:53
From Twitter (for the resident ESC Aficionados): Eurovision Acts as EarlyModernists

 

 



 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

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photo 2018-05-12 19:27

Let the cult begin!

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review 2018-01-22 00:15
Deep dive into cult life
The Boundless Sublime - Lili Wilkinson

 Disclaimer: reviewing a pre-publication digital proof via NetGalley.

 

Ruby's mother is no longer functioning. Her dad's in prison. For killing her baby brother in a drunk driving accident. She's holding it together on the outside, not so much on the inside. When she makes a connection with innocent, sheltered, cult-raised Fox, she gets drawn into the supportive, seemingly open-minded and health-conscious public branch of a local cult. When she follows Fox into the inner enclave, things take a turn for the weird.

 

Extremely well-written story by a new-to-me author. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, and mostly requested the galley based on that awesome cover (isn't it cool? so atmospheric!) But there's a lot to like in the storytelling as well. Ruby's in a bad place, and the way the author explores her thinking and how she moves step-by-step deeper into the land of crazy is really illuminating.

 

While I think most of us would agree on how insane the choices Ruby and others in the book make, the reality is that people around us are pulled into real-world versions of this, and get drawn into radical thinking and extremist behaviours every day. I have friends who've gotten really into things like Landmark (a leadership program with cult-like practices), CrossFit (an example of extreme fitness trends that can inspire cultlike devotion, also see: SoulCycle) and even things like detox cleanses or mindfulness programs that ride the line of eating disorders and abuse. The relatability and plausibility of the characters that Wilkinson draws out is impressive. Many people - maybe everyone - are looking for answers, for meaning, for a way to gain control over their lives. This story explores how someone could, out of a place of brokenness and searching, go down a route they never would have imagined for themselves.

 

I love how this story conveys a sense of empathy. You learn about others, and maybe yourself, in a way that's engaging, fast-paced (it's not a preachy dissertation on the evils of cults or anything), solidly in-character (Ruby's perspective feels natural, age-appropriate, and allows for some great reveals and twists at the end), and balanced. You come away with a clear understanding of why people behaved as they did, even if that behaviour was absolutely insane. Potential trigger warnings for various things like debilitating depression/suicidal thoughts, abuse and eating disorders. There is some sexuality and language that might make this better suited for older teens and adults - parental guidance recommended - but it's not pronounced or explicit (e.g. there is weird sex stuff in the cult, but it's not salacious or described in detail).

 

Highly recommended read that bridges entertainment and discussion-group-worthy literature.

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review 2018-01-08 00:00
In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult
In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult - Rebecca Stott Rebecca Stott was a 4th generation member of the Plymouth Brethren, an exclusive Christian sect. They believe every word of the bible as being the Word of God and believe they are commanded to keep themslves pure from the world which they see as under the control of Satan. They "withdraw" from those who fall foul of their rules and discipline them, to the extent that a man or woman could be shut in their bedroom, fed by a tray left outside the door, and denied any contact with family or friends until they are deemed repentent and clean. All the power and leadership lies with men and the women are subservient and silent. Rebecca Stott's grandfather and father were respected leaders and preachers, but following a massive split in the 1970's her family left the sect.

It is the story of how her indoctrination from childhood set her mind into ways of thinking that were hard to shake off and which despite her own university education and questioning mind, still linger many years later. But it is also the story of her volatile yet loving relationship with her father who was highly intelligent and who was able, before a clampdown by the Brethren leadership, to gain a degree from Cambridge and was enthralled by literature, drama and poetry. When at last he freed himself and his family from the cult his main thought was, "How could I have been so stupid".

This is the question that seems obvious yet if your understanding of " the truth" is a matter of life and death, good and evil, fight or surrender, heroism or cowardice, obedience or betrayal, then what choice do you have? Only when the illusion is shattered and the spell is broken do you become free to escape.

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review 2017-12-30 02:01
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 - New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day: A Miraculous "Sky Stone"
The Sacred Stone - Karen Maitland,Bernard Knight,Simon Beaufort,Ian Morson,The Medieval Murderers,Susanna Gregory,Philip Gooden
The Sacred Stone - The Medieval Murderers

Book themes for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day: a book about starting over, rebuilding, new beginnings, etc. –OR– Read anything set in medieval times. –OR– A book about the papacy –OR– where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable - but good - kind).

