I’m a sucker for horror movies that are polarizing audiences, so when I heard about the new Netflix movie, “Things Heard & Seen” I had to see what all the fuss was about for myself!
First, the IMBD Description: “An artist relocates to the Hudson Valley and begins to suspect that her marriage has a sinister darkness, one that rivals her new home’s history.”
I must say, I was a little daunted by the fact that the movie is 2 hours long. Since horror and suspense are difficult things to maintain, I prefer these types of movies when they’re on the shorter side (ideally 80-90 minutes), but this one did not drag at all for me. I was fully entranced by the careful character studies in this film – no one is quite what they seem and each character (except perhaps the villain) is painted in a way that shows a lot of depth.
The setting was perfect – a haunted house that seemed to serve as a metaphor for the protagonist’s own unsettled feelings.
I wouldn’t say that this one is scary. It feels more like an artful mystery which analyzes gender roles and toxic relationships. Amanda Seyfried does a great job as the main character with understated loneliness and repression. James Norton is also fantastic at playing her husband and foil, a man whose secrets and darkness seem boundless by the end.
To avoid giving too much away, I will say that this one has a weird ending that leaves a bit to the imagination. For those who have read the novel the movie is based on (All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage) the ending is a bit different from its source material. In fact, this is a rare occasion where I think I actually enjoyed the movie more than the book!
Overall, I would definitely recommend this movie to people who like character-driven psychological suspense. Horror purists might find it a bit too mellow, and action-lovers may find it too leisurely paced.
What a weird year this has been! I’m sure I’m not the only one who would prefer to never repeat a year such as this one. Thankfully, though, I did have a lot of time to read this year (both new books and some re-reads of favorites!) Here are the best books I read (or re-read) this year:
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Goodreads Description: Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here too. . . but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the highest aspiration he can imagine for a Chinatown denizen. Or is it? After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis finds himself launched into a wider world than he’s ever known, discovering not only the secret history of Chinatown, but the buried legacy of his own family, and what that means for him, in today’s America.
My Thoughts: This book was the well-deserved winner of the National Book Award this year. It is one of the most unique books I’ve read. Partially in second person and partially written with script-esque dialogue, this is a strange but engrossing reading experience all about the harmful impact of internalizing and externalizing stereotypes.
When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy
Goodreads Description: Seduced by politics and poetry, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor and agrees to be his wife, but what for her is a contract of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealised version of a kept woman, bullying her out of her life as an academic and writer in the process, she attempts to push back – a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape. Smart, fierce and courageous When I Hit You is a dissection of what love meant, means and will come to mean when trust is undermined by violence; a brilliant, throat-tightening feminist discourse on battered faces and bruised male egos; and a scathing portrait of traditional wedlock in modern India
My Thoughts: This one was very difficult to read but I couldn’t put it down. The raw, vulnerable honesty was such a necessary addition to the wider societal conversations about domestic violence.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Goodreads Description:Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
My Thoughts: This was a really fun book! It is an exciting mystery combined with a lot of interesting character development. I loved the exploration of the female friendships.
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Goodreads Description:Postcolonial Love Poem is an anthem of desire against erasure. Natalie Diaz’s brilliant second collection demands that every body carried in its pages—bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers—be touched and held as beloveds. Through these poems, the wounds inflicted by America onto an indigenous people are allowed to bloom pleasure and tenderness: “Let me call my anxiety, desire, then. / Let me call it, a garden.” In this new lyrical landscape, the bodies of indigenous, Latinx, black, and brown women are simultaneously the body politic and the body ecstatic. In claiming this autonomy of desire, language is pushed to its dark edges, the astonishing dune fields and forests where pleasure and love are both grief and joy, violence and sensuality.
My Thoughts: This was the best poetry collection I read this year. The poems were exquisite and showed a lot of range when it comes to both theme and emotion. I can’t wait to read more from this poet!
