Book Review: Goblins by David Bernstein


Title: Goblins

Author: David Bernstein

Release date: Originally published August 4th, 2015, re-published April 23rd, 2020

I don’t recall why this book came onto my radar, but one thing is for sure, the cover art by Lynne Hansen absolutely got my attention and practically forced myself to buy this book. Growing up, I was always a fan of watching the cheap creature movies that’d be on Showcase and Movie Central every Friday and Saturday nights here in Canada. There was always three things you could expect when watching these movies – scares, gore and gratuitous nudity. Three things this movie loving teenaged boy lived for.

This book (while lacking any nudity! ha!) reads like a movie perfectly made for those evenings. We get a small town, with a Chief of Police who escaped to live here, away from his past and his own demons and of course we get a centuries old curse on the island where a Goblin King attempts to gain enough power to return to the surface.

Going in, I wasn’t expecting much more than rapid-fire gore, brutal deaths and crazy creatures, which on that note, this book knocked it out of the park.

What I liked: The story follows along as Chief Hale tries to figure out who is taking the local kids. It’s a fairly straight forward story and I think that part works well and is what made me enjoy it as much as I did.

The action is crisp, the gore is really well done and as brutal as you’d expect and the creatures were fantastic. I loved the aspects of when certain characters would come back and how the humans were struggling to comprehend just what was going on.

One absolute highlight for me was the battle scene that took place when the police find the entrance to where the Goblins are coming from. I don’t think that’s a spoiler, considering the nature of the book, but wow, was that a fun few chapters and seeing how certain elements were introduced and specific sequences played out. Incredibly engaging.

What I didn’t like: The story attempts to have depth by having every single officer have a horribly tragic back story. It actually became tiring to know that when a new cop arrived, we’d get a chapter ending cliff hanger, only to have the next chapter be devoted to the ‘why’ of this person becoming a police officer. The attempt was to create connection and empathy but it became quickly over-used and border line comical.

As well, the climatic scene was more of fizzle, with the ending really being a few sentences long and it was done and over with, which was incredibly frustrating considering the build up we’d had leading to that moment. And I’ll add the final chapter, before the epilogue, reads like a glossed over, add-on, to wrap up the characters story arc’s.

Why you should buy this: Look, at the end of the day, I had fun with this one. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible, and it had some really entertaining parts. The creature feature portion was the absolute highlight, even if the Goblin King felt horribly underutilized.

If you’re looking for a quick, snappy, action-filled read, this one will fit in nicely and make you grin more than a few times.


Book Review: The Human Son by Adrian J. Walker

the human son

Title: The Human Son

Author: Adrian J. Walker

Release date: April 28th, 2020

I’m late to the game with Adrian J. Walker’s writing. I read his fantastic novel ‘The End of the World Running Club’ not that long ago, and really, really enjoyed it. I wanted to check out more of his work, and ‘The Human Son’ was the novel that really seemed to leap out and speak to me the most.

One thing I often find interesting, to my reading brain at least, is that 99% of what I read is typically what I’d deem ‘hard horror.’ The other 1% is filled with the other genres that have my interest – sci-fi, some non-fiction, the occasional thriller and once in a while the releases considered speculative fiction. I’m not great with the genre labels, but ‘The Human Son’ does seem to sit firmly in the dystopian/speculative/sci-fi realm.

The story picks up roughly 500 years after the last human on earth has died. Now, a collection of Ertlings, human-like inhabitants that were created by the humans to return the earth to a livable/inhabitable condition are nearing the end of their time. They’ve achieved their tasks and are setting the stage for Transcendence, when they’ll leave this realm and travel somewhere else.

What I liked: With a synopsis like that I was intrigued to see what Walker would do with it and where he’d take the story. The part that really got me intrigued was as these Ertlings were planning to leave, they decided to create a single human, a boy, and see if this boy would grow and prosper and make different decisions than the humans who destroyed the world.

This book tackles a huge scope of ideas and real world issues. Climate change, hierarchy of residents, stereotypes, social stigma’s, race and gender roles and even what truly determines if someone is someone’s parent. The book has so many seemingly innocent moments that broke my heart. It’s the journey of a parent watching their child grow up and coming to the realization that they won’t always be there to protect their loved one. As the father of a five year old (at the time of this review) I see this in so many things. Of his growing independence, his developing of friends which will soon lead to less time for me, and even just in how he’s developing and getting smarter and smarter. Infinitely proud but also filled with a sorrow that soon our time that we share together won’t be the same. Soon, he’ll move away and only call sporadically.

