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: Mist of Midnight

Mist of Midnight Sandra Boyd, 2015.

Fans of Gothic romance and period mystery will have their desires fulfilled in this alluring tale.

The sole member of her missionary family to survive the Indian Mutiny of 1857, emotionally battered Rebecca Ravenshaw returns home to England to claim her family estate and recover her peace and security.

Unfortunately, Rebecca discovers that she has already claimed her estate. Or rather, someone pretending to be her assumed her place as lady of the house, and then abruptly committed suicide.

Rebecca’s home is now occupied now by Hussar Captain Luke Whitfield, a very distant relation. A tall, dark, handsome, charismatic – and possibly dangerous – distant relation.

The real Rebecca must overcome the cool disbelief of both the staff and dashing Capt. Whitfield and prove her claim to the inheritance, all the while figuring out the identity of her imposter and if the lady really killed herself…or was murdered.

Mist of Midnight is a highly captivating romantic mystery with all the trappings: mysteriously locked rooms, scrawled warnings, a crumbling chapel, whispers of madness, horses and hunts, costume balls and chaperones, social calls and stolen embraces.

Boyd elevates Mist of Midnight beyond the standard, however, by making India as vivid a presence in the book as Hampshire. Lush sensory and historical detail bring India to life and add a level of complexity to Rebecca’s character: she is truly a unique daughter of two disparate yet connected lands.

We root for Rebecca to keep her chin up and rebuild her confidence as she finds her way in the English culture that has become strange to her. And we root for a happy ending, for of course, despite cries for caution, Rebecca has fallen head over heels with the dashing Captain.

Cliché? Maybe a little. Satisfying? Completely.

rating system four crows


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Review: Stalked in the Woods

Stalked in the Woods: True Stories – Stephen (Steph) Young, 2016.

I’m not going to mince words: this book was a sad disappointment.

Having recently moved to a home surrounded by tall, somewhat sinister woods, I was truly looking forward to creeping myself out with this book. Instead it left me irritable.

Stalked in the Woods reads like a leveled book for upper elementary school students. On the plus side (maybe?): There are no hard words for you to worry about.

On the minus side: You are stuck trying to parse your way through so much awkward phrasing and writing mistakes (thanks to crummy – if any – editing), that any potentially spooky content is lost in frustration. This is maddening, because there are a few stories that could have been chilling.

Mistakes abound: eccentric and random capitalization of nouns, wrong choices of homophones (their/they’re), inconsistent use of single and double quotation marks, problems with possessive apostrophes, and a bizarrely hyperbolic use of the ellipsis. You know, those three little periods trailing off to end a sentence in suspense… In this book, they are variably punctuated with sometimes three periods… or four periods…. sometimes there are five periods….. and on one occasion, eight periods…….. Yes, I counted them. It was making me crazy. There are misspellings. One story, for instance, takes place in the “Missouri Oxark’s [sic].” Double whammy, there.

Editing mistakes aside – and trust me, it is hard to put them aside – there is distracting weirdness going on with the typography. Extra spaces between words. Random switches in font size. Line breaks in the middle of sentences. Some text unaccountably appears in italics. Other text is underlined.

The book is divided into categories of stalkings, sort of. They’re not all stalkings. They don’t all take place in the woods. They vary from disappearing hikers, to a story about Oliver Cromwell selling his soul to the devil, to man pursued by a bogart in England. No, not the ghost of Humphrey. I think they meant a traditional “boggart.”

After a section on vanishings, which reads like blandly re-written newspaper articles, Young switches perspective and presents stories from people who have contacted her to share their experiences. This does not – or should not – excuse all the grammar and vocabulary errors. The onus is on Young to produce a professional publication that doesn’t feel cut-and-pasted from her in-box. Additionally, you can’t always easily delineate where Young’s voice comes into the contributor’s retelling. All of this tragically gets in the way of some potentially spooky content.

For well-written books of creepy true accounts, I highly recommend any of Jim Harold’s Campfire series which compiles tales from his podcast contributors. Or try True Ghosts, which contains stories originally published in issues of Fate Magazine. Leslie Rule’s Coast to Coast Ghosts or any of her other well-researched and haunting titles are wonderful. These are all chillingly satisfying reads. None of them will leave you cranky. Hmmpf.

rating system one crow


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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


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Alternoween 2: Dark Classical and Evocative Instrumentals for an Ominous Halloween Playlist

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Some of us may want a more atmospheric Halloween than last week’s hard rocking songs offered. Here you go. I’ve made a playlist of my favorite dark classical pieces, spooky movie themes, and other eerie instrumental snippets. Sit out on your porch at midnight on Halloween and watch the fall clouds racing by under that almost-full moon and listen to these tracks, if you dare.

Ave Satani (from The Omen) – Jerry Goldsmith. (1976) Goldsmith’s satanic version of a Gregorian chant was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in ’76.  Goldsmith worked with his orchestra’s choir-master to create a musical black mass. Highly unnerving.

