Junji Ito: Master of Horror Manga, Part III

Here we are again, revisiting my favorite horror manga creator, Junji Ito. Click here for Part I and Part II. This time around we’re taking a look at four volumes – Deserter, Remina, Sensor, and The Liminal Zone.

Let’s start first with my favorite of the bunch, The Liminal Zone. This volume is made up of four stories – Weeping Woman Way, Madonna, The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara, and Slumber. Weeping Woman Way is the story of a young couple who stop in a small country town and encounter a weeping woman, a hired woman who cries and mourns the dead at funerals. The young girl is so saddened that she is unable to stop crying, even after they leave the town. They decide to return and uncover the truth of these weeping women. Madonna tells the story of a corrupt priest who falls in love with beautiful, young women and convinces them that they are the blessed virgin herself. A plan that works for him until he can no longer keep his affairs a secret from his jealous wife and she goes on a rampage. The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara follows a young couple into the suicide forest. Norio has been stricken with a fatal disease and his girlfriend, Mika, decides to join him in death. Their first night, they see a faint glow and decide to follow it the next day. They discover the mystical spirit flow of the forest and Norio becomes obsessed with riding it every night. The final story, Slumber, is about a man who falls asleep at night and wakes up each morning convinced he’s killed the night before. This was a 5/5 Star read for me. Ito excels in short story form and these are some of his best.

Deserter was another 5/5 Star collection. This bind-up contains twelve short stories – standouts for me included: Deserter, about a WWII soldier who went AWOL and hid away at a friend’s farmhouse; Where the Sandman Lives, a story about a man who can’t fall asleep for fear of his dream self coming out and taking over his daytime body; A Father’s Love, a story about a father who can possess his entire family; and The Long Hair in the Attic, a cautionary tale about being a playboy.

Sensor is the story of Kyoko Byakuya who is drawn into the mysterious village of Kiyokami, a town covered in volcanic hair. The shining golden fibers form a protective shell around her when a nearby volcano erupts. When she emerges, all of her hair has been replaced by the beautiful golden hair. What follows is a strange tale of cults and cosmic horror. Another 5/5 Star read.

The final volume was my least favorite of the lot, but it’s still worth a read at 4/5 Stars. Remina tells the story of a scientist and his daughter. Dr. Oguro discovers a new planet that’s emerged from a wormhole. He names the planet Remina, after his only daughter. His discovery is met with great fanfare and his daughter rises to popularity because of it. Everything is going great until they discover the planet is approaching earth and devouring everything in its wake. The population begins to fear Dr. Oguro and his daughter and become obsessed with the idea that by destroying them, they can save their planet.

If you haven’t caught on by now, you should absolutely be reading Junji Ito if you like horror.

You’re Mine

A novel of the occult and teenage love gone horribly wrong by Somer Canon

“The story, to those who knew it, was just fucking sad.”

5/5 Star Review

High-schooler Ioni Davis is a misfit in her small West Virginia hometown. She has a tight-knit group of friends, but no one to call her own. One day, handsome senior Raber Belliveau transfers into her school and they begin a whirlwind love affair. Raber begins to pull Ioni out of her shell, not only sexually, but encourages her interest in Wicca – an interest that Raber also shares. All is not as it seems and before long Ioni starts to realize that Raber’s words and actions are manipulative and possessive. When college starts and Raber goes to university an hour away, their relationship worsens as Raber’s behavior changes even more and Ioni discovers that he is dabbling in dark magicks.

This book, guys. This book… First of all, don’t let the romance fool you – this is most assuredly a horror novel. Secondly, this book packs a gut-punch. I would caution possible trigger warnings for abuse. Having had my own Raber in real-life, the red flags are there and anxiety inducing as you realize what he is doing to Ioni and the kind of guy he truly is. I had to set the book down a few times and walk away. Ms. Canon writes Raber with a real understanding of how abusers work.

Being nearly forty years old, I loved the sense of time and place where this novel is set. It has a real late 90s feel with refences to the early days of the internet and ICQ and message boards. You’re Mine definitely took me back to my high school days.

