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: Written in Blood

Written in Blood – Layton Green, 2018.  3.5/5

At last: a bibliophilic serial killer!

Former big-city detective Preach returns to his small North Carolina hometown hoping for a quiet, fresh start.

Instead, he finds himself investigating the town’s first murder in years. Even more baffling, the crime scene is arranged to mirror the murder in the literary classic, Crime and Punishment.

Preach thinks – hopes – he’s up to the job. He’s coming off a brutal case that shattered his confidence and lost him his position in the big city force. In fact, his new job is conditional on passing a psych evaluation.

But he doesn’t have a choice. The small-town police are green. He’s their only hope. And the murders continue.

Preach and his young newbie partner Kirby, turn up clues and connections to drugs, blackmail, old high-school friends, and a local crime boss, but nothing gels. Meanwhile, victims multiply, each murdered like characters in classics by Poe, Christie, and Nabokov.

An interesting departure from Green’s dark, supernatural Dominic Grey series, Written in Blood is an absorbing combo of literary mystery and police procedural. The somber storyline is lifted – and complicated – when Preach finds both romance and a meeting of minds with Ari, a young bookstore employee. Well-plotted misdirections bring us to a surprising and satisfying end.

Fans of Green’s writing appreciate its depth. There is an ever-present philosophical and self-reflective aspect to his books that intensifies the storylines. Written in Blood is no different. The character of Preach is complex: an old, battered soul, an engaging mix of compassion and hardness. We empathize with his self-doubt, struggles with faith, and the sting of the shadows cast on his abilities. Preach exorcises his inner ghosts while wrestling with issues of retribution and man’s inhumanity toward man. To solve this crime, he must resolve within himself how he can overcome despair and still fight the good fight against the darkness in the world.

An intelligent, strong, multi-layered mystery.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The River at Night

The River at Night – Erica Ferencik, 2014. 4/5

We all have that friend, right? The shining star with her infectious charisma and almost obnoxious joie de vivre, throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude whom we’d follow to the ends of the earth – despite the gut-level misgivings we may have?

In The River at Night, Pia is that friend for her small posse of forty-something BFFs, Win, Rachel and Sandra. Seemingly unlike Pia, the three are weighted down with mid-life baggage: Win is suffering the loss of her special needs brother; Rachel, a brittle ER nurse counts the days of her sobriety; and Sandra struggles with an abusive husband.

For their yearly weekend get-together, Pia convinces the three to go white water rafting on an uncharted river in remote northern Maine. This is well outside the three ladies’ comfort zone, but they agree with a mixture of fear and exhilaration.

What could possibly go wrong? Lots. Lots and lots of things could – and do – go wrong. Kind of north woods, Deliverance-level wrong. This girls-weekend-out turns into a survival thriller.

Through the eyes of our narrator, Win, the most fearful of the group, we experience both the beauty of the outdoors and its terrors. We appreciate the give and take of friendships: from an initial tiff that exposes tiny slivers of resentment towards Pia, to the ladies’ trial-by fire (well, water) empowerment, to the overarching love the women have for each other.

That’s all good stuff, but the book really takes off with its river sequences. Ferencik treats us to some great physical action writing: graphic description and vivid, immediate detail. You’re in the raft – or more likely out of the raft – with the women, struggling to swim, surface, breathe, survive. My tiny cavil? I personally wished for just a little …more… at the very end. Just a little. Still, the book is a stunner.

The River at Night reads as fast and frenetic as screaming down the high slide at a waterpark, its increasingly frenetic pace mirroring the growing desperation of the women. If you have a fear of water, this will be an especially white-knuckle read for you. A great summer read. That is, as long as you’re safe on shore.

rating system four crows


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Review: Viking Tomorrow

Viking Tomorrow – Jeremy Robinson & Kane Gilmour, 2017. Rating 4/5

In this violent post-apocalyptic world technology is dead, but Vikings are very much alive.

A few wise men with knowledge of the old ways, however, realize that their berserker future is doomed. Unless…

When Val, a brilliant young female fighter with a mysterious background, bests a mountainous challenger she becomes the leader of a fateful mission.

Her task? Travel across the wildly altered and dangerous European landscape to bring back vital genetic material. Val and her small but fierce team of warriors is the only hope for the future of the human race.

Along the way, the group battles everything from mutant horrors to twisted human gangs. Val not only faces threats to her leadership, but also recognizes that their nonstop violent encounters reveal a pattern of betrayal. Val must watch her back to ensure the mission succeeds.

Viking Tomorrow is good fun. It vaguely reminded me – in a good way – of the classic ‘79 film The Warriors – in which a NYC gang fights its way through series of hostile territories. Viking Tomorrow goes balls out (that’s a steam engine reference) from beginning to end.

Robinson and Gilmour offer us a fresh vision of a post-catastrophic future, with uniquely disturbing inhabitants.

There is lots of fighting. Lots. With big axes and flails and many other pointy weapons. Choreographed battles with all kinds of creatures. Humans. Sort-of humans. Monsters. Did I mention lots of fighting? Battles on ATVs. On motorcycles. On speedboats. (O.k., some technology survived.)

The narrative is definitely story-driven. While the authors do try for some character growth with occasional fleeting moments of gruff individual introspection, there’s just not a ton of time for development between all the extremely bloody battles. That’s alright. Viking Tomorrow is unabashedly full-blast action adventure. I’ll look forward to the second in the series.

rating system four crows


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Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay, 2015. 5/5

An exquisitely disturbing tale of demonic possession, A Head Full of Ghosts will slink under your skin and itch there like a bite on your brain, for a long, long time. It’s that good.

The story’s premise is very of the moment: a small 80’s working-class family is struggling to make ends meet. The father has lost his job. The teenage daughter is suddenly acting…strangely. The anxious parents futilely try doctors and meds, quickly exhausting their funds. The youngest daughter, energetic and imaginative, doesn’t quite understand what’s happening. The father turns to religion. The mother turns to drink. The answer to all their woes seems to arrive in the form of reality tv: a multi-part series documenting the possession and exorcism of the troubled teen.

This is a flat-out mundane synopsis on purpose. I’m trying to avoid even atmospheric spoilers. Truth is, the story is a stunner. Tremblay has created a powerfully unnerving tale that questions the process of making memories. We’re given one narrator who tells her story as an adult remembering her childhood, while a second perspective offers a blistering analysis of the old television show. We’re left chilled, wondering. Which memories are truly ours? Which are “real” and which have we fabricated? Which early memories have been colored for us, or even created for us, by all the media we’ve absorbed?

As the exorcism approaches, tension builds inexorably to a false summit (think the Manitou Incline, if you’ve ever hiked that beast), then almost impossibly, peaks again. Brilliant.

Tremblay knows and owns his ‘80s culture and uses it to great effect: who would have ever thought the beloved children’s author/illustrator Richard Scarry could be made, well, scary? Tremblay also has a downright encyclopedic knowledge of the horror pantheon, subtly infusing his story with film and lit references.

A Head Full of Ghosts leaves you with chills and deep, troubled thoughts. I immediately had to share these chilly, deep, troubled thoughts with my brother, and sent him a copy of the book for his birthday. Basically, “Have a great day! Here’s a deeply unsettling story set during our childhoods that will freak you out! Love you!” Fortunately, he was excited. The horror gene runs in the family.

rating system five crows


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Review: A Magical Match

A Magical Match – Juliet Blackwell, 2018.  Rating 4/5

Doppelgangers and dresses dominate the latest installment of this adorable cozy mystery series.

Lily Ivory runs a successful vintage clothing store in San Francisco’s famous Haight District. She’s also a witch with a lot on her plate.

Just weeks before the handfasting ceremony with her handsome fiancé, Sailor, Lily seems to be losing her magical abilities. Sailor lands in jail on a murder charge. The tour bus carrying her grandmother’s coven and her estranged mother is taking wildly random detours. Her familiar, a pig named Oscar, is acting strangely. To top it all off, Lily is apparently destined for a supernatural showdown, and the fate of all San Francisco depends on her.

Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries series is simply delightful. She lands all the elements that cozy readers expect. Lots of retro fashion. Lots of food. Vibrant and detailed descriptions of the San Francisco community. Warm, inclusive friendships that have grown over the course of the series. Endearing characters. Harmoniously integrated use of the supernatural. A sweet but strong heroine.

A Magical Match is book nine in the series. While I wished for a little more of an edge to the supernatural threat in this episode, Blackwell makes up for it by furthering the development of her characters. Although A Magical Match does stand on its own, I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series with Secondhand Spirits.

The Witchcraft Mysteries are simply lovely comfy books. Undemanding but emotionally satisfying. (They’re not called cozies for nothing!) Heck, clearly I’m a fan if I’ve followed through book nine…and I’d been anticipating the release of this title for a while.

If you need a warm-hearted, good-humored story with a dash of romance, fashion and witchcraft, look no farther: you’ll find your cozy Nirvana with this series.

rating system four crows


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Review: A Hell Within

A Hell Within – James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge, 2018.  Rating 3/5

Just finish War and Peace? Not quite ready to pick up Bleak House? Need a palate cleanser for your intellect? Look no further. A Hell Within provides brain relief in the form of a straightforward monster shoot-‘em-up.

Carl Price is the long-suffering Sheriff of a small Georgia town that has seen more than its fair share of unearthly foul play. Together with Wade Griffin, his old high school buddy now turned PI, the two men have previously faced off against a vampire preacher and his undead flock as well as an old race of inbred – and interdimensional – folk who live down in the hollers.

In A Hell Within, Carl and Wade confront an ambitious demon summoner who is busily wreaking havoc on their town. Both men are more than adept at fighting their way out of trouble, but they welcome the assist from Wade’s girlfriend (who runs an occult bookstore) and her mentor, a mysterious master of arcane knowledge. To complicate matters further, a new organized crime boss has also arrived on the scene.

Yup. A Hell Within is an odd blend of both cop drama and horror genres. It works, actually. There’s plenty of very imaginative, swiftly-paced supernatural action; lots of violence and tightly-choreographed fight scenes; and uniquely memorable characters, all balanced with a dry sense of humor. A Hell Within is a quick read that will satisfy your itch for a little otherworldy mayhem.

This isn’t Camus or Dostoevsky or Austen, here. It is good fun.

rating system three crows 


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Review: The Twilight Pariah

The Twilight Pariah – Jeffrey Ford, 2017.

Violence erupts when a trio of college students unwittingly unleashes an age-old monster in The Twilight Pariah.

Home for summer break, Henry and Russell agree to help Maggie with her new – clandestine – archaeology project: excavating the outhouse pit of the nearby abandoned mansion.

Harmless, right? And who knows how much more time the friends have together before their separate schools and careers cause them to drift apart? This may be their last adventure together. In more ways than one.

To their shock, they uncover the misshapen skeleton of an infant. A not-quite-human infant. The three quickly discover that they’ve disturbed something else: a monster that has plagued the small town in the past. Now, they are its targets. Henry, Russell and Maggie must learn the creature’s secrets and end its rampage once and for all, before more people die.

The Twilight Pariah is a fun, quick, novella-length read that stands out because of its characters. Russell, the gentle giant. Henry, mild and unsure. Maggie a driving force. Ford excels in bringing their personalities to life, giving them vivacity and a sweetness and surprising depth in a very short space. The character of Professor Medley, a creaky cryptozoologist, made me laugh out loud. That’s the other part of this book that elevates it above typical: its wry and gentle sense of humor.

The story itself is enjoyable: it is successfully atmospheric, has a uniquely-imagined monster, and tension builds to a satisfying climax.  Characterization, however, carries the day.

rating system three and a half crows