Tag Archives: Reviews

Wombs for Rent: A Review of The Farm

I’ve decided to start reviewing more books on this blog. All of the rest of the titles I’ve set aside for this purpose for the foreseeable future are indie, but I thought I’d start off with something mainstream. The star rating below is out of a possible five stars.

Title: The Farm

Author: Joanne Ramos

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Genres:  Dystopian, Contemporary, and a pinch of Science Fiction

Page Count: 326 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library

Rating: 3 Stars

 

 

Blurb:

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Review:

The first time I heard of The Farm was a few months ago when another reviewer compared it to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my all-time favourite books. As soon as I read that line, I was hooked. Like Ms. Atwood’s famous story, this one is also about fertile, generally lower-class women being used to gestate babies for the most powerful members of society.

Unlike the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane and the other surrogates chose to become impregnated. Whether they knew what they were really consenting to is something I can’t discuss much in this review without wandering into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that the glossy description of what this job was like didn’t necessarily match Jane’s actual experiences with it.

What I would have loved to see from this book were more details. The most frightening parts of it were glossed over so much that I had to make educated guesses about how they played out. While Jane’s perspective was a limited one, it was a little frustrating as a reader to get so far into the plot only to receive the same vague hints that were contained in the blurb and early chapters.

There was a satisfying payoff for a subplot involving the woman who first introduced Jane to the idea of gestating a pregnancy at The Farm. If only the other clues at the beginning were given the same treatment. Not every dystopia is necessarily going to include a government being overthrown or other major signs that a society has gone terribly wrong. I loved the more subtle approach Ms. Ramos took with the assumptions she made about how people might respond if they couldn’t find decent paying work and selling the use of their reproductive organs seemed like the best option to make some semi-quick cash. If only she’d developed these thoughts further.

With that being said, one of the things I liked the most about this storywas how realistic it was. Yes, there were little snippets of what could be interpreted as science fiction and dystopian content in it, but everything in it is either really happening in our world today or could easily occur with a few small tweaks to how science works and what society tolerates. This is the kind of soft science fiction that grabs my attention because of how close it is to our reality.

I can sleep easily at night knowing that little green men from Mars aren’t actually ever going to invade Earth. The thought that women could so easily be coerced or enslaved into producing babies for wealthy, powerful families, on the other hand, is chilling because it has happened in the past, it is currently going on in some parts of the world, and it will almost certainly occur again in the future.

That’s frightening. Despite it’s flaws, The Farm’s no-nonsense approach to this topic is why I’ll recommend it to anyone who finds the blurb interesting.

Top Ten Tuesday: First Ten Books I Reviewed

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

I write a fair number of long film and TV reviews on this blog, but it hasn’t been as common for me to give books the same treatment here due to the volunteering I do as a book reviewer who uses a pseudonym elsewhere on the web. By the time I’ve written those reviews, I’m generally in the mood to write other sorts of posts for my own site.

Saturday Seven is a now-defunct blog hop I participated in. We talked about all sorts of bookish things on it, and I sorely miss it.

Hopeful Science Fiction is a series I occasionally update here that is meant to highlight sci-fi/fantasy books that have uplifting messages. Today’s prompt is reminding me that I should keep this series going. It’s been a while since I added to it.

This week’s list will include a few long book reviews, but it will also have round-up posts I did that included micro-reviews so that this post is a reasonable length. I really need to write more full-length book reviews for this site!

1. Hopeful Science Fiction: The Lovely Bones.

I should warn you all that the opening scene in this book is about a young girl’s final moments on Earth, and she had violent end. The last thing I expected from such a terrible start was to see what happened to her after she went to the afterlife.

2. History Books About Ordinary People.

This is still my favourite type of history to read about.

3. Non-Human Protagonists.

Xenofiction is an awesome genre and we need more books about it. I’m quite excited that there’s going to be a movie made about The Art of Racing in the Rain!

4. Hopeful Science Fiction: Woman on the Edge of Time.

Woman on the Edge of Time is one of my all-time favourite sci-fi classics. I keep talking about it online in the hope that more people will discover it.

5. Cold and Flu Season Reads.

I’m so glad that cold and flu season has ended. This was a round-up I did about fiction and non-fiction books about all sorts of respiratory illnesses.

