Tag Archives: 2010s

A Review of A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories 

A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories by B.A. Loudon book cover. Image on cover is of a pile of pumpkins.Title: A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories

Author: B.A. Loudon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 12, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 45 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

In this collection of stories, all is not what it seems…Broken promises have unexpected consequences.Going to space should be a day of celebration.A sunny disposition conceals a dark family secret.And why does a bit of pickled pumpkin have an entire neighbourhood on edge?

Content warning: mental illness, domestic abuse, cannibalism, postpartum depression, and murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

It’s never too early to start thinking about Halloween.

There were a surprisingly amount of short stories and flash fiction in this collection, so I’l only talk about a few of them in my review. Do check out the whole thing if any of this intrigues you.

The narrator in “Promises” was someone who grew up in a small town and desperately wanted to leave it. When they were finally given a chance to do just that, the person who took them far away from home wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. This was such a quick little tale that I can’t say much else about it, but I did find it interesting to learn what happened to the narrator after they left home.

In “A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin,” a grieving spouse must decide what to do with their wife’s massive collection of pickled foods after she died. The spouse had never learned to like the taste of pickled things and didn’t want all of her hard work to go to waste. This wasn’t a topic I was expecting to read about, but I liked reading the main character’s thoughts about how to tie up all of the loose ends of this part of their life.

“The Performance of a Lifetime” reminded me of how much stage fright I’ve had in the past much like the protagonist of this piece. As much as I enjoyed the beginning of this tale, the middle and ending of it seemed to come out of nowhere. It would have been nice to have more clues about what was about to happen and how the beginning was tied to what came after that. This was something that was repeated with many of the stories in this anthology. Their endings were well worth reading, but I wasn’t always entirely sure how they arrived there.

“Clean” was quite the read. At first it seemed like it was written for adults instead of teenagers because most teens aren’t permanently put in charge of cleaning their entire homes the way the mother is in many families. Yes, I wrote mother on purpose. The gendered aspects of who cleans and who keeps track of what should be cleaned next was written well. It actually turned out to be my favourite part of this tale as well as one of the best stories in this anthology.

If you’re counting down the days to Halloween and want to get into the spirit of it early this year, A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories is a good place to start.

A Review of Friends Don’t Let Friends Be Undead 

Friends Don't Let Friends be Undead by Seth Tucker book cover. Image on cover is of a human skull, four glass bottles of beer, a cross, and a few wooden stakes. Title: Friends Don’t Let Friends Be Undead

Author: Seth Tucker

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 17, 2014

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 62 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Three days after her husband dies, Lily is shocked to see him staring at her from outside her home. Calling on the four men he trusted most, Lily relies on them to place Steve back into his eternal rest. Guided by his journal, his friends will find that the man they loved has been replaced by a vicious fiend that will stop at nothing to sate its thirst for blood.

Review:

Content warning: Blood. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Yes, anyone who has read the blurb can probably already guess what sort of monster Steve has become, but I will not spoil it for any readers out there who are still unsure.

Starting a horror story out with something as sad as the funeral of a young adult who died suddenly isn’t something I see too often in this genre. It was nice to have a chance to sit with the characters feelings for a moment before they realized that this was going to be anything but an ordinary mourning period for them.

The cast of characters was of average size, but it felt bigger than I expected because nearly everyone was introduced at once at Steve’s funeral in the first couple of scenes. Do take note of who everyone is then, but don’t worry about it if you’re a little confused at first. I quickly sorted it all out once I realized why the reader needed to meet everyone that way. There was a reason, and it did make sense.

It would have been nice to have more character development. While this was a definitely plot-driven storyline and rightly so, I never felt like I got to know the characters well enough to worry about them when they were in danger. As much as I enjoyed the plot itself, this was a sticking point for me.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale was how quickly everyone accepted the existence of the type of monster that exists here and how much they already knew about what it takes to defeat this creature. This isn’t something I see as often as I’d like to in this genre. It was nice to jump straight to the point and see everyone adapt to their new reality.

If you’re in the mood for an adrenaline rush, this is a good place to start.

Dangerous Amusement: A Review of Summer’s Over

Book cover for Summer's Over by Em Leonard. Image on cover is a collage of various people, dinosaurs, and amusement park rides.

Title: Summer’s Over

Author: Em Leonard

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 25, 2018

Genres: Horror, Paranormal

Length: 106 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

The lure and curiosity of cheap amusements have always been a part of our psyche. We go to theme parks to explore worlds different from our own. They make us feel happy or free, dangerous even. We love them. Spend our money on them. Plan our vacations around them. And sometimes, things go so very wrong inside them.