My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams
Goodreads Description: Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams’s new friend Anna Delvey, a self-proclaimed German heiress, was worldly and ambitious. She was also generous. When Anna proposed an all-expenses-paid trip to Marrakech, Rachel jumped at the chance. But when Anna’s credit cards mysteriously stopped working, the dream vacation quickly took a dark turn. Anna asked Rachel to begin fronting costs—first for flights, then meals and shopping, and, finally, for their $7,500-per-night private villa. Before Rachel knew it, more than $62,000 had been charged to her credit cards. Anna swore she would reimburse Rachel the moment they returned to New York. Back in Manhattan, the repayment never materialized, and a shocking pattern of deception emerged. Rachel learned that Anna had left a trail of deceit—and unpaid bills—wherever she’d been. Mortified, Rachel contacted the district attorney, and in a stunning turn of events, found herself helping to bring down one of the city’s most notorious con artists.
My Thoughts: This was a fascinating memoir about a woman who was conned by someone who she thought was one of her best friends. I remembered hearing about Anna Delvey’s trial a while back, and I really enjoyed learning more about this case. I think two tv shows about this are currently in-development, and I’ll absolutely be watching those too!
Did you have more time to read in 2020? What are your top picks for this year? Be sure to let me know in the comment section!
While I haven’t been particularly eager to read horror with all that’s going on in the world, I did receive a copy of Brian Moreland’s new novel Tomb of Gods from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was immediately curious about it because of my deep-rooted love of Egyptian mythology, so I figured it was worth the risk of more nightmares in order to delve into that world for 288 pages.
Overall, I give this one 5 out of 5 stars! It’s rare that a book sucks me in and refuses to let me go. From the moment I started reading, I absolutely needed to know what was going to happen next. While the first few chapters are a slower introduction to the situation and characters, this one quickly turns into a high-octane race of an adventure. There were major Indiana Jones vibes during a lot of the novel, so I can only hope that someday this will be optioned into a movie!
As far as the characters go, they were very well-drawn. The protagonist Imogene is complicated and interesting, and as the novel progresses, we learn a lot about the things that haunt her and the rest of the characters. While I don’t want to risk giving too much of the plot away, I will say that I liked how each character had their own baggage that had to be addressed in one way or another throughout the course of the story. However, Imogene was the very heart of the story for me, and I felt good about rooting for her during this adventure.
Plot-wise, there are plenty of twists and turns. If you’re a fan of mythology like I am, then you will enjoy the various ways that Ancient Egyptian beliefs and culture play out. What starts out as a classic archaeological excavation story quickly turns into something much more sinister and complex.
I’m not sure what more I can say without risking oversharing plot details! This is one where you don’t want any spoilers for sure. It’s a fun and creepy adventure jam-packed with interesting characters and extremely creative events. If you’re a fan of horror, Ancient Egypt, and/or the Indiana Jones films, you’ll definitely want to check this one out!
During this time of global fear and uncertainty, I’ve been escaping back into familiar fictional worlds. Reading has always been one of my favorite coping mechanisms, and so I wanted to share some of the books I’ve been enjoying during this time of quarantine (a lot of them are rereads of books I own because I love them so much).
The Elegance of the Hedgehogby Muriel Barbery – This is probably my favorite book of all time. It seems like each time I reread it, the experience is different but equally rich. This books covers a wide range of topics: philosophy, classism, cultural appreciation, and unlikely friendships.
Gone With the Windby Margaret Mitchell – Scarlet O’Hara is unlikeable but in such a realistic, interesting way. I’ve enjoyed rereading this tale of hardship and growing up, even when you don’t want to.
We Need to Talk About Kevinby Lionel Shriver – While certainly not uplifting, I did enjoy exploring this book again. It’s a hard read since it’s about a school shooter, but it delves into nature vs. nurture in such a fascinating way.
Where’d You Go, Bernadetteby Maria Semple – This is such a fun journey about both motherhood and childhood. There are some really zany characters that create a lot of humor in this one.
Where the Crawdads Singby Delia Owens – Even though I read it for the first time just last year, I knew I wanted to reread this one. It was just as great the second time with its themes of love, loss, and murder as well as its rich setting.