6. What to Read When It’s Hot Outside.

Now that those of us in the northern hemisphere are moving closer and closer to summer, I may have to reread some of these books.

7. Cold Weather Reads.

The Valley of Horses has been something I’ve reread the past few winters, and I still think it’s the best book Jean M. Auel ever wrote. Winter tends to be a difficult season for me for mental health reasons, so it’s crucial for me have some stuff to look forward to then.

8. My 4 Favourite Science Fiction Books About Life on Mars.

Wow, I’d totally forgotten I wrote this post. Here’s hoping we all live long enough to see humans actually staying on Mars at least temporarily.

9. Hopeful Science Fiction: Semiosis.

This was such a fabulous read. As you might have already noticed, I love stories about humans moving to other planets, and this was an excellent example of that type of tale.

Hopping Through Life: A Review of Easter Bunny

Today’s post will be a quick review of the short film Easter Bunny in honour of the Easter holidays coming up this weekend. This film was created by Asa Lucander in 2012, and I enjoyed it so much I simply had to share it with all of you.

Feel free to watch it before reading my review if you’d like. It’s about two minutes long, and the plot follows a small, black rabbit who is bouncing and hopping through all sorts of different environments.

Easter Bunny from Asa Lucander on Vimeo.

One of the things that first stuck out to me about this short film is the fact that it has no dialogue. There is some bubbly background music, but anyone could understand the story just fine if they couldn’t or didn’t want to hear the music. I haven’t seen too many examples of short films like this, so it’s a treat every time I stumble across one.

I liked the fact that this storyline seemed to be created for kids and adults alike. Without giving away spoilers, there were certain things that happened during the course of the bunny’s journey that were definitely meant to make adults laugh while still being totally appropriate for even the youngest audience. It isn’t easy to appeal to such a wide audience range, but Mr. Lucander made it look effortless.

One of the questions flitting through my mind as I watched was why the bunny was called an Easter bunny since the beginning didn’t seem to have anything to do with that holiday at all. The answer to this question wasn’t immediately obvious, but I did like seeing what the filmmaker came up with to tie everything together.

Normally, I include constructive criticism in my reviews if there was something about the characters, dialogue, or plot that didn’t quite feel right to me. I believe in being absolutely honest in reviews while also treating the creator with the same kindness and empathy I always hope the reviewers of my work will have for me. There’s also something to be said for building up a reputation as a reviewer who doesn’t sugarcoat the things that didn’t work for you.

With that being said, Easter Bunny was perfect the way it was. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it, and I will be recommending it to family and friends of all ages.  Two minutes was exactly the right amount of space to give to this plot, and I’m glad the creator didn’t try to shorten it down or stretch it out.

I don’t recall ever watching one of Mr. Lucander’s films before. Based on my experiences with this one, I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything else he’s created. He has a playful and creative storytelling technique that I enjoy quite a bit.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all of my followers.  If there’s another holiday at this time of the year that you celebrate, Happy _____ as well!

My Review of The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, and Astraea.

This is a spoiler-free review. 

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a 2018 American fantasy film based on John Bellairs 1973 novel by the same name. While it was written for a middle grade audience, I think adults would enjoy it, too.

This story was set in New Zebedee, Michigan in 1955. A ten-year-old boy named Lewis was recently orphaned, so he was sent to Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan.

The interesting thing about Lewis and Jonathan was that they didn’t seem to have any sort of relationship before the opening scene of this film. It made me wonder why he’d been selected as Lewis’ guardian! There was a reason for that, but you’ll have to watch it to find out.

While most of my aunts and uncles lived far away from the communities I grew up in, I did see all of them at least occasionally while growing up. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to go from not knowing a relative at all to being raised by them.

I liked the fact that the characters acknowledged how odd that transition was before diving into what Uncle Jonathan was capable of as a warlock and what was really going on in his magical, clock-filled home.

There wasn’t one clock in Uncle Jonathan’s house, there were dozens – or maybe even hundreds – of them. The vast majority of them were perfectly ordinary and were only capable of telling you what time it was.

Yet there was one magical clock hidden somewhere in the house that had the power to end the world. If Jonathan couldn’t find it soon, the bad guy might beat him to it.

The Characters

Owen Vaccaro as Lewis Barnavelt.

