Book Review: The Uninvited Words by S. Kovax


Title: The Uninvited Words – Tales of Horror and Dark Fantasy Volume I (The Uninvited Words Collection, #1)

Author: S. Kovax

Release date: November 11th, 2021

If you’ve read any of my reviews over the last few years, you’ll often see me describe how a book came onto my radar. In the case of this collection, it may very well be the most innocent of all of them!

Recently, the amazing Gemma Amor had tweeted that she knew times had been tough. She asked people to offer a vent and she’d give advice/give them some cheers and genuinely give them a boost. It was through that Twitter thread that I saw S. Kovax reply that they’d released their first book and was having trouble getting it onto people’s radar’s. Most reviewers seem to be closed (I’m technically closed… not that seems to stop me from taking books on) and it can be tough to get your first release in front of people. I saw his reply, went to the Zon and bought a copy and let him know that I’d get to it asap. At the time of my buying it (and I don’t think I had anything to do with this at all FYI) there were sadly no reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. When I went to get the link on Amazon for this review, I saw that reviews were popping up! That’s so amazing. I’m confident Gemma’s boost got some eyes on this book, as it really does deserve to be read.

What I liked: The majority of stories in here, for me at least, were home runs, which can be very tough in a collection, and more so in a debut collection. Kovax does mention that some of these have been previously published, but I am unsure of how many are previously and how many are new to this release.

No matter, the stories within cover a wide variety of topics and each one is told with gusto.

The stories that connect with me most were;

The Uninvited Words – this follows reporter Janice as she gets a sneak preview of a new haunted/horror amusement park. Her brother’s sick, so she has her phone on a video call so he can see. This one starts off being interesting and then turns into a full on gore fest.

Pyromancer – a story I typically wouldn’t dive too far into due to it being epistolary (which I’m not really a fan of) but it worked well. This was a nightmarish story that follows some dark, dark events.

What Crawls Beneath – similar in feel to Gran’s ‘Come Closer’ we follow Samantha who believes slugs are overtaking her apartment each night. It might be true, it might be a medical condition. Kovax does a great job of making both a possibility until the very end.

Don’t Call Me Father – a really dark, brutal story about an exorcism. I’ll leave it at that, but you should be able to get a good feel for what’s instore by the title and subject matter.

The Horror of Bologorsk – a novella to close it out, if you know me, you know I love all things dark fiction set in Russia. This follows some horrific events in an isolated location and Kovax does a fantastic job of making you squirm.

Kovax writes solid, solid stories. Each one had something special, something that connected and pulls you along and that was great to discover.

What I didn’t like: There were a few stories that just weren’t my cup of tea. Another epistolary told story that didn’t catch me as hard as ‘Pyromancer’ which made for a slow time. As with every collection it’ll always be up to each reader and how they connect.

Why you should buy this: Well, it’s December 29th, so if you have any Amazon gift cards kicking around that you haven’t blown through yet, might I suggest you snag this one? Otherwise, if you’ve been looking for a fresh collection of dark fiction recently, might I offer this option for you? The stories were all really well done, the characters were engaging and the pacing was pitch perfect.

Great job, from a new dark fiction author I’ll definitely be watching for when his next release arrives.


Book Review: The Maker-Man of Merryville by Pete Mesling


Title: The Maker-Man of Merryville

Author: Pete Mesling

Release date: January 1st, 2022

Huge thanks to Pete Mesling for sending me a digital ARC. When he announced this one, I was super pumped and reached out to him right away.

I’ve only read a short story collection by Mesling previously, and was rewarded with some outstanding stories. Mesling is a veteran writer, so I was keen to see what he’d craft diving into a world that felt like a combination of ‘The Thief of Always’ and ‘The Graveyard Book.’

What I liked: The story follows a familiar premise where a new store in town opens and our main character, Gilbert, is given a concoction called ‘Away Putty.’ This putty has the power to open up a portal to another place. Gilbert is greatly intrigued. Merryville, his home, is anything but, and he longs to see people happy and smiling. To Gilbert’s surprise, the putty works, a portal is opened and accompanied by his new friend, Sarah and her toy she also got at the store, they cross over.

It’s from here that Mesling really shines and focuses the story on the idea of just what kids curiosity can cause. They ask questions, some innocent, some pointed. They meet strange creatures, some nice, some terrible, and at the end of the day, they learn the power of friendship and why Merryville isn’t merry anymore.

The story really was an amalgamation of a number of 80’s fantasy movies/books and it worked really well to see how Mesling was able to highlight key parts and fit them into his own story.

What I didn’t like: There were moments that were ultimately overly predictable, but that comes with the territory of me being 40 and this book written for a younger audience. It still worked well to push the narrative, but those twists and turns were things I saw coming well before they occurred.

Why you should buy this: This would be an excellent ‘gateway’ story for any young readers in your house, that could introduce them to fantasy and dark fiction. I would even suggest, this would make for a great buddy read if you have any 10-13 year old’s who are just getting into this type of work.

If you don’t have kids and want to just dive into something that’ll make you smile and make you feel nostalgic in places, this would be an excellent book to do just that.


Book Review: Touched by Shadows by Vaughn A. Jackson


Title: Touched by Shadows

Author: Vaughn A. Jackson

Release date: December 10th, 2021

When this one was announced, this book had me intrigued.

Over the course of maybe 12-20 months or so, there was a rush on kids with supernatural abilities. Most likely encouraged or activated by Stranger Things, we saw a number of shows, movies and books release that had this phenomenal as the central plot point.

I, personally, enjoyed some and found others to be a miss. But overall, it wasn’t a subgenre that I specifically sought out.

Jackson’s release ‘Touched by Shadows’ was one that I did seek out, and with the height of the subgenre seemingly past by, I was excited to see what different take Vaughn would offer.

