Wednesday Briefs: August 4, 2021

Here is a list of all the authors flashing this week, along with a brief snippet from their latest free work. Click the link after the snippet to be taken to the complete story on the author’s home page.

Ancalagon: Chapter Forty-nine by Cia Nordwell

“Timok wasn’t concerned about the sneeze because he felt it prudent to inoculate Essell while he was in stasis.” Garjah shrugged a shoulder. “He already knew I was safe.”

“But this was already after you felt drawn to him?” Mereval asked Garjah. “The inoculations and the sneeze?”

He nodded. “I knew there was something out there I had to find. I thought I was just securing the ship and crew. Instead, the second I laid eyes on him I knew I had to take him back to the ship. And that I needed to keep him.” His voice dropped on

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Book Review: Shadowshaper Legacy (The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 3) by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper Legacy (The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 3)   

Author: Daniel José Older

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

American release date: January 7, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/YA Contemporary Fantasy/432 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Sierra, the new Lucera, and Shadowhouse have destroyed the Sorrows and the House of Light, to form the House of Shadow and Light. Next on the agenda is to take care of the rising house, Bloodhaüs, which bears more than a striking resemblance to a neo-Nazi organization.  Both sides agree to a parley, but surely she didn’t expect the skinheads to keep their word? Maybe, just maybe, Sierra can salvage something positive from this meeting. Like a spy who can infiltrate the House of Iron?

Life is difficult with so many people Sierra loves incarcerated for things they shouldn’t be there for, including her brother Juan, her friend Izzy, and her new love interest, Anthony, aka the artist formerly known as Pulpo. Good thing she has so many loyal friends and family members to support her, including her father Dominic, although he really doesn’t know what is going on but he stands behind her and does not get in the way, despite his son being in jail. Even so, Sierra feels compelled to not include them in all of her thoughts and plans, which could end up being a major mistake on her part. It’s not a lack of trust as much as an unnecessary need to keep people safe who she should really be relying on more, since no man is an island, and neither is she.

Sierra also has a secret she hasn’t shared before. Namely, she’s keeping the last remaining Sorrow hostage up in her late Grandpa Lazaro’s old room. Whoa, will that cause problems when the others find out? Especially her mother Maria? From Sierra’s viewpoint, she is solving two problems with one stone, so to speak.

Juan and Anthony know they’re safe behind bars because of the protection afforded them by the House of Iron. But their unexpected release raises the concern of how far that safety lasts once they step outside the prison walls. New houses are beginning to emerge. Friend or foe? Hard to tell, even when a new guy named Mort helps put an end to a common enemy. How far can they trust Mort, if at all? Worst than that, it appears as though Anthony has gone over to the House of Iron. How can that be? How will Sierra survive such a betrayal?  When their spy Dake emerges as the leader of a brand new house and demands Sierra turn over the Deck to him, she has to weigh her options – give him the deck and its power or risk the lives of the loved ones of the people of her house. Not an easy decision to make, but so much hinges on what she chooses to do.

Wow, wow, just wow, wow, wow. Such a great story, so much going on. Impossible to describe, you just gotta read it for yourself. Sierra is growing and evolving as the leader of her house, but sometimes even she isn’t sure she likes the changes that are happening to her, and longs for the way things were. But she is strong, and she can survive anything. One of the things that is different in this volume from the other two is the multiple viewpoints. Previously, the story was told strictly from Sierra’s POV, but this one has multiple narrators. That was a little offputting at first, but I could see why this had to be, since Sierra can’t be everywhere, and important information comes from other sources. But I quickly got used to that and came to appreciate it, seeing that it gave these other characters room for greater depth and development. Loved Neville and Nydia, and now Juan and Bennie. So cute! I confess that I never did warm up to Sierra’s mother, even though her actions semi-atoned for what she did previously. But that was too little too late in my opinion, though others may feel entirely differently.

This is such a creative, imaginative tale with a lot of heart and soul. The world development is outrageously good, and so is the character development. By the end of the series, you feel as though these are people you really could know… friends, neighbors, family. There is a lot of drama here too, and sometimes I wasn’t certain which way a particular situation might go, and I found myself turning the pages rapidly to find out what would happen. This is a great story for teens and adults alike. I highly recommend it. I’m hoping there will be more stories in this universe. There is certainly room for them.

