Tag Archives: Historical

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

Book cover for The Deep by Rivers Solomon. Image on cover is of a mermaid swimming past a whale.

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. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

Inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future,” The Deep is vividly original and uniquely affecting.

Content warning: Death of a parent and death of a child. I will not be discussing these things in my review. The quotes below were taken from the book.

Some types of pain echo through many generations.

Yetu was an amazing protagonist. Her struggles with acting as the Historian for her community made perfect sense. That burden had been placed on her shoulders at a tender age, and it honestly wasn’t something she was prepared to handle. While I can’t go any further into her backstory without giving away spoilers, I appreciated all of the work that had clearly been put into describing her personality, why she was given this role, and how it affected her both mentally and physically.

“Living without detailed long-term memories allowed for spontaneity and lack of regret, but after a certain amount of time had passed, they needed more.”

One of the things that I wish the blurb had made clearer was how the Wanjinru processed memories, especially since the plot wasn’t shared in a chronological order. Their minds didn’t work exactly the same as a human mind does for reasons that I’ll leave for future readers to discover, so Yetu often needed to repeat things to the audience as she remembered them again or thought of a detail she hadn’t included before. I liked this device a lot, but it wasn’t something I was expecting when I started reading.

The character development was quite well done. This was even more impressive given how Yetu’s memory worked. It’s definitely not easy to show someone growing and changing when they forget certain details over time, but the author pulled it off beautifully.

“We are not Wanjiru if being Wanjiru means distancing ourselves from pain.”

I do wish this book had been longer so that more time could have been spent on the world-building. Yetu both experienced and remembered some amazing events, but she needed to spend so much time repeating certain memories and making sure they were told in the right order that she simply didn’t have as much time as she needed in order to explain those events the way I wish they’d been shared with the audience. Another 50-100 pages of writing would have given me the clues I needed.

“Forgetting was not the same as healing.”

This is also something that could easily be fixed with a sequel if the author ever decides to revisit all of the incredible characters she created here. My fingers are crossed that this might happen one day.

With that being said, the ending couldn’t have been written more beautifully. I adored the way all of the important loose ends of the storyline were tied together while still leaving room for either a sequel or lots of fodder for the the imaginations of everyone who reads it. 

I’ve decided to end this review with a link to the song referenced in the blurb. Comparing its version of events with what happened in the book was fascinating, especially since the song came first!  It does contain spoilers, so keep that in mind while deciding when to listen to it if you’re like me and prefer to avoid spoilers.

 

The Deep by Clipping

Haunting Secrets: A Review of The Lost Ones

Book Cover for The Lost Ones by Anita Frank. Cover shows white outline of woman at top of staircase. There is a large picture window behind her and stylized leaves decorating the rest of the cover.

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 opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

 

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. 

Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.

As the blurb and the content warning mentioned, one of the subplots of this tale involved what happened to a house in the years following the sudden death of a child there. That child’s identity and reason for death were things that were revealed much later on in the plot, so I won’t go into any detail about them here. What I will say is that this tale spent a great deal of time exploring how grief not only changes over time but can stick with someone long after their loss. The family who experienced this loss weren’t the only ones who were grieving. I loved seeing how the other subplots involving grief were interwoven with this one. Not all of them were quite as dramatic, but they worked together beautifully.

What made me give this book a 3.5 star rating was the behaviour of the characters, especially Stella. She’d been intelligent enough to qualify as a nurse in World War I, and yet she continually made choices that I struggled to understand even while knowing that she’d suffered a terribly tragedy while abroad. Her lack of common sense astounded me at times, especially when it came to how she responded to phenomena that had no rational explanation. The occasional lapse of judgement is totally understandable, but there were times when I found it hard to take the plot seriously because of how often she rushed into dangerous situations without thinking things through first. This was a flaw that was repeated with some of the other characters as well, including ones that had lived at Greyswick long enough to that there was something dangerous lurking there.

The treatment of the female characters was handled nicely. We’re still a long ways off from ending sexism, but it was much more insidious in 1917. Women from every social class dealt with it, and there were very few laws to protect them from harmful stereotypes about what they were capable of and how they should be treated if they stepped outside of a narrow range of acceptable behaviours. This isn’t something that a lot of gothic novels address, so I was pleased to see it get so much attention here even though I also cringed at the way women’s hormonal states or “feeble” minds were used as an excuse to avoid getting to the bottom of what was causing so much havoc at Greyswick. It was historically accurate, though!

Despite these issues, The Lost Ones was a deliciously chilling read that I’d recommend to anyone who loves Gothic literature or haunted houses and doesn’t mind suspending their disbelief for a while.

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

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

  Title: The Raven and Other Tales Author: Joy V. Spicer Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Length: 132 pages Source: I received a free copy from Joy Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young… Read More

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check… Read More