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: Shadowed Souls

Shadowed Souls – edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes.  Rating: 4/5

Eleven hard-hitting stories from superstar fantasy authors evoke a surprisingly emotional response in this distinctive collection.

Now, emotional doesn’t mean these stories are wimpy. There’s plenty of magical action. Battles rage against demons, genies, angry ghosts, arctic Cthulhu creatures, and monsters human and inhuman. Two-thirds of the tales feature female protagonists, and all our heroines and heroes are struggling with their magical gift-slash-curse. They have relationships challenges. Social challenges. Challenges with rule-following. You get the picture.

Jim Butcher opens the collection strong with a story from his Dresden Files universe. As a huge Harry Dresden fan, I was excited to read this one. Cold Case features Molly, Harry’s apprentice, on her first mission for Mab as the Winter Lady. As always, Butcher’s humor and ease with his characters and their magic simply shine. The story? On the heartbreaking side.

Seanan McGuire (of the October Daye and InCryptid series fame) follows with the tale of a half-succubus betrayed by her ex-girlfriend. Sad.

Next comes a vampire PI who worries about her aging human lover and her own waning connection to humanity. Poignant.

Clearly, Shadowed Souls is the perfect title. I was beginning to think I’d need a box of Kleenex and a support group to get through the rest of the book. Fortunately, the heavy mood lightens. Or maybe I just got used to it. The rest of the stories are also top caliber. One tough thief orchestrates an escape from hell; a zombie PI assists a one-eyed newt; a double-souled healer deals with her father’s treachery; a former superheroine fights a greedy demon…the imaginative range is delicious. There are no bad apples in the bunch to disappoint. Each story resonates with its own unique voice and fantastical vision. Well worthwhile.

rating system four crows


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Best of 2018

There’s a little something for everyone in this year’s top five. Er, six. O.k., maybe seven. (I had to throw in the UFO thriller. And the movie.)

But these are my favorites. We’ve got a western, a Gothic mystery, demonic possession, cryptids, a freakish carnival…Some of these reads are hauntingly, existentially mind-blowing. Some are just great fun. Some will trick you. They’re all magnificent. Text links are to my extended reviews, image links take you to Amazon. Really, all of these books I’d read again, and the movie I’ll definitely watch again. So, yes, I’m glad I own them. You would be too.

Train to BusanFilm directed by Sang-ho Yeon. 2016. You’re in for a bloody and deadly ride on this train when a viral outbreak turns folks into savage, fast zombies. Awesome action sequences and even a little bit of tear-jerking make this South Korean film a gem.

A Head Full of GhostsPaul Tremblay, 2015. An unforgettably disturbing tale of a 1980’s working-class family that deals with the demonic possession of their oldest daughter by letting a reality tv show document the teen’s paranormal behavior and exorcism. But there’s so much, much, more to the story… Multiple narrators, (sort of) make us question the reality of our memories. Profoundly chilling.

Devil’s CallJ. Danielle Dorn, 2017.  Pregnant Li Lian pursues her husband’s killer from New Orleans across the badlands of South Dakota in typical revenge-western style. The difference? She’s a witch. And the killer she’s after isn’t exactly human. Great genre mash-up with a fierce female heroine.

Those Across the RiverChristopher Buehlman, 2011.  A college professor discovers that ending a southern small town’s odd ritual has horrifying results. You can almost feel the slow southern heat and the simmering malevolence of the sinister folks across the river in this sensual, evocative, surprising novel.

A Brush with ShadowsAnna Lee Huber, 2018. It is 1831. Lady Kiera Darby and her inquiry agent husband, Gage, are summoned to the ominous family manor to find Gage’s missing ne’er-do-well cousin, last seen on the perilous moor. A deliciously spooky atmosphere, ominous dreams, and whispers of witchcraft combine with some solid character building to make this Gothic mystery my favorite in the series so far.

The Rib From Which I Remake The WorldEd Kurtz, 2016. Midnight showings from a travelling picture show bring black magic, madness, and murder home to folks in a small 1940’s town. It is up to a hotel detective, Jojo, to unravel the truth. But what he finds makes him question both the very nature of reality and his own existence. Brilliantly written and deeply creepy, this is a stunner of a read.

The OthersJeremy Robinson, 2018. PI Dan Delgado takes on almost every conspiracy theory known to man—UFOs, subterranean bases, polygamous sects, cattle mutilations, the 37th parallel, nanites, empaths—in his quest to find an abducted child. I had to add this to the list just because it is sheer over-the-top, action-packed, good-hearted fun.
   


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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


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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: In the Still of the Night

In the Still of the Night David L. Golemon, 2017.

The Supernaturals are back.

This time, we find the ragtag group of paranormal investigators facing prison for their unpopular work debunking haunted house reality shows.

Released by the FBI, Professor Kennedy and the team are tasked with saving the president of the United States.  The unpopular leader is in a coma, tormented by an entity – or entities – far more powerful than even the team’s old nemesis, Summer Place.

To rescue the president before an angry power is released on the world, the team must unravel ties to insidious Nazi experiment and investigate a contaminated California town that died in the 60’s but has been showing…unnatural…signs of life. They must also follow the memories of a young blind girl, whose death long ago is part of the puzzle.

Having just read The Supernaturals – fantastic, see last week’s review – I was thrilled to get this book for the holidays. Unfortunately, it left me a little disappointed.

In the Still of the Night feels rushed: it lacks polish, detail, and depth. It would benefit from a tighter editorial review.

