Category Archives: #Reviews

The Definitive, Indisputable, All Time Top 5 (my favorite) Horror(ish) Movies Ever Released… In January

Written by Briant Laslo

Briant Laslo

My goal here is to go throughout the year and each month pick out five of the best films, in my opinion, that in some way or another fit into the horror genre. They may not have been box office smashes. They may not have been critical successes. Some of them might even be more funny than scary. But, all of them will have made some kind of contribution to the genre or, at the very least, made their mark on me personally.

Top five lists are, by their very nature, subjective and meant to be fun, conversation starting pieces. So, I encourage everyone to get involved in the comment section. Give us your top five, or talk about any of the films I mentioned.

So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 Horror (ish) Movies Ever Released in the month of January!

Mama, released January 18, 2013. Let me start off by saying the first several months are rough going. January is one of the big “dump months” for films where studios push out all of the films they’ve made that they don’t think are going to make any money. However, Mama is a decent, scary movie with some great visuals. I’m not a big fan of horror movies that rely solely on the “made you jump” moment, and while Mama has a few of them, it does a great job of portraying the main antagonist as a sympathetic, while terrifying, character that truly does care for the children. The scene where the children are playing tug-of-war with a blanket in their room and you can’t see who’s on the other side of the blanket, and then they start to get pulled up towards the ceiling laughing in fun is one of my favorites.

From Dusk Till Dawn, released January 19, 1996. Definitely not your stereotypical horror movie, nor your stereotypical vampire movie for that matter. This is definitely the “Tarantino is cool and pulp fiction is great, let’s make a vampire movie like that!” Heck, there’s even a cameo by Big Kahuna Burgers. The movie is of course ultraviolent and definitively answers the question “does Quinten Tarantino have a foot fetish?” There’s not a lot of true scary moments or tension builders in this one, but if you’re looking for a fun ride with lots of blood, you will not be disappointed.

Hostel, released January 6, 2006. The second full-length movie directed by Eli Roth is the kind of movie that I have the hardest time watching when it comes to horror, and is for that reason usually something that sticks with me. This is a straight out horror/torture film about as based in reality as you can get for a horror movie. There are not any ghosts or invincible bad guys around. These are humans, both vulnerable and depraved. The movie doesn’t pull any punches and the horror is more about enveloping you in the situation rather than building tension. I don’t like re-watching this movie because I honestly don’t enjoy the feelings it creates inside me. But, it DOES successfully create those feelings of fear and disgust. So, if that’s your thing, then you need to make sure you give this one a go.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil, released January 22, 2010. Okay, so like I said, not all of these movies are going to be pure horror. This one still touches on many of the horror stereotypes (deranged hillbillies, sexy teenagers, running, screaming, blood, all that good stuff) but it certainly plays it on the comedic side. First off, full transparency, I’m a huge Alan Tudyk fan. I like pretty much everything he is in. And, if you’re a fan of the current NBC medical drama “New Amsterdam” you’ll love seeing Ziggy in a completely different role. If you’re looking for scares and tension, this is not the movie for you at this moment. But if you’re looking for multiple good laughs, still plenty of blood, and enough of the horror movie tropes to potentially trick your brain into thinking you’re watching a horror movie, making the comedy even that much better, then this might be one of those cult classics you wind up watching several times.

The Girl with All the Gifts, released January 26, 2017. Second bit of full transparency, I love zombie movies. I will go into why I love them more in some reviews later in the year on movies that are more prototypical zombie movies. This is one of those movies that, again, isn’t necessarily straight out horror. It’s very well written, with an original twist on the zombies. It’s also not truly a straight out zombie movie, but more of an intersection of horror/zombie/post-apocalyptic movies. It’s got plenty of tension building and moments where you realize you are gripping your seat, or clenching your jaw. You’re not entirely sure who the good guys are, or if there are even any good guys, and the ending leaves you to ponder whether things went the best way they could have, or the worst.

And there you have it everyone, inarguably, the best 5 horror movies ever created and released in the month of January! Look forward to your comments and I’ll have another one out for you all next month.

REVIEW: SPIRIT KEEPERS TAROT PLUS

As promised, I share my thoughts (aka gushing praise) for not only Benebell Wen’s limited release of the SKT deck, but also a number of her books and how they have impacted my craft studies over the past year. If you want to know more about esoterica, you can find a treasure trove of well written, excellently documented info at benebellwen.com.

