Book Review: The Last Night of October by Greg Chapman

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Title: The Last Night of October

Author: Greg Chapman

Release date: April 16, 2021 (Previously released in 2013, 2014 & 2016)

Huge thanks to Omnium Gatherum. Netgalley and Greg Chapman for approving this for me to read.

I’ve hailed my love of Greg’s work for a number of years now and when I saw this pop up on Netgalley, I couldn’t resist, even knowing that if I was approved I might not get it read before release date. Once I was approved though, I had to put my other reads aside for an evening and read this. At about 70 pages, this was an easy single sitting read and for those who might be on the slower side of reading, the way Chapman hooks you with this one will force you to read this without putting it down, so be prepared.

What I liked: Like every other book I’ve read from Chapman (and his short stories) you’ll start out feeling familiar with what you’re going to read, only to see the stunning scope of ‘freshness’ that Greg’s writing infuses into every trope. The book itself actually opens with a really nice foreword by Lisa Morton, which sets the stage. She says that Chapman writes one of the most stunning Halloween based stories while also throwing the expectations of what a Halloween story should be, on its head. You know what? She’s spot on.

The story is simple enough (and familiar). We are introduced to an old man, Gerald Forsyth. Life has caught up to him, so he depends on home nurses to come and make sure his air cannisters are changed over and his oxygen supply is functioning correctly. He lives alone, just how he prefers it. He hates life itself and everything included; people, outdoors, niceness, everything. But what he hates most of all is Halloween.

Chapman does an enormous amount with the bare minimum. Gerald doesn’t want anyone coming to his house on Halloween and this is most evident when a fill-in nurse arrives and decides to open the door to a mysteriously quiet trick-or-treater.

This simple act plunges the story down the rabbit hole you know Chapman was leading us towards, but when he takes us there, Good Lord. Expect grief driven darkness to infiltrate that layer between your skin and muscle, because this one makes you squirm.

I always love how Greg makes sure everything feels real. Even the paranormal/supernatural/horror elements he’ll write about always have a sensation of ‘this is actually possible’ to them and ‘The Last Night of October’ is a prime example of this.

Learning about the ‘why’ of Gerald’s disgust towards October 31st was a really great section and elevates everything that came before it as well as what happens after.

What I didn’t like: In this case – I wanted to smack our fill-in nurse. She was inside Gerald’s house and he expressly asked her not to do specific things, which she did anyways. But, I guess, if she’d listened then we wouldn’t have discovered the rest of the story, so fine, I guess that’s ok haha!

Why you should buy this: Chapman is one of my favorite authors and he is a stunning artist as well. ‘The Last Night of October’ deserves a wider release from it’s limited offers previously and is another amazing example of how talented Greg is as a writer. It doesn’t matter the length of story, you can always expect a fantastically twisted tale and this one is no different.

One of the best things I’ve read from Greg, this one is a must read and I’m excited to see more people discover his work.

5/5

‘The Last Night of October’ is currently available for pre-order through the publisher, but I’d expect a wider launch through the usual channels around release date.

https://omniumgatherumedia.com/the-last-night-of-october

Book Review: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

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Title: Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2)

Author: Martha Wells

Release date: May 8, 2018

I recently read (and loved) book one of Martha Wells’ ‘The Murderbot Diaries’ titled ‘All Systems Red.’ In the series opener we’re introduced to Murderbot, an augmented human security being who has hacked their own governor model and walks the line between letting their personality show while remaining as machine-like as possible.

I couldn’t wait to dive into book two.

Saying that – this is a hard sequel, meaning you most definitely need to have read book one to know what is going on and as such, while I still remain as spoiler proof as possible – this review will allude to events in book one that may be a spoiler. I suggest you don’t read this review unless you’ve read book one.

What I liked: Where book one followed our Murderbot grappling with their feelings towards the crew they were purchased to protect, book two picks up following the events of book one and we see our sarcastic bot heading towards the scene of their own personal turmoil. Boarding a ship by hacking the security system and interacting with the mechanical beings that make up the various programs of each ship, before ending up in a cargo style ship.

It’s here that Murderbot strikes up a tentative friendship with the program that controls the ship, dubbed ART.

Wells does a great job of having these two characters develop a friendship and when Murderbot shares their reason for heading to their destination, ART becomes a partner/aide to help our bot get to the end goal.

Wells writes with such an ease that the story whips by, aided by the quick wit and sarcastic nature of our main character.