You’re Mine is full of well-developed characters, emotions, and treats Wicca with respect. There’s not much more that I can say about the book without giving anything away so I will end on this – go out and buy this book!

Master of Horror: Poppy Z. Brite

Revisiting Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Wormwood

Some books feel like coming home again – if home is a ramshackle house out on Violin Road in Missing Mile, North Carolina.

I recently decided it was time to revisit some old favorites and it’s been more than twenty years since I’ve picked up these novels and short story collection from Poppy Z. Brite. These books got me through high school. I was a goth kid in a surfer town and it brought me unbelievable comfort knowing there were other kids like me out there in the world – even if they were fiction.

First up was Drawing Blood. This was my favorite when I was younger and I found it to still be my favorite even now. Trevor’s father is a struggling artist whose inability to draw has turned him onto the bottle. One night, when Trevor is just five years old, his dad takes a hammer and kills his mother, brother, and then hangs himself – leaving Trevor alive. Fast forward twenty years and Trevor has returned to Missing Mile, to the house where it happened, looking for answers. Zach, a hacker on the run from the cops, is also newly arrived in town. The two meet and have an immediate bond. As Trevor tries to get to the bottom of the mystery as to why he was left alive, Zach keeps him grounded with one foot still in our world while the other swings wildly into the supernatural. I love how untraditional this haunted house novel is and I’m not sure that I have yet read its equal.

Next up was Lost Souls. Technically a prequel to Drawing Blood, this novel takes place predominately in Missing Mile and New Orleans. They do not have to be read in order, but there are nods to events and such in Drawing Blood that happen in Lost Souls. Nothing is a baby left on a doorstep and by the time he is fifteen he realizes that he just doesn’t belong where he is. He steals a $100 from his parents and buys a bus ticket as far south as he can go. His favorite band is a group call Lost Souls? and he decides to head to where they’re from, hoping to meet them. Once the bus money runs out, Nothing starts hitching and fate brings him to the van carrying Zillah, Molochai, and Twig – three vampires. What Poppy Z. Brite did for the haunted house trope in Drawing Blood, he does for the vampires in this novel.

Finally, I took a dive into Wormwood (formerly titled Swamp Foetus). This is a short story collection that contains twelve short stories. Including two that feature Steve and Ghost of the band Lost Souls? They are two of my favorite characters so it was a pleasure to see them again here. Other standouts for me are The Sixth Sentinel about the ghost of Jean Lafitte; A Georgia Story about the lives of four boys who once lived in an abandoned church; The Elder about a man’s love for his son; and His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood, about two men who can never be satisfied. There is truly not a bad story in this collection.

What’s the takeaway, you may ask? Reading these books again, at almost forty, I found that they still held up extremely well. Some horror dates itself, and not in a good way. Poppy’s books are cloaked in nostalgia and are so character-driven that they could almost happen at any place, during at any time. Poppy knows the south and it flows through these books like very few others. Long story short, I hope it’s not another twenty years before I pick these books up again and I hope you’ll pick them up with me.

Blood Bank: A Charitable Anthology

Spreading Hope Through Dark Fiction – Edited by Blood Bound Books

5/5 Stars

The good folks at Blood Bound Books have put together a truly stellar anthology featuring fourteen authors who are some of the biggest names in horror right now – Livia Llewellyn,  Neil Gaiman, Jo Kaplan, Kristopher Triana, Kealan Patrick Burke, Mona Kabbani, Max Booth III, Joseph Sale, Jay Wilburn, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Rena Mason, Lucy Leitner, Patrick Freivald, & Jeff Strand.

Click the link to get a signed copy for only $20 USD

My favorite thing about this anthology, which you might guess if you’re familiar with any of these authors, is the wide variety of horror sub-genres contained within. Looking for horror comedy? Jeff Strand and Neil Gaiman have you covered. Looking for something a little more extreme? Kristopher Triana has your back. Body horror your bag? Jeremy Robert Johnson can scratch that itch. There are monsters, grief, revenge, magical realism – you get the idea. There is something for everybody in this collection.

