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Nonfiction Review – Beyond Belief

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Beyond Belief
by Jenna Miscavige Hill (with Lisa Pulitzer)

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Several months ago I read Leah Remini’s autobiography Troublemaker (check out my review on the blog) and she exposed many of the questionable practices of Scientology.  I was intrigued by Remini’s book and wanted to learn more about Scientology and the experiences of others who had also managed to escape the Church.  I found Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of the Chairman of the Board of Scientology David Miscavige.

Jenna was raised in the Church when her parents joined when she was just a small child.  Some of her stories of her childhood in California and her jobs for the Church sounded like nothing more than child labor. During much of her childhood, while Jenna and her father were in California, her mother was in Florida.  The separation of children from their parents (and the rule that members of the Sea Organization can’t have children) seems to be part of an elaborate isolation and brainwashing scheme on the part of the Church.

As Jenna describes her various duties in the Church, her auditing sessions, her limited friendships, and monitored interactions with her family, she voices what seems to be doubt but she stays in the Church, even when given an initial chance to leave.  What she experiences seems to be nothing more than systematic brainwashing and separating of individuals from any support system outside the Church.  There were obvious mixed messages from the Church through their words and actions and even directly from her uncle and aunt, David and Shelly Miscavige. When Jenna questions the Church over some practices or requirements, she is met with hostility, degrading accusations and punishments. Her final frustration that pushes her to leave the Church was a long time coming based on her life story.

In Beyond Belief, Jenna goes into great detail regarding her experiences and she comes across as genuine and honest. While the delivery is a bit simplistic and the writing style is not very sophisticated, I think a reader who is wanting to learn more about the practices of the Church will find this book engrossing and, honestly, quite disturbing.  Beyond Belief gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Nonfiction Review – Troublemaker

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Several months ago Leah Remini made the rounds on the talk show circuit to promote her book Troublemaker.  I was intrigued by her story of leaving her church after so many years and decided to read the book.

Remini is open and forthright in this telling of her life and, sometimes sordid, history with Scientology.  Knowing nothing other than some vocal celebrities practice Scientology and that it is based on L. Ron Hubbard’s writings, I was interested in learning more.

Remini doesn’t point the finger at Scientology and blame it for all of her troubles.  She openly admits she sometimes made the wrong choices and she could have done things differently.  Remini also acknowledges that Scientology and many of its practices helped shape her into being a better person; trying her best to help others and be a good member of her church.  However, eventually Remini realized there was something missing from her faith and she was disturbed by some of her interactions with others in the church.

Delivered with humor, wit, and honesty, I really enjoyed Remini’s book.  It was eye-opening and I found it so intriguing to be able to learn more about the inner workings and practices of Scientology and how she came to be a part of the organization.  For the reader who wants the scoop on celebrity inside information, there is some of that to whet their appetite but, fortunately for the rest of us, that is not the primary focus in the book.




Nonfiction Review – Buffalo for the Broken Heart

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien


Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Ever since I saw the mini-series Lonesome Dove and read the books in the Lonesome Dove series by Larry McMurtry, I wanted to see buffalo on the plains. A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit South Dakota with my job and the first thing I thought was ‘I can see buffalo!’  I was able to tack a few extra days to the work trip to do some sightseeing.   I had a few items on my list of places to visit (Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood and Crazy Horse Memorial) but at the top of the list: find buffalo!

I discovered Custer State Park, especially Wildlife Loop, was the place to go to find buffalo.  One day during my trip I packed a bag lunch and hit the road for Custer State Park.  I was on a mission…and I succeeded! I’ll just say the name ‘Wildlife Loop’ is very accurate.  I saw wild burros, deer, prairie dogs, antelope, and hundreds of buffalo.  I pulled my car into a pull off along the Loop and ate lunch while watching the buffalo.  It was a dream come true and it’s a day I’ll never forget.  Here’s a picture of my lunch dates that day.


Later in my trip I visited the Museum of the American Bison in downtown Rapid City.  The museum is dedicated to telling the story of the American bison and its brush with extinction as a result of America’s westward expansion.  The highlight of visiting the museum was talking with Susan Ricci, museum director and co-founder.  Her passion for these amazing creatures was palpable and her dedication to the protection of the buffalo was contagious.  She told me about her buffalo George, buffalo ranches, and the role of these ranches in preserving the buffalo. I told her about my dream come true at Custer and we parted with a hug, bonded over our love of the buffalo.

Once I got home from South Dakota I wanted to learn more.  I had fallen in love with South Dakota; the buffalo and Black Hills, the parks and national monuments were all incredible.  After some research I found Buffalo for the Broken Heart.  The book is a journal of sorts of author Dan O’Brien’s undertaking to introduce buffalo to his Broken Heart Ranch in South Dakota and restoring more buffalo to the grasslands that have long suffered under the hooves of cattle. He told of the difficulties of ranching and farming in the Black Hills and what it took to convince him to give buffalo a try on his ranch. O’Brien describes helping with buffalo roundups on other ranches and the roundup and buffalo sale at Custer State Park, where I had my lunch with the buffalo.  His stories of the buffalo, their introduction to the ranch, the growth of his ranch, and the importance of the buffalo in the bigger picture of repairing the West was touching, educational, and emotional.  O’Brien weaves his personal story with the story of the young buffalo on his ranch to create a dynamic story of redemption and hope.  I think readers who enjoy nonfiction, environmental studies, American history and culture, and ecology would all identify with and enjoy various elements of this book.

I am so thankful I had the opportunity to sit and eat lunch while watching the buffalo at Custer State Park.   I send my best wishes to Susan at Museum of the American Bison and thank her for taking the time to talk with me that afternoon I visited her and for all of her efforts on the behalf of the American bison.  I have Lonesome Dove and Larry McMurtry to thank for inspiring me to visit the land of buffalo and I have Dan O’Brien’s Buffalo for the Broken Heart to thank for giving me a greater understanding of the grasslands and importance of the buffalo in the West.