Out of the Light – Douglas Smith

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It’s Friday the 13th and I discovered a new author today through his fantastic short story, Out of the Light. Douglas Smith’s gem was buried in a compilation called Best New Werewolf Tales, Volume One. You can also download it on it’s own through Amazon. Either way, it’s worth way more than they charge.

Jan was a hunter of shapeshifters from the old country. After a terrible mistake killed the woman he loved, Jan decides to move to Toronto and get away from the beasts that destroyed his life. You see, the big city is full of bustling people and bright lights. The complete opposite of their dark rural habitat that they thrive in. Less people and lights equals less chance of getting caught. All seems safe until a series of murders in the city ring familiar to the past that Jan tried so hard to run away from. Apparently, all things evolve.

Such a wonderful and fresh take on the whole werewolf/shapeshifter legend. The storytelling is crisp with vibrant colorful characters that easily appear in your mind. Nice to meet you, Mr. Smith. We’ll be seeing each other again…soon.

5 out of 5 stars
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Mr. Hands – Gary A. Braunbeck

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Reading Mr. Hands reminds me of the title of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. This book has all three and it reads pretty much in that order. Lets start with the good. This is my first read of Braunbeck’s material. Haing lived in central Ohio for fifteen years of my life and also hearing good reviews of his work, I was excited to dive into Mr. Hands. It starts off well enough. A strange man sitting at the end of the bar has a story to tell to the bartender, the sherriff, and a reverend. OK. It kind of reminds me of Straub’s Ghost Story meets the Twilight Zone. You’ve got my interest, Braunbeck. Where do we go from here? Well, from there, he unwinds a story about Ronald James Williamson. a young boy who may be a little slow but has the unique gift of being able to predict a child’s future on whether it will be filled with happiness or misery. Based on what he detects, ala shades of The Dead Zone, determines what course of action Ronnie takes. Happiness equals smiling and moving on. But if Ronnie detects a future fulfilled with misery and abuse for the child, he becomes judge, jury and executioner. Nobody expects the slow kid, right?
Braunbeck’s writing style is fast paced and enjoyable. I’m buying into all of it up to this point. Then, at somewere around the 2/3 mark, he shifts gears and does a hard turn. He introduces us to Mr. Hands, brings back a character from the beginning of the book, and gives us a scene almost directly out of the movie Pumpkinhead. My suspension of disbelief was thrown into a headlock and beat up pretty good. I tried to get back on track to a story I was enjoying and wanted to enjoy again. I was hoping that this sudden shift would make sense and tie it all together in an A HA moment. No dice. This was the bad. Now for the ugly.
For the last 1/3 of the book, Braunbeck tells a tale of revenge that becomes more and more unbelievable with every turn of the page. He introduces us to characters and kills them off not pages later, but paragraphs later. Every character introduced is paper thin. There is no development to either like or dispise them before they are offed. Add that to the fact that the story is getting more and more hokey as we race to the finish line. At this point, I’m only turning pages out of obligation to see if there’s a rhyme or reason to this mess, not because I’m enjoying it anymore. No such luck. The character of the six-year old boy is so unbelievable that I’m scoffing at every page. I have a son around his age and there is no way him or any of his peers would say or do 90% of what Braunbeck’s character is doing in this one. That, my friends, is the ugly.
Its been a long time since I’ve been this disappointed in a book and my disappointment isn’t because its a bad story. I’ve read plenty of stories that were worse than this one that I’ve rated higher and it’s because they were consistently weak all the way through. This one seemed like it was going somewhere and then it completely derailed and crashed down a mountain ravine. At one point, I thought Braunbeck suffered a stroke while he was writing this and the last 1/3 was post stroke. Sigh. So disappointed. I will read another Braunbeck in the future. I haven’t sworn him off. I really want to read something of his that is at the level that I think he’s capable of. I’m rooting for Mr. Hands to be an anomoly and not the rule.

2 stars out of 5

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The Dunwich Horror – H.P. Lovecraft

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In my quest to discover the works of one of the most influential writers in all of horror, I immerse myself into yet another story by H.P. Lovecraft. This time it is The Dunwich Horror and I find, yet again, its hard to go wrong with Lovecraft.

In the backwoods town of Dunwich, Mass., Wilbur Whateley is born to his disfigured albino mother Lavinia. The father’s identity is unknown but later in the story it is alluded that the father is Yog-Sothoth by Wilbur’s half-mad and witchcraft practicing grandfather, Old Whateley. Wilbur grows at an abnormally fast rate and reaches maturity by age ten and continues to grow. The locals try to avoid Wilbur and his family and animals detest him due to the smell he gives off. Wilbur continues to grow into a freakish size and learns sorcery and black magic from his grandfather. The locals begin getting suspicious as Old Whately always seems to be purchasing cattle, yet his herd never seems to grow and the cattle that are seen in the pasture have open sores on them.
Wilbur attempts to secure an unabridged Latin version of the Necronomicon in an effort to summon the “Old Ones” into this world. As the years go by, Wilbur and his grandfather continually remodel their home to larger proportions and strange rumblings are heard inside the house. Soon afterwards, Wilbur’s grandfather and mother mysteriously die and the rumblings get worse and more frequent. What could be going on in the Whateley house?