This entry really summed up how much Murderbot craves companionship, even if they are dead set on remaining as far away of being human as possible.

What I didn’t like: While the main aspect of this story is Murderbot and ART becoming friends, I found it was a bit of a slow slog near the start as we get to see them tentatively interact and ensure neither are there to hurt the other.

Why you should buy this: If you loved book one you’ll love book two. Wells has crafted a truly classic character and I really can’t wait to see what happens next. I’ll be starting book three soon and it looks like book six is about to be released. If you love sci-fi/horror and witty banter, this is a perfect series for you to discover.

4/5

Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

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Title: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

Author: Martha Wells

Release date: May 2nd, 2017

Oddly, it was actually a recommendation by Patrick Rothfuss on Goodreads that first brought this book to my attention. I’m a big Rothfuss fan and he posted a glowing review which made me want to dive in and read this…

And so I did, four years later! Ha! Ah, jeez, our TBR’s are something else.

So, after all this time, guess what? I pretty much forgot what this book was about, other than a future world with robotic guards. I think it might’ve worked in my favor to dive in without re-reading the synopsis.

What I liked: ‘All Systems Red’ wastes no time with introducing us to our main character, an augmented being designed to work as a security guard. Think of it like Robocop to a degree. Only in this case, the character which has termed itself Murderbot has hacked its own system to not blindly follow the orders of the mainframe network that controls it.

Normally I’m not a big fan of humor in my horror or sci-fi, but the Murderbot has developed its own personality and it is a slacker who enjoys watching hours of TV programming and employs sarcasm and jokes as it sees fit. It works really well when in the presence of humans and seeing how Wells made it also shy regarding its appearance when out of its armor was a really fantastic move. It nicely elevated the character from an aloof killing machine to an empathetic member of the group.

The main plot of the story is that something happens near them and the Murderbot and the group its assigned to protect unravel what it happening and why they’re in danger. It made for some truly tense moments and even though this was a short, quick read, Wells packed it with a novels worth of emotion and turmoil.

What I didn’t like: Even though I knew this was a part 1 and that it was novella length, I found the ending was a bit rushed for me, especially when they confront the danger (sorry spoiler free!). I wished it was described a bit more, because suddenly it felt like we were at an epilogue style chapter and I worried I’d missed the ending.

Why you should buy this: Often times I hear people say the reason they avoid Sci-Fi is that it’s got too much technology or they feel like they need to be an Astrophysicist to understand what is going on. Not here. Wells tells a straightforward story – with sci-fi elements – and I had no problems understanding what was happening and who the characters were.

This was a really fun time and I’m not going to be waiting another four years until I start book 2!

5/5

Book Review: Shadow of the Sasquatch by J.H. Moncrieff

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Title: Shadow of the Sasquatch

Author: J.H. Moncrieff

Release date: March 14, 2021

*Just a brief warning here – this is a sequel to ‘Return to Dyatlov Pass’ and while you don’t need to have read that book to read this one, some of my review may inadvertently be spoilers for that book. Never my intention to have spoilers in my reviews, but when it’s a sequel that can sometimes be tough!*

Moncrieff returns with a new Severed Press release and us readers are in for a treat! Why? This is a sequel to Moncrieff’s stunning ‘Return to Dyatlov Pass.’ I’ve been keen to see what J.H. had in store for us, both from how Return ended, but also with her fantastic story within the ‘Hellhole’ Anthology that furthered some of what was happening on Devil’s Mountain.

Moncrieff offered a few glimpses of where things were heading on her author page, but even then details were sparse. Then this dropped. Literally. We got a cover reveal and synopsis (and what a cover it is!) and in the blink of an eye – the ebook and paperback were live. I snagged this and dove in.

What I liked: Nat McPherson is doing her best after the events of book one, but tragically her life is spiraling. She’s shuttered her podcast, fallen into depression and booze and her overdue bills are mounting. When Riley calls to tell her that the house her, her husband and daughter have just moved into in Oregon is under attack by something massive, Nat at first ignores it. But when an incident occurs that’s too much for her to ignore, she heads there to try and help.

Moncrieff may very well be battling Hunter Shea for ‘best creature feature’ writer at the moment. Some of the scenes in this are so vivid and dread-filled, I would’ve jumped out of bed if something would’ve fallen over or banged the walls. I really loved how she writes cinematically and uses rational choices to create emotional responses. Nat is dealing with PTSD. Riley wants to protect her and her daughter Brooke. This all makes for a melting pot of ‘how should we react’ layers and it’s J.H.’s superb command of the story that really makes everything believable.

