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: Ghost of the Bamboo Road

Ghost of the Bamboo Road—Susan Spann, 2019. Rating 4/5

A murderer stalks an isolated Japanese village. Is the culprit a vengeful spirit or an all-too-human killer? It is up to Master ninja Hiro Hattori, and his companion, the Jesuit priest Father Mateo, to find the truth in Spann’s latest historical mystery.

Wintertime finds Hattori traveling to Edo, warning other ninja along his way that that their hidden identities may have been compromised. One kunoichi, or female ninja, is stationed at a village tea house on the mountainous travel road. Closed by a landslide for many months, the reopened road is almost deserted, as people prefer the less challenging detour. Hattori, along with Mateo, his housekeeper, Ana, and their cat, Gato, brave the cold and difficult journey only to find the village almost abandoned.

Things get off to an ominous start at the ryokan when the proprietor’s wife fearfully warns them not to stay the night. The inn’s owner, Noboru, urges them to stay; a decision they soon regret. The kunoichi Hattori seeks is nowhere to be found, Ana is accused of theft, and Noboru’s mother, Ishiko, is murdered—posed to look like a yūrei, an angry ghost. The villagers believe the spirit of Noboru’s dead sister is the yūrei, responsible for murdering those who wronged her during her life.

As Hattori and Mateo work to clear Ana’s name, find the kunoichi, and uncover the truth behind Ishiko’s death, they find themselves untangling a mesh of lies, jealousies, and old grievances involving everyone from the village samurai, to a half-mad mountain ascetic, down to the teahouse entertainers.

Ghost of the Bamboo Road is a unique spin on a closed-circle mystery. The snowbound village, a finite group of suspects, and just a tease of the supernatural makes this a satisfying fireside read for a winter’s night. Spann brings the largely unfamiliar but fascinating world of 16th century Japan to life with rich cultural and historical detail. Hattori, with his cool logic and refined warrior skills, nicely complements Mateo, with his faith and warm nature. The two make for an unusual, but successful detective duo. Ghost of the Bamboo Road is the seventh in Spann’s Shinobi Mystery series. After Ghost of the Bamboo Road, I look forward to starting the series at the beginning, with Claws of the Cat. Full disclosure: I received a publisher’s copy of the book for my honest review.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Invited

The Invited—Jennifer McMahon, 2019. Rating: 4/5

Adding a little history to a brand-new house also introduces some restless spirits in this well-plotted supernatural mystery.

When Helen’s father dies and leaves her a sizeable inheritance, she and her husband, Nate, follow their dreams and move to the Vermont countryside. They are drawn to a large tract of rural land next to a fertile bog. Surprisingly, they get the acreage for a song, and begin construction. But Helen, a former history teacher who loves historical research, worries that a freshly built home will lack a connection to the past.

Helen begins researching the local good witch, Hattie Breckenridge, who lived—and died—on their land generations ago: hanged by a mob in 1924. Helen feels a strange connection to Hattie and starts incorporating physical pieces of Hattie’s family history into their new home: a wooden beam from a burned-down school, bricks from an old mill, and other things. Unfortunately, these items represent the tragic deaths of Hattie and her descendants, who begin to make themselves known. Helen believes the spirits have a task for her.

The folks in the small town are suspicious of Helen’s sudden interest in the occult, and Nate heartily disapproves. As the house gets nearer completion, Nate begins to change, spending hours pursuing an elusive white doe in the treacherous bog. Helen’s quest to trace Hattie’s lineage is connected to the story of Olive, a teenage girl on the neighboring property who is searching for Hattie’s lost treasure. Olive is certain that if she finds it, her runaway mother will return…until Olive begins to suspect that perhaps her mother never left town after all.

McMahon is a fine storyteller: she seamlessly weaves together the histories of generations of Breckinridge women with a modern-day disappearance—making both characters old and contemporary spring vividly to life. McMahon has a great eye for natural detail and one can easily imagine themselves out in the remote Vermont backwoods. The only slightly off-note in the story is Nate. He comes across as a foil character for Helen as she avidly pursues her obsession with Hattie and her new life.

For those of you looking for a nail-biting, scary haunted house story with lots of terrifying imagery, this is not that. The Invited is undeniably suspenseful. There are some clever red herrings and a few spooky moments—most notably in the crumbling old hotel where the spirit circle meets—but ultimately this is a story about family, history, and the continuation of the past into the present, wrapped around a solid mystery and aided by some ghostly guides.

rating system four crows


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Review: Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth  Zoje Stage, 2018. Rating 4/5

A picture-perfect family reveals evil at its core: an icily intelligent seven-year-old who wants her mother gone. One way or another.

The Jensens live an upscale life in urban Pittsburgh. Alex is a highly sought-after architect, and his wife Suzette, is a talented artist and interior designer. Their young daughter, Hanna, seems perfect too, except that she has chosen not to speak, and no amount of testing reveals why. She communicates nonverbally, using sounds, gestures, and facial expressions. Hanna and her father are a mutual adoration society of two. In Alex’s eyes, Hanna can do no wrong. In Hanna’s eyes, only Suzette stands between her and a perfect life with Alex, whom she intends to marry when she gets older. Suzette is a “bad mommy.”

Suzette has been homeschooling Hanna because certain…incidents…resulted in her explusion from other schools. Suzette is at the end of her rope. Before Hanna, Alex and Suzette were the stars in each other’s worlds. Now, Suzette misses her freedom, her creativity-—and Alex. She laments that she doesn’t seem to have Hanna’s love, or really any bond with her daughter. Suzette’s own dysfunctional relationship with her mother may have something to do with her emotional distance from Hanna. Or, it could just be the fact that Hanna is a murderous psychopath.

Hanna plots to make Suzette go away. She gaslights her mother, speaking—only to Suzette—in the persona of a French witch who was burned at the stake. (Hanna, unbeknownst to her parents, has mad Internet skills). Alex begins to doubt Suzette’s stability when she tells him of some of Hanna’s malicious exploits. Suzette’s stance is further compromised by her low self-esteem and her ever-present fear of her Crohn’s disease. When Hanna (mostly) fails to drive a wedge between Suzette and Alex, Hanna ramps up her efforts and plots to make Suzette go away permanently.

Baby Teeth is a thoughtful, slow-burn novel. Alternating perspectives between Hanna and Suzette works to build tension. But, while I enjoyed hearing from both adversarial females, Hanna’s point of view is much more engaging, in an deliciously evil way. Hanna is an imaginative, creative, manipulative little terror. I was intrigued to see how her vicious machinations would unfold. Unfortunately, the book bogs down a bit with Suzette’s repetitive complaints and guilty self-recriminations. It takes a lot for Suzette to realize the threat her daughter poses and to react. Frankly, I wanted more of an edge. More psychological terror. That said, Baby Teeth did leave me thinking about it for a long time after I finished reading: the sign of a good read.

rating system four crows