Movie Review

31 Days of Halloween: The Witch (2015)

For Day 7 of my 31 Days of Halloween, I’m picking something with a more historical bent: The Witch. This film originally had the subtitle “a New England folktale,” and it truly feels like stepping back into the puritanical times of the 1600s.

The Witch Poster

IMDB’s Description: “A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.”

This was such a fascinating movie. It’s a bit slower in pace, but the visuals more than make up for that. It’s artistically filmed and really transports you to a different place in time. I loved the way that the hysteria was portrayed: for most of the movie, you’re wondering if magic is really afoot or if it’s all in their minds. This is a truly unique horror movie. It’s pretty much devoid of jump scares and works by truly providing a fascinating, dark atmosphere that just sucks you in.

Book Review

Review: The Underground Railroad

I recently finished reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and it was a really stunning piece of literature. I am so happy that it won this year’s National Book Award!

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This is the third book I have read by Colson Whitehead. The first two were a post-apocalyptic zombie tale called Zone One and a humorous autobiography about his own professional poker playing experiences called The Noble Hustle. Both of these books were vastly different than the historical one I’m reviewing here, but I think that they speak to Whitehead’s genius and the fact that he is fearless and writes whatever he feels like writing instead of staying pigeonholed in one genre. That being said, all of the books and excerpts I’ve read have shared a similar, literary writing style with somewhat flowery prose. I happen to be a fan of somewhat flowery prose, but I could definitely understand if some readers decide they find Whitehead to be a bit too verbose.

The Underground Railroad follows a slave named Cora who escapes from a Georgia plantation and tries to find freedom following the underground railroad. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t like this because I’ve just read so many slave narratives that I thought it would feel like a repeat of all the others (I feel this way about World War II books as well). However, I was pleasantly surprised! This book was just beautifully written and compelling. I couldn’t put it down, and I felt a close connection to the main character Cora. She was crafted so intricately and perfectly, as were the words used to describe her experiences. Whitehead also ingeniously uses a literal subway system, which felt fresh and interesting.

Whitehead himself is also an interesting guy. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago at an academic event, and he is very charming and down-to-earth. I had frankly been nervous to meet him given his literary standing and MacArthur Fellowship, but he was so funny and intriguing and a bit self-deprecating. I’m sure that these positive memories do play a role in how well I review his books, but I genuinely think this is a great read for anyone who wants something thought-provoking and historical. So often, big awards like the National Book Award give their awards to books that seem so dry and inaccessible, and I’m so pleased that this is neither. I think this one is destined to be considered a classic.

Book Review

Book Review: Shakespeare No More

Shakespeare No More is  great historical murder mystery by Tony Hays. In this novel, Simon Saddler, visits his estranged friend William Shakespeare only to be told that he believes he is dying from being poisoned. After Shakespeare dies, Saddler embarks on a quest through England to solve his murder.

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In this novel, Hayes references the not-so-popular conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare was murdered. Though the historical accuracy of this is very suspect, this particular novel was a delightful read. Shakespeare is depicted in a believable (probably accurate) way of being smug and philandering. His friend Saddler begrudgingly visits him and later tries to solve his murder. There are many imagined and historical figures in this novel, but everything seems very real. While I can’t say that I felt transported to 1600s England, I enjoyed this book nonetheless. I do prefer a bit more history in my historical mysteries, but this was a fun read with colorful, interesting characters.

This would likely appeal to Shakespeare-lovers and historical mystery lovers who are okay with glossing over historical inaccuracies for the sake of enjoying the narrative. The characters really were great and the pacing was fast, so this might even appeal more to those who have more of an interest in historical settings than in history itself.

Book Review

Book Review: Brooklyn

The novel Brooklyn by Colm Toibin is a truly remarkable feat of describing a the immigrant experience. Irish author Toibin describes the adventures of transformation of a young woman named Ellis who who moves from Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s.

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This novel was the source material for the critically-acclaimed film with the same name. The beauty of this book is that it is such a wonderfully-written coming-of-age story. Ellis moves to a new county and experiences a brand new culture, and naturally adjusts to her new environment while growing up at the same time. She finds a purpose. She experiences love and loss and hope. This novel takes its readers through the highs and lows of human experience all while framing the narrative with familiar cultural tropes.

The atmosphere is wonderfully described. There is a definite sense of time and place. The descriptions of Ellis’ time in Brooklyn as well as in Ireland are distinct and filled with beautiful imagery that makes it easy to follow to visualize. This is a novel that deserved all its acclaim.

I would think that readers who tend to prefer likable character-driven narratives will be the ones who are most drawn to this novel. While there is a plot, it moves slowly. It’s not uncomfortably slow; it’s just that action and event is not the main focus of the narrative, which is completely fine. Still, those used to more plot than character may not find this as magical as I did.