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Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall (The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 2) by Daniel José Older

Shadowhouse Fall (The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 2)     

Author: Daniel José Older

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

American release date: September 12, 2017

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/YA Contemporary Fantasy/368 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

A lot is going on in Sierra Santiago’s life. After learning she was a shadowshaper, and so is Robbie, a guy she likes but never really talked to, Sierra discovers the existence of the Deck of Worlds and then is made the new Lucera by her dead grandmother. A whole lot to absorb! Sierra has initiated some of her friends and family as shadowshapers as well, and now she needs to find out what’s going on with this deck, and who does she need to fight to keep it from falling into the wrong hands? Sometimes it’s impossible to tell who can be trusted.

A girl named Mina shows up unexpectedly and tries to give Sierra a card – the Hound of Light, but Sierra wants nothing to do with it. Does the card represent someone to be feared? Where is this person? Could it be Mina herself? And why is Robbie so often as not MIA? What’s going on with him, and what about their feelings for one another? Were those real or were those just shadows too?  When she learns Tee has accepted a different card from Mina, Sierra suddenly feels that maybe she should retrieve the first one before it’s too late.

Sierra finds that the Deck of Worlds is being brought into play, and that houses are forming which could be dangerous to her Shadowhouse. Maybe even more dangerous than the Sorrows.  She ends up with the deck and different cards begin to connect to various people in her life, including her mother! Who saw that coming?

Sierra finds herself growing closer to one of her brother Juan’s bandmates, Pulpo, except now she thinks of him as Anthony, and she is definitely attracted to him. Things are so complicated without adding that to the mix. And what about Robbie? She has no idea. But things are escalating, and the police are a large part of what’s going on, and Sierra fears for the lives of everyone she loves. If she’s gonna be the Lucera, she might just have to kick some butt and take numbers…

There is a lot going on in this second book, no lie. Forces are coming into play that threaten Sierra and her family and friends. How can she stop this? Can she stop this? There are so many dilemmas Sierra is facing, not least of which is not being able to tell Bennie she’s seen his dead brother. I love the part about her uncle Neville and Nydia – so cute! And I am thrilled that Izzy can shape with her words. I have no idea what will happen in the triangle of Sierra, Robbie, and Anthony. I don’t think anything is settled yet, far from it.

Parts of this book will make you laugh, parts will make you cry, and others will make you gnash your teeth in rage, while others are pure page turners as you rush to find out what is going on. A splendid second volume for the series and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Wednesday Briefs: July 7, 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-six by Cia Nordwell

I didn’t want to have a moment in front of the Kardoval, but stars… never mind. I wasn’t going to ignore this need to touch Garjah for them or anyone. I slid one hand across his far cheek, turning his head toward me, then pulled him down for a brief kiss. As hard as it was to resist, I didn’t part my lips and drink in his scent to taste him further. This was enough.

A flurry of movement and murmurs broke through my distraction. I leaned away from Garjah. He blinked at me several times, and I waited for

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Book Review: Bleach, Vol 38 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol 38         

Author: Tite Kubo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: February 7, 2012

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

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

The battle of the lieutenants versus the Fracciones continues. Kira is unimpressed by his opponent’s steel wings. It’s time to show this guy what Kira’s Wabisuke can do. Hisagi’s opponent is Findorr, who keeps dumbing down his skills in order to match Hisagi’s level, which he finds infuriating… and not necessary. Also, Hisagi is beyond tired of the way Findorr keeps saying Exacta. Time to end this thing.

To the Soul Reapers’ dismay, one of the four pillars collapses. Have they lost a comrade? Yumichika wishes to rush to his friend’s side, but Hisage stops him.  Ikkaku is not down for the count, as his opponent, Poww, learns. But Poww isn’t done either, and he is a very big boy, even bigger than Captain Komamura. But the captain has a trick or two up his own sleeve.

Iba berates Ikkaku for his loss and accuses him of holding back and deliberately losing. Of course, Ikkaku doesn’t take the accusation well. Meanwhile, as King Berrigan prepares to send in the next group, to replace those who have been defeated, he is confronted by more of the Soul Reapers, and the battle begins anew! Old man Yamamoto exhorts them to “Defend this ground with all your might! Even if your flesh is torn from your bones, the enemy must not enter!” To which, Shunsui’s response to Ukitake is “Oh dear, it makes me tense to be around old man Yama when he’s like this….”

