Independent Publishers Award Winner - Visionary Fiction
2007 Visionary Fiction Silver Medalist
Reviews & Information


Click here to view an excerpt from Lena's talk at the Boulder Book Store.

From the Back Cover:

Set adrift by sudden unemployment, web designer Michelle Thomson is at an impasse in her life when she is introduced to a charismatic spiritual teacher known only as Ma. Though initially skeptical, Michelle is soon captivated by Ma’s energy and insight and begins to find new meaning both in Ma’s teachings and as a member of her insular community. While at first she blossoms under Ma’s guidance, when Michelle uncovers deception at the heart of all she has come to believe in, she is forced to face the ultimate test any spiritual teacher can give.

Written with the intimacy of a private diary, this novel details the human struggles and failings that can turn a well-intentioned quest for truth into a nightmarish journey. A fascinating book that’s hard to put down, this is a must-read tale for anyone who wants to understand more about the inner dynamics of spiritual groups, why people get involved in cults, and how they can grow and heal from the experience.



“One of the many achievements of...Lena Phoenix’s new novel, “The Heart of a Cult” that it realistically explores the vast gray area…[of cults] without ever resorting to sensationalism. Cults, Phoenix reveals, are not always easy to define or identify. Most alternative spiritual groups tend be made up of smart, idealistic people, not wackos. And while such groups can be destructive, they can also offer real benefits to participants…The story feels refreshingly real and doesn’t resort of over-the-top plotting to keep the reader turning pages…Phoenix is a smart, clean writer who knows how to create believable characters through dialogue and just a few salient details…Although self-published, “The Heart of a Cult” is better written and more readable than half the titles on many major publisher’s front lists…Lena Phoenix offers a knowing, engaging and deeply human look at a borderline cult that illuminates as much as it entertains.”

-Clay Evans, The Daily Camera

Read Clay's full review at The Daily Camera

“This debut novel is a must-read for those interesed in spiritual communities and transformation.”

-Enfuse Magazine

"...a pretty fascinating read, a look at the subject from the actual crystal-lined trenches, showing systematically just what kinds of hypocrisy always lay at the heart of all cultlike situations, whether violent and evangelical in nature or merely greedy and passive-aggressive."

-Chicago Center for Literature and Photography

Read CCLaP's full review at Chicago Center for Literature and Photography

“I was hooked on this book from day one…As Michelle struggles to understand her spiritual path and find a connection with God, we readers are taken along for the ride…Not being an overly “spiritual” person myself, I was unsure of how I would connect with this book. Whether you're spiritual or not, you will find yourself relating to the main characters, and taking a look at your own life. The story is real, honest and sincere, and one that I would recommend to anyone, no matter what your reading preference may be.”

-Book of the Moment Reviews

"...Lena Phoenix writes with understanding and insight into the personality of vulnerable individuals with a propensity for being deceived by cultic leaders and their close knit community relationships. This first person narrative takes on a feeling of real life, and genuineness. Phoenix masterfully develops subtleties in her characters that draw you into their lives, identifying and empathizing with them...This is a book for those who have been touched personally by cultic teaching and practices or for someone on a quest for spiritual enlightenment and manifestation. The novel is clearly written, well articulated, and grounded in reality.

-Richard R. Blake, The Midwest Book Review

Read Richard's full review at The Midwest Book Review

"Many ponder how anyone would wish to become a member of a cult. By reading “The Heart of a Cult,” you will understand that one doesn’t have to be brainwashed, held captive and weak to do so. Virtuous characteristics are promised to those who are led on this mission under the assumption of personal belonging and healing from life’s painful hurts and issues. You will discover how easy it is to become convinced that a cult’s goals are admirable and honorable.

-Reader Views

Read the full review at Reader Views

"The Heart of a Cult is a story. Phoenix does not analyze cultic persuasion or discuss the recovery process. She merely tells a story that many have lived. Her novel offers a compassionate expression of everyday cult allure and betrayal. This book would be useful for family members of cultists to understand the mindset of their beloved cult members. Those in cult recovery would find a voice of compassionate acknowledgement for their experience of betrayal and multifaceted losses.

-Cultic Studies Review

Read the full review at Cultic Studies Review

"Even though [The Heart of a Cult] is fiction, it rings true to me on many different levels…I find the gradual descent into the cult mentality described in the book to be a very accurate representation of how people are deceived into giving more and more time to the activities of the leader and the group…I find myself identifying with the main character in the book, who through her willingness to have an open mind and to be tolerant and dismissive of her own internal red flags during the recruitment process, gradually got sucked in above her head. Those of you who want to read some good cult fiction should get this book. It is not sensationalistic at all, and rings quite true about the cult experience."

-Cathleen A. Mann, Ph.D

"The Heart of a Cult demystifies what a cult is like, with a very realistic and evocative portrayal of a spiritual community. The process of Phoenix's protagonist's introduction to this community and the personal development of the protagonist feels completely authentic. Phoenix's story neither condones nor condemns, but lets the reader create their own view from an inside look into becoming involved with a spiritual community and being involved with a spiritual teacher."

"Phoenix is a truly delightful writer. She touches on life issues that face all of us, especially those with an interest in spiritual growth and discovery. This is a great read and leaves you with a sense of possibility and hope."

-Anonymous Reader

“There aren't all that many novels I find myself engrossed in right up to the end. This one was one of the few. Michelle, a web designer, has been downsized. She's broken things off with her boyfriend and is at loose ends when her best friend invites her to a lecture by "Ma," leader of a spiritual group that has recently moved into the area. She finds herself drawn into the group, plunking down her money and volunteering her time. The books shows both Michelle's spiritual growth and her growing disillusionment with the cult and its charismatic leader. The author has a breezy, easy-to-read style and I found myself really caring about the characters. They, as well as the group Michelle finds herself joining, are all very believable and it's easy to see how Michelle was drawn in. The book does a nice job of showing both sides of the 'cult' coin, the good as well as the bad. A very promising first novel.”

-Margaret L. Fieland

"Phoenix's heroine seeks self-transformation through community. But her search leads her not to peace, but to a maddeningly complex weave of truth and lies surrounding the mysterious charismatic leadership structure of the group that seems to offer everything. Her self-transformation happens in ways she never expected when she first stepped outside her door in Boulder. Nail-biting reading!"

-Megan Prelinger, Prelinger Archives

"If you think you're not a spiritual seeker, if you think you're above it all or beyond ever being "cult-ified", think again. Lena phoenix will lead you up the staircase to Ma, with the promise of enlightenment, to the very heart of a cult, and you will want to be there every step of the way. This credible, fascinating, and succint account of how an ordinary fly is drawn to her spider will weave you into every page."

-Heather Pylant

“The Heart of a Cult invites us to look at what is real, what is meaningful, what is possible, and also how to be discriminating and honest with spiritual paths. I thoroughly enjoyed this read…I stayed up one night until 2 AM finishing it…This book was so real and clear about a spiritual path. It showed the benefits and the downfalls. It was not fluffy or airy-fairy like some other spiritual books. It was a great story, written very well, and such a pleasure!”

-Beth Burcham

“Spiritual search is part of so many lives. It is easy to be misled and make mistakes. This story is entertaining, and it is more than that. It is eye-opening. It's easy to get caught up in things that are neither true nor helpful, especially when we are vulnerable. I enjoyed it immensely!”

-Stacy Clark

"A fascinating look at a contemporary search for truth. This is a gripping story that reads with the intimacy of a private diary. An impressive first novel."

-Lena's Mom

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Click the "play" button to hear Lena's interview with Clay Evans on KGNU radio.