WIRED FOR STORY: MY THOUGHTS

What makes a story click for a reader? Writers have asked themselves this question since we first picked up a quill.

In Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, author Lisa Cron uses neuroscience to explain how our reader brains are hardwired to to crave story—and the she explains how writers can systematically satisfy that craving.

I love this book. It was so full of useful, actionable information it took me awhile to finish because I kept taking notes. In spite of being packed with so much useful information, Lisa made the book easy to digest. She uses a lot of humor and examples to drive the message home. It was an entertaining and powerful read that provided high-value information.

I owe three stories at the moment, but a few chapters in to Wired for Story I put them all on hold so I could implement the checklists Lisa presents before I wrote anything else. Thanks to this book, I’ve added some powerful new tools to my arsenal and I’m excited to try them out.

I highly recommend Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron. You can find it on Amazon here.

FAMILY INSTRUCTIONS UPON RELEASE

A poetry book review by Renata Pavrey


Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod is a New Zealand author whose poetry and writing have appeared in a range of New Zealand journals, online publications, and in the public art installation, In Our Words in downtown Auckland.

Elizabeth’s father took his own life in 2012. Unable to find words of her own to write about what had happened, she took them from Twelve Angry Men and the New Zealand government’s Fact Sheet 4 – Suicide and Self-Harm. Family Instructions Upon Release was her first poetry collection that released in 2019 from Cuba Press.

The blurb prepared me for what to expect in these verses. The collection is based on the poet’s grief when her father committed suicide and the cathartic effect of coming to terms with his death through poetry. I knew I was in for a heart-wrenching read, but Elizabeth’s writing is so beautiful, it truly reflects the catharsis as she looks for silver linings through her mourning.

Family Instructions Upon Release is set around the play Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, which the poet had attended with her father, and forms part of her earliest and fondest memories with him. Elizabeth has also included the New Zealand government’s fact sheet for suicide and self-harm, to create a collection that’s both educative and sorrowful – merging personal experience with public information. The format and content are brilliant! Even the cover has its own story.

The book is written as a play, with exhibits, tickets, three acts, an explanation between acts, before, after, front stage, backstage, casting calls and critics’ reviews. The father and daughter are prominent characters in the play of life, and are moved around and guided and called forth or sent backstage by the Director. Through this literary enactment in verse, Elizabeth revisits her father’s battle with depression (that ultimately led to him taking his own life), and her own struggles with conception and miscarriages (which finally succeeded in the birth of a boy). The duality of wanting to end life and wanting to begin life, through the poet’s inner turmoil about her father and son, pierces through her verses.

Some of my favorite pieces are the titular poem, Miscarriage, Placing Blame, Antenatal Class, Birth, and Daughter Gets a Casting Call. This was a difficult book to read and review, and the poet’s anguish comes through in her writing. The subjects are sensitive and personal to even warrant a review, and I hope more readers pick up this book. It’s too beautifully written to miss reading.

Everyone’s response to grief and loss is different – the way we process deaths of those we’ve known all our lives and the unborn never met. Family Instructions Upon Release is a piece of art in itself – for the topics it addresses, the creativity in unfolding the collection, and the striking power of limited words. It’s a book to be treasured in the collection, and read many times over.

Some quotes:

-…one whose perfect love often seems imperfect, and the other whose imperfect love felt
so perfect.

-The parent, she’s born painfully, pushing out of her childish whims.

-Antenatal class. She’s pleased there are evenings set aside to keeping a child alive. Sad,
though, isn’t it, that there wasn’t a course on keeping a depressed person alive.

-He was my father. He killed my father.

-She’s locked in the brokenness he left behind.

-All stand on stage now Death has come.

-Why couldn’t Father be the same, at the end, as in the beginning?

-Life was undelivered. Did a postman mishandle it? Life went missing. Did it fall out a
hole in her pocket?

-Home is an assignment. Wellness is an accomplishment.

-She thinks about getting life, he thinks about getting rid of life.

-Lighting Manager dims the lights, as if he controls all darkness.

My rating: 5/5

About the author:

Renata Pavrey is a nutritionist and Pilates teacher. She reads across genres and languages, from writers around the world. Her short stories, essays, poetry and artwork have featured in magazines, journals, zines and books. She’s the founder of Tomes and Tales – a book blog dedicated to reviews, interviews, features, and all things book-related, including cooking and sketching inspired from literature. She can be reached at Tomes and Tales (tomesandtales365.wordpress.com) and @tomes_and_tales on Instagram.

