Book Reviews, books

Checking out the Book: Feminist Edition

This edition of recent library reads is brought to you by strong lady protagonists and characters of color who are not messing around. Pediatricians, mothers, folk healers, mathematicians, and police officers–none of these ladies, real or fictional, are going to take your shit. Here are a few books by and about women I’ve enjoyed lately.

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Title

The Tenth Muse

Author

Catherine Chung

Format

Book

Review

As an Asian-American growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Katherine is an ambitious young woman torn between performing the role expected of her and one that allows her to pursue her passion for math (which I cannot directly relate to). When Katherine enrolls in Master’s and Doctoral programs, she is the only woman in her graduating classes and struggles to find acceptance.

Complicating matters is the revelation that Katherine’s parents have been keeping secrets about her identity, which has a surprising connection to WWII Germany. Accepting a role as a visiting researcher in Germany gives Katherine the opportunity to explore this relationship–though she will certainly learn some dark truths about her family and the mathematicians she idolizes. While the ending feels a bit rushed, Chung tells a unique story that seamlessly blends together themes of family, identity, and the weight of women’s decisions in a world very much tied to patriarchal values.

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Title

What the Eyes Don’t See

Author

Mona Hanna-Attisha

Format

eAudioboook

Review

The true story of a whistle blower in the Flint water crisis, Hanna-Attisha’s memoir is compelling in the way all tragedies are. A local pediatrician (who narrates her own book), Hanna-Attisha’s compassion for the children in her care is the force motivating everything she’s done. When she notices high levels of lead in the blood test results of many patients, she refuses to let it go until she’s done absolutely everything she can. But what can a pediatrician do to address crumbling infrastructure, intentional cost-cutting to the detriment of well-being, and governmental commitment to ignore or even cover up the crisis? Quite a lot, actually.

Connecting the story of the Flint water crisis to her experiences growing up as the child of Iraqi immigrants, Hanna-Attisha doesn’t shy away from bringing her personal life into the memoir. As a narrator, her passion for the subject and commitment to serving the families of Flint come through effectively. Though this book haunts my dreams and makes me hesitate whenever I turn on the faucet, it tells an important story and tells it well.

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Title

Sabrina & Corina

Author

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Format

Book

Review

Not going to lie, I picked this one up for the cover, which gave me Frida Kahlo vibes in all of the best ways.

Fajardo-Anstine’s short stories are interested in themes surrounding family relationships: those between siblings, parents and children, large extended families. She explores the role of tradition, Latinx and Native American identities, and the roles of women in community and as individuals.

“Sisters” stands out as an especially heartbreaking tale, as Fajardo-Anstine sets up the events leading to a young woman losing her eyesight. Protagonist Doty lives with her sister in 1950s Colorado, but the two won’t be able to afford this arrangement forever. As the sisters go on a series of double dates, Doty feels the pressure for marriage even as she feels absolutely no attraction to her boyfriend. What options does a single Latinx woman have when she barely makes a living wage?

I also enjoyed the story “Remedies,” which details the brief but significant relationship between the narrator Clarisa and her half-brother. The titular remedies are those Clarisa’s great-grandmother uses to cure everything from a headache to the flu. However, these remedies cannot be used for the persistent head lice that afflict Clarisa and her half-brother Harrison, whom Great-Grandma despises. Clarisa’s unconventional mother works hard to maintain the relationship between the half-siblings, efforts that Clarisa most definitely does not appreciate.

To be honest, though, I can’t think of a single story that wasn’t well-crafted and interested in compelling themes and characters.

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Title

Girl Waits with Gun

Author

Amy Stewart

Format

eAudiobook

Review

Constance Kopp, eldest of three sisters who live on a farm in 1910s New Jersey, just wants one thing: for the factory owner who ran into their buggy with his car to pay the money he owes for repairs. Unfortunately, Henry Kaufman, the factory owner in question, is an entitled tool who is disinclined to entertaining the demands of women. Facing threats against her youngest sister, broken windows, and attempted arson (all to avoid a $50 fine), Constance remains steadfast in her commitment to seeing justice done.