The characters that Golemon built so carefully in The Supernaturals – Leonard, the tech whiz, tough cop Damian, and Jenny, the possessed professor to name a few – all return here, but attain no further development. Golemon relies significantly on what we know of the characters from the previous book, and consequently they feel flat.

We don’t get the same level of nail-biting suspense, either, because In the Still of the Night charges largely down a single path: there aren’t as many diverse story threads coming together for an intense finish.

There are some great bits, however. The plot is uniquely imaginative. Gloria, the blind girl, is a beautifully developed character and the most interesting one in the book. The power of dream walking is expanded in the story – largely for flashbacks – and offers an intriguing shift of perspective. We also get a nostalgic look back at ‘50s and early ‘60s rock music classics, that will leave a few oldies stuck in your head at the end of various chapters.

In the Still of the Night is a good book: fast-paced and entertaining, and I am glad I read it. I enjoyed following Professor Kennedy and his team on this adventure. The Supernaturals is simply better-written. I would very much like a third book featuring these characters. Just, one that’s as masterful as the first.

rating system three crows


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Review: The Supernaturals

The Supernaturals David L. Golemon, 2016.

The last time parapsychology professor Gabriel Kennedy set foot in Summer Place, one of his students disappeared.  Kennedy turned from a cocky skeptic into a believer: Something evil lives in Summer Place.

Badgered by a cutthroat television producer – and his conscience – Kennedy agrees to return to investigate Summer Place for the filming of a live Halloween special.

But Kennedy isn’t going back to investigate, he’s going back to fight. And Summer Place plans to win.

Kennedy assembles a team of friends with unusual talents including a psychic, a young computer maven from the ‘hood, a Native American dream walking sheriff and a possessed paleontology professor – trust me, this all works somehow – and together they prepare to face down Summer Place.

Golemon based his story on a personal encounter: after visiting a beautiful three-story mansion for a total of two minutes he fled with the disturbing sense that the house was aware of him, and not thrilled he was there. Golemon vowed never to return. In The Supernaturals, Golemon neatly creates this lurking sentience in Summer Place and crafts a deep mythos for his fictional house of horrors.

The Supernaturals is flat-out a great haunted house story. The tale starts strong and builds suspense to nail-biting levels by the tense climax. Standard ghostly tropes are taken to the extreme and freshened with unexpected twists.

We also get a fascinating, behind-the-scenes perspective of all those popular paranormal investigator shows. For as the story progresses, we see Summer Place through the eyes of Kennedy and his crew as well as through the eye of the tv camera. This cinematographic aspect adds an immediacy to events – putting the reader front and center in the supernatural mix along with the camera people. It also gives a deeply visual facet to our reading experience.

Kennedy’s crew battles deceit, entertainment industry egos, disbelief, and dark secrets in their fight against the malevolence that imbues Summer Place. Can they win? Can they survive? At what cost? Don’t miss this one.

rating system four crows


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Review: Stalked in the Woods

Stalked in the Woods: True Stories – Stephen (Steph) Young, 2016.

I’m not going to mince words: this book was a sad disappointment.

Having recently moved to a home surrounded by tall, somewhat sinister woods, I was truly looking forward to creeping myself out with this book. Instead it left me irritable.

Stalked in the Woods reads like a leveled book for upper elementary school students. On the plus side (maybe?): There are no hard words for you to worry about.

On the minus side: You are stuck trying to parse your way through so much awkward phrasing and writing mistakes (thanks to crummy – if any – editing), that any potentially spooky content is lost in frustration. This is maddening, because there are a few stories that could have been chilling.

Mistakes abound: eccentric and random capitalization of nouns, wrong choices of homophones (their/they’re), inconsistent use of single and double quotation marks, problems with possessive apostrophes, and a bizarrely hyperbolic use of the ellipsis. You know, those three little periods trailing off to end a sentence in suspense… In this book, they are variably punctuated with sometimes three periods… or four periods…. sometimes there are five periods….. and on one occasion, eight periods…….. Yes, I counted them. It was making me crazy. There are misspellings. One story, for instance, takes place in the “Missouri Oxark’s [sic].” Double whammy, there.

Editing mistakes aside – and trust me, it is hard to put them aside – there is distracting weirdness going on with the typography. Extra spaces between words. Random switches in font size. Line breaks in the middle of sentences. Some text unaccountably appears in italics. Other text is underlined.

The book is divided into categories of stalkings, sort of. They’re not all stalkings. They don’t all take place in the woods. They vary from disappearing hikers, to a story about Oliver Cromwell selling his soul to the devil, to man pursued by a bogart in England. No, not the ghost of Humphrey. I think they meant a traditional “boggart.”

After a section on vanishings, which reads like blandly re-written newspaper articles, Young switches perspective and presents stories from people who have contacted her to share their experiences. This does not – or should not – excuse all the grammar and vocabulary errors. The onus is on Young to produce a professional publication that doesn’t feel cut-and-pasted from her in-box. Additionally, you can’t always easily delineate where Young’s voice comes into the contributor’s retelling. All of this tragically gets in the way of some potentially spooky content.

For well-written books of creepy true accounts, I highly recommend any of Jim Harold’s Campfire series which compiles tales from his podcast contributors. Or try True Ghosts, which contains stories originally published in issues of Fate Magazine. Leslie Rule’s Coast to Coast Ghosts or any of her other well-researched and haunting titles are wonderful. These are all chillingly satisfying reads. None of them will leave you cranky. Hmmpf.

rating system one crow