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 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


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Review: The Rib From Which I Remake The World

The Rib From Which I Remake The World  Ed Kurtz, 2016.

Black magic, a twisted picture show and a fiendish carnival come to town one hot summer evening, bringing madness and torment to tiny Litchfield – and making for a stunner of a story.

It is the early 1940s.  George – call him Jojo – Walker is an ex-cop and town pariah, getting by as a hotel dick.

A ghastly murder on his watch spurs Jojo to investigate the new folks in town, those unsettling hygiene movie people.  Jojo is right, the film and its servants are much more than they seem. In fact, a special invitation-only midnight showing leaves townsfolks acting…unnatural, to say the least.

Jojo teams up with Theodora, the downtrodden theater manager’s wife, to make sense of the growing lunacy and violence. Their discoveries lead them to question the very nature of reality, the existence of god, and meaning of their own lives.

The Rib From Which I Remake The World is flat-out brilliant.  The story unfolds like petals of an exotic and scandalous black flower – each one gently opening to give the reader a distressing revelation. Picture yourself, big-eyed, mentally saying ooooohhh…and eagerly turning the page. Like that.

Scenes are so thoughtfully written they feel almost effortless. Ironically – you’ll find out why later – you feel as if you could step right into Litchfield, in both time and place. In a very meta way, Kurtz has built a reality about building reality.

The sense of pathos is strong.  Jojo’s personal tragedies, Theodora’s isolation, and other townsfolks’ afflictions are deeply affecting. The characters are dealing with same troubling existential questions everyone faces: the significance of life and the lack of control of one’s destiny. But here, they are also trapped in a surreal, macabre proving ground. Then again, maybe we are too…

The Rib From Which I Remake The World is unforgettable. Powerful ideas, wrapped in a dark mantle of horror.  Stunning.

rating system five crows


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Review: Into the Drowning Deep

Into the Drowning Deep  Mira Grant, 2017.

Mermaids are real, and they’re not cute.  They’re repulsive-looking, highly-advanced killers that would treat Disney’s Ariel as an amuse-bouche.

Marine biologist Tory knows that the mermaids are out there: they killed her sister and every other living thing onboard the Atargatis.  As a part of Imagine Entertainment’s tv special, the ship had blithely sailed off to the Mariana Trench searching for – and not expecting to find – the fishy cryptids.  They did, and they died.

Tory dedicates her life to avenging her sister, and years later, Tory’s research earns her passage on Imagine’s new expedition. The company got a bigger boat, as it were, and assembled a widely varied new crew of scientists, security guards and tv people, including sirenologist Jillian Thorn, two borderline-psycho big game hunters, twin deaf marine researchers, and Tory’s arrogant ex-boyfriend.  They’re all supported by a high-tech safety system.

Needless to say, they encounter mermaids.  Violent, intelligent mermaids.  And the safety system turns out not to work so great.

Now, I am a huge fan of this author’s October Daye urban fantasy series: across the board amazing characters, world-building, storylines…awesome.  Go read them, they’re great. I was primed to wholeheartedly enjoy Into the Drowning Deep.

But with this new book, the components just never gel.  The story has a conflicted identity.  Horror fiction?  Science adventure?

The reader is presented with mermaids as monsters, and the book reads like a horror novel, but this doesn’t quite work.  For one thing, we know what the monsters are like from the very beginning, so any suspenseful reveal is already undercut.

We also are not sure how to feel about the mermaids: many of the characters on board want to kill them for various reasons, other characters raise ethical environmental dilemmas.  If these are sentient beings, they argue, mermaids should be studied, not exterminated.

So, we have crafty predators going about slaughtering crew members in a wholesale shipboard bloodbath, and we’re not sure who to root for.  Awkward.

The book also feels long, explanation-heavy, and at times repetitious. All the story build-up does not work towards creating suspense before the inevitable concentrated attack on the vessel.  What it does, is leave you unsatisfied at the book’s abrupt ending.  We’ve followed all these characters’ storylines and we’re left thinking, “Hey, wait – that’s it?”

There are great elements to the book.  First, scary mermaids: that’s a unique and intriguing concept. Grant also succeeds in sharing a deep love of the ocean and its mysteries, as well as its desperate need for our conservation.  Central to the story is the importance of language and communication, and Grant sensitively highlights the perspectives of the deaf characters and their feelings towards non-signing hearing people. The concept of how we communicate meaning – from vocalization to sign language – is nicely intertwined with the idea of the mermaids’ methods of conversing.

Into the Drowning Deep is a thought-provoking read.  It captured and held my interest to the end but left me with a general feeling of disappointment.  It was o.k. at many levels, but super at none.

rating system three crows