Summer’s Over are five demented tales that take place within the five major theme parks in Southern California. This book is complete with a custom crafted picture to accompany each story, created by the author Em Leonard. It’s a top down creation from cover to cover…
-A deadly religion recruits members from Six Flags Magic Mountain
-Creepy stalkers waiting in line at Disneyland
-Paranormal activity inside Knott’s Berry Farm
-Dark experiments from Sea World
-An alternate reality at Universal Studios

This is an ode to the vacationer’s utopia that is Southern California. Please keep your hands and arms inside the car at all times…

Review:

Content warning: Cults and stalking. I will be briefly discussing the first item on that list in my review.

There’s something bittersweet about early September, don’t you think? It’s still hot, sunny, and humid where I live, and yet the promise of much colder and darker days is right around the corner.

Religious cults are the absolutely last thing I expect to find at amusements parks, but there was one in “Love and Loss at Six Flags.” I liked the way the author picked out some of the biggest red flags that an organization is a cult in ways that made sense for the setting, too. That must have taken a lot of work, but it sure did a great job of grabbing this reader’s attention.

The main character’s reason for visiting Disneyland so late in the season in “Never Talk to People While Waiting in Line at Disneyland” made me smile. You don’t see a lot of homeschooling families popping up in the horror or science fiction genres, especially as the protagonists. This was such a short tale that I can’t say much else about it without giving away spoilers, but the ending both made me shudder and wish for a sequel.

people riding a roller coaster at sunset“My Knott’s Berry Farm Solution” was set during the middle of winter which made the paranormal activity there even spookier. This was the scariest story in this collection for me because of how trusting the main character was. He had no idea how quickly his life was about to change when he convinced his son and daughter to visit Knott’s Berry Farm that day!

“A Sea World Story” was told from the perspective a man reliving his unusual childhood as the only child of a single father who preferred surfing to working. The fact that his father refused to talk about so many topics only made me more curious about what the truth might be about their life. I enjoyed the way the author gave the audience hints but also let us come up with our own theories about what was going on there.

The first day of work can feel overwhelming for man people, especially in “The Other Universal Studios Tour” where the public’s perception of Universal Studios in this universe isn’t necessarily the same as what the employees would say about it. There was a dreamlike quality to this one that made it a great deal of fun to read because I never knew how the main character’s perception of reality was going to shift next.

Picking a rating for this collection was quite difficult. I wanted more details about each story in particular, but I also realized that, like real amusement park rides, they’re really only designed to last a short period of time before you rush off to your next thrill. It’s best to enjoy them for what they are and not put too much thought into figuring out all of their intricacies.

If September makes you feel a little nostalgic for the season we’re leaving behind, Summer’s Over might be right up your alley.

A Review of Jumanji: The Next Level

Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillian posing as their characters in a film poster for Jumanji: The Next Level. They’re all surrounded by baboons. Jumanji: The Next Level is a 2019 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four people who were  transported into a magical video game. Just like during the first visit, they must figure out how to win in order to return to their ordinary lives.

This is the sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which I previously reviewed here and would strongly recommend watching first. The franchise in general is a reboot of the 1996 Jumanji film. It is not necessary to watch the original in order to understand what’s going on  here.

I will go into more detail about why I recommend watching Welcome to the Jungle in my review below.

Once again, I’m leaving secondary characters out of this post for spoiler reasons. Please note that this review does contain some spoilers for the first film, so reader beware!

 

Characters

Game World

 

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone. He's standing in a jungle.
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier “Smolder” Bravestone

 

Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone was a strong and confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Eddie’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black (centre) as Professor Sheldon  “Shelly” Oberon

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Milo’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse 

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Danny DeVito as Edward "Eddie" Gilpin
Danny DeVito as Edward “Eddie” Gilpin

 

Eddie was the grandfather of Spencer, a character from the first film. He was a pessimistic man who believed his best days were behind him.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain (right) as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

Fridge was a college student now. His group of friends wasn’t as close-knit as it used to be, and he struggled with that shift.

Danny Glover as Milo Walker
Danny Glover as Milo Walker

 

Milo was Eddie’s old, dear friend. Despite knowing each other for decades, there was an underlying tension between them that none of the younger characters were cognizant of at first.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

Martha was also a college student now. She was as intelligent and cynical as ever, but her new educational environment had caused her to blossom in ways that weren’t possible for her as a shy high schooler a few years ago.

