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 When she emerges, all of her hair has been replaced by the beautiful golden hair.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.

The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories Volumes 1 and 2

Edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle

5/5 Star Review

I recently had the displeasure of suffering through a horrid cold and sinus infection. The one positive from the whole ordeal is that I had a few days of nearly uninterrupted reading time. During this time, I blew through both volumes of The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories.

The good folks at Valancourt Books recognize the lack of translated horror fiction in the U.S. market and are seeking to bring more to light. Nearly every story in both volumes is appearing for the first time in English. The stories range from over five continents and a multitude of languages, including the endanged Romansh in volume two.

Volume One features twenty-one contemporary horror stories published in thirteen different languages. Favorite stories in this collection for me were Uironda, from Italy, about an exit off the highway that sometimes appears to truckers; The Angle of Horror, from Spain, about seeing people from a new angle – fans of Junji Ito will see this as a stand-out story; Señor Ligotti, from Mexico, about a real estate deal that is just too good to be true; Pale Toes, from Finland, folk horror about cave dwelling creatures; and The House of Leuk Dawour, from Senegal, about the evil spirit, or rab, Leuk Dawour. Other standout stories were The Time Remaining, from Hungary; Menopause, from the Ivory Coast; The Bones in her Eyes, from the Netherlands; and Backstairs, from Sweden.

Volume Two features twenty contemporary stories published in sixteen different languages. Valancourt tried not to repeat stories from any of the countries previously published in Volume One and succeeded with the exception of Denmark. While I thoroughly enjoyed Volume One in this new series, Volume Two was my favorite. I felt Valancourt extended their reach a bit further and pulled in some extremely varied and different stories. Where the stories in Volume One felt safe and relatable for foreign readers, Volume Two felt edgier and not afraid to take risks.

It’s incredibly difficult to narrow down my favorites from Volume Two, as I flagged nearly every story for one reason or another. However, a few standouts for me were Whitebone Harp, from China, about a woman who gives herself entirely to her husband; The War, from Poland, about the truth of never-ending war; The Old Wound and the Sun, from Japan, about an interesting portal; The Bell, from Iceland, about a plague in a small town; The Grain Dryer of Tammõküla, from Estonia, about a ghost and family secrets; and Firstborn, from Greece, about the truth behind a family’s wealth.

If you’re a fan of short stories and a wide variety of horror, these are two collections that you don’t want to miss!

Junji Ito: Master of Horror Manga, Part II

Uzumaki & Venus in the Blind Spot

It’s unbelievable that it was a year and a half ago that I first read manga by Junji Ito. Seriously, it feels like it was six months ago – what can I say? 2020 has been a really weird year. I started my journey with Gyo and Shiver (click here for my reviews), and I am continuing down this twisted rabbit hole with Uzumaki and Venus in the Blind Spot.

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

Uzumaki is a 3-volume series that has been published in a nice 3-in-1 bind-up by Viz Media. It is probably considered the title most synonymous with Junji Ito, at least in the U.S. I was a little hesitant diving in because of all the hype surrounding this book. Everyone loves it. My expectations were extraordinarily high and you know what? I get it. I get why everyone loves this book!

Uzumaki was a 5/5 Star Read for me. It was rife with with body horror and a healthy dose of cosmic horror as well. Kurouzu-cho is a small town on the coast of Japan and it is cursed by the shape of the spiral. The story of the town is mostly viewed through the eyes of teenager, Kirie Goshima, and her boyfriend, Shuichi Saito. When we first meet our main characters, Shuichi is trying to convince Kirie to run away with him because he is beginning to understand that something is not quite right with their hometown. Kirie, of course, refuses and thus begins our descent into the spiral. Highly recommended reading!!

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

I also read Venus in the Blindspot which was another 5/5 Star Read. This book is a collection of short stories, including a republished version of The Enigma of Amigara Fault with some beautifully colored pages. While all of the stories included in this collection were excellent, the below stood out for me the most:

The Human Chair* – Yoshiko Togawa, wife of a politician and an accomplished writer receives a manuscript in the mail. It is a story about a furniture maker who builds a special chair in which he can hide himself inside to fulfill his perversions. In the story, the chair makes it into the home of a politician and the man inside finds himself falling in love with the politician’s wife. The author states this is fiction – but Yoshiko starts to become afraid of her favorite writing chair. Is it truly fiction? Or something more?

An Unearthly Love* – Kyoko has married into the Kadono family. She has heard rumors that her husband-to-be is moody and does not like women. Kyoko is surprised to find him a gentle, loving, and caring man. All is going well until Kyoko discovers that he sneaks away during the night and up into the attic in their storage building to meet his unusual lover.

Keepsake – Young Lord Toyoji is surprised to find that his dead wife has given birth to their child in her coffin. He has recently been remarried to his former mistress, who has just given birth to a child as well. Secrets are revealed as the Toyoji’s two sons grow up.