What I liked: The story follows Oumou, a young African American child, who escapes the lab she’s being held captive in. While fleeing, she runs into a young girl, Amanda, and the two instantly become friends. Oumou is taken in by Amanda’s parents, as they try and figure out where she came from, but the stark reality of where they live rears its ugly head.

Jackson also brings in a fantastic antagonist, a demon looking to take possession of a body that won’t burn up, and is seeking Oumou for that purpose. This added a second layer of tension throughout. We have the racist-town angle that grew in scope and volume, as the young Oumou tries to understand the ‘why’ of these strangers hating her and wanting to kill her, as well as the growing dread that this ‘thing’ is growing closer and will soon strike.

The characters work really well together and when we get to the finale, we see each of them raise up and sacrifice to get to the ultimate end goal of survival.

What I didn’t like: There were a few moments that I found questionable, but the most prominent one involved the police dog and the reporter. Minor, minor spoiler, but as the reporter flees an event, the police dog tracks him. The dog latches onto his arm. The man continues to walk with the dog (and by now I think we’ve all seen videos at least of how rough and violent a police dog takes people down) and then goes into a cellar and suddenly him and the dog becomes best friends. It came off as completely unrealistic,

Why you should buy this: The story is crisp and the pacing frantic. It was a fast read and had some great characters that you want to root for and see them succeed. The villain was fantastic and it would be great to see Jackson return to this world and continue telling Oumou’s story.


Journalstone direct link;

Amazon link;

Book Review: The Year Under the Machine by Peter Danielsson

the year under the machine

Title: The Year Under the Machine

Author: Peter Danielsson

Release date: November 11, 2021

Hey, it’s me, Steve, guy who reads and reviews literally everything. EVEN. THOUGH. I’M. CLOSED. FOR. REVIEWS. HAHAHA, ahhhh… yeah.

But you know what? Every once in a while, someone reaches out to me (for me, who knows (insert shrugging emoji!)) to ask if I’d take a go at their book. Now, I’m a Kindle reader. I wish I had the ability to currently read physical books, I absolutely was until my son arrived and I read while he falls asleep beside me, thus physical books are not an option. Can’t have a bright light and pages crinkling while he’s trying to sleep. One thing I’ve found is that my Kindle, for whatever reason, HATES PDF’s. Like, with a passion.

Yesterday, Peter Danielsson reached out to me on Twitter, asking if I’d be at all keen to check out his new book and if I was able, offer a review. I don’t want this to come off as arrogant or ego-driven, or anything, but for me, personally, I don’t care how many followers you have on Twitter or anything like that. What I do care about is ‘does this book sound cool?’ Or, ‘would I enjoy reading this?’

So, I rocked over to Peter’s Twitter account, saw his fantastic artwork, and went to his website to investigate the book. After all of that, I asked if he had a mobi, and he unfortunately said “No, sadly due to the illustrations, it was pdf only.’ Ok, ok. This book looked so friggin’ intriguing that I asked him to send it and I’d figure it out on my end.

What I liked: ‘The Year Under the Machine’ is heartbreaking bleak and brutal. Told with single page chapters, minimal words and stunning abstract-ish paintings/illustrations, we are told the story of Him and Her (names are never given) as they try and survive after an ‘alien’ arrival.

Danielsson crafted an extraordinary world with an antagonist that sends fear coursing through your veins. This is earth, but different. And above the people is something that has arrived and stays there. We don’t learn anything about them and the story is all the better for it. All we ever learn is that people randomly disappear, assumed to be ‘beamed’ up onto this vessel, if that’s what it is.

I really loved how much emotion and dread Danielsson infused this with and how each chapter, while succinct, painted such a vivid and harrowing picture. This really had the feeling of a droning, industrial metal song, one that builds and builds and builds, leading us all to the inevitable crescendo which we know occurs directly before the end, before everything fades out into static.

That comparison leads me to mention the artwork/illustrations. I have zero art training, couldn’t tell you if this was abstract or some other form (apologies to all who know those things!) but wow was it vicious. It reminded me a lot of the artwork that ‘The Downward Spiral’ from Nine Inch Nails had when the CD was released back in 1994.

The artwork, combined with the narrative worked so well together and had me spellbound, allowing me to fall into this horrific event and reading this in a fast, anxiety-inducing sitting.

What I didn’t like: I personally loved this book, but one thing I wish it did have was the personification of the characters, simply so I could relate a little bit more. It does work really well with just Him and Her characters, but at the same time there were a few chapters were it took me a second to realize who it was that the POV was featured.

Why you should buy this: I honestly don’t know how many copies are available, as Peter as them for sale through his website, so if this sounds up your alley, I suggest emailing him ASAP. I’m not sure if a wider release is planned, but fingers crossed. I know I’ll be reaching out and purchasing a physical copy immediately.

This story was so well done, so cinematic that I hope this finds its way into the world of film.



You can find out purchase info and samples here;


2021 – Year in Review!!

I asked on Twitter if I should do a year in review and was surprised to see folks convey interest in wanting me to do a wrap up!

Well, to those who wanted it – here we go! For those who didn’t – jog on and all!

Where to start?

Let’s begin with… hmmm… the personal life!

How about we start with the “bigger” trips.

Personal Life:

As with all of us, COVID-19 has put a dampener on attending things, going places and doing activities. We decided this year to not really look into booking anything major, but to find things that we could do and enjoy that would have a solid chance of not being cancelled, while allowing us to be safe.

For Easter, we went out to B.C. to visit with my sister, brother-in-law and my two nephews. They are a pretty self-contained group, so we all agreed to make sure everyone was healthy before we went. It was a blast and it was great seeing Grandma Helena in Castlegar as well.

