Book Review: Predators by Michaelbrent Collings

This is the first book I’ve read, by Collings, and if it’s any indication of his talent and skill as a storyteller, I’m definitely coming back for more.  Predators grabbed my attention from the opening scene and kept me hooked until the climax.

Collings’ story is peopled with an incredible cast of well-rounded and believable men and women.  I feel and sympathize with Evie Childs terrified, broken and shamed specter of a woman.  Craig Jensen’s pain is evident in his eyes and voice.  Bill Childs and Barney Eberhardt are vile, despicable men, yet still human and believable.  I’ve met some like them in my own life, and Collings’ portrayal of them is spot on.  There are several other characters, good and bad, that leap off the page, each of them compelling in their own way.  My favorite of them all, though, is Grams Jensen.Predators by [Collings, Michaelbrent]

Grams is one hell of a tough, old broad; good-natured and friendly, yes, but all too willing and ready to flip you the finger and deliver a snappy comeback to a cheeky comment tossed her way.  I loved her from the get-go; she reminded me strongly of my own great-grandmother, a ninety-year-old Irish force of nature who I had the fortune of knowing in my childhood.  And that’s the mark of a true storyteller: characters you love or hate because they remind you so strongly of family and friends and enemies you know in real life.  Fictional men and women who make you laugh and cry, move you to tears and also spark anger in your soul because you know them.  You’ve seen them, met them, fought with them, loved them, hated them, mourned their loss and spit on their graves when they died.  Love them or hate them, they are real and powerful and reading about them stirs your very soul.

Now take those characters, throw them into the African wilderness, and put them all into a fight for their very survival.  Collings does this with the skill and pacing of a master storyteller.  He gets you to care about his characters; he gets you invested in them, and when he hits you with the knowledge, as they head out from their safari camp into the wilds of Africa, that the first of them will die in four hours, you find yourself fervently hoping that it won’t be Grams or Evie or Gunnar Helix or any of the other characters with whom you feel a connection.  You hope it will be Bill or Barney or one of the other more despicable people on the tour, but you know, you know in the depths of your soul, that when death comes, it will prey on good and evil alike.  And that knowledge keeps you turning the pages in feverish anticipation of what’s coming next.

Another element of the novel I greatly enjoyed was the mythic, folkloric feel of the tale.  It begins with a tale of a traditional hunt, the men of a tribe engaging in a ritual hunting of lions that quickly turns savagely tragic for the hunters.  The story then flows into what feels like a fairy tale, complete with the obligatory “once upon a time.”  Evie Childs, one of the main characters, further takes us down this path.  She is a writer, or at least used to be, and looks at the world around her and the people she encounters as characters in a grand story.  Evie assigns roles to the various people she meets while on safari in Africa; this one is a princess, that one is a demon “summoned from the Nether Kingdoms for a nefarious purpose.”  Evie’s story, and the way she sees those around her add another dimension to an already epic tale.

Predators, hands down, is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.  It’s going on my permanent bookshelf.  This is a tale I’ll be revisiting.

Book Review: Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen

Book Review: Quoth the Raven edited by Lyn Worthen

When I was around ten years old, I came across the story The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe.  That was my introduction to his work, and I loved it.  Over the years, I read more of his stories and eventually his poetry and enjoyed it all.  He’s in my top ten list of favorite authors, and more than one of his stories would be in my list of favorite short fiction.  When I was offered the chance to read and review Quoth the Raven, an anthology of retellings of Poe’s stories by contemporary authors, I responded with a resounding yes.

Quoth the Raven by [Fallon, Amber, Azariah-Kribbs, A.A, Worthen, Lyn, Gorman, Amelia, Bollinger, Aryan, Ellis, Brian, Weaver, Donea, Abela, Chris, Ahern, Edward, Rich, Emerian, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Vicki Weisfeld, Gregory J. Wolos, Sidney Williams, R.C. Scandalis, Karen Robiscoe, Tonia Kalouria, John Kiste , Melanie Cossey, Matthew M. Montelione, Kenneth C. Goldman, Steven R. Southard, Kara Race-Moore, Stephanie L. Harper, Susan McCauley, Sonora Taylor, Lauryn Christopher, Sarah Murtagh, Lawrence Berry, Frank Coffman]This anthology features prose and poetry, mostly modern day reworkings of his stories, but some stand out as original ideas written following his style.  “The Cellphone,” by R.C. Scandalis, for example.  That one is a poem patterned after Poe’s The Raven.  While the new poem is a humorous exploration of someone who has become a slave to his smart phone, it follows the rhythm, meter, and rhyming pattern of The Raven.  It was inventive and it often made me laugh.