The dynamic between the members of the family were great and when Nat becomes involved, it was really nice to see Brooke and her bond and develop a friendship.

I thoroughly enjoyed how we got glimpses of Nat’s internal struggle and flashes of Dyatlov throughout, all the while, we see Nat striving for closure and redemption/revenge. The incident with Brooke near the end was a perfect bookend to make Nat both hate and respect these creatures and it really does set up the possibility of a third chapter in Nat’s ongoing story.

What I didn’t like: I don’t know if I fully found closure with the ‘why.’ Don’t get me wrong, the reason the creatures keep at the house tugs at the heart strings and shows empathy, but things didn’t completely add up. Apologies, this is a ‘in-depth’ as I can get, because I do not want to spoil this.

Why you should buy this: As I already said, Moncrieff writes creature features like nobody else. Just look at ‘Monsters In Our Wake.’ But with this, she’s slipped seamlessly into another level of human/creature thriller and it’s spot on fantastic. Fans of Hunter Shea’s ‘Creature’ and Moncrieff’s own ‘Those Who Came Before’ will really enjoy how this one plays out, but more so, for those fans of ‘Return to Dyatlov Pass,’ Moncrieff has done that first book justice and some. A stunning sequel from one of my favorite authors.

Well done, J.H.

5/5

Book Review: Salvage by Duncan Ralston

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Title: Salvage

Author: Duncan Ralston

Release date: May 30, 2016 (Rereleased in 2019)

It’s always surreal when you dive (ha!) into a book and realize the number of unexpected similarities there are between the fiction you’re reading the your real life. Such was the case with ‘Salvage.’ ‘Salvage’ by Duncan Ralston is his debut release, and has gone through a few different tweaks (the cover shown here is the updated version by the talented and fantastic Francois Vaillancourt) but the story has remained the same.

Peace Falls was flooded three decades ago, the remains of the small town now hidden in the depths of Chapel Lake, named after the church that still stands in the murk three dozen or so feet below the surface.

I grew up in a very small town – Burton, BC. Population… maybe 100? 150? In the 1960’s, the Keenleyside Dam was constructed. Due this construction the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes, which had been two separate, smaller lakes, became one long 230 km lake. Because of this, the original town site of Burton was flooded and residents moved a few km’s to create a new town site. My grandma and grandpa were one of the very first houses moved and relocated.

Reading this book was a unique way to get me to go look back at the historical non-fiction book about where I grew up and while doing that, I stumbled upon a photo that was tucked into my grandpa’s copy that I now have. It was a photo of my grandma standing on a sidewalk. My grandma was diagnosed with MS before I was even born, and I have a single memory of her walking. It was incredibly emotional to find this and I most likely wouldn’t have came across it for some time, if not for reading this book.

What I liked: ‘Salvage’ follows Owen Saddler, a forty year old man, who finds out his globetrotting sister, Lori, has passed away. When he finds out she’s drowned in Chapel Lake while diving, something feels offs, which facilitates his return to Peace Falls. Determined to get to the bottom of strange memories and odd occurrences, he rents a house on the lakes edge.

From here, Ralston gives us a really well done supernatural-mystery novel that slowly unraveled its various layers. We get a number of old acquaintances who pop up and appear to both give Owen useful information, while also steering him away from the truth and seeing the memories stir and reconnect with Owen and his past were great and added some well placed and well utilized emotional depth.

Throughout this book, Ralston continued to give us little crumbs that led towards the ultimate finale/ending, but I must say, even with what he gave us and led us along, I didn’t see things playing out how they did. The ending and the epilogue worked really well together and the ‘loose ends’ the Ralston tidied up were great.

What I didn’t like: Minor things over all, but the one bit I wasn’t a huge fan of was near-ish the ending, Owen calls his mom to fill her in and share some news about what’s been happening. His mom has been previously closed off about discussing the past and Peace Falls, but in this conversation she completely opened up and spilled her guts. I found it a bit odd that it would just happen and wished that it was teased out a bit more over maybe a few phone calls.

Why you should buy this: It’s hard to imagine this was Ralston’s first novel as it’s really well done and the thoroughness of creating the setting and back story was top notch. Having read mainly his newer work (Ghostland, Afterlife, The Midwives) you can see how the base of those novels was formed here and he’s improved time and time again.

I’m also thankful for reading this and having such a great connection with my past and what the book featured here. That really highlighted or elevated some places, which I hadn’t expected.