This volume of Bleach continues the battles from the previous book and then some. Definitely action-packed! One thing I like about Bleach is that it’s not an automatic win for the good guys, ever, and sometimes they do lose. And sometimes they do stupid things. That only goes to show how well Tite Kubo draws his characters, fleshes them out until they become real people.  I love that he infuses his writing with a great deal of humor, such as Shunsui’s comment above, and the banter between Matsumoto and the three female Fracciones she faces, as well as the relationship between Sai Fon and Omaeda. I guess my only real complaint is his tendency to draw most of his women with exaggerated busts, which I find unnecessary. But in all fairness, I am probably not the target demographic he is aiming for.

Another great volume of Bleach, even with no sign of Ichigo. But you’ll remember we left him rescuing Orihime so it’s just a matter of time until we return to that. Looking forward to the next one!

Saturday Day is Horror Day #18 – Dawn of the Dead (1978), Sinister 2

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The zombie situation is only growing worse, with no idea how it started and how it can be stopped. The undead are growing in number and they are everywhere. Two guys from a Philadelpia S.W.A.T. team, along with a traffic reporter and his pregnant television executive girlfriend take shelter in a shopping mall in the seeming middle of nowhere. But, of course, the dead are everywhere.

 

 

At first they think they’re safe from the zombies outside of the mall, but that, of course, proves to be a false hope as the dead enter the building. Now it becomes a matter of surviving the restless horde so they can make some sort of escape. Things only grow worse when a motorcycle gang sees an opportunity and becomes part of the problem.

 

The second installment in George Romero’s Dead franchise is in color, but that isn’t necessarily an

improvement over the first film, which was in black-and-white. The blood is red, yes, but it’s obvious also that it isn’t blood. The effects and costumes are cheesy, and I kept wondering about these so-called zombies. I mean, they’re dead and they’re risen from the dead (no idea how any of them were killed or where they came from, but surely some at least were buried), and yet they are pristine. Clean clothes, no sign of blood (until someone shoots them which begs the question do zombies have blood circulation), and the gray shade of make-up on their faces that passes as a sign of death is lacking.

Attempts at humor are definitely made, such as the appearance of the young Hare Krishna as well as the nun, but I didn’t really find anything funny. I’m not sure if there is some sort of social commentary here either, maybe against consumerism. Such as the two S.W.A.T guys who go full-on thief mode and attempt to steal anything that’s not nailed down, and even knock over the bank in the mall (what do they think they can spend it on with the world in such chaos?) The pilot and his girlfriend get dressed up and have a candlelight dinner for two, and she also gives herself a makeover. Oh, did I mention she’s pregnant? My guess is that allows for the passage of time because she is like 3 or 4 months pregnant at the start, and a lot more by the end. Also, there is a horrible scene at the beginning where she is asleep, and Peter (Ken Foree), a S.W.A.T. guy and Stephen (David Emge) the pilot are discussing her pregnancy, and Peter asks Stephen does he want to terminate the pregnancy. Wtf? Seriously? I know it’s that infuriating 1978 way of thinking, but it was upsetting to me, so imagine how Francine (Gaylen Ross) must have felt.

 

This film lacks the things that made the first one interesting, including characters we care about. I didn’t care about anyone, honestly, and plot and character development was lacking. The zombies were more comical than scary, thus eliminating most of the horror element. I kind of figured out how it was bound to end, and I was right. All in all, this is a weak follow-up to the original. I hope the remake is better, but I’m going to follow the original franchise for now, so Day of the Dead should come next. I give this one 2.5 Stars.

Sinister 2

A single mother, Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and her twin sons (Robert Daniel & Dartanian Sloan) move to a new home to escape her violent husband. She freaks out when a man seems to be watching them at the grocery store and uses the code word rutabaga, which tells them to run. The so-called stranger danger is actually the ex-deputy who had befriended the late author Ellison Oswalt. Unable to let Oswalt’s death go, he has been destroying the houses where the deceased families once lived.

Things are getting creepy at the new house. Dylan is having weird dreams. Worse than that, he sees the children of the deceased, the missing children. They force him to watch their home movies, each of which entails the gruesome death of each family. Dylan doesn’t like it but he feels helpless. He can’t even stand up to his own twin, Zach, who bullies him too often, much as Dylan’s father once did.

 

The ex-deputy finally convinces Courtney that he hasn’t been sent by her husband to take the boys, and explains that he is researching what happened to Ellison Oswalt. She agrees to let him look around, with the proviso that he tell no one they are there.

To make matters worse, the boys’ father, Clint (Lea Coco) shows up to take them back. The ex-deputy

talks him down – for now – but it’s just a matter of time until he returns. The children are pressuring Dylan to finish watching the movies, but he really doesn’t want to. They warn him that if he doesn’t, Bughuul (Nick King) will be very angry.

