Book Review: Monster, Perfect Edition, Vol 3 by Naoki Urusawa

Monster: The Perfect Edition, Vol 3     

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: January 20, 2015

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Horror/434 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

An old classmate of Tenma’s interviews and analyzes serial killers in order to get into their heads and mindset. The last thing he expects is to receive a visit from the wanted Tenma. Tenma needs his help. He shows him the handwritten notes left by Johan, and tells the story of the boy who became a monster. The classmate, Rudi, is skeptical due to his perception of Tenma when they were in school together, but takes the tape of his story to a serial killer, Peter Jürgens, to get his opinion.

Jürgens urges Rudi to go to the scene of his last murder. Not sure what he will find, Rudi goes down into the basement, where the killer was found to be hiding. There he finds evidence to support what Peter had said, that he’d been told to kill his last victim by a so-called friend.

Rudi and Tenma agree to meet to discuss the notes, but Tenma is unaware that he has been sold out to the police. Will Rudi turn him in? Or will what he  has seen persuade him that Tenma is not a serial killer? If Frau Kempf, the victim, was childless, whose pictures are these in the basement? Pictures of a faceless little boy…

While hitchhiking, Tenma and Dieter are picked up by an older couple who speak no German. The wife asks Tenma’s help in translation. Unfortunately, the car runs out of gas, so Tenma volunteers to go for some, taking Dieter with him. The husband, who was once a detective, seems to look at Tenma rather oddly, as if he’s suspicious of him for some reason.

A well-to family with a child live in a beautiful home, enjoying their life, but there is something odd about the house next door. The husband gets weird being-watched vibes from one of the windows.

So much going on here! Tenma is determined to find and kill Johan before he can hurt anyone else. The former BKA agent, Lunge, is still hot on Tenma’s trail, convinced that Johan doesn’t exist except as an alter personality of Tenma. When he finds evidence that someone else killed a couple that Tenma is accused of having killed, he wants nothing to do with it because it doesn’t suit his agenda. Nina is determined to find her brother as well and continually puts herself in harm’s way in order to get to the truth. She knows that sooner or later they will bring her to Johan, since her brother seems to want to see her too. And why does Jürgens remind me of Ed Kemper?

And let’s not forget Tenma’s ex, Eva Heineman, who blames him for all her troubles. Can she sink any lower? Raging alcoholic floozy, she alternates between wanting Tenma back and wanting to see him in prison for life. She is a loose cannon who could prove dangerous in the long run.

The volume ends with the Thursday’s Boy story, which is fascinating itself, and we finally get a bigger glimpse of Johan. Nothing negative to say about this series, love it to death. Such intricate plotting, coupled with great characterization, and wonderful artwork. Who could ask for more? Looking forward to the next volume.

 

 

Wednesday Briefs: July 14, 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-seven by Cia Nordwell

 

I ate, but my brain was whirring so fast from thought to thought that I was surprised they couldn’t hear it. Or smell the neurons firing. I swear, it was all flowing through my brain so fast that it was a surprise static wasn’t sparking from my fingers every time I touched my metal fork.  

Swallowing a bite of something I didn’t even taste, I glanced at Garjah yet again. He frowned at me. “What? Are you not hungry?”  

“They’re staring at me.” The Kardoval were watching us both, though they were attempting to be discreet.  

Not exactly possible in  

 
 

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Saturday is Horror Day #19 – The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Host (2020)

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Big Bob (Ted Levine) and his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan) have packed up their family for a drive to California to celebrate their anniversary. Their kids include little Bob (Dan Byrd), Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) and Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) and her husband Doug (Aaron Stanford) and their infant daughter Catherine. Stopping at a ramshackle gas station in the middle of nowhere, the creepy owner tells Big Bob of a short cut through the desert that will cut a couple of hours off their trip. He decides to go for it.

The trouble begins when their truck, which is hauling a large RV, runs over a line of spikes that have been deliberately set. The axle is bent beyond any simple repair. To compound their problems, there is no cell reception. Big Bob tells Doug that the two of them will head out, Bob back to the gas station, Doug ahead to the highway. Little do they know that there are people in these hills, and they are far from friendly.

This film is a remake of the 1978 version, which I reviewed previously (SIHD #14). While Wes Craven is credited as a writer, due to the first film, this one has a different director and writers. It’s the same characters, same scenario, but updated, and with an actual explanation of this mutant family in the desert. At the beginning of the movie, we learn about nuclear tests performed in New Mexico, with uncertainty regarding genetic effects. Well, I’m here to tell you, they aren’t pretty.

It’s obviously a more updated film, as is reflected in the language the characters use, and also that they even have cell phones, which certainly wasn’t a thin in 1978. The blood is definitely more realistic, as is the make-up of the cannibals. The acting is better too. Of course, you have Ted Levine leading the way, how can you go wrong? I think the writers have tightened the action and done a good job of bringing the story into more modern times.

Look for the scene in the nuclear test site dummy housing (if you saw the last and worst Indiana Jones movie, there is a similar scene, but far more awful). According to the sign at the entrance to the fake town, this was courtesy of the Department of Energy. If you are interested in the actual atomic testing, I suggest you read Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, and also find books about Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Feynman.
This version was pretty well done. I was very pleasantly surprised, especially considered how bad the sequel was. I have hopes for the modern sequel and will let you know. I give this version a solid 4 Stars.
Host (2020)
 

During the COVID lockdown, six friends hire a medium to hold a séance via Zoom. Jemma (Jemma Moore) decides to prank her friends with a fake story about a boy she knew who allegedly committed suicide. Little does she realize that by disrespecting the spirits, she has unintentionally invited in a random spirit. Whether good or evil remains to be seen.

This is the first film I’ve seen that actually is set during the pandemic. I’m sure there will be more to follow, and books as well. This one is rather realistic looking, as the friends all gather on their laptops on Zoom, with the usual Internet mishaps and foibles. Freezing in place, losing the Internet… all things we’ve seen before and can relate to.

At first, some of the friends take the séance more seriously than others, as is obvious by Jemma’s ill-timed prank. The medium finds herself without Internet so they go on without her guidance. But then strange things begin to happen, and little by little everything falls apart.

The dialogue is realistic, and a portion of it is actually improvised, which also lends to the air of reality.

There is a definite scary vibe to this film as everyone tries to grapple with what is happening. I absolutely love the tagline: Someone new has joined the meeting.  How perfect is that?

This film is a Shudder original, and I think it was well done. I have a subscription to Shudder. If you enjoy horror films, I recommend them. They have classic horror films as well as newer ones, and some you’ve probably never even heard. I give Host a solid 4 stars.

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!