Based on a true story, Stewart creates a fun adventure that is meticulously researched; not only are the initial events true, but many of the happenings in the novel are pulled straight from the headlines of the day. Constance went on to become one of the first female deputy sheriffs, and by all accounts was as tough as nails as she is in this telling. The narrator of the audiobook does an admirable job of giving each sister a distinct voice that reflects her character, as well as some memorable scruffy man voices.

What are you reading (or listening to)?

Header photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Wounds, or: Papa Roach

Usually losing a phone means a bad day for the owner, and quite possibly a new phone. However, on the off chance you’ve found a phone that’s related to demonic possession, the odds are your day isn’t going to be much better–and, in fact, it will probably be much worse. Let’s find out, shall we, in the final film of Horror Month 2019!

The Film:

Wounds

The Premise:

After a patron leaves a phone at a New Orleans bar, bartender Will begins experiencing sinister happenings.

The Ramble:

As the preppiest-looking scruffy bartender in the world, Will (Armie Hammer) works at a dive bar with some rather colorful patrons. Regular at the bar Alicia is throwing back a drink most nights along with boyfriend Jeffrey. Though Will has a live-in girlfriend attending Tulane, he has a much keener interest in Alicia’s comings and goings.

One eventful evening, a cockroach skitters across the bar–in the end, only mildly disgusting compared to what will happen that night. When a fight breaks out between bar fly Eric and a stranger, poor Eric ends up with a broken bottle to the face. Though seriously injured, both patrons clear out of the bar before the cops arrive. Also sent running are a group of underage teens who Will has taken pity on.

a man with a bloody cut on his face drinks from a beer bottle at a bar as another man stands next to him

In their haste, one of the teens leaves a phone behind. When the number receives a series of messages pleading for help from a demonic force, Will responds with annoyance, assuming the teens are playing a prank.

The next day, girlfriend Carrie discovers the phone, which now features some disturbing images and videos of people who seem to have been tortured to death. Already a strained relationship to begin with, the phone creates additional tension between the couple. Carrie suspects Will has something to hide, and Will is extremely jealous of one of Carrie’s professors.

a man and woman hold each other as they lay on the grass outside at night

While Will promises to take the phone to the police, he continues to respond to the messages received. When he finally does head to the station to hand over the evidence, Will has a vision of cockroaches pouring from the phone, tossing it out of the window, and thus destroying any proof he had of sinister happenings. None of this happens before he receives the ominous message that he has been “chosen.”

Frustrated, creeped out, and more than a little lonely, Will convinces Alicia to go out for a night of drinking. Though Will is ready to pursue a physical relationship with Alicia, both are involved with other people, and Alicia pumps the brakes. Will’s night takes a sinister turn when he receives creepy videos from Carrie. When he returns home, Carrie is in a zombie-like trance and has no recollection of anything happening. Carrie does snap out of this pretty quickly except for occasionally muttering about how we’re all just worms.

a woman sits at a small dining room table eating cereal, while a man sitting across the table looks at her

Soon after, Will begins acting more and more like an asshole: losing his temper at the bar, screaming at his boss, giving zero fucks about the poor health of bottle-to-the-face Eric, and breaking up with Carrie. Of course, when Will breaks the news to Alicia, she still wants nothing to do with him; thus, he becomes even more of a douche.

With nowhere to go, Will reunites with the injured Eric. However, instead of a welfare check, Will is fully prepared to be Eric’s new roommate for…reasons?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

“Oh, great,” I imagine Armie Hammer saying to himself upon reading the script, “one of those clever horror films in the vein of The Babadook or Jordan Peele’s films. What a brilliant career move; people love Daniel Kaluuya!”

Imagine Armie’s dismay when he ended up starring in this disappointing film, which is neither particularly clever nor overly horrific (except in all of the bad ways).

For real, I did not get this film. I found the pacing to be quite poor, as I was bored out of my skull for almost the entire run time, then surprised by a rather action-packed ending that just left me confused.

I also think virtually everyone here was miscast, though a terrible script certainly didn’t do anyone favors. Armie Hammer isn’t believable to me as a washed-up underachiever; he looks more like the kind of person who would always have family to bail him out. I could just be prejudiced against conventionally handsome blonde dudes, IDK.

