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: A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay, 2015. 5/5

An exquisitely disturbing tale of demonic possession, A Head Full of Ghosts will slink under your skin and itch there like a bite on your brain, for a long, long time. It’s that good.

The story’s premise is very of the moment: a small 80’s working-class family is struggling to make ends meet. The father has lost his job. The teenage daughter is suddenly acting…strangely. The anxious parents futilely try doctors and meds, quickly exhausting their funds. The youngest daughter, energetic and imaginative, doesn’t quite understand what’s happening. The father turns to religion. The mother turns to drink. The answer to all their woes seems to arrive in the form of reality tv: a multi-part series documenting the possession and exorcism of the troubled teen.

This is a flat-out mundane synopsis on purpose. I’m trying to avoid even atmospheric spoilers. Truth is, the story is a stunner. Tremblay has created a powerfully unnerving tale that questions the process of making memories. We’re given one narrator who tells her story as an adult remembering her childhood, while a second perspective offers a blistering analysis of the old television show. We’re left chilled, wondering. Which memories are truly ours? Which are “real” and which have we fabricated? Which early memories have been colored for us, or even created for us, by all the media we’ve absorbed?

As the exorcism approaches, tension builds inexorably to a false summit (think the Manitou Incline, if you’ve ever hiked that beast), then almost impossibly, peaks again. Brilliant.

Tremblay knows and owns his ‘80s culture and uses it to great effect: who would have ever thought the beloved children’s author/illustrator Richard Scarry could be made, well, scary? Tremblay also has a downright encyclopedic knowledge of the horror pantheon, subtly infusing his story with film and lit references.

A Head Full of Ghosts leaves you with chills and deep, troubled thoughts. I immediately had to share these chilly, deep, troubled thoughts with my brother, and sent him a copy of the book for his birthday. Basically, “Have a great day! Here’s a deeply unsettling story set during our childhoods that will freak you out! Love you!” Fortunately, he was excited. The horror gene runs in the family.

rating system five crows


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Review: A Hell Within

A Hell Within – James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge, 2018.  Rating 3/5

Just finish War and Peace? Not quite ready to pick up Bleak House? Need a palate cleanser for your intellect? Look no further. A Hell Within provides brain relief in the form of a straightforward monster shoot-‘em-up.

Carl Price is the long-suffering Sheriff of a small Georgia town that has seen more than its fair share of unearthly foul play. Together with Wade Griffin, his old high school buddy now turned PI, the two men have previously faced off against a vampire preacher and his undead flock as well as an old race of inbred – and interdimensional – folk who live down in the hollers.

In A Hell Within, Carl and Wade confront an ambitious demon summoner who is busily wreaking havoc on their town. Both men are more than adept at fighting their way out of trouble, but they welcome the assist from Wade’s girlfriend (who runs an occult bookstore) and her mentor, a mysterious master of arcane knowledge. To complicate matters further, a new organized crime boss has also arrived on the scene.

Yup. A Hell Within is an odd blend of both cop drama and horror genres. It works, actually. There’s plenty of very imaginative, swiftly-paced supernatural action; lots of violence and tightly-choreographed fight scenes; and uniquely memorable characters, all balanced with a dry sense of humor. A Hell Within is a quick read that will satisfy your itch for a little otherworldy mayhem.

This isn’t Camus or Dostoevsky or Austen, here. It is good fun.

rating system three crows 


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Review: The Twilight Pariah

The Twilight Pariah – Jeffrey Ford, 2017.

Violence erupts when a trio of college students unwittingly unleashes an age-old monster in The Twilight Pariah.

Home for summer break, Henry and Russell agree to help Maggie with her new – clandestine – archaeology project: excavating the outhouse pit of the nearby abandoned mansion.

Harmless, right? And who knows how much more time the friends have together before their separate schools and careers cause them to drift apart? This may be their last adventure together. In more ways than one.

To their shock, they uncover the misshapen skeleton of an infant. A not-quite-human infant. The three quickly discover that they’ve disturbed something else: a monster that has plagued the small town in the past. Now, they are its targets. Henry, Russell and Maggie must learn the creature’s secrets and end its rampage once and for all, before more people die.

The Twilight Pariah is a fun, quick, novella-length read that stands out because of its characters. Russell, the gentle giant. Henry, mild and unsure. Maggie a driving force. Ford excels in bringing their personalities to life, giving them vivacity and a sweetness and surprising depth in a very short space. The character of Professor Medley, a creaky cryptozoologist, made me laugh out loud. That’s the other part of this book that elevates it above typical: its wry and gentle sense of humor.

The story itself is enjoyable: it is successfully atmospheric, has a uniquely-imagined monster, and tension builds to a satisfying climax.  Characterization, however, carries the day.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Those Across the River

Those Across the River – Christopher Buehlman, 2011.

