Book Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill


Title: A Cosmology of Monsters

Author: Shaun Hamill

Release date: September 17th, 2019

One thing I try really, really, really hard to do, is to not mention/discuss/compare my own writing within a book review because this space is about me sharing to you (whomever is reading these reviews) about a book I’ve read and what I think you’ll enjoy and what may make you decide to read it. It shouldn’t be about why you should read my work/buy it or how something I’ve written exists in the same space as someone else’s book.

But every once in a while, a book comes along that pushes that to the test. ‘A Cosmology of Monsters’ is such a book. Shaun Hamill is a fantastic guy. We’ve connected via social media and seeing his success has been fantastic, yet – up until now – I had to hold off on reading this. The reason was that a few folks who’ve read the book had messaged me before and told me that the atmosphere and ‘base idea’ (not to say anyone copied anyone etc etc) was eerily reminiscent of my own novella ‘Wagon Buddy.’

I’m still in the ‘Wagon Buddy’ world. In fact, just yesterday I plotted/outlined the third and final ‘Wagon Buddy’ novella. So, out of fairness, I wanted to give myself and this book some space to make sure I could enjoy it as much as I knew I would.

So, how is it “similar”? In Hamill’s, a young kid who’s father has died just after he was born, discovers he has a nightly visitor, a large, clawed beast that seems to be there to be his friend and protect him. He’s not sure where they’re from and the friend won’t tell him. But it opens up so many questions that Noah Turner, our young kid, wants to learn more.

In mine, Scott, a young kid, who’s father has abandoned his family, is bullied. Discovering an immense, trench-coat, mask wearing imaginary friend one day, realizes his friend is there to protect him. He’s not sure where they’re from and the friend won’t tell him. But it opens up so many questions for Scott.

Cool, yeah?

Now, other than those, there are some similarities in the journey our characters take from start to finish, but that’s about it, two very very different stories that are grounded by this shared space of a young kid, growing up, trying to find their place in the world, but also having this friend that they can’t tell anyone about. Love it.

What I liked: As mentioned above, the story follows our main character, Noah, over the course of his life. We get to see the family before he arrives and their decision to create and operate a haunted house attraction.

From there, we see the spider web cracks created by Noah’s father falling ill and how his passing away affects each of the kids and his mom, as well as the tangible effects that reverberate following.

Hamill writes with such sublime prose. Each and every page hummed and crackled with energy but also the sorrow of a father’s passing. I really loved seeing how Noah’s relationships with his two sister’s and even his mom, were so unique and decidedly different than the other.

The monster who scratches on his window and begins to form a friendship was fantastic as well. I loved the amount of detail/story we got with them and thoroughly loved seeing how Hamill expanded upon it more and more, until we arrived at a point where a decision needed to be made.

Throughout, we have a side story of kidnapped/disappearing people, which worked really well, but when it happened directly to the Turner family, it really elevates the anxiety that seemed to be running just below the surface of the story, but also the tension between the family themselves.

The ending of this was perfect. With how Hamill had set it up and got us from A-B, I was so happy to see us return to C and get the closure we needed, but also the wrap up with the creatures.

What I didn’t like: The only thing I wasn’t too keen on was a specific character within The Fellowship. This was a group of characters who were having meetings to discuss how their family members had disappeared mysteriously. The main male annoyed me to no end, but the character was used well in their minimal involvement.

Why you should buy this: Hamill has really created a beautiful story here, one that covers decades, and how people change the inevitable creep of time can change and sculpt things in ways you never expect. The use of Lovecraft at the beginning to open the concept of other dimensions or monsters among us was great, but the fact that Hamill really created and owned his own monsters within this was stunning.

I’m so happy that I’ve now read this and it’s a book that explores relationships so well that often you’ll forget you’re reading a truly dark, horrific book where people will be ripped apart and stolen in the blink of an eye.

Outstanding work.


Book Review: Wereworld by Benjamin Percy


Title: Wereworld

Author: Benjamin Percy

Release date: September 14th, 2021

It’s often funny how you’ll yell and shout about your own personal favorite author, practically begging people to read their work, but then have the same happen back to you and you realize – heck, I haven’t actually read anything from them.

That was the case with Adam Nevill. Gavin over at Kendall Reviews recommended Nevill’s work within the first day of us connecting. Nevill is now one of my fav author’s, easily.

So, it has gone with Benjamin Percy and my friend and frequent cover artist, Mason McDonald telling me time and time again to read Percy’s work. Shamefully (and owning I think five of his books) I’ve just now read him for the first time and wow! Wow!