To top this off, this film was set and shot in New Orleans, but there was absolutely no sense of place. I felt the film could have been shot anywhere for all of the swampy, haunted ambience we got–aka none. I thought there may be a connection between the creepy happenings of the film and Hurricane Katrina (that would be a compelling explanation, no?), but the script does not take advantage of this.

The main problem for me is this lack of meaning and direction; there seems to be a demon threatening to take over Will and his life. Is it a manifestation of his loveless romance with Carrie? A symptom of his failure to pursue the life he wanted? A stand-in for a developing addiction to alcohol? In this film in particular, the lack of meaning simply makes Will look like your run of the mill asshole. Are you sure you’re suffering from demonic possession there, buddy, or are you just an incel who thinks the world owes you something as a mediocre white man?

I will give this film credit for an accurate representation of millennials being chased by demonic forces: we will always text a friend instead of calling for help. No one wants to get the cops involved, and absolutely no one wants to talk on the phone to a stranger.

Would my haunting blog wife buy this one a shot or conveniently “lose her phone” when it tries to call? Read her review here to find out!

Film Reviews

Checking out the Film: Halloween Edition

‘Tis the season to watch horror films for free from under a mountain of fleecy blankets. Is there any other way to watch a creepy movie? This is a special Halloween edition of Checking out the Film, short reviews of recent library check-outs.

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Title

Demon

Director

Marcin Wrona

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

Nothing’s more fun than a wedding, right? Wrong–in so many, many ways. Especially so when you’ve recently uncovered a body (and rapidly buried it again) on the plot of land where you’re building a house for your bride-to-be. Worse still when this land belongs to her family, so you have very literally discovered the skeletons they were hiding.

For Piotr, his wedding in small town Poland goes from bad to worse when the spirit of the deceased possesses him in this tale of a dybbuk from Jewish mythology. The concept works chillingly well as the spirit is that of a Jewish woman who mysteriously vanished from the village long ago in the late 1930s. This is very much a slow burn that could have used a bit more intrigue early on, but quite an original concept for a horror film.

Who Should Watch

People who can’t imagine anything worse than the last wedding they attended. It can always be worse.

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Title

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Director

Jack Arnold

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

It’s that time of the year for a holiday classic about a swimmer in a fish man costume. After scientists take a trip down the Amazon in search of wildlife there, they encroach on the natural habitat of a creature who hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creature is less than stoked when the humans hang around and chuck a few spears in its direction, though it’s quite ok with essential lady assistant Kay hanging around.

I’m going to be honest–to me, this doesn’t hold up as a horror classic. It’s not even campy or melodramatic enough to be entertaining. There are just endless shots of dudes swimming around underwater, which was probably quite advanced at the time, but isn’t visually thrilling in black and white. And for all of the classic posters of Kay being abducted by the creature, she’s in its clutches for less than a minute of this film’s run time. Is that an odd complaint about a film–not enough abduction? I do appreciate the aquatic take on Frankenstein here, and the early environmental messages.

Who Should Watch

Al Gore.

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Title

Child’s Play (2019)

Director

Lars Kievberg

Format

DVD

Review

In this 21st century update of the horror franchise, Chucky is a smart doll who controls electronics and learns from the world around him. Surely nothing could go wrong when a refurbished model of the doll sits through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and listens to pre-teen Andy talk about his hatred for his mom’s boyfriend…right? Aubrey Plaza, kindred spirit and horror star of my dreams, plays Andy’s mom, who has terrible taste in men and struggles to make ends meet. Her life is about to get much more difficult when Chucky develops a mind of his own.

While quite fun, this film feels like an extended episode of Goosebumps, but with more swearing. The concept for the update is a good one, but Chucky is never going to be as gleefully gory as in the days when he was the spirit of a serial killer trapped in the body of a doll. I honestly think some of the recent films in the Child’s Play franchise of old have been more entertaining in their willingness to embrace B-movie absurdity. Not a bad use of time, but not especially memorable.

Who Should Watch

People who can stomach a significant amount of violence against cats.

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Title

Hereditary

Director

Ari Aster

Format

Streaming (Kanopy)

Review

Following the death of her emotionally abusive mother, Annie’s life begins to unravel in unexpected ways. After a horrific accident, Annie’s worst nightmare comes true: she behaves more and more like her mother. Seeking to connect with the dead, Annie turns to a kindly member of her support group who claims to speak with her deceased grandson regularly. When she manages to communicate with spirits, it’s unclear whether Annie is experiencing an otherworldly power or the same delusions that tortured her mother.

