Tag Archives: Cults

The Smaller Evil – Stephanie Kuehn

The Smaller Evil – Stephanie KuehnTitle: The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn
Publishing Info: August 2, 2016 by Penguin
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery/Thriller, Thriller
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: July 28, 2016

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to "evolve," as Beau, the retreat leader, says.
Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman's not sure, but more than anyone he's ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.
The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he's failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.
And then, in an instant Arman can't believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.
As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he's always trusted the least: himself.

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I actually received THE SMALLER EVIL to review in two forms — a hardcover from Penguin and an audiobook from The Listening Library. Since I’ve been slow to read my physical forms, I quickly started up the audio in the hopes of a fast and fierce thriller that would keep me on the edge of my seat! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from THE SMALLER EVIL but the book was surely unique from my usual reads.

I’ve heard that Stephanie Kuehn incorporates an interesting, twisty side to her novels and that was definitely true for THE SMALLER EVIL. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, though. I tend to go into books (mostly) blind and usually this enhances my reading experience but sometimes the books catch me by surprise. THE SMALLER EVIL caught me a little by surprise since I didn’t realize exactly what the plot entailed. This was definitely more of a cult-feel although the group that Arman becomes involved with is never really blatantly called a cult (though it is speculated later in Arman’s stream of consciousness) but that’s what I’m calling it and the atmosphere was just … weird. I have a hard time with cults and too many times I just wanted to shake these people like, “What are you thinking??” I think it’s just something that’s hard for me to read about and doesn’t make for the most exciting topic since it’s frustrating!

There were several moments in the book that I thought didn’t need to be as extreme as they were — from random sexual encounters to moments of panic to character details — there were a few things that were just over the top that I didn’t quite buy into. This was my first book of Stephanie Kuehn’s and I was hoping I’d love that dark and twisty feel but this was not the way I expected it to come out. I was hoping for more psychological thriller that messed with my head and instead I was mostly just confused. It was thrilling and the book did mess with me a little bit but then things quickly fizzled out again once they got twisty. I was excited for a massive twist but it didn’t quite happen.

The ending was mostly disappointing. Some things were wrapped up but mostly I felt like I didn’t know why this whole thing happened. Yes, Arman grew and learned from this experience but why this experience? Why a cult? The things that were grandiose weren’t the things that I wanted to be large and then the places I hoped for something big to happen, it just didn’t. I felt like there were missed opportunities and the story just really didn’t quite come together for me.

AUDIOBOOK IMPRESSIONS

Source: Received for review from Listening Library
Narrator: Ryan Gessel
Performance: Pretty decent but I didn’t really fall in love

This was the first narration I’ve heard from Ryan Gessel and it was a good performance. Nothing outstanding, not one of my favorites, but it was a solid narration and his voice was very pleasant to listen to but I didn’t feel like he got a lot of emotion into the book. His narration was kind of flat so I wasn’t super engaged but it wasn’t enough that I got bored. I probably wouldn’t actively seek out books that he narrates but I’d definitely be up for another one if it was a book I wanted to read! view_from_goodreads1

“The View from Goodreads” is a featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!

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Kept Me Hooked On: Fast-paced thrillers. I kind of love when books are short and to the point. It’s exciting to see a book that’s shorter and doesn’t need to be filled with extra stuff just to fill the pages. I loved that THE SMALLER EVIL was a very quick read!
Left Me Wanting More: Connection. I didn’t feel like this book connected. One moment things were starting to make sense and then it was back to confusion, but not in the way that I normally like thrilers. I like to be confused but in a sense that a twist has gotten me. I was mostly just feeling like this book was all over the place and I had no idea how it came togehter.

Addiction Rating
Get a second opinion

I wouldn’t outright recommend it but I also wouldn’t say entirely skip it. I think if you see elements of the book that you might enjoy and you like this atmosphere, it’s worth the shot. If you’re hesitant, I’d say maybe skip it.

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BOOKS LIKE THE SMALLER EVIL

(Click the cover to see my review!)

    underneath everything

The Cresswell Plot – Eliza Wass

The Cresswell Plot – Eliza WassTitle: The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass
Publishing Info: June 7, 2016 by Disney Hyperion
Source: Netgalley
Genres: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: March 1, 2016

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.
Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice.
Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

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I was really excited to start THE CRESSWELL PLOT and actually dug into it as soon as I got the approval from Disney-Hyperion on Netgalley! The book sounded extremely interesting and quite thrilling so I was incredibly curious to see how things played out. Once I started, I realized either the synopsis changed since the book was first announced or I was just totally off-based with my expectations because THE CRESSWELL PLOT really wasn’t what I had expected. 

