The Beauty, Vol. 1 by Jason A. Hurley & Jeremy Haun

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To be completely honest I had actually completely forgotten I had this book in my collection. I was doing a major bookshelf dusting and was on the shelf holding my graphic novels when BAM! I got to this cover and was unnervingly surprised. I lovingly…and possibly a little creepily…consider all my books “my children”, so to come across one I barely remember receiving as a gift was quite the shock. So of course considering I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately (hence the recent overabundance of manga/comic reviews lol), but am almost always up for a bit of horror I decided to give this neglected volume some much needed love. 

Synopsis: I like to put things in my own words, but the opening first few pages honestly sum things up quite perfectly so I can’t help but just quote it (Pgs 1-2 of The Beauty):

Two years ago , a new sexually transmitted disease took the world by storm. This S.T.D. was unlike any other that had come before. This was a disease that people actually wanted. “Victims” of this epidemic were physically changed by the virus. Fat melted away, thinning hair returned, skin blemishes faded, and their facial features slimmed. It became known as the beauty. The beauty quickly became a fad. Suddenly, perfect skin, flawless features, and a gorgeous body were only one sexual encounter away.

The only downside appeared to be a slight fever, but that didn’t seem to slow many people down. Now, over half the population has the beauty, and the other half of the country hates them for it. Anti-beauty cells have popped up around the nation. The majority teach preservation, reminding everyone that the beauty is still a disease. A few, however, have taken a more aggressive approach to stopping the spread of the beauty…

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Image from Pg 3. of The Beauty

Rating: 9.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

A page after such an intriguing introduction to the modern world setting of The Beauty, we meet detectives Foster and Vaughn of the local city’s Beauty Task Force as they respond to the possible anti-beauty murder of a young woman. Only once they arrive at the scene it’s clear things aren’t as they appear as the young woman, by all appearances, looked instead to have spontaneously combust while traveling on the train. Things are quickly complicated even further when the case is quickly pulled from them by the Center for Disease Control by “Federal mandate”. This leads both detectives Foster and Vaughn (an unwilling carrier of ‘the beauty’) to look into the buried secrets behind the mysterious STD and those seeming to keep this horrific secret from the general public.  

Honestly…I don’t have much negative things to say about the first installment of what looks to be a very promising adult series. The story had a really good flow to it and was riddled with action, thriller, conspiracies, and a great diverse group of characters. One thing I loved was the bits of real life socially controversial thoughts and ideas about beauty woven in here and there. The art was visually appealing, and though I can’t say the main characters were personally among my favorites they were very well created and felt pretty genuine. The only reason it’s not a 10/10 is purely because of personal reasons. I would recommend this to just about every story loving adult, but warn about explicit violence, language, and a couple nude and censored sexually explicit scenes. This was an amazing start to a series with such a unique idea I couldn’t praise it enough!

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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While at work one day about six months back I was desperately searching the Toronto Public Library e-catalogue for a novel to read. Absolutely nothing that I was interested in reading was available at the time which forced me to browse the selection of graphic novels that were on the site. I initially was not interested in reading a digital copy of a graphic novel because I had assumed it would be difficult to decipher the text. It actually was not a horrible reading experience and since then I have read a few other digital comics. 

After their father is killed, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode move to the family estate, Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts with their mother Nina. The Lovecraft family are still on edge after the brutal murder of Rendell, but have dull comfort in the fact that one of his killers, Sam is in prison. Now with miles between the place of such a tragic family disaster they attempt to adjust to life in Lovecraft with the help of Rendell’s younger brother Duncan. The youngest of the Lovecraft siblings, Bode comes across a key that unlocks a Ghost Door which separates the soul of the person who “walks” through from their body. Using the key Bode is able to explore Keyhouse undetected. In the nature of all good fiction the story is not easy sailing from then on and the family soon has much more to worry about than just healing and moving forward.

