December 1, 2023

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

Six Favorite, Recent Cult Books

Six Favorite, Recent Cult Books

  1. As I promised in my best recent reads lists (parts 1 and 2 linked), this is my list of the best cult books I’ve read recently.
    • By recent, I’m going back about 2 years.
  2. I know cult books aren’t for everyone, and even for ones who read them, they can be very divisive. These are my opinions, obviously.
  3. Because I’m going back so far, I’m going to give the Goodreads summary and a short (SHORT) review. Some will probably come off Goodreads.
  5. Does it say something about me that I read enough Cult Books to have a list? I have no idea but I’m neither apart of nor run one. At least, not that I know of lol.

Fierce Little Thing By Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Cult Books

Fierce Little Thing By Miranda Beverly-Whitmore Goodreads Summary:

“A Secret History-esque tale…All the ingredients for the perfect summer read.” —The Millions
“Captivating, thoughtful, and tense, a great read for those who enjoy psychological thrillers and complex puzzles. Highly recommended.” —New York Journal Review of Books

“It’s time to come Home. All five of you. Or else.”

Saskia was a damaged, lonely teenager when she arrived at the lakeside commune called Home. She was entranced by the tang of sourdough starter; the midnight call of the loons; the triumph of foraging wild mushrooms from the forest floor. But most of all she was taken with Abraham, Home’s charismatic leader, the North Star to Saskia and the four other teens who lived there, her best and only friends.

Two decades later, Saskia is shuttered in her Connecticut estate, estranged from the others. Her carefully walled life is torn open by threatening letters. Unless she and her former friends return to the land in rural Maine, the terrible thing they did as teenagers—their last-ditch attempt to save Home—will be revealed.

From vastly different lives, the five return to confront their blackmailer and reckon with the horror that split them apart. How far will they go to bury their secret forever?

New York Times bestselling author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s Fierce Little Thing is a mesmerizing story of friendship and its reckonings.

Hot Take: First, after all this time? Seeing the name Saskia gives me chills. Second, I don’t know how or why this book is so underrated but it is criminal. Unless again this is a matter of, I don’t like Cult Books? Fine. I just don’t understand why people read them if they don’t like them. Here is what I wrote on Goodreads, which I distinctly remember.

Watch this. Ready?

Fierce Little Thing is a brilliant psychological thriller, about some fucked up people and the commune turned brainwash-cult that they grew up in. Plus, all the fucked up things that happened to them before and after they got to and subsequently left, “Home.” So, stop ruining it with terms like… “coming of age story,” and “beautiful friendships…” because this isn’t, “Normal People.”

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. Pastries and coffee are in the back.

Published: July 27th, 2021

Publisher: FlatIron

The Last Housewife By Ashley Winstead


The Last Housewife By Ashley Winstead Goodreads Summary:

From the author of the acclaimed In My Dreams I Hold a Knife comes a pitch-black thriller about a woman determined to destroy a powerful cult and avenge the deaths of the women taken in by it, no matter the cost.

While in college in upstate New York, Shay Evans and her best friends met a captivating man who seduced them with a web of lies about the way the world works, bringing them under his thrall. By senior year, Shay and her friend Laurel were the only ones who managed to escape. Now, eight years later, Shay’s built a new life in a tiny Texas suburb. But when she hears the horrifying news of Laurel’s death—delivered, of all ways, by her favorite true-crime podcast crusader—she begins to suspect that the past she thought she buried is still very much alive, and the predators more dangerous than ever.

Recruiting the help of the podcast host, Shay goes back to the place she vowed never to return to in search of answers. As she follows the threads of her friend’s life, she’s pulled into a dark, seductive world, where wealth and privilege shield brutal philosophies that feel all too familiar. When Shay’s obsession with uncovering the truth becomes so consuming she can no longer separate her desire for justice from darker desires newly reawakened, she must confront the depths of her own complicity and conditioning. But in a world built for men to rule it—both inside the cult and outside of it—is justice even possible, and if so, how far will Shay go to get it?

Hot Take: I may be a sucker for cult books, but not all of them are this good. Winstead creates two distinct and utterly mesmerizing worlds. First, is the one that Shay and her friends are pulled into while in college. The second world is where Shay starts falling into, as an adult. Even with the common threads between them, they are both utterly distinctive and captivating.

Published: August 16, 2022

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

This Might Hurt By Stephanie Wrobel


This Might Hurt By Stephanie Wrobel Goodreads Summary:

From the USA Today bestselling and Edgar-nominated author of Darling Rose Gold comes a dark, thrilling novel about two sisters–one trapped in the clutches of a cult, the other in a web of her own lies.

Welcome to Wisewood. We’ll keep your secrets if you keep ours.

Natalie Collins hasn’t heard from her sister in more than half a year.

The last time they spoke, Kit was slogging from mundane workdays to obligatory happy hours to crying in the shower about their dead mother. She told Natalie she was sure there was something more out there.

And then she found Wisewood.

On a private island off the coast of Maine, Wisewood’s guests commit to six-month stays. During this time, they’re prohibited from contact with the rest of the world–no Internet, no phones, no exceptions. But the rules are for a good reason: to keep guests focused on achieving true fearlessness so they can become their Maximized Selves. Natalie thinks it’s a bad idea, but Kit has had enough of her sister’s cynicism and voluntarily disappears off the grid.

Six months later Natalie receives a menacing e-mail from a Wisewood account threatening to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from Kit. Panicked, Natalie hurries north to come clean to her sister and bring her home. But she’s about to learn that Wisewood won’t let either of them go without a fight.