The book was definitely hard to walk away from. I was sucked into the Cresswell’s world and intrigued with Castley’s role in it. The Cresswells are an ultra-religious family but they basically have their own religion. They follow the rules of the Bible but their father also has written his own Bible of sorts so there’s this weird, blurry line of how much Father Cresswell believes his word is God and how much he believes he’s pulled from scripture. It was actually quite horrifying to read how terribly this family was controlled and made to fear the outside world.

Honestly, the controlling and abusive aspects made this book really hard to read and yet I also couldn’t pull myself away. I got incredibly concerned for Crestley and her siblings so I didn’t want to leave the story without knowing what happened to them, but I was constantly cringing at how her father treated them and the brainwashing that was involved to make the kids think that everything he was doing was God’s plan. I’m not sure how to classify the book —  realistic fiction, thriller, a mix, or neither — but I had set out with the mindset that it was going to be a bit more of a thriller so I had hoped for more there. Since it was so hard to read about the family life, I had been hoping to spend more time with Crestley or the other siblings outside of their property and exploring more of what “normal” life would be like.

The ending also happened a bit abruptly for my taste. There was a solid conclusion with a little bit of a lingering question but it all sort of happened so quickly that I was hoping for more of a transition.  I feel like the book could have benefited from a few more paragraphs or even a short chapter to tie everything up and explain what happened after the fast-paced sequence of events that led to the conclusion. I also would have really loved to know more about the father and exactly why and how he became the way he did. There wasn’t really much backstory or reasoning behind how he chose to raise his family so I would have really liked to see more explanation.

Overall, THE CRESSWELL PLOT was a book I couldn’t tear myself away from and yet I had a hard time reading it. The concept drew me in and I didn’t want to put the book down so it made for a super quick read and it was also something that made met think about lifestyles other than my own. Again, I think my expectations of what the book was somehow got thrown really off-base and I’m not sure if I would have picked the book up so soon if ever knowing that this was the actual plot. That being said, it was also interesting to read and I always like pushing the boundaries of what I might normally pick up so I’m glad I did read it.

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“The View from Goodreads” is a featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!

cresswell plot gr updates

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Father // Character Obsessions: Rules, purity, Heaven, scriptures. 
The father in this book was horrifying. I think the scariest thing is when a character or person is doing something that they truly believe is beneficial and right. He has so much conviction in his beliefs and doesn’t see the harm it’s doing and I felt like he actually reached a villainous level.
Crestley // Character Obsessions: Questions, family, good, opinions. 
Crestley ends up being the sibling that has the best balance of doing what is right and questioning what is really best for the family. She’s the one who really starts to break out of these harmful patterns and beliefs. I actually would have liked to see a better transition

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Kept Me Hooked On: Religious themes. I don’t usually pick up realistic novels with religious themes, no matter the topic, but I’m glad I read this!
Left Me Wanting More: Clues. I really am glad that I wasn’t able to guess anything as the book went on but I also like being just a teensy bit less in the dark. I would have loved to have pieced something more together by the end instead of a whole chapter to fill me in!

Addiction Rating
Consider it

If this sounds like a book that might hook you, it’s worth a shot! Honestly, the suspense really pulled me in more than anything else and I was glued to see what would happen. I think things could have been done a little better structurally but I did make quick work of reading it!

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BOOKS LIKE THE CRESSWELL PLOT

(Click the cover to see my review!)

DEVOTED    ELEANOR & PARK

Blog Tour: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu | Review + Giveaway

Devoted BlogTourBannerWelcome to the blog tour for
DEVOTED by Jennifer Mathieu!

I am so excited to be on the blog tour for this book and spread the word about DEVOTED! In truth, this isn’t something I would have normally picked up for myself but I really liked Jennifer’s first book (THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE) and the wonderful Mary Van Akin was such a fan that she pushed this book into my hands and I accepted gratefully!

On today’s blog tour stop, I’m sharing my review and all of my thoughts on DEVOTED! I’m so thankful I got to read this book so I hope you’ll take the time to read my review and see if it’s something you’d like to read! I don’t normally put so much faith in a review to encourage readers to pick up a book but I really hope this review motivates you to look into DEVOTED!

Blog Tour: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu | Review + GiveawayTitle: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Publishing Info: June 2, 2015 by Macmillan
Source: Edelweiss
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: May 1, 2015
Related Posts: The Truth About Alice

    Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

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DEVOTED is Jennifer Mathieu’s second novel and because of my enthusiasm for THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, I was already a little bit interested when I had first heard of the concept from Jennifer on a Fierce Reads tour. I have to admit that my interest was there, but I wasn’t wholly convinced to pick it up but I’m so, so glad I did and I’m especially thankful that the publicist, Mary Van Akin, was there to encourage me to read it as well!

