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 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


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Review: Stranded

Stranded – Bracken MacLeod, 2016.

One sailor must confront the unimaginable in this rugged, unsettling thriller.

Aboard the supply ship Arctic Promise, Nick Cabot is about as popular as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.

Following the lead of the ship’s master, Noah’s bitter-father in-law, most of the small crew treats Noah with scorn and outright physical hostility.

Then the ship becomes trapped in the ice, surrounded by an impenetrable fog.  Navigation and communication instruments go dead.  The crew becomes strangely sick and shadow-haunted.

Noah alone remains healthy. He and a small group set out toward what they hope is the oil platform they were scheduled to resupply.  What they find is mind-blowing.

With Stranded, MacLeod delivers a slam-bang story from start to finish.

Noah is besieged with battles on all fronts. The increasingly unstable crew. The relentless and deadly subzero temperatures that affect every aspect of shipboard existence. His own insecurities and self-doubt.  And of course, the mysterious supernatural threat of the shadow figures.  As we learn Noah’s personal story through tantalizingly brief flashbacks, we come to empathize with him and root for his survival.

Stranded is flat-out gripping. I think I actually said “oh no” out loud a few times as I read, startling my poor husband.  MacLeod portrays the harsh life aboard ship as well as the ever-present cold, cold, cold with compelling detail.

My only, miniscule quibble is with the ending.  Although, really, the story ends in the best way it can.  Leaving us with a piece of wisdom that we should all take to heart. Tiny cavil aside, as soon as I finished Stranded I immediately sent a copy to my dad, another die-hard thriller fan.  Grab a comforter – or a parka – and a thermos of something hot and prepare to be lost in an icy sea for a few hours until you finish Stranded.

rating system four crows


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Review: Those Across the River

Those Across the River – Christopher Buehlman, 2011.

Discontinuing an eccentric ritual proves to be a deadly mistake in this intelligent and evocative horror novel.

It is the height of the Great Depression. Former college professor, Frank Nichols, and his young wife Eudora relocate to a small town deep in the heart of Georgia.

Still recovering from the mental and physical traumas he sustained during WWI, Frank plans to use his time writing a book about an infamous Confederate forefather.

Problem is, the family plantation lies across the river. And nobody from town crosses the river. There are things best left alone on the other side.

Those Across the River is southern small-town horror at its best. You’re hooked with the jaw-dropping opening flash forward, and then reeled in with anticipation. Don’t worry: there isn’t long to wait.

Thanks to Buehlman’s exquisite sensory detail and ease of characterization, you just sink into this story: feeling the summer heat, the lassitude…and the underlying tensions of poverty and discrimination in this slow, rural town.

Buehlman crafts moments of rare beauty and spontaneous fun that make you smile, and then gut-punches you with abrupt and shocking violence. Joy exists cheek by jowl with horror.

The shades of wars – from the atrocities of WWI and the Civil War, to the barbarities committed by slave holders – shape the narrative and lead us to question the nature of humanity. What does it mean to be human? How do we lose our humanity? How do we retain it? Do we want to?

Those Across the River is first-rate horror: sensual and thought-provoking. This is a story that will stay in your head for a long time.

rating system five crows


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Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware, 2015.

In this twisty whodunit, Ruth Ware modernizes the classic closed circle mystery: striking readers’ nerves and resurfacing our own painful teenage insecurities.

Having lost touch with Clare, her former schoolmate and BFF, Nora is taken aback when she receives an invite to Clare’s hen party weekend.

It sounds fun. A cozy bachelorette celebration.  An upscale cabin in the northern woods. A chance to see her old friend.

But Nora isn’t sure whether to accept.  Although still socially awkward, she’s managed to overcome trauma from her teens and reinvent herself as a successful crime author in the years post-Clare.

She decides to go and realizes almost immediately she made a grave mistake.  The identity of Clare’s fiancé turns out to be a bit of a shock. Nora also discovers that some old emotional wounds haven’t quite healed and that the small circle of frenemies at the party is adept at picking at those scabs.  Everyone has their own secrets.

