Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

It's been awhile since I came across a book that I could not put down. Gillian Flynn's Dark Places appropriately cured me of that. I did so much reading over the weekend while on an anniversary getaway with my husband that I suffered from what I can only describe as a "book hangover" afterward. Have you ever had one of those?

I have yet to read Gone Girl, but it is on my wish list! However, I have read both Sharp Objects and now Dark Places after stumbling across them at my local library. I had a hard time putting down Sharp Objects as well but I did manage to guess one of the major plots early on. I also really disliked the protagonist in Sharp Objects, who was such a raging alcoholic I was afraid I was going to end up with alcohol poisoning by osmosis. With Dark Places, I kept thinking I had everything figured out but along the way there would be a small twist to alter my original guess.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice" of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

Warning. This book is not for the faint of heart. It chronicles the massacre of a family, and because there are characters in the novel devoted to worshipping Satan, there is one disturbing scene of an animal sacrifice, which was difficult to read. Luckily it was over pretty quickly so I was able to move past it and it did help to illustrate the complete insanity of one of the major characters. The book successfully chronicles the 1980s "satanic panic" era and I could definitely see hints of Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three in the character of Ben, although the murders both boys were accused of were completely different.

Flynn writes crazy women well, there's absolutely no denying that. The opening sentences of Dark Places hooked me right in:

I have a meaness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It's the Day blood. Something's wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders.

Part of the book is narrated in first person by the character of Libby, and alternating chapters are told in flashbacks from viewpoints of various characters such as Libby's mother and brother on the day of the actual murder. When done well, it's a device that really works, and it's part of what hooked me with this book.

Have you read any of Gillian Flynn's novels? Which did you like best?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions

Today I'm thrilled to be reviewing Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions. 
Please read over the book summary and then check out the
review and giveaway below.

Book Summary:
Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced and rejected extreme religions.

Covering a wide range of religious communities—including Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Calvinist, Moonie, and Jehovah’s Witness—and containing contributions from authors like Julia Scheeres (Jesus Land), the stories in Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths. The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure—why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they find that’s beautiful about living a religious life, and why leaving can be not only very difficult but also bittersweet.

Paperback: 328 Pages

Publisher: Seal Press (April 2, 2013)

ISBN-10: 1580054420

Twitter hashtag: #SLWExtremeReview

Book Facebook Page:

Author Bio(s):

Cami: Cami Ostman is an author, editor, life coach and a licensed marriage and family therapist with publications in her field. She blogs at and on the blogger team. She has appeared in several publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Adventures Northwest, the Mudgee Guardian in Australia, and La Prensa in Chile. Cami is a runner and a dog lover who lives in Bellingham, Washington.

Susan: As a writer, editor and researcher Susan has worked on a variety of academic articles exploring psychology, feminism and religion. Susan’s interest in these subjects led her to become an editor for several non-fiction titles including Faith and Feminism and Rachel’s Bag. Her new anthology Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions will be published in April 2013 by Seal Press.

Cami's Twitter:

When I first read the synopsis of the anthology Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions, I knew I wanted to get in on this blog tour. Having grown up in a home with parents who didn't practice any particular religion, I came into my own faith after marriage and children. I have always been intrigued by some of the more "extreme" religions, although in saying that, I realize that the term "extreme" is in the eye of the beholder. I'm glad that I took the time to read the introduction to the book, because I might have been confused by the opening essays had I not. 

In the introduction, the two editors, Cami Ostman and Susan Tive, explained that during the course of compiling the stories for consideration in Beyond Belief, they received a number of very different "slice of life" essays. While they did receive examples of women leaving extreme religions, they also received stories from women who were born into a particular faith and chose to stay in it for various reasons. A lot of these essays can be found in the first half of the book, so I did find myself thinking that the direction of the book was not what I had expected at first.

However, I will say that by the time I got about halfway through the book I was hooked. One night, I went to bed before finishing an essay and actually woke up at 3 a.m. needing to continue reading. That almost never happens to me these days! Of course, there were some religions I was drawn to reading about more than others, but that is the beauty of an anthology organized in this manner, and there is a great mix of material. This book would have made for a lively discussion in one of my college women's studies classes. What I found particularly interesting was that one author would describe her religion in glowing terms while another writer 20 pages later was describing what so was extreme in the exact same religion that she had to leave. 

Ostman and Tive, who met in a memoir-writing class, made an interesting observation in the introduction of Beyond Belief, one that I believe describes the book well as a whole:

As our friendship with each other taught us, women living life inside extreme religions have much in common despite their differences of practice and belief.

Did you ever leave an extreme religion or know someone close to you that did? Or, are there any other memoirs about extreme religions you would recommend? Share in the comments section.