The Night Circusby Erin Morgenstern – This is a magical realism romance that is so well-realized. I’ve read it multiple times now and look forward to each reread.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton – I’m a huge fan of this franchise, especially the movies. The book is just as fun (though some of the characters are drawn much differently). I always enjoy rereading this harrowing adventure.
What have you been reading during this coronavirus epidemic? Feel free to share your own recommendations in the comment section!
Halloween is nearly upon us! I can’t believe that this time next week, my apartment will be decorated for Christmas (don’t judge me!) Anyway, Halloween isn’t until Thursday so you definitely still have time to squeeze in another horror novel. Here are my top 7 suggestions for what you should read next!
1.The Shining by Stephen King – This is one I read pretty much every Halloween. I’m a huge fan of both the book and movie (I even have an Overlook Hotel keychain!) This is some great horror that truly balances plot and character development. It’s atmospheric – the hotel almost seems like its own character. Overall, it’s just a really fun read!
2.We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – This is a heavy one filled with realistic horrors. There’s some amazing psychology to unpack in this book that really questions the nature vs. nurture argument for what happens when children do unbelievably evil things.
3.Dracula by Bram Stoker – This is another one I tend to read every year. While not the first vampire novel, it is for sure one of the most famous of the vampire classics. I like the epistolary style and the gothic vibes. There’s a reason this one inspired so many retellings.
4.House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty – Elizabeth Bathory, one of history’s most prolific female serial killers, is at the heart of this novel. I thought this was a fun exploration of both history and a modern mystery. It’s fast-paced and super creepy!
5.The Ruins by Scott B. Smith – While killer plants in the Mexican jungle seems like a cheesy plot, I actually loved this book. It’s fascinating and delves into more psychological aspects of the characters than I was expecting. I couldn’t put this one down!
6.The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – I actually HATE zombies (they just typically bore me) but I adored this book. It was such a unique addition to the super tired and overdone zombie subgenre. I’m really glad I gave it a chance.
7.Help for the Haunted by John Searles – This is more mystery than horror but it has enough paranormal stuff that I feel comfortable including it on the list. It definitely has spooky moments but the driving force really is the mystery of the protagonist’s parents deaths.
What’s your favorite horror novel? Be sure to let me know in the comments section – and while you’re there, tell me what costume you’ll be rocking this year!
Halloween is less than 2 weeks away! In between prepping for a wedding (not mine) and a Halloween party (mine), I’ve been watching so many horror movies again this year. Of course, I think horror is a great genre year-round, but for those of you who only dabble in the black arts during Autumn, I thought I’d share my top 10 picks!
IMDB Description: “Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.”
I think this is one of the greatest modern horror movies. It’s based on a fascinating true story, and the cinematography is top-notch. It’s moody/atmospheric and the jump scares are kept to a minimum (which means that you’re always on guard and aren’t able to get used to them). There’s a reason that this film was successful enough to launch a huge franchise (The Conjuring 2, The Nun, Annabelle, etc.)
IMDB Description: “Five years after an unexplained malfunction causes the death of 15 tour-goers and staff on the opening night of a Halloween haunted house tour, a documentary crew travels back to the scene of the tragedy to find out what really happened.”
This is for sure one of my favorite independent horror movies. Again, instead of being replete with jump scares, there are lots of subtly creepy things that gradually build into a great ending. I highly recommend this one (but I do not recommend its two sequels). Bonus: creepy clowns.
IMDB Description: “A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators.”
This movie has multiple things going for it: female friendship, claustrophobia, and weird underground creatures. My favorite thing about it really is how well it manages to make the viewer to feel trapped as well. This is a fascinating, unique film (which did not need a sequel – don’t watch the sequel).
IMDB Description: “A journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone one week to the day after they view it.”
