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 Folcroft Ghosts

The Folcroft Ghosts  Darcy Coates, 2017.  YA

Grandparents provide most of the scares in this new young adult thriller.  That may sound a little on the tame side, but Coates does a respectable job instilling readers’ unease with the elderly.  Which, in this case, is a good thing.

When a freak car accident puts their mother in a coma, teen blogger Tara and her bookish younger brother Kyle find themselves staying with grandparents they’ve never met.

Everything is initially picture perfect.  Grandmother May is overjoyed to see them and bakes up a storm.  Grandfather Peter is on the gruff but kindly side.  What could go wrong?

There is the little problem that there’s no cell signal out in the country – so May kindly takes the kids’ cell phones to keep them safe.  And of course, there’s no internet out there, either.  There is a pier by the lake that looks fun – until they discover that Peter’s young sister drowned there.  Mysteriously locked rooms and strange apparitions in the night make Tara and Kyle realize the house is definitely haunted.  But ghosts aren’t the scariest things roaming about. Tara and Kyle begin to suspect that their grandparents aren’t quite what they seem to be.

The Folcroft Ghosts is a solid ghost story.  While it initially seems to echo M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Visit (2015), it takes its own unique turn at the denouement.

Coates does a nice job mirroring the emotional isolation of the kids – Tara only has internet friends, Kyle’s friends are books, and now their mother is completely out of reach – with the physically isolated and spooky atmosphere of the house. Many upper elementary and middle school readers will also relate to the siblings’ single-parent family stress. Although chilling discoveries at the finale may stretch our willing suspension of disbelief a little too far, The Folcroft Ghosts offers young readers an accessible, satisfying ghost story with enough spookiness & surprises to keep them entertained to the end.

rating system three crows


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Review: Under the Overtree

Under the Overtree  James A. Moore, 2000.

Mark is the new kid in the tiny, tight-knit town of Summitville in the remote Colorado Rockies. He’s slightly chubby. Has low-self esteem. No surprise that he becomes the whipping boy of the local high school bullies. A bloody beating in the woods sets disturbing events in motion that will change Mark’s life forever. And may cost him his soul.

Remarkably, after Mark is physically scarred for life from his thrashing, things get better for him. He tentatively finds a girlfriend. Gets a job with the local bookstore owner who is also a popular horror writer. Makes a few friends in town. And makes friends with those odd little creatures in the forest. The people who bother him start to disappear. Get dismembered. Have the marrow sucked out of their bones.

Unbeknownst even to Mark himself, those strange little beings – that look a lot less cute to anyone else who lives long enough to see them – are changing him into something unnatural and very, very evil.

By the time the infamous Mr. Crowley comes to town, things are rapidly deteriorating in Summitville. Crowley is a reoccurring character in some of Moore’s novels: a not-very-nice, feral-smiling fighter of malicious forces. He is a treat of an antihero. It is up to Crowley to see if he can bring things back to normal. Or at least perform a little damage control.

Moore is a masterful writer. He spends time developing his place and his people. His characterization is subtle and nuanced, resulting in a wholly believable cast. The folks in Summitville could be your neighbors; you feel as if you know them and care about them – dark secrets, raw emotions and all. Similarly, Summitville, with its beautiful forest, small town main street, crisp mornings and fall trails through the woods could just as easily be your own little hometown.

Under the Overtree is a longer book with a slow build, which may turn off readers who want a quick fix of jump scares or a rapid series of bloodbaths.  Moore’s gradual increase in tension, however, makes the horror all the more shocking when it does occur because you have become so invested in the world of the book. Moore combines dry humor, a honed sense of the grotesque, and a dose of compassion for the human condition to make a crackerjack horror story.

Want more Mr. Crowley? I always do. Check out Moore’s brilliant Serenity Falls series which begins with Writ in Blood.
rating system four crows  


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Review: Sacculina

Sacculina Philip Fracassi, 2017.

An innocent fishing trip turns deadly – and gross – in this lean, whip-fast novella.

Mild Jim and his newly-ex-felon older brother Jack, together with their sad father Henry and Jack’s hulking friend Chris, charter a boat for a combination of male family re-bonding and get-out-of-prison celebration.

There are valid concerns about the seaworthiness of the tiny boat and its decrepit captain, but the symbolism of the trip and is message of reunification override caution, and Captain Ron takes the group on a nauseating trip out to deep water.

Soon, they’ve run through the beer. There are no fish.

But there’s something else. Something very bad. I won’t tell you, but the title will, if you do a little research

The trip rapidly goes to hell as the men fend off disgusting creatures invading their boat…and their bodies.

Sacculina is a lightning, one-sitting read simply because once you begin, the breakneck pace, spare writing and swiftly escalating horror suck you in. Fracassi’s characters are quick-drawn but vital.  A sense of familial connection, of childhood tensions past and present, inform their actions and personalities.  Sacculina is like reading a great episode of a disturbing television show. A wetly gruesome television show. I would have loved even more – a two-hour version, maybe – but the story is tight and complete as is.  Great read.

(They did need a bigger boat.)
rating system four crows


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Review: Mr. Wicker

Mr. Wicker Maria Alexander, 2014.

crow on books small copped super shortHorror author Alicia Baum has lost everything in her life: her husband, her talent, and most importantly, a childhood memory she didn’t even know she had.

When her suicide attempt lands her in a mysterious Library between worlds, she encounters Mr. Wicker – a strange being who takes damaging childhood memories and puts each in a book with the young owner’s name on it. This has the dubious result of scarring the children for life to an even greater extent than the harmful memory itself would have.

Mr. Wicker sends Alicia back to the land of the living and she awakens in the psych ward of her local hospital. There she makes friends and enemies and meets ally Dr. Farron, a child psychiatrist who is trying to discover why little children in his care whisper the name Mr. Wicker in their sleep. Together they try to uncover Alicia’s lost memory and save her from Mr. Wicker. Except Mr. Wicker isn’t that bad. And Alicia doesn’t seem to really want to be saved from him.

That is the gist of the plot. Really, however, it is much more complicated and at times confusing. Mr. Wicker has flashes of beauty and wonder and tantalizing dark imagery. The story is creative and fresh, but simultaneously frustrating. We don’t understand exactly why Mr. Wicker is a bad guy, or really, why what he is doing is that bad. He seems more a tragic hero than an ill-intentioned entity. The druidic backstory – where Alexander’s writing really comes into its own – paints Wicker rather to be a more of a savior of his people than abandoned by his gods. Similarly perplexing, his nemesis across time is the ostensible hero of the present-day story.

Alicia herself is a challenging heroine.  It is difficult to understand her 180-degree swings of sexual attraction and mood unless we chalk it up to her depression and lost memory.  We don’t quite know her well enough – until almost the story’s end – to care much about her. The narrative also switches viewpoints abruptly and often, making it an effort to pick out the wisps of plot threads and piece them together.

Mr. Wicker has great bones: a fascinating plot concept, lyrical imagery and potentially compelling characters.  Unfortunately, uneven development of those characters and of the storyline weaken its impact.
rating system three crows