While there wasn’t a story in this anthology that I didn’t like, a few stood out as favorites – They Say the Sky is Full of Snakewolves by Lucy Leitner, about the power of fear; Laws of Virulrnce by Jeremy Robert Johnson, about the spreading of a new virus; Every Breath is a Choice by Max Booth III, about a desperate father’s quest for revenge; and New Fox Smell by Livia Llewellyn, about a new kind of fox hunt.

The best part about purchasing this anthology? A portion of the proceeds from every copy of Blood Bank will be donated to Read Better Be Better and Hagar’s House, quarterly, over the next five years! What’s not to love about this? You get a stellar collection of stories AND you get to help out two worthy charities –

Read Better Be Better – Read Better Be Better’s mission is to connect young readers and youth leaders to inspire a love of literacy and learning. Click the link to read their full mission statement and to take a look at the good work that they do.

Hagar’s House – Hagar’s House is a sanctuary for women, children, and gender non-conforming folks that provides an open and empowering residential community, resource coordination, and a safe space to transition into sustainable housing. Click the link to read their full mission statement and to take a look at the good work that they do.

What are you waiting for? Click the link above to get a signed paperback for only $20! You can also pick up a version for your Kindle here.

The Thirteenth Koyote

A werewolf splatter western by Kristopher Triana

5/5 Stars

Leave it to Triana to remind us that werewolves are monsters. In The Thirteenth Koyote, the eight installment in the Death’s Head Press Splatter Western series, we get a brutal tale of werewolves and redemption set against the backdrop of the old west.

Our story begins with Vern, a disreputable undertaker, come grave robber, who unwittingly unearths the body of Jasper Thurston, the first Koyote. Thurston’s undead heart still beats and calls upon those who can hear it to the small town of Hope’s Hill. Unbeknownst to many, the church in Hope’s Hill harbors an ancient secret, a powerful piece of evil that can open up the very gates of Hell if it falls into the wrong hands. Ultimately, the fate of the town, and the world, lies with a small ragtag group of men and women who are willing to stand up and fight again the Koyotes and the very evil they represent.

At just under 500 pages, The Thirteenth Koyote weaves a taut tale of good vs. evil vs. what we often question to be good. It is full of richly developed characters – who, spoiler alert, often die. No joke, this was like reading Game of Thronesdo not get attached to any characters because you just don’t know who is going to make it out alive. The Koyotes are a ruthless gang of killers and if you are looking for sympathy, you won’t find it here. What you will find are monsters, ancient magic, evil, brutality, and a few good folks willing to stand up against all of it.

I loved this book. It was a lot of fun and paid homage to the splatter western theme perfectly! Do yourselves a favor and pick this one up. The sequel, Ballad of the Werevixens will be releasing soon from Death’s Head Press.

Top 5 (Actually 6) Reads of 2020

2020…. What a year! It was definitely a year like no other, that’s for sure. While there were many, many, many negatives, there were also a few positives.

I am celebrating my second year running Tattered Covers & Broken Spines. My little blog has slowly grown with followers and I am so grateful to each and every one of you who follow and support me!

Despite everything, I still managed to read 60 books last year. Unfortunately, I am very behind in writing reviews for all of them. One of my 2021 goals is to catch up on reviews so that I can share and promote all of these wonderful books with you!

Let’s move on to my Top 5, er… Top 6, shall we? I went back and forth on this and decided to go with 6 picks since my favorite read of the year wasn’t exactly horror. Without further ado, here we go!

My #1 read for 2020 was Betty by Tiffany McDaniel.

Betty is not exactly horror, but it does contain some horrific elements that will make it appealing to horror readers and fans of Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell, Stuart O’Nan, and the like. Truly, this is not a book to miss. It’s a hard read and may be triggering to some readers, but at the same time it is beautiful and empowering. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

My Top 5 horror reads for 2020 were:

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark – I still need to write a review for this title, but it is an amazing blend of cosmic horror, dark fantasy, and historical fiction. The Ku Klux Klan is thriving in Georgia as it is led by monsters – both human and inhuman. Standing in their way are three powerful women – Maryse, Sadie, and Chef. This novella is timely, powerful, and an absolute must-read.

