Title: A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories
Author: B.A. Loudon
Publication Date: September 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: 45 pages
Source: I received a free copy from the author.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
In this collection of stories, all is not what it seems…Broken promises have unexpected consequences.Going to space should be a day of celebration.A sunny disposition conceals a dark family secret.And why does a bit of pickled pumpkin have an entire neighbourhood on edge?
Content warning: mental illness, domestic abuse, cannibalism, postpartum depression, and murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.
It’s never too early to start thinking about Halloween.
There were a surprisingly amount of short stories and flash fiction in this collection, so I’l only talk about a few of them in my review. Do check out the whole thing if any of this intrigues you.
The narrator in “Promises” was someone who grew up in a small town and desperately wanted to leave it. When they were finally given a chance to do just that, the person who took them far away from home wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. This was such a quick little tale that I can’t say much else about it, but I did find it interesting to learn what happened to the narrator after they left home.
In “A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin,” a grieving spouse must decide what to do with their wife’s massive collection of pickled foods after she died. The spouse had never learned to like the taste of pickled things and didn’t want all of her hard work to go to waste. This wasn’t a topic I was expecting to read about, but I liked reading the main character’s thoughts about how to tie up all of the loose ends of this part of their life.
“The Performance of a Lifetime” reminded me of how much stage fright I’ve had in the past much like the protagonist of this piece. As much as I enjoyed the beginning of this tale, the middle and ending of it seemed to come out of nowhere. It would have been nice to have more clues about what was about to happen and how the beginning was tied to what came after that. This was something that was repeated with many of the stories in this anthology. Their endings were well worth reading, but I wasn’t always entirely sure how they arrived there.
“Clean” was quite the read. At first it seemed like it was written for adults instead of teenagers because most teens aren’t permanently put in charge of cleaning their entire homes the way the mother is in many families. Yes, I wrote mother on purpose. The gendered aspects of who cleans and who keeps track of what should be cleaned next was written well. It actually turned out to be my favourite part of this tale as well as one of the best stories in this anthology.
If you’re counting down the days to Halloween and want to get into the spirit of it early this year, A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories is a good place to start.
Gunnar is part of a team studying a powerful new energy source aboard the seaborne platform Ryojin. But their work is interrupted, first by mysterious attackers, and then by a visitor from the sea even stranger than the new technology…
Strap in for a wild ride!
The world building was well done. This was set at some unspecified time in the future when climate change melted so much ice at the polar ice caps that sea levels flooded many formerly inhabitable areas. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover how this changed not only the Earth itself but also human society and the expectations of the average person of what their life can or should be like. What I can say is that it was well thought out and logical. I wanted to know more, but I was also satisfied with what was presented to us.
One of the most interesting things about this tale was how much it relied on the audience to come up with our own theories about what it means and what it was trying to say about human nature. There were a couple of times in the beginning when I wished it was a little clearer about which interpretation, if any, was actually the most reasonable one. Be patient while reading this because it really does gel together beautifully in the final scene for reasons that I’d better not so much as hint at to avoid any semblance of spoilers.
I’m honestly not that well acquainted with military science fiction, but I really liked how this example of it was written. The plot focused on a scientist working on the Ryojin, a vessel that had strong ties to a futuristic version of the military in a world where war seemed to be less common than it is today.
With that being said, there were the sorts of battles you’d expect to find in this subgenre. What I liked the most about those scenes was how smoothly they set up the rest of the storyline.
This story was labelled as something written for the 16-18 age level on Amazon. I agree with that age range, but I also think it’s something that will appeal just as much to adult readers. I read a ton of young adult and science fiction novels, and I think it incorporated both of those genres nicely. Although it did lean much more heavily in the science fiction direction, so don’t let the young adult label scare you off if that’s not typically something on your bookshelf! There’s something here for everyone.
In the end, 1NG4: A Long Short Story was an incredibly satisfying read that I highly recommend.
Content warning: death of a parent, police violence and gun violence. I will be discussing the last two items in this list in my review.
See You Yesterday is a 2019 science fiction film about C.J. and Sebastian, two high school students who are best friends, fellow science enthusiasts, and inventors.
Their latest invention is a backpack that allows the person wearing it to travel back into time. The technology wasn’t perfect. It could only go back into the recent past and could only be used a certain number of times. They were still figuring out how to change those limitations when the events of this film took place.
After C.J.’s older brother, Calvin, was murdered by the police, she and Sebastian decided to use their unfinished invention to travel back in time and save her brother before time ran out for him for good.
C.J. was the protagonist of this tale. As an incredibly intelligent and driven young woman, she believed she could solve any problem that came her way by seeking the scientifically correct answer to it.
Sebastian was C.J.’s best friend. He was just as intelligent as C.J. but tended to be more cautious about trying new things until he’d gathered all of the date he needed about how they worked.
C.J. and Sebastian’s science teacher
Mr. Lockhart was C.J. and Sebastian’s supportive science teacher. He didn’t believe in time travel, but he did believe that his two smartest students would do incredible things with their lives. Supportive teacher, but doesn’t believe in time travel.
Anyone who is a fan of this actor’s previous work will find a delightful Easter Egg about it at some point in this tale.
