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: Kill Creek

Kill Creek – Scott Thomas, 2017.

Four wildly different horror writers, each slipping in their popularity, take a lucrative offer to get back in the spotlight: $100,000 for an intimate interview livestreamed from a famously haunted house.

Their destination: the house on Kill Creek. Site of the brutal murder of a mixed-race couple during the Civil War and more recently, the former home of two mysterious, disturbingly reclusive sisters.

Halloween night finds the authors, their interviewer, and one camerawoman alone in the ominous house.  Somewhat to their disappointment, nothing supernatural seems to happen.  No orbs, no rattling chains or wisps of ectoplasm.  But… something does happen. The real horror begins when each author returns home.

Kill Creek is a deliciously creepy tale.  Thomas revitalizes the classic haunted house theme with vividly atmospheric writing and finely-honed tension.  Small, subtle terrors give the reader satisfying shivers and ramp up the suspense.  Top things off with a nail-biting, gory finale and a quiet, sharp little dig at the end, and you’ve got wickedly good novel.

The characters as much as the house make the story great.  Sam, an author of small-town horror struggles with writer’s block.  Moore’s violent, hard-core, sex-laden books are too extreme for mainstream fans. Daniel, who makes his living on Christian teen scare novels, is losing his base.  Sebastian, king of the classic ghost story finds his writing relegated to the older generation.  The house will use each of their weaknesses.

Under all the terror, Thomas conveys a poignancy in each character’s desperate craving for relevance: In the need to balance their drive for self-expression with the desire to maintain personal space outside of their writing. Deep down, Kill Creek is also a story about the bittersweet nature of the creative act of writing.  But mostly, it’s a treat of a horror story. Nicely done, Mr. Thomas.

rating system four crowskill creek.jpg

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Review: The Twelfth Enchantment

The Twelfth Enchantment – David Liss, 2011.

Spells and magic contest with political intrigue in this oddly satisfying historical novel.

Living in the friendless home of a family connection and nearly penniless, about to be married to an odious man she doesn’t love, Lucy Derrick views her future with despair.

Until she unexpectedly frees the great romantic poet, Lord Byron, from a strange curse.

This startling act of magic catapults Lucy into the forefront of a battle for the very future of England as the conflict between the Luddites – angry laborers and textile workers – and proponents of mechanization builds to a crescendo.

Now Lucy must unravel secrets from her own past while racing to reassemble the pages of the most powerful book in the world: the Mutus Liber, a true book of alchemy.

The Twelfth Enchantment is an uncommon mélange of historical fiction, fantasy, lively action, and light romance. In other words, it’s pretty great. The premise is wild, but Liss flawlessly melds magic with, of all things, the Industrial Revolution.

Changelings, cunning women, and revenants comingle with actual historical figures that Liss meticulously brings to life in his pages: among them, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, William Blake, and of course Lord Byron. Intelligent and brave, Lucy herself is an intriguing original character. Frustrated with, but bound by societal constraints, Lucy gradually empowers herself, and we cheer her on.

Maybe all these disparate elements shouldn’t work together. But they do. The Twelfth Enchantment is a singularly memorable – and enjoyable – read.

rating system four crows

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Review: A God in the Shed

A God in the Shed – J-F. Dubeau, 2017.

The serial killer who has tormented the outwardly bucolic Canadian village of Saint-Ferdinand has been captured at last.

He is a gentle, mad old man who has been storing the victims’ bodies in old refrigerators and their eyes…elsewhere. More horrifying? He has been protecting the village from something even worse than himself.

Enter young Venus, a village outsider and daughter of hippies (to her mortification), who inadvertently captures and imprisons a god in her backyard garden shed.

The god is not a nice god. It brings to mind Lovecraftian comparisons: its medium of artistic expression, for example, is gore. Many grisly events ensue.

A God in the Shed is hypnotic. You are lured into the narrative with snippets of village secrets, hints of arcane magic, and whispers of greedy, cabalistic societies.

Chapters shift between different characters’ perspectives, intensifying suspense and horror as pieces of the story fall together (in more figurative ways than one). Heroes become obsessed. Teens are trapped by the transgressions of their elders.

Complementing its flashes of darkly impish humor, the book raises deep questions about the nature of free will versus fate. The relationship between magic and science. Secrets of the afterlife and the nature of gods.

One word of caution: this is what I would call a “wet” book: it has a lot of sticky, bloody, imagery. Not to the extent of Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven, but it will leave us sensitive types with a few images we can’t unsee. Do not, however, let this deter you from the story. Fortify yourself and take the risk. A God in the Shed is a strange, compelling book. You won’t regret it.

rating system four crows

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Review: Edinburgh Twilight

Edinburgh Twilight – Carole Lawrence, 2017.

The year is 1881, and Ian Hamilton is the youngest of Edinburgh’s City Police force to earn the rank of Detective Inspector. His first solo case is a doozy: A serial killer is stalking the good – and bad – citizens of Edinburgh. Dubbed the Holyrood Strangler by the local press, the villain quickly racks up a significant body count. Teamed with the good-natured Sergeant Dickerson, Ian struggles to use his wits and modern detective techniques to find the killer.  Unfortunately, the strangler seems to always be a step ahead…

Edinburgh Twilight nicely brings the colorful Scottish city to life in all its aspects: from the grittiness of the slums to glitterati of the theater. Although the pacing lags at times, the story is replete with historical detail, lovingly vitalized for the reader. There are moments of gentle humor throughout that lighten the storyline and bring more depth to the characters.

Ian, however, is a difficult protagonist to like. Personal tragedy – losing both his parents in an arsonist’s fire – has left Ian estranged from his older brother and emotionally isolated from his fellow man. He is aloof, often self-righteous, and obsessively devoted to his work.  While readers understand that Ian’s flaws stem from childhood wounds, and we do get glimpses of a sensitive and empathetic side, it is a bit of work to relate to him.

While the bulk of the book centers on Ian’s brooding role, I would have enjoyed seeing other characters explored more deeply. One is left feeling slightly frustrated, as if doors to intriguing personalities had been opened but not entered.

Edinburgh Twilight is, overall, an enjoyable period mystery, populated with characters who great have potential for future development. This title promises to be the first in a series, and I would happily read a sequel.

rating system three and a half crows

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Review: The Rib From Which I Remake The World

The Rib From Which I Remake The World  Ed Kurtz, 2016.

Black magic, a twisted picture show and a fiendish carnival come to town one hot summer evening, bringing madness and torment to tiny Litchfield – and making for a stunner of a story.

It is the early 1940s.  George – call him Jojo – Walker is an ex-cop and town pariah, getting by as a hotel dick.

A ghastly murder on his watch spurs Jojo to investigate the new folks in town, those unsettling hygiene movie people.  Jojo is right, the film and its servants are much more than they seem. In fact, a special invitation-only midnight showing leaves townsfolks acting…unnatural, to say the least.

Jojo teams up with Theodora, the downtrodden theater manager’s wife, to make sense of the growing lunacy and violence. Their discoveries lead them to question the very nature of reality, the existence of god, and meaning of their own lives.

The Rib From Which I Remake The World is flat-out brilliant.  The story unfolds like petals of an exotic and scandalous black flower – each one gently opening to give the reader a distressing revelation. Picture yourself, big-eyed, mentally saying ooooohhh…and eagerly turning the page. Like that.

Scenes are so thoughtfully written they feel almost effortless. Ironically – you’ll find out why later – you feel as if you could step right into Litchfield, in both time and place. In a very meta way, Kurtz has built a reality about building reality.

The sense of pathos is strong.  Jojo’s personal tragedies, Theodora’s isolation, and other townsfolks’ afflictions are deeply affecting. The characters are dealing with same troubling existential questions everyone faces: the significance of life and the lack of control of one’s destiny. But here, they are also trapped in a surreal, macabre proving ground. Then again, maybe we are too…

The Rib From Which I Remake The World is unforgettable. Powerful ideas, wrapped in a dark mantle of horror.  Stunning.

rating system five crows

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Review: Into the Drowning Deep

Into the Drowning Deep  Mira Grant, 2017.

Mermaids are real, and they’re not cute.  They’re repulsive-looking, highly-advanced killers that would treat Disney’s Ariel as an amuse-bouche.

Marine biologist Tory knows that the mermaids are out there: they killed her sister and every other living thing onboard the Atargatis.  As a part of Imagine Entertainment’s tv special, the ship had blithely sailed off to the Mariana Trench searching for – and not expecting to find – the fishy cryptids.  They did, and they died.

Tory dedicates her life to avenging her sister, and years later, Tory’s research earns her passage on Imagine’s new expedition. The company got a bigger boat, as it were, and assembled a widely varied new crew of scientists, security guards and tv people, including sirenologist Jillian Thorn, two borderline-psycho big game hunters, twin deaf marine researchers, and Tory’s arrogant ex-boyfriend.  They’re all supported by a high-tech safety system.

Needless to say, they encounter mermaids.  Violent, intelligent mermaids.  And the safety system turns out not to work so great.

Now, I am a huge fan of this author’s October Daye urban fantasy series: across the board amazing characters, world-building, storylines…awesome.  Go read them, they’re great. I was primed to wholeheartedly enjoy Into the Drowning Deep.

But with this new book, the components just never gel.  The story has a conflicted identity.  Horror fiction?  Science adventure?

The reader is presented with mermaids as monsters, and the book reads like a horror novel, but this doesn’t quite work.  For one thing, we know what the monsters are like from the very beginning, so any suspenseful reveal is already undercut.

We also are not sure how to feel about the mermaids: many of the characters on board want to kill them for various reasons, other characters raise ethical environmental dilemmas.  If these are sentient beings, they argue, mermaids should be studied, not exterminated.

So, we have crafty predators going about slaughtering crew members in a wholesale shipboard bloodbath, and we’re not sure who to root for.  Awkward.

The book also feels long, explanation-heavy, and at times repetitious. All the story build-up does not work towards creating suspense before the inevitable concentrated attack on the vessel.  What it does, is leave you unsatisfied at the book’s abrupt ending.  We’ve followed all these characters’ storylines and we’re left thinking, “Hey, wait – that’s it?”

