One of my favorite aspects of my job is purchasing books for the 200s section of our nonfiction collection–Religion. The number of memoirs and essay collections about people’s religious experiences are vast, passionate, and endlessly fascinating.
I recently purchased Daniella Mestyanek Young’s memoir Uncultured. Young’s story details her childhood in the religious cult, The Children of God, also known as The Family, and the extreme lengths the community goes to to mold their followers into fervent, unquestioning believers.
The memoir is anything but light as Young describes the seemingly endless physical and sexual abuse that the leaders of The Family claimed was “godly discipline and love.” The child abuse that is described in Young’s story is abundant, making the book difficult to read at times, but also quite straightforward. Young conveys the details of her traumatic upbringing in a very to-the-point manner, only veiling the most gruesome details for her own privacy.
When Young turned fifteen, she escaped The Children of God. She moved to Texas to live with a half-sister (of which she has many, due to the sharing of women amongst male cult members), enrolled in high school (her first time in “Systemite” school), finished college, and eventually joins the military and works her way up to a role as an intelligence officer.
At the end of her time enlisted, Young reckons with her life and choices in a way that she hasn’t been able to before. She originally joined the military to find another community to belong to and a group with a shared goal to work towards. Without realizing it, she essentially joined another cult-like group. Just as in The Children of God, the group mentality and abuse of women were integral to the functionality of the system.
Uncultured is clear-cut and determined: Young responsibly takes her readers through the painful but necessary revelations of a global group that has claimed a faith that allows women and children to only exist in service of perverse men. Eye-opening is just one word to describe this exposé on religious cults and the human destruction they ensue.
This title is also available in large print.
Nev March started writing in her teens, drawing inspiration from authors like Neville Shuts, Rudyard Kipling, Mary Stewart, and Arthur Conan-Doyle. Her love of Sherlock Holmes is apparent in her debut novel, Murder in Old Bombay.
In 2015, Nev left her job in business and returned to writing fiction. She now teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. Nev immigrated from India thirty years ago and currently lives in New Jersey with her family. She is Parsee Zoroastrian.
Murder in Old Bombay is the first book in the Captain Jim Agnihotri series. The plot of this book was inspired by the hundred-plus-year-old unsolved deaths of the Godrej sisters in 19th century Bombay. The author wrote a fascinating article detailing this for the website Criminal Element. Let’s talk about the book!
1892: Bombay is the center of British India. Cultures of all sort mix in the streets. Captain Jim Agnihotri is recovering in Poona military hospital from serious injuries sustained in a battle on the northern frontier. With not much to do, Captain Jim finds himself re-reading his favorite Sherlock Holmes stories and pouring over the news in the daily papers. One day, a case called the crime of the century captures his attention. Two women fell to their deaths of the busy clock tower at the university in broad daylight. One of the victim’s husbands, Adi Framji, is certain that his wife and sister did not commit suicide and writes to the paper demanding justice for them. This case fascinates Captain Jim and he soon finds himself approaching Adi and his family searching for answers. Adi hires him to investigate what really happened to the women.
Captain Jim begins his investigation and discovers that the case is full of more secrets than he originally thought. He must chase down witnesses, running across country looking for answers. Asking questions proves increasingly dangerous as Captain Jim shakes out secrets that haunt the Framji family’s past. Each member of the Framji family wants to help, including Lady Diana who insists on getting more hands-on in the investigation. The friendship between Lady Diana and Captain Jim starts to blossom and soon feelings develop. Captain Jim’s personal and professional relationships are in jeopardy the closer he gets to the truth of what happened the afternoon the Framji women died.
If that description wasn’t enough to make you want to read this book, maybe accolades will sway you! This debut novel won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. It was also 2021 nominees for the following: Edgar and Barry Awards, as well as Anthony, Macavity and Hammett Awards for Excellence in Crime Fiction.
Captain Jim Agnihotri series
- Murder in Old Bombay (2020)
- Peril at the Exposition (2022)
Military suspense thrillers have been popular for years, yet I have seldom read any. I decided to change this by stepping lightly into this genre. The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer may not be considered a strict military suspense thriller, but there is a definite military feel since the majority of this book takes place on or near Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Add in a compelling story line, missing people, and high levels of secrecy and I was hooked.