Saturday is Horror Day #22 – Night of the Living Dead 2

Return of the Living Dead II – 

Jesse (Michael Kenworthy) is bullied by two other boys into joining their club. Billy (Thorn Van Lingen) forces him to go to their clubhouse, which turns out to be a crypt in the cemetery. There they find some old army cannisters, and Billy claims them. Jesse wants nothing to do with them and makes his escape, but the other boys aren’t as luck as they accidentally break the seal and are overcome by an obnoxious gas.

Ed  (James Karen) and Joey (Thom Mathews) work together, their job being to rob graves for body parts which they sell. supposedly in the name of research. They come across Jesse, who is hiding in a crypt.  He eludes them and runs off, but quickly discovers that things are not what they should. Dead people are rising, and they’re hungry.

Jesse races home and wants to call the number he found on the cannister, because surely the army can

help them, but his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), who is babysitting him, has other ideas. When a young, good-looking cable installer, Tom (Dana Ashbrook) shows up, she is really determined to keep her brother under control.

But the dead have other ideas…

The sequel to The Return of the Living Dead  has some of the wit and charm of the first movie, but no Dan O’Bannion, alas. But the good news is that we have the return of James Karen and Thom Matthews, who did much to make the first film memorable. They’re working together again but they’re playing different characters, yet they’re very similar to the first ones. If you’ve seen the first film, you’ll remember this line: “Watch your tongue, boy, if you like this job!”

While still interesting and comedic, it lacks a bit of what made the first one so good. Even so, it’s a good watch and well worth the effort. You might remember Dana Ashbrook, who will later go on to play in Twin Peaks as Bobby Briggs.  Also, keep an eye out for the Michael Jackson zombie toward sthe end. All in all, I give this a solid 3.75 Stars.

Book Review: Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 13: Beginning of the End by Naoki Urasawa

Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 13: Beginning of the End     

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: February 15, 2011

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/232 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Yoshitsune thinks back to that fateful New Year’s Eve, and the man who snapped the picture of them as they faced down the Friend’s menace, none other than Fukube. Why doesn’t he have any childhood memories of Fukube as a boy? Where did he come from and when exactly did he become part of their group? As Yoshitsune and the others try to fathom this, all hell has broken out at the elementary school where rumor has it that Friend has been shot! Kanna recognizes Maruo at the scene, and he tells her he knows a secret way to get into the school, so they can find out what has happened. Meanwhile, Manjome is wakened from a fitful sleep with the news.

Kanna is amazed to find that so many people she believed to be dead are very much alive, working to rid the world of Friend. But not only is Friend dead, his identity has been revealed. Who would have thought it?

Friend’s group assemble, but they are one short – Yamane, who betrayed them. What are they going to do now? Will a successor to Friend be appointed? If so, who? Everyone accuses Manjome of wishing to take over, but he assures them he has no such aspirations. A new member arrives, whom they refer to as Number 13, claiming there is now room for him at the table, and counseling that they continue with Friend’s plans to end the world. Not everyone agrees with this course of action… and suddenly some of the high ranking members wind up dead!

While the others seem content to rest on their laurels now that Friend is dead, Otcho is far from convinced that the threat he represented is over. Kanna says she wants to go with him, since what is happening is her mother’s fault. But Otcho has a story to tell her, one that Yamane told him, about what happened in 2003.

Meanwhile, in 2015, people are starting to die…

Wow, now we know who Friend is… or was. Not at all what I expected. Him? Seriously? How the heck did he become Kanna’s father? What could Kenji’s sister ever see in him? There must be more to this story than we know.

Friend’s followers are divided on whether to continue with his plan or not, but there are fanatics among them, determined to set a dangerous course. I loved finding out the truth about Kanna’s mother, who has been a shadowy figure up until now but who has finally stepped into the spotlight. And in the far-off United States, a player long since forgotten has taken the stage once more.

So much going on, and so many threads to follow. I keep hoping at the end of one of them that Kenji will emerge. Guess we just have to wait and see. Great volume, looking forward to the next one!

Wednesday Briefs: July 28, 2021

Here is a list of all the authors flashing this week, along with a brief snippet from their latest free work. Click the link after the snippet to be taken to the complete story on the author’s home page.

Ancalagon: Chapter Forty-eight by Cia Nordwell
 

There wasn’t a sound or movement to indicate how upset Garjah was at Lenveval’s statement, but just like he always knew when I needed him, I knew he needed me. Sloval shouted when Bouncer leapt on the table and then off on to our side. We both pressed against Garjah from either side. Bouncer put his head on Garjah’s lap, and I put one hand on his head, then used another to squeeze the rigid muscles holding Garjah’s frozen body in place.  

