Sassy, No Spoilers: Lock Every Door

book of the month selection, book reviews

Housesitting for a cursed replica of the Dakota? Creepy wallpaper? Yes, please.

Let’s talk about Satan’s spawn. No, I don’t mean Donald Trump (that’s a whole different review and would be way more bleak than this one).

I mean Rosemary’s Baby. If you read Ira Levin’s book (that one and Stepford Wives) and was obsessed with it like I was (I mean, it’s a thinly-veiled satire about women’s rights? Yes, thank you)—then you’ll appreciate the nod (and dedication on the first page) that Riley Sager gives to Levin in Lock Every Door.

The first thing you need to know about me is that I love creepy, abandoned, or weird buildings with a haunted history. On a real deep, “I will now annoy you with one million facts you did not want to know” level. Perhaps taking the number one spot (maybe in the world?) of creeptastic dwellings would be the infamous Dakota Apartments in New York City. The Dakota has inspired many a book (Rosemary’s Baby called it the Bramford, and a stunning memoir by Wendy Lawless, Chanel Bonfire dives into the life of growing up in the Dakota)—and Lock Every Door nods to the Dakota, but takes place in a near-replica down the street (the Bartholomew).

So, the quick and dirty: girl takes “too good to be true” job housesitting a vacant apartment in the prestigious building. She’s jobless, just found her boyfriend cheating on her, and has no family. This “housesitting” job promises to pay $12,000 for 3 months of living in luxury. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, let’s just say it becomes more like a nightmare. No spoilers.

This book is an especially fun read for people who wonder—what exactly happened here?—when they step inside a creepy old building. And:

  • People who like to research murders/cults/mysterious occurrences before traveling (I know I’m not the only one)
  • Current/former broke af house-sitters (guilty)
  • Fans of gargoyles
  • Lovers of wallpaper (again, guilty)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sassy, No Spoilers: The Guest List

book of the month selection, book reviews, Cults

A wedding on a creepy, former cult locale on an Irish island? A sinister murder? Yes, please.

Okay, full disclosure: I grew up with a wedding-photographer Dad, and my teenage job was to follow him around, schlepping heavy camera equipment and listening to the same speeches every. Single. Weekend. For real; sometimes we’d shoot five weddings in one weekend. People love spending money on giant weddings in the South.

So you could say, I got a little tired of the whole wedding thing, I even wrote about it for a literary journal (republished at Cultural Weekly). Once you hear “I’m just so glad it’s over,” and the same “Love is not…” speech, along with every DJ’s playlist consisting of “Brick House,” “Electric Slide,” and “Celebration.”

Weddings became my Groundhog Day.

So when I picked Lucy Foley’s The Guest List as my Book of the Month selection, I was excited to see what parallels there were between my understanding of weddings, and what that would look like against a creepy, secluded Irish island landscape.

It did not disappoint.

Told in multiple perspectives of the wedding party, TGL makes us feel like maybe we should spare no expense on our weddings, especially if they are to take place on a secluded island with a cult history.

No? Just me? Okay.

Readers have compared this book to Agathie Christie’s cozy mysteries, and I would agree. The story was fun, it was a super quick read, but it left me wanting to know more about the characters–especially the owners of the castle. And the background of the island; if you promise me a creepy history, I want. To. Know. Everything. And I felt that was lacking here.

Still a fun read; I recommend The Guest List for fellow weirdos like me who enjoy:

  • Moidahh mysteries in exotic locales
  • Cult-y implications
  • Weddings gone wrong. Very wrong
  • Books told in multiple viewpoints
  • You’re going on an exotic island vacation and you want to give yourself the creeps

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Sassy, No Spoilers: My Best Friend’s Exorcism

book reviews

Demons, cults, and teenage angst in the 80’s? Yes, please.

Deep in the throngs of editing my cult-based thriller, I decided to pick up books that might lend a helping hand in keeping things ~spooky~ but ~not too spooky~ because I like to sleep with the lights off and not thinking about what might be lurking in the closet (not that there’s much room in there for ghosts, I have a lot of craft supplies in there, sorry, Casper).

I first noticed My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix at my library. I work in a public library; I scan a lot of books every day. I scanned a copy of this one in a transit bin, and instantly gasped, called my coworker over, and Oo’d and Ahh’d, because it has the. Coolest. Cover. I have ever seen. I didn’t check out the book, because it had a hold on it elsewhere (and I wouldn’t cheat y’all like that, library folk do follow rules). And as a rule of thumb, if I think I will like a book, I buy it. (Support! Authors! And! Bookshops!)

*pencil pouch, legwarmers, and holy water not included

The author of this book isn’t a novice, but he’s just landed himself a lot of (deserved) attention with The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Which is sitting in my TBR pile glaring at me as I type this. He also wrote a satirical take on a haunted version of IKEA. I love finding authors that take horror and smash it against humor (True Blood, anyone?), and that’s exactly what Hendrix accomplishes with MBFE.