READ BOOKS ALL DAY & GET PAID FOR IT

Thanks to the rise of self publishing, there is a fresh gig opportunity. Chances are that if you are an editor, you are already doing it. It’s called book coaching and it’s a holistic approach to publishing that covers the entire process from edits and content organization to agents.

I came across this idea sometime in the summer through the Author Accelerator accreditation program so of course I bought the book: Read Books All Day & Get Paid For It by Jennie Nash.

This is one of those texts that I have on Kindle and paperback, I enrolled in the class and if there was a T-shirt, I would buy it. An excellent book for the writerly inclined that addresses the business end of book coaching. Jennie covers the tough topics like setting a price, putting value on your time, scheduling, contracts… I think you could probably start a well organized coaching business from just reading this book.

Jennie’s approach to the topic is warm and professional. There is a lot of information packed in the book but no where did I feel overwhelmed by dry details. Her voice is engaging, informative and helpful. There is enough here to benefit anyone in the writing industry with services, but it is specifically addressing those that want to be accredited as trained book coaches in fiction and/or nonfiction with opportunities to specialize in a niche like memoirs.

I am in the course right now in the nonfiction tract and I will probably include the memoir specialization. I decided to take this course because story and book coaching is what I spend a good deal of my time doing anyways, just for free. Unfortunately, that started eclipsing my own writing so my big interest in taking this course is learning to manage a business, set boundaries and streamline the process. I’m 15% through the class and I know I made the right choice.

If you are thinking you might like to get serious and organized about your own author services, I highly recommend this book. If you think you might like to be a book coach, definitely read it so you know all that’s involved. You can find Read Books All Day & Get Paid For It by Jennie Nash on Amazon here. If you’re interested in looking at the Author Accelerator program, you can find that here.

*I paid for all copies of the book out of my own pocket to review. Book links may be affiliate links.

REVIEW: MONSTRUM POETICA + GIVEAWAY

Looking for some dark edification? Look no further than MONSTRUM POETICA by Jezzy Wolfe. Published from Raw Dog Screaming Press, this is a poetic primer about monsters across cultures. Jezzy takes the reader on a well-researched tour of some of the creepiest and most horrifying things to crawl across the page. It’s poetry, read to be savored but I was also educated by learning about some myths I’d never heard of.

Black-eyed children is one of my favorite sections. A relatively new monster, this is my first introduction to them. Melon heads are another new-to-me creature with plenty to learn about. Classic monsters such as vampires and werewolves are explored alongside American continent nightmares like the mothman.

This is a poetry collection you will want to dip into repeatedly. Aside from the impressive collection of monsters to explore, there is the poetry. I feel like the forms must have been picked to reflect the subject. A good example of this is “Road Hazard,” a chain of linked haiku that explores yokai. In the concrete/shape poem “Dog Deadly,” Jezzy mimics the loping run of a hunting canine across the page, heightening the reader’s experience.

A beautiful collection in every way from the quality of the poems to the stunning presentation from Raw Dog, this is a book I will return to when I need something to savor. I highly recommend MONSTRUM POETICA, and I look forward to seeing more from this poet.

You can find MONSTRUM POETICA on Amazon here or see if you are the lucky winner of a copy with a bookplate signed by Jezzy Wolfe. Just leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw a name randomly next Halloween and get this book sent to you. With all the shipping issues, I am going to limit this one to the Continental US so it will actually arrive.

Want to hear Jezzy read from MONSTRUM POETICA? She was on LIT UP a few weeks ago, so wish granted.

ONE WEEK OF TORTURED WILLOWS: REVIEWS

I don’t know if I have ever had so many reviews on a one week old book as we have on Tortured Willows right now… and such reviews. My head is spinning from all the responses but not just “great poetry” or “spooky reading.” The responses have been conversations.

The theme of all these reviews seems to be connection. Readers say they understand it more about Asian culture, or empathy because they’ve felt the same things. Some have discovered new things, concepts, perspectives. All have been flattering. That is why we wrote this collection. Thank you for all reviews, every word of feedback. To quote Elizabeth Miki Brina in Speak, Okinawa, we “feel seen, rather than exposed.” That is worth everything.