Gently, I turned cupped his cheek on the far side. He resisted for a moment, then reluctantly turned

 
 

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Book Review: Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 14: A Boy and a Dream by Naoki Urasawa

Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 14: A Boy and a Dream

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: April 19, 2011

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/232 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

The mourners of Friend are many. Griefstricken people wait in line for hours to sign the register and file past his masked body. It seems as if all Friend’s predictions are coming to pass. Manjome is dispirited himself, and confused, and decides to take a trip into Friend Land to find answers to his questions, such as why is this happening.

At the same time, Kanna wants to send Koizumi with Yoshitsune  into Friend Land to find their own answers. Kanna would rather go herself, but he tells her she is too emotionally involved, since Friend is her father and all.  On their arrival, Yoshitsune shows Koizumi around to all the familiar places he remembers from 1971. But when they come to the location that was once their secret headquarters, they find a bowling alley there… one which Koizumi insists wasn’t there when she visited. What’s going on? She’s sure she’s right, but Yoshitsune remembers the place that destroyed their secret clubhouse. How can that be? Yoshitsune is having a difficult time remembering what he was doing that summer. While they are in the bowling alley, he comes face to face with the owner, the man he refers to as the King of Evil. Koizumi is shocked to discover that the man is actually Kamisama!

As they monitor Yoshitsune and Koizumi in the game, Kanna realizes they have been joined by another player, who is quickly headed toward them. They are unaware that it is Manjome, and he wonders if he is going to learn the real truth about 1971. As Manjome “sleeps”, his lover takes control, and she is ruthless.

Yoshitsune thinks the key to what happened lies in what happened at the science lab one particular night, and hinges on what Donkey saw, so he and Koizumi head there. And a fourth player has entered the game, and this person is swiftly descending upon Yoshitsune and Koizumi! Kanna asks to be placed into the game in the spot where they are, but winds up in Kenji’s room instead. She gives him some words of wisdom and heads to the school. And now they are all there…

The more I learn, the less I know. Nothing is what it appears to be, including 1971. Why the deception? Why hide the fact that a bowling alley was built where the boys had their secret headquarters? What is real and what isn’t? As for what Donkey saw that night… how does that even work? And why?

And the fourth player… could it be….

So many questions. Can’t wait to keep going on this crazy rollercoaster ride. Love it!

Saturday is Horror Day #21 – The Return of the Living Dead, The City of the Dead

The Return of the Living Dead

Freddy (Thom Matthews) has just begun a new job at a medical supply company, joining the ranks of the gainfully employed. His boss, Burt (Clu Gulager) seems like a good guy, and leaves Freddy in the hands of his co-worker, Frank (James Karen). Frank proceeds to show Freddy the ropes. The company has all sort of odd items, such as skeletons for medical schools, and half dogs, for veterinarian schools, and even fresh cadavers in the walk-in. While swapping strange stories, Frank tells Freddy about the weird cannisters that are stored there, something to do with the army. Of course Freddy wants to see them, who wouldn’t? But things go horribly wrong when Frank accidental strikes one of the tanks, releasing some kind of noxious gas.

Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) is riding around with some of her friends, trying to figure out what to do. A rather eclectic group, running the gamut from Goth to glam, they’re bored, and the driver refuses to go anywhere without receiving gas money. Tina suggests they pick up Freddy from work, which idea is enthusiastically received as he always knows where there’s a part. But he won’t get off for two hours, so they head to Resurrection Cemetery to hang out, right across the street from the medical supply house.

There, Trash (Linnea Quigley) reveals to Spider (Miguel A. Nunez Jr) her fantasies about death, and her fears of dying surrounded by old men who eat her. This leads to her getting naked on top of a crypt.  In the meantime, Frank and Freddy become freaked out, not just by what they did, but by strange sounds inside the warehouse. Imagine their surprise to find one of the half dogs barking! And the cadavers are trying to break out of the walk-in cooler, just like in the story Frank had told Freedy.

The two men try to handle the situation, but finally give up and call Burt to come back to work. When

he finds out what happened, he is appalled, having warned Frank many times to stay away from those tanks! Be that as it may, they have to deal with what’s going on, so Burt calls on his good friend Ernie (Don Calfa), who has the mortuary across the street. They try to pawn off a story about rabid weasels on Ernie, but that doesn’t fly, and they are forced to not only tell him but truth, but show him. The only thing he can think to do is to burn the evidence in the crematorium, which of course sends the smoke up into the air, and then the toxic chemicals end up being rained back down and seeping into the ground… reanimating the corpses in the cemetery!