Crossroads by Laurel Hightower

Gone to See the River Man by Kristopher Triana

John McNee’sDoom Cabaret by John McNee

Links to my reviews have been embedded in the titles and links to purchase these books through my my affiliate shop on bookshop.org have been embedded in the cover art.

What were some of your favorite reads of 2020?

Underworld Dreams

An anthology of weird fiction by Daniel Braum

4.5/5 Stars

Right, then. You received gift cards this holiday season and are looking for books to spend them on. Let me direct you toward Underworld Dreams. If you enjoy weird, ambiguous fiction then this is a must-read!

Released this past September, Dreams takes us on a journey from shapeshifting sharks in New York to to hunting for seahorses in 1980s Belize. While all of the stories in this collection were enjoyable, the following were absolute standouts for me:

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

The Monkey Coat – June finds an old coat made of real monkey fur in her grandmother’s old trunk. She is drawn to it and wears it out about town. The thing is – she can’t remember what all she does at night when she wears it.

How to Stay Afloat When Drowning – In Montauk, New York, sharks are coming ashore to take back the oceans.

Palankar – Jacob and Steven are brothers who have returned to Palankar Reef in Mexico to relive a dive trip they took with their father thirty years ago. Jacob is trying to convince his brother to return to his wife and kids, but plans go a bit off-kilter when he sees Steven’s doppelganger on the dive down.

Rum Punch is Going Down – A man acquires the nickname of Rum Punch in Belize where he has gone to escape his life and search for seahorses. On his quest, he may or may have not found supernatural goings on in a small, seaside community.

Something else about this book that I really enjoyed were the author’s story notes added at the end. It’s a rare thing, at least in the books that I have read, to find notes on the inspirations and explanations for stories in weird fiction collections. More often than not, endings tend to be ambiguous and left to the reader’s conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, these stories still are – but it is interesting to understand where the author was coming from when he wrote them.

Bottom line? If you enjoy modern weird fiction, you are seriously missing out if you miss this collection.

Don’t Turn Out the Lights


A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

2.5/5 Star Review

I can’t tell you how much it kills me, absolutely kills me, to rate this book as just “ok.” Everything about it should have been 5 stars – A great author as editor? Check. Tribute to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Check. A fantastic stable of writers? Check. And yet… This anthology really missed the mark for me.

Admittedly, Schwartz’s trilogy of Scary Stories is my gold standard. I was one of those kids who always started a new hold for them at the library as soon as I returned them. They were my doorway in to horror and it’s hard to hold a candle to them. I have gone back and read them many times as an adult and they still hold up.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

I read Don’t Turn Out the Lights with that in mind. I tried not to compare the two books too closely because it’s not a fair expectation. I read this anthology for what it is, a tribute and a new generation of writers telling their scary stories.

My issues mostly lay with the unevenness of the collection. The book is marketed as YA horror and some of the stories are, but some are written to a very young middle-grade market. Like its predecessor, the stories in Lights can be read to yourself or aloud to others, but so many are missing that – Boo! ending. You know the one I’m talk about – the one that makes you look behind you, over your shoulder to see what’s waiting in the darkness. Many of these tales just… end. They leave you feeling incomplete and wondering what the heck happened. I feel one of the greatest faults lies with adult horror authors not knowing how to write to a YA audience. It is my opinion that they feel they need to write down to teens and they don’t give them the credit they deserve as readers. One of the most glaring examples of this was in The Cries of the Cat by Josh Malerman. I adore Malerman and the premise he had was a creepy one, but it felt so watered down that it lost its way.

Having said all that, there are some standout stories in this collection:

The Neighbor by Amy Lukavics – Dennis makes a new, unwanted friend with the little boy he sees across the street.

Tag, You’re It by N.R. Lambert – Nick keeps getting tagged in photos by someone who seems to be physically getting closer and closer.