I watched this film in junior high so it has a special place in my dark heart as being one of my first real horror movie experiences. Fun fact: I had a friend who was terrified of this movie. One day, she left her locker open and I put a note that said, “Seven Days” inside the locker and closed it. To this day, I think that’s one of the meanest things I’ve ever done. Overall, this is just a well-done horror movie with a surprisingly heartfelt plot and some stylistic cinematography.
IMDB Description: “A year after the murder of her mother, a teenage girl is terrorized by a new killer, who targets the girl and her friends by using horror films as part of a deadly game.”
I love that this is a self-aware horror movie. Fans of horror will love the references to various horror tropes that pervade this film. I love the entire Scream franchise (including the spin-off TV series). These movies are great slasher flicks which don’t take themselves too seriously.
IMDB Description: “American seminary student Michael Kovak travels to Italy to take an exorcism course.”
Inspired by a true story, this is a great movie about faith. The acting is also superb since it stars none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins! This is the kind of movie that has plenty of scares but also makes you think about your own beliefs.
IMDB Description: “A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point.”
This is a groundbreaking movie that deserves a place in history for causing critics to start taking horror more seriously. This film, through its fantastic and nuanced discussion of race in America, proved that horror can have something to say. I highly recommend this one!
IMDB Description: “A woman, Rose, goes in search for her adopted daughter within the confines of a strange, desolate town called Silent Hill.”
This is definitely my most controversial pick as it was panned by critics and horror-lovers alike. But I don’t care – I love this movie! Yes, it’s cheesy and based on a video game, but I think the special effects are great and some of the monsters (the nurses, pyramid-head, etc.) are super cool!
IMDB Description: “Five interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer; a college virgin might have just met the guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; a woman who loathes the night has to contend with her holiday-obsessed husband; and a mean old man meets his match with a demonic, supernatural trick-or-treater.”
I don’t often like anthology films, but this is a really good one (which is also perfect thematically for Halloween). What sets this film apart is that the five stories are actually connected in a loose but organic way which makes it feel really complete. This one is definitely worth a watch!
IMDB Description: “Suspecting that people around him are turning into evil creatures, a troubled man questions whether to protect his only friend from an impending war, or from himself.”
I love psychological horror and this one kept me guessing until the very end – is this guy crazy or are evil things lurking about? This one is dark and suspenseful but more disturbing than scary. Overall, it’s one of the best low-budget horror options out there.
Well, I hope I’ve inspired you to give horror a try this Halloween season! Are you already a horror fan? What are some of your favorites? Please, let me know in the comment section!
I have exciting news! One of my favorite short stories is now available to read FREE on Fiction on the Web. I wrote “St. Isabelle’s Downfall” as an undergrad, and it took a really long time to find it a home. It’s a psychological horror story about a character I was developing at the time for a novel that I finished but was never happy with. I know I’ve grown so much as a writer since this story (this was pre-MFA!) but I just have always liked the concept and couldn’t give up on it.
Going back through the short stories I’ve workshopped over the years has really reminded me that I prefer shorter mediums. I just don’t think I have the attention span needed to be a good novelist, and I honestly prefer the brevity and experimentation that are allowed in short stories and flash fiction. Hopefully, I’ll have more stories to share soon!
I love discovering weird, unique horror movies. Too often while I’m watching a movie, I feel overwhelmed by the familiarity – let’s be honest, most zombie and exorcism movies play out the same way every time. So, I get really excited when I stumble across something different. Last night, I took a chance and watched a lesser known Russian film The Mermaid – Lake of the Dead, and it far exceeded my expectations!
Here’s the IMDB Description: “An evil Mermaid falls in love with Marina’s fiancé Roman and aims to keep him away from Marina in her Kingdom of Death under water. The Mermaid is a young woman who drowned a few centuries ago. Marina only has one week to overcome her fear of the dark water, to remain human in the deathly fight with the monsters and not to become one herself.”
Honestly, I think that the description does this film a disservice. It’s extremely basic, while the film itself is rife with complexities. Rather than the mermaids I’ve been used to (thanks to Disney, of course), this type of mermaid is actually based on the Russian folklore about the rusalka. Also, the film focuses a lot on Roman’s family, which is very much linked to the Mermaid. His sister is a very dynamic, complicated character (actually, far more complex than his fiance Marina).