If you’re looking for a really great, mystery-thriller-supernatural read that features some fantastic, pulse-pounding moments and creepy parts, look no further. This was a fun time and I’m excited to check out more of his back catalog.

4/5

Book Review: The Creek by Rayne King

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Title: The Creek

Author: Rayne King

Release date: January 17, 2021

Source: Kindle Unlimited

‘The Creek’ is the debut novella by Rayne King, a great guy who I connected with over on Twitter, some time ago. I was immediately impressed with the cover that King shared and while I couldn’t get to it right when it came out, I knew I’d hop on this when I had a lull in my reading. Usually that’s when I’ve finished a really solid book and decide to chomp through a quick read in one sitting, before returning to the other long reads I have already started.

Funny enough, when I flipped to the first page and saw the layout, I wondered if Ross Jeffery had formatted this. Ross has formatted a number of my works (probably the last 6 or 7, I’d have to count!) and I was also pleased to see Ross had done the cover! So happy these two connected.

What I liked: I love wilderness/small-town based stories, and King has delivered there. We’re introduced to Wiley, a 17 year old man who lives in a beat up trailer with his alcoholic, corrections officer father. His mom split 6 years ago and has now started a new life, which leaves Wiley conflicted. Shortly into the story, a group arrives at the abandoned camping grounds near where he lives and he finds out that a religious group has purchased it.

King really did a great job of creating this care-free kid, who just likes to hang out with his dog at the creek. It’s at this location that he meets Ruby, the daughter of the religious groups leader.

I enjoyed the innocent first interaction they had and how the two of them are both conflicted with how their real lives are compared to how time seems to stop when they’re together.

What I didn’t like: I think a bit of what I struggled with was the fairly straight forward story that was told. While King doesn’t set out to recreate the wheel, there was nothing surprising or shocking. Ultimately, I struggled with believing Wiley was as innocent as he was portrayed, as once he starts attending the religious ceremonies, he willing takes drugs and him and Ruby start sleeping together. For a boy who couldn’t look at here a short time ago at the creek, things sure ramped up quickly. Which unfortunately made the final events a bit hard to comprehend, as I just didn’t know if Wiley would actually have it in him.

Why you should buy this: I also love finding and reading new authors and first releases and this was a really well done effort. King’s first release is in a subgenre of horror that can be tough to deliver in (coming-of-age) and I think he did an admirable job of crafting this story of Wiley and Ruby. Mileage will vary on this one, but if you’re looking for a quick, fun, religious novella, this will tick all of those boxes. It also comes with a bonus short story ‘Husk’ which was a fun read and while I won’t go into this one here, it definitely makes me excited to see how King will continue to evolve and grow with each new release.

3/5

Book Review: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

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Title: The Demonologist

Author: Andrew Pyper

Release date: March 5, 2013

Winner of the ITW Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel (2014)

I’ll spare you the story of how I discovered Pyper’s work. I’ve written about it a million times as well as mentioned it on a couple podcasts already. But, I will let those who haven’t heard it know, that ‘The Demonologist’ was the first book of Andrew’s I ever found and read and have been hooked ever since. I’m also not a typical re-reader. There’s a few books I’ve re-read over the years, but normally a book like this, which I read in 2014, I wouldn’t re-read. But, over the years, a few things changed.

The first is, I realized that while I remember large sections of this book, I can’t remember everything that happens. In fact, for a book that changed my reading habits and put me on a path of finding a favorite author, I couldn’t believe just what I struggled to remember. The second was that I’m about to celebrate the fourth annual Pyper-May-Nia! The last two years, I’ve really gone all in, but for this year’s I decided I was going to reread the first three of Andrew’s books I’d ever read, ‘The Demonologist,’ ‘The Damned,’ and ‘Lost Girls.’ The third thing that changed was that I am now a father. How would ‘dad Steve’ connect with this work compared to how ‘non-dad Steve’ did?