 

Well, go figure, this book took me by surprise.  I've read enough of the Medieval Murderers round robins at this point to be thoroughly familiar with both the format and the recurring characters -- and I've seen enough of the participating authors' writing styles to know exactly what to expect, and to have developed my preferences ... or so I thought.  So far, while I've liked the series well enough to go back to it again and again, my rating of the individual books has always been a solid 3 1/2 stars -- while there were individual sections in each book that I loved (or at least liked a great deal), there was always at least one that I didn't particularly care for; and more often than not, by the same author -- Bernard Knight.  Not so here: In fact, Knight's entry was one of my favorites. There had been one other Medieval Murderers book -- King Arthur's Bones --  where I'd already noticed that as soon as Knight ditches his very medieval-style macho main series characters I care decidedly more for his writing, particularly if and to the extent that he puts women at the center of his plots and writes from their perspective, as is very much the case here.  But up until now, I'd considered his chapter in King Arthur's Bones a one-off, because pretty much every other Medieval Murderers entry I've seen from him was centered around his main men, with plenty of gruff voices, growling, and repetitive vocabulary.  So Mr. Knight, might I suggest you continue to write about women ... or at least, allow that female touch to brush off on your writing about medieval men of the law, too?  It seems to be doing them (and you) a world of good!

 

The other thing I really liked about this book was the way in which it -- consistently throughout all the different authors' sections -- treated the superstitions associated with the meteorite or "sky stone" which it follows from its first appearance in 11th century Greenland to the present day.  Given the magical powers historically associated with meteorites in popular belief, there would have been occasion aplenty to either take the individual chapters down a route blurring and even trespassing beyond the edges of reality (looking at you in particular, Ms. Maitland), or to talk down to the charactes for their adherence to such beliefs; but (again, as in King Arthur's Bones) the authors thankfully show themselves both too solid historians and too emphatic writers to be tempted into doing either.  As with their entry centering on the Arthurian legend (where the principal question, of course, is whether you believe in Arthur's historical existence in the first place), in The Sacred Stone there is the repeated suggestion that the "sky stone" might have miraculous / unexplained healing powers and be a force for good -- but it is always counterbalanced by the whole series's central premise; namely, that a malign object's path is being traced throughout the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present day -- an object that inspires and fosters violence, murder, treachery, and all-out evil; and here, in fact, it is precisely the belief in the stone's alleged benign powers that brings about the evil acts at the center of each of the book's individual sections.

 

I was sorry not to see Michael Jecks as a co-author of this particular installment of the Medieval Murderers series, but, as I said above, there was not a single chapter I would have wanted to do without; my favorites probably being the prologue and epilogue (there are, for once, no author attributions, but even without those I'm fairly confident that both of these were written by Susanna Gregory), as well as the chapter authored by Bernard Knight (easily enough identifiable because a very much aged version of one of his series characters does make an appearance, even though he's not the central character), and the sections written by two of my longstanding favorite Medieval Murderers participants, Ian Morson and Philip Gooden (in both their cases easily enough identifiable because their sections were written from the point of view of their main series characters). -- As an aside, I was also glad to have read an earlier entry in the series, House of Shadows, fairly recently, because it (inter alia) lays the groundwork for a plot line that I am happy to see Morson went on to incorporate into his main series (the Falconer mysteries, set in 13th century Oxford) and which he continues to spin in his entry for this particular book as well.

 

Final comment: I was tempted to use a different book for the New Year's Eve / St. Sylvester's Day square and attribute this one to the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti holiday book joker, as the Sol Invictus cult actually makes a recurring appearance in this book.  (And trust me, I almost fell off my chair when it was first mentioned and I realized it was going to be a theme in one of the sections -- and even more so, when it even showed up again in yet another section.) However, none of the book's sections are set even remotely on this particular deity's birthday or make reference to that particular day (and there is only the vaguest hint, if even that much, at the connection between Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and Christmas), so "Middle Ages", "miracles" and Square 16 it is, after all.  (The book would also work for the Hanukkah square, however: It features several main characters who are Jewish -- in fact, one entire section is set in the Jewish community of medieval Norwich -- and the miracle of light plays a role in more than one section as well.)

 

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