The Escape Artist tells the story of Jim ‘Zig’ Zigarowski and his quest to find out what really happened to Nola Brown. Nola Brown was on a flight from Alaska when the plane mysteriously fell from the sky. All on the plane perished and Nola’s body was found not far from the crash site. Mysteries surround this crash as one of the President’s very close friends was on board: the Librarian of Congress. Tasked with finding out what happened, Zig soon finds all of the bodies from the crash delivered to him at the morgue at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. With identities already confirmed by their supervisors, Zig and his colleagues are expected to perform the autopsies as quick as possible and get the bodies back to the families.
When looking at Nola’s body, Zig discovers that there is no way that the body in front of him could be that of Nola Brown. Nola was a childhood friend of Zig’s daughter. A long time ago, Nola saved Zig’s daughter’s life. As a result of that, Nola has a tell-tale scar that Zig knows to look for on Nola. Discovering that it isn’t there and knowing that there wouldn’t be a cosmetic way to make that disappear, Zig realizes that Nola is still alive. The question of why someone would go through such steps to say that this body is Nola’s nags at Zig. He decides that he has to find Nola, if for no other reason than to pay her back for the time that she saved his daughter’s life.
Nola is supposed to be dead. With some investigating, Zig digs into Nola’s past and tries to learn what in her life caused people to want to kill her. He discovers that Nola is a mystery, her previous supervisors believe that she is a curse and trouble follows her everywhere. Looking into these incidents, it becomes clear why the Army chooses to sequester Nola as their artist-in-residence. This keeps her out of the line of fire and hopefully decreases her tendency to bring trouble to any situation.
Nola’s current job allows her to travel the world to any location and any catastrophe in order to make art and observe. Each artist-in-residence has a theme to their artwork throughout their residency. As Zig looks around, he discovers that Nola’s missions may have triggered the notice of an enemy who will do whatever it takes to silence her. Zig and Nola find themselves thrown together on a journey to discover the truth behind a centuries-old conspiracy that reaches all the way up to the highest levels of government and involves an unlikely partner: Harry Houdini.
Here’s to hoping that Brad Metzler turns this book into a series! I’d love to find out what happens with Zig and Nola next.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Scott and Maggie are new partners in the LAPD but they have a lot more than that in common – both are a mess after barely surviving brutal attacks that left their former partners dead, both suffer from severe PTSD and both are close to unfit for duty. The fact that Scott is a human and Maggie is a dog does not change that fact that they are just what the other needs in Suspect by Robert Crais.
Officer Scott James has just returned to work, still physically recovering from gunshot wounds that have forced him to give up his goal of joining the elite SWAT squad. He is haunted by memories of the night of the attack, when masked gunmen launched a surprise attack on a passing car, then turned on Scott and his partner when they tried to stop them. The cries of his dying partner calling for him as he lay helpless as his own life nearly bled out, rerun in his dreams every night. Desperate to find justice for his partner, he refuses a medical discharge and finds a position in the K-9 Unit where, he believes, he won’t have to worry letting down a partner again.
Maggie has survived three tours of Iran and Afghanistan, saving hundreds of grunts with her IED sniffing talent until a suicide bomber kills her handler and snipers nearly kill her when she refuses to stop guarding his body; the Marines are only able to drag her away by throwing a jacket over her and manhandling her into the rescuing helicopter. No longer able to serve in the military and wary and suspicious of everyone, the LAPD may be Maggie’s last chance.
Award-winning author Robert Crais (best known for his Elvis Cole mysteries) is a master storyteller, showing how these two damaged beings fight back and help and learn from each other using language that is lean yet evocative – you can feel the heat of Los Angeles, the terror of Scott’s panic attacks, Maggie’s joy as she accepts Scott. The information about the training and deployment of police and military dogs is fascinating but never overwhelms the story and the final chapters, where Scott and Maggie work together to bring Scott’s attacker’s to justice, are tense and action-packed.