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 Summoner

The Summoner Layton Green, 2013.

Dominic Grey, working as a US diplomatic security agent in Zimbabwe, is tasked with finding out what happened to the ambassador’s good friend, who apparently vanished during a secretive religious ritual.

Together with a fierce and beautiful local official and a world expert on cults, Grey follows a dark trail of corruption and terror.  Hunting a powerful and evil n’anga – usually a healer and spiritual advisor –  Grey sees things that defy rational explanation and shake his world view to the core.

A tough guy with a lack of respect for authority and zero tolerance for injustice, Grey survived childhood with a violent father and watched his sick mother die despite all her faith and prayers.  Now, his own beliefs – or lack thereof – are challenged by the magic and butchery he witnesses.

The Summoner is a deep book: on the surface a mystery/ thriller with a hint of supernatural, it is truly thought-provoking and disturbing on an elemental level.  Green captures the essence of the dichotomy that is modern Zimbabwe:  vitality and despair, beauty and secrecy, honor and corruption, globalism and racial tension.  This setting creates a shocking juxtaposition of contemporary urban life with primitive rituals and belief systems.

Green leaves the reader with a deep sense of unease.  What is real?  Can unknown beliefs or concepts affect one’s reality, despite one’s own beliefs?  Is magic real? The Summoner will get under your skin.


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Film Review: Get Out

Get Out  2017.

Horror is not a genre known for exploring sensitive cultural issues, but writer/director Jordan Peele brilliantly makes racial tension the source of the terror in this highly suspenseful and marvelously creepy film.

Privileged white-girl Rose (Allison Williams) is bringing her African American boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an art photographer, home to meet her parents. Rose hasn’t told her family that he’s African American, insisting to Chris that it won’t matter. Trepidatious but in love with Rose, Chris goes along and finds his fears realized, and then some.

The secluded family manor oozes wealth, and the family is study in privilege. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a voluble neurosurgeon eager to show he is “with it.” Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), raises viewer’s hackles as the eerily-calm, soft-spoken psychiatrist keen to hypnotize Chris and help him quit smoking. Twitchy, ukulele-strumming younger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is a med student fascinated by Chris’ racial genetic makeup. Compounding the awkwardness, the house is maintained by African-American servants Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), who are all bright smiles and sinister subservience. Chris endures the subtle racism for Rose’s sake, but is deeply disquieted.

Threaded inexorably together, the racial and horror tension ramps up at an uncomfortable gathering with the family’s older, wealthy, white neighbors who are a perfect hairsbreadth away from tipping into grotesque caricatures – which makes them even more disturbing. The party is an ordeal in thoughtless prejudice for Chris, who handles it with grace and good spirit, but can’t shake his growing unease that something even greater than blatant racism is wrong with all these people. He’s right.

The film’s creepiness derives from the cringeworthy racial tension and a magnificently-elicited sense of dread and wrongness. The cast elevates Get Out to an exceptional film: acting is spot on across the board. Kaluuya is perfect as the sensitive, strong, savvy photographer drawn into what becomes an unthinkable situation. Betty Gabriel’s performance as Georgina literally – and I mean literally – gives goosebumps. The ominously dark musical score by Michael Abels captures the film’s building sense of menace. According to an article in Splinter, Peele worked closely with Abels to incorporate blues and African musical influences in the music: the haunting theme song features lyrics in Swahili which translate into “Something bad is coming. Run!”

Get Out has distant echoes of film classics like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives, but Peele takes his film to a unique and truly shocking level. Get Out is chilling. Thought-provoking. Terrifying. Do not miss this one.


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Review: Ararat

Ararat. Christopher Golden. 2017.

Golden’s new genre-bending novel combines elements of adventure, thriller, and horror with mixed success.

Fiancés Adam and Meryam are known world-wide for their sensational adventure documentaries. When their friend and mountain guide, Feyiz, alerts them to a potential archaeological scoop the two race to Turkey to be first on site at a remarkable discovery.

In a cave exposed by a recent avalanche high on Mount Ararat, the adventurers find the remains of a giant wooden ship filled with animal stalls and both human and animal remains: what can only be the lost ark of Noah.  But there is something else amidst the ancient debris.  In a coffin-like box sealed with bitumen they uncover a humanoid corpse sporting curved horns.  A mutated human? Or… a demon?

Ben Walker, an undercover DARPA agent is helicoptered in along with UN observer Kim Seong, and Father Cornelius Hughes, an expert on ancient civilizations.  Walker’s job is to see if the unknown creature poses any threat, and if so, how the US can utilize it.

Their arrival on the site adds to the already growing tensions among the assembled team of archaeologists, mountain guides and Turkish government monitors.  Is it the remote location and close quarters bringing out the worst in people?  Or could the creature in the box be exerting some strange influence?  As project members start to disappear and unexplained violence ramps up, Walker has his hands full trying to find these answers.