As noted many times, Toni Collette gives a brilliant, genuinely chilling performance here; in fact, I don’t think you can fault any of the performances. The disturbing images and experiences of the characters match the film’s ambitious messages about the curse of genetics and family inheritance. Though I find the end to be a bit too clever in its attempt at a dramatic twist, the conclusion has a horrific sensation of inevitability. Truly one of the good ones.

Who Should Watch

People who have ever considered having children of their own. Rethink this IMMEDIATELY.

What horrors have you witnessed this month? Ideally on film, but feel free to share your truth.

Header photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, or: Lord Help the Mister Who Comes Between Me and My Sister

It is Halloween Month(!), so the time feels right for an adaptation of a classic by master of horror Shirley Jackson. Brilliantly creating an atmosphere of dread, especially in her haunted old mansions, will this film uphold her high standards or will we have to say sorry to Ms. Jackson after this week?

The Film:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The Premise:

The sudden arrival of their cousin disrupts the isolated lives of sisters shunned from a small town after a tragic evening several years prior.

The Ramble:

In the 1960s, sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood live with their uncle Julian in the family estate, where (surprise, surprise) they have always lived. The wealthiest family in the area, whose mansion stands subtly looking down on the entire town, the Blackwoods’ popularity reached an all-time low six years ago when several family members were poisoned.

2 young women sit across from a middle-aged man in an elaborate dining room

Though Uncle Julian survived, he was confined to a wheelchair following the poisonings and became disconnected from reality through his obsession with the events that happened that evening. While Constance was accused but acquitted of murder, the townspeople remain deeply suspicious of the Blackwoods, contributing to her terror of leaving the estate. Merricat is the only member of the family who ventures into town, collecting library books and groceries for the remaining Blackwoods. When she goes out, Merricat is followed by wary glances and nasty children’s rhymes about the night of the murders.

a young woman walks down a neighborhood street, hands full with a brown bag and books

Though isolated, Merricat is content with Constance for her best and only friend. She reveals how far she will take things to keep the band together when she breaks up Constance and her fireman boyfriend. With an ever-increasing feeling that a big change is coming, Merricat performs protective rituals including burying objects belonging to her late father.

When cousin Charles arrives unannounced, it appears Merricat’s predictions of a change on the horizon have come to fruition. Though Constance and Julian welcome the opportunity to speak with a non-Merricat family member, Merricat remains apprehensive. (Plus the cat is getting bad vibes from Charles here; never a good sign.)

After Charles discovers Merricat’s penchant for burying valuables belonging to her father, he becomes upset with the wasteful practice. When Merricat directly asks Charles to leave, he refuses–and, in fact, deliberately antagonizes her. Add to this the weird cousin love vibes between Charles and Constance, and Merricat is feeling downright threatened. As their feud escalates, it seems increasingly likely yet another Blackwood will end up dead.

a man and woman stand holding hands as a girl looks on from the doorway

Just as Merricat and Charles get into a dramatic physical altercation, a lit pipe sets the house ablaze. While many of the townsfolk gather to witness the blaze, Uncle Julian refuses to leave, and Charles desperately attempts to salvage valuables from the home.

How will the sisters, having endured so much, battle fire, disreputable relations, and an angry mob?

The Rating (with spoilers):

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m going to be that amateur film critic and start out by saying the book is infinitely better. Shirley Jackson’s novel is genuinely creepy, suspenseful, and surprising. This film adaptation lacks the subtlety and ambience that makes the novel so successful. I have a difficult time believing that anyone who watches this will be shocked by the revelation that Merricat has secrets to hide about the poisonings because she acts like such a creep throughout the entire film.

Add to this the elements of the film that are unintentionally hilarious, and the tone feels quite uneven. I love Crispin Glover, but his turn as Uncle Julian is not convincing, and some of his lines–“We all deserve to die, don’t we?” especially stands out–brought on laughter when they should have been eerie. Julian mistaking Charles for the murdered Blackwood patriarch is also much funnier than it’s supposed to be.