This movie is both a horror film and a comedy, and I have to say I think it’s better than most of George Romero’s films (except for the original Night of the Living Dead). These zombies are not shambling brainless hulks, they are cleverer than some of the teens, and are smart enough to realize how to get people to send more fresh meat.

Frank and Freddy are hilarious as the duo who start this entire zombie apocalypse, and Clu Gulager does a great job as Burt and ditto for Don Calfa as Ernie. And c’mon, it’s Burt and Ernie. You don’t think that’s a coincidence, right? That reminds me of a Burt and Ernie in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, which obviously predates Sesame Street, and I believe the Sesame Street writers got the names of their characters from there.

The music is fitting, some kind of punk, I think, and helps drive this film along. The writing is most excellent, and how surprising is that since this is a Dan O’Bannion film!  You remember Dan from Alien, right? The movie ends with the protagonists appealing to the army to help them, as per the phone number on the tanks. But you can only imagine the sort of help the military is willing to give when it comes to covering up a mistake. The ending leaves no doubt there is more to the story…. and there is.

I give this film a solid 4.5 Stars.

Before I go to the next review, I just want to mention that I tried to watch George Romero’s Day of the Dead, but I turned it off because it bored me. So I can’t really give it a review, since I didn’t finish it, but maybe that says enough.

The City of the Dead

When a woman accused of witchcraft is burned at the stake in 1692, she curses the village that condemned her even as she makes a pact with Lucifer.

Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is a young college coed with a bright future ahead of her. Determined to attain her history degree, she intends to work on her paper as much as she can, even if she has to miss spending time with her boyfriend, Bill (Tom Naylor) in order to do so. Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) suggests Nan go to the very small town he had just lectured about where a witch was burned years ago, and suggests she stay at the Whitewood Inn – just mention his name. Nan bids her boyfriend and her brother Dick (Dennis Lotis) a fond farewell and heads out to Whitewood.

Stopping for directions, she learns just how seldom this eerie road is traveled, and doesn’t heed his warning not to go on. She picks up a strange man who is hitchhiking, and is also headed to Whitewood. He has an odd way about him, and a deep, resonant voice. But on her arrival, the man has disappeared! Nan goes to the inn, and the proprietress, Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel) insists there is no room at the inn until Nan invokes Professor Driscoll’s name, and suddenly there is a room available, so Nan takes it. A young girl named Lottie works at the inn. Lottie is mute, but she seems as though she is trying to tell Nan something but Mrs Newless always finds a way to stop her.

Nan hears things in her room, and when she asks about the strange trap door in the floor, she is told that there is nothing beneath it but dirt. In exploring the town, she goes to the church, but the blind pastor, Reverend Russell, (Norman MacOwan) shoos her away. Borrowing a book about witchcraft from the pastor’s granddaughter, Patricia (Betta St. John), Nan finds out the truth, but it’s too late.

When Nan fails to return after two weeks, and no one has heard from her, her boyfriend and brother

decide enough is enough and trace her footsteps to Whitewood.  The question is will they make it out alive?

This movie is clearly a product of its times, no doubt about that. Having said that, though I wanted to like this film because… well, Christopher Lee… but things made that hard to do. My first question was why does no one in this town notice the perpetual rolling fog that covers the ground at all times (probably to disguise the fact that they’re on a set). But nothing is ever said, as if no one notices. Seriously?

None of this is scary stuff, but in all fairness, perhaps modern moviegoers have come to expect more and have seen this sort of thing a million times. Having said this, what happens comes as no surprise if you look for the signs that are about as bright and easy to see as Rudolf the Reindeer’s red nose! Lottie trying to warn Nan, the mysterious book, even the church, where I saw the name Driscoll on the sign outside but scratched through. The eerie innkeeper who bears a close resemblance to…. no spoilers, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

Some of the acting is better than others. Much as I love Christopher Lee, I can’t say this is his best performance, but he has others beat hands down. What’s worse than the scenery and the acting, though, is the writing. Just not good. The soundtrack is a strange sort of 50s jazz-like sound which seems at odds with what is going on. Predictable and poorly executed. I’ll give this a shaky 2 Stars, and mostly because I love Christopher Lee.

Wednesday Briefs: July 21, 2021

Here is a list of all the authors flashing this week, along with a brief snippet from their latest free work. Click the link after the snippet to be taken to the complete story on the author’s home page.