Ararat is a solid read.  The premise is great.  All the right elements are here: an isolated and treacherous location, a rising storm, a collection of disparate characters holding secrets, a supernatural element…yet it could have been so much deeper.  The story feels formulaic and the reader is left wishing it had been more fleshed out all the way around: the history, the ancient languages, the potential religious conflicts and ramifications.  The characters have backstories, but not enough for one to care much about them.  There is not enough mountain climbing to make it a great action climbing story, and not quite the level of deep, creeping fear for a stunning horror novel.  Suspense builds unevenly, and even the demon ends up a bit of a disappointment, as it focuses more on wanton destruction than insidiousness.

Ararat succeeds as a quick-read adventure thriller, but had the potential to be much more.


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Review: Nightmare House

Nightmare House.  Douglas Clegg.  2004.

Welcome to a very satisfying ghost story.

It is October of 1926 when twenty-nine-year old Ethan Gravesend takes possession of his new inheritance: a monstrosity of mansion called Harrow located in a quiet village off the Hudson Valley.

Harrow is a legacy from Ethan’s wealthy – and some say, mad – grandfather who collected arcane and ancient objects from around the globe.

Ethan is excited to be back at Harrow.  He has only the fondest memories…so he thinks…of summer and spring visits there as a child.  He meets the old housekeeper, Mrs. Wentworth, and pretty Maggie Barrow who comes in to clean.

The house and its legion of unseen inhabitants soon lets Ethan know it is very much aware of – and anticipating – his presence.  When he and Maggie and her young son Alf make a horrible discovery in a walled-in tower room, Ethan is catapulted into a true nightmare.  There are secrets in the walls.  Secrets in Ethan’s parentage.  And madness potentially within Ethan himself as memories not so fond begin to surface.

Nightmare House has all the delicious elements of a classic ghost story: surprising secrets, an insular, brooding atmosphere, dark imaginative imagery, and classical allusions beautifully woven into the tale.  Clegg’s storytelling is spot-on.  Tantalizing snippets of a gruesome backstory involving an unnatural child and dark spiritualism experiments are revealed by the not-so-innocent Constable Pocket.  Ethan, or Esteban, is narrating from an advanced age, insisting his mind is sharp, but how reliable is he really?  A powerful storm, a possessive presence, a spooky crypt, and two questionable deaths bring a vivid denouement to this nicely-crafted tale.

As a bonus, the edition I read included an extra novella, Purity, which tells the story of another slightly damaged young man.  A sociopath?  With a Lovecraftian god? Also a fascinating read.


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Review: Little Heaven

Little Heaven.  Nick Cutter.  2017.

Three guns for hire.  Loners haunted by rough pasts.

Minerva:  No man can kill her, although she wishes one would.

Ebenezer:  The Gardener.  A cultured man of color who screams himself awake every night.

Micah:  One-eyed.  Solid and steadfast.  An enigmatic ex-soldier.

In 1965, they fail to kill each other and end up forming a strange and deadly team. They sign on to help Ellen infiltrate a religious compound and check on her nephew’s welfare.  What they find in Little Heaven is anything but.

Led by a charismatic, disturbed preacher, Little Heaven is slowly descending into hell.  In the remote New Mexico desert, in the shadow of a toxic black monolith, the compound’s land is dying.  Reverend Flesher’s followers are weirdly drained. Their kids are developing a penchant for cruelty.  In the surrounding woods, revolting abominations creep closer and closer.

The unspeakable events that take place in Little Heaven in ’65 set into motion a showdown with an obscene evil fifteen years later.  Flashing forward to 1980: Micah’s daughter is stolen away by the same nightmarish monstrosity that ended up taking the children from Little Heaven.  Payback.

Cutter tells a great story.  Bold, black-and-white illustrations help create an almost a Tarantino-esque, new-old-west vibe to the tale: with modern outlaws driving Oldsmobiles through small, tired desert towns.  But these outlaws are fighting each other, themselves, and a malignant supernatural force. The two story threads years apart pace each other tightly and come to horrific peaks at almost the same time.

Be warned, however: The eeew factor of Little Heaven is high.  Cutter pulls no punches.  The number of things you can’t mentally unsee – and I was heartily wishing I could unsee some of them – is huge.  Every bodily fluid, body part (human and animal), gross insect, and disgusting combination of these that you can think of, Cutter has thought of already and shares in profound and revolting detail.  This is a “wet” book: graphic, grisly and gory.   Cutter bombards all the virtual five senses, not even excepting taste, with over-the-top, cringe-worthy descriptions.

Scrape away the gore, however, and you find the bones of a solid story.  Cutter’s writing is immediate and compelling.  The main characters are unique with nicely fleshed-out backstories.  You come to care about them, these bad-guys-turned-kinda-good.  They have heart.  Tarnished, but true.

On an even deeper level, Little Heaven explores the nature of evil.  Is there a finite amount of evil in the world?  Does evil draw evil to itself?  Is its nature changeable?  Is there such a thing as karmic payback?  Little Heaven raises all of these questions while wading hip-deep through the raw wages of sin and retribution.

A gripping story: not for the squeamish.