BOOK: Spinning Silver (2018)

Spinning Silver Year: 2018 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 434 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** About seven years ago, there seemed to be a renaissance of fairy tale retellings and reimagining that swept through popular culture. From television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm to movies like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Mirror Mirror (2012) to the books of Melanie Dickerson, it seemed that wherever you turned, you could find someone’s different take on classic fairy tales. While perhaps a little outside this bubble of pop culture, Spinning Silver has the benefit of standing out in a field of genre books that seems to have cooled in recent years. Based partially on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, author Naomi Novik has masterfully combined elements of Jewish and Russian folklore to reimagine this story from a somewhat more modern perspective while also maintaining its fairytale settings and tropes. If anything, her strong and independent female characters highlight how chauvinistic the original fairy tales seem when compared to the culture we’re living in...
Read More

BOOK: This Present Darkness (1986)

This Present Darkness Year: 1986 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 520 pages Back in high school, I had to read this book as part of my Religions class and thought it was pretty good. As I have been preparing for writing The Slumberealm Gambit, I decided to give This Present Darkness another read so I could recall how Peretti combined the fantastical spirit world with the real world. For a book written in 1986, it’s aged surprisingly well, even if the demise of the newspaper and the rise of constant contact via cell phones would make this kind of book set in modern times a hard sell. Even so, I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone adapted this book into a movie, as the plot is thrilling and the action is top-notch. Strangely enough, one of my qualms with this book is with its formatting and proofreading. There were a few missed typos, and the right-align text didn’t seem as professional as I would have hoped a widely-printed book would...
Read More

MOVIE: A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours I’m not a fan of horror. In recent decades, the “gorenography” surrounding the genre seemed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Jump scares and excessive on-screen violence were the norms. It seems that films like Get Out (2017) have changed that, judging by how expertly A Quiet Place (2018) still holds to some of the horror tropes but tells a story that’s much more thrilling than seeing a group of people gored to death one-by-one. In the end, A Quiet Place is expert storytelling at its finest, based partly on how adeptly it uses the medium of film to convey its horror. While there seemed to be a few minor plot holes and curious decisions on the part of the characters, I’m just going to chalk them up to “horror logic” and move on to why I think this film is required viewing, even for people who hate horror movies. What...
Read More

MOVIE: Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 140 minutes / 2.33 hours Ready Player One (2018) is a rare film for me, mostly because I had read the book well before the movie came out. In fact, I read the book shortly after it was released, and was impressed by the sheer volume of pop culture references. Consequently, I figured such a film could never be made. Just based on the incredible amount of coordination it would take to get rights approvals from so many different places, the legal side of such a film would be a nightmare. If it was made into a film, I imagined it would certainly be a fun and flashy romp through cyberspace. The film version, while not entirely faithful to its source material, certainly lives up to my imagination. While the book spends paragraphs describing all the pop culture references, the movie does it one better and gives quick, flashing glances of something that fans of pop culture will...
Read More

MOVIE: Avengers – Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 149 minutes / 2.48 hours It’s difficult to codify something like Avengers: Infinity War (2018) without including everything that led up to it. In reality, it’s probably more along the lines of the 19th episode of a television series that’s taken ten years to realize fully. Because of the interconnected nature of these previous movies, it’s difficult to view it alone without the backstory tied to it. However, there are enough brief moments of exposition to help most people fill in the gaps as to what is happening. Still, as is the case with many finales for television shows, the epic nature of Infinity War is at a level all its own. The scale of such an endeavor is daunting, but with as little backstory as possible holding it back, Infinity War moves at a pretty good pace, jumping between a couple of groups of Avengers. Of course, we can’t just directly jump to fighting the main villain, so the “lesser” bad guys stand...
Read More

MOVIE: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Anymore, superhero films are a dime a dozen. I get that they’re adding up to a greater narrative for Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but a lot of them seem almost indistinguishable from each other. Enter Black Panther (2018). Not only is this superhero not white, but almost all the action takes place somewhere other than New York City. There are a lot of strengths in Black Panther that make it feel like a cut above the rest. From the set design and aesthetic of Wakanda to the well-developed characters (including women warriors and women scientists), Black Panther shows how a superhero movie should be made. Despite its strengths, there are still a few, minor weaknesses in this film. First, some of the CGI felt a little off in the sense that my mind rejected it when I saw it. These moments were usually pretty rare but were unquestionably obvious. Secondly, one of the tenets of the superhero genre is the action/fight sequences. While...
Read More

BOOK: The Green Mile (1996)

The Green Mile Year: 1996 Author: Stephen King Length: 839 minutes / 13.98 hours While most people might not realize Stephen King wrote The Green Mile, I was completely unaware that the original version of this book was released serially—much like Charles Dickens used to do with his books. The novelty of experimenting with this format is somewhat lost now that the volumes are collected together to create a whole narrative. Even so, King is still the master of his craft, even if there’s minimal “horror” contained within the walls of this prison. At least, it’s an expected horror through the system of capital punishment, and not tied to the terror of the unknown. Even though I enjoyed this story for its characters and plot, one element stuck out like a sore thumb: the framing via the retirement home. Sure, there’s a neat twist involved near the end, but so often the narrative would pull away from the time period in the prison to show some...
Read More

MOVIE: Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours It’s weird to think that 2003 was 15 years ago. As someone who graduated high school in 2004, Lady Bird (2017) hit me right in the nostalgia. While there have been plenty of coming-of-age films over the years, Lady Bird simplifies the experience to a quick-paced trot through the senior year of high school for the titular character (portrayed to great effect by Saoirse Ronan). All the trappings of the coming-of-age story are there, including experimentation with drugs, sex, and alcohol, but done in a way that is still innocent and child-like. In the end, Lady Bird is about independence and defining who we are as individuals. What really hits home in the narrative of this film is the things we do to make ourselves stand out. From declaring that our name is different from the one our parents gave us to choosing which friends we spend our time with, we inevitably realize that we’re seeking approval and acceptance...
Read More

MOVIE: Coco (2017)

Coco Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours In the never-ending string of incredible visuals brought to life by Pixar, Coco (2017) continues this trend into the afterlife. At this point, I’m convinced Pixar could just go ahead and shoot live video and put their animated characters in the scene and I’d still think the whole thing was animated. The interplay of color, light, and shadow really come out in this celebration of Mexican culture. All spectacular visuals aside, Pixar again delivers on an emotional impact that left me crying, as always. When it comes to new ideas, Pixar certainly still knows how to create a visually-compelling story. While Coco has a lot going for it, there are a few weaknesses, some of which are my own opinion based on my likes and dislikes. I know the film mostly targets children (and older children at that), but the plot was just a smidge too predictable. Sure, it was enjoyable to see my...
Read More

BOOK: Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box (2018)

Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box Year: 2018 Author: Maédeiva Myre Length: 230 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** When the author contacted me about reviewing this book, he compared it to The Kite Runner. Having now read this book, I think Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box can stand on its own without the comparison. Sure, both focus on the events of childhoods in the Pakistan/India area, but the one scene that both seem to share (the rape) seems completely unnecessary in Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box. This was my only practical qualm with the book. As it is, the author has crafted a well-thought-out narrative that covers plenty of meaningful topics and themes. Except for the violence perhaps being a little too intense in places, I could see myself reading this to elementary-age children to help them understand a culture different from their own. Not only does the author show the differences between varying levels of poverty, but he does so in...
Read More