The story is told through the perspective of Ima, an Ertling who’d previously been in charge with repairing the sky and the air on earth. Now that her purpose is complete, she volunteers to raise the human son and determine if he is capable of change and if the human race should be reintroduced to the planet.

I loved seeing the may Ima changed over time and went from a data collector who only cared about analysis to a caring, empathetic and emotional being.

Walker does a great job of keeping tension throughout a book that on its surface, really shouldn’t have that much tension. I absolutely HAD to know what happened next and it didn’t take long before I was pushing my other books I’m reading to the side to solely focus on this one.

Lastly, the ending of this book is both spectacular and had me bawling my eyes out. Beautiful, poignant and heartbreaking, but also filled with so much hope.

What I didn’t like: To be upfront, I’m not sure how well this book will resonate or connect with people who’re not parents of any kind – be it kid or animal. I fear that some parts may come off as tedious, repetitive and boring, but wow did these moments bring me back to the early days of raising my son and going through all of that.

Why you should buy this: This is one of the reasons why speculative fiction can work so very well and this book both posits so many questions but also tries to give us some answers. This is accessible sci-fi, accessible dystopian fiction and the bonus was, we get a book that isn’t filled with war and violence and death. Walker is a true master and this book just hits so many highs that it’s a shame that I had to finish it. Well done, and a world I’ll never forget.


Book Review: Ghostland: Infinite by Duncan Ralston


Title: Ghostland: Infinite

Author: Duncan Ralston

Release date: November 19, 2021

And so we arrive at the third and final book in Duncan Ralston’s highly ambitious Ghostland Trilogy.

What a journey it’s been.

We started out with one of the most mysterious, engaging and well constructed marketing events that I’ve ever seen, which led into the stunning ‘Ghostland’ opener. This introduced us to Duck Falls, Rex Garrote, Ethereals and a cast of characters that felt vibrant and fresh while also like old friends. From there, Ralston pushed the narrative and opened the landscape wider with book two, ‘Afterlife.’ We got to see more of the aftermath of the events in book one, while also learning more about Garrote and having some new characters arrive while saying goodbye to some familiar faces. Book two, even with all of its charm, is what it is – a sequel that sets up the finale. Not to say that is a bad thing or that the book was lacking or dipped, but that the reality was – Ralston needed to set up questions that wouldn’t be answered in there, that the readers would need to be invested enough to tag along for book three.

And now that I’ve read book three?

I think those who’ve loved the first two (as well as the prequel novella ‘The Moving House’) will find themselves rewarded and enriched after reading what Ralston has done here.

What I liked: The third book acts as Ralston has intended. I’ll try to be super vague as well to remain spoiler free, as some folks might’ve been waiting for this book to arrive before diving into the entire series. It picks up after the events of book two and does a great job of introducing us to a few new set pieces and characters before we are re-introduced to Garrote and his evil plans.

I really loved how familiar the world feels and it reminded me of how George R.R. Martin has accomplished that. Martin has crafted a world that is massive in scope with a million moving parts and characters, but each time they feel familiar and solid in their crafting. That is the same here with what Ralston’s done. It is highly impressive and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m in awe at the scale of storytelling Ralston has delivered. This is superb and so thorough that I’d hazard 99% of all of the questions and loose ends get answered and tied up. Saying that, he very deliberately left a few morsels dangling that leave threads available for him to return to this world if he so chooses.

At this point in this review, you’re probably thinking to yourself – ‘jeeze, Steve, you are being super vague.’ Yes. And I apologize about that, but the reality here is Ralston has set things up so well from book one, which still works perfectly as a stand alone novel, might I add, that to say specific details of some key moments would essentially ruin the entire book for you. If you’ve read book two – you’ll have some questions that you want answered. And now, if I said for example ‘X goes here and does this,’ you’ll get angry because that will answer that question. So (insert sticking tongue out gif here) too bad! HA!

