Review- The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff


Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I went in with too many dreams of Arthur Miller and the tourist traps of Salem in my head. Sadly, The Witches by Stacy Schiff wasn’t what I was expecting, and what I got wasn’t enough to satisfy me.

My first issue with this book is the title; pretty good place to start in terms of a list of grievances with a book. The title is a contradiction from what’s presented in the book. No, I’m not referring to Schiff taking the pragmatic approach of assuming you realize that there likely wasn’t any real witches hung in Salem in 1692. I’m referring to the fact that when I read “The Witches”, I’m assuming this book is going to focus on either the victims of the witch hangings or the young girls who caused them. Instead, 80% of the book is focused on the old men in charge who let it happened.

You could point to the subtitle as an excuse for why this is acceptable. And I understand that it’s likely a lot easier to find information about the men in positions of power than it is women and men charged with witchcraft and teenage girls who accused them. Realistic me understands this. Realistic me thought it was, for a time, interesting to get into the politics of the puritans and 1600’s America. For a time. Not for 300 pages.

I lost track of which old guy did what. I lost track of which old guy was the minister, who was the governor, who was overseeing the courts, who was clerking. They all blended together, and so the politics all really blurred for me.

From the beginning it felt like Schiff had a chip on her shoulder, another early fault. She wanted you to know Arthur Miller got it wrong. She resented that portrait he had caused Salem to now be synonymous with. She went out of her way, it seems, to strip the ordeal. She presented the events bare, with no opinion other than that Arthur Miller was wrong. (This at times was jarring, especially when one has yet to understand Schiff’s writing style.  Accusers are not written to “supposedly” have seen a witch, their hallucinations are written as events.)

What’s particularly disappointing is that once Schiff finds her voice the book becomes as interesting as I had anticipated, however it takes her nearly 400 pages to find it at length. A conclusion that depicts the teenage girl accusers as being oppressed puritan girls who were finally given a voice for a fleeting moment in their lives. A look into the modern Salem as it’s residents grow to accept the past that for so long they had attempted to hide in the shadows of history. These were interesting perspectives I would have liked to read more about.

No conclusions are given. Schiff makes no attempt at persuading the reader to believe the events were true, that the teenage girls were truly afflicted. In turn, she didn’t attempt to convince the reader who instigated the accusing. At least Arthur Miller tried to give a reason to the events, Schiff just tells you they happened. She dances around hysteria, dabbles in the possibility that the girls were persuaded by a village leader with a grudge against another family. Neither argument is discussed in particular detailed.

Victims are hardly given their due. Most are only present during their short trials and barely mentioned again. Some repercussions are discussed, but one has to pause to remember just which victim she’s referring to. (The fact that there is a list of accusers and accused, leaders, and town residents at the beginning should have given me a sign. They wouldn’t put it there if you didn’t need it.) More time is spent with the governing men, the jury members, and the town officials than anyone else and it’s never really explained why. It’s interesting contextually, but not much beyond that.

This was a slow read, and felt like it took longer than it did. I didn’t particularly enjoy the focus Schiff found for the large portion of the novel. However, I feel it could have been remedied at least some had she given an opinion as to the cause of the events, as mentioned before, and decided to better format the book. The chapters were on average around 50 pages long. Making a stopping point difficult to find if one didn’t intend to sit and read 50 pages in one sitting. (It was also difficult to pick up quickly on return.)

Oddly enough, I found myself enjoying the footnote text more than the body text. Often this is where Schiff placed interesting side notes; from modern references (she once quoted Dumbledore from Harry Potter), to amusing antidotes of a particular subject that didn’t directly connect to the narrative.

I enjoyed the few bright spots the book presented. I liked finding out more about the victims. The connections between Arthur Miller’s fictional characters and their real life counter parts were amusing. However, Schiff’s bland, yet honest, retelling of Salem in 1692 fell short.  I just don’t care enough about who the men governing the town at the time were, if you don’t give me at least a suggestion of why they acted how they did other than they were Puritan leaders.