 

My Review

If you’re in the market for a light, fluffy storyline, keep reading.

One of the criticisms I noted about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the lack of character development. While it remained pretty shallow, I did enjoy seeing some growth in the two returning protagonists as well as in all four avatars in general . Martha and Fridge had obviously had a chance to grow up a bit since high school. It was interesting to contrast their behaviour to the behaviour of their elders.

Ordinarily, I’d expect senior citizens to be more self-assured and level-headed than people who haven’t even left their teens yet. The fact that all four main characters were thrown into a situation that only the two younger ones knew how to handle made it fascinating to tease out the differences between all of their reactions.

We need more films that include senior citizens as heroes. Having not one but two of them included in this storyline made me curious to see how things would play out for them.

Why should you watch this series in order? The character development is part of it. Most people mature rapidly in their late teens and early 20s. I thought it was cool to see how Fridge and Martha had changed since we last met them. There were also some switch-ups to the cast of main characters that won’t be as meaningful to anyone who wasn’t aware of how things were in Welcome to the Jungle.

In addition to that, some of the plot twists work better for audiences who are already aware of how Jumanji is supposed to be experienced. Let’s just say that Milo and Eddie had a unique approach to winning that is best understood if you have firm expectations of how one should behave in a video game.

By all means watch the original Jumanji, too, if you love this universe, but enough of it was revisited here that I wouldn’t make that mandatory.

There were a couple of sexual jokes that made me roll my eyes. The first instalment in this reboot did a great job of poking fun at the idea that women who play video games are something unusual or that identifying as a woman should affect how you play or what you do with your avatar. I wish that same snarky energy had continued in this sequel. It made this franchise stand out in my mind in a truly refreshing way, and I’d love to recommend future instalments of it to people who love gaming but shy away from the sometimes juvenile and sexist comments people make about women in this hobby. Sometimes the best way to change harmful social scripts like that is by mocking the hell out of them, so here’s hoping we get more of that in the third instalment if or when it happens.

Do you need to be a certain type of gamer, or even a gamer at all, to enjoy this story? Absolutely not. I’m the sort of gamer who generally sticks with sandbox games like Minecraft, and I had no problem keeping up with what was going on. Everything was explained well. Although my spouse who knows more about the topic once again enjoyed a few jokes tucked in there that seemed to be geared towards viewers who are into more strictly structured storytelling.

Jumanji: The Next Level was brain candy in the best sense of that phrase. If you need a fun distraction that doesn’t require any deep thought, this might be right up your alley.

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Jumanji: The Next Level is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

A Review of Terror Beneath Cactus Flats

Book cover for Seth Tucker's Terror Beneath Cactus Flats. Image on cover is of a desert with mountains in the backgroundTitle: Terror Beneath Cactus Flats (A Weird Western)

Author: Seth Tucker

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 25, 2013

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Western

Length: 43 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Jed, the fresh faced deputy Marshall of Cactus Flats, finds himself put to the test as an unknown evil besieges the small town. In order to save the townsfolk, Jed will have to venture into the old abandoned mines and confront the evil awaiting within.

Content warning: Blood. I will not be discussing this in my review.

Some tags were left off of this post for spoiler reasons.

The west isn’t always as simple as it may seem to be.

There are so many things I want to say about the evil lurking in the abandoned mines, but I really need to leave those details up to you to discover for yourselves as brand new readers of this tale. This device works best when someone has no idea what Jed’s about to find or why it’s so dangerous. Honestly, that’s one of my favourite types of horror. There’s something even scarier than usual about wandering into a storyline with no idea of what is to come in it.

I would have liked to see more time spent on the world building. Mr. Tucker introduced some fascinating concepts, but they weren’t fleshed out like they could have been. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect a short story to include as much world building as a full-length novel, but there was a lot of room here to explain everything more clearly.

Jed was such a likeable guy. He was from a time and place that had strict rules governing everyone’s roles in society. Sometimes those roles poked through the plot in ways that were important to the plot but might also go against the sensibilities of some readers. Seeing how he reacted to them made a great deal of sense. Of course the culture he grew up in affected the way he thought about others, but I also sensed a great deal of compassion and courage in him that had a big impact on how I interpreted those scenes.

If you love big plot twists, Terror Beneath Cactus Flats might be right up your alley!

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Last winter I discovered the… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Move the World

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Last winter I discovered the… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Title: A Tale of Two Princes Author: Victoria Pearson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 1, 2014 Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Length: 36 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling. Doctor Prinze is happy… Read More