This is a novella, so maybe for some that’s cheating, but within the 50 or so pages, Percy has crafted a story that is not only emotionally layered, but can act as a metaphor for our current world situation with the ongoing Pandemic. Saying that, you can read this without making that connection one bit and take it purely as a story of Lycanthrope mayhem.

I must add, the illustrations from Francesco Francavilla at the start of each chapter were glorious.

What I liked: The story itself takes place over twelve chapters, each chapter covering a month in the year of the werewolf outbreak and uprising. We follow Ted, a crotchety 50ish man who is married and has a daughter. He lives a life filled with structure and routine, but lately has begun to wonder if he’s truly happy.

That is until the Full Moon Massacre occurs and rumors begin to swirl that something is happening, something is being spread and causing people to change and develop a taste for flesh.

Percy writes so beautifully, with simple, straight forward prose that says so much with so little. It really is remarkable and reminds me big time of my own favorite author, Andrew Pyper. No fat, just lean muscle.

The character and neighborhood development/progression as each month passes was fantastic and in a way it reminded me of the early comics from The Walking Dead, where small, subtle changes occur that signify a larger shift in the world, but by the time it’s realized it’s too late to really do anything about it.

The ending was a pitch-perfect, spot-on BANG. I smiled reading the ending, knowing just how well Percy had set it up. It was like watching your favorite comedian delivering his trademark joke.

What I didn’t like: There was dread dripping from the pages, but I wished we would’ve had more carnage in some spots. It’s a minor thing, but when something is alluded too and you want to see the viscera fly, it can be a bit of a moment let down.

Why you should buy this: Percy has given us a fun, fast-paced romp through the darkness of the night. He uses the day to move the story along, while making you squirm and wince with each click-click of nails on the road. Ted was a great character and I loved how each month shifted the needle slightly, until ultimately we’ve arrived to a place where the needle can’t be moved anymore and full tilt bonkers has begun.

Thanks, Mason, for continuing to shout your love of Percy’s work and thank you Benjamin for such a great read.

Highly recommend for fans of werewolf stories. Outstanding.


Book Review: Night Terrors by Kristen Tomaru

night terrors

Title: Night Terrors

Author: Kristen Tomaru

Release date: July 21, 2021

I came across this book by chance, scrolling through the Horror Oasis Facebook page. The author (and illustrator) Kristen was looking for some folks to review it. I took a look on Amazon and Goodreads and bought a copy for Kindle.

The book is marketed as ‘nightmare poems for kids,’ but after having read this, I’d suggest that ‘kids’ would be more 10+ maybe even 13+. I myself have a five year old who is obsessed with all things dark and fantastical. He’s a massive Trevor Henderson fan, we’ve watched Beetlejuice already and we spend some time finding creepy creatures on Youtube and Instagram. Not to say he has free reign to watch and see anything and everything – we do monitor and I’ll typically pre-watch things – but we know his limits and stay within them.

Saying all of that – I wouldn’t read these poems to him. I’ll get into it a bit more later, but for a five year old, these would be too intense.

What I liked: Wow, are the illustrations in this book gorgeous. Stunning truly. Even reading this on Kindle, each and every one is so detailed and just phenomenal. This is a book that’d be a true stunner to hold in hand with a physical copy.

The book itself has roughly 16 poems and illustrations, each poem tied into the accompanied illustration (or vice versa). The poem tells a dark story about what you see and each one typically revolves around something coming and snatching/killing/dismembering the sleeping child during the night. Some are tinged with dark humor – we get one about a toilet bowl monster and one about a noxious-fart beast – but otherwise all are similar in nature.

For me, I was a massive fan of The Babadook and loved the book/rhyme that featured. Think of how that was and you’ll have a solid idea of what too expect, but darker, more extreme.

What I didn’t like: While I enjoyed each poem individually, as a whole the reality of each poem having the same layout/rhyme pattern/syllable pattern caused them to all feel a bit similar.

As will, as I mentioned before, the poems here are very dark, very bleak for their intended audience. I’d suggest you pre-read this or even preview it on Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature to see if you’d think it was appropriate for your little one.

Why you should buy this: This was a delicious batch of dark poems that I gobbled up. The illustrations are simply phenomenal. I’ll be grabbing a paperback of this in the future, because it is truly stunning.

If you’re looking for some really bleak poems, like Grimm Fairy Tales but darker for adults, look no further. Kristen has knocked this one out of the park.


Book Review: The Trench by Paul Mannering

the trench

Title: The Trench

Author: Paul Mannering

Release date: March 20th, 2017

First, an apology.