If you’ve looked into the book at all, you know that it’s about a girl named Rachel Walker who has grown up in a very Christian family and has spent her life being a good daughter and staying devoted to God… and I will be perfectly honest with you that the religious mentions and Christian themes immediately had me hesitating. I’m not a religious person (even though I went to a Catholic school for 10 years… actually, that’s probably WHY I’m not a religious person) so I tend to steer clear of any books with Christian or strong religious themes. It’s just usually not something I enjoy and it’s very hard for me to read. The wonderful thing about DEVOTED is that it’s really not a religious book. The story really revolves around Rachel and the fact that she’s starting to question everything. She still loves her family and she still loves God but all of the rules are becoming a bit much and she doesn’t feel like she’s as devoted as the rest of her family.

The religious movement featured in the book isn’t quite a cult but one character does compare it to a cult due to its strict rules and highly protective nature. It’s especially patriarchal with women being told that they’re there to start a family, be a good wife, and remain a good Christian woman, always thinking of God, their husbands, and families first. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to read — especially if you’re strongly feminist — but it’s very eye-opening and a reminder that these communities do exist and people really do follow these rules tightly.

I really, really liked Rachel’s character. So much. It’s a very difficult thing to break away from your family’s and your community’s beliefs to explore your own. As a teenager and a young adult (hell, even as an adult), I found myself forming my own opinions but still generally latching on to the ideals and principles on which my family raised me. I still share the same general opinions as my family and my husband and that’s only natural — but I really admired Rachel’s courage to push outside of her sheltered world to explore what else is out there. She has to defy her parents to do so, abandon her family, and really question everything she’s been taught in order to discover what she really and truly believes. It’s essentially starting her life completely lover and catching up to where the rest of the world is now.

I felt like this was a very character-driven book, closely following Rachel’s story and including some powerful and heart-warming stories from the people she meets along her journey. It’s definitely a quieter book but it felt so powerful and I was so emotionally invested in it. I really cared for Rachel and she became such a real person to me. There was also just something about this book — I couldn’t put it down! I was so interested and yet a bit horrified at the Walkers’ religious practices but witnessing Rachel’s struggle to rebel against her parents as a teenager but in such an atypical manner was truly fascinating. I definitely felt compelled by her story and I’m so glad I got to read it!

If you’ve gotten this far in my review, I really hope that means you’re considering picking up the book! Please don’t let the religious nature scare you away. I promise you that it’s not something I’d ordinarily pick up either but the story is so interesting and the characters are so wonderful… you would really be missing out to pass it up! I’m so glad I was reassured that reading it was the right choice and I really hope the spark has now caught you too! DEVOTED was such a well-crafted and powerful book and you can bet that I’m picking up anything that Jennifer Mathieu writes here on out, regardless of topic. She knows how to handle these enormous and yet sensitive topics in just the perfect way and I look forward to reading more of her work in the years to come!

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Kept Me Hooked On: Religious topics. I honestly always avoid religious books (unless it’s fantasy with its own religion… but that doesn’t really count) so I was very happy to see DEVOTED show a very different side! Religion was almost the antagonist in this story and it wasn’t a bad thing… but Rachel really had to figure out how it best worked for her in her life and not how her parents wanted it to be.
Left Me Wanting More: Of Rachel’s story. This wasn’t the sort of book that was a “five-star-amaze-me” book but I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it. I loved that it was quieter and had more of a character focus. The conflicts and reactions felt real. It wasn’t over the top just to make a point. The only possible thing I could have asked for was more on Rachel’s story at the end of the book! I just really enjoyed the whole thing.

Addiction Rating
READ IT!

DEVOTED was so, so wonderful. It filled me with feelings and I really connected with Rachel and her story. It was definitely a quieter book but it was really very moving!

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BOOKS LIKE DEVOTED

(Click the cover to see my review!)

CONFESSIONS OF AN ANGRY GIRL     THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE


Thanks so much for taking the time to check out the DEVOTED blog tour and my review! This really was such a great book and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out!
Don’t forget to stop by the other blogs who are also on the DEVOTED blog tour too!

GIVEAWAY

Of course we can’t let you go without a giveaway! Macmillan is offering one finished, hardcover copy for one lucky winner! All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter form below! US residents only, please! Must be 13 years of age or older to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway