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 When she emerges, all of her hair has been replaced by the beautiful golden hair.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

Sexually Charged Haunts: A Look at Hell House and The Long Shadows of October

Reviews of Hell House by Richard Matheson and The Long Shadows of October by Kristopher Triana

Perhaps it’s because I recently read the book and watched the film version of Hell House that I drew so many comparisons to The Long Shadows of October, but nevertheless, here we are.

The premise of Hell House is simple – Rolf Rudolph Deutsch wants proof that there is life after death and sends a small group of experts into the Mount Everest of haunted houses – the Belasco House. They are given unlimited funds and a week in which to prove that ghosts do, in fact, exist. Dr. Barrett, a physicist, and his wife, Edith, are joined by two mediums, Florence Tanner and Benjamin Fischer. Benjamin is the only living, sane survivor from a past investigation of the Belasco House. The book follows them on their week through hell as they attempt to communicate with Belasco.

Hell House has it all – ghosts, possessions, a weird sex cult, a “Bastard Bog” where unwanted children of the sex cult were drowned, a chapel – complete with one giant-sized Jesus with an erection, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

For the most part, I enjoyed Hell House up until the very end. The great reveal felt extraordinarily weak and didn’t make a whole lot of sense; Especially given all of the history and deviance of the Belasco house that we were privy to. It brought the overall enjoyment of the book down a bit for me.

Likewise, the premise of The Long Shadows of October is simple – Joe Grant and Danny Knox are looking for some quick cash so that they can get Joe’s little brother, Robbie, laid. When the opportunity to housesit Snowden Manor for $500 a week falls into their laps, they jump at the chance. Old Mrs. Snowden even tells them they can have friends over, just so long as they stay at the house as much as possible over the two weeks that she’ll be gone. Things start getting weird the first night the guys invite girls over – Maxine, Danny’s girlfriend, and Kayla, Joe’s new girl. It’s almost as if the house wants the girls out of it.

While The Long Shadows of October has some similar elements to Hell House – ghosts, possessions, and sex; It also brings a host of well-formed elements that make sense to the story – wraiths, witchcraft, sex magic, and a succubus. All of which build a cohesive story that leads to a thrilling conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Long Shadows of October. It’s a solid haunted house story with enough of an edge to separate it and elevate it over others in the genre. I’ve seen it faulted for its lack of character development, but here’s the thing – it’s not really a story about the characters, it’s a story about the house and what’s in it. The one character who needs to be strong and well-rounded is and the others are exactly what they need to be.

If you’re looking for a sexually charged haunted house novel or looking for a little ghost-on-human sex, look no further than these two novels. While both are strong contenders, The Long Shadows of October comes out ahead for me.

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.

The Razorblades in My Head

A short story collection from Donnie Goodman

If you spend any time following horror writers or reviewers on social media, you will have heard of The Horror Hypothesis. Donnie Goodman has built his brand across all social media platforms and that’s how I stumbled upon his first publication – an anthology of short stories titled, The Razorblades in My Head.

Goodman’s inaugural release packs a strong punch that spans multiple sub-genres. While some stories struck me as homages to the author’s influences, Third Grade, Magic in the Hat, and Stargazing; Others stood out as wholly and uniquely the author’s own voice emerging, The Stranger in the Squared Circle, The Old Bay King, and Toasted.

The standout stories for me were The Old Bay King, a tale about crabbers who stumble across an abandoned boat; The Stranger in the Squared Circle, a wrestler finds himself headlining with a star he’s never heard of; Toasted, flash fiction about a talking toaster; Teddy, the story of a paranormal cremator; and Hourglass, a horror comedy tale about a botched sacrifice.

While some of the stories didn’t feel quite fleshed out enough for my taste, this collection overall is highly readable and a whole lot of fun. If you’re looking for a multi-genre, single author anthology, I recommend giving The Razorblades in My Head a read. I can’t wait to see what Goodman puts out next!

4/5 Star Review.

And the Devil Cried

A blend of crime noir and extreme violence by Kristopher Triana

Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge Kristopher Triana fan. It doesn’t matter what genre he writes in, he always knocks it out of the park and leaves his own unique flavor behind. And the Devil Cried is no exception to that remark. This novel is as dark and gritty as crime fiction gets. It’s written in first person and our protagonist, Jackie, is the most detestable human being imaginable.

The story begins as Jackie is being let out of prison and set up for the illusion of a straight life by crime boss, Pino. He has an apartment, a job in a deli, and begins working small jobs for Pino on the side. It’s not long before Pino needs Jackie for a job that’s right in his wheelhouse because Jackie is known for doing the jobs that no one else will – jobs that involve women and children.

