Tag Archives: Historical

Unlikely Gleaning: A Review of Harvest

Harvest - A Short Story from the Pumpkin Patch book cover. Image on cover is of silhoutte of man with a pumpkin for a head walking in a pumpkin field while a full moon glows behind him. I’d like to thank Berthold Gambrel for reviewing this book and bringing it to my attention.

Title: Harvest – A Short Story from the Pumpkin Patch

Author: Jason H. Abbott

Publisher: Blue Boar Press

Publication Date: October 7, 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Historical, Holidays

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Equal parts eerie, humorous and heartwarming, Harvest is a short story of down-home fantasy and a fairytale for grown-ups best told in the dark…

With whimsical humor and eccentric fantasy dappled in darkness, fans of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett will enjoy this short tale of kindness found in odd places. If quirky characters with a country twang and a fairytale detoured to the pumpkin patch sound good to you, then Harvest will surely prove an entertaining read!

Review:

It’s not every day that horror and humour coexist in the same plot.

Imagine waking up in a pumpkin field and not being able to see or speak. That idea sure made me shudder, especially once Edgar (the protagonist) realized that his head felt like a pumpkin instead of flesh and bone.

What intrigued me even more about it was the fact that this scene was written humorously even more than it was meant to frighten anyone. If horror isn’t a genre you typically read, consider giving this a try anyway. While there was one scary moment near the beginning, the plot has so much else going on in it that I think it will appeal to a lot of different reading demographics.

Sometimes this felt like the opening chapter of a long fantasy novel. There were hints sprinkled here and there to explain what was going on with Edgar’s head and how other folks were dealing with the strange phenomenon on this farm. They quickly coalesced into a surprisingly thorough explanation of how this world worked, especially given the fact that the author had less than twenty pages to work with.

While I was satisfied with what the narrator revealed, I also wanted more. I enjoyed the way the author wrote a short, encapsulated story that also left a lot of room for readers to come up with our own theories about what might happen to the Edgar and Emelia, the woman who helped him, next.

The fairy tale elements of the storyline are best left to new readers to discover for themselves. As much as I want to gush about them, they’re revealed late enough that I don’t want to share any plot twists. Let’s just say that this is a truly magical farm where anything can happen.

Do note that the full blurb for this tale contains spoilers, so reader beware if you’re like me and prefer to be surprised by a book.

If you love Halloween or the fantasy genre, I highly recommend checking out Harvest – A Short Story from the Pumpkin Patch.

 

Love and Regret: A Review of The Curse of La Llorona

Film post for The Curse of La Llorona. Image on cover show La Llorona holding the hands of the main character's two children in a candlelit room Content warning: deaths of children. I will be discussing this in my review. 

The Curse of La Llorona is an American 2019 supernatural horror film set in 1973 about a mother who tries to save her children from a malevolent spirit who is trying to keep them for herself.

La Llorona, or The Weeping Woman, is a famous spirit in Mexican and Latin American folklore.

She was a spurned wife who got revenge on her philandering husband by drowning their two young sons. After she died, she was refused entry to heaven because of this act.

I will make no comment about the rest of her story or any similarities or differences between it and this film. Feel free to read more about the legend of La Llorona ahead of time or start watching this with no additional knowledge of her tale at all. The plot works nicely either way.

The Curse of la Llorona is also part of The Conjuring universe, but it is a standalone tale in that series.

Characters

Linda Cardellini as Anna Tate-Garcia

 

Anna was a young widow who was raising two children as a single parent. A social worker by trade, she was well-versed in normal child development and how children react to frightening experiences.

Roman Christou as Chris Garcia
Roman Christou as Chris Garcia

 

Chris was Anna’s imaginative and impressionable son. He loved pretending to chase away bad guys.

 

Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen as Samantha Garcia
Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen as Samantha Garcia

 

Samantha was Anna’s independent daughter. She loved dolls.

Patricia Velásquez as Patricia Alvarez

Patricia Velásquez as Patricia Alvarez

Patricia was the mother of two of the children Anna had on her caseload. When Patricia was accused of abusing her children, Anna attempted to figure out what had really happened.

 

Raymond Cruz as Rafael Olvera
Raymond Cruz as Rafael Olvera

 

Rafael, a former member of the clergy, was the person Anna turned to for help when all of her other attempts to figure out what really happened to Patricia’s children and why her own children were in danger had failed.

 

Marisol Ramirez as La Llorona
Marisol Ramirez as La Llorona

La Llorona was the spirit who had killed her own children in a fit of rage.

Her identifying features are obscured for spoiler reasons.