*The Human Chair and An Unearthly Love were both illustrated by Junji Ito, but were based on original stories by Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965). Ranpo was a pen name for Taro Hirai who took it from American author, Edgar Allen Poe. He is recognized as playing a major role in the development of the mystery story in Japan. I had not heard of this author prior to reading these adaptations and I am looking forward to searching for what I can find translated to English. If you have read Edogawa Ranpo and have a recommendation, please let me know!

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.

Behemoth

A novel of giant biblical monsters by HP Newquist

4/5 Star Review

Are you in the market for small-town secrets? How about an old testament cult? A whirlwind novel of mystery, murder, and disappearances? Well, friends, look no further – Behemoth is here to scratch that itch!

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

Robert Garrahan, a journalist by trade, has been making weekend trips between New York City and his small cabin in upstate New York to work on his book of New York architecture. One weekend, he detours into the small town of Morris for gas and is struck by the odd little town. It seems as though folks are coming out of their homes to watch him. The gas station owner and his daughter are friendly enough, they chat about the big city and how exotic it sounds. The next weekend, Robert stops again at the little gas station only to find the family gone and a new owner in place. He starts to dig into the town and finds that there have been a recent slew of disappearances in and around Morris and the book takes off from there.

I was a bit concerned about the Christian undertone to this book going in. I am not a religious person, and aside from the odd possession story here and there, I really prefer my horror not to be riddled with passages from the bible. Newquist handles the old testament themes and religious fanaticism with deft hands. I felt it was worth a mention here just in case anyone feels the same way as I do about these things. Rest assured – this is not what you think it is going to be.

While Newquist has several works of non-fiction under his belt, Behemoth is his first novel and hopefully will not be his last. I recommend checking this one out for sure!

As an aside, I received a digital copy of this title from the author in exchange for an honest review.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House

A novella of cosmic horror by Mira Grant

4/5 Star Review

Have you ever wondered what an episode of Scooby Doo would look like if it was written by H.P. Lovecraft? Minus all of the racism and bigotry, of course? Well, look no further because that’s exactly what Mira Grant has done with this tightly written novella.

Our protagonist, Harlowe Upton-Jones, was raised by her paternal grandparents and foster family after her mother and father were murdered by a mysterious cult. During her formulative teen years, Harlowe, her foster brother, Kevin, and their two best friends, Addison and Andy, started solving mysteries in town and became rather well-known around the Chicago area. The problem? Teenagers don’t stay teenagers forever and the real world has real costs, like liability insurance, and there is not a lot of money in mystery solving. While the rest of the group is ready to move on from their former fame, Harlowe is still trying to keep the band together and proposes one last case: The Mystery of Spendrift House. A seemingly unsolvable mystery with a big payout.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House is a fun mix of cosmic horror, haunted house shenanigans, mystery, and unrequited love. It’s a big story for a small book. Grant makes it work, but I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want more of this tale – it would have made an excellent full-length novel.

One of my favorite things about Spindrift House is the atmosphere that surrounds it. Grant writes it as if it were another character in the story. The house is a living, breathing being and the foggy, wet New England air is the cloak that it wraps itself in. It’s just perfect!

In the Shadow of Spindrift House was published as a deluxe edition hardcover from Subterranean Press as well as an affordable ebook edition.

Night Shift

A debut novel from Robin Triggs

4/5 Star Review

I requested this title for one reason: Antarctica. I am endlessly fascinated by the icy, desolate continent and will devour any books – fiction or non-fiction – that are set there. There is something in the isolation that I find both alluring and utterly terrifying.

Night Shift proved itself to be an enjoyable whodunnit that contained all of the fear and paranoia of John Carpernter’s The Thing mixed with the almost cozy quality of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the basic premise is this: Anders Nordvelt is sent to the Australis base in the Antarctic as a last-minute replacement for their head of security. He joins a team of twelve others who have been working together for the last six months – each with a specific skill set geared toward the success of their mission. Anders arrives as the base is being locked-down for the winter. They will be self-sustaining for the next six months with no shipments going in or out. As the night shift begins – everything starts to fall apart.

For me, Night Shift read as a character-driven mystery more than it was a horror or science-fiction novel – although it did contain elements of both. There is an almost casual world-building element that introduces a near-future, dystopian society where most of the world is controlled by a single, governing body – The Company. I appreciate that the author did not overly saturate the novel with dry details and instead chose to divulge a little bit at a time. It allowed you both the time to slowly acclimate to the world and to crave more knowledge of it.

Every character in this novel was fully fleshed out and not a one was wasted, or served as a throw-away character. Overall, this was a mature first novel and thoroughly enjoyable. I read that this is the first of a planned trilogy and I hope that is the case – I would love to read more novels set in this new world.

As a note, I received Night Shift as a galley from Flame Tree Books in exchange for an honest review.