Last year I put together a list of my favorite books read over the course of the year. Most of the books were written by indie authors, but I do venture into the mainstream every once in a while. The list for this year is diverse, but my favorite theme of religion is found in three out of the five.
Keep in mind, most of these books were not published in 2016. They were simply ones I read this year and loved.
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Okay, so I threw a book in here by a celebrity who doesn’t need any marketing help. Still, this was a book I read early in the year and continue to think about. That makes it worthy of this list.
Scientology, a cult masquerading as a religion, has intrigued me for many years. As I’ve studied other religions I view as cults, the similarities with Scientology are remarkable. Apostates are excommunicated, and scare tactics are used to keep people from talking. Like a dictator in a corrupt country, the rules for the masses don’t apply to the power-hungry leader.
The book is enjoyable to read because Leah Remini is so real and honest. Not everyone may agree with me, but I happen to find her absolutely hilarious. She discusses her life in the book, but Scientology was a big part of her world and as such, takes center stage as one of the main topics here. And underneath her tough New York attitude is an intelligent and compassionate woman who really wanted to be a good person and contribute to the world, truly believing that Scientology was the way to do that.
One caveat: If the “F” bomb offends you, don’t read this book!
Children of the Folded Valley by Simon Dillon
A boy, his father and a train set. This is the heart of Children of the Folded Valley, for me at least, because when I read this book, that is what spoke to me. Trains. But of course there was much more to it.
Something just draws me into books about religion, regardless of what religion it is. But it’s not so much the doctrine itself as it is the effect said doctrine has on its adherents, as well as the effect of the people on each other and the culture at large.
Now when it comes to a cult, the consequences are all the more intriguing. Some time back I read Leah Remini’s personal account of Scientology, which was both funny (I just love her!) and disturbing at the same time. One of the things that makes a cult a cult is that you can’t leave, and if you do, you are either excommunicated or killed, depending on the particular rules of whatever dictator is in charge. Because of this, as I read Children of the Folded Valley by Simon Dillon, I kept thinking back to Leah Remini’s book, (which happens to be number 5 on my list). There were obvious differences, but those cultish traits were there.
Children of the Folded Valley is a sci-fi book, which is not my genre. However, while I’m not a sci-fi fan, I had heard that this book was about a cult, and that’s what attracted me to it. I had read another book by the same author called, Love vs. Honour, recommended to me because like my own The Religion of the Heart, it’s an interfaith love story. But this book is more well-known, leading me to believe this was the one to read. That certainly turned out to be the case.
I absolutely loved this book. The sci-fi aspect of it doesn’t really show up into you’re fully engrossed in the story, and so what appealed to me was the demonstration of how perfectly intelligent people are fooled into following a cult, how cult leaders use their psychological powers to maintain control, and how free-thinking people in any society will always fight against what is wrong and immoral.
But more than anything, it was the father/son story that got me. The trains. Those precious trains.
Home by Uvi Poznansky and Zeev Kachel
What a touching book! I’m becoming quite the Uvi Poznansky fan the more I read her work, but in this case, it was the combination of her words along with the poetry of her father that took my breath away and broke my heart all at once. So beautiful! I wish I could read more of her father’s work, but I’m guessing it’s only available in Hebrew, as I haven’t seen it in English. Too bad I can’t read Hebrew, but here, Poznansky has translated her father’s poetry, which she found after his death. His words are pure, raw emotion, written by a man who had suffered much in his life, though he was no angel himself and apparently was filled with regret for some of his own mistakes.
Before reading Home, I’d discovered Poznansky through her book, The White Piano, the second in her Still Life with Memories series. At the time, it was on promotion, and I hadn’t realized it was a “book two.” Even without reading the introductory book first, this one blew me away. It was so powerful and emotional and extremely well-written. The author bio states that she paints with words, and that is a perfect description. I’ve since purchased the rest of that series and am looking forward to reading the entire story.
Wedlocked by Hannah Rubenstein
Wedlocked is about forced marriage, but its strength is in the personal details of one woman who endured it, as told through a narrative nonfiction style. As such, it almost reads like fiction with tangible descriptions so real, you see the Nairobi city streets, you taste the chill in the Punjabi air, and you hear the dripping of the leaky faucet in the British rundown apartments. Above all, you feel Mayah’s pain and cry her tears. You are Mayah.
The book seamlessly flows between Mayah’s story and the facts and figures of forced marriage, the laws against it, the failures of those laws and all the heartrending co-abuses that accompany such a marriage like marital rape, physical, mental and emotional abuse and all-in-all, the dehumanization of the bride/wife.
The horrific practice is not contained within the confines of one religion but spans across religions and cultures and continents. One of the hardest pills to swallow is not only the cruelty of mankind to his fellow humans, family even, but that women are complicit in destroying the lives of their daughters, daughters-in-law, etc. This book is eye-opening, to say the least.
Finally, the author astounded me with her writing ability. The subject matter drew me in, but the author kept me engaged. This is not some boring nonfiction book but the story of one woman’s lifelong torture, and the statistics reported here demonstrate that there are many, many Mayahs out there, suffering unimaginable pain, brought to life by this author and her dedication to the subject.
Jan Ruth’s Midnight Sky Series
Ruth’s writing style is absolutely perfect. She doesn’t overdo the descriptions or tell the reader of every movement from turning a doorknob to putting one foot in front of the other as some authors do. Scenes are described when necessary and in an easy-to-follow manner. But most of all, what I love are the well-developed characters and the stories themselves. These people are real and could be taken from anyone’s life. The plot makes sense and isn’t exaggerated, and the setting in Snowdonia, Wales, sounds beautiful.
While the books follow the standard “city girl meets rugged country boy” formula, they stand out from similar commercial books for a variety of reasons. The reader can relate to each character and understand what is at the core of their behavior, good or bad. There are villains and underdogs, and at the heart of it all is love. These are romances packed with emotion, which is what I need as a reader. And if I thought the first book, Midnight Sky, was a winner, the sequel, Palomino Sky, is even better!
Because of these two books, I’ve since read four more Ruth books and plan to read the rest of her work in the coming year. I can’t praise this author’s work enough. She is amazing!
D.M. Miller is the author of the interfaith “Heart” series as well as the poetry collection, Dandelion Fuzz. The product of an interfaith marriage herself, Miller’s work explores the difficult themes of religion, politics, ethnicity, culture, family, ancestry and love. See her books on Amazon.