The themes here are extremely Shirley Jackson, with no one being especially likeable. The Blackwoods are incredibly elitist, and there’s no love lost between the sisters and their parents. Charles has the power to be an ally to his family, but in the end is as manipulative as Merricat suspects him to be. I don’t even know where to begin with the townsfolk, whose cruelty and hypocrisy are unmatched and unwarranted–especially considering they know so little of the truth behind the Blackwood murders.

However, I remember Merricat being a more sympathetic character in the novel as we get more insight into how her mind works (though she is, as in the film, an unreliable narrator). This could be down to my having read the book in my teens or early 20s, and therefore possessing a considerably greater amount of patience for a moody teen. Who knows? It could be a perfect time to revisit the book and find out.

Would my swingin’ ’60s blog wife stay in this castle or sling angry taunts in its general direction? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Cleaning Lady, or: I Want to Kill You and Wear Your Skin Like a Dress

Another (Halloween) week, another horror film! This one brought to you by ridiculous standards for beauty and overly involved toxic friendships.

The Film:

The Cleaning Lady

The Premise:

A cleaning lady becomes obsessed with her employer, going way overboard with the additional free services no one asked for.

The Ramble:

Scrubbing floors, clearing bathtub drains, blending live rats into a puree…it’s all in a day’s work when you’re a cleaning lady. It’s clear from the get-go that Shelly is a deeply disturbed woman; as they say, watch out for the quiet ones.

Meanwhile, love addict Alice is troubled by her relationship with boyfriend Michael, who is married with a child of his own. Though Michael promises Alice a lovely vacation in Italy, he fails to come through on his promises, and sponsor Miranda encourages Alice to get serious about ending things (again).

A man sits in bed, a woman leaning against him and smiling.

After hiring maintenance worker Shelly under the table to do some cleaning around her apartment, Alice sees an opportunity for a beautiful new friendship to develop. During the day, Alice’s at-home spa and makeover business keeps her busy; in the evening, Alice begins to depend on Shelly to prevent her from contacting Michael.

Shelly is an extremely quiet woman who keeps to herself. Self-conscious about terrible burns on her face, she usually avoids all relationships. Perhaps it’s no surprise when the attention-starved Shelly immediately latches onto Alice with a certain degree of intensity.

A well-dressed blonde woman stands in a kitchen, talking to a dark-haired woman in grungy clothes and a baseball cap.

As it turns out, Shelly has a rather disturbing backstory that explains her twisted behavior. Her mother’s money making techniques were incredibly warped during young Shelly’s childhood–though Shelly certainly finds a way to exact her revenge.

Very quickly, Shelly becomes the friend always pushing Alice to be a better version of herself; in fact, Shelly believes Alice is mere steps away from perfection. Shelly pressures Alice to give up smoking and stay firm in her commitment not to get back together with Michael.

A woman reclines in bed, drinking a cup of tea, while a woman in grungy clothes sits next to her.

Meanwhile, Alice gives Shelly a makeover, even donating a brightly colored dress to wear. This is a big mistake, as Shelly realizes her potential to become more like Alice–including making a mold of her face after she falls into chloroform-induced sleep, thus giving new meaning to a girls’ night in with face masks.

When Alice inevitably reunites with Michael, a distraught Shelly snaps. Witnessing the night out is Michael’s wife Helen, who follows her husband’s car to a creepily remote location. Will Helen arrive in time to help her husband’s mistress–and will she even want to help once she discovers Alice’s identity?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Shelly is truly a chilling character whose reactions, though extreme, feel plausible. She embodies the Hollywood (and societal) obsession with perfection, especially in her quest to change and control Alice. In contrast to the external beauty that fascinates Shelly, some of the things she does are absolutely vile and bloodily grotesque. I do applaud the film’s ability to be genuinely disturbing without relying solely on gore to shock viewers (though there’s also plenty of that to go around).

Meanwhile, Alice is perhaps undeserving of the ordeals she experiences at Shelly’s hands, but she is certainly not a flawless character. Let’s not forget that the relationship between the two main characters is possible only because of Alice’s willingness to take advantage of Shelly’s situation. Alice wants a cleaning lady without having to do the work of finding or paying one on the books. In fact, the situation is risky for Shelly as she openly admits her supervisor wants her to perform maintenance–not do cleaning work. However, Alice treats Shelly a bit like her charity project to make herself feel like a good person.