The sequel to Sinister carries on where the other left off, sometime after the death of Ellison Oswalt. You may remember the deputy from the first film. He was supposed to collaborate on the case with the author, but of course that can’t happen. If he wants to provide support to his theory of the children and their mysterious leader, he has to investigate himself.

I actually liked the second film more than the first. The kids who played the ghostly children did a good job of being creepy, as did Bughuul’s Nick King. The story seemed to make more sense, although we never did find out what Bughuul’s backstory is and why he kidnaps vulnerable children, like he’s the warped patron saint of little kids.

The scene where the ex-deputy prevents Courtney’s ex from taking the boys is great. There are more than a few jump scares to be had, as well as some strong creepy vibes. I am giving this a solid 4 stars.

Book Review: Spy x Family, Vol 5 by Tatsuya Endo

Spy x Family, Vol 5   

Author: Tatsuya Endo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: June 8, 2021

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Action & Adventure/200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Yor is coming home later and later. Twilight is concerned but doesn’t feel he has a right to ask, all things considered. He’s alarmed to notice multiple cuts on her hands and fingers! As it turns out, his fears are groundless. Yor is learning how to cook, in order to keep her family, but it’s safe to say this is not her strong suit. And guess who just joined her class? Her little brother Yuri! He is her biggest cheerleader, even when her dishes are less than stellar. However, he also wouldn’t mind seeing her “husband”, Loyd Forger, taken out of the equation.

It’s almost time for midterms at Eden Academy, and Anya is still determined to get in good with Damian Desmond, whom she calls Sy-on Boy. She brings a picture of Bond to school, thinking he will be her way in, and surreptitiously drops it where Sy-on Boy can find it. Becky finds it instead and develops an instant crush on Loyd Forger.

The housemaster is taking charge of Anya’s art class since the teacher is sick. Everyone is to pair up for a project. To Anya’s delight, and Damian’s dismay, they are assigned to be a team. Everyone in the class is limited as to what supplies they can use. The theme is “animals” and they must create a three dimensional model. Anya is hoping to both get closer to Sy-on-Boy and to finally win a Stella star.

Yor tells Loyd she has asked her brother to help tutor Anya for the midterms. Loyd isn’t sure about this, but what can he say? It’s vital that she does well. Anya is shocked, when she reads Yuri’s mind, at the ill will he harbors for her father. Plus he’s a secret policeman. Anya is concerned about the tests because she realizes due to the moon she won’t be able to mindread on that particular day. But Yuri’s teaching methods are confusing at best. How will this work?

Twilight is concerned that Anya’s grades won’t be good enough, so he’s decided to do something about it. But the test results are strictly guarded.  As a master of disguise, it’s easy enough to assume the identity of one of the faculty. But wait, who is this other guy, someone he doesn’t recognize, who seems to be doing the same thing Twilight is intent on doing?

One of Anya’s classmates, on learning his father’s company will soon cease to exist, and that it’s because of Si-on Boy’s father, vows to get him in trouble. But Anya can’t have that, and sets out to avert that crisis at all cost.

Anya’s next assignment is to investigate an occupation that interests her, and she can interview her parents or a local business. Hmm, should she choose Papa or Mama?  As she discovers, shadowing Yor is rather gruesome, so she goes the next day to watch Papa (who besides being a spy is a psychiatrist).

Twilight receives a new mission… and a new partner. This can either be a wise move, or a very dangerous one.

I never get tired of reading this manga. It’s hilarious and heart-warming too. I just know the Forgers are going to end up as a real family someday! The more things go wrong with them, the more they go right. Becky’s crush on Twilight is funny, as are Anya’s attempts to get on Sy-on Boy’s good side.  But beware, trouble might be brewing in the form of Twilight’s new partner. She seems to have her on the prize, namely Twilight! Will Yor catch on to the danger she presents in time to do something about it?

Another great volume of Spy X Family, can’t wait for the next one!

 

Wednesday Briefs: June 30, 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.

An Unholy Alliance #5 (2.2) by Julie Lynn Hayes

“Morning, Char! Feeling better? Come sit down by the fire. I’m making us some breakfast. I’ll be done here in just a second.”