Originally, I was contacted to see if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing Paul’s novel ‘Engines of Empathy.’ I started reading the book and it soon became evident that I was not the right reader for the novel. It has elements of cyberpunk/steampunk/dystopian futures and humor. I’ve never read ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ but the ‘Engines…’ was described as being similar in nature and tone so I was intrigued. If that sounds like a book you’d be keen on – definitely give it a look. So, my apologies that I wasn’t able to complete ‘Engines of Empathy.’

But, I still wanted to read something from Paul and when I looked at the available books on Amazon, ‘The Trench’ jumped out at me. I love underwater-alien type books and if that cover doesn’t snag you I don’t know what will.

What I liked: The story starts out with the pedal-to-the-metal and never lets up. Michael and Nicole, two scientists both dealing with their own personal life issues find themselves together one morning when they’re scooped up by the military and transported to a secret submarine research base. Something’s happened and they need to find out what.

Mannering takes a classic story idea and throws us in head first. The action is fast, the death count incredibly high and the reason behind it all as fascinating and engaging.

I really enjoyed how the characters interacted and even the banter that develops between them works well. The survival aspect was great and Mannering made sure to hype the dread that grows with the reality that even if you survive the craziness, you still need to find a way back to the surface.

The ending is fantastic and as with most creature-feature style books does leave us with the possibility of a follow up but I’ve not found any evidence that one has been produced.

What I didn’t like: The one thing that this book has is fast-paced action. So much so that it also created two issues for me. The first was that the characters get to the base and we discover things have already gone south. I always love when we see the creature/alien type entity that always arrives in underwater horror actually arrive, so it was jarring that we were already past that point. The second was that with such a high body count, we don’t get much connection to many of the characters and as they get picked off there isn’t any emotion behind it.

Why you should buy this: If you enjoyed ‘The Abyss’ or Nick Cutter’s ‘The Deep’ this is definitely a book you’ll want to check out. Fast-paced and full of action, Mannering delivers a story that speeds along and will have you gripped from page one until the very end.


Book Review: Lost Girls by Andrew Pyper

lost girls

Title: Lost Girls

Author: Andrew Pyper

Release date: April 13th, 2000

It’s interesting how time and knowledge can seemingly shape or adjust how you read or experience a book.

‘The Demonologist’ was my first experience by Andrew Pyper. Shortly thereafter, ‘The Damned.’ Two of the darkest most haunting books Andrew has released. For me, back then, I had discovered a new-to-me horror author. A writer who wrote International Best-selling novels, but novels that were just as dark and bleak as anything by King, but also as gruesome and disturbing as any of the late night movies I used to stay up and watch.

Over the years, I’ve read the rest of Andrew’s books (as some of you may be aware of! HA!) and I’ve loved seeing the worlds he’s created and the heart-pounding situations we, as readers, get thrown into.

But oddly, it wasn’t until I was knee deep in researching his work for an interview I did with him earlier this year, that it even occurred to me that Pyper wasn’t considered a ‘horror writer’ by a large section of the reading population.

In fact – for many out there – Andrew Pyper is a crime-thriller author who has supernatural elements to his work. Thinking about this really threw me for a loop. I don’t actively seek out crime books (which is funny now considering) and crime fiction often doesn’t really excite me to think about reading it (which is double funny considering I have some work out there that could be described as crime-fiction based), yet here I am constantly gushing over ‘The Killing Circle,’ Andrew’s 2008 crime-thriller.

So it was, that diving into my re-read of ‘Lost Girls,’ that I found myself smiling at the reality of reading a book that is centered around a lawyer, a crime and a court case.

It has been some time since I’d read ‘Lost Girls,’ but I was excited for this re-read for so many reasons. To re-introduce myself to Andrew’s very first book was invigorating. He’d released a short-story collection prior, but that was straight forward fiction with no supernatural undercurrents. No, this was the first book Andrew had released, which won awards and resulted from his agent at the time contacting him to represent him. When he said he didn’t have a book, she said “you will,” and the rest is history.

What I liked: The story of ‘Lost Girls’ itself is simply. Bartholomew Crane is an up-and-coming, hotshot lawyer in Toronto. In a small town in northern Ontario, two teen girls go missing, presumed dead, and one of their teachers is accused of killing them. This teacher, Thomas Tripp, hires the law firm Crane works at to represent him and in turn the case is given to Crane.

But Murdoch, Ontario has a secret, something it longs to keep hidden, even if it keeps coming to the surface.