Lewis, the protagonist, was a bookish and intelligent 10-year-old boy whose parents had recently been killed in an automobile accident. He was sent to live with his uncle after their deaths.

Jack Black as Jonathan Barnavelt

Jonathan, a quirky bachelor, was Lewis’ uncle and guardian. He worked as a warlock and was quite good at his profession. While he had good intentions when he took in his nephew, he knew absolutely nothing about raising children. Some of the funniest scenes in this film showed what happens when someone who doesn’t understand anything about children attempts to parent one.

Cate Blanchett as Florence Zimmerman

Florence was an old and dear friend of Jonathan’s who lived next door to the Barnavelts. She was sensitive, caring, and by far the most intelligent character in this tale. I’d love to see a spin-off about her someday.

Kyle MacLachlan as Isaac Izard

Isaac was the antagonist in this story, but I can’t share anything about his backstory without giving away spoilers. Like Florence and Jonathan, he had developed the ability to perform various types of magic.

Colleen Camp as Mrs. Hanchett

Mrs. Hatchett was the nosy, grumpy neighbour who spent a great deal of her time spying on the Barnavelts and complaining about all of the strange things that can happen when one lives in a magical household.

My Review

One of the many clocks in Jonathan’s home.

I loved the humour of this film. Yes, it was written for a preteen audience, so there were the obligatory bowel movement and other body fluid jokes you’d expect for this age group. There were other scenes that were clearly written for adult viewers, though, and I don’t mean that in an x-rated sort of way at all. Instead, the storytellers showed how easy it is to make mistakes when you have no parenting experience and have suddenly found yourself raising a grieving 10-year-old.

That might not seem like good fodder for a joke, but it strangely was. I had so much compassion for Uncle Jonathan even while I laughed at his sometimes incredibly odd ideas about how a child of that age should be treated and how much influence they should have over stuff like what they eat for dinner or when they go to bed.

Jack Black’s goofy persona was the perfect fit for who Uncle Jonathan was, but I was also impressed with how this actor handled the more serious scenes Uncle Jonathan eventually experienced. He brought a lot of depth to a character that could have easily been written as nothing but fodder for comedy.

This picture-perfect casting repeated itself with everyone else in this film. Every actor was well-suited for his or her role, including the supporting characters who didn’t necessarily have a lot of screen time but who still managed to make their roles memorable. I always enjoy finding films that pay such close attention to matching actors to the roles that they play.

Be sure to pay close attention to what’s going on in the background of the scenes. Occasionally there are surprises lurking where you might least expect them, and I loved picking them out.

While I know that this movie was based on something that was written in the 1970s and set in the 1950s, I was disappointed with the gender-based insults that wereso carelessly thrown around in it. There were several times when Uncle Jonathan made sexist comments that made me wince. They were supposed to be written in the context of him having playful banter with another character, but I don’t personally see anything amusing about using gender-based slurs as a retort. As much as I enjoyed the plot itself, these scenes dampened my urge to recommend it to others without warning them about it first.

It would be one thing if those terms somehow played an important role in understanding the context of the storyline and the world in which it was set. I do not think that every potentially offensive reference should be edited out of classics when they are retold for modern audiences, but I do believe there’s something to be said for updating non-critical parts of a story that are understood in a completely different light now than when they were originally written. This was a case where those terms could have easily been been exchanged for non-sexist insults instead.

I like to end all of my reviews on a positive note, so the last thing I’ll say about The House with a Clock in Its Walls is that it was quite creative. It blended the wonders (and occasional frustrations) of childhood beautifully with the many references it included to more serious, adult topics like how to deal with grief or what it truly means to be a family. This is the sort of film that can be enjoyed by kids and grown-ups alike in my opinion.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is available on iTunes.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Astraea

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of TimeThe Lovely Bones and Semiosis. Today I’m back with another recommendation for hopeful sci-fi, and this time it’s a film! 

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.

Astraea

Astraea is a 2016 film that is set in a slightly futuristic version of what used to be the United States. The main character, Astraea, is a young girl living in what’s left of human society after an epidemic killed off a huge percentage of the population. She’s convinced that their brother and grandmother are still alive, and tries to convince her older half-brother, Matthew, to travel around North America in search of them.

Unlike a lot of post-apocalyptic societies, this one is pretty peaceful world. The human population is so small that it’s rare to run across another person in general, much less one who might have bad intentions.