Tortured Willows for ebook should be available within 24 hours. Here are just a few of the reviews that have been filling the inbox.

Thank you Nat Whiston Reviews!

More TORTURED WILLOWS Reviews


Tortured Willows, Skydiving, and the Magic of Poetry.
Geneve Flynn in a Guest Post on Stephanie Wytovich’s blog Join Me in the Madhouse.

The Horror Tree Blog Tour
Lee Murray — Cheongsam
Geneve Flynn –When The Girls Began to Fall

Epeolatry Book Reviews: Tortured Willows: Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

ORIENTAL FADDAH: A COLLECTION OF SIGNIFICANCE

I recently picked up Lee A. Tonouchi’s Oriental Faddah and Son as part of my deep dive into what it means to be Uchinanchu. An interesting study from the cultural topics Tonouchi covers with his poetry to the fact that the entire book is written in Hawai’i Creole. An advocate for the dialect locally known as Pidgin, Tonouchi writes his books this way to draw attention to and change perceptions of. Known as “Da Pidgen Guerilla,” Tonouchi preserves a way of life in his poetry that reflect what it means to be Oriental and Okinawan in Hawaii.

As a third generation Okinawan myself, his poems allow me to peek into the life my mother, also born in Hawaii. When she was eight she spoke Japanese, Pidgen and Okinawan but not much English. From Hawaii she moved to Alaska. I thought I had culture shock when I moved to Tennessee… at least I could understand what the bullies were saying to me. My mother would have gone from the tropics to a chilled and barren place: strange language, food and family in one blow.

Reading Tonouchi makes me jealous that I didn’t get to know that side of my family more. While I did get to experience this on visits, it wasn’t something I was immersed in. I got a watered down version of this family, and I’m grateful to Oriental Faddah and Son for sharing his so I can have a more potent taste of what I’ve missed.

One of my favorite poems is “Palms Face Up,” speaking of hajichi tattoos on the back of his grandmother’s hands. These line sum up why my research has made me so angry:

if dey caught you speaking / Uchinānchu / you had for wear /
da hogen fuda sign / around your neck / as your punishment.

Chupacabra deems this book snuggle worthy

Imagine ridiculing a child for speaking his language. Hopefully, you can’t. We all know how damaging it is to a child, and later a society, when adults are the bullies. I’d like to think this could never happen now…

Not all his poems arouse anger, however. Humor, love and pride are evident as well. Above all, Tonouchi shares what it means to be an Okinawan American growing up on the islands… not the same islands with beaches of star-shaped sand and groves of living myth… but islands just the same.

I really enjoyed every aspect of Oriental Faddah and Son by Lee A. Tonouchi. A challenge to read in both language and emotional impact, it’s a work of both literary and cultural significance. You can find this book on Amazon here. affiliate link

“SPEAK, OKINAWA” NEEDS TO BE HEARD

I don’t know what I was expecting when I cracked open Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina this morning, but it wasn’t this. I just spent the entire day unable to put this book down, weeping and raging. I only paused long enough to send a Kindle copy to my mother and order a copy to keep as mine is from the library. I will be sending copies to my adult children as well, so they can understand who they are.

Where to begin? First, with a thank you. Elizabeth Miki Brina has explained the mystery of my life back to me through the lens of her own. I saw the relationship with my mother, and her relationship with her mother reflected on these pages. I found answers to my own questions—why am I different? Why is my mother so different? What does it mean to be Uchinanchu?

In this book is a secret history of the US involvement in Okinawa alongside the narrative of a half Asian daughter. Whenever I’ve told people my mother’s family comes from Okinawa I am usually told how much “the local people” love Americans and appreciate the military.

They maybe don’t know about the nearly 9,000 murders, rapes and robberies committed by US service members against “the local people.” Maybe they don’t realize the cases for sexual assault against “the locals” are higher in Okinawa military bases than anywhere else in the world. One of the youngest victims of rape was nine months old.

They fail to mention the Koza Uprising on December 20, 1970. They want to believe this impoverished indigenous people are grateful to be used as service animals for greater purposes. Maybe they don’t know that Okinawa was claimed by the US after World War II because it was such a strategic location for military bases—20% of the islands sacrificed for a foreign military.