Sean Patrick Thomas as Detective Cooper
Sean Patrick Thomas as Detective Cooper

 

Detective Cooper was a police officer who sometimes worked on cases with Anna. He had also struck up a friendship with her and her children over the years.

 

Tony Amendola as Father Perez
Tony Amendola as Father Perez

 

Father Perez was a local priest who had experience with La Llorona.

My Review

I had mixed feelings about this film.

The foreshadowing was strong and easy to spot. If not for the grim subject matter, this is something I’d play for young film buffs who wanted to learn how to pick out clues about future plot twists early on in a storyline. There were plenty of examples of this scattered throughout the early scenes.

Obviously, La Llorona’s story must involve the deaths of children given the legend that inspired this film. The backstory of why La Llorona began killing other people’s children after she died was shared with the audience clearly. I’m being a little opaque on the topic for spoiler reasons, but know that much of it was implied instead of outright shown. Honestly, murdered children is a grim enough topic that I’m glad the filmmakers stopped where they did.

I wasn’t a big fan of the way the plot ignored previous character development and rules that had been set up earlier on about how this haunting worked.  For example, one of the minor characters developed a grudge against someone else in the storyline. This conflict built up for a large part of the storytelling process only to be suddenly abandoned for reasons that were never explained. It lead to plot holes that I found unhelpful.

There was also  contradictory information about what the living could and couldn’t do when interacting with La Llorona. Sometimes she was written as a spirit so consumed by rage and regret that every shred of rational thought had been torn out of her centuries ago. In other scenes, she behaved in ways that directly contradicted that character development. Either interpretation of her could have worked, but it was confusing for me as a viewer to never know which Llorona we were going to get.

With that being said, this was a wonderfully scary and atmospheric tale. There was never any doubt in my mind that La Llorona was a malevolent spirit. Her intentions were straightforward and easy to understand even if her cognitive abilities were not. This was refreshing, especially in a genre that sometimes veers too far in the direction of romanticizing ghosts.

It would have been nice to have stronger character development in general. No, I wasn’t expecting the characters to spend the first half hour talking about their hobbies or dreams. This was a heavily plot-based story, and I respect that. But knowing about who the characters were as individuals would have made the storyline more memorable.

If you really love ghost stories and can overlook a few plot holes, I would recommend The Curse of La Llorona.

The Curse of La Llorona is available on Crave and Apple TV.

House of Secrets: A Review of The Others

Film poster for The Others. Image on poster is of Nicole Kidman holding a lantern and looking frightened

The Others is a 2001 gothic paranormal suspense film written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar about a woman named Grace who was raising her two young children alone in a crumbling, old mansion in Jersey while her husband was away fighting in World War II.

After all of her servants mysteriously disappeared, she slowly realized that their beloved home may be haunted by something truly dangerous.

Both Anne and Nicholas suffered from a rare inherited illness called xeroderma pigmentosum that caused severe photosensitivity. That is to say, neither of them were medically able to be exposed to any amount of sunlight without suffering serious and possibly permanent side effects from it.

This family lived in a house shrouded in darkness not only emotionally but physically as well. Grace covered all of the windows with thick, light blocking curtains to ensure that not a single ray of sunlight damaged their small, fragile bodies.

I strongly recommend sticking to spoiler-free content like this before watching this film. There are major spoilers about it floating elsewhere on the web that can ruin the ending if you’re not careful.

The one exception to this is for viewers who are sensitive to sad stories about children. If this is you, please research this thoroughly or ask me about it privately before diving into it. That’s all I can say publicly without wandering into spoiler territory.

One final note in this introduction: I decided to review The Others now because as of a few months ago there is a remake of it currently in production that is slated for release in 2022. My hope is to review the remake a few years from now and compare it to the original.

Characters

Nicole Kidman as Grace
Nicole Kidman as Grace

Grace was an overwhelmed mother who was raising two medically fragile children alone during wartime. She was a devout Catholic whose desire to protect her children was only surpassed by her determination to raise them to share her beliefs no matter what.

Alakina Mann as Anne
Alakina Mann as Anne

Anne was Grace’s oldest child, an inquisitive and bright little girl. At approximately eight years old when this story occurred, she has just begun to reach the age when she was beginning to question her mother’s point of view.

James Bentley as Nicholas
James Bentley as Nicholas

Nicholas was Grace’s youngest child. He loved fairy tales and legends of all sorts, the more imaginative the better. At approximately five years old, he still had a concrete understanding of how the world worked and what his place in it should be. He believed everything his mother said without question and sometimes clashed with Anne when she talked back.

Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Mills
Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Mills

Mrs. Bertha Mills was the nanny and housekeeper hired by Grace after all of the previous servants in their home mysteriously and simultaneously disappeared. While she had a few old-fashioned notions about child rearing, she deeply cared about her charges and did everything she could to make their lives easier.

Eric Sykes as Mr. Tuttle. Elaine Cassidy as Lydia
Eric Sykes (left) as Mr. Tuttle and Elaine Cassidy (centre) as Lydia.

Mr. Edmund Tuttle was the no-nonsense gardener and handyman who was hired by Grace. He preferred solving physical problems like repairing broken household items to tackling emotional issues.

Lydia was the hard-working, stoic maid. She was mute and unusually socially withdrawn. Mrs. Mills knew her best and would sometimes interpret what Lydia was attempting to communicate with her body language.

My Review

This is one of those timeless films that gets better with every rewatch. I have nothing but complimentary things to say about it!

Grace, her children, and Mrs. Mills were the characters who took up most of the screen time. I was initially surprised to see such a small cast, especially since two of them were children who knew little out of the outside world and weren’t old enough to do too much investigating on their own.

While this was a little unusual for the paranormal genre, it turned out to work perfectly for a plot about a family that was quite socially and physically isolated from the surrounding community for reasons that can only be partially explained in this review.

Given the current pandemic and all of the lockdowns it has prompted, I don’t think I need to explain to any of my readers how difficult it is to be cut off from other people for a long period of time. We all know that feeling far too well even if the vast majority of us aren’t actually living in haunted estates in rural France at the moment.

Anne was my favourite character. She was old enough to realize something had seriously gone wrong in her home, but she was still young enough to talk about things that the adults in her life were desperately trying to hush up. I loved seeing how her strong sense of justice was developing and how she reacted to the thought of shying away from the truth that was slowly being unveiled in her home no matter how many attempts there were to run away from it!

The relationships between all of the characters were complex. I must be careful about how I talk about them to avoid spoiler territory, but I had a wonderful time seeing the various sides of their personalities that were drawn out of every character depending on who they were interacting with at the time. These ever-changing circumstances made Grace and Anne feel especially well-rounded because of how often the audience was able to get to know them in completely new ways as their story was revealed.

Without diving too deeply into the plot, it was also thrilling to meet characters who elicited so many different emotions in me. Sometimes Grace’s behaviour enraged me. In other scenes, I had an overwhelming sense of compassion for this emotionally fragile woman who had been thrown into circumstances that were far beyond her capabilities to handle.

This pattern was repeated with every main character. Just like us, they were complicated individuals whose personalities and characters were filled with every shade of grey imaginable. What not to like about that?

Finally, one of the things I adored the most about this film in general involved how many clues were given about what was really going on. Honestly, I missed many of them the first time I watched The Others, but they were sitting in plain sight during my next viewing. Yes, many of them were subtle, so I won’t blame any of you for overlooking them as well. The fact that they existed only made me love this story even more. There’s something amazing about thinking you’ve figured out a plot only to truly grok it the second or third time around.

I could gush about The Others for another thousand words. Do yourselves a favour and give this film a try if even a single sentence of this review piqued your interest!

The Others is available on Apple TV.

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. Title: Everfair

Author: Nisi Shawl

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk

Length: 384 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo.

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Film poster for The Shape of Water. It shows the two main characters embracing.Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review.

The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being held in captivity by the U.S. government. It is set in 1962 in an undisclosed government facility.

This film was directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as other honours at the Golden Globes, British Film Academy Awards, and the Critic’s Choice Awards.

The tags for this post do contain mild spoilers. I will not be discussing them in detail today but wanted to label this correctly for future readers.

Characters

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito
Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito

 

Elisa was a mute woman who worked as a cleaner at a secret underground government facility. Her dear friend and chosen family member Giles described her as “the princess without voice.” She has a whimsical personality that found joy in little things like dancing down the hall or gently interacting with everyone she met.

While I can’t go into her backstory without sharing spoilers, I will say that she was someone who was quite alone in the world. She had no genetic relatives to rely upon.

 

Doug Jones as Amphibian Man
Doug Jones as Amphibian Man

 

The Amphibian Man could not speak, but he was intelligent. Very little was shared about his background in this film other than the fact that he was the first of his kind discovered by humans.

 

Richard Jenkins as Giles

 

As mentioned above, Giles was Elisa’s dear neighbor and friend. He’d worked as an adverting illustrator for many years but was struggling to find work as his industry switched from painting to photographs for the imagery in ads.

