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: Afterlife

Afterlife – Marcus Sakey, 2017. 5/5

Being dead doesn’t stop FBI agent Will Brody from reuniting with his soulmate in this sci-fi thriller that is also one of the most affecting love stories you’ll ever read.

Killed pursuing a shooter, Brody discovers that the afterlife isn’t exactly what he expected. Not that he knew what to expect, but still. Turns out bad guys end up there too. In an empty, greyer version of Chicago, Brody joins a community of other dead who have banded together for safety against the eaters: those who eat other souls to gain a measure of vitality. Brody and Claire, the love of his life—and death—go up against an ancient, powerful eater who is not only wreaking havoc in the afterlife but pushing his terror out into the world of the living.

Afterlife is a heart-pounding page-turner. The thriller action is sharp and fast, the dialogue pops with humor, and the characters are touchingly genuine. What elevates Afterlife to spectacular is the depth of thought and emotion that sings in every aspect of Sakey’s writing. Even mundane details of daily life attain gut-punching poignancy. Sakey’s vision of the hereafter also calls to mind two works by one of my favorite authors, Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (’54) and What Dreams May Come (’78). Sakey’s unique perspective invokes a layered but similar post-apocalyptic vibe, and a similar message: the power of love and power of good transcend all.

Afterlife resonates like a poem. You’ll finish this book and whisper, “wow.” It will settle insistently, but gently, in your subconscious and your heart, reminding you to live your own life story with passion. You don’t know how much you value something until it’s lost.

rating system five crows


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Review: The Deep

The Deep – Nick Cutter, 2015. Rating: 3.5 / 5

Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts…I’m pretty sure Cutter’s writing playlist for The Deep includes this classic campfire song. Well, except Cutter’s rodent of choice isn’t a gopher. There are lots of other pertinent adjectives that start with “g” that also describe The Deep: Gruesome. Gory. Gut-churning. Gross. Gag-worthy. Gooey (in a slimy, icky way; not a happy-saccharine way). Graphic. Grim.

This is not a surprise to me. I know this about Cutter’s writing. Take Little Heaven. Awesome. Very, very graphic. So, I had to steel myself for this one. (I failed.)

In The Deep, the modern world is falling prey to a disease called the ‘Gets. People forget how to do everything–including breathing. Dr. Luke Nelson, a compassionate veterinarian, is summoned to a research station eight miles down in the Mariana Trench by his estranged genius of a brother, Clayton. Along with two other scientists, Clayton is investigating a mysterious substance that might cure the ‘Gets.

Luke and Naval Lt. Commander Alice Sykes descend into the deep and dock at the Trieste, where very, very bad things have been happening to the scientists. Luke and Alice discover that the station seems to have slipped out of time and out of reality. Things quickly go pear-shaped. In a visually explicit, profoundly visceral way.

Have problems with claustrophobia or insects? The Deep will push those buttons to your breaking point.

Animal lover and/or fond of children? No spoilers, but this not a safe book for you.

That is my personal problem with The Deep. I can’t stand animal suffering in real life, and I can’t handle it well in fiction. It is ratcheted up to an extreme in The Deep and compounded because we like and relate to Luke, a good guy who also truly loves animals. Witnessing what he does is torture for Luke, as well as for us. So readers get a double-whammy of distress. Honestly, in a few scenes I had to sort of slide my eyes past some passages I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to mentally unsee.

But, The Deep is a compelling, unputdownable story. You’re pretty sure things can’t possibly end well, but you’re not sure exactly how they will end, so you’re stuck for the duration. Luke’s character is masterfully fleshed-out (!) with flashbacks and traumatic childhood memories: personal demons that ultimately manifest. The end gave me chilly, fatalistic echoes of Hellraiser. The Deep is a darkly engrossing read.

My next book? A palate cleanser. An Amelia Peabody mystery, maybe: a nice cheerful mélange of mystery, history, romance, and archaeology. Up in the sun. Far away from Cutter’s deep.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Blood Kin

Blood Kin—Steve Rasnic Tem, 2015. Rating 3.5 / 5

A snake-handling preacher delivers more than scary sermons to the folks of this rural Appalachian town.

Michael is the last of a Melungeon bloodline as ancient as the Virginia hills themselves. Following an accident, he returns to the small town of his birth to recover and to take care of his dying grandmother, Sadie. But Michael has a special hereditary talent—or curse. He can make empathetic connections with people to the point of feeling their emotions. As Sadie shares stories of her Depression-era childhood, Michael lives them.

