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.

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Review: Infinite

Infinite.  Jeremy Robinson.  2017.

Jeremy Robinson is best known for his over-the-top action-adventure and kaiju monster novels.  In Infinite, he branches successfully into science fiction.

Our protagonist, William Chanokh, been in cryosleep – but with his mind awake – for the last ten years of a long journey.  He is a tech-jock, and along with fellow scientists and engineers, he is part of humanity’s last hope of survival.  Will and his teammates are on a mission to colonize Kepler 452b, the nearest – relatively – habitable planet to earth.

Unfortunately, there is a snafu: Will is pulled from his cryochamber, murdered by Tom, one of his fellow tech-jocks, and dies.  And then comes back to life.  And discovers that Tom has assassinated all the remaining crew but one: Will’s secret crush, Capria.

Things deteriorate further when Will realizes that Tom has drastically altered the programming of Galahad, their spaceship, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  What follows is an almost boyish romp through outer and inner space.  There is a sexy and dangerous Artificial Intelligence, cool robot battles, planetary adventures with weird creatures, and virtual reality thrills – all at faster-than-light travel through the universe.

Infinite is more introspective than Robinson’s usual straightforward action stories.  He focuses a bit more on character development – which is a welcome plus – and entertains meditations on the nature of existence.  Could we all just be a simulation?   Just a piece of programming?  And what if we are?  Will debates the pointlessness of immortality versus the need to find joy in every day.  Robinson himself faced some personal issues that altered his own life perspective while writing this book, and they certainly come through in Will’s existential questions.

Action prevails, however, and Infinite is a fun, fast read. Toss in a nice dose of humor – including a nod to Star Trek – some light romance, and of course, all that action, and you get a great summer escape.

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Review: The Graveyard Apartment

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike, 1993.

Translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm, 2016.

Misao can’t believe her good fortune when she and her young family move into Central Plaza Mansion in the spring of 1987.  The new high-rise apartment building sports fourteen spacious luxury units and is only twenty minutes from the center of Tokyo and close to local schools and shopping.  It is surrounded by cherry trees and lush greenery and…a graveyard.  From their balcony, Misao can see the morbid grave markers and the pall from the smokestack of the crematorium at the Buddhist temple.  Aside from a few distant, empty weed-covered buildings, Central Plaza Mansion stands alone next to the sprawling graveyard.

Misao tells herself that life will be wonderful here for her and her daughter Tamao and husband Teppei if she can just get over her unease with the cemetery.  Needless to say, everything will not be wonderful.  The inexplicable death of their pet white finch after they move in heralds trouble to come.

The few tenants in the building start experiencing eerie and inexplicable events: voices whispering in the basement.  Strange images on their televisions.  And, one by one, neighbors start to move out.

After Teppei and the resident  managers are rescued from a basement ordeal, Teppei agrees that their family also needs to get out of Central Plaza Mansion.  He and Misao look desperately for new place to live, but will they be allowed to leave?

The Graveyard Apartment moves along quickly.  The novelty of a foreign locale and customs gives a little extra spice to the story.  The characters are relatable, but their emotions feel explained, rather than evolved from their dialogue and actions.  This may be a factor of the translation (which seems aptly done) or simply a style choice, but does end up feeling a bit stiff.

More frustrating, however, is the use of the supernatural elements.  The scary bits are neat: the imagery is effective and the suspense is strong.  Unfortunately, there is such a wide variety of seemingly unconnected horror devices it proves vexing.

One doesn’t see how the white handprints appearing on outside of the apartment building connect with the Lovecraftian entity in basement, the nuclear-acting beams of light, the shadow figure in television, the seemingly possessed elevator, or the preternatural attack on Tamao or the violent death of Pyoko, the finch.

Is it just the proximity of a graveyard?  Does it have something to do with the abandoned subterranean shopping mall that dead-ends in the basement?  Does the suicide of Teppei’s ex-wife play into the hauntings?  All of these things are hinted but not brought to fruition, leaving the reader impatient.

Because the background story threads are not woven together, the reader also doesn’t know how to interpret the horror elements and it lessens their effect.  Mr. Shoji, an intriguing character with the potential to help out the reader – and the other characters – unfortunately exits early in the story.

All said, The Graveyard Apartment is not a bad read: it does hold interest until the somewhat anticlimactic end.  It just lacks the cohesion that would have made it great.