Overall, the film has some interesting messages about privilege, unreasonable beauty standards, and the monsters created in our quest for perfection. However, I’m still puzzling over what just happened in this film, and would’ve liked the creepiness to unfold more slowly, like a…death’s-head moth emerging from a cocoon?

Would my (almost) perfect blog wife make a face mask of this one or blend it into a fine purée? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

St. Agatha, or: Hold Your Tongue

Horror-lujah (sorry not sorry), it’s Horror Month at last! We’re kicking off the best month on the Blog Collab with a classic yet underrepresented genre: nun horror. And, seriously, the nuns here are much more likely to join forces with Pinhead than feed the hungry or tend to the sick.

The Film:

St. Agatha

The Premise:

A young pregnant woman turns to a convent for help…only to discover the Sisters choose to do the Lord’s work using rather sinister methods.

The Ramble:

In 1957 Georgia, the aptly named Mary runs away to a secluded convent in the woods, of course in the creepiest, most dilapidated building imaginable.

A woman carrying a suitcase faces the exterior of a 2-story building on a foggy evening.

Pregnant with her boyfriend’s child and on the run from her abusive father, Mary has nowhere else to turn. Noticeably absent is her little brother William, with whom Mary planned to escape, as well as any cash whatsoever.

Mary receives a rather chilly welcome from Sister Paula, who cautions that the shelter provided by the convent comes with a price: Mary must leave behind all connections to her former life and take a vow of silence. Her only concern now should be the approval of Mother Superior, who is something of a piece of work.

A woman in a nun's habit looks down at a younger woman in a green dress.

Believing the world to be a place full of sinners, bars on the windows protect the Sisters from evil outside forces…or do they prevent all who live in the convent from making an escape? According to Mother Superior, pain brings you closer to God, a message that does little to soothe Mary as she hears the sounds of crying and screaming from behind locked doors.

The only friend Mary can find is her roommate Catherine, who is also pregnant. Her other roomies live in perpetual terror of the Sisters and all have plenty of horror stories about their experiences at the convent.

Meanwhile, the Sisters seem more preoccupied with earthly concerns than sticking to that vow of silence as Mother Superior sits around counting her money and preparing for a dinner with their mysterious benefactors. When Mary learns that all of the Sisters are or have at some point been pregnant, she grows even more suspicious. Add to this Mother Superior’s constant gaslighting and warning that Mary is too irresponsible to raise her own child, and this is more or less the final straw.

Nuns in habits surround a young woman who is struggling to emerge from an open coffin.

Frightened for her own well-being and the future of her child, Mary decides to make a break for it. However, when things don’t go as planned, Mary winds up in the secret underground torture basement in the convent (what–you’ve never heard of a convent with a secret torture room?). Mother Superior will never release Mary until she accepts her old life is over…and in her new life, she is now Agatha.

Who will win the battle of wills between Mary and Mother Superior?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

For a film in which almost all of the major characters have taken a vow of silence, there is a LOT of dialogue here. And while some of it is effective, a lot adds very little value to the film.

Let’s start with the unnecessarily tragic backstory of Mary, (SPOILER) involving her father’s abuse, brother’s death, and descent into poverty with her boyfriend. I’m not sure all of these details tie in well to the story, and are merely tacked on to elicit sympathy for Mary–and to help us understand why she may be so desperate that she’d willingly stay at the convent from hell.

I do certainly feel for Mary, but the creepiness of the convent is immediately apparent, and it makes no sense the number of horrific things she puts up with before thinking that maybe–just maybe–she should get the eff out.

However, the ambience is quite well done: the suspense created because of the dilapidated building in the secluded, foggy woods comes through well. And there are truly horrendous things going on inside, most of which relate to an oral fixation. The psychological terror is effective as well, with the nuns, who are demonic yet do not have any demonic special powers, very easily manipulating their victims through emotional abuse.

I will give this film credit for its ambition as well; if I interpret it as intended, the story is a major critique of the church’s abuses historically and into the present. The hierarchical structure of the church has allowed for the systemic physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of pregnant women, young children, and indigenous people in particular. Though this is a horror film, some of the tactics employed by the Sisters have been used to abuse and manipulate victims, as well as to silence them. While they claim to do the Lord’s work, the Sisters’ motives are no different from a for-profit corporation: money and power.

