My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


Leave a comment

Review: Chaos Choreography

Protector of cryptids and ballroom dancer extraordinaire, Verity Price returns in Chaos Choreography. This time a pesky snake cult threatens Verity’s dreams of dance. Tracking down ritual murderers between Argentine Tangos proves surprisingly challenging for our spunky heroine.

Chaos Choreography—Seanan McGuire, 2016. Rating 3.5/5

A member of the infamous Price family of cryptozoologists, Verity keeps her real identity hidden to avoid eradication by the infamous Covenant of St. George which believes that the only good cryptid is a dead cryptid. Now, Verity and her ex-Covenant husband, Dominic, are living (awkwardly) with Verity’s family—until Verity gets an unexpected second chance: to return to her Valerie ballroom dancer persona and appear on a top twenty reunion reality tv show, Dance or Die. Verity leaps at the chance to head to LA and follow her passion, only to discover that eliminated contestants are being… literally eliminated. Ballroom takes a backseat while Verity tracks down the evildoers.

Chaos Choreography is the fifth title in McGuire’s flat-out fun InCryptid series. Verity is feisty, good-hearted, astoundingly athletic, deadly with a knife, and possesses an infectious joie de vivre. Only Verity could hide a dagger in a sparkly ballroom dress the size of a handkerchief. In this installment, we get to go a little deeper into Verity’s character, watching her wrestle with conflicting life choices. Her love of, and talent for, dance wars with her life’s work of defending cryptids everywhere.

Dance or Die is a thinly veiled fictionalization of the FOX tv show, So You Think You Can Dance. If you’re familiar with the show, you’ll recognize individual judges and choreographers in some of McGuire’s characters, which adds to the fun. From Cha Chas to chupacabras, Swing to sharkmen, Chaos Choreography is a bizarre, but weirdly successful blend of the high-pressure world of dance and monsters. The snake cult premise is a little on the weak side, and I found myself enjoying the behind-the-scenes look at the dances and the show more than I cared about who was offing the dancers. But the humor, fast-paced action, light magic, a host of eccentric characters, and a climactic extravaganza make up for a lot. This lively, escapist read will drag you out of the doldrums.

Amazon Link


Leave a comment

Review: Peace Talks

Harry Dresden, practicing wizard and dogged detective is back. Now, Harry’s racing to save his vampire brother, rescue Chicago from a formidable foe, and, equally challenging for Harry, exercise tact at the supernatural peace accords.

Oh, Harry—I’ve missed you.

Peace Talks—Jim Butcher, 2020. Rating: 4.5/5

It’s been six years since Skin Game (2014), when we last had the unmitigated pleasure of watching Harry pull off a daring heist of Hades’ bank vault. Peace Talks picks up right where Skin Game left off. Life has quieted down (marginally) for Harry. He and his daughter are living safely with the svartalves. His relationship with his brother Thomas is good. His relationship with Murphy is great. But who needs stability, right? Harry’s grandfather warns him the wizard’s White Council is out to get him. The Wardens think Harry’s humanity has been…compromised…by Queen Mab. Thomas is accused of an assassination attempt. Mab orders Harry to do a favor for the sexy and fearsome vampire leader, Lara Raith. The police are on Harry’s trail for some run-of-the-mill (for Harry) mayhem following the bank heist. Oh, and the dangerous, watery Fomor produce a bona-fide Titan goddess who enthusiastically plans destroy all of humanity. Harry lives in interesting times.

Honestly, I’ve been both longing for and dreading a new Harry adventure. Dread almost won out: what if Butcher lost Harry’s mojo? What if Harry wasn’t, well, Harry? What if the plot got pretentious? Or moribund, like so many series that drag on past their prime? Essentially, what if the book sucked? I refused to read Peace Talks for a few weeks, I was that worried.

Needlessly.

Peace Talks is everything I wanted and, frankly, needed right now: the rush of an amusement park ride, the familiarity of my most comfy chair, and a hero. Butcher got it all right. Harry is still Harry: battered but not broken, hard-nosed and soft-hearted, wry, and a little goofy. And he continues to grow. Harry’s newly developing intimacy with Murphy is tender and shy. Harry’s friends and enemies alike are equally complex. The Chicago Harry knows and loves is gloriously, grittily real. If I visit, I fully expect to run into Harry tooling around the city in his Munstermobile, or exercising on Montrose Beach. Returning to Harry’s world—chaotic, treacherous, violent, loving—is a joy.