Lint Trap by Jonathan Auxier – Jasper’s family moves into a new house and he starts talking to the children who live in the dryer in the basement.

Brain Spiders by Luis Alberto Urrea & Rosario Urrea – What happens when the kids in class start bullying the new girl from another country?

Mud by Linda D. Addison – Maurice fights his mother about taking baths and she sends him off to his grandmother’s house for an unforgettable sleepover.

The Tall Ones by Madeleine Roux – Estrella tries to convince the new boy in town that the town’s customs and traditions must be honored or else something may happen to him and his family.

I think there are enough stories in here that make checking out this collection worthwhile. It would be a good pick for a library check-out for sure.

If you’re an adult trying to recapture a little bit of that Scary Stories magic, I actually recommend picking up Corpse Cold by John Brhel & Joe Sullivan and illustrated by Chad Wehrle. I reviewed it here last year. To date, it is the next best thing to them that I have read.

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for making this digital ARC available for me to review. Don’t Turn Out the Lights releases on September 1st 2020.

Betty

A staggering coming-of-age novel by Tiffany McDaniel

5/5 Star Review

I rate many of the books I read with four and five star reviews – With a finite amount of time, I generally only dive into books that I really think I am going to enjoy. I’m lucky that they are usually as good as I expect them to be. These books are rated based on their own merits and I do not necessarily compare one 5-star read to another. Every once in a great while though, a book will come along that blows me out of the water and delivers a solid punch to my gut – Betty is one of those books. Simply put, this is really a 10-star read and has bumped itself up into my top 5 reads of all time.

I finished reading this book yesterday morning and I have been struggling with what I want to say in this review ever since. Betty is both a coming-of-age tale and a family drama told through the eyes of Betty, the youngest daughter in a poor family living in rural Ohio.

“A girl comes of age against the knife. She must learn to bear its blade. To be cut. To bleed. To scar over and still, somehow, be beautiful and with good enough knees to take the sponge to the kitchen floor every Saturday.”

Click the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter, a girl born of a white woman and a Cherokee man. She is the youngest girl and the only one of her six living siblings that strongly resembles her father. The majority of the novel takes place during the 1960’s in the fictional, southern Ohio town of Breathed and follows Betty from the time she is seven until she is eighteen. Betty has been raised on the stories of her father’s people and the strength she inherits from powerful Cherokee women; likewise, she has been raised on the stories of her mother’s people and the the abuse her mother suffered at the hands of her family. The dichotomy of these truths allows Betty to see the horrors that are happening within her own family and surroundings.

While Betty encapsulates the sense of time and place with McDaniel’s understanding of certain rural truths: mental illness was not a topic to be discussed and women being inferior to men, chief among them; She presents these truths in a manner that allows us to recognize that time has not erased these problems. The curtains may have changed, but they still cover the same old dirty windows.

It should be said that Betty is not a horror novel, but rather a literary novel with horrific elements. It is beautiful, tragic, and gritty enough to surpass the works of Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell, or Stuart O’Nan. McDaniel handles topics of discrimination, racism, sexism, abuse, incest, and cruelty with a deft hand. She commands attention with her lyrical prose, vivid imagery, and powerful use of metaphors; she paints over all this with a watercolor layer of magical realism that both softens and hardens truths at their edges.

Betty is a tough read, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. There were moments where I had to walk away for a little while and come back to the book the next day. The reality that Betty endures would have broken me – she is a far stronger woman than I am. Having said that, the moments of beauty and strength are more powerful than the enduring tragedy of the Carpenter family. There are passages and images in my mind that will stay with me forever. If you read one book this year, please, read Betty.

Betty was released on August 18th through Random House. Click the image above to order through from my bookshop.org affiliates shop or click here to order a 1st edition hardcover with a signed bookplate from Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. Betty is, in part, biographical – how much is fact and how much is fiction in unknown. Click here to visit Tiffany McDaniel’s website to view some photographs of the Carpenter family – Betty is the author’s mother.