When July rolled around, we got to do something that had been previously cancelled due to Covid. Back in 2020, we’d booked a trip to Drumheller and Calgary. We wanted to surprise Auryn, as the last time we’d been to Drumheller, Amanda was about 7 months pregnant with Auryn! But, alas, right after I booked everything, Covid hit and we had to cancel.

So, in July, we went out to Discovery Wildlife Park near Innisfail. We’d been before and Auryn was so excited to see the animals again. What he didn’t know was that we were going to drive from there to Drumheller after. He was suspicious as we drove, but soon fell asleep. Then, when we came around a corner and the sign that says ‘Welcome to Drumheller’ appeared with a big dino beside it, he was over the moon! He called it Dino-Town the entire time we were there (and still asks when we’re going back). He also didn’t know that we had another surprise for him – my sister, brother in law and two nephews met us there!


We went to the World’s Largest Dinosaur and then the following day we went to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. It is such a cool place to visit. When we were there, we started to go around it a second time, when things flashed and the power went out! We were plunged into darkness and it made for a memorable moment that Auryn still talks about! This trip also happened to coincide with my 40th birthday, so that was a fun way to celebrate getting SOOOOO MUCH OLDER!

A little over a month later, Auryn’s 5th birthday arrived and to celebrate that, we went down to Calgary to do the second half of our previously cancelled plans. We went to the Calgary Zoo, which was fantastic. We go to our Zoo all the time and Auryn loves animals so much, so it was great to go to a different Zoo and learn about more animals and the roles Zoo’s can play in conservation.

So, that was the bigger trips we took. But we also did a ton of fun, local things!

We have a Zoo membership to the Edmonton Valley Zoo and go frequently throughout the year. I’d estimate this year we went at least a dozen times, if not more. This also included their Halloween event and Zoominescence, when the Zoo is lit up for Christmas!

As well, we have a membership to Jurassic Forest, a really cool place about 45 minutes north of us near Gibbons. It’s a neat place with animatronic dinosaurs and a boardwalk that weaves through it. We get there 5-6 times each year and it was great to see them add a few new cool dino’s before the season ended.

Also, my mother in law and father in law got a new seasonal camping lot, near Wandering River. If you’ve read my novel ‘The Stranger,’ you’ll recognize that name as the one character. But Wandering River is a real place, roughly 2.5 hours north of us. We got up there a few times to camp, which was great. Auryn got to meet a new friend who shared his love of all things Godzilla and we got to get out into nature even more.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Edmonton has a ton of green spaces and walking areas, especially throughout the river valley, but it is also nice to leave the city and visit places such as Clifford E. Lee Nature Conservatory and Chickakoo Lake.

In July, we went to the very cool ‘Expedition Dinosaur’ Exhibit at our Telus World of Science. It was really fun and Auryn has a blast with all things dino!

In August, we did something that we hadn’t done in A LONG LONG time. This was planned as part of Auryn’s Birthday Celebration, and on August 28th we went to a theatre in St. Albert to watch the Paw Patrol Movie. Auryn wasn’t too fond of how loud it was, but once we got over that hump, he had a blast!


And in September – Auryn started Kindergarten! It has taken some time, but he finally does love school and has made a ton of friends! I love getting to hear about how each day was.

The last thing I’ll mention, is this year, on March 21st, our beloved dog, OJ passed away. We adopted OJ when he was two. Back then, my wife and I were confident we’d never have children. We’d been told previously we couldn’t and we were fine with that. OJ came to us at the perfect time. He was such an adorable, loveable chrome-dome from day one and we helped him through all of his quirks and fears (he had a lot!). For those who know already, you’ll be aware of what happened, but for those who don’t – about a year after we got OJ, he suffered a spinal stroke. One night, he grew super restless. We quickly saw that he couldn’t use his back legs. We rushed him to an emergency vet clinic and after an MRI he was diagnosed with FCE – Fibrocartilaginous Embolism. This occurs when a section of the spine ‘dies’ or is impaired. With OJ, it meant he lost function in his back legs and he was bed ridden for a week with a catheter. We started Aqua Therapy with him as soon as the catheter was out and roughly six weeks after starting therapy he was starting to walk on his own again.

Sadly, this injury was a huge strain on ‘Mr. Old Man.’ His body aged rapidly and on the morning of March 21st, my wife and I both knew that he couldn’t go on and that he didn’t want to go on.

Our lives are certainly emptier without him in it. Auryn loved his dog so much, and we still talk about OJ all of the time. The plan is to adopt another bully in the spring, once the winter weather leaves and we can spend plenty of time with our new fur pup outside.

Book Promo:

I’m going to call this next section – Book Promo. This isn’t about my releases at all, but about what I did that was above and beyond regular reading and reviewing.

So, let’s go alllll the way back to February.

On February 17th, my interview with the amazing Adam Nevill went live on Kendall Reviews. The response was out of this world. I couldn’t believe it. It was a wonderful interview, with Adam delivering some top-notch and thorough answers. I can’t thank him enough.

{Interview} Taking Back Control: Steve Stred talks to the brilliant Adam Nevill.

A month later, on March 17th, my interview with Ronald Malfi went live. Ronald is a super nice guy and a phenomenal writer, so it was great to pick his brain about ‘Come With Me.’

{Interview} With a brand new novel ‘Come With Me’ out in July via Titan Books, Author Ronald Malfi talks to Steve Stred.

On May 5th, I was able to tick off a bucket list highlight, and I interviewed Andrew Pyper live on Instagram. I had started the year off with doing Pyper Previews, where every Tuesday, I’d post about one of his books, the different versions of them etc and share about each book. For the previous three years I’d done a ‘Pyper-May-Nia’ celebration of his work in May, so the Pyper Preview’s all led up to this interview. Of course, me being a knob, I didn’t figure out how to save the video… (But more on that later!)