In a Dark, Dark, Wood is nimbly plotted. Foreshadowing and flashbacks, little twists and red herrings keep the reader flipping pages at a lightning pace.  With the character of Nora, Ware holds a mirror up to most of us readers.  We see ourselves in her: reliving painful teenage years of low self-esteem, uncertainty, and the agonizing navigation of true – and false – friendships.  We feel the insecurities of being the token nerd at the popular girl’s sleepover. Nora is everygirl. But can we trust her narration?

In a Dark, Dark, Wood is a whippity-quick read. Fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and others in the new wave of fast, sinuous thrillers will eat this up.

rating system four crows


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Review: Bone White

Bone White – Ronald Malfi, 2017.

A remote Alaskan village. Sinister, superstitious townsfolk. Mysterious disappearances. Granny tales of doppelgangers and devils stalking the woods, turning folks mad. Cue a delicious shiver: Ronald Malfi’s unique new horror novel delivers all this and then some.

In Dread’s Hand, Alaska, a backwoods serial killer turns himself in, confessing to eight murders. The investigating detective, Jill Ryerson, grows uncomfortably aware that the killer’s story defies rationality and is disturbingly connected to other uncanny killings.

On the far side of the country, Paul Gallo is certain that his missing twin brother, Danny, must be one of the victims. Paul travels to Alaska and ends up starting his own amateur probe into Danny’s disappearance.

But the folks of Dread’s Hand keep their macabre secrets well, and they don’t like outsiders. The deeper Paul digs, the greater his horror grows. And the danger grows, too.

Bone White is a crackerjack of a story. In a slow, menacing build, Malfi hooks us with tantalizing snippets of demon stories, dark impressions of village rituals and brief glimpses of the story’s ancient evil. All the while, we anxiously hope for the best – but expect the worst – in Paul’s quest.

Like Paul, we feel increasingly claustrophobic and vulnerable in Dread’s Hand. The inscrutable townspeople, affected by generations of long, lonely winters – and by the presence of the lurking malevolence in the woods – are alien and disturbing to us. This characterization brilliantly adds to our rising readerly paranoia.

Our chill of fear is matched by a nearly palpable chill of winter. Under Malfi’s deft detailing, the bitter landscape becomes a hostile entity in itself.  All around, Bone White is distinctively unnerving.

Grab an extra comforter – you’ll need it – and curl up with this one.

rating system four crowsbone white.jpg


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Review: The Silent Corner

The Silent Corner – Dean Koontz, 2017.

Jane Hawk is a now-rogue FBI agent who has gone off grid and into the silent corner in this tense and timely thriller.

In the wake of her husband’s unexpected suicide, Jane discovers that a rapidly rising number of happy, well-adjusted professionals are killing themselves – and leaving very strange notes.

Following the barest of clues, Jane latches onto the trail of a monstrous conspiracy that is already altering the future of the human race in unspeakable ways.

Jane’s got grit, guts, and goodness on her side, but the high-powered cabal she’s gunning for has unlimited resources, power, and connections at its disposal. Alone and pursued, Jane fights for herself, her son, and for the soul of humanity.

With The Silent Corner, Koontz gives us a cautionary techno-thriller with heart. Jane is a strong heroine. Tough. Skilled. She’s not afraid to use force, even though it comes with an emotional price. She’s also self-reflective, pondering the nature of good and evil when her discoveries shake her worldview. Fortunately, a handful of surprising and quirky allies along the way work to mend Jane’s faith in people.

Throughout all the chases, gunfire, daring escapes and infiltrations, Koontz takes time to reveal gently, with reverence, the amazing gift that life is and the beauty of world we live in. His writing, as always, speaks to the heart. There are moments of description in The Silent Corner so concisely and perfectly beautiful, you will pause to read them again before being swept into Jane’s next white-knuckle crisis.

The Silent Corner rockets along, building to a heck of a climax and…leaves us with a cliffhanger. Arrgh! I ordered the next book in the series about five minutes after I finished this one.

rating system four crowssilent corner


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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