The Garret Farm: Part 4 by J Ray Lamb

Alexei let out a laugh, “Nyet.” Colin thought he said, or was it ‘Not yet’.

Either way, he was trapped.

He started planning his escape from town but his thoughts were broken when Alexei picked up him and threw him over his shoulder like a sandbag. He could smell Alexei now, the unmistakable smell of a working man but also a musk that he couldn’t describe. Whatever it was, Colin was in its thrall. He took in a deep breath and lost all resistance to Alexei. As much as he tried to fight it, he couldn’t move or escape.

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Book Review: Skip Beat! Vol 4 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Skip Beat! Vol 4   

Author: Yoshiki Nakamura

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: January 2, 2007

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Shojo Manga//200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Kyoko shines in an exercise at the LME acting school, at the same time helping the president’s granddaughter, Maria, grapple with issues she has with her father. Maria fears her father doesn’t love her and thinks he blames her for her mother’s tragic death. Kyoko helps her to learn to communicate with him, thus earning Lory’s trust, even if he doesn’t always understand her methods. But he realizes his initial assessment of her was correct. She has something… something definitely worth cultivating.

Lory tells Kyoko that, as a minor, she needs her mother’s signature to make her debut with LME. But he isn’t prepared for what he sees in her eyes when he brings up the matter. Is there a way to work around this, for her sake?

Kyoko has a special stone that is very important to her. She keeps it with her at all times and relies on it in times of stress. So when she drops it, she is afraid she’s damaged it, or worse, she’ll never see it again. Ren Tsuruga finds it and returns it to her, but in the process a memory is awakened…

Kyoko and Moko receive an assignment as seat fillers for the first variety show of a popular rock band that LME is very proud of called Bridge Rock. At the last minute, a supervisor asks if they can help out with something else, as a cast member can’t make it. Moko enthusiastically agrees, until she finds out what the part is and leaves that to Kyoko, who suddenly finds herself thrust into a giant chicken suit!

As if this isn’t bad enough, she learns that the band’s first guest is none other than Sho Fuwa! Talk about awkward. But she comes to appreciate the fact that he won’t even know it’s her in this suit. So, what can she do to sabotage him?

After the debacle of the show, while still in costume, Kyoko runs into a distraught Ren. As she instinctively tries to help him, she begins to discover a whole new side of the actor she never knew existed. But can she keep him from taking off her bird head and revealing who she really is?

I loved this volume, as we get to know Kyoko more and more. She is developing, both as an actor and as a person. Of course she isn’t perfect, and her vendetta against Sho is still very much alive. But watching her with Maria is priceless, and of course her interactions with Ren, who is worth far more than that trashy Sho. Now the question is, what does Ren remember, and what is the story here?

The story is both humorous and dramatic. You gotta love Kyoko’s little voodoo dolls, she is so serious about them. And my heart aches for her as she tries to gain Moko’s friendship. This is a young girl, on her own in a big city, taking care of herself the best she can. How can you  not root for her?

Can’t wait for the next book!

Saturday is Horror Day #20 – The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)

 The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes


As this film opens, a naked restrained woman on a bad writhes in agony. It soon becomes clear she is in the throes of labor. And when she finally delivers, she can’t believe what she sees.

On an undisclosed and hidden site thought to be long abandoned, technicians are installing listening devices, but to what end? There’s no one out there… or is there?

 

 

It’s the last day of training for a young group of sassy National Guard trainees. Out in the middle of the desert, they find a deserted research camp. Where is everyone, and what is going on? They receive a distress call that seems to be coming from the hills and decide to investigate. Can this end well for anyone?

 

This is the sequel to The Hills Have Eyes (2006), which was a remake of the original 1977 West Craven film of the same name. The story is not just a rehash of the first sequel, luckily, and is much better made. Again we see the mutants, who were better explained in the 2006 film. Apparently they’re still intent on reproducing to replace their dwindling numbers (guess they aren’t concerned with further genetic mutations). 

The National Guard trainees as characters are a diverse and interesting group, and the story is 


sufficiently creepy and cringy to warrant a view. Although I have to wonder why the military, who obviously knows about these people, doesn’t just come in and deal with the situation. I mean, why eavesdrop? And the ending is somewhat ambiguous. Do they intend to make more? Your guess is as good as mine.

 On the whole, I’ll give this film a good 3.5 Stars. Worth taking a look.