Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells


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!


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


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.


Book Review: Salvage by Duncan Ralston


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.


Book Review: The Creek by Rayne King

the creek

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.


Book Review: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

the demon

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.’


** 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’ **