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: Suicide Forest

Suicide Forest – Jeremy Bates, 2014.  3/5

Aokigahara forest, Japan’s infamous “Sea of Trees,” is the setting for Suicide Forest, Bates’ first installment in his World’s Scariest Places series.

English teachers Ethan and his girlfriend Mel have weekend plans to climb Mt. Fuji. They’ve brought along fellow teacher, Neil, their friend Tomo, and Mel’s former high school friend and macho military guy, John Scott. But when the weather turns dicey, they’re left searching for other ways to spend the night. Two other would-be climbers, Ben and Nina, suggest camping in nearby Aokigahara, then starting up Fuji the next day. Japan is notorious for its high suicide rate, and Aokigahara is notorious as the place where many people go to kill themselves.

Although Ethan has reservations about overnighting in the “perfect place to die,” he goes along with the crowd, the majority of whom are morbidly excited at the possibility of seeing a body or a ghost. Berated by local hikers as being disrespectful thrill seekers (which they are) the group promptly ignores warning signs and leaves the main trail, following paths marked by colored ribbons.

Things go to hell quickly. They get lost. Ben vanishes, only to be discovered hanging from a tree, dead. Nina believes ghosts are the culprit. The group’s cell phones go missing. Neil contracts food poisoning and is down for the count. They begin to see movements in the trees. Hear screams in the night. Something – or someone is in the forest with them. Make that someones.

Okay. First off, Suicide Forest is better-written than Helltown. Although the action takes a while to get going, Bates does a respectable job building suspense. He succeeds in making us feel as if we were trapped in the oppressive, still silence of the strange forest. The characters have a bit more going for them in this book as well, in that I didn’t out-right hate most of them. But I did tire of the head-butting between Ethan and John Scott over Mel. Guys, grow up. That said, I also didn’t get what Ethan sees in Mel, who seems even more jealous than Ethan.

I think what troubles me with Suicide Forest is the way the issue of suicide is handled. I do believe Bates is trying to be respectful and empathetic about the subject through the dialogue and thoughts of the most sensitive character, Ethan. But Ethan’s a minority. The others show an indifference to suffering: to Neil, for example, who is in dire straits, and to those who have committed suicide or would consider committing suicide. There’s a lack of understanding. But then again, this is a horror/thriller novel, and Ethan is the voice of reason, so maybe this level of compassion is okay.

*Spoilers ahead*

The next wildly problematic parts involve ‘capturing-and raping-the-women,’ and ‘a-raped-woman’s-violent revenge.’ Um. Lots of gender stereotypes and issues to unpack around this. In a profoundly frustrating short epilogue, Ethan also declares that Mel has unexpectedly “fallen pregnant.” What? Wait! By…whom, exactly? And, really? “Fallen pregnant?” (!) The book crashes to an abrupt, heavy end with another suicide and narrowly averted suicide attempt.Sigh.

Pros: The setting is nicely realized, the plot is suspenseful and intriguing, and the baddies in the forest are definitely unique. Cons: The treatment of suicide and rape lacks sensitivity.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 800 273 8255
rating system three crows


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Review: Monster Hunter: Nemesis

Monster Hunter: Nemesis – Larry Correia, 2014. 4/5

Agent Franks is the Monster Control Bureau’s secret weapon against all manner of demons, shoggoths, renegade werewolves, etc. If it threatens humanity, Franks will terminate it with extreme prejudice. Protect and serve: that’s the agreement he made with the U.S. government—Ben Franklin and George Washington, specifically. In Nemesis, we discover that Franks’ pledge and his life story go even farther back. Like, to the war in Heaven back.

Franks is a badass enigma in previous books, so an entire volume in the Monster Hunter International series devoted to Franks? Just, cool.

But Franks is in trouble. Stricken, an underhanded advisor to the president, is using his Project Nemesis to secretly build his own harder-better-faster-stronger versions of Franks. Stricken doesn’t really care that they’re turning out to be vessels for demons who are excited to get into—and lay waste to—our world. Stricken pins a slaughter on Franks, claiming he’s gone rogue. Now Franks is on the run from Nemesis, the MCB, and a bunch of international monster hunter groups all out for his bounty. But only Franks can stop Stricken and the arch demon Kurst from taking over the world.

Nemesis is a little heavier on the political side than previous titles, which is my only quibble with the book. There are fewer monsters that need routing, but they make up for it in toughness. Correia keeps the action going with plenty of brilliant fight scenes. Franks’ flashbacks fill out his life story across history and are fascinating, fun, and thought-provoking. Old friends like Earl Harbinger, Julie, and Owen Pitt from MHI make appearances, and, awesomely, so do the gnomes. Not only that, but Franks quite possibly experiences an emotion or two: earth-shattering character development! (Really!) Great book in a fantastic series. Read ‘em.

rating system four crows


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Review: Gateways

Gateways—F. Paul Wilson, 2003. Rating: 4/5

The unthinkable happens in Gateways, the seventh novel in Wilson’s Repairman Jack series: Jack leaves his beloved New York City.

Jack is a Robin Hood of mercenaries: a fix-it man with a code of honor, a burning sense of justice, and a love of old movies. He’s also destined to take a stand against a hostile supernatural force that’s on track to annihilate our world. Jack’s a good guy. But the cops probably wouldn’t think so.

Because of his…nontraditional…job Jack stays under the government’s radar and off their computers. It would take a heck of a lot for him just to go through airport security. Like his estranged father laying in a coma after a near-fatal—and highly suspicious—car accident.

So, Jack travels to the Everglades to that find his fears are warranted. Someone’s trying to kill his father. A strange, unfriendly clan of folks is living out on the lagoon. Dad’s neighbor has secrets of her own. There’s a hurricane coming. And Jack doesn’t have enough ammo.

I love the action-adventure meets paranormal thriller combo that is the Repairman Jack series. Wilson takes time in this installment to advance the overarching storyline and ramp up tension about the Otherness, as well as do some solid character building. Jack, long estranged from his father, learns some things he never knew about his old man and gains a new respect for him. Similarly, Jack’s dad learns a few of Jack’s darker secrets.

Gateways has plenty of action. Lots of firearms. Weird supernatural stuff. Neat new characters. Wilson has a unique talent for creating people you feel like you could meet on the street and just pass the time of day with. It is also exciting to see Jack in a different locale. He may be out of NYC, but he’s sure not out of his element. I wouldn’t say Gateways is my favorite in this series—which is filled with brilliant entries—but it is great fun, as always.

rating system four 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: 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