Butcher brilliantly keeps a lot of balls in the air, ratcheting the suspense high, our anxiety higher, and the story flying. At 340 pages, the book was still too short, it was that good. The end of Peace Talks does leave the plot hanging off multiple cliffs. I’d be grumpy about this Empire Strikes Back finish, except the sequel is already out. Battle Ground. And I won’t be waiting weeks to read it. Insert sigh of happiness.   

Amazon Link


Leave a comment

Review: Death of a Cozy Writer

When the egotistical Sir Adrian gleefully announces his intentions to remarry, he sends his avaricious children into a tizzy—now who will be first in line to inherit? They should worry: Sir Adrian is promptly and violently sent to meet his maker by someone near and dear. It is up to DCI St. Just and Sergeant Fear to ferret out the killer.

Death of a Cozy Writer—G.M. Malliet, 2008. Rating 4/5

Sir Adrian gained his fabulous wealth by penning a series of wildly popular cozy mysteries, although apparently borrowing liberally from the likes of Agatha Christie. The snug, homey nature of Sir Adrian’s stories is especially ironic given own his own vile personality. Sir Adrian summons his grasping brood to his estate to introduce his fiancé. Outraged and nursing grudges from their dreadful childhoods they arrive: Sarah, an overweight author of biblical cookbooks, George, a handsome artist accompanied by his svelte girlfriend Natasha, Albert a bit part actor, and Ruthven, the eldest, a chip off Adrian’s ruthless block.

Because Sir Adrian was universally detested, suspects abound. Was it his new bride, Violet accused of murdering her first husband years ago? The Italian cook and her brooding son?  The irrepressibly energetic American secretary? The bitter ex-wife? One of Adrian’s business associates-slash-sexual flings? Stoical St. Just will have a tough job cutting through sarcasm and secrets.

Death of a Cozy Writer is delightful. A clever, sophisticated twist on the traditional British country house mystery. While the plot has enough red herrings to satisfy genre buffs, it is the characters that make the story a standout. Snarky and unlikeable, they’ll earn your eye-rolling, withering asides, but yet somehow manage to grow on you. Malliet weaves her web with wit and a devilish sense of humor. She caught me. This description alone cracks me up: “Her voice when she spoke, was deep, seductive, whiskey-soaked, like Lauren Bacall doing voiceovers for cat food” (151). Death of a Cozy Writer pays homage to mystery greats but is stylishly original. I can’t wait to read the next in the series.


Leave a comment

Review: Monster Hunter Siege

Owen Pitt is tired of waiting for the end of the world. Now, he and a crew of elite international monster hunters are taking the fight to the chief baddie himself, Asag, the god of chaos, in an effort to preempt humanity’s holocaust.

Monster Hunter Siege – Larry Correia, 2017. Rating: 4.5/5

Once an accountant, Owen Zastava Pitt, or “Z”, is now a top-notch monster hunter and the Chosen One, destined to save the world or die trying. Now, about to be a father, Owen knows he needs to go on the offensive and stop letting ultra-powerful and mysterious entities call the shots. Owen convinces his werewolf boss, Earl, to mount a massive attack on the City of Monsters, located on a remote Russian island where intel suggests there is a portal to the Nightmare Realm—and Asag. While MHI and their allies hold the island against all kinds of creative monstrosities, it is Owen alone who can travel to the Nightmare Realm and not only take the fight to Asag, but bring back seven hunters who have been trapped there for months.

Monster Hunter Siege is exactly what I’ve been needing: a warm-hearted, breakneck shoot-em up with lots of monsters, good and bad, and characters that shine. There is never a dull moment—or even a slightly less exciting moment—as Owen achieves détente between the orcs and elves at a local barbeque (open bar), establishes fraternal relations with a Russian mobster as they battle a child-eating vodyanoy, and goes on to fight sky squids, evil Fey, and legions of Asag’s minions. We’re talking sheer fun and lots of firepower, here.