There are great elements to the book.  First, scary mermaids: that’s a unique and intriguing concept. Grant also succeeds in sharing a deep love of the ocean and its mysteries, as well as its desperate need for our conservation.  Central to the story is the importance of language and communication, and Grant sensitively highlights the perspectives of the deaf characters and their feelings towards non-signing hearing people. The concept of how we communicate meaning – from vocalization to sign language – is nicely intertwined with the idea of the mermaids’ methods of conversing.

Into the Drowning Deep is a thought-provoking read.  It captured and held my interest to the end but left me with a general feeling of disappointment.  It was o.k. at many levels, but super at none.

rating system three crows 

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On Beloved Books, the Eccentricities of Librarians, and the Soul: Best Reads of 2017

If you ask a librarian what his or her favorite book is, you’ll probably get a bemused and somewhat pitying look. At worst you’ll get a polite brush off – librarians are almost unfailingly polite – a bright smile, and a placating non-answer like “The one I’m reading now!” or “Oh, I just can’t choose.”

The former reply is rarely true. The latter – well, much more likely.

If pressed, your librarian may come up with a single title. Quite possibly, it won’t be one of their favorite books. Quite probably, he or she will give you a title just to get you onto your own journey of discovery for your favorite book(s). Because, even though your question seems innocuous, its answer is deeply, deeply personal.

This is not that librarians don’t enjoy recommending books. Oh, my goodness, yes, they do! They love it. They read widely and have a massive knowledge of fiction and non-fiction that spans many genres: graphic novels to true-life survival literature and everything in between. They will interview you to find out what you like, and make some suggestions from there. This process has a name: readers’ advisory. We’re good at it. Yeah, did I mention I’m a librarian? I am.

But to pick just one book…as the best book ever in the world, across all time…almost impossible.

Now and then, you may find someone who stands adamantly behind one title that is the end-all be-all of their existence. Maybe it was deeply formative in their life. That’s o.k., and it is kind of rare to find.

But chances are, most people will need to give you a handful of favorites.

In my home, I have a lot of full-to-capacity bookcases. It’s an occupational hazard for bibliophiles. (Quick aside here: A friendly warning to other librarians that when moving across the country, as we did recently, your spouse may get irrationally frustrated when the extremely expensive moving truck’s weight is primarily devoted to your books. But hey, he knew he wasn’t marrying a collector of feathers or pressed flowers, right?)

Anyway, one entire bookcase in my home – o.k., two really – is devoted to books I reread regularly.

These books are my favorites. They range wildly from Watership Down, to the Complete Sherlock Holmes, to the Little House on the Prairie series.  The Stand, Hamlet, and The Great Brain. Death in Kenya, All Creatures Great and Small, and Where Eagles Dare.

These titles are my friends. They are books I can reread and feel like I’m where I should be. Every time I visit one again I find something different. A detail I missed. An image that gives me a new idea. Something unique to take back to my real life.

A favorite book speaks to something inside you: it resonates with your soul, it reflects a facet of your personality. These titles keep their relevance throughout changes in your life. You can read them when you are ten or forty-eight. I fully expect to read them still when I am eighty-four. My favorite books, of course, will not be the same favorite books as everyone else, because their importance to me is tied to the specific meanings they have in my life.

That’s why, when you offhandedly ask someone who loves books what their favorite book is, you are asking to see into their soul. Be mindful of this.

I read and reviewed a lot of books for you this year. I truly enjoyed all of them. (Well, except for three. Don’t read those. Really.) To pick the top five titles out of all those I’ve reviewed is a challenge, so I’m going with re-readability as my criteria. Of all those I read this year, here are the top five I would re-read. Links are to my reviews. May you continue to find many, many favorite books of your own.

Did I say top five? Oops.

Best of the Best 2017

Bird Box  Josh Malerman, 2014. Almost unbearably tense. A blindfolded mother and two children journey downriver to escape – something – that will drive them mad if they see it.

Monster Hunter International Larry Correia, 2007. A warm-hearted, shoot-em’ up (there is such a thing!) with fantastic characters and a great sense of humor.

The Elementals  Michael McDowell, 1981. Family secrets and powerful entities on Alabama’s Gulf coast. Exquisitely-written, slow burn, summer southern horror.

Broken Monsters Lauren Beukes, 2014. A cop story. A story about dreams and art. Pink doors in the wasteland that is Detroit. Surreal and brilliant and creepy.

Dogs of War Jonathan Maberry, 2017. Captain Joe Ledger and his team fight nanites and artificial intelligences to save the world from a tech apocalypse. Rip-roaring and well-crafted military sci-fi.

Under the Overtree James A. Moore, 2000. A small town and its folks are tormented by an old evil. Amazing sense of place and detailed character build. And of course, there’s the wonderfully infamous Mr. Crowley.

The Supernaturals David A. Golemon, A classic ghost story on steroids, complete with a tv broadcast, dream walking, psychics, and a possessed professor.