I’ve reviewed several science fiction and fantasy movies for this site so far. This is the first truly hopeful one I’ve come across, so I thought I’d add it to the Hopeful Science Fiction reading (and now watching) list instead of writing a regular review for it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find photos of all of the characters like I normally do. This was an Indie film, so I’m guessing their fan base wasn’t large enough for them to have the resources or time to commit to such a thing.  I was able to find photos of the two main characters, though, which is the most important thing.

Nerea Duhart as Astraea

Astraea is the protagonist, a teenage girl who may or may not have telepathic abilities. By the time she and her brother begin travelling to find their parents, there are very few living people left in North America. They spend the majority of their time with no company other than each other.

Scotty Crowe (left) as Matthew

Matthew is Astraea’s older brother. He is fiercely protective of his little sister. While he has doubts about whether or not their journey to find possible surviving relatives is a smart idea, he’s determined to travel with her and keep both of them safe.

Dan O’Brien as James

James is one of the few survivors of this plague that Astraea and Matthew met while travelling.After a tense misunderstanding during their first meeting, James and his wife, Callie, agree to give Astraea and Matthew food and shelter over the winter.

There Is Goodness In Our World

The first thing that struck me about this film was how ordinary life was for the characters despite the fact that they were technically living in a post-apocalyptic world. Their days were filled with going on food runs at the nearest grocery store, doing the occasional bit of hunting, keeping the fireplace burning, and finding ways to amuse themselves when those basic chores were finished. Their story happened during the winter, so their to-do lists were much shorter than they would be if the characters also needed to plant a garden or preserve food.

Honestly, I actually found the storytelling a little slow at times. It felt a lot like how real life unfolds. Most days are fairly ordinary and peaceful. Occasionally, someone might get into an accident, have an argument, or need medical treatment, but that is by the exception to the rule and it is always punctuated by other people doing everything they can to help.

This isn’t to say that the characters lived in perfect harmony all of the time. They had disagreements like any group of people living together are bound to do, but that was as far as the conflict went. Unlike violent shows like The Walking Dead, there were no roving bands of humans waiting to hurt the innocent folks they met on the road. The survivors were simply trying to stay alive through the winter.

Speaking of innocence, I was pleasantly surprised by how well all of the adults in Astraea’s life were able to protect her. She was seen as the child she was, and there was always someone around to make sure she had a nutritious meal to eat and a safe place to sleep. That isn’t common in this genre at all, and I found it refreshing. It wasn’t until I’d finished the scene that I looked up her name and realized that it is also the name of the Greek goddess of innocence. I’m sure the filmmakers did that on purpose. It was a wonderful reference that I’m glad I took the time to google.

Grief and Hope

All of the characters in this story lost people they loved in and shortly after the epidemic, so there were references to their deaths sprinkled in with the happier scenes. I appreciated the fact that the storytellers mixed these emotions together. There is hope after grief. You can miss someone who died recently or a long time ago and still find a reason to believe that tomorrow will be a brighter day.

In my quest to find hopeful science fiction, I keep circling back to stories that acknowledge the pain people experience during the course of a lifetime. There’s something immensely appealing to me about this sturdy kind of hope that thrives in difficult circumstances.

If you feel the same way, I highly recommend checking out this film.

 

Astraea is available on iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.

Don’t Make a Sound: A Review of A Quiet Place

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, and The Little Stranger. Content warning: death of a dog and… Read More

My Review of Fitness Blender’s Brutal Butt & Thigh Workout

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and this post is in no way intended to give out medical advice. Please seek the advice of a qualified medical professional before beginning this or any other type of workout routine.  In addition, I’m not receiving any kind of compensation for this post, I’m not affiliated with anyone at… Read More

Echoes of the Past: A Review of The Little Stranger

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, and Winchester.  This is a spoiler-free review.  The Little Stranger is the 2018… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Semiosis

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of Time and The Lovely Bones. Today I’m back with another suggestion. 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… Read More

The Unforgiving Dead: A Review of Winchester

Winchester was originally mentioned in my to-watch list in this post. So far, I’ve also reviewed Into the Forest, Annihilation, and Coco from that list. A content warning for anyone who is sensitive to this topic: this film does contain a few brief references to the death of a child, but I will not be discussing that part of… Read More