He was a kind, gentle, creative man who could be a little absent-minded when it came to looking after basic needs like fixing himself dinner. Like Elise, he was quite alone in the world for reasons I’ll leave to future viewers to discover for themselves.

Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller 
Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller

 

Zelda was Elisa’s co-worker and friend who served as her sign language interpreter at work. Her personality was assertive and opinionated, the opposite of how Elisa generally behaved.

 

Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland
Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland

 

Richard was a United States Colonel in charge of the project to study the “asset,” as they referred to the Amphibian Man. He followed protocol strictly and was obsessed with getting the results his bosses expected.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler
Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler

 

Dr. Hoffstetler was the physician who was given the responsibility of figuring out the physiology of the Amphibian Man’s body. The U.S. government hoped to learn how to create astronauts who could better adapt to the rigours of space exploration by learning how this creature was capable of breathing both air and water.

 

David Hewlett as Fleming 
David Hewlett as Fleming

 

Fleming was the laboratory’s head of security. He was a rigid, unfriendly man who expected perfection from himself and everyone around him.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for some gushing. This was such a good story.

There was an immensely satisfying amount of foreshadowing. I’d imagine that anyone who is familiar with the romance or science fiction genres could spot the biggest plot twists coming ahead of time. This wasn’t the sort of film that relied on the audience not knowing what to expect next. It was how the characters reacted to them that was important, and this was something the filmmakers showed beautifully.

The cinematography was beautiful. I was immediately drawn into the plot thanks to how much effort was put into constructing this era. It was also interesting to watch shots that had important things happening in both the foreground and background.  They added so many layers of meaning to the storyline.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

I did find myself wishing that the racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination in this era was presented in a more nuanced manner. In my experiences with sexism and biphobia, a lot of it can be subtle depending on who is around and what prejudiced folks think they can get away with. People can convey so much with body language and the words they do (or don’t) use that I was surprised by how blatant everything was here.

Perhaps things were radically different in 1962 in this regard. I wasn’t alive then and will defer to people who may say this portrayal is more accurate than I originally thought it was. But I still would have liked to see these topics handled a little more sensitively. (I will also defer to other reviewers to discuss their personal experiences with racism and ableism as it relates to this point).

With that being said, I still really liked seeing how these various types of prejudice were not only expressed but intersected with each other and this is my only criticism of a film I otherwise loved. The storytellers did a good job of showing how someone might be advantaged in one area (e.g. race, social class, or gender) while still oppressed in others (e.g. disability or sexual orientation).

The numerous references to water in this film were well done. They included everything from bathing to hard-boiling eggs, and they were just the tip of the iceberg. One of the things I enjoyed the most as I was watching it was to take note of all of the aquatic-themed moments that needed a little more effort to take notice of. It was satisfying to add them to my list of these references and try to guess where the storytellers would subtly introduce the next one.

This isn’t a criticism in any way, but I did want to make note of the disclaimer about blood in this tale. There were a few scenes that included characters who were bleeding from non-accidental injuries. While the violence that caused these injuries was briefly shown on screen, I always like to warn my readers ahead of time about stuff like this. I’d be happy to discuss it in full, spoiler-y detail in private with anyone who needs to figure out if this is the right thing for them to watch.

I’d heartily recommendThe Shape of Water to anyone who enjoys the romance or speculative fiction genres.

The Shape of Water is available on Netflix and Apple TV.

Endless Memories: A Review of The Deep

Title: The Deep Author: Rivers Solomon Publisher: Saga Press Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Afrofuturism, Contemporary, Historical Length: 175 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 4 Stars Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep.… Read More

Haunting Secrets: A Review of The Lost Ones

Title: The Lost Ones Author: Anita Frank Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins) Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Horror, Paranormal, Historical Length: 400 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Some houses are never at peace. England, 1917   Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the… Read More

Sleeping Beauty Retold: A Review of The Spellbound Spindle

Title: The Spellbound Spindle Author: Joy V. Spicer Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2018 Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Retelling, Historical Length: 345 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4.5 Stars Blurb: A misguided elf curses a baby to die on her sixteenth birthday. Gem elves alter the curse to one of… Read More

A  True Selfless Act Always Sparks Another: A Review of Klaus

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, A Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic… Read More

Glimpses of Horror: A Review of Regretfully Invited

Title: Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories Author: Jan L. Mayes Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2018 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary Length: 86 pages Source: I received a free copy from Jan. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Find out the answer to this question and more with this 13 story bundle of creepy, horror… Read More