Kriss by Ted Naifeh

Do you ever read something and feel little to no impact from the story? That’s how I felt about Kriss.

Kriss: The Gift of Wrath is the introductory volume to the Kriss graphic novel series. It is about a young man with a mysterious past who must fight a wild snow cat to save the townspeople and the girl he seemingly loves.

You honestly don’t learn anything about Kriss, the protagonist, in this first installment and that bothered me. He seems to be in love with a girl where he lives and he hates his “father”. His “father” isn’t actually his father. Other than that he fights the snow cat and meets what I interpreted as the gods of his existence. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot to say about the plot because there wasn’t much of one. Kriss is an angry character with a hidden past that we don’t glimpse, I don’t know the direction he is heading. To me he came off as an anti-hero, at first he appeared evil and it weirded me out.

The illustrations by Warren Wucinich were half dark and mysterious and half goofy. There is a character titled “The Lord Protectorate” and the way he was drawn looked comical compared to the rest of the gloomy scenes. It just felt like some of it didn’t fit in and threw me out of the story. Upon further investigation Wucinich illustrated some Invader ZIM graphic novels and I could see the art style hidden within Kriss. To me it felt flippy floppy and didn’t stick with one theme. A project like this should either be dark and gloomy, with the black and white with red contrasts or full color cartoon style like Invader ZIM, not both.

There really wasn’t a lot for me to base this review on because this volume was short and it was the introductory issue, I hope that Kriss improves over time because I see how the character could be compelling with his mysterious past. As of right now Kriss has earned a low 2/5 stars. I liked some of the art and I feel like it has potential, but right now I am not impressed.

Regardless of my opinion on this particular graphic novel I want to extend a huge thank you to NetGalley and Oni Press for giving me the chance to review Kriss.

The Malamander by Thomas Taylor

The Malamander reminds me of a cross between A Series Of Unfortunate Events and Lovecraftian horror. This book is perfectly strange and creepy while not crossing the boundary into adult horror. The Malamander is a middle grade novel and it does a good job of keeping with that age group.

The Malamander is about Herbert Lemon a kid who washed up in a lemon crate in the town of Eerie-on-sea, he is the Lost-and-founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. He is very good at his job but life flips upside down when he meets Violet Parma, a girl his age who also has a history at The Grand Nautilus Hotel. Together they embark on an adventure to find Violet’s missing parents that leads them into the den of the Malamander.

The contrast between Herbert and Violet makes the perfect mystery partnership, Violet is fearless and stubborn while Herbert is extremely intelligent but fearful. Together they complete the duo and are a force to be reckoned with. They unravel the mystery of the Malamander and find clues that very well could lead to Violet’s parents. I enjoyed the relationship between the two protagonists, they keep each other going. Violet encourages Herbert to keep going even when he is scared out of his pants, and Herbert uses his knowledge to keep Violet on the right track. The characters flowed together seamlessly and it made the book enjoyable.

Something that I think works well in kids novels is the use of clever character names. In The Malamander we have Mr. Mollusc, Sebastian Eels, Mrs. Fossil, and Mr. Seegol. The names are nautical themed and also reveal something about each character. This is something I have poked fun at in adult books but for work aimed at middle graders I think it was done well. This works because it is fun and makes the characters easier to remember for younger audiences, plus it’s a little funny.

This book is creepy enough for its young audience but not so creepy that a child will be afraid to sleep, and to me that awareness of audience is something to be admired. Here is an example of one of the “scary” scenes:

Where its eyes should be, there are two enormous pale reflectors. They blink, twice. Then it moves off– darting from its crouch and springing along the murky foreshore at great speed, its feet slap, slap, slapping as it vanishes in a swirl of mist.

The description is creepy but not horrifying, I like that and the imagery used by Taylor is so easy to see. With every description you can see the characters and the scenery they live in. I found that Taylor’s writing swallowed me whole and spit me out in the strange town of Eerie-on-sea. Not only is Taylor wonderful at setting scene, but he is accompanied by the illustrator Tom Booth who breathes life into each character. Unfortunately, because this is an ARC, I didn’t get to see all of Booth’s illustrations but from what I did see I was strongly reminded of Tim Burton. The characters are dark and gloomy but there is still something heart-warming about them.

This book is a fairly short read and I could imagine a teacher reading this book to their class for Halloween. It’s quick, entertaining, and I could see myself reading this to my son when he is older. The Malamander really impressed me and in my eyes deserves a 5/5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book and also thank you to Candlewick Press for granting me access to The Malamander.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I never expected a middle grade book to scare me the way Small Spaces did. Katherine Arden, author of The Bear and the Nightingale, has crafted a wonderfully creep scary story that surprised me on each page.

In this book we follow Ollie, a super smart sixth grader, who is struggling with the loss of her mother the year prior. Ollie’s adventure begins when she runs into a crying woman by the creek, this woman has a book and is going to throw it in the water. Ollie ends up stealing the book and going home to read it. The book is an old scary story, but nothing is as it seems when Ollie goes on a field trip to Webster farm and discovers that the books she stole could possibly be related to scarecrow infested farm. On the way home the bus breaks down and she is warned by her terrifying bus driver that there are monsters in the mist and they are coming to get the kids. Ollie sets off with two friends to uncover what’s out there and to save their class.

Small Spaces builds tension in a way that makes you simultaneously afraid to turn the page but excited to. This constant sense of dread propels you forward in this downward spiral of fear. You know the horror is coming yet you keep going and when it fianlly unfolds in front of you a tingle will snake its way down your spine. I never knew that I was afraid of scarecrows until I read this book, the fact that they are around every corner and moving when they’re out of sight really creeped me out. Imagine that the monster trying to get you moved when you aren’t looking and can show up at any second.