Again with the familiarity?  I didn’t know whether I was mad about that or just irritated because he talked so damn much. Being on my own, I wasn’t used to early morning conversations. But I bit my tongue rather than let him know he’d managed to annoy me. Oh well, I wouldn’t have to endure him for much longer, now that I had shaken off my torpor of the night before. Couldn’t hurt to eat a little something before I took my leave, could it?  Although there was the nagging question of what to do

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Book Review: Shadowshaper (The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 1) by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper (The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 1)       

Author: Daniel José Older

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

American release date: June 30, 2015

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/YA Contemporary Fantasy/239 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Sierra Santiago is a mural artist. She, along with other artists, work on murals at the Junklot, owned by Manny the Domino King. Her own mural, which is going to be awesome, lies on the side of an old brick building which already contains other murals. One day Sierra notices something odd. The murals seem to be fading, but not with time or weather. And one of the figures seems to be crying. How is that even possible?

Things start to get stranger when Sierra’s stroke-ridden abuelo, Lazaro, apologizes to her and warns her of shadowshapers. What does that even mean? He tells her to contact Robbie, a boy at her school she doesn’t really know but wishes she did. And then at the first party of the summer, a corpse walks in… and life for Sierra will never be the same.

Sierra and her friends, as well as Robbie, and Sierra’s family, including her rock star brother Juan, have been plunged into a world they never imagined existed. But they better figure it out quickly, because something wicked is definitely coming their way.

This is my first time reading this author, but it certainly won’t be the last, even after I finish this series. He has a very smooth, easy-to-read style that draws you in even as he develops intriguing and interesting character. He has created a new world with new entities in the form of the shadowshapers. Sierra is a great heroine, and Robbie her match. I like the way he creates whole characters, neither wholly good or wholly bad, but some of each. Nobody is one way or the other, and even characters you dislike may have redeeming qualities.

I’m greatly looking forward to the next book and highly recommend it!

Book Review: Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 12: Friend’s Face by Naoki Urasawa

Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 12: Friend’s Face     

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: December 21, 2010

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

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

2014 is drawing to a close. Fourteen years since Bloody New Years Eve. A new year, new beginnings. But what will 2015 hold?

A large gathering is being held for the occasion in Friendship Plaza, with Haru Namio singing the “Hello, Hello Expo Song”. Watching the events on television, Yoshitsune and his group are celebrating in a much quieter way. Kanna has gone to where her uncle used to sing, and is listening to a street singer. Finishing his performance, Haru leaves for home, accompanied by his right-hand man…. Maruo!

The next day, Haru goes to make a New Year’s visit to Friend, Maruo by his side, although Maruo has to wait in the outer office. Admission to Friend’s presence is strictly limited. Maruo tells Haru that he has explosives strapped to his body, but that isn’t entirely true. As he sits in the outer office and waits, Kenji’s words keep going through Maruo’s mind: “Try to make sure ordinary people don’t get caught in the crossfire.” And “If you ever feel your own life is in danger, turn and run like Hell.” Can Maruo do what he feels needs to be done to rid the world of Friend?

Acting on an old tip, Otcho and Kakuta go to the last known address of Dr Yamane. It’s a long shot, sure, but what else can do they? They believe he holds the key to what is going on. The house is deserted but a neighbor is able to give them useful information. Otcho is startled to realize the address she gives them is in the neighborhood where he grew up. Suddenly Otcho remembers a conversation he had with a classmate many years ago, and says it’s imperative he go to his old school. The conversation included the New Book of Prophecy and germ warfare!

Otcho and Kakuta find Dr Yamane at the old Science Lab. As he waits for what he feels is Friend’s imminent arrival, he tells them a little about Kanna’s mother and her involvement with the group. Yoshitsune and his group are studying the infamous Bloody New Year’s Eve photo. Koizumi claims it’s photostopped, clearly, but Yoshitsune says it isn’t, that is actually them facing the monster. But then, who took the picture from behind them?

The moment we’ve been waiting for has arrived… or has it? Now I’m not sure that what we think happened happened, but I have to wait for the next volume to know for sure. The face of the Friend has been revealed. Maybe. So much going on, like threads being woven together to form a complete picture. This series just keeps on getting better. Can’t wait for the next book to find out what’s really going on.

Saturday is Horror Day #17 – Sinister

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Sinister

Fame can be fleeting, as true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawk) discovers. His last books have not achieved the success he’d hoped for, nowhere near the fame and fortune that Kentucky Blood brought. 

 

 

 

In order to work on a new book, Ellison uproots his wife and two children again, much to their disgruntlement. He insists that he needs to do this for the book, but they are less than understanding. In fact, they are prone to make fun of his failures, and warn him he better succeed this time. What Ellison hasn’t told even his wife, when she was concerned that they were living near a crime scene, is that they are living in the crime scene. Four members of a family were hanged in the back yard, and their daughter went missing. She’s still missing, in fact.