Hot Take: Another criminally underrated book. This Might Hurt has some similarities with the next book, The Project by Courtney Summers. The Project is Young Adult and This Might Hurt is Adult. However, both have a sibling relationship and some twists and turns regarding the “rescuer” and the “rescuee.”

This Might Hurt sucked me in from the beginning. The commune world, turned cult is brilliantly built, and the characters are both despicable (executed perfectly) and sympathetic. All around, if you like cult books, don’t miss this one.

Published: February 22, 2022

Publisher: Berkley


Best Reads

The Project By Courtney Summers

Hot Take

The Project By Courtney Summers Goodreads Summary (Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for 2021 Young Adult Fiction):

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died in a tragic car accident, her sister Bea joined the elusive community called The Unity Project, leaving Lo to fend for herself. Desperate not to lose the only family she has left, Lo has spent the last six years trying to reconnect with Bea, only to be met with radio silence.

When Lo’s given the perfect opportunity to gain access to Bea’s reclusive life, she thinks they’re finally going to be reunited. But it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t want to be found, and as Lo delves deeper into The Project and its charismatic leader, she begins to realize that there’s more at risk than just her relationship with Bea: her very life might be in danger.

As she uncovers more questions than answers at each turn, everything Lo thought she knew about herself, her sister and the world is upended. One thing doesn’t change, though, and that’s what keeps her going: Bea needs her, and Lo will do anything to save her.

From Courtney Summers, the New York Times bestselling author of the 2019 Edgar Award Winner and breakout hit Sadie, comes her electrifying follow-up—a suspenseful, pulls-no-punches story about an aspiring young journalist determined to save her sister no matter the cost.

Hot Take: I went on a Twitter rant regarding The Project when I first read it. Unfortunately, I didn’t copy and paste it into Goodreads. However, I could never forget how strongly I felt about the importance of The Project. Summers doesn’t just write a cult book, she goes deeper. There is an epidemic of loneliness in the world. People don’t just join cults for fun. Hell, at the beginning it obviously doesn’t seem like a cult… until it is too late. With that in mind, Summers dives deep into the motivations for why people are attracted to groups such as The Project.

Published: February 2, 2021

Publisher: Wednesday

In The Clearing By J.P. Pomare

In The Clearing By J.P. Pomare Goodreads Summary:

Amy has only ever known what life is like in the Clearing. She knows what’s expected of her. She knows what to do to please her elders, and how to make sure life in the community remains happy and calm. That is until a new young girl joins the group. She isn’t fitting in; she doesn’t want to stay. What happens next will turn life as Amy knows it on its head.

Freya has gone to great lengths to feel like a ‘normal person’. In fact, if you saw her go about her day with her young son, you’d think she was an everyday mum. That is, until a young girl goes missing and someone from her past, someone she hasn’t seen for a very long time, arrives in town.

As Amy and Freya’s story intertwines the secrets of the past bubble up to the surface. This rural Aussie town’s dark underbelly is about to be exposed and lives will be destroyed.

Hot Take (From Goodreads):

I don’t know what took me so long to read this book but it is amazing!

One of the most unique parts of this book, as far as cult books go, is that it deals with the long-term implications… like generational effects. And it does it well. Also, it works within the idea of those both born into and recruited into the cult.

I had some good connections as to what was going on but I couldn’t quite get it right. And when the pieces did come together? Whammo!

The characters were all brilliantly written and being a connoisseur of cult books, at this point, this has to be in the top five.

Published: December 31st, 2019- ok this goes back more than two years, but I read it within the past two years.

Publisher: Hachette Australia

I’ll Be You By Janelle Brown

Goodreads Summary


I’ll Be You By Janelle Brown Goodreads Summary:

Two identical twin sisters and former child actors have grown apart–until one disappears, and the other is forced to confront the secrets they’ve kept from each other in this twisty thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Things.

“You be me, and I’ll be you,” I whispered.

As children, Sam and Elli were two halves of a perfect whole: Gorgeous identical twins whose parents sometimes couldn’t even tell them apart. They fell asleep to the sound of each other’s breath at night, holding hands in the dark. And once Hollywood discovered them, they became B-list child TV stars, often inhabiting the same role.

But as adults, their lives have splintered. After leaving acting, Elli reinvented herself as the perfect homemaker: Married to a real-estate lawyer, in a house two blocks from the beach. Meanwhile, Sam has never recovered from her failed Hollywood career, or from her addiction to the pills and booze that have propped her up for the last 15 years.

Sam hasn’t spoken to her sister since her destructive behavior finally drove a wedge between them. So when her father calls out of the blue, Sam is shocked to learn that Elli’s life has been in turmoil: Her husband moved out, and Elli just adopted a two-year-old girl. Now she’s stopped answering her phone and checked in to a mysterious spa in Ojai. Is her sister just decompressing, or is she in trouble? Could she have possibly joined a cult? As Sam works to connect the dots left by Elli’s baffling disappearance, she realizes that the bond between her and her sister is more complicated than she ever knew.

I’ll Be You shows Janelle Brown at the top of her game: a story packed with surprising revelations and sharp insights about the choices that define our families and our lives — and could just as easily destroy them.

Published: April 26, 2022

Publisher: Random House

Hot Take (From Goodreads):

I loved how it wasn’t just people joining cults. Because… NO ONE JUST JOINS A CULT.

Truly, I believe (from the way too many documentaries I’ve watched) in a very thorough, thoughtful, and fact-based manner, showed how you get from hey I’m going to this meeting, to oh shit I’m in a cult.

I loved the characters. I loved the sibling bond and how it played out. The structure was perfectly utilized to enhance how the story was told.

Also – Julian Whelan narrated the audiobook… master class.

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