But, in the end, the story isn’t as well thought-out as it could have been, and its message doesn’t come across in a way that’s as clever as it thinks it is.

Would my saintly blog wife devote herself to this one or slip a special ingredient into its frosty refreshments? Find out in her review here!

Book Reviews, books

Checking out the Book: Done with You, Reality

As a librarian and bibliophile, I fully endorse supporting authors by purchasing their work. However, as an overly cautious and quite stingy person, I also wholly believe in checking out the book from the library first. Otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you will unconsciously put a LOT of pressure on a $20 or $30 book to be the next great novel rather than simply enjoying it (unless it was on the $2 bargain shelves). And you may or may not just let that book sit on the shelf anywhere from a year until the rest of your life.

As such, most of my recent reads are library books. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately–mostly because they offer an escape from our reality in some way.

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Title

The Downstairs Girl

Author

Stacey Lee

Format

Book

Review

I would have absolutely devoured this as a teen since it’s the stuff of which my dreams were made. Set in 1890s Atlanta, Lee tells the story of Jo Kuan, a Chinese-American teen with a talent for styling the hair and hats of many a Southern belle. When she loses her job without cause (aka racism), Jo is forced to work as a lady’s maid once again for , a particularly ill-tempered belle. However, Jo pursues her passions by secretly writing an advice column for a local paper, while seeking the truth about the identity of her parents, who left her in the care of the elderly (and aptly named) Old Gin.

I love Jo’s snarky humor in her advice column, as well as the many characters and stories intersecting here. There are certainly unlikeable characters aplenty, but Lee is reluctant to dismiss them or their concerns, peeling back their identities to reveal barriers created by race, nationality, poverty, gender, and sexual orientation (yes, even you, white Southern dudes of the 1800s).  I especially enjoy the relationships Jo shares with friends Robby and Noemi, whose experiences depict the lives of African-American workers in the Reconstruction South.

Recommended for…

My period drama lovers who enjoy social critique (so, like, all period drama lovers).

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Title

The Memoirs of Lady Trent

Author

Marie Brennan

Format

Book

Review

What’s your vision of the year 5658? Robots? Flying cars? A landscape devastated by climate change? Marie Brennan’s version of the future looks a lot more like the past than present, as reflected by the Victorian-inspired memoirs of naturalist and adventurer Isabella Camhurst. Fascinated by dragons at an early age, Isabella is off exploring the species in distant lands as soon as she can ditch the high society of a thinly veiled England (aka Scirland).

If this sounds cringey and insensitive re: colonialism, Brennan is very aware of England’s sordid past, and the misdeeds (i.e. genocide) of its explorers. She vividly brings to life the cultures represented here–West Africa, Polynesia, Eastern Europe–while her self-aware heroine recognizes her limits as a cultural observer.

Recommended for…

My period drama lovers who appreciate an escapist fantasy. And for my fellow readers reluctant to commit to a five book series, the lack of major cliffhangers makes this one easy to pick up for a book or two (or complete the series, as I’m planning to do).

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Title

Herakles

Author

Edouard Cour

Format

Graphic novel

Review

Just in case your only experience with the legend of Herakles is the Disney film, prepare to be disillusioned. Rather than a lesson in perseverance, the life of Herakles is yet another tale underscoring the degree to which mortals are merely the playthings of the gods. Through trial after trial, Herakles works to prove himself worthy of god status, but all he seems capable of is embroiling himself more deeply into trouble and invoking the wrath of the gods. I guess he gets a nice lion pelt out of all this, at least.

Herakles is often blindly vengeful and stupid, but it’s nevertheless difficult not to feel for him.  He seems to be so little in control of his life that you can’t really blame him for pursuing an endless series of trials in vain. That’s life, eh? No wonder the Abrahamic faiths took over from here…the legend of Herakles is too bleak even to come from the mind of Nietzsche.

Recommended for…

People sick to death of toxic masculinity. Also kids who have to take a course in the Classics and want to skip to the interesting bits.

What are you reading, library book or no?

Header photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash