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: Helltown

Helltown – Jeremy Bates, 2015. Rating 3/5

“Hell is other people,” wrote Jean Paul Sartre, and in Helltown, that’s pretty much a literal truth.

On Halloween night in 1987, a group of self-absorbed young twenty-somethings take a road trip to Boston Township in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, aka Helltown, looking for spooks and hoping for nookie.

Legend and rumors run rampant about this isolated, densely-wooded part of Ohio. Helltown is purportedly home to a mutant python, scores of abandoned homes, a toxic chemical spill, a group of Satanists who worship in a church that is covered in upside down crosses, a crybaby bridge, ghosts that sit waiting for you in the cemetery, a road that leads straight to hell, and a haunted school bus: no kidding! Helltown has it all.

Vainly handsome Jeff gets a little cocky, decides to play chicken with a hearse, and ends up in a colossal car wreck. The group splits up (how is this ever a good idea, people?) Some stay with the badly-injured Jeff, while others attempt to take Jenny to a hospital. All become the prey of a handful mentally-challenged backwoods rednecks. These disturbed and disturbing folks intend to kill the “bucks” and rape the “does,” sacrificing them to Satan in a black mass. They succeed admirably: Helltown has a staggeringly high body count.

This is book three in Bates’ The World’s Scariest Places series and the first of them I have read. I was excited to pick it up because my grandparents lived in Peninsula—smack in the middle of Helltown—and I’ve traveled around the area since I was small. The above rumors and legends still circulate about Helltown today.

Bates remarkably manages to incorporate most of the weird tales about the real Helltown into his narrative, but there is nothing supernatural going on. The horror in Helltown is the gross desires and amorality of the men cheerfully hunting down and brutalizing their human prey. Bates shifts between characters’ perspectives to maintain tension and keeps the story moving along with plenty of violence and graphic descriptions. Characterizations are solid, if stereotypical. Fortunately, I didn’t care too much about any of the characters, so I wasn’t really upset to see them systematically and explicitly dispatched. On the positive side, I guess you could say there’s a happy ending for the scant few survivors…

Maybe my hopes were a little too high, or more likely it’s my fault not researching a bit more about the book: I’m not personally a big fan of this horror subgenre. I was hoping for a spooky read, over a violent one. All that said, I was engaged enough to finish the entire thing. If you enjoy the Wrong Turn movies, then Helltown is right up your alley. I live in the same neighborhood, just up a different alley.

rating system three crows


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Review: The Night Crossing

The Night Crossing – Robert Masello, 2018.  3.5/5

It is 1895. Bram Stoker is a harried theater manager searching for a breakthrough idea that will become his magnum opus.

When he rescues a suicidal young woman, he discovers a nefarious scheme involving occult rituals, soul-eaters, and dark ties to ancient Egypt. He is catapulted into personal danger but finds great fodder for his writing. Enter Mina Harcourt, the half-Gypsy daughter of an English Egyptologist. High in the Carpathians, Mina finds the statue of a Sphinx as well as a mysterious, deadly gold box. Together, Stoker and Mina unite to put an end to a deadly plot.

The Night Crossing is an enjoyable blend of historical fiction and horror. Masello does a wonderful job recreating Victorian London with all its textures and complexity. From the British Museum, to the Lyceum theater, from séances to funerals to gentleman’s clubs to labourers’ meetings, it is clear Masello relishes the era and he passes that excitement on to us.

While Masello spends the most time developing Stoker and Mina’s characters, many other figures of the age have cameos. Among them, we meet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lady Jane Wilde, the actor Henry Irving, and the famous journalist W.T. Stead.

The Night Crossing is a page-turner. The plot is intriguing and the setting springs easily to life. But there are a few hitches. I wished for more follow-through or consistency on some of the supernatural elements that Masello uses to good effect then drops—such as the monstrous creatures that pursue Stoker in a subterranean chase, and the hinted significance of Mina’s special amulet. The story also takes an odd, somewhat jarring, jump forward in time and location towards the end. While this gives Masello a great opportunity to depict another major historical event (I’m not telling you!) it initially feels like a frustrating disconnect. Masello reels us back in and we become engrossed in this second episode as well, but the plot threads feel raveled.

Those issues aside, The Night Crossing is an engaging, action-packed read. I enjoyed seeing the addition of the paranormal story line to Masello’s detailed period writing.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: One Bad Week

One Bad Week – James A. Moore, 2017.  Rating: 4/5

Jonathan Crowley, the cranky, immortal badass from Moore’s Serenity Falls series is back, making life (and death) suck for a handful supernatural villains in this brief novel.

It’s Crowley’s job as a Hunter to help rid the world of irritating and deadly forces that interfere with humanity. But he doesn’t always like his job. And he isn’t especially nice to said humanity, either.

One Bad Week is a collection of loosely-tied together adventures. Crowley returns to Serenity Falls to deal with a demonic clown out for payback. He investigates a family curse and deals with a few overly-demanding ghosts. Crowley’s vengeance turns personal when he follows up a lead on the demon that supposedly killed his family.

Because Crowley is just so darn engaging I can overlook some sub-par editing (typos, typeset issues) and the fact that maybe the tales could have used a little polishing. Then again, Crowley’s not that polished himself. The stories are violent and fun and enhanced by a wicked, dry sense of humor. We meet some old characters—good and evil—and get a glimpse into Crowley’s more personal history. If you’re a fan of Moore’s horror novels, One Bad Week is a treat.

For some masterfully-written, intense horror, I can’t recommend Moore’s Serenity Falls series highly enough. For those of us who simply need a good Crowley fix, this works just fine.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Brightest Fell

The Brightest Fell, Seanan McGuire, 2017. Rating: 3.5/5

In this installment of McGuire’s brilliant urban fantasy series, October Daye–changeling, blood-magic worker, knight, and official hero of Faerie—finds herself forced on a quest to find her half-sister. At stake? The sanity—and lives—of those she loves.

Amandine, Toby’s powerful (and sociopathic) mother, orders Toby to locate August, who has been missing for a century or so. As collateral, Amandine kidnaps Toby’s fiance, the King of Cats, and her friend Jazz, imprisoning them in their animal forms until Toby completes her near-impossible task.

The only one who can help with Toby’s search? August’s father, Simon, who happens to be Toby’s arch enemy. Along with her squire, Quentin, Toby and Simon travel deep into Faerie to find and bring Autumn home and restore what Toby holds dear.

The Brightest Fell explores Toby’s life-long issues with her mother and enables us to see the evil Simon in a different, poignant light. The latter is arguably the best part of the book.

We return to locations that Toby visited in previous adventures. Discover haunting loose ends of other quests. Confront dark, old memories. While it is neat to revisit past story lines, here it feels a little repetitive mostly because the quest itself doesn’t seem particularly challenging. The powerful sea witch, the Luidaeg, is the one who ends up solving most of the problems.

I’m conflicted with The Brightest Fell.

McGuire’s world-building is so imaginatively detailed that picking up any book in the series is like taking a vacation to an exotic locale with characters who are old, familiar friends. It’s that good. I’ve been an avid fan of the series from the first book, Rosemary and Rue. And I flew enjoyably through this title in a couple days. The writing is great. The suspense is there. When I finished, however, I was left feeling…sad. Like nothing—plot, characters—had progressed or developed. Like I came full circle back to the start of the book with everyone, me and the characters, left a little jaded. It’s still a good read. It’s still great to be able to slide comfortably into a fantasy world that seems just next door to ours. I just wanted a little more.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls—Simone St. James, 2018. 4/5

Obsessed with investigating the murder of her older sister, journalist Fiona uncovers an unsolved homicide and a malevolent ghost in this supernatural mystery.

Even though her sister’s murderer is in jail, Fiona returns again and again to the grounds of the abandoned girls’ school where her sister’s body was dumped. Now a crumbling ruin, Idlewild was once a school for social embarrassments and undesirables. When a wealthy patron decides to restore and reopen Idlewild, Fiona seizes the chance to explore and write about its history. As she digs deeper into the past, Fiona discovers another murder and an ominous specter that has terrorized students at the school for decades.