Calvin was C.J.’s overprotective but loving older brother. He admired his sister’s intellect and believed that she’d one day make life better for their entire family because of it.
This was such a good story that I’m planning to watch it again!
Obviously, there were strong social justice themes in this movie. The blurb and trailer for it will give that fact away immediately to anyone who somehow missed it. C.J.’s invention was really cool in and of itself, but the thought of it being used to right terrible wrongs only made me more curious to see if and how she’d reach her goal of saving her brother’s life.
C.J.’s character development was beautifully handled. There were excellent reasons for her sometimes stubborn behaviour and unshakeable belief that science can be used any problem if one works hard enough to understand what happened and how it can be changed. I’ll leave it up to other viewers to discover these things for themselves, but it was delightful to see how her past and present shaped who C.J. was and who she was becoming.
There were a couple of fantastic plot twists later on in the storyline. They made perfect sense given everything C.J. had gone through earlier. While I did see them coming due to how familiar I am with tropes in the young adult and science fiction genres, I’d be pretty curious to find out if other audience members had the same reaction to them. Either way, they enhanced the viewing experience nicely.
My brain is beyond eager to discuss the ending in this post, but I’ll need to carefully dance around what actually happened in it in order to avoid spoilers. What I can say is that it fit the themes of this tale well and it had a powerful message for audience members about how we should respond to police and gun violence.
Ending on such thoughtful terms was such a great decision. I’ve read that the director isn’t planning to make a sequel, so it looks like the audience will have come up with our own theories about what might happen next.
A Note on the Violence Tags in My Review
Some of the violence was implied. Other acts of violence were shown directly to the audience, albeit in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. There were the briefest hints of blood in a couple of scenes, but in general this was a pretty blood-free story (especially given the subject matter).
See You Yesterday is something that I’d recommend just as highly to adult viewers as I would it’s original young adult audience.
Content Warning: animal mistreatment and animal deaths. I will only briefly mention those aspects of the plot, and this will otherwise be a spoiler-free review.
A Dog’s Purpose is a 2017 modern fantasy film about a dog named Bailey who was reincarnated mutiple times during his quest to find his original owner. It is based on a book by the same name.
The fantasy elements of this tale are light and contemporary. Think something closer to the magical realism genre than Lord of the Rings.
There are quite a few characters in this film I can’t discuss without giving away spoilers because of the episodic nature of Bailey’s lifetimes. Every time he was reborn, he met a new cast of characters who taught him important lessons about what it means to be a good dog and to live a worthwhile life.
For the record, I discuss characters in the past tense in all of my film reviews in order to avoid giving my audience any spoilers for films that don’t involve reincarnation. Don’t read anything into it other than that if you happen to check out previous reviews at the top of this post.
Josh Gad as the voice of Bailey
Bailey was the main character of this story. He was an optimistic and friendly dog who looked for the good in everyone he met. With that being said, his personality changed a little bit from one lifetime to the next. There was always something likeable about him, but to my surprise he didn’t have the same quirks, habits, or preferences in every lifetime.
Dennis Quaid (right) as Ethan
Ethan was Bailey’s first owner and the first person to treat this dog with all of the love and the kindness he deserved. They originally met when Ethan was a child, and they spent many happy years together at the beginning of their friendship. The emotional bond between them was something that even death itself couldn’t break.
Let’s talk about the content warning I added for this review before discussing anything else about it. As I mentioned earlier, this tale follows one dog through several different lifetimes. Some of the lives he experienced were not happy ones, and there were scenes that showed him being mistreated by the humans around him. Since this was a children’s movie, none of those scenes were long or particularly graphic.
The difficult chapters of this dog’s existence were sugar-coated at times for the sake of the audience. I’d be happy to go into more detail about this part of the plot privately with anyone with needs more information before deciding to watch it, but I didn’t have trouble with it even though I’m generally sensitive to this sort of content. It was handled gracefully.
One of the most interesting things about A Dog’s Purpose for me was seeing all of the changes to Bailey’s personality from one life to the next. Despite having the same soul, he evolved every time he was reincarnated.
To give one example, he was an active, energetic dog in some lifetimes and perfectly content to sit on the couch with his owners and watch television in others. I’ll leave it up to all of you to discover the reasons why he didn’t behave exactly the same way in every incarnation he experienced, but I did enjoy what the screenwriters were doing with these shifts in his temperament. They were all explained well.
There were times when I found this film a little too sentimental. This may have been due to the age group it was written for, but I would have preferred to see a more pragmatic approach to his journey in certain scenes. Bailey’s goal was a lofty one for a dog, and there were instances when it would have been nice to for him to run up against some more obstacles while he tried to find Ethan again.
With that being said, I was intrigued by the thought of a dog trying to figure out the meaning of life for his species. It wasn’t something I’d expect a canine narrator to think about, so it was interesting to see how he came up with his theories about why he kept being reborn and what he was expected to do with all of his lives.
This was a mostly lighthearted and uplifting movie that I’d recommend to kids and adults alike. Despite the occasionally sappy moments, I did enjoy seeing what Bailey’s various lives were like and how he made the best of each one of them.
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.
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.
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.