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
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!
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.
Content warning: Childbirth and dark humour. I will go into detail about the latter in this review.
Addams Family Values is a 1993 fantasy comedy film about a macabre but loving family who is trying to rescue their uncle from his new girlfriend who has a dark past and may have ulterior motives for dating him.
This is the sequel to the 1991 film The Addams Family which is in turn based on the 1964 television series by the same name whose reruns were my first exposure to these delightful characters. There was a 2019 reboot of The Addams Family as well.
While I do suggest checking out this entire franchise to anyone who is intrigued by it, they can be watched in any order you choose.
Would you believe that this is also a Thanksgiving film? Yes, I’m completely serious about that. Keep reading for more information.
Morticia was the busy, young mother of the family. She loved her children but wished she had more time to, as she put it, “seek out the dark forces.”
Gomez was Morticia’s devoted husband.
Uncle Fester was Gomez’s loyal but lonely brother. More than anything, he dreamed of the day he’d meet someone special and start his own family.
Wednesday was Morticia and Gomez’s first child. At approximately twelve years old, she was just beginning to show interest in things beyond the spooky hobbies that had delighted her for her entire childhood so far.
Pugsley was Morticia and Gomez’s second child. At approximately ten years old, he delighted in surprising everyone who underestimated him.
Grandmama Addams was the mother of Gomez and Fester. She adored including her grandchildren in all of her hobbies, especially if they involved spells!
Okay, so I’m going to be perfectly honest with all of you here. I find most traditional Thanksgiving films to be a bit too sappy for my tastes. There are only so many jokes that can be made about a pet who climbs onto the counter and starts eating the turkey ten minutes before everyone was supposed to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner before the screenwriters tend to lose my interest.
One of the things I love about the Addams Family is how well they avoid excessive sentimentality. Do all of the members of this family love each other? Absolutely! But that is always tempered by the same sorts of ordinary disagreements the rest of us occasionally have with our loved ones as well as by the macabre interests of this family that peek out time after time.
The Waltons might be terribly confused if they ever moved in next door to the Addams. If you watch this, expect jokes about everything from beheadings to electrocutions. This would be a dark horror film if written slightly differently, so if there are any kids around they should be old enough to understand exactly who the Addams are and why there’s no need to cover your eyes while watching (unless you enjoy missing scenes).
This was the first reason why I decided to review this shortly before we Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving. Each family has their own unique vibe, and I think it’s important to honour that instead of expecting everyone to behave the way fictional families do on TV as long as your relationships are healthy ones. For all of their eccentricities, the Addams are always coming from a surprisingly wholesome place (as much as it would irk them to be labelled that way).
Speaking of Thanksgiving, I can’t go into much detail about how this holiday affects the plot without giving away spoilers other than to say that it most definitely does. The scenes involving this particular storyline were the funniest and most on point ones of all in my opinion. Their messages were just as relevant today as they were in the early 1990s when this came out, and they were my second big reason for wanting to review this.
The other cool thing about these references is that they don’t require prior knowledge of the history of Thanksgiving in the United States. Anyone who didn’t grow up hearing stories about how Pilgrims at the Plymouth colony and Native Americans who lived nearby gathered together for a harvest meal in the autumn of 1621 will learn everything they need to know about the mythology and reality of that tradition by seeing how the characters react to it. No history books needed (unless you’re like me and enjoy that stuff!)
If you need something amusing to watch during the holiday season, I definitely recommend checking out Addams Family Values.
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!
Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone was a strong and confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader. He was Eddie’s avatar.
Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Fridge’s avatar.
Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Milo’s avatar.
Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Title: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance
Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme
Publication Date: May 1, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: 135 pages
Source: I received a free copy from the author.
Rating: 3 stars
Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside down after receiving a disquieting phone call. His sister and niece have gone missing, and his mother is in shambles. Something malicious is lurking in his old hometown. Children are going missing and their mothers are turning up dead. People are afraid to go out. Rumors spread from house to house. Blood. Ritual murder. Sacrifice and mutilation. Sins of the past become unearthed. A woman, whose powers are beyond imagination, is soon to extract her vengeance on the entire town. She can make the dead talk, breathe fire, and turn a man into an animal. Only Adrian and a young female constable know the truth. Only they can stop her. CEREMONY OF ASHES is a 135 page novella about witchcraft, vengeance, and how our destinies are sometimes forged before we are even born. Fans of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Nikolai Gogol are in for a treat with this fast-faced, violent and uncompromising novella of terror.
Content warning: blood, ritual murder, sacrifice, and mutilation. I will briefly discuss these things in my next paragraph but will not go into detail about them.
Many of the items in that list happened before or after new scenes occurred. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre for sure and did include some gory scenes, I was glad that so much of the rest of it was left up to the reader’s imagination.Filling in those moments for yourself can be so much scarier than having them all spelled out.
