Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October tea and a book: The Crowfield Curse

Early this month I listened to Ric Jerrom's exquisite voice performance of Pat Walsh's The Crowfield Curse while driving home from Iowa, and nothing I've read since has topped it. Though it's not a horror story, it does offer chills and thrills fitting for Halloween.

The story revolves around fourteen-year-old Will, an orphan taken in (and put to work) by the monks of Crowfield Abbey. One day when collecting wood in the forest, he encounters a creature caught in a trap. When the creature speaks to him, Will knows he's stumbled upon something strange and magical. He frees the hob and soon enough is thrust into a gripping conflict involving a leper on a quest, a war between Fey kingdoms, and a faith-related mystery.

I loved so many things about this novel: the insider's look at life in a medieval Benedictine abbey, the encounters with magical beings, the eerie perils of Whistling Hollow, and, most of all, the truth behind the aforementioned mystery. You guys! There is a scene in this book, a scene of awe and transcendence, that had me in tears. All I can say is if you have even a passing interest in medieval England, and are open to mysteries with fantasy and supernatural elements, this would be a great read for you.

I didn't know much about the book before I listened -- it was recommended to me by the analytics of -- so I won't give more details. I'd love for you to be as pleasantly surprised as I was! However, if you need a little more info before leaping in, I very much appreciated this review from Amazon (though for some reason it misidentifies the setting as seventeenth century). Just so you know, I loved the audio so much that I purchased the hardcover copy. And I look forward to seeing Will again in The Crowfield Demon.

Check out the cool trailer:

And now for tea!

I suppose if I were being true to the book, I'd have a tea of rancid lard on bread with a cup of ale to wash it down. (!!!) I decided instead to make something sweet and spicy. In fact, I experimented with a flourless recipe that might appeal to my paleo friends! Keep in mind that I'm not an old hand at baking with almond butter and ground flaxseed, and thus these Flourless Pumpkin Pie Muffins were not exactly a breeze for me to make. (My blender was NOT happy.) As you might imagine, the muffins do not rise to fluffy heights, and I think I added too many chocolate chips. (Is this possible? Apparently, yes.) But overall I was pleased with the results.

The muffins were even better the second day, and though I have three pictured here, just one satisfies my sweet tooth quite nicely. The tea is a fair trade Assam I purchased at the Co-op in Waterloo, Iowa.

The cup came from Waterloo, too! It belonged to my ex-stepmother Rosemary, but I fell so deeply in love with it during my visit that she secretly stashed it in my bag before I hit the road back to Oklahoma. Thanks, Rosemary! The cup's concept could make for a great costume, eh? (Well, maybe for a grad school Halloween party.)

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Creepy Film Roundup for Halloween 2014

It's that time of year when I have a special craving for ghostly films -- thought I'd share the results of my recent binge-watch in case you were looking for a spooky flick for your Halloween festivities!

The Quiet Ones (2013)
When I first heard about this film, I thought it was tailor-made for me. Paranormal investigators working at Oxford University in the early 70s? How could it fail to entertain? Well . . . first of all, the characters spent about 10 minutes at Oxford before secluding themselves in a bland old house in the country. And though Jared Harris (as the chief academic) is one of my favorite actors, I never really understood his character's goals or motivation. Furthermore, Sam Claflin (who was so engaging in Catching Fire) practically sleepwalks through this film. There were a few interesting moments, but overall I was deeply disappointed. I just wish they'd stuck closer to their purported source material: The Philip Experiment. (And BOO on the filmmakers for using fake photos in the closing credits to represent the real people who "inspired" this film.)

Mama (2013)
I'd read mixed reviews of this one, and now I understand why it might not work for some folks. This film takes risks--particularly with its representation of the paranormal presence--and the risks don't always pay off. But I prefer a film that tries something different and partly fails to one that follows a tired old formula. In particular, I appreciated how this script explored the poignancy, fierceness, and even horror of the maternal instinct. I actually cared about the characters, and this fostered the slow build of dread as they fell deeper into peril. There's more than a little hokeyness to be sure, and the male characters are pretty useless, but Jessica Chastain is fabulous, as are the girls who play her "adoptive" nieces. The ending made me cry.

Stoker (2013)
A grieving daughter meets her uncle for the first time at her father's funeral and is alternately intrigued and repelled by his behavior. This film leans more toward suspense than supernatural horror, but the characters are metaphorically haunted in interesting ways. I'm not certain the plot holds together, but I don't really care because this isn't a plot-driven movie. It's gorgeously filmed and, best of all, gloriously Gothic. (One of my favorite scenes involves Mia Wasikowska's character obsessing over a Victorian guide to funerals and mourning.) If you don't like dark and twisted, this is NOT the film for you.

(BTW, I am soooo looking forward to director Park Chan-wook's next project, an adaptation of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith set in early 20th century, Japanese-occupied Korea. Sounds like a winner to me!)

Lake Mungo (2008)
An Australian "mockumentary" about a family who might be haunted by their recently drowned daughter. This one won't make you jump out of your seat like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, and that's because it prioritizes emotional depth over shock value. Certainly there are creepy moments, but mostly I appreciated this spooky mystery for drawing me into the longing and vulnerability of its grieving characters.

If you have any suggestions for creepy/ghostly films, do please leave me a note in the comments!

Last year's Halloween recommendations (all in one post): The Changeling, El Orfanato (The Orphanage), Below, and Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters)

2012 recommendations: The Pact and The Awakening. Also (each a separate post) Dead of Night, The Uninvited, The Innocents, and The Haunting.

And finally, I like this list of 40 Scariest Ghost Movies.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]