I’ll stick with The Crucible and my “It’s a Wicked Good Time” Salem shirt, and possibly use The Witches as nothing more than reference material.



Review: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I’m really curious about the reaction of the likely middle aged history buffs who recently went to reserve a copy of the Alexander Hamilton biography they had heard about only to find that the copy at their library has a reserve list of 50+. 51rClEBJFvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I decided to read the hulking 800+ page (adjusted for citation pages of which there are around 90) biography of the United State’s first national secretary of the treasury for the same reason that I’m betting the majority of those 50 people who have it on reserve are; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s break out musical Hamilton: An American Musical.

It’s rather unlikely that I would have ever picked the book up, or even known about it, were it not for this musical. I read my first biography only last year, having always favored fiction. And to be perfectly honest, I always considered myself an Anglophile. I loathed the one American Lit class I had to take in college, and every history class I took after junior year in high school was European History. Coming from an Appalachian situated town our US History classes tended to favor focus on the Civil War. And to be honest, I distinctly remember being mad about the Revolutionary War in middle school; I was thick in my Harry Potter phase and mad we threw away the chance to have British accents over tea.

That being said, looking at the brick that laid before me was a bit daunting. Without the musical I definitely would have been more scared to conquer it. How interesting could the First National Secretary of the Treasury be? And that being determined, how much filler did this guy have to push into this book to get it over 700 pages? I am here to assure you, musical bias aside, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is a spectacular biography and above that an amazing read.

The book certainly owes this to the two men at the center of it. Alexander Hamilton did so much more than he is typically given credit for; making the banks and getting shot by the VP. If you’ve listened to the musical you only know a part of it. His tragic, humble beginnings, his rise during the revolutionary war, his tireless ambition in George Washington’s cabinet, and eventual self destruction in the public eye. Lin-Manuel did a wonderful job of bringing Hamilton’s life to stage, but the scope in which Chernow dives into is, well honestly, ridiculous. For reference, he starts the true biography by describing the formation of the volcanic island that Hamilton called home as a child.

The 700 pages of this biography wouldn’t be half as captivating if you as a reader couldn’t tell that the author truly admired and appreciated their subject. Chernow’s subtle excitement for Hamilton, his schemes and actions, propels the reader. It’s as if you’ve sat down with Chernow at a bar or cafe and he starts with “Listen to what this guy named Alex I know did, you wont believe it.” You could imagine him smiling as he wrote of Hamilton’s exploits and it endears you all the more to his central figure as well as himself.

BN-HA762_Theate_P_20150219170600(Both men’s admiration and respect of Eliza Hamilton, the leading lady of their stories, is a special treat as well.)

I can understand the benefits and appeal to a biography entirely without bias, but my personal preference is for the author’s point of view to come through. Even if I don’t agree with it, I’d rather the author take a stance than present the facts dry. For this matter, Chernow does an excellent job of saving his opinion until having fully presented the facts of a matter. Still, he has an opinion, and I find it refreshing.

As is Chernow’s style of prose, his choice of words not overtly sophisticated to the point that he drones, yet still appropriate for the subject matter. Only twice I found myself unable to concentrate on the words; the minor details of the banking system cannot hold my attention, even from Chernow. Additionally, the choice to divide the book practically evenly through forty-three chapters (plus prologue and epilogue) is a detail many would over look in assisting a reader along, but I found it easier to keep turning pages with a milestone so often in sight.

While under different circumstances I would have never picked up this novel, I am now eternally glad I did. Before I even finished I had begun thoughts of re-reading. I would thank Alexander Hamilton for living the truly inspiring life he did. I would thank Ron Chernow for his tireless work to bring Alexander Hamilton’s life to the written word and the masses who would read it. And I would thank Lin-Manuel Miranda for bringing both men’s stories into the spotlight, and bringing me to them. Whether a fan of the musical, history, or just in search of a compelling story I would suggest reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.


Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday – Jan 19

toptentuesdaybuttonHosted By: The Broke and the Bookish

January 19: Top Ten Books I’ve Recently Added To My TBR

I have no idea how to determine “recent” so I’m going to try and keep it from at least Thanksgiving. Also, considering I forget to add half the books I want to read to Goodreads that might not end up being so reliable. This is a pretty straight forward week so let’s get to it.

