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: The First Bird

The First Bird – Greig Beck, 2013.

When a greedy social anthropologist unwittingly carries home a deadly infectious mite from the unexplored reaches of South America’s Gran Chaco Boreal, he launches a world-ending pandemic.

So begins an odd combination of an H. Rider Haggard-style lost world adventure, with a full-on George A. Romero movie. It takes a massive suspension of disbelief to join in this journey, but if you can overlook the two wildly disparate stories, The First Bird is an entertaining read. A little formulaic. A little heavy-handed. But redeemed by some creative ideas.

Hotshot professor and paleolinguist Matt Kearns – a character who appeared in several of Beck’s Alex Hunter novels – and his student-cum-girlfriend Megan have their working vacation cut short by the CDC. Dr. Carla Nero is one of the sole members of the organization who recognizes the dire nature of the skin-sloughing epidemic. With hopes of finding a cure, she strong-arms Matt and Megan into joining a private expedition to the ground-zero source of the parasitic pathogen.

Their ragtag team also includes a millionaire movie maker scoping material for his next big hit, his bodyguard and jungle pro Kurt, his personal physician, a paleobiologist, an entomologist, another linguist and their local Brazilian guide. Many of these folks are clearly on board as redshirts.

The expedition discovers a deadly primal landscape filled with grotesquely evolved creatures. Romantic jealousy blossoms. Action abounds. The body count rises. And then the story abruptly switches genres.

What’s left of the team arrives back in the states to find that the U.S. has spectacularly (in a bad way) deteriorated into an apocalyptic battleground. They must fight their way – with a little military assistance – to the besieged CDC and create and disseminate a cure.

The First Bird sacrifices depth for breadth of story, and one wishes for more detailed characterization as well as greater dimension from both plotlines. That said, the book is a fast paced, interesting read: the different human manifestations of the infestation in the second half of the book are neatly imagined, and the story (ies) race along. Action junkies – and I – will most likely hunt down the second title in the Matt Kearns series, Book of the Dead.

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Review: Slade House

Slade House – David Mitchell, 2015.

It is the last Saturday in October.

You are walking down an oddly-shaped, narrow alley cut off from rest of the city.

Maybe a jogger in black and orange trots by.

You are looking for a gnome-sized iron door set into the brick wall.

Maybe you miss it the first time.

You are a bit of a loner, maybe a bit marginalized, a little bit different from the norm. But there is something special about you that you probably aren’t even aware of.

The iron door opens for you.

You might see a beautiful mansion, staggeringly beautiful gardens, or the Halloween frat party to end all parties. Any of which, if you stop to think, is really impossible to fit behind this wall, in this neighborhood; but you don’t stop to think about that very long, because this is such a wonderful place.

Until you lose your soul.

Because every nine years the – unusual – inhabitants of Slade House need a new soul to feed on.

Slade House is a creepy read, and Mitchell is a virtuoso at playing on – and building – your unease.

From the first character’s shocking story, one knows the awful gist of what will happen to future visitors. With this use of dramatic irony, Mitchell cleverly puts the reader in a similar position to the victims of Slade House, but with an even greater, terrifying awareness of what’s ahead. You want to shout at the characters to warn them, but helplessly, cannot.

And these characters are likeable. You share the common and poignant insecurities of those drawn to Slade House: the oddly awkward tween, the recently divorced cop, the overweight college student. In a short space with an edge of dark humor, Mitchell masterfully gives them all souls, and then horribly takes them away.

This is a lightning book: fast and almost impossible to put down. You are trapped in the narrative of Slade House. And while you can escape at the end of the book, this is one that will haunt you for a long time. Great read.

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Review: The End of Temperance Dare

The End of Temperance Dare: A Novel – Wendy Webb, 2017.

Alone in the world and suffering PTSD from her years as crime reporter, Eleanor Harper is excited to become the new director of Cliffside, a coveted artists’ retreat overlooking the brooding waters of Lake Superior.

Miss Penny, the exiting director and last of the Dare family who once operated Cliffside as a TB sanatorium, briefs Eleanor on her new role and then promptly kills herself. Eleanor is left with a token staff in an empty house, an ominous suicide note, and a mystery that is soon to become a nightmare.

Eleanor’s anxiety increases as she experiences disturbing unnatural phenomena in the house and on the grounds. When the artistic fellows arrive, the alarming incidents escalate. Eleanor discovers that each of the fellows – some knowingly, some unknowingly – holds a clue to a very dark secret.

The End of Temperance Dare is a nicely-plotted blend of gothic horror and country house mystery woven together with a pleasant thread of romance. All of the characters, from Eleanor to young Dr. Nate and the proper housekeeper Harriet, are well-drawn and relatable and just right for their parts in this small cast supernatural drama.

Webb does a skillful job deepening the reader’s tension as danger increases for the household. Using classic elements of a good haunted house story – storms, washed out roads, disembodied children’s voices, bumps in the night, and creepy dolls to list a few – Webb brings the story to an unexpected and genuinely scary climax. This is a delicious read to curl up with on a stormy evening.

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Review: Pandemic

Pandemic (The Extinction Files, Book 1)   A.G. Riddle.  2017.

When Desmond Hughes, a successful venture capitalist, wakes up in his Berlin hotel room he has no memory of his past, there is a dead body on the floor, and security is knocking at the door.

Across the ocean, Dr. Peyton Shaw, an epidemiologist with CDC, races to Kenya to investigate and contain a virulent Ebola-like outbreak.

The two quickly discover they are both fighting against time to save the world as we know it. The virus spreads, infecting and killing a staggering number of people, and governments begin to crumble. But the pandemic may be just the beginning of a more insidious plot. A covert, elitist group called Citium plans to remake the world into a utopia. This just happens to require an unavoidable few – million – casualties.

On the run from the police and Citium, Desmond slowly regains his past, memory by memory. To his horror, he discovers he has played a pivotal role in the nightmare taking place around him.

Desmond’s and Peyton’s paths – and past – cross and they unite with Avery, a U.S. government operative, to strike at the heart of Citium and find a cure for the virus. But not everyone is who they appear to be. And it may already be too late for the infected.

Riddle has blended medical suspense, shoot-‘em-up military action, spy thriller, and a bit of historical and science fiction into a very satisfying read. Pandemic is a mighty book, pushing 700 pages, but the story flies by, spanning the globe and nearly a century. Memories and diaries are clues to unravelling Citium’s plot and Riddle deftly takes us in place and time to Australia, the arid plains of Oklahoma, WWII London during the blitz, Nairobi, the Arctic Ocean, and beyond.

Although Pandemic could have had more of an edge, Riddle’s time was well-spent developing his compelling characters and their surprisingly entangled histories.  Pandemic is a fast-paced, imaginative thriller with all around good storytelling.  A cliffhanger ending leaves us eagerly looking forward to the sequel, Genome, due out in November.