Correia writes with a droll sense of humor and doesn’t compromise on characterization; two reasons I love the Monster Hunter International series. Owen’s relationships with his father, and with the lost hunter and ex-nemesis, Lococo, are authentically moving. The novel’s poignancy and the dark nature of its conflict are offset with brilliantly sweet and funny scenes like Owen’s meeting with Poly, the one-eyed, comic-book loving cyclops. The series is a treat.

If you’re new to Owen and MHI, you can certainly jump in with this installment, but I recommend starting with the first title, Monster Hunter International: pure enjoyment.


Leave a comment

Review: The Sun Down Motel

A search for her long-lost aunt leads Carly to a decrepit—and haunted—motel in this atmospheric supernatural mystery.

The Sun Down Motel—Simone St. James, 2020. Rating: 4/5

Viv Delaney left home in 1982 determined to make it in New York City. Instead, she landed in Fell, a small, nowhere town in upstate New York. Working as a night clerk at the Sun Down Motel, she learns two things: first, the hotel is definitely haunted, and second, there are a surprising number of women being murdered around Fell. Viv starts her own investigation—and then vanishes.

Fast forward to 2017. Viv’s niece Carly is obsessed with finding out what really happened to her aunt. After the death of her mother—Viv’s sister—Carly goes to Fell to investigate, taking the same job Viv had at the now even more decrepit Sun Down Motel. Helped by a new roommate equally obsessed with true crime, and a handsome, if testy young man with his own tragedy, Carly works her way doggedly toward the truth.

St. James effectively builds suspense by switching the first-person perspectives back and forth between Viv and Carly, neatly bringing the cold-case story to life. As each woman digs deeper into the local murders decades apart, they both become targets, leading to some nail-biting moments for the reader. Several additional strong female characters who seem helpful—but may just be hiding something—provide effective misdirection. The motel ghosts are satisfyingly creepy, and we’re not certain of their motivations, either, until near the end, which has a neat little twist. A dramatic denouement, involving both human and ghostly bad guys, leads to a satisfying conclusion (though personally, I felt the punishment of one the characters seemed a little severe). A perfect read for these darker, spookier evenings…


Leave a comment

Review: Rage

A mysterious cabal masterminds a bio-weapon attack on a small island off the coast of North Korea, killing the entire population and bringing the US, China, and the Koreas to the brink of war. It is up to Joe Ledger and the newly formed Rogue Team International to take down the baddies before one of the world leaders gets an itchy nuclear trigger finger.

Rage – Jonathan Maberry, 2019.  Rating: 3.5

Joe is an ex-cop, fighting machine, weapons expert, and good-guy at heart—at least until the Killer facet of his three-fold personality takes over. Then he becomes a merciless enforcer of justice. Joe and his team work for the enigmatic and powerful Mr. Church, responding to international incidents and protecting regular folks around the world. This time, Joe must track down two of his arch-nemeses who are behind the horrific attacks driving sane people into (graphically) murderous rages.

Rage left me pensive. I am a big fan of the Joe Ledger books: the characters are old friends, and I love to get reacquainted with them and watch their growth—and hope that they don’t get killed. Rudy, Joe’s friend, and criminal psychiatrist extraordinaire is back, and Junie, too, worrying (rightfully) about Joe’s mental health. The action sequences are breakneck and shudderingly memorable: Maberry knows his weaponry. And the bad guys? Depraved geniuses. This is all good stuff. (Really!)

Rage put me in a brown study, however, because it hits remarkably close to current world politics. Like, nail-on-the-head close. It was somber. Critical. Bleak. Hopefully not prophetic. Definitely not a typical rollicking escapist action-thriller. I feel that we lost a little of the heart of the series—sacrificing character relationships for a platform, albeit an important one. For those of us already feeling disaffected with our government, Rage exacerbates our levels of unease and fear. It is well-written, suspenseful, and absorbing, but grimly true to life.