Jackie is one of the most detestable, unlikable, and vile characters you are going to come across in any genre. He is a complete sociopath. His actions are reprehensible and dare I say, triggering.

I’m not a proponent of trigger warnings in general. Simply put, what triggers me may not trigger you and in this genre it’s difficult to pinpoint all of the triggering subject matter. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but that’s how I feel about it. That being said, if you have a problem with extreme violence and/or abuse, this may not be the book for you and I would be happy to recommend another Triana book to start with.

While I loved the novel, I personally struggled with the abuse of Natalie. She is the counter girl at the deli where Jackie works. He chooses her to be his, for lack of a better word, beard. She represents the normal, straight life he maintains on the surface while still living a dirty, sleazy life just underneath. The mental, physical, and emotional abuse was borderline too much for me. As a victim of emotionally and mental abuse, I wanted a redemption for Natalie that never really happened.

And the Devil Cried is the first release from new publisher, Stygian Sky Media. SSM is the child of Death’s Head Press head-honcho, Jarod Barbee, and acclaimed author, Jeremy Wagner.

If you ask me, this was a great pick to launch the new press and I will be looking forward to future releases from both SSM and Kristopher Triana.

The Book of the Most Precious Substance

An erotic literary thriller by Sara Gran

The Book of the Most Precious Substance is the latest release from Sara Gran. For those in the horror community, she is arguably best know for her possession novel, Come Closer. It deserves its own post, but for now let me assure you that it is one of the best modern novels of possession.

Her new novel, while completely different from her take on the demonic, still has its roots in the occult. Former novelist Lily Albrecht has become a rare book dealer out of necessity. It’s not what she wanted to do with her life, but she found she’s quite good at it and is able to support her husband, Abel, and his caregiver with her sales. One day at a book sale in New York, another dealer approaches her with an opportunity to make six figures if they can find a book for a buyer. He reveals the name, The Precious Substance, they make a deal, and he’s found dead the next day.

Lily needs the money and enlists the help of another dealer, Lucas, in order to find out about the book, how to find the buyer, and how to get their hands on it. Together they discover the book is considered the oldest and most powerful occult book on sex magic to ever exist. Only five, hand-written copies exist in the world. The quest and obsession with the book takes Lily and Lucas across the country and across Europe as they attempt to put their hands on a copy.

This book ticked a lot of boxes for me and I found it to be absolutely unputdownable. The underworld of rare book buying? Yes, please. The obsession to find a book that can grant you what you desire most in the world, if you’re only willing to perform the book’s five acts? More, please. The sordid, passionate lives of book people? Absolutely!

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, sex-filled, literary thriller – look no further and pick up this book right now. Highly recommended!

5/5 Stars.

The Executioner’s Song

True Crime as a novel by Norman Mailer

5/5 Star Review

I recently fell down the rabbit hole when I discovered actor Josh Brolin’s Instagram page. I knew he was an actor, but what I didn’t realize is that he is also an avid reader and an immensely talented writer. During my fall, I discovered an article from a while ago that listed some of his recommended reading and The Executioner’s Song caught my eye. I’d not heard of it and I’ve never read Mailer, so I figured I would give it a go. I’m so pleased that I did.

The first thing you may notice about this novel is that it is a beast. At 1109 pages, plus a foreword, it’s a commitment. What I can promise you is the same thing that Dave Eggers’ promises in his foreword – this is the fastest 1100 pages that you will ever read.

The book follows Gary Gilmore on his journey as he is released from prison and his subsequent nine months as he travels down the road that leads him to murdering two people and being executed by the state of Utah. During the 1970s, Gilmore was a household name across the country. He was the first man to be executed after a 10-year moratorium on the death penalty in the United States. It sparked a nation-wide conversations on vengeance and morality.

I went into this book blind and I highly suggest you do as well. It’s a far more powerful read if you don’t have any preconceived notions about Gary or any of the people in his life. While this book is technically classified as a novel, it has been written as true to the facts as it could be. Based upon hundreds of interviews, letters, court transcripts, newspaper articles, and other documents, Mailer paints every player in this story as a well-rounded and important person. It’s important to remember that these are real people, with real problems, and morality is not black-or-white. Wherever you may fall on the death penalty or America’s criminal justice system, this book will make you question your opinions and ideals. It’s a powerful read that leaves you with a burning desire to discuss it.

This is a quintessential read for anyone who considers themselves a true crime reader or for anyone who thinks they have an unshakable opinion about our criminal justice system in the United States. Highly, highly recommended.