There’s more to Halloween than costumes and trick-or-treating in Leinster Village village this year.
Reading this novella was like eating a chocolate bar in the very best sense of that metaphor. I digested it quickly and enjoyed it for what it was without searching for a deeper meaning to it or anything like that. This was something that didn’t require analyzation or interpretation. It was simply a nice, scary distraction from everything going on the real world. Sometimes that’s exactly what a reader needs!
There were times when I had trouble keeping the dozens of characters straight. Some of them played pretty minor roles in the plot, so when they popped up again it often took me a while to remember who they were and how they might have been connected to the characters who were featured more prominently.
Small town life was captured nicely here. The characters I was able to keep good track of were connected to each other in multiple ways in many cases. I liked the way the many ways their lives overlapped was slowly revealed. It reminded me a lot of my own experiences living in small towns and how closely everyone’s lives end up intersecting regardless of whether they’re relatives of some sort or genetically unrelated to each other.
I would have liked to see more time spent on character development. While this was a heavily plot-driven tale and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to be as introspective as something character-driven, it still would have been nice to get to know the main characters on a deeper level. They tended to be boxed into specific roles. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in moderation, it happened so much in this particular story that I didn’t get to know the characters as individuals like I wanted to.
The witchcraft aspect was handled well. One thing I look for in speculative fiction books that include this topic is a sense that the author has put some thought into why they chose a witch as their antagonist. Rest assured there were excellent reasons for this decision that will be revealed later on in the storyline.
I’d recommend Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance to anyone who loves the dark side of the horror genre.
Raise your hand if you love rewatching your old favourite sci-fi and fantasy shows!
Over the last few months, I’ve slowly become more reticent about watching new films and TV shows in these genres.
I’m sure many of them are going to be amazing once I return to chipping away at my humongous to-watch queue, but for now I’m much more interested in rewatching stories I’ve seen dozens of time before.
Keep scrolling for spoiler-free references to some of my favourite
Familiar Plot Twists
Okay, so don’t laugh at me, but I get pretty attached to certain characters. I cheer when they reach their goals and cry when sad things happen to them.
Empathy is a gift, but there are also times when I’d rather not ride the emotional rollercoaster of are these characters going to be okay?
Yes, most of them will be fine by the time the credits roll. But thanks to earlier experiences with Joss Whedon and the unpredictable things he likes to do with the lives of beloved characters, I don’t fully trust any director or screenwriter when my favourites are involved.
The beautiful thing about rewatching something you’ve seen many times before is that there are no big surprises around the corner. You might forget a funny line here or a minor plot twist there if it’s been a while, but for the most part you roll the opening credits knowing full well what’s to come.
There’s something soothing about that, especially when other things in life might not be so predictable.
Predictions That Do (or Don’t) Come True
Speaking of predictions, the science fiction genre in particular is filled with them.
I’m the sort of viewer who takes note of what fellow storytellers in this genre think will happen in the near future and then likes to check again five or ten or twenty years later to see what they might have gotten right.
Fashion trends of future decades have never been accurate in my experience. (Here’s looking at you, 2015 scenes in Back to the Future Part II!)
But some films do predict the future more accurately. Rediscovering those scenes is like finding buried treasure.
Jokes That Never Get Old
If you ask me, the best films and TV shows are the ones that still make you laugh the third or thirtieth time you see them. Case in point: The Princess Bride. This fairy tale was framed as something a grandfather was reading to his sick grandson.
A few minutes into Princess Buttercup’s adventures, the kid interrupted to ask if it was a kissing book.
As someone who avoided kissing books as a kid and rarely reads them as an adult, I laugh every time I hear this line. It’s classic.
New Details in the Story
Anyone who has followed this blog for a long time may remember my love of the paranormal film The Others.
(Someday I need to write a full-length review of it for this site! It’s a modern-day classic).
The first time I watched this film, I missed the major plot twist in it until the last possible moment.
It was only after rewatching it that I picked up on the clues about what was really going on with the main character and her two young children who were living in a remote house during the World War II era while waiting to hear news about her husband who was on the front lines of the war.
This was always a good story, but it became even better once I knew what on Earth was going on with this strange, reclusive family. Every time I rewatch it, I pick up on even more subtle foreshadowing or small moments of character development I hadn’t noticed in the past.
What are your favourite science fiction, fantasy, or other speculative fiction shows to rewatch?
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
Frozen II is the 2019 animated fantasy sequel to Frozen. It is about Elsa and Anna’s attempts to figure out the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and save their kingdom from being destroyed by the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. It isn’t strictly necessary to watch Frozen before checking out Frozen II,… Read More
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… Read More
Content warning: snakes and bugs. I will not be discussing these topics in my review. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a 2017 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four high school students who were accidentally transported into a magical video game and needed to beat every level of it in order to get back to… Read More
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… Read More