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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Movie Review: Dead Silence

Dead Silence 2007. Directed by James Wan. Written by James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Rating 3.5/5

“Beware the stare of Mary Shaw / She had no children, only dolls. / And if you see her in your dreams / Be sure to never, ever scream.”

With a deliciously creepy legend, disturbing ventriloquist dolls, and a vengeful ghost who rips out tongues, Dead Silence delights viewers with classic chills. It reminds me of the horror comics I read obsessively as a kid: Fun. Retro. Atmospheric. Just enough scares.

Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) left Raven’s Fair long ago, but when his wife (Amber Valletta) is horribly murdered minutes after the arrival of mysterious package containing an old-school ventriloquist dummy, Jamie knows exactly where he needs to go for answers. Home.

We get echoes of Phantasm as Jamie drives his ’71 Olds Cutlass Supreme through his dying hometown to the old mortuary. There, the elderly mortician Henry (well-played by Michael Fairman), offers warnings and a few clues. Along with a seedy, Colombo-esque cop (Donnie Wahlberg, providing dry comic relief), Jamie confronts the ghost of Mary Shaw.

Wan indulges us with some beautiful classic horror imagery: spiraling staircases in a cavernous mansion, long halls with blowing curtains, a fog-swamped cemetery, a decaying theater filled with creepy dolls. The ominous use of sound–and silence–complements the spooky ambiance and ratchets up the suspense ahead of some effective jump scares. Charlie Courser’s eerie music-box score is equally goosebump-producing.

Dead Silence isn’t cerebral horror, here: it’s not Black Swan, or It Follows, or the original, awesome Suspiria, or Get Out. I love all of those. Dead Silence is a different beast, and I like it, too. Think: Harlequin romance vs. Jane Eyre. Both are enjoyable. It just depends what you’re in the mood for. Feel like some fun, old-school scares? Try Dead Silence.

rating system three and a half crows


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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 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: Little Girls

Little Girls – Ronald Malfi, 2015. Rating: 3.5/5

After the violent suicide of her elderly father, Laurie returns to her childhood home to handle the aftermath. She hasn’t had a relationship with her father since she was young and has no positive memories of the massive old house. Laurie plans to sell the place, sell her dad’s stuff, and go back to Hartford as quickly as possible. But Laurie, her writer husband, Ted, and their ten-year-old daughter Susan end up staying longer…bad idea.

Like the house, Laurie has a shadowed history and unpleasant, long-buried memories soon begin to surface. It doesn’t help that the creepy little girl next door, Abigail, happens to be the spitting image of Laurie’s sadistic childhood friend who was killed in a freak accident on the property. Laurie begins to worry about the uncanny Abigail’s influence on Susan.

Questions arise about her demented father’s seemingly straightforward death and the longer Laurie and her family stay, the more Laurie’s tension, her fear of little girls, and her frustration with Ted grow. Is the house haunted? Has Sadie somehow returned? Is Laurie losing her mind?

Malfi nails the classic ghost story atmosphere. A creepy house filled with sounds. Shadows under locked doors. An abandoned well. A shattered greenhouse. Slightly off-kilter neighbors. Remnants of her father’s madness carved into the house. Shivery! Tension builds nicely as two seemingly disparate storylines intersect—albeit awkwardly—in a stormy climax and gut-punch ending. My biggest difficulty is that I didn’t really like the characters all that much. Laurie, perhaps understandably, is a wet blanket, and Ted comes across as whiny and condescending. The most interesting character is the sick, dead father, whom we get glimpses of through flashbacks and second-hand accounts.

Little Girls is a fast read with some unique, creepy-gross touches. It will satisfy your summer ghost story craving, but personally I enjoyed the chilly suspense and dark weirdness of Malfi’s Bone White much more.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Hunger

The Hunger – Alma Matsu, 2018. Rating: 4/5

“…never take no cutoffs, and hurry along as fast as you can.”

That’s advice from an actual letter from young Virginia Reed, one of the few surviving members of the Donner Party, the ill-fated group of pioneers who both lingered too long on the trail, and took the difficult, unproved Hastings route to California. The group was snowed in for the winter of 1846-1847 at Truckee Lake, where some desperate individuals resorted to cannibalism to survive.

That quote gives me chills every time I read it.

The real-life drama with its twist of the macabre is endlessly fascinating. The story is intrinsically filled with suspense, illustrating the great range of the human condition: from heroism to depravity. The tale of the Donner Party doesn’t need much to tip it over into a horror story, which is exactly what Matsu does in The Hunger.

Matsu fleshes out the characters from history books and old correspondence and succeeds in bringing them vividly to life for us. Through shifting points of view and flashbacks to the pioneers’ pre-trail lives, we get to know Tamsen Donner, George Donner’s young and controversial wife; Edward Stanton, one of the most eligible bachelors in the group; Lewis Keseberg a sharp-tempered German immigrant, and others. Everyone is traveling to California for a fresh start. But there is no true fresh start: many of the pioneers are carrying a secret—or a sin—in their hearts. The trip becomes a type of penance. To make matters worse (!) they’re being stalked by a supernatural horror along their way.

Matsu beautifully captures the immediacy of place: we feel the vast and eerie isolation of the prairie and the punishing salt desert. We sense the magnitude of the pioneers’ undertaking. We share their ever-present (and valid) fears of the dangers that lurk everywhere. Our paranoia grows alongside theirs.

The Hunger is a slow, satisfying burn, heavy with foreboding and punctuated by sudden, shocking brutalities. By the time the group is snowed in, we readers are on tenterhooks. And we’re kind of left there. The immediate end of the story is satisfying, but it comes almost too soon after such an extensive build up. We’re left with loose ends. Or perhaps, we’re left to our imagination, or to history. It might be because I was enjoying the book so much, I just got greedy for more.

The Hunger will leave you thinking. About taboos. About what is considered unnatural—historically and today. And about the hunger of humanity: the disease and darkness in the human heart.

rating system four crows