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Review: Dogs of War

Dogs of War.  Jonathan Maberry.  2017.

Technophobes and luddites might just have the right mindset if the premise of Maberry’s rip-roaring new thriller is to be believed: A technological apocalypse is primed to eliminate several billion useless humans, allowing the intellectual elite to live in harmony with advanced artificial intelligences.  Rich, evil geeks and brilliant robots will take over the world.

Fortunately, Captain Joe Ledger is on the job.  Even more cynical.  Ready for action.

But Joe and his team are damaged in spirit.  Suffering from events in their previous adventure, Kill Switch, that turned their worlds upside down, they’ve let uncertainty creep into their psyches.  Their Department of Military Services, backed by their enigmatic boss, Mr. Church, has lost credibility.  Their own skills are under question.

Joe is called in by his brother Sean, a Baltimore cop, to help investigate the unusual death of a runaway teen turned prostitute.  When they discover nanites in her brain programmed to deliver a targeted disease, Joe realizes this is part of a much larger, much more insidious plot that was put in motion decades earlier by a nemesis of the DMS.

Now going by the name John the Revelator, this archenemy is a mysterious preacher of the curated technological singularity.  John has molded the destiny of one Zephyr Bain, a brilliant, rich, ruthless roboticist.  United with John’s vision, Zephyr designed Calpurnia: the first self-aware artificial intelligence and the key to coming apocalypse.

Can Joe and his team regain their mojo?  Can Calpurnia be stopped?  Readers are in for a wild ride before those questions are answered.

This new installment in the Joe Ledger series is a highly rewarding read.  The characters are old friends if you’ve followed them since Patient Zero, but are so well-drawn – and continue to be developed – that there is no problem getting to know them if this is your first adventure with the team.  Ledger himself is a complicated tough guy with a heart of gold.  He’ll tell you he has three personality types vying for dominance: Modern Man, Cop, and Killer.  Even the bad guys have life-like vulnerabilities and memorable personalities.

The plot is intriguing and disturbingly possible.  The combination of an immediate and engaging style – we fly between Joe’s first-person narration to tense third person – dynamite action sequences, and just a whisper of the supernatural, makes the book tear along.  Nearly every chapter ends with a cliffhanger.  Dogs of War is hands down a great read.  Nice job again, Mr. Maberry.

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Review: Ararat

Ararat. Christopher Golden. 2017.

Golden’s new genre-bending novel combines elements of adventure, thriller, and horror with mixed success.

Fiancés Adam and Meryam are known world-wide for their sensational adventure documentaries. When their friend and mountain guide, Feyiz, alerts them to a potential archaeological scoop the two race to Turkey to be first on site at a remarkable discovery.

In a cave exposed by a recent avalanche high on Mount Ararat, the adventurers find the remains of a giant wooden ship filled with animal stalls and both human and animal remains: what can only be the lost ark of Noah.  But there is something else amidst the ancient debris.  In a coffin-like box sealed with bitumen they uncover a humanoid corpse sporting curved horns.  A mutated human? Or… a demon?

Ben Walker, an undercover DARPA agent is helicoptered in along with UN observer Kim Seong, and Father Cornelius Hughes, an expert on ancient civilizations.  Walker’s job is to see if the unknown creature poses any threat, and if so, how the US can utilize it.

Their arrival on the site adds to the already growing tensions among the assembled team of archaeologists, mountain guides and Turkish government monitors.  Is it the remote location and close quarters bringing out the worst in people?  Or could the creature in the box be exerting some strange influence?  As project members start to disappear and unexplained violence ramps up, Walker has his hands full trying to find these answers.

Ararat is a solid read.  The premise is great.  All the right elements are here: an isolated and treacherous location, a rising storm, a collection of disparate characters holding secrets, a supernatural element…yet it could have been so much deeper.  The story feels formulaic and the reader is left wishing it had been more fleshed out all the way around: the history, the ancient languages, the potential religious conflicts and ramifications.  The characters have backstories, but not enough for one to care much about them.  There is not enough mountain climbing to make it a great action climbing story, and not quite the level of deep, creeping fear for a stunning horror novel.  Suspense builds unevenly, and even the demon ends up a bit of a disappointment, as it focuses more on wanton destruction than insidiousness.

Ararat succeeds as a quick-read adventure thriller, but had the potential to be much more.