To stay true to my name, I won’t spoil anything about this book. But I will say, it’s about two best friends in the 80’s who stand by each other…no matter what. What would you do if your best friend suddenly started acting like a total demon? Typical teenagers, amiright? This book is a wild ride through all things nostalgia, exorcists that are super swole for Jesus, and the limitless things we do for best friends.

Judge this book by the cover, I give you library-lady permission, and I also guarantee the song-lyrics-as-chapter-titles will have you jamming John Hughes movie soundtracks for weeks afterwards.

Read this book if you enjoy:

  • E.T. references
  • Stranger Things
  • The entire wild ride that was the True Blood series by Charlaine Harris
  • 80s nostalgia
  • Stories about insanely strong friendships

Also, if you were traumatized by The Exorcist as a child like I was, then this book will make you feel a lot better about it. Legwarmers are optional.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What I learned about: the best-dressed UFO cult ever, Unarius

Image by PhotoVision from Pixabay

Have you ever noticed how so many cults have come out of California? They pop up and wave around their strange theories like palm trees in the wind. Here, you can be as weird as you want. I’ve certainly enjoyed believing in David Lynch and the ghost that’s lived in my Furby since 1998. We just do us out here.

So while researching cults, I stumbled upon one that doesn’t have a really sad ending (yet, at least, though it really doesn’t seem likely).

Unarius (short for Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science) was founded in 1954 by Earnest and Ruth Norman, labeled as “cosmic visionaries” on the official website. Unarius is pretty wild, y’all. Their headquarters is located in El Cajon, California, just outside of San Diego. They received notoriety as the cult that made low-budget movies that aired on public access tv in the 80s. These “psychodramas” were basically members of the group acting out regrettable previous life experience–as aliens. If John Waters circa 1972 had directed these films, you’d never know the difference.

The whole belief system of Unarius was that—according to Ruth (aka Uriel)—in 2001, 33 spaceships filled with fellow “space brothers” would arrive on Earth and improve humanity. Long story short: that didn’t happen (I really, really wish it did though, we could use the help).

Their Archangel, Uriel/Ruth, had the goal of making everyone believe in the mission of the space bothers, because believing in them would facilitate their arrival. The space brothers were aliens that were supposedly former humans that are more spiritually and scientifically advanced than the rest of us.

The message of Unarius is actually pretty cool, I will give them that. They believed in spiritual healing through past life therapy by creating their low-budget films—and they were pretty good at marketing. They managed to air their films on public access TV across the country. Reportedly they had three feature films, 80 TV shows, and hundreds of self-published books.

My favorite thing about Unarius: the costumes. Uriel LOVED wearing elaborate dresses and wigs. She had rainbow capes, a massive dress with 33 planets that was apparently so heavy, she had to sit down while wearing it.

They also had a Cadillac with a UFO on top that says “Welcome Your Space Brothers,” and I want to see it in person. Really bad.

You can still become a member of Unarius. Since Uriel’s death, and the fact that the aliens didn’t come to hang with us in 2001, they mostly focus on spiritual healing through things I can’t really figure out by reading their website. Typical. They have home education kits on their website (they even have Blu-Ray!), along with some sweet postcards and UFO pins. Their message is actually kind of heartwarming. You’d think people would troll them, hard, on YouTube and the general internet; somehow they don’t.

You do you, Unarius. If only we could all be children of the stars.


What I learned about: that thing in Waco, TX in 1993

Monument on Mt. Carmel compound in Waco, TX. Photo by Lorie Shaull

Let’s talk about Seventh-Day Adventists.

To understand the depressing, horrible thing that happened in Waco, Texas in 1993, one must know exactly where that crazy mustachio’d guitar-wielding white dude named David Koresh got his ideas.

Actually, let’s back it up further and say that a lot of cults have gotten their ideas from a little religious sect known as the Seventh-day Adventists.

The Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) was founded on the belief that the second coming of Jesus was to be October 22, 1844. Guess what? It didn’t happen. They were super disappointed. So they called it the Great Disappointment. Original, yeah? I think so, too.

Confession time, y’all. I used to work for an SDA corporation (long story, believe me), and it was messed up. It was like pandering to a bizarre circus every day. I wrote articles for them and was frequently reprimanded for using words like “yoga,” “coffee” or once, for including a link to a recipe blog that–heaven help us–had alcoholic beverage recipes on it, too. You’d think I’d sacrificed their next of kin. But the bonus was that I got to leave work at 3:30 on Fridays, because everyone was meant to be indoors before nightfall. Because Saturday was oh-so-holy Sabbath. SDA doesn’t believe in working on Saturdays. At all. Yeah, OK.

The SDA also enjoys releasing propaganda videos about how women shouldn’t be allowed to be in leadership positions (they even use words like “consequences,” oooh, reader, I tremble). Oh, but did I mention: their founder was a woman. Ellen White. That wacky broad. How dare she venture outside of the kitchen to create a whole new religion that didn’t believe in crazy shit like mustard, coffee, or yoga? And don’t even get me started on their weird diets (haystacks, anyone?).