The Broken Girls is an interesting departure from St. James’ previous ghostly tales in plot and setting: this book reads as more of a cold case police procedural complemented with a supernatural element. Which is not a bad thing.

St. James’ writing is, as always, suspenseful and atmospheric. She tells a good tale. We eagerly follow two parallel stories–that of four teenage roommates at Idlewild in 1950, and Fiona’s contemporary investigation and her complicated romance with her cop boyfriend—to their ultimate intersection. The book especially shines in St. James’ poignant characterizations of the four close roommates. The drama of boarding school life is rich in both detail and emotion.

As mystery, The Broken Girls works great, but I’m on fence about supernatural element. The ghost of Mary Hand prowling through the story is shivery and dark, but almost superfluous. I wanted more of this spooky legend and kept thinking it must have a greater connection to the murder-mystery. Mary Hand could command a book of her own! That said, all of the threads do come neatly together, and The Broken Girls delivers a gripping read.

rating system four crows 


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Review: Devil’s Call

Devil’s Call—J. Danielle Dorn, 2017. 4/5

Witches roam the wild west in this beguiling tale of magic, vengeance, and one tough-as-nails enchantress.

A wild child in her youth, Li Lian grew up sheltered by her extended family of female witches.

Along comes a gentle Mexican War veteran who unexpectedly steals her heart and together they wind up in Nebraska Territory, where Li Lian is pregnant with their first child.

When her husband is killed by a trio of travelers, Li Lian and an unexpected ally pursue them from New Orleans to the badlands of South Dakota and beyond. But dark portents along their trail suggest that the leader of the bad guys may be more than a match for Li Lian’s powers.

Devil’s Call takes a simple storyline—the typical revenge western—and neatly and believably weaves it together with a story of practicing Scottish witches. Instead of seeming forced, this works. It makes the western theme feel fresh and adds an unexpected layer of depth. Readers are treated to the best of multiple genres: ancient magic worked by powerful female characters, and good, old-fashioned western shoot-outs.

The story’s success rests in its narrator. Li Lian chronicles the tale herself, recording details past and present for her unborn child. Her voice rings true in best tradition of oral storytellers. We root for her. She’s a fierce heroine. We empathize with her love, her loss, and her avenging spirit. We hear her regrets in the things says—and doesn’t say. We get tantalizing glimpses of her magical heritage that leave us wanting to know more about her world.

Devil’s Call is an unusual, effective mashup: a whip-quick, exciting read that will resonate even after you put it down.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Haunted Air

The Haunted Air – F. Paul Wilson, 2002. Rating 4/5

Has a portal to hell—or somewhere worse—opened up in your basement? Repairman Jack’s the man to call. Jack is the ultimate fix-it guy: Anonymous. Tough as nails with a heart of gold. A New Yorker to the core.

In The Haunted Air, Jack tackles two seemingly unrelated cases. In the first, Jack assists two brothers—likeable con men running a fake medium scam who are being harassed by even more unscrupulous competitors. Oh, and they also have that supernatural basement problem along with a bona fide angry spirit haunting their home. In a parallel investigation, Jack follows a string of cold case child disappearances tied to a skeletal curio shop owner with a hand in some seriously bad magic.

As always, the Otherness is out there, an overarching darkness that is drawing Jack—and all of humanity—closer to a final confrontation.

The Haunted Air is the sixth book in Wilson’s Repairman Jack series. A beautiful thing about these stories is that you can pick one up as a stand-alone and enjoy yourself thoroughly. You’ll just get even more satisfaction if you start from the beginning with The Tomb.

Jack is just a neat character, a down-to-earth enigma. With each book, we learn more about his mysterious background. Jack’s girlfriend, Gia, also plays a welcome, larger role in the story.

Genuinely quirky characters, lots of action, a droll sense of humor and a spooky dose of the uncanny side-by-side with a behind-the-scenes look at how fake psychics work their tricks, all combine to make this a great read. Don’t miss this series.

rating system four crows