They don’t see any unfairness when the US sold Okinawa to Japan for six hundred eighty-five million dollars despite the protests of the people they were selling. Perhaps they forget that it was imperialism and war, other countries’ war, that created the extreme poverty in the first place.

Combined with this historical but often overlooked narrative is the intimate story of what became of them. It is an explanation for all the Uchinaa children to explain to us why we are as we are, even as generations four times removed. On a personal note, it showed me an unfamiliar world that contributed to who I am. Brina showed me other points of view from my family. She’s closed the distances between my own generations.

A memoir, Brita writes with cutting honesty that reflects ourselves back to us. Whatever ethnicity we come from, we can find ourselves on these pages. This isn’t a book of accusation but of understanding. Atrocities happen. It is time to unmake them. The first step is opening a conversation—a dialogue.

Since I’ve started researching what it really means to be Uchinanchu I’ve shared many conversations and the response is usually: Okinawans aren’t Japanese? The answer is no, they are a separate indigenous people with their own customs and language. Japanese can’t speak and read the native tongue, called Uchinaaguchi. Despite this, an internet search assures me it “is the Japanese language as spoken by the people of Okinawa Islands.” This is incorrect. It is the language of the Okinawa Islands.

This book is one of the most valuable and intense books I’ve ever had the traumatic pleasure of reading. If I thought writing a poetry collection about my blended Asian experience was wrenching, this book has ripped my heart wide open again. I’ve wept all day for a people that couldn’t. There wasn’t enough water and energy to waste on tears. There was only survival. I’ve cried buckets for them.

There’s a line in the book that resonates deeply with me. It sums up what I think my grandmother never had and what I suspect my mother craves. It’s a good phrase for all sorts of underrepresented people regardless of ethnicity, gender, age and physical abilities. Brita writes of moving to a town where the ethnicities are mixed more evenly through a population, and how comforting that was, and strange. She described it as “where I feel seen, rather than exposed.”

This is a book that needs to be seen. Speak, Okinawa does indeed speak, loud and clear. It is from a particular voice, but it speaks to and for all of us. We all have the same human desire to matter, to be heard—to be seen rather than exposed.

The best and most important book I’ve read for many years. You can find Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina on Amazon here.

AN INDIGENOUS BEAUTY: OKINAWAN PRINCESS REVIEW

Okinawan Princess: Da Legend of Hajichi Tattoos by Lee A. Tonouchi is almost impossible to find and somehow I was lucky enough to get my hands on four copies. I hope it will become available again soon. Written for children in three languages, it tells the story of the almost forgotten hajichi tattoos all Okinawan women used to wear proudly.

Three generations ago an Okinawan woman would have symbols tattooed on the back of her hands. From a young age a woman would ask for these marks made by a special dye created from balsam flowers and an Okinawan rice liquor. Rich girls were tattooed with sumi ink from China. All her life she would add special symbols to remember events in her life… coming of age, marriage, children and grandchildren. My great-grandmother had hajichi.

The Japanese decided the art of hand tattoos were unbecoming and tribal. They were outlawed in 1879 when the Japanese claimed the Ryukyuan islands as their own. Women with hajichi were humiliated and the practice today has been almost forgotten. To this day, the Okinawan people still live under Japanese rule in spite of being a separate culture and there is a movement to return their homeland.

This book is written in Hawaiian Creole, Japanese and Uchinaaguchi—the languages spoken on Okinawa. The story begins with a young girl telling her grandmother how she wants to be beautiful like the models she sees on the television. Her grandmother explains that beauty comes in many forms, and proceeds to tell her the origin story for hajichi tattoos—a tale of a clever princess and a pirate king.

A great story for anyone who wishes to know about an under represented indigenous people, I loved everything about this book. The art is colorful and reminds me of Bingata, a traditional stenciled resist dyeing technique that originated in Okinawa. The story is fun, educational and I enjoyed reading the Hawaiian Creole, known more commonly as Pidgin. I recognize it as what my grandmother spoke.

Because this book isn’t easily available, I’ve embedded a story hour reading below. Maybe we can get a reading from Lee A. Tonouchi, the author. It would be great to hear the story read in Pidgin from “Da Pidgin Guerilla” himself, as he is known. For now, here are two videos I found that share the story and how it came to be.

First, hear from the illustrator Laura Kina about the illustrations and how this project was brought to life.

And now a reading of the story itself…