Anyway, a guy named David Koresh (Vernon Wayne Howell) became the leader of the Branch Davidians, a splintered version of the SDA church. Koresh decided it was cool to sleep with underage girls, because, like, God told him it was OK. He convinced the men in this sect that they would have their pick of women in the afterlife, but he alone was burdened with reproducing with as many women in this life as possible. That’s not sketchy at all, right?

A few other fun facts about Koresh and the whole big mess:

  • Koresh tried to be a rock star (failed, just like Charlie Manson, sound familiar?), loved Ted Nugent
  • He went to trial for attempted murder in 1987 (after a really weird situation where another wannabe-cult-leader made a bargain that whoever could bring a former cult member back to life would reign supreme, a-la American Horror Story)
  • He believed everyone in his cult should have weapons and military training
  • Koresh built a compound in Waco that was–you guessed it–the ultimate battleground where he and almost 100 of his followers would perish
  • The Davidians weren’t dummies. Koresh’s right-hand-man was a theologian, and another was an attorney
  • The FBI hid recording devices in a milk delivery for the women and children trapped in the compound. The footage reveals that the Davidians started the lethal fires that day.
  • Apparently the compound had a really nice pool (according to many Google image searches), and I might fall for a place that had such a great pool

Ultimately, we know how this story ends. It ain’t pretty. It’s actually pretty heartbreaking. Koresh had many psychotic rants that were on the radio and TV. The ATF/FBI also really handled the situation poorly, using near-torture tactics to get Koresh to release his followers. The showdown, lasting 51 days, ended when the compound set fire after tear gas launched into the building caught fire. Before that, there was an infamous shootout with the compounders and the ATF.

The sad thing about this ending, is that Koresh created a self-fulfilling prophecy of the end times. He brought the apocalypse to his doorstep. Instead of four horsemen, there were jugheads with guns. Both parties were really to blame, and neither handled it the way they should. It’s a touchy subject for most, and after the limited series aptly titled Waco premiered on the Paramount Network, it’s getting easy to side with the Davidians on this one.

For more resources on the Davidians and the massacre at Waco in 1993, check out the series mentioned above. For brownie points, read the book that it was based on, titled A Place Called Waco: A Surivor’s Story by David Thibodeau.

There’s also a lot of great podcasts out there that have covered the Branch Davidians. My favorite is this one, here.


The fascinating world of (researching) cults: What I learned about Heaven’s Gate

Pot pie: a cult favorite

So, I’m writing a book. Part of writing a book, in my opinion, is a massive, nearly-problematic tendency to fall into research rabbit holes. This is also the tendency of someone working in a library. You learn how to research.

Really, you learn how to Google.

Part of working in a library as frontline staff means that people think you are a fount of knowledge; you work with books, therefore you must have a card catalog and multiple databases installed in your brain. And in a way, we do. It’s just called The Internet, Research Skills, and the Ability to Ask One Very Important Question of that research: Who is the source? Are they trustworthy?

Being a skeptic is about 75% of my job.

So when it comes to researching cults, bizarre religions, and strange group behaviors surrounding Some White Guy That Wants Your Money (because that is usually the case), the trick is knowing how to take the source and filter it with that grain of salt. Because every “cult” website thinks it is 100% accurate and that spaceship is, indeed, arriving for us very soon.

I find this fascinating.

What makes a religion? There’s millions of people out there who think they know the answer. Usually based on the Bible, typically it’s some random prophet’s iteration of what, exactly, that Jesus guy meant to us, and how, exactly, God plans on destroying us all/bringing about the end of the world.

Doomsday cults are my favorite. Like Heaven’s Gate, the infamous purple-shrouded-Nike-wearing followers Do (Marshall Applewhite), who convinced 39 people to commit suicide in order to make it to their spaceship on the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997.

I was 11 years old when this went down, and it kicked off my weird fascination with cult behavior (not that I wasn’t already doomed, after reading The Shining at 9). I remember the news footage. I’ve been intrigued by it for a couple of decades now.

Perhaps my favorite thing about HG: they really liked chicken pot pie. Reportedly, they ate these as their last meal at a local Marie Calendar’s, followed by cheesecake topped with blueberries. Sounds good to me.

I heard on a great podcast (aptly titled, Heaven’s Gate, hosted by Glynn Washington) that the members really didn’t have beef with anyone, and were friendly enough (though they, themselves, may have been persuaded to be, y’know, castrated). They also had a sense of humor. The whole $5 bill and quarters in their pockets thing was downright snarky.

After choosing their poison in pudding or applesauce, the members bid farewell to this realm inside a rented a 9,200 square-foot mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. The house was subsequently purchased by neighbors and leveled. The street name was changed. Those rich folk really don’t want to be bothered.

Here’s the thing. The mass suicide of 39 people might seem to us like a bizarre, twisted tragedy. But to Applewhite and his crew, maybe not. Maybe they did catch that ride, and I hope that they did. None of us know that they were actually, 100% wrong (just like any religion). That’s just my opinion, though.

The good news: the Heaven’s Gate website still exists, supposedly run by 2 remaining members (the group did, after all, make extra money by designing websites in the early ages of the internet). It’s a fantastic resource. Bring your grain of salt for some excellent further reading.