Other works by Poe were heavily mined for this anthology.  The Cask of Amontillado, which is my favorite of his stories, is given a contemporary voice in four different tales.  My favorite of the retellings of Cask is “The Montresor Method,” by Hugh J. O’Donnell.  It was a clever take on the classic tale of revenge that uses a physical copy of Poe’s story as a plot device.  O’Donnell did a good job of capturing the feel and essence of Edgar Allen’s voice and I enjoyed reading his story.

My favorite poem by Poe is The Bells, and I was pleased to see that one of the selections used that as a basis for a new work.  “The Tones,” by Amber Fallon follows the pattern of The Bells in an exploration of alarms, ringtones, sirens, and other similar sounds heard frequently in today’s world.  I liked it almost as much as the original it’s patterned after.

Several other of Poe’s more famous works are retold, including The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Purloined Letter; some appearing more than once.  Aside from the works I mentioned already, one that stood out for me is “My Annabel” by Emerian Rich.  “My Annabel” is a retelling in prose form of the poem Annabel Lee.  I really liked it.  Like O’Donnell, Rich did a great job of capturing the feel of Poe’s voice and style, and it read like something he might write today, were he still alive and (spoiler) a fan of George Romero’s work.

I enjoyed reading Quoth the Raven.  There were definitely selections that stood out more than others, but for me, there wasn’t a single dud in the book.  I would recommend the anthology to anyone who enjoys dark-themed stories.  Those who love the work of Edgar Allen Poe will enjoy seeing how the authors translate his tales into contemporary society.  However, one doesn’t need to be a fan of Poe to like these stories and poems.  Quoth the Raven is a fine collection that any fan of horror fiction should enjoy.  It’s available on Amazon both in paperback and for the Kindle.  Give it a read; you won’t be disappointed.

Disclaimer:  I was provided an electronic copy of the book so that I could read and review it.  I received no money for the review, and the opinions stated therein are my own.

Book Review – Darker Days: A Collection of Dark Fiction by Kenneth W. Cain

Darker Days A Collection of Dark Fiction, by Kenneth Cain

I’ve always enjoyed reading a good scary tale, and in my opinion short stories make the best medium for leading the reader through the “valley of fear.” Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed many horror novels over the years, but my favorite stories have always been short ones. That’s largely because they, by necessity, get right to the point and waste no time leading the reader right smack dab into the middle of the monster’s den.

Darker Days, by Kenneth Cain, is a great collection of tales that any fan of horror fiction would enjoy. There’s something in this book for everyone. The subject matter of the tales therein includes ghosts, cosmic horror, zombies, vampires, weird creatures, aliens, kaiju, and demons. While there were stories I enjoyed more than others, there wasn’t a single dud in this collection.

As I read through Cain’s stories, I found myself enjoying his style of writing. He does a good job of describing the setting and action without a lot of needless exposition. One thing I’ve never cared for is when a writer drones on for two pages describing what could be summed up in two sentences, and Cain avoids that nicely.

Probably my favorite story in the collection is “By the Crescent Moon. This one tells the tale of Mike, who has just moved into a house in the North Carolina countryside. The story works for me in several ways. There’s the trope of the dark, foggy night, with something strange lurking out there. It ties in with folklore, especially Welsh legends that touched the New World. Throw in a creepy old woman who possesses knowledge of the legends and lore of the area, and who tries to warn Mike against venturing out into the hills on that foggy night, and you’ve got the setting for a really creepy tale. Of course, Mike shuns her advice and things go to hell fairly quickly. But hey, if people acted with good common sense and clear rational thought, there would be no scary story. There would just be the tale of the guy who heeded advice and went back home, locked the door, and went to bed.  And who wants to read that story?

All in all, Darker Days is a solid set of stories that should entertain most any horror enthusiast.  For my part, I look forward to reading more of Cain’s work.  Next time you’re looking for a good scary read, you won’t go wrong grabbing a copy of this book.