rating system three and a half crows


Leave a comment

Review: The Rust Maidens

I am back after a long hiatus; dealing with a lot of emotions and worldly minutiae after the death of my father. But life goes on, and so does the blog. The Rust Maidens is an especially apropos read for this memory-crowded time. Like the main character, I was born in Cleveland and grew up in the area during the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The Rust Maidens—Gwendolyn Kiste, 2018. Rating: 3.5/5

Decades after graduating from high school, Phoebe returns to her tired old Cleveland neighborhood. The nearby steel mill, once a source of both jobs and pollution, is closed and deteriorating. One-by-one, the homes on Phoebe’s block are being razed for condos. The narrative switches between past and present as Phoebe recalls the summer after her graduation, when a handful of her friends, including her cousin and BFF, Jacqueline, began slowly transforming into creatures of glass and metal. How Phoebe was the only one who stood up for them. How angry she was at the gossipy ‘80s stay-at-home moms and hard-working but hidebound steel working dads who unjustly reject the girls. How much Phoebe wanted to shatter stereotypes and go to college.

The girls, now known as the rust maidens, become a freaky phenomenon, drawing the FBI, doctors, and gawkers to their street. Phoebe faces a losing battle to defend the girls from public ostracization and stop their metallic metamorphosis.

The Rust Maidens leaves me conflicted. The gritty, economically-depressed setting resonates with my childhood–the polluted Cuyahoga river infamously caught fire the year I was born. Kiste’s descriptions, especially of the girls’ transformation, are exquisite: poetically capturing both the beauty of decay and poignantly highlighting the girls’ sole—if uncanny—opportunity to buck stifling cultural expectations. It is Phoebe’s self-righteous anger that emotionally misses mark for me. It feels one-note, as do many of the characterizations of neighbors and family members. The storyline is pat in some ways yet leaves readers with dissatisfying holes. I wanted the book to be not longer, but deeper. That said, The Rust Maidens is undeniably original, thought-provoking…and bleak.

rating system three and a half crows


2 Comments

Review: The Library of the Unwritten

When Claire, Hell’s librarian, pursues an escaped character from an unwritten novel, she inadvertently retrieves scraps of the Devil’s Bible and sparks a conflict that spans realms and realities.

The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith, 2019. Rating: 5/5

Hell’s Unwritten Wing houses all the books that authors never finished. It is Claire Hadley’s job to keep the volumes asleep and in good repair. Occasionally, however, they awaken and escape back to earth to find their author or to strike out on their own. With the awkward demon Leto, and her assistant, the failed muse, Brevity, Claire sets out for Seattle to retrieve a dashing escapee. They collar Hero but run afoul of Ramiel, a fallen angel. Ramiel was a Watcher: His job protecting lost human souls led to his part in the Fall. Now, the fanatical angel Uriel offers him a chance to return to his former heavenly glory if he catches Claire and retrieves the Devil’s Bible. But Claire has no taste for politics. The Library is neutral. Her devotion is solely for her written charges—some of which are her own. Claire, Hero, Leto, Brevity, and the sly demon Andras, race against Heaven to prevent a second cataclysmic war.

Bibilophiles, storytellers—everyone who appreciates a great story will love this book. Fellow librarians will rejoice. Though admittedly, we rarely reject a book about books or heroic librarians, The Library of the Unwritten stands apart and above. The premise is fresh, yet centuries of literature, mythology, and history permeate its pages. The characters shine. Each reflects our own fragilities, regrets, and longings. Their realism makes the novel’s fantastical elements wholly believable—and enviable. The Library of the Unwritten is both fantasy and philosophical adventure. It is a self-reflective story about stories, about the act of writing and creation, but it also raises questions about reality and the construction of self. What makes something real? What makes us autonomous? During her journey, Claire faces one of her own characters, forcing her to acknowledge aspects of herself. As we follow the heroes and villains (though the lines between the two are muddied) from the West Coast to Valhalla, from Heaven to Hell, we share in their journey of self-understanding and forgiveness.

I rarely give a perfect rating. The Library of the Unwritten deserves it.

rating system five crows


Leave a comment

Review: The Ghosts of Sleath

Called to the remote village of Sleath to investigate a mundane haunting, psychic researcher David Ash quickly discovers that the picturesque little town hides evil at its core—and darkness will have its day.