The prologue sets the stage here and it was interesting to see a novel written twenty years ago read and feel just as vibrant and fresh as anything Andrew’s ever written. There are some noticeable time-period parts that wouldn’t hold up today (Barth has a cell phone but hardly uses it, more-so relying on left messages at the hotel lobby and there’s no usage of email or computers) but otherwise you know you’re immediately in an Andrew Pyper book from page one.

I loved the slow-unravelling of Barth throughout. As he began to feel the hooks of Murdoch lock in and things begin to not only make sense, but also reveal themselves to him. There are a few incredibly unnerving moments throughout, but nothing as unsettling as when Crane comes across the cabin deep in the woods that really does unlock those hidden memories. That moment is the mental climax, if you will, of Barth’s descent. The tipping point, where after that everything cascades rapidly and he goes from running-on-fumes-coke-addict to full on unstable and unhinged.

Funny enough, there’s a scene where Barth looks through his hotel window one evening, only to see two teen girls in flowing dresses waving and beckoning him to come down. He can’t control himself anymore. Why are they tormenting him? He heads down, only to have a close encounter with a truck. This actually offers up a moment where, from that point on, you could argue Barth was actually killed by the truck and everything after is a maddening descent into purgatory. Andrew denies this (I know, I asked! And usually he’s coy and says the readers will make up their own minds, but for this one he rejected that as never a thought he had) but it definitely darkens an already darkened story.

As soul-crushing as it was, I also loved Barth’s interactions with the locals, especially as he comes to realize that many of them know who he really is, but also seeing how much these two girls disappearing has affected the town. As though a ripple has slowly washed over every one.

This is a dark story, a slow burn, and one that grabs and doesn’t let go.

What I didn’t like: As I’ve mentioned, the story opens up with an anxiety-inducing prologue, but from there until some time in, it becomes a fairly straight-forward crime-thriller. If you’re wanting a book that is supernatural from start to finish, this won’t be it. Pyper takes his time setting up Crane’s spiral and I think the term slow-burner is very accurate.

Why you should buy this: If you’re a Pyper fan, you’ve most likely already read it, but if it’s been longer than five years, I’d suggest you dive back into the lake and see if the Lady holds up. I found everything about her unnerving, creepy and horrifying. A perfect antagonist that doesn’t arrive until necessary. If you’ve not read anything from Andrew, this would be an excellent spot to start and introduces his easy way of telling dark, haunting tales that’ll stay with you for many, many long sleepless nights.


Book Review: Tales From the Parkland by Ronald McGillvary

tales from the park land

Title: Tales From the Park Land

Author: Ronald McGillvray

Release date: July 26th, 2021

I’ve not read any of Ronald’s work before grabbing his latest collection, but judging from what I discovered, I’m excited to check out whatever he releases into the world.

Lately, I’ve actually struggled with reading and reviewing short story collections and anthologies due to burn out and the marked effort reading and reviewing these releases takes. When I read novellas or novels I typically don’t take a single note, nor have to worry about remembering key details. With collections and anthologies it is the opposite. Notes on each story and key moments, as with 10-12 stories or more, it can be tough to keep things straight. From all of that, I was burned out on them.

Saying all of that, I’ve been slowly reintroducing collections and when Ronald’s released, I snagged it and bumped it up the TBR. I’m always a fan of discovering new-to-me authors but also new-to-me Canadian authors.

What I liked: Containing eleven short stories and a bonus novella, ‘Tales From the Parkland’ covers a lot of ground and the collection is a strong showcase of how many different avenues dark fiction can travel. McGillvary writes with ease and it’s evident that writing these stories brought him great joy, you can practically feel him smiling at the depravity as each story twists and turns.

The standouts for me would be;

The Garbage Collectors – a dark story of a new family in town that discovers a horrible secret. This one sped along and was unflinching.

Underneath the Stairs – a really quick story that made me laugh. As someone who lived in a house with a creepy basement, this really hit the spot for this reader.

Typo – a story about the unexpected consequences of entering in a website incorrectly. I loved this modernized horror story.

Orphans – this was a deliciously dark story about a strange storm and people seemingly different. Loved the sibling relationship that was showcased.

McGillvary did a fantastic job of making the reader feel comfortable almost immediately in each story, allowing you to just read and not feel like you’ve missed something.

What I didn’t like: As with every short story collection, some stories will hit while some will miss. This one had a ton of great stories and I think fans of dark fiction and short dark fiction will really enjoy what’s offered.

Why you should buy this: McGillvary delivered a really fun collection, filled with a lot of brutal themes. You’ll get werewolves, bumps in the night and things that aren’t what they appear. All making for a fast-paced read, but one filled with stories that’ll stay with you long after you’ve read them.

Great stuff!