I had heard good things about these comics around the time of its initial release and I intended to read them, just not at that time because I didn’t want my expectations to be unrealistically high. I am so glad that I made that decision and by the time I did begin the series I had forgotten what it would be about. It is a wise decision to go into reading these graphic novels not knowing much about the premise so that you are able to discover and be captivated by all the going-ons in Keyhouse. The story is incredibly intriguing and entertaining. You are initially sprung into the story with violence and as the story progresses you are able to overcome the initial shock/gore and develop an actual connection to the characters. Too often in a horror story, whether that be a novel or comic, the characters can feel under developed as the author chooses to focus on the scare tactics that they employ to entertain the reader. In Locke & Key the characters are fleshed out and they continue to evolve as the story, and the series as a whole, unfolds. 

In addition to the well executed storyline this graphic novel has exceptional artwork. Gabriel Rodríguez’s illustrations in this series is mind-blowing and his art style lends itself so well to the story. The illustrations themselves add an element of darkness and mystery to the story and facilitate the more grim elements of the plot so very well. I absolutely recommend this graphic novel to all comic lovers who are able to enjoy stories that have elements of horror. What Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez have been able top create within the pages of this graphic novel is truly great and has absolutely become one of my favorite “darker” graphic novels. I give Locke and Key a well deserved 7.25 Unicorn Horns out of a possible 10 when I consider that this review is supposed to be only on Volume 1 and not the subsequent books as well. 

All Hallows’ Eve Read- Btooom! by Junya Inoue

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Can I play off murder as nothing more than a game!?

It’s not for nothing that Btooom! has a “Parental Advisory Warning” right on the front cover. Set in Japan this Battle Royale-esque manga follows protagonist Ryouta Sakamoto as he wakes up on a seamingly deserted island with little provisions, a bag of mysterious items and no memory of how he got there. After walking a short distance, and finding out that the mysterious items are a bunch of timed hand bombs, he finally comes across another human being. Unfortunately for Sakamoto this human immediately attempts to kill him. 

All this happens within the first chapter, and it quickly becomes clear to Sakamoto, and to readers, that the protagonist is stuck in some sort of death match. Though the details of the situation, the game rules and how he ended up there in the first place, doesn’t become clear till the 5th chapter, it is slowly revealed through clues and hints Sakamoto quickly picks up on that he’s being made to act out a popular online video game called Btooom! (a game our protagonist is more than a little familiar with as he’s one of the top international players). For our main character the horror and reality of it all doesn’t quite sink in until his first run in with another human, but that doesn’t compare to the horror of uncovering his memories of how he got to the island and the rules of the inescapable death match.

Despite being based on a video game this was a very well put together story with many similarities with Battle Royale but just enough uniqueness for it to distinguish itself as a separate piece. The main character, despite being an unemployed gamer and …well…a genuine a-hole before having his world ripped from him, is a very intelligent character capable of thinking up an array of strategies he cleverly employs and alters depending on the situation and his opponents. The other two main characters which aren’t introduced until later in this volume add a nice contrast to Sakamoto’s logical, but often thoughtful, personality. The other characters Sakamoto and his group end of encountering all either added to the suspense and thrill of the story as opponents (and there are some seriously psychologically messed up opponents here), or added to the progression of the plot/characters development. So while there had been plenty of action in this series so far, none of it has felt like mindless action.

This is an on-going series with 14 volumes currently available (17 volumes as of the end of May 2017), and after reading up to volume 6 I have to say it is well worth investing in. Other than a few sexually explicit scenes (I will warn you from now sexual assault, though never condoned, is something that has appeared a couple times throughout this story), I loved it. Each action scene, and even a lot of the dialogue, has included some amazing tactical maneuvers or served to really bring home the tension and fear saturated atmosphere, as well as the psychologically/emotionally damaging effects of being forced to live out a kill or be killed situation. 

This quickly turned out to be one of my favorite series, and one I avidly devour whenever I can get my hands on it. 8/10 Unicorn Horns

Wytches by Scott Snyder & Jock

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This comic has got to be one of the best horror stories I’ve come across in  a very long time, but not because it was amazingly told or had mind-blowing characters or anything like that. The characters and stories are good with a couple twists and development here and there, but to be completely honest they were nothing all that special in my opinion. Yet this is still what I would call one of the best, simply because it had what I consider REAL horror. That’s it. As someone who grew up watching movies like Poltergeist, Hannibal, Chucky, Pet Cemetery, and just about every Steven Speilberg movie out there I haven’t been too impressed with the type of horror movies being put out today (enjoyable stuff, but they tend to lean much more towards thrillers/straight up gore than horror). This story, however, is a much appreciated throwback to my good old type of horror story.