On July 28th, I was able to attend my first ‘Author’s Night’ as an author, not a spectator, when I was one of four authors featured at Daisy Chain Book Store. This was a really great event, where we each did a brief reading of our work, answered questions and got to sign some copies.

August 17th saw the launch of something I was really excited to share and it was something I’d been working on behind the scenes for some time. It began as something I was doing on my own, researching and collecting links/releases etc of all of Andrew Pyper’s work. I finally worked up enough courage to directly ask him if I could officially launch an archive of his work, and he kindly said yes. So, on August 17th, 2021, The Official Andrew Pyper Archives launched. As a super fan, I’m very proud of the research and information available, as well as the links etc that allow you to go back and learn about the writing of the books. You can visit that site here –

As part of launching the archives (and partly due to my dumbassery with the Instagram live video), Andrew agreed to do another interview, but this time I was going to do it through Youtube and record it. To make sure I didn’t mess up, I wanted to interview somebody before hand, which led me to asking my friend, editor and co-author of The Navajo Nightmare, David Sodergren, if he’d be up to be interviewed as a guinea pig.

On August 31st, I bombarded him with ruthless and brutal questions, which he volleyed back like the veteran he is!

And that led to me sitting down and formally interviewing Andrew Pyper for the second time on September 28th (I’m so sorry, Andrew!). This was an almost two hour chat about his career, books, writing and the archives itself. This was a very candid interview and like the first one, truly an honor.


On the writing front, I would say the highlight was seeing my novella ‘The Window In the Ground’ appear on the HWA Bram Stoker Award’s Preliminary Ballot for ‘Long Fiction.’ Blown away that it made it to that level and really something I’ll always cherish. I don’t write for any other reason than the joy of writing, but when something gets recognized, that’s always so very cool.


I’ve never attended any writing workshops before. I did take Creative Writing electives in High School and College, but that was about the extent of my writing ‘education.’

That changed, when I saw that an author whose work I love dearly (Hint Hint Andrew Pyper) was announced as hosting a virtual workshop on the art of crafting an idea into a novel and then pitching that novel. On March 6th, I attended the workshop and not only was it a blast and gave me some insight into how Andrew creates his novels (which for a super fan was amazing!), but it helped me in a number of ways. It had me rethink my approach to writing, as well as helped me work through three novels that I was struggling to connect the dots in a few spots. One of those (Mastodon) has been announced already, which I’ll discuss about more in a bit and the other two I’ll share info about as well.


I had the pleasure of appearing on four different podcasts this year. I typically try and limit my podcast availability as I work very hard to keep my writing stuff to my breaks and lunch time at work, but I do get a few weekend ones in each year (which has convinced David Sodergren that I live in my vehicle).

Staring Into the Abyss;

Ross Jeffery and Kev Harrison;

Dark Between Pages;

Joseph Sale;

My appearances are available for patrons;


Much like most years since I started really focusing on writing, 2021 was a busy year for myself for releases.

Up first – ‘The Future In the Sky.’ This was released on March 1st, and is part one of the Empyrean Saga. This novella tells the story of Lizzie, living on a ship that orbits the Earth. Classes are chosen for either Salvation or Eradication. Eradication is straightforward. Salvation on the other hand… The students have to jump from the ship, plunge towards the surface of the planet and try and catch an orb that is launched towards them, an orb that contains their future within.

The Future In the Sky cover

Universal Link;

My second release of the year was the novel ‘The Navajo Nightmare’ which was co-written with David Sodergren. David and I had written the early drafts of this back in 2020 when Covid hit and we were stuck at home for some time. This was such a fun Horror-Western mashup that focused on vengeance and stopping an evil entity.


Universal Link;

Following ‘Navajo,’ I finished up the Father of Lies Series. On June 1st, the third chapter in the series released with the novella ‘Sacrament’ finishing the Trilogy. On July 21st, I released the omnibus ‘Father of Lies: The Complete Series’ which had a foreword from the talented Sonora Taylor, all three novella’s, a bonus novelette, an essay from cover artist Mason McDonald and an extended essay from myself discussing the writing of the series!

Sacrament Universal Link;

Sacrament Cover

Father of Lies The Complete Series Cover

Father of Lies: The Complete Series Universal Link;

My final, “official” release of 2021 was the novel ‘Incarnate.’ Incarnate was a blast to write and followed a family in the late 70’s as they went to stay at a supposed haunted house, only to discover that it is instead possessed by a demonic entity. People seem to really be digging this one!


Universal Link;

Now, I said final “official” release because, as most of you may have seen, I’ve announced my next novel, which is arriving January 28th, 2022. It is up for ebook pre-order now and features an amazing cover by the talented Francois Vaillancourt. This one was a book I wrote originally in 2020 during my time at home, but became stuck in a few place. The workshop I attended unstuck it, haha! ‘Mastodon’ follows our main character, as he hikes into the Canadian Rockies to try and find his father.

Mastodon - eBook - hires copy

Universal Link;


2021 was also a busy year for anthology involvement. I was more focused on my own writing, so didn’t submit too many stories, but was very kindly invited to a number of releases, which I made sure to carve out time to submit.

April 7th, saw the release of the anthology ‘He Has Stayed Too Long.’ This was a massive undertaking by Don Gillette, where he had 30 people band together to each write a chapter and make a single story. I had a blast with my chapter, and I think more people should check this one out.

July 25th, I had a story released in The Ruby edition of Kevin J. Kennedy’s ongoing ‘Horror Collection’ series. I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of my stories selected, so it was nice to be in a release of his once again.

October 3rd, saw the release of A.A. Medina’s short story collection ‘God Forbid.’ A.A. amazingly reached out and asked if I’d write a foreword for it. No brainer. Medina is a great author and a fantastic cover designer.

On October 27th, the third edition of the Books of Horror Community Anthology was released. Two editions were actually released due to the volume of stories, and my story featured in the first part, aka the ‘black’ edition.

November was a busy month, with two anthologies out that I was lucky enough to feature in.

The first was another Kevin J. Kennedy anthology, this time it was ‘The Best of Indie Horror: Christmas Edition.’ This released on November 15th.

And, just 15 days later, on November 30th, the stunning anthology ‘A Silent Dystopia’ was released. This anthology features stories set in the world created by Dave Jeffery and his ‘A Quiet Apocalypse’ series.

Alright, so we’ve got to this point.

Let’s finish this off with what I’m working on, or Work In Progress.


As many of you know, I’m always on the go with different projects in various forms of completion.

At the time of writing this, I’ll be shutting down the writing for the rest of 2021, other than posting some reviews, but otherwise – here’s what I’m immediately working on.

  • Mastodon. I mean this is a given haha! Preorders are already open. This will be available in ebook, paperback and hardcover.
  • Books 2 and 3 in the Empyrean Saga. Books 2 and 3 are ‘done.’ I’m working on 4 and 5 and want to make sure continuity lines up so that everything makes sense and there are no odd story issues. I’m still on the fence about whether I’ll release books 2 and 3 together, individually in different months or if I’ll actually just release books 2-5 all at one time so people can blast through this series.
  • 456 Blatchford Drive. A novel I’ve been working on for some time, I’ve finally made some plotting progress and will be working on finishing this off in January and February. If all goes to plan, I would expect this to arrive in the summer. We’ll see. At one point I was thinking of doing this as an extremely limited release, as in 10 hardcovers and 20 paperbacks total. Still like the intrigue of that.
  • Cathedral of the Skinned. The second book in the Sermons of Sorrow series, this would be the sequel to Piece of Me, but not a direct sequel. It would pick up roughly 500 years after the events of book one, but would be heavily influenced by it. I like dark fantasy/horror mashups and this one had some struggles. But now things are flowing and I’m ready to get this completed.
  • Untitled Novel. I have an untitled novel that I’ve finished working on. At the moment, I’m not wanting to reveal the title, or the synopsis, but let’s just say, it’s super dark, bleak and takes place in the woods in the snow. Lol. You’re welcome. I actually hope to have this one out next year as well.
  • Wagon Buddy 3 – I teased this a little bit, but I have been casually working on cobbling together the parts to a third Wagon Buddy story. I’m not going to share too much, but if you’ve followed Scott’s journey up to this point – there are still things left unexplored. If anything, this would arrive in 2023.
  • Anthology story – this one’s a fun one and set in somebody else’s world. Four of us have come together to have a blast and write these stories and I’m sure hoping this works out and see’s the light of day.

There we go. Phew. That’s a lot eh? In the past, I’d also share what my top albums etc of the year were, but this year I listened to very few albums as I was focused on writing and re-listening to the same album or songs on repeat, that I can’t really suggest even a top ten!

I’ll close here. To anyone who has read this Year in Review this far – thank you. I hope 2022 fills you with happiness, joy and we begin to see some solid light at the end of the Covid tunnel.

Until we meet again,


Book Review: Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen

night of the grizzlies

Title: Night of the Grizzlies

Author: Jack Olsen

Release date: February 1st, 1969

Jack Olsen was a leading crime fiction and non-fiction writer in his time. His name alone was enough to garner interest in a story some may not care about otherwise, and back in 1969, when he wrote ‘Night of the Grizzlies’ it drew national attention on the incident that had occurred back in the summer of 1967.

I bring that up, to say – thankfully, thankfully – this book didn’t sway people enough to have them head out into the woods to try and kill each and every bear. Bears themselves are already dealing with over-hunting issues, as well as population crowding as humans continue to push into and build on their lands.

While this book hasn’t aged well, especially when you consider how poorly the reports were taken into consideration by the authorities and Rangers, but also with how humans acted around the bears. Sure, it was a different time, but it’s frustrating to read an account regarding people heading into the wilderness so poorly prepared.

What I liked: The book follows the escalation over the summer as bears become humanized and programmed to come to the same place each day, so that they can scavenge on garbage being thrown into the forest from a Chalet. The humans crowd around and watch the spectacle and not surprisingly, one night, two women are brutally attacked while they camp.

I did enjoy the re-telling of the night in question. While things leading up to the events were dumbfounding and completely neglectful that these bears were first groomed to come eat for the tourists, Olsen does a great job of keeping things fairly even and stable, limiting anything that reads like embellishment or over-dramatization.

What I didn’t like: Taking into the book’s year of publication is key with this release. There is a lot of ‘extra’ stuff at the beginning and throughout. Long descriptions of the mountains and weather and each character has a detailed background which only appears to be necessary for a few of them. As an example – it’s pertinent to know someone has outdoor medical training. It’s not if someone grew up somewhere else, went to school and never went hiking. It would’ve been easy enough to say – this character, though, had no previous wilderness experience.

As well, on the factual side – this book wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for so much incompetence and mishandling leading up to the events. And those aspects, are so incredibly frustrating to read and to know they directly caused loss of life.

Why you should buy this: If you like outdoor/wilderness non-fiction reads, this book is solid and definitely goes through the how’s and why’s of these events happening through the pen of a masterful writer. It may not be a read you’ll want to check out if you’re a seasoned outdoors lover, as you’ll become hugely frustrated.

For those looking for a gripping back-woods story, this one will do the trick.


Book Review: Cannibal Vengeance by Carl John Lee

cannibal vengeance trial

Title: Cannibal Vengeance

Author: Carl John Lee

Release date: December 11, 2021

Ahhh, everyone’s favorite recluse, ole Uncle Carl has returned and this time he’s decided to share a former screenplay of his that involves a subject I really love – the Amazon.

Over the years, I’ve watched a number of ‘lost in the jungle’ movies and read a number of books, and one thing that’ll never change and that’ll always draw me in – the Amazon (and the jungle) are untamable, unhospitable worlds, where if the Indigenous tribes don’t get you, any number of animals will. And if you manage to stay clear of all of that – the lack of most people’s abilities to find water and food will ultimately get you.

The cult classic ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ surely kicked off this fascination – I may be completely wrong, but personally for me, it did – and it is in that vein that Carl John Lee brings us back to 1978.

What I liked: The story starts off focusing on a Christian Missionary group trying to locate the Sharayomo tribe, to bring them bibles and teach them about their faith. Things go sideways immediately and thus leads us into the crux or meat of the story (pun intended).

The story follows Dick and his much younger wife, Mona, who are preparing to spend Christmas with Dick’s grown daughters, Joanna and Emily. Dick has fled to the darkest corners of the Amazon, living in a fortified mansion, as he continues to lead a life off the books. Joanna is joined by her horrible boyfriend, Teddy, while Emily is joined by her husband, Rod.

Carl John Lee has created a really engaging group of characters here and it speaks to his ability and mastery of prose that he can make these people come alive so quickly and efficiently. Case in point – Rod. Here’s his character description loosely – from California, tanned, dark mustache, dark curly hair, muscular, currently a surgeon, but a former porn star, known for his mighty uh… surgical tool. You immediately picture someone in your mind, and for me this guy sounded like the spitting image of Tom Selleck (although I can’t speak on Magnum PI’s surgical tool!).

The action here is fast and furious and Lee does a great job of even adding a few splashes of humor – light and dark. To use Rod as an example again (and how great is that name!), we get to a point where he is trying to swing like a pendulum out of a window to knock loose a beam. While doing this he chuckles, because his porn nickname was ‘The Pendulum’ due to the way a part of his anatomy moved while he walked.

The ending of this is fantastic and speaks to the nature of these stories – where you hope and root for someone to survive, no matter the horror and damage they see and incur. In fact, there’s a line at the end of a chapter, close to the end of the book that says – ‘The last to live.’ Damn, that would’ve made for a fantastic title to this novel.

What I didn’t like: There are trigger warnings a plenty in this one, but the one that I think gets focused on most (I mean other than the horrific gore and violence) is the relationship abuse. This occurs between Teddy and Joanna and while it works well to really build up Joanna’s character arc, it takes some time before things get ‘sorted.’ I personally wished it would’ve happened sooner!

Why you should buy this: Look, I’m going to shoot straight here. I love Carl John Lee’s books and he’s a fantastic writer (and artist – he actually did the cover for my novel Incarnate) but I think he’s criminally overlooked. If this was a release by a bigger, more known name, I suspect this would be a best seller and one we’d see all over Instagram. I wish I had more clout or power to beg people to go buy this, but I’m a realist.

This book has everything fans of dark fiction want – tension, dread, great characters, survive-at-all-costs plot and some of the most brutal decapitations and death’s you’ll ever read.

This was outstanding and I hope one that really does launch Carl John Lee into becoming a ‘must-read’ author by so many more people.


Book Review: The Best of Intentions by Joshua MacMillan

best of

Title: The Best of Intentions

Author: Joshua MacMillan

Release date: July 21st, 2021

Thanks to Joshua for reaching out and sending me a copy of his debut to read.

As someone who loves, loves, loves reading, I go into each book super excited and absolutely expecting to love each and every story I come across. But, as we all know, that is impossible and never the case.

With ‘The Best of Intentions,’ I went in with a hesitancy, due to the prevalence PTSD looked to be playing in the story line. I find that if not handled well, PTSD can be used the same way as somebody with an amputation or cognitive issue – a crutch that is convenient to make a character lesser than and an easy target. I was also a bit hesitant due to the PTSD narrative being related to the man’s military history. I’m personally not a huge fan of military fiction, so I wasn’t sure how this would all play out.

One thing I have found though, over the course of posting reviews for six years or so now, being Canadian and having not lived and had an American upbringing has definitely created an internal measuring stick when things like guns, guns in the home and guns around kids comes into play. I say all of that with the asterisk that I grew up hunting and for a period of time had both my prohibited and non-prohibited firearm licenses. I currently own two firearms, neither of which are here at my house, and neither of which are functional, fire-ble rifles.

What I liked: The story follows our main character, Corey, his wife Sam and their son Jonathan. Corey is a manager at a security company and lately his nightmares have returned. He says he has PTSD under control, even as he sleeps less, dreams more and starts to drink more frequently.

When, randomly, one day, he finds a note that says ‘TEN DAYS’ and a following note, two days later that reads ‘EIGHT DAYS,’ he grows unhinged and the story unravels even more.

MacMillan does a fantastic job of making you see how tight of a family unit they are and how much Sam cares for and worries about her husband. Corey works hard and when home, tries his best to instill morals and values into his son, getting him to help with chores and be a good kid.

The crux of the story is whether you don’t see the obvious clues and tells as to what is going to happen. I saw it about 25% in, but if you decide to play along and see how far down the crazed well Corey is going to travel, you’ll enjoy a fast-paced read.

What I didn’t like: As I mentioned, the crux of this story revolves around Corey’s descent into his PTSD, drinking and ultimately paranoia over these ‘mysterious’ clues. We see him drink more, clean his guns, leave his guns around the house and not have any issues about it whenever confronted. As well, for a guy who was supposed to be considered super responsible and the manager of where he works, his phone is constantly dead, which would be a major priority for someone to keep charged if they had that level of job responsibility.

Ultimately, none of that worked for me and, unfortunately, I knew how the story was going to end very early into it, which totally eliminated any emotional impact it should’ve had when it finally happened.

Why you should buy this: I think MacMillan does a good job of creating tension and wanting you to root for our characters. I think if you read the synopsis and it does grab you, you’ll have a fun time, if not an obvious time and that’ll be an individual reader response each and every time.

For this reader, it sadly didn’t pull me along like I think the author intended and created a situation where I just couldn’t get the necessary attachment.


Book Review: The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

saturday night

Title: The Saturday Night Ghost Club

Author: Craig Davidson

Release date: August 14th, 2018

One thing I’ve found, through being a voracious reader, reviewing everything I read and getting older, is that a lot of my reviews have been more introspective, more memoir-ish, in that when things connect and it brings me back to a time and place I’ve long forgotten or not visited for many years, I’ll often discuss that in the review, which to some maybe annoying as heck, and others just may enjoy.

Craig Davidson is a few years older than myself, but one thing we share in common, is the growing up in a small town in Canada and having most of our formative years being in the late 80s and early 90s.

This book had me enraptured, squeezed tight with nostalgia and the overwhelming knowledge that something bad had happened and how would its tentacles reach those around this event?

I grew up in Burton, BC, Canada, population maybe 100? I grew up in the time of party lines, three TV channels, NHL games only on Saturday Nights and thinking nothing was bigger than winning the Stanley Cup. When I arrived, my parents lived in a trailer near the beach, across from the Hankins. It wasn’t long until the kind lady across the gravel road became Grandma Hankins, which she remained until she passed away a few years back. Grandma Hankins was my original gateway into the unknown. She always had Weekly World News tabloids laying around and when I’d ask her questions, she’d give me as straight of an answer as she felt necessary. She never teased me about Bat Boy or the Loch Ness Monster or Elvis meeting Bigfoot, instead she answered as though all of that was fact. She was my introduction to Spontaneous Human Combustion, an affliction that still haunts me to this day.

My Grandma Hankins was my own Uncle C, a character that was paramount in this novel.

Now, before I dive deeper into this review, I have to also mention, this story is centered around two friends, Jake and Billy, who along with Jake’s Uncle (and occasionally Billy’s sister Dove and Uncle C’s friend Lex) form a Ghost Searching Club. Nothing official, just a few trips out around the town to seek out things, and discover what people don’t want you to know. God, did this bring me back. I tried desperately a few times to create a similar thing with my few childhood friends. Back at that age, Chad didn’t care about ghosts, he wanted to rip around on his dirt bike or smash bottles. Lorne didn’t care about ghosts, he wanted to play sports or play in the sandpit with our Tonka’s. My younger friend, Tyson didn’t care about ghosts, unless it was a ghost movie that had boobs in it. And my friend Simon wanted to play video games, discuss which girls were getting boobs and try and steal his older brother’s porn.

My own attempts at a Saturday Night Ghost Club continually failed, so like most of my childhood, where I was on my own a lot and created worlds and characters in my own head, I went about it on my own.

What I liked: As I mentioned, the story follows Jake, a neurosurgeon, looking back at a special time in his childhood when he made a true friend, spent time with his Uncle C, and fell in love for the first time.

Now, it may sound crazy to some to say this, but this was the first time I’ve read a proper Craig Davidson book. I first discovered him as Nick Cutter, reading both ‘The Troop’ and ‘The Deep.’ I then read two of his releases (‘The Preserve’ and ‘The Coliseum’) under his Patrick Lestewka pseudonym. Not that the Davidson releases haven’t interested me, it just happened to occur in that order. This book is pristine. The writing is crisp, the pages drip with nostalgia and emotion and there are a few moments in here of genuine fright. While, for some, this may be a book that falls flat as it doesn’t have any of the gore that Cutter/Lestewka reads are known for, this book is simply haunting and made me nervous over what was happening.

I loved the lessons/anecdotal openings to each chapter, where grown up Jake would share something from his current job that related back to that time in his life. It really helped to tie our adult existence into our childhood experiences. Also, the usage of the character, Lex, Uncle C’s best friend, was spot on. A way to gauge each instance and ultimately a barometer that showed the rapid spiral that was happening.

Watching Jake and Billy become friends was such a joy. Early on we learn that Jake often makes friends with new kids, only to have them move on to other kids and ignore or torment him later on. To see Billy be a true friend was so heartwarming. As well, Dove was a great character. That wild child influence who pushed Jake out of his comfort zone, while also acting as that free spirit who was up for anything. She really added to the nostalgia feelings that carried throughout.

Davidson wraps it all up by including an ever present bully, parents who care deeply about their son and want to see him become the most he can be, and the town itself acting as a fluid character, one offering places to explore but darkness around every corner.

What I didn’t like: Frankly, I loved this book and a big part of that is the direct relatability to so many elements in here. I think some may not get that same attachment or association if they’ve not experienced a lot of what’s happened in this book and that may really sway a readers experience with this release.

Why you should buy this: Over the last five years, my life has changed immensely and I’ve begun to discover that books seem to end up at the top of my TBR just when I need it. Oddly, I just recently watched a live interview between Craig and Andrew Pyper and the fact that I discovered both of those writers at the same time, when I bought ‘The Demonologist’ and ‘The Troop’ together all those years ago in Abbotsford, really brought this one around and landed hard in my soul.