The Ghosts of Sleath—James Herbert, 1994. Rating 4.5/5

Ash is still reeling from a previous assignment, where a trio of malicious ghosts upended all of Ash’s beliefs. (Haunted—see my review here.) Now, investigating the ghostly appearance of a little drowned boy in Sleath seems like a comparative walk in the park. Although most of the villagers are…reserved…Ash forms an instant, emotional connection to Grace Lockwood, the vicar’s daughter. Meanwhile, disturbingly violent events, catalyzed by the sudden return of foul spirits, begin to plague Sleath. Villagers are tormented by things they—rightfully—feared By the time Ash discovers that Sleath is home to a cabal of very dark arts, the village inhabitants (dead and alive) reach a cataclysmic breaking point.

The Ghosts of Sleath is a crackerjack read. One reason this title pleases me so much is because Herbert is a wordsmith. He creates an eerie village setting juxtaposing moments of simple beauty (I paused to reread twice a vision that captured a breathtaking sense of normalcy caught out of time), with uniquely disturbing imagery. Herbert balances scenes of gore and violence with glimpses of things barely seen, teasing our imaginations one moment, then fulfilling them the next. Exceptional character development makes the horror hit home. Ash is a great flawed hero. He drowns his guilt with vodka and still tries to manage his psychic powers with self-delusion and skepticism. We empathize with him, as we do Grace: an intelligent, perceptive, kind woman whose love for her father hides a secret from herself. The Ghosts of Sleath satisfies on multiple levels: it is both a ripping good ghost story with remarkable visuals (it would be a stunner of a film), and an affecting character study. Highly recommended.

rating system four and a half crows


Leave a comment

Review: The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death

How exactly did a tomato decimate humankind and cause vampires, witches, werewolves come out of hiding? Find out in this prequel to Harrison’s bestselling Hollows series.

The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death—Kim Harrison, 2017. Rating 3/5

Trisk, a dark elf, is a top-notch geneticist but the glass ceiling keeps her from getting a plum job. Her bitter nemesis, elf Trent Kalamack—“Kal”—has had his way smoothed by his parents’ name and money. Trisk lands a position in a human lab as part researcher and part elven corporate spy. While keeping an eye on fellow scientist, Dr. Plank, who is working on a tactical virus, Trisk develops a genetically modified tomato that promises to end world hunger. Kal, out to discredit Trisk’s research and steal her ideas for himself, links the tomato to the weaponized virus and unleashes a killing plague that rips through the human population.

Trisk and Dr. Plank hop trains, avoid weres, escape the police, and race pell-mell towards Washington, DC to warn humans not to eat tomatoes. But the Inderlander species who have been in hiding for years (witches, pixies, werewolves, vampires, and elves) aren’t so sure they want humans to survive. Political infighting ensues.

I am an enthusiastic fan of Harrison’s Hollows series. While The Turn offers interesting detail on the backstory of series heroes and villains like Kalamack, the demon Algaliarept, and security guard extraordinaire, Quen, the novel is a disappointment. It runs long, takes a while to get going, feels repetitive, and would have worked better as a novella. Believe it or not, even those issues didn’t irritate me too much: The characters are the major turn off. Trisk and Kal are egoistic, selfish, petty, and prideful. I know that’s Harrison’s point, but it makes for a downer read. You don’t care about either of them. The two throw fits of pique, worry about each other stealing their thunder, loathe each other, deceive each other, lead each other on (while totally aware they’re being led on)—and then have sex. Please. I also realize that Harrison is making a stand for women’s rights in the male workplace: Trisk is more competent than Kal, yet her skills are dismissed. Trisk longs for geneticist glory, but it is hard to relate to her struggle when she is as self-serving as Kal—to the point of summoning a demon to thwart him. Fortunately, Trisk has a modicum more empathy than Kal and genuinely wants to warn people about her tomato. But on the whole, The Turn is just meh.

If you’re new to the Hollows, don’t start with this book. Pick up Dead Witch Walking (2004), the first in the series and you’ll enter a beautifully realized world where the supernatural exists alongside the mundane; one that is filled with well-rounded characters and great stories. Save The Turn for last.

rating system three crows