Horns–Guest Review by Drew!

Quick note from Two: This is the first guest post! Everybody give a warm (ish) welcome to Drew, who was so very kind to do this for me. Also, it’s a movie review.

Directed by Alexandre Aja
Written by Keith Bunin
Adapted from the novel by Joe Hill
Rated R (for myriad valid reasons)

Even though this film was released in 2013, I only just now got the pleasure of viewing it. It isn’t just that it’s something so new and so different from what we, as an audience, are used to, but that it’s a treatise on human nature.

Daniel Radcliffe gives a startlingly gritty performance as the grizzled Ig Parrish, whose girlfriend died under, shall we say, mysterious circumstances. Blamed for her murder and branded by the media, his friends and family, and the justice system, Ig is left to an existence of booze and self loathing.

But one day, something strange happens. Ig awakens to discover that he’s grown a pair of horns during the night. It isn’t just the horns, but the sway they hold over people: In their presence, the people around Ig are compelled to tell him their deepest, darkest thoughts. Originally, this startles and confuses the poor man, but after a time he resolves to use his new-found powers to suss out his girlfriend’s murderer.

Ig’s mission takes him to the very depths of the human soul as people he once knew and loved reveal to him their most disturbing sides. But what is Ig’s true intent? Is it a need for justice or vengeance that truly drives him? Can he overcome his own demon (both literally and figuratively) to make things right? And perhaps the greatest question: Can a force for evil be used to defeat evil?

Not only is this an engrossing tale with elements of drama, dark comedy, and a strong emotional core, but it is an examination of people and their intentions. It takes a deeper and unrelenting view into the nature of man, the soul, and the driving need to demonize (literally) that which we do not understand.

I wouldn’t recommend this film for mass consumption. Many audiences, I believe, are simply not ready for it. However, if you enjoy a film that’s more off-the-beaten path, something new and different, I strongly suggest this movie make your watch list.

Favorite Line:

“People say you should always do the right thing, but sometimes there is no right thing. And then, you just have to pick the sin you can live with.”

Don’t watch if: you are a steady churchgoer, don’t like black comedy, or can’t bear to think of Daniel Radcliffe as anybody but Harry Potter.


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The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman

Sometimes, achieving a childhood dream can take you to the strangest of places…

Mrs Emily Pollifax (of New Brunswick, New Jersey)is at a bit of a loose end. Long since widowed, her children grown and gone, she doesn’t see much reason or meaning in her life. Oh, sure, she volunteers for various worthy causes and is active in the local Garden Club, but none of it is terribly enjoyable any more. But one day, asked if there was ever anything she had truly wanted to do, she admits that she’s always had a secret desire to be a spy.

Then it hits her: why not? Why couldn’t she be a spy? So she packs a bag and travels down to Langley, Virginia, and presents herself to the CIA as a volunteer. No one there is entirely sure what to do about it–after all, who volunteers for a job as a spy? But the unorthodox head of the most unorthodox department takes one look at her and realizes that she’s exactly what he needs.

The assignment is simple: Travel to Mexico and play tourist, and on a certain day go into a certain bookshop to pick up a package of some sort. So simple, in fact, that it quickly goes very, very wrong.

I want to be Mrs Pollifax when I grow up. She’s amazing–elderly and inexperienced, she takes on trained spies, double agents, and evil men–and wins, on her terms, and makes the unlikeliest of friends along the way.

An enjoyable romp through Mexico and [spoiler redacted], the Unexpected Mrs Pollifax is an engaging spy novel that reminds us all that maybe, just maybe, our childhood dreams aren’t as impossible as we think.

Favorite Line:

I don’t know what country you work for, General Perdido, but your taxpayers would certainly have every right to be furious if they knew.

Don’t read if: you have anything against flowered hats, sinister shopkeepers with gold teeth, talking parrots, or goats.

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie

A murdered man, a transcontinental train, and every passenger a suspect…

Hercule Poirot, whilst traveling back to London from Istanbul, is approached by a man asking for his help. He says he feels threatened, that he is surrounded by enemies, and needs Poirot’s protection. Poirot, however, turns him down. When pressed to change his mind, Poirot only grows firmer in his decision. Something isn’t right about the man–a caged animal, dangerous, pretending at civilization and humanity.

The next morning, the man in question is found dead in his compartment. It’s clearly murder, as he was stabbed a dozen times. But who did it? And why?

As Poirot gathers the facts of the case, the why grows clearer, but not the who. No one could have left the train after the murder, but none of the passengers on the train could possibly have done it. Alibis and evidence, clues and suspicions, they all point in conflicting directions. Poirot, at the top of his game, needs to solve the mystery before the journey ends and the suspects scatter to the winds.

There’s a reason Agatha Christie is called the Queen of Crime, and this book is her at her finest. The setting, the characters, they’re all there waiting for you to puzzle out the answer. It’s intriguing and clever; the clues cryptic and arcane; and Poirot is at his pompous best.

An intriguing look at the desire for revenge and the difficult choice between doing what is right and doing what is just, can you solve the Murder on the Orient Express before time runs out?

Favorite Line:

If you will forgive me for being personal–I do not like your face.

Don’t read if: you can’t stand snow, trains, snowbound trains, mustachioed Belgians, or monogrammed handkerchiefs.

Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie Borden is a woman trying to do her best, but it’s not easy. Her older sister, Emma, is slowly dying of consumption (best known nowadays as tuberculosis). Her parents are dead from a brutal murder. The other residents of Fall River shun the Borden sisters, believing that Lizzie, though acquitted in a court of law, killed her parents in cold blood.