Wytches is a story surrounding a small family, Charlie, Lucy, and primarily their daughter Sailor, after they move to a small town in the hopes of starting over and escaping past trauma. Unfortunately their problems are the type to slowly creep after them no matter where they try to hide.

This was, for me, a pretty clichéd horror story what with the whole family moving to a new town before shit hits the fan thing, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. Sailor was the type of main character I enjoy getting to watch stumble and grow, and Charlie (her father and arguably the real main character) was everything I look for in a main horror story character- brave, weak, strong, smart, and genuinely terrified. It would have been great if the story was a bit longer but the extent to which Snyder fleshed out his characters personalities (namely Charlie) was very impressive. The art was beautiful, though some of the colouring actually made some scenes a bit hard to understand.

A really good story for those looking for a great Halloween Read and aren’t afraid of few graphic scenes here and there. Personally it’s around a 7/10 but overall I think it’s a lot closer to 6.5/10 Unicorn Horns overall.

 

All Hallows’ Reads- Ajin by Tsuina Miura & Gamon Sakurai

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Much like Pandora Hearts and Vinland Saga I actually have my local public library to thank for this one as I came across this wonderful series while browsing the adult manga shelf section. I’d never heard of it before hand, but as someone who grew up watching  shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer I took one look at the cover and fell in love. I tried to resist getting into it after looking it up and noticing it was an on-going series (I’ve mentioned before the madness that plagues me when waiting for a good series to be released), but after a couple months of the premise and cover haunting me every time I thought of what to read next I finally caved. Even with the insanity inducing cliffhanger of the latest volume I read I don’t regret it.

I won’t give away anything beyond the first 25pgs (about halfway through the 1st chapter) as the less you know going in the better. Ajin is set in an alternative universe where the existence of immortal humans called Ajin or Demi-humans were only recently discovered. These very rare people, said to have additional powers and not considered human by the Japanese government and general population where the story takes place, are systematically rounded up by the government as soon as their existence becomes known. What becomes of these humans under the government’s care is not well known, though recent rumors hint at a horrifying existence: extreme and cruel human experimentation. Though hunting Demi-humans is a very difficult task given the fact that the only way to find one is to watch as they come back to life. Unfortunately for the main character of this story Kei Nagai, an intelligent high schooler well on his way to a medical profession, this shocking event is exactly what happens to him in on the way home from school with the eyes of dozens of onlookers. Nagai quickly realizes the position he’s in and takes off, leaving family and false friends behind, but not before reaching out to the one person he believes may still be on his side.

Though they are both different stories in their own rights it’s contrasting premise to another series I recently reviewed, Immortal Hounds, has really added to my interest in both (though I read Ajin long before Immortal Hounds was published).

So far Ajin is a pretty condensed story with plenty of action and progression in each chapter, and unique characters to go along with it. The story itself has been amazing with quite a few unexpected and surprising events (sometimes horrifying and a bit bloody) with enough to hook you within the first 30 pages, but in addition to that this story has a great antagonist and a very unusual protagonist. I knew from the beginning that something seemed a bit off about Nagai (the protagonist), but it took me awhile to put my finger on it. Though I won’t come right out and say it I will, however, say that this aspect or characteristic makes Nagai an anti-hero and is something (which the 2015 anime adaptation unfortunately fails to convey) that feels central to the story and that I really love about this series. I also really enjoyed how even though we get to see the POV of other characters central to the story (the antagonists, the police force chasing Nagai, and a few others), the focus remains on the main character. I can’t wait to see how this story progresses between the bad-ass antagonist (seriously, I am often in awe of his tactics…which leaves me feeling morally conflicted lol), protagonists, and the additional characters in between.