 

Ellison is determined to succeed, no matter what. When he discovers a box of old home movies up in the attic, he thinks he might be on to something. The local sheriff had warned him when they moved in that they should leave, but he hasn’t listened. One of the deputies(James Ransone) is a fan of Ellison’s and offers his assistance with the case. All he wants in return is to be remembered in the acknowledgements as having been of assistance. Ellison decides he can live with that.

The more he studies the movies, the more strange things are happening. His son begins having night

terrors again. His daughter is drawing strange pictures. When his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) learns about the house being the crime scene, she is lived and wants to leave, but Ellison refuses.

Ellison encounters a scorpion and then a snake in the attic. And although the children are strictly forbidden from going into their father’s office or to look at anything related to his work, someone keeps going in there and putting on the home movies. When Ellison discovers a common element to the murders, he begins to think they may be connect, and that something truly sinister is at work here.

 

At first, I wasn’t sure there was anything out of the ordinary about this film, but I grew to like it more the more I watched. There is a definite creepiness factor here. I kept wondering if Ellison would end up murdering his own family, sort of like Ronny DeFeo in The Amityville Horror. Luckily that didn’t happen. But what did happen was creepier.

I disliked his wife and kids for their lack of support or understanding of his work. Especially the wife, since she’s a grownup. Like she thought she could control what he wrote or something. Suggesting he forget true crime and go back to fiction. She was obviously disgusted with the whole idea of murder. Okay, maybe it wasn’t her thing, doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try to tell him what to write.

That being said, that’s nothing against the film, just the character. There is solid production value here, good acting, and decent writing. You might recognize the sheriff from Law and Order as Arthur Branch. Also, look for Vince D’Onofrio in an uncredited role.

The ending doesn’t exactly explain everything, at least in any way that makes sense. But hopefully, the next film will. I give this film a pretty solid 3.5 Stars.

Book Review: Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 11: List of Ingredients by Naoki Urasawa

Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 11: List of Ingredients     

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: October 19, 2010

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

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Kanna is shocked to learn that her father is none other than the Friend himself, leader of the Friend Society which her Uncle Kenji tried to protect the world from.  As if that weren’t bad enough, her Walkman is broken, leaving her unable to hear Kenji’s voice when she needs to hear it the most. Taking her frustration out by playing video games, she afterward accepts a ride with three other gamers who are impressed with her skills. During the drive, a news bulletin tells of the escape of the Friend Museum director, along with student Koizumi Kyoko, in a Toyota 2000GT. Now the guys are on the watch for the old car.

Manjome is Friend’s right-hand man. Apparently, he is thought to have a harem, including one lady in particular, Takasu, director of the Dream Navigators, whom one of his underlings mistakes for a man. She has a meeting with Manjone, in which he reminds her that the upcoming Expo is what is important. That and making their Friend the president of the world. Manjome isn’t surprised to hear about Sadakiyo, and he knows he has a certain memo in his possession. The one left by the man known by his friends as Mon-chan. Takasu fears that with Otcho escaped from prison, Kanna’s powers awakening, and the memo being held in hostile hands, the Kenji faction may just learn about the lie of 1970! Manjome doesn’t seem concerned, and reminds her that she has agreed to carry the Friend’s child!

Meanwhile, at the nursing home, Koizumi and Sadakiyo learn that the home has been surrounded. Sadakiyo surmises that they are there to reject him. Surely that can’t be good? He remembers a meeting he had with Mon-chan years ago, and tells Koizumi how he ended up with the Mon-chan memo. He gives it to Koizumi to hold on to. Kanna’s arrival at the same nursing home can’t be a coincidence, can it? In evacuating the residents to safety, Kanna is mistaken for her mother by a former teacher, and is shocked to learn things about her that she didn’t know. Such as her mother once dreamed of being a famous bacteriologist. The teacher tells Kanna her mother was good, to believe in her.

Kanna ends up at an old cinema, which has old film footage that includes her mother. She won’t give up on looking for her, even though it seems like she may be involved in what is going on now. Koizumi is being pressured to pick out which face in the yearbook belongs to Friend, since she caught a glimpse of him as a child, but she can’t tell one face from another.

I can’t even begin to describe how exciting this is all getting. So much going on, so much new information, and yet so much needs to be learned. Maybe we’ll even find out where Kanna’s mother, Kiriko, has been all these years and what she’s been doing. Is she the good girl her former teacher claims, or is she on the side of the Friends? Only time will tell.