As young girl on the cusp of womanhood, Sadie deals with a litany of horrors in her small town: evil and prejudice from regular folks and an unholy supernatural power in the hands of her twisted preacher-kin. Things everybody knows, and nobody talks about. Together, Michael and old Sadie must confront the evil she put to sleep decades earlier.

Like the best of storytellers, Tem engages us effortlessly, immersing us in the slow southern pace and insular lives and secrets of townsfolk young and old. He builds an extraordinary family saga that is layered with beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and transcendence and worldliness. The contrast between young Sadie and the elderly, infirm Sadie is deeply affecting.

Blood Kin’s unique storyline and characters had me riveted right up to the very end. Then there seemed to be a gear change, or disconnect, with the pacing. All the thoughtful story and character build-up leading up to the finale rushed to what felt like an abrupt, slightly unsatisfying end. But that’s me, and I’m just being picky. I enjoyed Blood Kin. I’ll be reading others by this author.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street—Natasha Pulley, 2015. Rating: 5/5

Historical fiction gets a warm, probably lemon-colored, wash of fantasy in this unforgettably heartwarming Victorian thriller. Yes, that’s an oxymoron, and yes, it applies perfectly.

It is 1883 and Home Office telegraph operator, Nathaniel, is eking out a sterile existence. He’s sacrificed his musical talent and his ability to see sounds as colors in order to support his widowed sister. When an expensive, mysterious watch appears in his room and saves his life during a bombing of Scotland Yard, Thaniel tracks down the watchmaker, Keita Mori. Mori owns a small shop filled with his exquisite clockwork creations that seem to be imbued with a touch of…magic. And Mori has another special talent: he can see possible futures.

Overwhelmed by Mori’s kindness and quirkiness, Thaniel takes the room Mori has available to let. But Thaniel goes from renter to reluctant spy when authorities suspect Mori’s clockwork is tied to the bombs in recent terrorist attacks. Grace, a practical young scientist, also suspects that Mori is a danger to Thaniel’s self-determination and sets out to stop the watchmaker.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is ethereal commingling of suspense and love story. If it were a song, I think it would be in the key of D Major. Pulley’s characters are beautifully drawn: every tiny detail contributes to their depth and plausibility. I want to have a cup of tea with Thaniel and Mori and Katsu, they are that real.

Adding a vibrant layer to the story is the rich history of Londoners’ fascination with all things Japanese. Pulley’s portrayal of the Japan Native Village and the debut of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado is fascinating: both deepening our understanding of Mori and offering a unique contrast to English cultural norms.

I had to catch myself as I was reading. I was horribly conflicted because the suspense is hideously stressful, and my desire to scan a couple of pages at the end (just to make sure everything and everyone turns out o.k.) fought hard with my desire to savor every word and whimsical image. (I withstood temptation.) As soon as I set the book down, I wanted to read it again. And I wanted another one.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is suffused with an affecting, quiet joy. A deeply satisfying track- down-the-bomber-historical-thriller that’s also about following your heart.

rating system five crows


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Review: Earthcore

Earthcore – Scott Sigler, 2017. 4/5

A bloodbath ensues when a mining company drilling in the remote Utah mountains unearths way more than it signed up for.

Connell Kirkland, once a nice guy, now a cutthroat asshole, assembles a high-tech team to bore a record three miles down and extract a mass of pure platinum. The haul will be worth a world-economy-changing amount of money.

But Connell has a lot of problems. He’s saddled with a puerile tech genius and his oversized ego. A psychopathic ex-NSA operative who lives for the wetwork. An aggressively unpleasant anthropologist. Oh, and folks who’ve gone into the mine have historically disappeared or been massacred. Then add in the fact that Connell and a handful of others get trapped at the bottom of that impossible shaft, and Connell’s literally in deep.

This is Sigler’s newly-expanded version of Earthcore. According to the author himself, it boasts 50% more words, more violence, and more character development than the first version, which was originally written in 2002, and first published in 2005.

There is an extensive build up before anyone even enters the mine, which is, frankly, frustrating, but Sigler keeps enough suspense going to hold your interest, and the delayed gratification is worth it. From there, the storyline races ahead with a few surprises along the way. My biggest beef is that there are not many likable or relatable characters, and most of the nice guys may as well be wearing red shirts. Kudos to Sigler for expanding those characters from the first version—and several do have personal epiphanies at the end—but, with a few exceptions, you don’t care much about them.