I was given a digital copy of this book for review consideration from the author. I have since pre-ordered a signed copy of my own from Lemuria Books and plan on moving her first novel, The Summer that Melted Everything to the top of my TBR pile. Tiffany McDaniel has cemented herself as a must-buy author for me.

Worst Laid Plans

An anthology of vacation horror edited by Samantha Kolesnik

5/5 Star Review

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a dumpster fire of epic proportions. It’s almost the middle of summer and instead of traveling and lounging at the beach, we are staying close to home and masking up whenever venturing out is necessary. Does it stink? Absolutely! Want to feel a little better about it? Read this book.

Worst Laid Plans is a collection of 14 tales of vacations gone horribly awry. While not every story is specifically a summer trip – all of them have a distinct summery vibe. This anthology runs the gamut from aliens to monsters; from body horror to the supernatural; from grief to human nature at its worst. There is something in this collection for nearly everyone. It’s also worth a mention that Sadie Hartmann, Mother Horror herself, wrote a fantastic forward for this anthology!

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

If you have read my reviews before, multi-author anthologies are rarely a complete win for me. This was absolutely not the case with Worst Laid Plans. While there were a few tales missed the mark for me, there wasn’t one in here that I would rate less than 3 stars. My top picks were just so fantastic that I still feel good about giving this collection a full 5 star rating. Without further ado – let me share my top 5 from this collection:

Unkindly Girls by Hailey Piper – This was my absolute favorite story from this collection. Morgan is a teenage girl on vacation with her over-protective father. Every summer they go on vacation to a different beach, never the same one twice. This year is different because Morgan has found out a truth about her father. Without giving anything away, there is a scene in which Morgan is swimming in the ocean with two girls she’s just met and the imagery of it absolutely blew me away.

Taylor Family Vacation ’93 by Jeremy Herbert – Daniel Taylor, CPA, has taken his wife and young son on an Orlando vacation to visit the theme parks. Every morning he wakes up to see that his camcorder has recorded seconds of extra footage – a little more each time and it appears that someone is watching them with their own camera. As a side note, I’m a central Florida girl and Herbert completely nailed the Kissimmee and Orlando area, right down to the tourist traps and old motels.

In the Water by Mark Wheaton – Two American girls, Candice and Jenn are currently vacationing at a resort in Thailand. A major storm moves in and the resort goes into lock-down. Not wanting to disappoint their guests, the hotel opens the bar and turns the downstairs area into a hurricane party. It is here that Jenn and Candice meet up with a brother and sister they met in Goa and the night takes a turn for the worse. I really enjoyed the format of this story – some was told in real time from the girls’perspectives and some was told from the detectives investigating the aftermath.

Peelings by Kenzie Jennings – Beth, her twin daughters, and her abusive husband, Marc, take a family vacation to the Disney parks in Orlando. Beth is unhappy, she gets a terrible sunburn on the first day and Marc berates her for not being careful. Her daughters take the cues from their father and are horrible to Beth as well. As her burn begins to peel, she finds parts of herself transforming and discovers that Disney truly is the happiest place on earth.

The Penanggalan by Scott Cole – An unnamed protagonist and his partner, Maddie, change their vacation plans last minute when Maddie finds unbelievably cheap airline tickets to Panang. During the plane ride, our main character finds a little booklet in the seat pocket in front of him called, “A Field Guide to Supernatural Entities in Southeast Asia.” He becomes inexplicably drawn to a vampiric creature called a Penanggalan. This tale had some serious Junji Ito vibes and I was there for it!

It was so hard to narrow these stories down to select the top 5. I have two honorable mentions that I would also like to mention here: The Cucuy of Cancun by V. Castro and Deep in the Heart by Waylon Jordan. Castro brings a new twist on El Cucuy while Jordan tells a coming-of-age tale replete with cave monsters.

It’s been some time since I have stumbled onto a multi-author anthology collection that left me so thrilled. I honestly can’t recommend this one enough and it is so perfect for summer! Definitely one to check out.

I received a copy of this title for review consideration.