I’m now a forty year old father, a husband, no longer an athlete, no longer a university student, no longer in high school, and no longer that lonely kid playing in the forest behind our home, pretending to be searching for ghosts and sasquatch and Chupacabra, scared that I was about to spontaneously combust. You can’t go back in time, but you can try and revisit it in some sense, some fashion that makes you smile, and makes you happy that you had that time, that freedom.

As for this book, it unlocked a lot of those emotions, made me reach over and hug my son, knowing that soon I’ll be having to guide him through those years, when kids can be mean, shadows can be monsters and the future never looked so far away.

My only sorrow with this book, and in turn this review, is that Craig’s not on social media, that I can’t tag him in this review or DM him to say thank you for returning me to those days long since lived. I may reach out and find a way to email him, but until then – just know, this book is precious, this book is beautiful, and if you lived a similar childhood – of seeking out strange things, enjoying the wind in your hair and the clack-clack-clack of baseball cards on your spokes as you rode your bike faster than a race car – this book is one you have to read.

Coming of age brilliance.


Announcing Mastodon – My Next Novel!

Mastodon - eBook - hires copy

Releasing January 28th, 2022, cover art by Francois Vaillancourt!


17 years ago, Tyler Barton was born in the Rocky Mountains, while his parents were on a hike.

On that day, his mother disappeared, never to be seen again.

Now, history repeats itself.

On the 17th anniversary of her disappearance, Tyler’s father is flying home when the plane he’s on disappears – in the same area where his mother was last seen.

Undeterred by officials, Tyler decides to hike into the area in search of his father, hoping to find him alive and bring him back to safety.

But there’s a reason that area is prohibited to enter and even though Tyler doesn’t care, he’ll soon find out that the wilderness can hide some of the deepest, darkest fears known to man.

From the author of ‘Incarnate,’ ‘The Window In the Ground’ and ‘Ritual’ comes a new novel that’ll make you rethink your Summer hiking trip.

Advance Praise;

“An old-school creature thriller told with crisp pacing and kick-ass set pieces, Steve Stred’s Mastodon is a monster-in-the-woods tale with some choice surprises and plenty of rampaging fun.”
– Andrew Pyper, author of The Residence, The Damned and The Demonologist

“Steve Stred’s Mastodon reads like a cross between Gary Paulson’s Hatchet and Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy: a big-hearted adventure yarn with a dark and compelling mystery at its core.”
– Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters

“Mysterious. Gripping. High-octane. Mastodon is not the typical creature feature.”
– Eddie Generous, author of Rawr and Behemoth Risen

“Mastodon is a jaw-dropping trek into a heart of darkness. Full of emotion, yet rife with grotesque imagery that only Stred can deliver.”
– David Sodergren, author of The Forgotten Island and Maggie’s Grave

“Mastodon is another tour de force from Canada’s master of dread. The journey into a forbidden wilderness cordoned off by the military is reminiscent of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, but as bleak, daring, and darkly comic as Harlan Ellison. The pace of the story never relents, its emotional highs are spectacular, and its lows will rip your guts out: a voyage and return epic with the balls-to-the-wall horror shows of S. C. Mendes’s The City thrown in. Stred should be held in the same regard as Straub and King.”
– Joseph Sale, author of Save Game and Gods of the Black Gate

“Mastodon is a compelling read that will leave you blistered and broken as you join a young man’s rescue mission into the Canadian wilderness inhabited by unspeakable horrors. Steve Stred masterfully delivers a story exploring the physical and emotional limits we push through in order to save the people we hold most dear.”
– J. A. Sullivan, horror writer and contributor to Kendall Reviews.

About writing the novel:

In April of 2020, I, like many people in the world, was temporarily laid off from my work place as the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic restrictions came into place. At the time, here in Edmonton, where I worked was deemed non-essential and for eight weeks I was sent home, before slowly returning to modified hours and eventually full time. I work in the medical field, so I was happy to return to work and be able to see my patients again and help them remain active and pain free.
While I was stressed over not working, at the same time it offered me a rare opportunity to spend more time with my wife, son and our dog. I mentioned almost immediately to my wife that I’d need to figure out a way to keep working on my current WIP’s and she suggested that each day, I still take that hour I normally write at work and do that at home. I was also able to find other open spaces where I wrote and it was during those eight weeks I cranked out the first draft of this book. Draft one sat at a little over 42K words.
As I usually do, I let the novel sit for a month before I opened the file again and worked on draft two. Sadly, this coincided with my father-in-law unexpectedly passing away in June. An incredibly emotional time, which we’re still trying to navigate, I knew I could utilize some of those emotions I was working with and my wife was sharing, to add into Tyler’s journey here.
The cover art on this release is done by the fantastic François Vaillancourt. I’ve long been a fan of his creations and it was one day where I spotted this come across one of his posts that I knew this had been specifically made for this book. It was fate (or Ka, for you constant readers). François was so easy to work with and I can’t thank him enough or recommend him enough.

I know I’ll be taking some flack from folks because of the cover blurb. That’s ok. Andrew played a very prominent role in this novel getting to completion. I’m still blown away that my favorite author knows my name and that he calls me a friend. I attended an online workshop of his which helped to iron out some issues I was having with this book, but also two other novels. His input was amazing. I was hesitant on reaching out to see if he’d offer a blurb if he enjoyed this, but when I mentioned it to my wife, she said I absolutely needed to ask. That I was raving about this book and that I’d kick myself if I didn’t. To think that he read this and enjoyed it AND offered a blurb! Blown away.

I also want to thank Shaun Hamill, Eddie Generous, Joseph Sale, Jennifer Sullivan (TOC BUDDIES!) and David Sodergren for giving this one an early read and offering some kind words. If you’ve not read their works, do fix that!

So, I hope this one brings you some thrills!

Goodreads link:

You can preorder it here;

or at Amazon US Link;