‘The Demonologist’ sits directly in the middle of Andrew’s five book arc of looking at grief and searching for answers related to a lost or deceased loved one. Now, ‘Lost Girls’ does look at grief and the ripples that an event can cause in a small town, and ‘The Wildfire Season’ tackles grief and guilt, but it wasn’t until 2008’s ‘The Killing Circle’ that Andrew began to really dive deeper into how grief makes us tick and how sorrow and melancholy can guide us, even in the darkest times. That was followed up with 2011’s ‘The Guardians,’ a haunted house/coming-of-age story which really examined friendship and how the death of a childhood friend can rip off some bandages. ‘The Demonologist’ arrived in 2013, which I’ll discuss in more depth, and Andrew continued the theme with ‘The Damned’ in 2015 and ‘The Only Child’ in 2017. Some could even argue that 2019’s ‘The Homecoming,’ which is based around grief (a father dies and a family discovers not all is what they thought), would make up the sixth book in the arc, but in that sense the book doesn’t have the journey element. Similar with ‘The Residence.’ Pyper’s stunning 2020 release that focuses on Jane Pierce and her desire to have her deceased son return from beyond is completely focused and informed by grief. But once again, no journey.

So it was, that from 2008 until 2017, Andrew Pyper released five of the greatest grief-based thrillers to ever be written and smack dab in the middle; ‘The Demonologist.’ From the get-go, ‘The Demonologist’ was a book that was primed to explode. Andrew’s work was already well read, well respected and award winning, but something about the synopsis, the title and the timing all coincided to have this book become an Instant International Bestseller.

Now, I know some of you will have already wondered how can I be impartial or fair towards a book that has so greatly affected my reading and do a degree my own writing? I’ll admit, I probably can’t. I try to prepare fair and thorough reviews going over what it is that I liked and what it is that I didn’t like (or that the reader may not enjoy) and I’ll do my best here. And to try and garner some trust towards you, reading my review, I will say – this isn’t my favorite of Andrew’s work. In fact, it’s not even top three! But, much like people who love King and Rice and Barker and Koontz and Straub, when you love an author’s output so much, your favorite books of theirs all become 1A and 1B and 1C in the grand scheme of things.

What I liked: ‘The Demonologist’ follows Professor David Ullman who is an expert in demonic mythology. More specifically, John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ the epic 17th-century poem that tells the tale of Satan and Adam and Eve. With his personal life in freefall and his daughter’s descent into depression, Ullman is visited one day by the Thin Woman. She offers him an invitation to Venice, to get his thoughts on something. A phenomenon. Ullman accepts and brings Tess, his daughter with him.

From here, Pyper crafts a story that follows a father’s grief in trying to find his daughter, as well as looking philosophically at the question of if we’re alone or is there other forces that guide us.

‘The Demonologist’ itself has one of the most frightening scenes I’ve ever read. When Tess and David arrive in Venice, they do some sightseeing, before David decides to get the task at hand over and done with. It is the scene that plays out, in a small house nestled in the winding alleys of the town that I’ve always remembered and once again read with anxiety. Greeted by another man, they tell David to go up the stairs, see what’s waiting in the room. David pleads with them, begging to know what is up there, but when no answer comes he finally goes. What’s waiting is so well done that I long for this to be filmed, just to watch this scene alone.

It is shortly after this that Tess leaves, offering up the haunting refrain of ‘find me,’ as their hands slip from one another’s and Pyper deftly utilizes Paradise Lost to guide Ullman as he goes across the US, searching for his daughter and uncovering more clues as to where she is.

Throughout, as I mentioned in my intro, Pyper layers everything with grief and sorrow. From his history with his brother and father, his relationship with his wife and how things have now changed, and with himself and Tess. Paramount to this story is O’Brien, at first a side character who thankfully becomes more involved and intricately woven into the plot itself.

Andrew uses setting like few other others and once again, each place that Ullman visits and investigates/searches becomes a living, breathing character, one that instantly feels like a place reader has visited with his lush descriptions, but also a setting that can become sinister with the subtle dimming of the lights. A scene that plays out with two older women in a small farm house is a fine example of this, one that rivals the earlier scene in Venice. So much so, that while reading it, you’ll swear you can smell rotting vegetables and musty dirty.

The character of The Pursuer was fantastic and oddly enough, a piece of the puzzle I’d completely forgotten about. I remembered the room at the top of the stairs like the back of my hand, but not this character who follows Ullman and ultimately is just as afraid of what Ullman is discovering as Ullman is.

Lastly, I want to touch on the ending. Once again, I was completely stunned to realize I had no recollection of how this ended. I think the ending is the make or break for most readers, as either it works or it doesn’t, but in my case it was spot on and a yin to the yang that was the ending to ‘The Killing Circle.’ I do wonder if those two works are of a related narrative or something Andrew subconsciously plotted out to offer a similarly based story of grief and clues. Saying all of that, I found I had to reread the final few pages a dozen times to see some tied in clues with The Unnamed, Ullman and what ultimately happens when David sits.