Which she did, in fact, do. But in her defense, they had become a bit…weird. After the trial, Lizzie and her sister moved across town to a large, semi-secluded house known as Maplecroft. It has plenty of space for Emma’s scientific research (though she has to publish under a male pseudonym, because it’s 1893 and society still believed women had no business getting involved in all that book-learnin’. So not too different from now, come to think of it. Anyway.) There’s even room for a giant tank of boiling lye under the cellar floor so Lizzie can easily dispose of the bodies of the things that keep showing up outside Maplecroft at night. Things; creatures; disgusting slimy blind wet things with glassy, needle-sharp teeth. Things like what the senior Bordens had become before Lizzie handled them. But the things keep showing up, and keep showing up, and it’s getting harder for Lizzie to keep up. And the other townspeople are starting to go strange, too…

Imagine if your loved ones were slowly changing into the revoltingly batrachian Deep Ones before your very eyes. Imagine if you knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that they’d come for you next. And imagine if, with a few quick blows of an axe, you could save yourself and what’s left of your family. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve been viewing Lizzie Borden all wrong. Give her a chance to tell her side of the story–read Maplecroft and see if Lizzie Borden is still a villain, or instead is just a maligned, reluctant hero desperate to save herself, her sister, and her home.

This is a brilliant book, a horror novel in the best traditions of HP Lovecraft.

Favorite Line:

If I had any sense, I’d relocate to the desert or the mountains, and be done with this whole business once and for all.

Don’t read if: you have a problem with doctors, axes, mysterious people working for shadowy government organizations, or Massachusetts.

The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett

The first Discworld novel I ever read, it sunk its claws in deep and I’ve been hooked ever since… (Before we begin, a quick word. Discworld isn’t exactly like here, though there are similarities in the strangest places.)

His Grace the Duke of Ankh, Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, is unhappy. That’s actually a fairly regular occurrence, but this time, it’s because things have gone too far–the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork has nominated Vimes to represent the city as ambassador for the coronation of the newly elected Low King of the Dwarfs in the distant region of Überwald. Him! Vimes! He’s not a politician! He’s just a copper the Patrician keeps punishing with ever-more-prestigious titles! He’d much rather stay home and run the Watch, but the Patrician insisted (and when the Patrician insists, it’s just safer all around to comply). So now he, his wife Sybil, and a motley crew of watchmen are off to play at politics.

Vimes isn’t the only one unhappy about his new posting–various shadowy figures aren’t happy about it, either. Vimes is notoriously impossible to corrupt, the walking embodiment of service to the Law. And if he finds out what they’ve been up to, there will be hell to pay…

Discworld is, for lack of a better phrase, almost exactly, but entirely unlike, our own world. For one thing, it’s flat and rests on the back of four enormous elephants, who in turn stand atop the back of the Great A’tuin, a giant turtle swimming through space. Racial tensions crop up in the ancient feuds between dwarfs and trolls. Magic is just another job. Politicians actually get things done. And crime, with a complicated system of vouchers and receipts, is well and truly organized.

But it’s not all fun and games. Terry Pratchett, the author, is a master of satire, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Jonathan Swift. His books always, always have a depth to them you’d never expect. Not only is The Fifth Elephant a roaringly funny and engrossing mystery, it’s also a fairly detailed examination of royal successions, labor unions, and geopolitical scheming.

If you’re looking for something funny, something different, something familiar. Something significant, something light, something fantastic and wonderful and strange…well then. Take a trip to Discworld, and see if you can spot the Fifth Elephant.

Favorite Line:

Sometimes Carrot sounded like a civics essay written by a stunned choirboy.

Don’t read if: you don’t like jokes, puns, mysteries, towns named Bonk, wolves named Gavin, or weaponized baked goods.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is a modern take on a Gothic novel–old houses, weird families, ghosts…

Vida Winter, the renowned and reclusive novelist, is dying. For decades she’s told stories about characters she created, and now she wants someone to tell hers. Margaret Lea, a little-known biographer and assistant shopkeeper, is asked to do the honors. Margaret agrees to do it, but not without reservations.

See, Vida’s never once been honest about her early years, not with anyone. The time before she was published is a mystery, because every time she’s interviewed, she changes her story–orphan, child of missionaries, grew up in India, grew up in Scotland, etc, etc. But by agreeing to tell Margaret three true, verifiable things–things she hasn’t shared before, but can still be proven–she gets Margaret’s reluctant acquiescence.

The story begins with a family. The Angelfields, of Angelfield House, are an odd bunch. Charlie Angelfield, the son and heir, is incredibly troubled and his sister Isabelle is in some ways even worse. In the fullness of time Isabelle gives birth to two children, twin girls named Adeline and Emmeline, and it is their story that matters.

This book is so good, you guys! It’s a little weird and very atmospheric–Vida’s house is quiet and remote; Margaret has her own personal ghost; the Angelfields have issues that make even me squirm a bit. It’s broody and haunting and if Ann Radcliffe was alive today she’d be clawing her own heart out in a fit of jealous rage.

If you like shadows, flames, trashy Gothic novels from days of yore, the idea of trashy Gothic novels from days of yore, mysteries, introspection, or sibling dynamics, pick up The Thirteenth Tale. You’ll be glad you did.

Favorite Line:

Once upon a time there was a fairy godmother, but the rest of the time there was none. This story is about one of those other times.

Don’t read if: you dislike baking, old houses, the Yorkshire moors, or topiary.