Lovecraft’s tale continues the revealing of Yog-Sothoth, the Old Ones, and the Necronomicon. It is wonderfully written with lots of suspense and eerieness. Its impossible to miss his influences on so many well-known horror stories and movies of the past and present. I’ve really enjoyed this journey into discovering Lovecraft. I’m looking forward to the next chapter of our journey together….into the macabre.

5 out of 5 stars
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TWITTER – @KenMcKinley5

The Face of an Unlikely God – Gord Rollo

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What an absolute gem! This is my third story of Rollo’s that I’ve read and it serves as a wonderful tie-breaker. Let me explain. My first exposure to Gord’s work was The Jigsaw Man and it blew me away. So much so, that I ranked it as my favorite read of 2014 and that was no easy feat. That led me to pick up his first novel, Crimson. Unfortunately, that one was a mixed bag of nuts for me. If you’d like to learn more on why that was, I encourage you to read my review for an in-depth analysis of it. So, that left me wondering where Rollo stood in the batting order. Was Crimson simply an example of a debut covered with warts but still holding a layer of potential underneath while The Jigsaw Man showcased what he could really do now that he had cut his literary teeth? Or was The Jigsaw Man an anomoly? I let The Face Of An Unlikely God be the tiebreaker and oh what a slap to the face wake up call it was. I’m pleased to anounce that Rollo has indeed matured into one hell of a writer.

In 1963, Professor Leonard Harris can’t believe his good fortune as he becomes the first white man to be allowed to research and observe the Huaorani tribe that live in the remote Amazon jungle. He learns that they worship the Great Jaguar as their deity. The nearby tribe, the Quatuani, whom they’ve been warring with for hundreds of years worships the pirahna as their deity. When professor Harris finds himself involved in a sacred ritual of the Huaorani, the tribe believes they have unlocked Harris’s destiny.

Rollo has packed so much into so few pages, there is no way you can resist not finishing The Face Of An Unlikely God in one sitting. It simply pulls you into the story with its mesmerizing qualities with images so vivid, you’d swear you were there. I cant say this enough – get this story and read it NOW!

5 out of 5 stars
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Necroscope III: The Source – Brian Lumley

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Ah those Cold War Russians. They always seem to be up to no good, especially in a Lumley’s Necroscope tale. Mikhail Simonov, aka Michael “Jazz” Simmons, is a British agent that is sent into Russia’s Ural mountains to investigate what he thinks is a new Soviet weapon buried underneath the bedrock of the Perchorsk Pass turns out to be a portal into another world. And what a world it turns out to be. It seems that those pesky vampires didn’t just suddenly turn up in Transylvania in the middle ages. Oh, no, no, no. They originated elsewhere in another world and found their way here when they were banished from their world and made to enter the mysterious one-way portal.

Lumley’s third chapter of the Necroscope saga is chock full of unique and interesting information on the origins of vampires and I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it isn’t a fascinating AND entirely plausible to the mind. As much as I loved The Source, I will have to admit that from time to time the info dump cumbersome. With that being said, the premise is so unique and I loved the direction that he took the story. Of course, we have Harry Keough involved as he’s looking for his wife and son that have been missing for eight years ever since the final battle with Yulian Bodescu. Harry is sucked into the world of the wamphyri as his search and the events at Perchorsk reveal a common denominator. Necroscope III is the best of the three Necroscopes and that’s saying a lot. Looking forward to Part IV.

4 1/2 stars out of 5

Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes from the End of the World – Brian Keene

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Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes from the End of the World is a tribute to Brian Keene’s fans. People paid to have themselves as characters inserted in his Earthworm Gods mythos. Keene interviewed each person to get a feel for them and then created a short little story where they star in getting killed off in uniques ways inside his deluge. While I think it’s a very cool thing for an author to do, it kind of loses steam about half way through the book.. What was once a cool read turned into a chore to get through. His writing style and characters are always interesting and well done. Unfortunately, by the time I got towards the end, I felt like I was seeing deleted outtakes from a movie that I had watched. Now while this is cool seeing a small handfull, it begins to get really tedious as it goes on…and on…and on…
So, Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes from the End of the World, is only for those that have read Keene’s previous two wonderful Earthworm Gods stories and you may want to bite of a little at a time to keep from the indigestion that you will surely fall vicitim to if you try to eat all of this in one sitting.

3 out of 5 stars (less)