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 Summoner

The Summoner Layton Green, 2013.

Dominic Grey, working as a US diplomatic security agent in Zimbabwe, is tasked with finding out what happened to the ambassador’s good friend, who apparently vanished during a secretive religious ritual.

Together with a fierce and beautiful local official and a world expert on cults, Grey follows a dark trail of corruption and terror.  Hunting a powerful and evil n’anga – usually a healer and spiritual advisor –  Grey sees things that defy rational explanation and shake his world view to the core.

A tough guy with a lack of respect for authority and zero tolerance for injustice, Grey survived childhood with a violent father and watched his sick mother die despite all her faith and prayers.  Now, his own beliefs – or lack thereof – are challenged by the magic and butchery he witnesses.

The Summoner is a deep book: on the surface a mystery/ thriller with a hint of supernatural, it is truly thought-provoking and disturbing on an elemental level.  Green captures the essence of the dichotomy that is modern Zimbabwe:  vitality and despair, beauty and secrecy, honor and corruption, globalism and racial tension.  This setting creates a shocking juxtaposition of contemporary urban life with primitive rituals and belief systems.

Green leaves the reader with a deep sense of unease.  What is real?  Can unknown beliefs or concepts affect one’s reality, despite one’s own beliefs?  Is magic real? The Summoner will get under your skin.

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Review: Full Wolf Moon

Full Wolf Moon Lincoln Child, 2017.

Jeremy Logan, a professor of history at Yale, is looking forward to six uninterrupted weeks at a secluded retreat in the Adirondacks where he plans to finish work on his monograph about the Middle Ages.

But when a college friend turned forest ranger needs help investigating the savage murders of backpackers in a remote area of forest – all of which occurred during the full moon – Jeremy puts his research on the back burner and starts an off-the-record probe into the odd deaths.

Logan is an engaging character: he has appeared in his empathic enigmalogist role in several other books by Child including Deep Storm and Terminal Freeze. The trouble with Full Wolf Moon, quite frankly, is that from the title forward, we know where the story is going.  There are no great surprises: we know when something is going to happen, and the basics of what is going to happen, so the only mild suspense left is in the how, why, and who.

Suspects do abound as Jeremy digs deeper into the case. Residents of tiny Pike Hollow blame the Blakelys, an extended, inbred family living in a fortified compound outside town… A paroled ax-murderer happens to live nearby in the woods… A scientist, Laura Feverbridge, and her assistants are carrying out her father’s research on the lunar effect on animals in a lab nearby… All of these folks have the potential to be lycanthropic butchers.

Full Wolf Moon is a quick read.  Elements of the story are nicely realized: Child builds an eerily claustrophobic and threatening sense of the old woods. The Blakely compound raises reader’s hackles, and tying it all together is an interesting scientific take on the phenomena of werewolves.  While the storyline is – uncharacteristically for Child – a little bland because of that lack of anticipation, overall, Full Wolf Moon is a solid tale.

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Review: The Elementals

The Elementals   Michael McDowell, 1981.

The Elementals is an exquisitely written horror novel.

Following the death of his unpleasant matriarch, gentle Dauphin Savage, his wife Leigh McCray, and their housekeeper Odessa pack up and take a take a trip out to the remote family summer place, Beldame, to reminisce and recover.

Beldame stands isolate and alone on the Alabama Gulf Coast: bordered by the Gulf on one side, a lagoon on the other, and empty white dunes facing west. At high tide, the Gulf flows into the lagoon and turns Beldame into an island. There is nothing to do there. No neighbors to meet. No television. No air conditioning. All is heat and white light and waves and lassitude.

Joining them at Beldame are Leigh’s mother, Big Barbara, and Leigh’s brother Luker along with his thirteen-year old daughter India.  It is India’s first time visiting Beldame.

At Beldame, each branch of the family has an identical old Victorian home. One for the Savages. One for the McCrays. And one nobody goes into. Or talks about.

Slowly but inexorably, the white sand is swallowing this third house.

While the family memories of Beldame seem to be nothing but happy, there is a disconnect: each visitor except India carries a deeply-buried psychological scar from…things…they may have seen in the empty building.

Young India is fascinated by the third house and intrigued by the mysterious and seemingly superstitious knowledge about it that Odessa possesses. India’s curiosity helps set the coming fearful events in motion.

McDowell’s sense of place is vivid and immediate. The lack of sound, the shades of light, and the dominant, ceaselessly shifting sand, almost physically put the reader at Beldame. And it all gets into your head.

Like an island itself, The Elementals is an insular piece with a small cast brought strikingly to life. Their dialogue wraps around you and includes you in the family. You almost start to believe that you have your own summer memories of Beldame; you feel that close to the land and the household.

The Elementals is a slow burn. It paradoxically creates an overwhelming sense of languor with an undercurrent of extraordinary tension. Small terrors jolt and startle like heat lightning, leading up to a shocking storm of a finale. This is beautifully written horror: it leaves you feeling washed out, as after a receding tide, and wanting to read the book again immediately. Don’t miss this one.

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Review: Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International  Larry Correia, 2007.

Owen Pitt works very hard to live a normal, boring life as an accountant

That all goes to hell one day when his boss turns into a werewolf and tries to eat him.

Throwing his boss out of a nice, high office window understandably loses him his accounting position, but, on the bright side, lands him a job offer with Monster Hunter International. MHI is a private cadre of warriors gleaned from librarians, Army Rangers, chemistry teachers and others who have survived encounters with one of the many horrors that secretly roam the earth. MHI’s job is to handle those unfriendlies that go bump in the night.

What follows is the end of Owen’s normal life and the beginning of a ripping good read for all of us. Our narrator, Owen, is smart (he graduated top of his class as a CPA and speaks five languages fluently), a crack shot (thanks to his over-militant dad who essentially prepared Owen for an apocalypse while still in elementary school), a wise-ass, and an all-around big-hearted, no-so-handsome lug.

Owen attends a monster version of basic training, bonds with a handful of new trainees and quirky mentors, falls hard for the boss’s niece – a glasses-wearing, sharpshooting, intellectual hottie – and is soon on a mission to save the world from a cadre of master vampires and a powerful 500-year-old cursed being.

Monster Hunter International is just great fun. Parts are actually laugh-out-loud funny. The scene with the elves: priceless. That’s all I’ll say about that. You need to read it yourself. There is tons of monster-hunting action and intricate gun battles against vampires, wights, gargoyles, and demon things from another dimension. Correia, a past firearms instructor and competitive shooter (and accountant!), clearly knows and respects his ordnance.

The storyline, which travels wildly around the Alabama swamps, jumps to a little old Jewish man chatting with Owen in his dreams, and flashes back to conquistadors in the early Americas holds together because it is so well-written and the characters are fantastic. Eccentric but not one-dimensional: you truly come to care for them.

The only thing wrong with this book? There is nothing wrong: I’m just kicking myself because I haven’t read it sooner. On the plus side, there are more books in the series lined up ready for me to read like cookies waiting on a plate. That’s how enjoyable this book is. Like a lovely, violent, monster-filled, warm-hearted cookie treat. No kidding. Delicious fun.

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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.