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

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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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!

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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. 

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

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I Hunt Killers in the first book in the Jasper Dent Trilogy by Barry Lyga. The novel’s main protagonist is Jasper “Jazz” Dent who’s father is a notorious serial killer who is now in Prison. When a serial killer emerges in Lobo’s Nod, where Jazz lives, suspicions rise because “The Impressionist” is fashioning their kills after those that Jazz’s “Dear Old Dad”, Billy Dent, committed in the past. Being raised by a serial killer couldn’t possibly be easy, but it was the norm for Jazz growing up and through Billy he experienced horrors up-close and personal. Although the knowledge that Jazz has about his father’s crimes frightens him and causes him to worry about ending up like his father, Jazz decides to use that information and his experiences to help catch a killer.

I Hunt Killers was the second novel that I had read by Barry Lyga, with Boy Toy having been my first. So, I already knew that I liked Barry Lyga’s writing style and approach to story telling. I had previously experienced that the author could write a novel that makes you think about things that are sometimes viewed as uncomfortable and taboo. As soon as I read the synopsis of the story I had no doubt in my mind that I would enjoy the Jasper Dent series because it would make me feel conflicted and keep me intrigued. This novel did not fall short of my expectations and *surprise* I ended up thoroughly enjoying my reading experience.  

Jasper Dent is a very well thought-out and executed character. He has understandably conflicting and dark thoughts about women and people in general. He is an absolutely tortured and damaged soul. In certain portions of the novel it becomes increasingly difficult not feel empathy towards Jazz and sad for former child-Jazz. The supporting/side characters were a welcomed addition to the story and did not feel unnecessary or arbitrary. The secondary characters added to the overall story, actually benefitted the story and had pivotal moments in some of the novels more memorable plot points.

The storyline is easy to follow, yet complex and keeps the reader engaged throughout the entire novel. There were definitely a few situations that arise that take the reader by surprise. I was able to guess a bit of what was going to happen, in terms of being able to predict the general direction the story was going to go in, but I was never bored or disinterested. The story is suspenseful, mysterious and has components of  a thriller that is for a more mature audience (not in a bad way). Lyga doesn’t underestimate the target age group’s level of comprehension and includes thought processes, flashbacks and circumstances that could have been targeted to an adult reader.

I would recommend this novel to readers that enjoy mystery, thrillers, and crime novels. There is also the less obvious group of readers that I would recommend this series to and that would be fans of dystopian and fantasy novels. I give I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga a rating of 8-out of a possible-10 Unicorn Horns!

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

Nailbiter,Volume 1. by Joshua Williamson & Adam Guzowski

 

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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“I cannot rest until I solve this puzzle. Until I know what changes the citizens of this town into serial killers. Are they born here…or are they made?”

Nailbiter surrounds a diverse set of characters, Sheriff Shannon Crane, Nicholas Finch a former army intelligence officer, and a very famous (alleged) serial killer known as Edward “The Nailbiter” Warren. The story begins with a grizzly background scene of when Warren was first captured by authorities, before jumping to the present (3 years later) to main protagonist Nicolas Finch as he gets a call from an FBI buddy, Elliot Carroll, calling him to a small fictional town in Oregon notorious for turning up “16 of the world’s worst serial killers” within a few generations alone. This chilling and abnormal mystery captures the attention of media and detectives alike (as is the case with Carroll). Unfortunately for Finch trouble begins to snowball the moment he arrives in town, and with the disappearance of his friend Carroll, burning building, and unexpected corpses pilling up he’s got no better choice than to team up with the local sheriff Shannon Crane and even, reluctantly, get some clues from the local serial killer- The Nailbitter. 

To be honest I was getting a bit tired with all the Halloween horror reads I’ve been doing this month-some with much less horror than others-and seriously considered just reviewing a random romance novel for the heck of it, but Nailbiter is one of the comics that have been calling my name for awhile now so I decided to give it a go. It is the type of story that’s right up my alley, and isn’t big on the horror-I wasn’t the least bit horrified reading this despite the touch of gore- but has a really good story-line going for it. Though I wasn’t the least bit surprised with any of the events throughout the story, I could still feel the build of of suspense in each chapter as things snowballed to the climax. While getting to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the small town is the main goal here I found the the idea of uncovering the lingering mystery behind the main characters’ pasts to be something I was occasionally looking forward just as much.There is still tons to learn as the mystery of the town has only begun to be uncovered by the end of the volume leaving me with more questions than answers. 

Though the story as a whole feels like it has all the right pieces going for it (including the well rounded and divers characters) it doesn’t yet stand out much for me in the pool of others similar to it. However, there is quite a bit of promise for it to become one of my favorites in later volumes. 7.5 Unicorn Horns

Lock In by John Scalzi

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Twenty-five years after an illness known as Haden’s swept through the world, infecting millions of people before it even got it’s name, we are introduced to Agents Shane and Vann of the FBI. Lock In follows main protagonist and Haden’s survivor Chris Shane as he begins his career with the FBI. Hadens is a disease which causes flu like symptoms of varying severity. In a small percentage of the people infected with Hadens, some experience what is now known as Lock In, where victims are fully awake/aware but have absolutely no use of their bodies. 

There is so much more that can be mentioned about this novel without really be any form of a spoiler, but I want to give you just the “bare bones” of the story. I went into this reading experience with  only the skeletal synopsis of what I remember hearing around the time of the books initial release in 2014. This was also my very very first John Scalzi novel which pains me to admit. I had heard nothing but positive recommendations of Scalzi’s work and I don’t even understand why I had yet to read anything by this author. Now, I can add my own words of wisdom to the John Scalzi adoration fest. 

The novel is very well written, the characters are dynamic, well thought out and developed, especially considering that the novel in not that long. I have come to think of John Scalzi as a hardcore Sci-fi writer who writes all the things you stereotypically associate with the genre, so I was very surprised by how non-stereotypically Sci-fi this novel is. There are most definitely aspects to the story and characters that scream ‘SCIENCE FICTION’ at you, but I feel that the novel is very much a Political Thriller. Now, there, there, Sci-fi fans, don’t you fret, this novel is highly enjoyable and I think that many fans of the genre will adore this novel. I think this is an amazing novel to be considered for a ‘Swiss-Army Knife’ recommendation for Sci-fi. It is enjoyable for seasoned fans and would be a great introduction to the genre for readers who do not tend to gravitate Science Fiction and/or Fantasy and who may be intimidated by other-worldly storylines. I give Lock In 8 out of 10 unicorn horns…and I will for sure be checking out more novels by John Scalzi.