What I didn’t like: As I mentioned, the ending here will make or break the story for you. It is incredibly well-paced, often frantic and as we learn more and more about both Ullman’s past and how The Unnamed has been using Ullman for a selfish purpose, the finale does leave a couple boxes open. For me, I absolutely love the resolution we get, but the ending will be a very personal thing for each reader.

The other thing I’ll mention here – I wished we learned a bit more about The Thin Woman. Her role at the beginning is very significant and we do get a return later on in the story, but (and maybe this is on me) I failed to connect the dots to where she fit in the grand scheme of things, other than being used to get Ullman to Venice.

Why you should buy this: Pyper has created a story that captures the imagination. At times large sections of this reminded me of ‘What Dreams May Come’ but it is also very much a horror novel that is anxiety inducing and pushes chaotic actions to cause plausible reactions. Time and time again, I found I needed to know what Ullman was discovering and where he’d go next and I’d read this already. I was hooked from page one and that opening line of, ‘Last night I had the dream again.’ This book was so pivotal in my dark-fiction journey and I’m happy to say that it once again completely destroyed me.

Was I fair in my assessment? I think so. Like all books, this one may or may not work for you. But it worked for me and ultimately introduced me to the works of my favorite author.

‘The Demonologist’ is a fast-paced thriller that has some of the deepest, darkest moments you’ll ever read. A book that focuses on the blackness of grief and the lengths a father will go to find his daughter, I can’t recommend this book enough. One of my all-time favorite books, I’d absolutely love it if you’d check this one out. Now, I’ll be starting my re-read of ‘The Damned.’

5/5

** If you’re keen – there’s a free ebook of ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton that also features an interview with Andrew and a preview of  ‘The Demonologist’ **

Book Review: Run Walk Crawl: Getting Fit in my Forties by Tim Lebbon

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Title: Run Walk Crawl: Getting Fit in my Forties

Author: Tim Lebbon

Release date: March 10, 2021

Source: Digital ARC from the author

“Slowly, I went from hoping I could to thinking I could,” – Tim Lebbon.

I hope you’ll bear with me for this review. It’s going to be a bit introspective.

Many of you know me from my reviews. Many from my writing. And many know me from my professional career as well as my athletic endeavors. It was interesting to read this, knowing Tim has very similar parallels. There will be a large percentage of you who know him as a writer of amazing dark fiction. But also a number will know him from his passion over the last decade. And even then, some of you will know of him through is Netflix movie ‘The Silence.’

I remember when Tim threw the concept of this book out to the world on Twitter. An almost ‘if I write this, will people read it’ tweet. I was emphatic there was an audience for this, because it ticks a number of boxes that people look for in non-fiction, sports/health books.

Within the pages of this fantastic book, Tim takes us on a journey from where he was on the precipice of turning 40 years old and a fateful Holiday season that transformed his life. Finding it difficult to walk up a hill with some friends and realizing he was not at the level of fitness he was happy with, he had a conversation with a long time friend who himself had worked on his own fitness. When he mentioned to Tim that they were going to attempt a grueling event where you scale three different peaks in 24 hours, Tim decided to pursue that and fell head over heels in love with what can be described as “duration challenges.”

It was interesting for me to read this book. Here I am at 39, roughly four years post-retirement from a goal I had set of trying to make the 2018 Winter Olympics. Where Tim states he was active growing up and even competed in canoeing for a few years, he’d never been a gym goer. Joining and stopping time and again as he found it just wasn’t for him. Myself, I was the opposite. Growing up, I played Golf and Soccer and when I turned 17, began to hit the weights, falling in love with Body Building and Power Lifting. That transformed into a love of the throwing sports and at 24, I returned to Track and began competing in Shot Put. A series of injuries slowed my progress and then an opportunity came up. Bobsled. Much like with Tim going from triathlon training to full on Ironman level events, I devoted myself. In my 29th year, I set a goal of transitioning into a sliding sport. I trained seven days a week, often twice a day. I completed adjusted my diet (which I will say was 100% the hard work of my wife) and over the course of a year, I went from a 375lb shot putter, into a 245lb slider. (Hey, I said you’d get some introspection here!)

So, I’m going to hop into my normal review format from here and return the focus onto Tim’s book (with still some nuggets of my journey!)