Danse Macabre – Camille Saint-Saens. (1874) One of my absolute favorites.  I get goosebumps every time I hear it.  According to old superstition, at midnight every Halloween, Death appears and calls skeletons from their graves to dance for him. They dance until the cock crows the next morning. In this piece, you can hear the harp at the beginning, striking midnight, and the oboe mimicking the rooster at the end. Magnificent, wild, eerie, brilliant.

The Fog Prologue – John Houseman. (1980) “11:55, almost midnight.  Enough time for one more story…” The epitome of a creepy ghost story from the 1980 film classic. If Houseman’s voice and the deep swell and single theme notes in the background don’t give you chills, nothing will.

Theme from The Fog – John Carpenter. (1980) Followed immediately by the iconic theme from the king of spooky synthesizer himself. Carpenter considered it one of his best scores.

Carnival of Souls – Combustible Edison. (1994) Lounge-y tribute to the ’62 cult classic film.  Sticks weirdly in your head.

Suspiria (Daemonia version) – Goblin. (1997) Creepy, whispery, synthesizer-heavy theme to Argento’s horror masterpiece. John Carpenter later credited Goblin’s work on another Argento soundtrack – Profondo Rosso – for inspiring his own use of synthesizer on the Halloween soundtrack.  Cool.

The Bookhouse Boys – Angelo Badalamenti. (1990) Think: alone on a late and rainy night in a strange place. Darkly bluesy song. Eerie sax. Badalamenti won a Grammy for the Twin Peaks Theme in 1990.

Dies Irae (from the Requiem Mass in D Minor) – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (1791) “Dies Irae” means “Day of Wrath” when souls are summoned for the Last Judgment and the worthy are delivered and the unsaved are damned. The Dies irae was used as part of the sequence for the Catholic Requiem Mass and funerals. Roman Catholic reforms removed it (and other off-putting texts that focused on terror, despair, punishment, etc.) from funerals and masses in 1969-1970.  Small wonder – this is terrifying!  Powerful, fast, almost violent.

Theme from The ShiningWendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. (1980) Based on Berlioz’s Dies Irae from the Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath movement of Symphonie Fantastique. Dissonant and uber-creepy.

Confession Modulation – Broadcast. (2012) From the Berberian Sound Studio soundtrack.  The British band did haunting bits of song for this mesmerizing film – a must for audiophiles.  I couldn’t find the clip for you, but here’s the movie trailer.  Trust me on the haunting part.

Two Steps from Hell – Exhumed. (2012) Two guys joined forces in 2006 to create original music for movie trailers…now they’re known for dynamic genre albums.  This one is from the Halloween album, of course.

Tam O’Shanter Overture Sir Malcolm Arnold. (1955) Read Burns’ poem first – and you can completely envision drunken Tam weaving home on his old horse Meg, chased by witches and other terrifying creatures.  Can he make it to the river and cross before they catch him? Amazing tone poem blending humor and horror.

Main Theme from Psycho – Bernard Herrmann. (1960) Herrmann used a muted, all-string orchestra to ramp up the tension in the soundtrack.  The main title gets me most of all: the speed, the rising and falling: nail-biting.  Interestingly, Herrmann only unmuted his strings in the famous shower scene, creating terrifying contrast to the rest of the score. Hitchcock later commented that “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.”

Funereal March of Marionette –  Charles Gounod. (1872 for solo piano, orchestrated 1879) Speaking of Hitchcock… This was the main theme for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Not scary, but piques the imagination.

Calliope – Nox Arcana. (2006) A “dark ambient” duo that musically depict gothic and horror fiction.  They turn out some really, really eerie albums.

Carmina Burana (O Fortuna) – Carl Orff. (1935-1936) The Carmina Burana is a series of medieval poems that Orff brought to life in music.  O Fortuna bemoans the fickleness of fortune and the inescapablem cruel nature of fate.  Absolutely chilling.  It begins ominously with deep, fast, forceful chanting, and climbs to a stunning, hair-raising conclusion.

Main Theme from The Amityville Horror – Lalo Schifrin. (1979) It starts out so innocently, yet with ominous undertones.  Happy children singing…and then, not so much.  Classic theme.

Theme to Kolchak: The Nightstalker – Gil Mellé. (1974-1975) One of my favorite television shows of all time.  Darren McGavin is a crime reporter who keeps getting sucked into supernatural encounters. I think this show singlehandedly made me spooky.  And a writer. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Ah…I can’t let go! Here are a few others without as much annotation:
Dead Silence Theme – Charlie Clouser. (2007) Creepy song, creepy film.

Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. (1936)  Tense, brooding, dark tones. Excerpts were also used in the original version of The Shining.

Witch’s Ride – Engelbert Humperdinck. (1891-1892) From the opera Hansel and Gretel. You can almost see the witch herself, madly flying through the night sky. Evocative.