I will say, the finale of the trilogy finale is fantastic and I loved seeing how Ralston wrapped everything up. He does a great job of ensuring each of the main/major characters get their moments and for those who depart from this world (even the pesky Ethereals) you’ll be happy to see they’ve played a purpose.

What I didn’t like: I’ve laid out a bunch of why I loved this trilogy and how well this book worked as the finale, but I will say – it did pain me a bit to see just how far away this trilogy moved from the basis of book one. I remember reading book one and my eyes going wide when it read like Jurassic Park with Ghosts. Don’t get me wrong, Ralston has elevated his game here, but I loved the concept of book one soooo much.

Why you should buy this: I think, at the end of the day and at the end of the trilogy, Ralston has shown how masterful of a writer he is. This is a truly serious undertaking and I’d hope we see a gorgeous omnibus hardcover edition come out in the future with maps and family tree’s and character synopsis’ etc. For those who believe Ralston is a one trick pony (and who’ve not read any of his other, wonderful books besides WOOM) this series should bash those thoughts into a million pieces. From book one to book three, Ralston has shown, even over course of a few years, how stunning of a writer he is and how he’s always working hard on his craft to improve and I, personally, am just blown away.

This series is phenomenal from start to finish and in the author’s notes after, he hints at some related projects we’ll see in the future, which should make fans of his and this world very, very happy.

Well done, Duncan. Truly an amazing undertaking.


Book Review: Handmade Monsters by D.W. Gillespie


Title: Handmade Monsters

Author: D.W. Gillespie

Release date: June 12th, 2018

I’ve become a fast fan of D.W. Gillespie’s dark fiction. Between the phenomenal ‘One by One’ and the superb ‘The Toy Thief’ (which is one of my all-time fav books), Gillespie has delivered some really fantastic reads. I’ve also had the privilege of reading an unreleased novel that he is currently seeking a publisher for, and I have to say – it might be his best work yet.

But, I realized, I’d not read anything else from Gillespie and I know he has a number of releases. Off to the Zon I went, but oddly, and to my surprise, the only other release for Kindle was his collection ‘Handmade Monsters.’ Fair enough, Steve snagged it and dove in!

What I liked: The stories within cover a wide range of subject matter, but one thing I found time and time again was that most stories were focused around family and events that disrupt their existence. There were occasions, sure, where it was a straight forward story, but the ones that really had me on the edge of my seat all were centered around family. Maybe this speaks to where I am at in my own life? Who knows, but for what ever reason these all brought me the most joy.

Let’s dive into a few that really stood out for me!

‘The Tree Man.’ The first story in the collection is stunningly superb. This follows a family as it falls apart before our eyes. A husband and wife, with an odd son, all see something odd, all experience changes and before we know it, Gillespie rips everything apart. This is part folklore, part drama, but 100% phenomenal.

‘All Safe in Here.’ A post-apocalyptic story about a son making his way to the fallout shelter his dad made and waiting around for him. This was equal parts claustrophobic and unnerving. Typically, I’m not a fan of epistolary story telling set ups where it’s told through journals/diary entries etc, but this one worked really well.

‘Circle of Mist.’ This ended up being my personal favorite of the bunch. We arrive as a mother is near the end of her life and her battle with a disease, and her two kids struggle with the realization they’ll be living with their abusive step dad once she passes. One morning, they see something outside and this changes everything. I loved where Gillespie took this and how it played out. Just outstanding.

‘Something In Our House.’ Gillespie takes a fairly common horror story trope (kid thinks there’s monsters in the house at night) and injects some new life into the premise. We get some freaky dreams, odd happenings and eventually a horrific finale. Really well done and one that had me pulling my feet further away from the end of the bed.

Gillespie does an amazing job bringing these stories alive and from start to finish the collection is really solid.

What I didn’t like: There will always be a few stories in a collection that you don’t really click with or that fall a bit flat. Reader mileage will always vary, but I will say – I had fun with each and every story here.

Why you should buy this: Well first, if you haven’t read either ‘One by One’ or ‘The Toy Thief,’ I can’t recommend either enough. Both are out through Flame Tree Press, so you already have an idea of the caliber of releases they have.

Secondly, if you’re looking for a really great collection filled with stories that hum and crack with emotion but frequently go dark and then darker, look no further. Gillespie showcases why I consider him a must-read author time and time again!