Summaries from Goodreads


1.) The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen: An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.


2.) America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie: In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.


3.) The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel: The High Mountains of Portugal—part quest, part ghost story, part contemporary fable—offers a haunting exploration of great love and great loss. Filled with tenderness, humor, and endless surprise, it takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century—and through the human soul.


4.) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.


5.) Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.


6.) After Alice by Gregory Maguire: In this brilliant new work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings — and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late — and tumbles down the rabbit hole herself.


7.) The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell: In the middle years of the ninth century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England—and the course of history—depended upon one man, one king.

Books Kristin Hannah

8.) The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.


9.) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…


10.) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

#24in48, readathon, Uncategorized

#24In48 End Review

readathon-238x300Hosted By #24In48

Books read from: 5
Pages read: >822
Hours read: Day 1 – 13, Day 2 – >8 = 21

I’m not technically done but I’m assuming if I know myself well enough, I wont feel like writing this later on. So, I’ve taken a break to get around to it. I wasn’t as present on social media this readathon as I would have liked to have been. Usually, I post on instagram a lot more often and I can’t remember if I even did this go around. Additionally, since I’m not technically done I intend to reach the 24 hour mark later tonight. (Also, that explains why I just stuck greater than signs up there.)

I started the readathon by finishing Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. I only recently started reading historical biographies, and I think this one was my favorite. Not just because of the connection to the musical that I love, but actually Chernow had a lot to do with it. His style of narration and writing really highlight how much admiration he holds for Hamilton, and it was fun to read someone who seemed excited to be telling the story. (Not to mention, Hamilton had an insane life.) I plan to write a longer review later in the week.

I moved on to continue my reread of A Series of Unfortunate Events with The Wide Window. Remembering from the movie as much as I can (it’s been awhile) I believe this was the book they fudged the most (but it had freakin Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine so really who was paying attention). Side note: I love that movie and in recent years feel like I’m in the minority and it confuses me. I’ve officially hit the books the movie didn’t cover so we’re in murky territory now.Clone_Army_Attacketh_Cover

Then I read a pretty odd book…William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh. It’s a novelization of the second Star Wars movie as if written by a Shakespeare play. For what it was, it was entertaining and adapted pretty well. It followed the exact plot of the movie, down to dialogue where applicable. I think the funnier parts were R2-D2’s beeping written out as dialogue, and Jar Jar Binks & Yoda’s speech patterns in the elizabethan style.

I’ve also realized that due to my slow reading, I’m taking my Harry Potter reread at my own pace. I might finish by my birthday in May, but we’ll see. For the readathon I read through Prisoner of Azkaban, the one that always stuck me in the minority of the HP Fandom. I wouldn’t say I have a least favorite HP book/movie but I’m pretty indifferent on Prisoner of Azkaban. I remember not liking the style of the 3rd movie at all when it came out, some of the aspects have grown on me (never the talking head tho). I think it comes from the fact that I’m just not as big of a Sirius Black/Marauders fangirl as I see a majority of the fandom online as being. But the good news is I get to read my favorite, Goblet of Fire, next!

And now I’m off to settle in and start reading on The Witches again. I had to take a major break from it because Hamilton happened. Back to 1612 Salem!

Hope you all had a successful #24In48! See you at the next readathon!

#24in48, readathon, Uncategorized

#24In48 Hour 6 Survey


  1. Where in the world are you reading from this weekend? – Columbus, Ohio (Don’t know where they is? We have a lot of corn, astronauts, presidents, and football)
  2. Have you done the 24in48 readathon before? – once before last year.
  3. Where did you hear about the readathon? – I followed the twitter after I participated last year.
  4. What book are you most excited about reading this weekend? – Well I just finished Alexander Hamilton and I was pretty stoked about that.
  5. Tell us something about yourself. – this question is taking me a really long time to answer.
  6. Remind us where to find you online this weekend. – On twitter and instagram @literatigeek