I was expecting something extra cheesy, but this was actually quite artsy in terms of cinematography. The repeating images of water (in all types of situation, with all different camera angles) were masterfully done. Originally shot in Russian, this was dubbed in English. I would almost always rather read subtitles, but I was actually pleasantly surprised at how organic the dub felt for this particular film. It wasn’t at all distracting.
In terms of the plot and writing, there were a few clarity issues, but they weren’t glaring. Mostly, if you’re familiar with the rusalka folklore or if you really pay attention to the black and white illustrated prologue which quickly explains the folklore, it should be easy to fill in some of the gaps. While mostly predictable, I still enjoyed the uniqueness of the story and the beauty of the cinematography.
In terms of the scare-factor, this was not the kind of horror movie that’s going to keep you up at night or make you afraid to swim in a lake (though, for the record, I’m already afraid of swimming in lakes – who knows what kind of bacteria is lurking!) However, there are some effective jump scares and creepy imagery for sure. I definitely recommend this film to horror-lovers with a soft spot for dark fairytales!
If you’ve seen this one, I’d love to hear your thoughts too! Feel free to share them in the comment section.
I recently saw some previews for the new film adaptation of Pet Sematary and it made me realize I had never actually read it. I have a huge amount of respect for Stephen King and all that he’s done for the horror genre, but his writing style isn’t always my favorite, especially in his longer, more recent books. Still, since this one is Classic King, I thought I’d give it a try before seeing the movie!
I truly believe that this is one of King’s best! It doesn’t quite reach the level of my top three favorite King stories: It, The Shining, and ‘Salem’s Lot – but it was still a very enjoyable reading experience. Generally, the premise is about a young family that moves to a small town shrouded in local legend about a Native American cemetery with powers to raise the dead. I’ll avoid giving too many details because I abhor spoilers.
Overall, this novel proves that King is a master of suspense and foreshadowing. Coming in at about 400 pages, this book was much longer than it needed to be (which is another trademark of Stephen King), yet just when the story was seeming to drag too much, hints of future horror were dropped in expert fashion. It was absolutely enough to keep the momentum and intrigue.
I was surprised at how long the buildup took before we got to the crux of the story. Much of the beginning half is devoted to intricate character development, which I did like (but which I know many will not). When we finally get to the story’s climax, the rest of the book felt rushed compared to the slow pacing of the beginning, but it still left me with that great eerie feeling long after the last page. Now, I’m super excited to see the two film adaptations as I know this plot really lends itself to a more visual medium!
I definitely recommend this one to readers looking for Classic King nostalgia (before his books became all 600+ pages) and to those who like moderately frightening horror with strong character development!
Another month is basically gone – I can’t believe how fast this year is flying. I wanted to check in really quick and list four of my favorite things for the month:
Tilda Swinton – I realized this month that Tilda Swinton is the common link shared by many of my favorite horror movies: Only Lovers Left Alive, Suspiria, and We Need to Talk About Kevin. She is extremely talented and versatile!
Cozy Mystery Audiobooks – I adore the fun, lighthearted nature of cozy mysteries where you get to solve a murder alongside an amateur sleuth and a cast of colorful characters set against an endearing, small-town backdrop. Lately, I’ve been making my way through the Magical Bakery series by Bailey Cates and the Needlecraft Mysteries by Monica Ferris.
Knitting – Even though warmer weather is creeping in, I’m still knitting away to create hats and scarves for the homeless through the charity Warm Up Ohio. It’s both relaxing and rewarding!
Kindle Paperwhite – While I love my Kindle Fire, the e-ink screen of the Kindle Paperwhite makes it so much easier on the eyes to read for long periods of time. It’s also so thin and portable that it will squeeze into even my smallest purse – because I obviously need to be connected to my library at all times!
Well, that’s what I loved in March! I’m hoping that April brings more adventure into my life 🙂