What I liked: ‘Run Walk Crawl: Getting Fit in my Forties’ isn’t your normal ‘training’ non-fiction book. No, what Tim’s done here is to write an incredibly heart-felt, emotional book that is incredibly motivating. The book pops back and forth between what he loves about doing Tri’s/Ironman’s and Race Reports. Through this set up, we get to see one of the most talented writers out there go into great depth and detail about the hills around his house that he trains on, the delicious cakes that he partakes in and how the chase of the ‘runners high’ can motivate someone to reach for a goal and achieve it. Much like the sliding sports, Tri’s and Ironman’s are unique, in that these are individual sports done within a community setting. Where everybody wants to see you succeed and people come from all around to watch on race day and cheer you on.

The Race Reports are fantastic insights into Tim’s mindset and experiences from those days. Each one was originally written back at the time of the race and updated for the book. I loved that we get a great snap shot of different race courses and set ups, from open water swims to encounters with vehicles and animals, Tim doesn’t sugar coat anything and the book is elevated because of this.

I found time and time again, Tim peppers this book with golden moments of pure motivation.

“That’s part of the reason for writing this book – talking about what I’ve achieved because it’s fun to look back, and also in the hope that it might inspire other people to take on their own challenge, and perhaps even change their own lives.”

Tim doesn’t preach to the reader in here about health, he doesn’t try to make you believe in a specific fad diet or a weight training regimen and for that, this book sets itself from many others in the pack. This isn’t a self-help or guided training book. You’ll not find running programs, swimming splits or riding intervals. Instead, Tim pleads with the reader to find something they love and to dive in and do it with passion. Throughout my many, many years in athletics/sports, I can absolutely say that this philosophy or approach will work every time. I hate running. But, for a year I would go to the track and do 30m, 45m and 100m sprints as well as bleacher sprints. Why? Because I had a goal, I had a passion and honestly, I loved what I was attempting to do. In my case, I also absolutely loved going to the gym and clanging weights.

The last thing I’ll mention here that I loved, is that Tim fills this book to the brim with humor and does it absolutely create a truly amazing read. Many books similar to this want to jam it down your throat that only the elite will finish a race and that training is tough and the weak will fail, blah blah blah. I didn’t keep track, but I’m fairly confident in saying that at least once in each chapter, Tim mentions that no matter how tiring or difficult training or a race had become, he was doing it for fun. In that regards, Tim and I share that philosophy. It was actually something I took heat from a number of coaches over the years. Me keeping things light, cracking jokes and supporting other athletes. In fact, one of the few times I ever lost my cool was with a bobsled pilot from another country who told me to shut up and focus. A few of my sliding friends will remember that confrontation in the Ice House and chuckle over him turning tail and leaving when I got serious and raised my voice.

This book, as I said, will be an introspective journey and will be an incredible motivator no matter where you are in your own personal life and health, but one thing is for certain – no matter what you are doing – make sure you have fun and it makes you smile. Tim makes sure to tell the reader this frequently, but also sets the example with the humor within.

What I didn’t like: You know, sometimes I hate this section. I set this section up as a way to let readers know why they may not like this book and when I love a book and think it’s hit every target, I struggle. So, here’s what I think some readers may not enjoy – if they are specifically looking for training programs – there are none. If you’re looking for tough love and/or declarations of “only the strong survive!” – big miss.

Personally, and this may be different in the paperback than the digital book I had for review – I wish there were more photos. Especially from the Race Reports. Three big reasons may have prevented this – 1) formatting. That can be really tough. 2) photo credits and rights – the Race Reports are from sanctioned events, so it is very possible that the photos Tim has were taken from race day photogs and credits and rights may be tough or expensive to acquire 3) publication costs – I myself have released a book that has illustrations and paintings in it. I wanted to keep them in color. This greatly increased the cost of printing the books, so that may have been a factor.

Why you should buy this: Tim Lebbon has excelled with what he’s delivered here. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim for my professions publication a few years back, and even then the passion he expressed about training and doing these events was palpable. To read an entire book of the last decade and a bit of his life was phenomenal. This book will not be for everybody and that’s fair. But, like me, if you’re wanting some motivation to get into the best health of your life, Tim leads by example. I turn 40 in July. I have suffered so many significant injuries from my attempts to achieve my goal that I am limited with what I can do and I’ve struggled mentally to kick myself in the butt and start moving again. I personally wouldn’t change it for the world and after reading this – Tim’s already achieved what he set out to do – motivate a reader to rekindle their passion for exercise and get moving again.