Ajin is something I wouldn’t recommend to everyone, namely those who steer clear of anything involving blood, horror, or murder, but would recommend to anyone who is looking for a good story (without fillers), and unique characters that make lasting impressions. 8/10 Unicorn Horns

All Hallows’ Reads-The Shining by Stephen King

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 Stephen King’s The Shining follows the three members of the Torrance family. Jack, a recovery alcoholic and writer, takes a job as an off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado. Jack’s wife, Wendy and their son, Danny follow Jack into the mountains where they will live throughout the winter after all guests and staff have vacated. Jack, who lost his previous job as an English teacher, feels that this is his last hope to provide a stable income for his family. Being secluded for the winter months at the Overlook offers the added bonus of being able to work on the play that he has been unable to complete for some time. Unbeknownst to his parents, Danny is ‘a shiner’, and has psychic abilities, which seem to grow dark in the midst of their looming move to the hotel.

Well, I read my first Stephen King novel The Long Walk about two weeks ago and then decided to move on to one of his well-known horror novels…and ended up reading this novel. Partly because it was the only ‘horror’ novel of King’s that was available at the library and partly because I wanted to be able to start a series of reviews for the upcoming and fast approaching Halloween, I decided to finally give this novel a go. I feel as if everyone and their grandmother has read this book and/or seen the movie adaptation.

I had expected this novel to scare me to my core and although that didn’t end up being the case, I feel that this is a great haunting psychological thriller with paranormal occurrences and a suspenseful plot. King does a brilliant job of really going in depth with the story. I think I had expected to jump straight into horror and gore without much of a back story, buildup, or without getting a lot of history on the family. There is actually a good portion of the novel that is dedicated to events that occur prior to the families arrival at the hotel. This is actually incredibly important to the execution of the story. Without all that history and time spent with each character’s thoughts and feelings the ending of the story would have fell flat and have been not even a fraction as effective as it ended up being…and I think that setup for the conclusion was my favorite thing about the story and highlights how structurally sound it is. 

I felt that the most developed and fleshed out character was Jack. This surprised me because I assumed that it would be Danny, seeing as he was the one with the ‘shine’ . That’s not to say that Danny was underdeveloped as a character, refreshingly enough, his character was incredibly mature and well thought out considering his young age of five. By far the least likeable and relatable of the Torrace clan was Wendy, she became a quite annoying to be towards the end of the book. 

Overall, I throughly enjoyed my reading experience and give this novel 8-out of-10 unicorn horns. 

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

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Book Review-The Night Gardener

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Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener is a Middle-Grade novel which follows main protagonists and siblings, Kip and Molly, who have arrived in England from Ireland. After a hard journey and with Kip sick with fever, Molly is finally able to find employment with the Windsor family, and the children take up residence in the family manor. As they arrive on the property they are greeted by the sight of a degrading house which has a massive strange looking tree growing into its foundation. Molly and Kip are quickly acquainted with all of the Windsor  family that is currently in the house. As time goes by Molly and Kip begin to notice strange happenings in and around the manor as well as oddities with the Windsor family themselves. This novel is a very good blend of horror, suspense, fantasy and mystery, and each genre/sub-genre has a firm hold in the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was much more creepy than I had anticipated. I have a habit of not reading the synopsis of a book before starting it, as my own over-active imagination does an annoyingly amazing job of sometimes spoiling me. I was only expecting a good mystery story and it was a very pleasant surprise to have a lot of horror and an overall mood of creepiness woven into the story. The character development of the two main protagonists was fairly well done. Both Molly and Kip make noticeable changes throughout the story and their characters seemed to be thought out and constructed very well. On the other hand, the story-lines of some of the supporting characters, did not feel as fleshed out. That was not too much of a put off while reading and I only took real notice of it at two sections near to the conclusion of the story because the leap of logic seemed to need a bit more buildup to come off seamlessly.

I don’t have any major cons and/or complaints about the story. The Night Gardner is a story that I feel is very well-done. It would be an amazing, interesting read for someone within the target age range of middle grade fiction. The story was well written, the progression of events were believable and the historical-fiction aspect make it a very digestible read for an adult reader. The novel deserves all seven-and-a-half out of ten unicorn horns that I am awarding it.