Discontinuing an eccentric ritual proves to be a deadly mistake in this intelligent and evocative horror novel.

It is the height of the Great Depression. Former college professor, Frank Nichols, and his young wife Eudora relocate to a small town deep in the heart of Georgia.

Still recovering from the mental and physical traumas he sustained during WWI, Frank plans to use his time writing a book about an infamous Confederate forefather.

Problem is, the family plantation lies across the river. And nobody from town crosses the river. There are things best left alone on the other side.

Those Across the River is southern small-town horror at its best. You’re hooked with the jaw-dropping opening flash forward, and then reeled in with anticipation. Don’t worry: there isn’t long to wait.

Thanks to Buehlman’s exquisite sensory detail and ease of characterization, you just sink into this story: feeling the summer heat, the lassitude…and the underlying tensions of poverty and discrimination in this slow, rural town.

Buehlman crafts moments of rare beauty and spontaneous fun that make you smile, and then gut-punches you with abrupt and shocking violence. Joy exists cheek by jowl with horror.

The shades of wars – from the atrocities of WWI and the Civil War, to the barbarities committed by slave holders – shape the narrative and lead us to question the nature of humanity. What does it mean to be human? How do we lose our humanity? How do we retain it? Do we want to?

Those Across the River is first-rate horror: sensual and thought-provoking. This is a story that will stay in your head for a long time.

rating system five crows


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Review: Bone White

Bone White – Ronald Malfi, 2017.

A remote Alaskan village. Sinister, superstitious townsfolk. Mysterious disappearances. Granny tales of doppelgangers and devils stalking the woods, turning folks mad. Cue a delicious shiver: Ronald Malfi’s unique new horror novel delivers all this and then some.

In Dread’s Hand, Alaska, a backwoods serial killer turns himself in, confessing to eight murders. The investigating detective, Jill Ryerson, grows uncomfortably aware that the killer’s story defies rationality and is disturbingly connected to other uncanny killings.

On the far side of the country, Paul Gallo is certain that his missing twin brother, Danny, must be one of the victims. Paul travels to Alaska and ends up starting his own amateur probe into Danny’s disappearance.

But the folks of Dread’s Hand keep their macabre secrets well, and they don’t like outsiders. The deeper Paul digs, the greater his horror grows. And the danger grows, too.

Bone White is a crackerjack of a story. In a slow, menacing build, Malfi hooks us with tantalizing snippets of demon stories, dark impressions of village rituals and brief glimpses of the story’s ancient evil. All the while, we anxiously hope for the best – but expect the worst – in Paul’s quest.

Like Paul, we feel increasingly claustrophobic and vulnerable in Dread’s Hand. The inscrutable townspeople, affected by generations of long, lonely winters – and by the presence of the lurking malevolence in the woods – are alien and disturbing to us. This characterization brilliantly adds to our rising readerly paranoia.

Our chill of fear is matched by a nearly palpable chill of winter. Under Malfi’s deft detailing, the bitter landscape becomes a hostile entity in itself.  All around, Bone White is distinctively unnerving.

Grab an extra comforter – you’ll need it – and curl up with this one.

rating system four crowsbone white.jpg


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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: A God in the Shed

A God in the Shed – J-F. Dubeau, 2017.

The serial killer who has tormented the outwardly bucolic Canadian village of Saint-Ferdinand has been captured at last.

He is a gentle, mad old man who has been storing the victims’ bodies in old refrigerators and their eyes…elsewhere. More horrifying? He has been protecting the village from something even worse than himself.

Enter young Venus, a village outsider and daughter of hippies (to her mortification), who inadvertently captures and imprisons a god in her backyard garden shed.

The god is not a nice god. It brings to mind Lovecraftian comparisons: its medium of artistic expression, for example, is gore. Many grisly events ensue.

A God in the Shed is hypnotic. You are lured into the narrative with snippets of village secrets, hints of arcane magic, and whispers of greedy, cabalistic societies.

Chapters shift between different characters’ perspectives, intensifying suspense and horror as pieces of the story fall together (in more figurative ways than one). Heroes become obsessed. Teens are trapped by the transgressions of their elders.

Complementing its flashes of darkly impish humor, the book raises deep questions about the nature of free will versus fate. The relationship between magic and science. Secrets of the afterlife and the nature of gods.

One word of caution: this is what I would call a “wet” book: it has a lot of sticky, bloody, imagery. Not to the extent of Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven, but it will leave us sensitive types with a few images we can’t unsee. Do not, however, let this deter you from the story. Fortify yourself and take the risk. A God in the Shed is a strange, compelling book. You won’t regret it.

rating system four crows