A top-notch, non-fiction read that I really can’t recommend enough. I’ll be ordering this in paperback on release day!

5/5

Book Review: Mayan Blue by The Sisters of Slaughter

mayan blue

Title: Mayan Blue

Authors: Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason aka The Sisters of Slaughter

Release date: May 25th, 2016

* Nominated for HWA Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel (2016)

From the very first day that I entered into the dark fiction community, Michelle and Melissa have been cheering me on and encouraging me every step of the way. I’ve been recommended their work time and time again, but it was ‘Mayan Blue’ and ‘Tapetum Lucidum’ that really stood out for me. (I’ll be starting Tapetum shortly!)

‘Mayan Blue’ always interested me as I’ve always been intrigued by Xibalba and the Mayan lore of the Underworld. The Mayan Death Gods, specifically Ah Puch, have always got my imagination running and because of this, I wanted to see what type of carnage the Sisters of Slaughter could conjure up.

What I liked: The story begins innocently enough. Four college students and the Professor’s Assistant hike into the Georgia wilderness. They’re off to meet up with the Professor of Archaeology who has discovered a doorway in a cave, that he believes is Mayan. Little do the group of five know that the Professor has accidentally disturbed things that should never have been disturbed.

From this point on, Garza and Lason craft a story filled with survival and brutal, brutal moments. As the Gods of Death march forward and lust to capture the humans and bring them to the massive pyramid for sacrifice, the humans struggle to stay alive, even if they don’t know it’s already too late.

There are some gruesome scenes in here, scenes that rival anything Barker ever conjured. We get tons of blood, amazing progression as the various creatures get their moments in the spotlight and we see just how much each of the humans themselves, want to stay alive.

I really enjoyed how fast-paced this was and how vividly each of the underworld incarnations were described.

What I didn’t like: Two things. The first was, I felt like three of the five individuals were there just to be slaughtered. I didn’t get enough of them or their actual personalities to care much about them and the one woman was incredibly annoying. The second, was I wished there was more background on the lore surrounding what was to come. I felt like I had to play catch up as various levels and events happened and some characters filled the reader in after. Minor, but I think some parts would’ve made more sense.

Why you should buy this: Absolute, underworld blast. This was a really fun time, with a ton of Mayan history and anytime you can get a horror story based around Xibalba, the reader should be happy. The twosome crafted a really frantic, high-energy story and I loved how we saw things go darker and darker. Great stuff!

4/5

Book Review: The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner

the winter box

Title: The Winter Box

Author: Time Waggoner

Release date: Originally March 16, 2016, rereleased October 7, 2017

** Winner of the HWA Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

How shameful on my part that I didn’t even have this on my radar until Friday of last week (Feb 5). I connected with Tim some time ago and have read a few of his works (even been fortunate enough to have him blurb one of my books!) but for some reason, this release completely escaped me. It wasn’t until Tim posted a really well done blog about award season and nominations that I discovered it and dove in.

(Look before you message me with ridicule and shame – Tim’s had a wonderful career, with a number of releases that could’ve easily have won the Stoker at that time!)

This was a no-brainer for me to jump into – cold weather fiction? Yes, please!

What I liked: The story follows a married couple, Todd and Heather, trying to come to terms with how their marriage has ended up as it has and where did it take a turn towards two people who tolerate each other, when a blizzard hits. 

From here, Waggoner crafts a stunning chilled, supernatural story. One thing I always love about really well done novellas, is when we get 300+ pages of story in 50-75 pages, which is what Tim does here. We get character depth with back story aplenty and from this we really begin to formulate how we feel about each of these two, even as events begin to unfold. 

I loved when the two begin to realize that they’ve each been experiencing odd moments and that it’s interconnected. Waggoner really did a fantastic job of letting things dawn on each of them and by that point their reactions felt so true, from how well Tim had breathed life into these two characters.

The ending. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that and even though it was a really dark moment, it definitely had a glimmer like sun does on a fresh snow fall.

What I didn’t like: Irrational now, but at the beginning I wasn’t a big fan of how the characters interacted. It was their anniversary after all, but that soon gets pushed aside when details are revealed. 

Why you should buy this: ‘The Winter Box’ shows just why Waggoner is so well respected and has had such a long and storied career. This was a masterclass in dread and tension while using very minimal parts. Every aspect of this story felt bigger and more expanded than was offered, which is a testament to Tim’s ability.

I loved this one and, while it took me far too long to discover it, am thankful that I did.

Outstanding work.

5/5