The setting in Small Spaces is suffocating, but not in a bad way. You fly through the dark deserted woods and then into cramped farm houses, the book is littered with claustrophobia to really get your heart pumping. The imagery of where you are really shines through, I could see myself standing in the woods or carefully walking across rotten bridges. The story includes you in every step and you never feel like an outsider peeking in.

We are left with very clear descriptions of the horrors that stand before Ollie, one instance that really made me anxious was a description of the bus driver. Arden writes, “This time the driver turned to face her. Ollie got a terrible shock. His eyes had turned white, white as an egg, pupil-less. He might have been blind except he was definitely looking at her. His teeth were perfectly white too, sharp against red lips.” I found this so frightening because the contrast of white against red is so vibrant, and when most people think about bus drivers they don’t think of pupil-less hell demons. Arden takes the mundane everyday people and places and turns them into horrifying mechanisms to push the story onward.

A detail about this story that I enjoyed was Ollie’s watch. Her watch was dead prior to this field trip, only a memento of the past, but beyond the mist of the woods it starts aiding her on her journey to the truth. It tells her where to go and gives her a countdown to nightfall (when the horrors come out to play), and it added to the mystery of the story. The watch gives Ollie’s history depth and makes you want to learn more about her. The twist about the watch is a tad predictable but heart warming none the less.

My only squabble with Small Spaces is that it is a little bit predictable. No one is who they seem but they do stick to common character tropes that litter horror stories. You can mostly see where the books is heading and the ending, while different, still fits the typical scary story model. It resolves too perfectly in my opinion.

I give Small Spaces a 4/5 stars because it is a fantastic middle grade horror story with depth and fear inducing scenes. I knocked off a star for predictability only.

I just want to thank Netgalley for the opportunity to read the free uncorrected copy of this book for my blog.

Be sure to check out Small Spaces by Katherine Arden and keep your eyes peeled for the next book in the series titled Dead Voices expected to release on August 27th, 2019.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

One of the greatest elements in horror is making you question whether the greatest evil of all comes from within. In Katsu’s The Hunger we are posed with evil from all angles, external and internal. This novel does not make its monsters a secret, we get our fill of bloodthirsty creatures stalking the night, but what it does hide beneath the surface is the secrets and atrocities that the people next to you are capable of committing.

In The Hunger we get to see the Donner Party re imagined as they make their great western trek across America. While most people already know how this story ends, Katsu offers up a different explanation for the Donner’s cannibalistic demise by throwing monsters into the picture. But, this is not your typical hack and slash monster story, it has a depth that was unexpected and truly impressed me. I was left more curious about the evil that lies within human beings than anything.

We follow the party along their journey viewing the events through the lens of many different travelers. The most prominent being Charles Stanton, a lone traveler with a secret, Tamsen Donner the wife to the patriarch and leader George Donner, and James Reed a family man with a fatal flaw. The wagon train is going well until George Donner makes the irrational decision, influenced by the hack Lansford Hastings, to turn away from the Oregon trail and set course through the mostly untamed trail heading toward Weber Canyon with the expectation to take an easier trail through the Wasatch mountains. No such trail existed. Instead they faced hardship after hardship through the Great Salt Lake and meeting their eventual demise in Sierra Nevada Mountains. The unexpected twist is that the party is under near constant surveillance from creature lurking in the trees, the party starts questioning who or what the creatures are and as more of the pioneers disappear or go mad the panic begins.

I have a, probably, unhealthy fascination with the way gore is described in novels, and Katsu does this very well. Nauseatingly well. I have always had an admiration for people who can make my stomach turn just through description, Katsu truly did not let me down. Here’s an example that gave me the creeps, “The head was intact. In fact, if you only looked at the face you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. The boy’s eyes were closed, long brown eyelashes stark against chalk white cheeks. His fine blond hair was plastered against his skull, his tiny mouth closed. He looked peaceful, as though he were sleeping. But from the neck down…” This description is just so fitting of the novel altogether. At first glance it seems like it will be a normal story about pioneers, but underneath it festers with something evil. Another of Katsu’s abilities, is the ability to instill fear. One of her descriptions of the monsters sent a shiver down my spine, she wrote, “His fingers grazed the very end of the rifle stock. Slipped. But the thing had him now, had a mouth around his ankle- Stanton gasped in terror as he saw human eyes, a human nose…” Something about this imagery just paralyzed me. As much as I would like to include a few more sentences from that section I can’t because it would give too much away. Just trust me when I say that this book is freaky.

It is very clear that Katsu dedicated a lot of her time to researching the history for the Donner party so that she could perfectly execute an adjacent story line. She has a familiarity with the history that creates an intimacy between you and the party. It feels like you are peeping in on the hidden lives of the Donner party, non of her creative liberties feels disingenuous or implausible. It inspired me to read up on the historical background of the Donner Party and it is crazy for me to think about the sheer amount of research that she must have put in. A lot the history and people are accurate, it takes the term historical fiction to a new and impressive level. Katsu didn’t just take a moment in history and use it to loosely base a story on, she embedded herself in the history and based her fiction as closely on reality as possible.

I’m a sucker for horror, but I do not believe this made me biased towards this novel. This novel truly deserves any praise that is receives, and for me it is an easy 5/5 stars. I was entertained throughout and had such a hard time putting the book down. Horror novels have a tendency to speed up and slow down as suspense intensifies and wanes, but not The Hunger. The internal and external conflicts are so intense and well written that it is hard to lose interest for even a second.