Sigler gleefully delivers plenty of “blood and nastiness,” and the…creatures…in the mine are creatively unique. But, maybe because I didn’t like the humans in the story that much, I ended up finding the monsters less terrifying, and even felt a little bad for them.

All that said, I flew through Earthcore and I’ll undoubtedly read the promised sequel. Sigler writes well, and this was a fun read. For some top notch sci-fi horror try Sigler’s Infected series.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell, 2017. 5/5

Here’s a hackles-raising, creepy little gem of a Victorian gothic that you won’t soon forget. Thank you, The Silent Companions, for getting my 2019 off to a horrific (in a good way) start.

I’m not easily scared. I want to be, badly. My problem is I get too excited about dissecting why and how something is scary. In a haunted house, I’m dancing around the guy with the chainsaw busily admiring how they strung the fishing wire to make it feel like spiderwebs brushing your face. I know. Lame.

I can honestly say, however, The Silent Companions raised actual goosebumps and made me say ooooh out loud. That’s huge. Purcell has crafted an uncommonly disturbing story. It will sneak up on you. And maybe make you put your Dutch paintings in the basement.

I’m going to keep the plot summary brief. I want you to come to The Silent Companions with as clean a slate as possible for maximum impact. In short: It is 1865. Elsie Bainbridge is newly married to and abruptly widowed from the handsome entrepreneur, Rupert. She is now heir to Rupert’s fortune and his crumbling family estate, The Bridge. Pregnant and looked at with some suspicion in London because of her sudden wealth, Elsie travels with Rupert’s mousy cousin, Sarah, to the family seat. The mansion is in disrepair, the servants are inept and contrary, the village is a muddy hovel filled with superstitious and hostile inhabitants. Strange noises, mysterious accidents, and off-the-charts macabre appearances of life-like cut-out paintings are enough to drive one mad.

The Silent Companions is beautifully layered story. With menacing subtlety, Purcell closes a series of traps around the two women: their class, gender, Victorian norms, self-doubt, and past history, each combine to render them more and more powerless against the real evil in the house.

Purcell’s writing is brilliant. Tension builds exquisitely as we readers share Elsie’s confinement in the remote locale and her increasing fear and claustrophobia. Purcell further surprises us by exploding Victorian gentility with rudely shocking events.

The Silent Companions is a deceptively quiet, chilling, stunner of a read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

rating system five crows


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Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway—Ruth Ware, 2018. 4.5

Superstitions and secrets make for a tense read in this deeply satisfying mystery.

At just twenty-one, Hal is saddled with all the responsibilities—and fears—of adulthood. Working as a tarot reader after the death of her mother, Hal is drowning in bills, soon to be homeless, and threatened by an unsavory lender. She is desperate.

Then she receives a letter that could change her life, naming her as a beneficiary in her grandmother’s will: impossible, since her grandparents died a decade ago. With no other options, Hal decides to scam her way into some inheritance money. This sounds simple in the abstract, but when she is warmly accepted by the family members, Hal is torn. As Hal works herself deeper into an ethical dilemma, she uncovers a passel of ominous family secrets and puts herself in mortal danger.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a modern take on a classic country house mystery. A closed circle of suspects, an isolated location, an old mystery slowly exposed through tantalizing diary entries from the past, all combined with a scrappy heroine who has no one to trust (who no one should trust), are well calculated to make us mystery lovers shiver in delight.

Ware’s careful plotting and lightning pacing work to maximize suspense, making you perfectly o.k. with the fact that very little action takes place until a final, movie-worthy dramatic climax. Ware does a few—good!—things differently with The Death of Mrs. Westaway that make for a surprising and welcome contrast to the feel of her other books. Here, she adds a tantalizing touch of the almost-supernatural: enticing us with the exotically arcane details and symbolism of Hal’s tarot cards and adding a rich layer to the narrative.

There is also a pleasantly unexpected warmth to the characters of this tale. We like Hal, with her helpless façade hiding her inner strength. We root for her as she simultaneously struggles with her deception yet is at the mercy of other deceptions swirling around her.

While the mystery itself is not especially tangled, Ware’s humanizing use of deeper themes make us reflect on both the nature of family and the creation of identity, all the while we’re eagerly flying through the pages to discover who done it. And just what it was. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is my favorite of Ware’s works so far.

rating system four and a half crows