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.


Leave a comment

Review: The Book of Koli

Deadly molesnakes, killer trees, and fearsome faceless men are nothing compared to the chilling secrets that Koli learns about his post-apocalyptic world.

The Book of Koli—M.R. Carey, 2020. Rating 5/5

Amazon Affiliate Link

Fifteen-year-old Koli desperately wants to be a Rampart: one of the privileged few in his village who control the old tech that keeps them all safe. And decades after humankind played fast and loose with science, there are lots and lots of things in the woods that want to hurt people, like rogue drones, choker seeds, and tree-cats. When Koli fails to become a Rampart and must settle for life as Koli Woodsmith, he is overcome with jealousy of his friend Haijon, who not only became Haijon Rampart, but won the girl Koli fancied. When Koli learns a shocking truth from a traveling doctor, he grows even more determined to “wake” the old tech. The result is both marvelous and devastating, and changes Koli’s life forever.

I could not put this book down.

Carey’s worldbuilding is superlative. We are tantalized, recognizing remnants of our own world; fascinated by tech even we don’t have yet; and sobered by this vision of things gone wrong, propelling humankind back to a pre-industrial society. We experience a poignant awarenes of things lost, a feeling shared by Koli and other characters. Carey brings his world to life with distinctive speech patterns, cultural traditions, and even conflicting religious doctrines, all unique, yet all with recognizable ties to our contemporary society. The result is brilliant: We feel a close connection to Koli’s world but remain just off-kilter enough to feel a sense of wonder and uncertainty.

Koli bridges the gap for us. He is both deeply wise and heartbreakingly naïve: fundamentally human. Sensitive, kind, and self-aware, Koli knows the pitfalls of his choices but is subject to his youthful emotions. I don’t want to give too much away about this incredible book. It is a journey of discovery for reader as much as it is for Koli: An apocalyptic Bildungsroman filled with harrowing adventures, humor, and hope. Highly recommended.


Leave a comment

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares

A series of deadly bombings and sightings of a terrifying, futuristic creature stalking the streets of London have the city on edge. Holmes and Watson must hurry to foil a dastardly plot that could plunge England into anarchy.

Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares—James Lovegrove, 2013.  Rating: 4/5

Amazon Affiliate Link

With London reeling from the latest bloody terrorist attack on Waterloo Station, Mycroft Holmes entreats his brother, Sherlock, to investigate. Sherlock reluctantly agrees but is more interested in pursuing an apparently unrelated phenomena: Baron Cauchemar, an otherworldly vigilante who is wreaking havoc on London’s criminal enterprise. Thieves and pickpockets live in terror of the figure with its glowing eyes, insectile carapace, and advanced weaponry. When Watson and Holmes encounter the mechanical avenger, Watson also leans towards a supernatural explanation—but Holmes knows better.

As the bombings circle closer to Buckingham Palace, endangering the Queen, Sherlock and Watson add names to their growing list of suspects: malevolent Professor Moriarty; the wealthy French emissary, De Villegrand; and “One-arm” Torrance, former sailor turned human trafficker. Together, Holmes and Watson discover the connection between Baron Cauchemar and the evilly ambitious individual behind the attacks.

I am a die-hard Sherlockian. I am not so much into steampunk. I was hesitant to pick up this book, thinking two would combine about as well as orange juice and toothpaste. Happily, I was wrong! The combination is as satisfactory as bacon and eggs. (I mean that as a good thing. If you’re not into bacon and eggs, substitute your own copacetic combo.)

Lovegrove stays true to tradition while breathing new life into beloved characters. We are treated to Holmes’s brilliant deductions (though a little too fallible in spots for me), disguises, pursuits, pitched battles, Watson’s engaging and drily humorous narration, lovely period detail, and an enjoyable if not particularly twisty mystery. Holmes fans will find all their boxes ticked (and we’re picky fans). The sci-fi element—using Victorian steam technology for then-radical inventions, a la Jules Verne—teeters on the edge of fantastical, especially in grand finale, but adds an imaginative, future-forward layer that meshes with Holmes’ own practices. The Stuff of Nightmares is a fun addition to Sherlock Holmes pastiches. I look forward to reading the second in series, Gods of War.


Leave a comment

Review: Devoted

When a preternaturally intelligent golden retriever makes a telepathic connection with an autistic boy, their bond presages an evolutionary step forward for man and canine-kind—if they can survive the evil plans of a crazed killer.

 Devoted – Dean Koontz, 2020. Rating: 4/5


Amazon Affiliate Link

Kipp is a member of the Mysterium: a scattered group of goldens who possess human intelligence but lack the ability for human speech. They communicate telepathically over the ‘wire.’ Some of their humans know their secret, others do not. Kipp’s guardian, Dorothy, is aware of how special he is. When she passes, Kipp is devastated, but is now free to find the one boy—the only human—he’s ever heard on the wire.

Miles away, eleven-year-old Woody Bookman, a genius high-functioning autistic boy who has never spoken, finishes his report on the murder of his father. Unknown to Woody, his investigation unleashes retribution: a wetworks team heads toward Woody’s home to cover up any incriminating evidence—including people. As Kipp races towards Woody, so does Lee Shacket. An executive at a secretive research installation, Shacket escapes the lockdown and destruction of his top-secret lab. Infected with experimental archaea, devolving into a monstrous creature, Shacket becomes violently fixated on finding and dominating the woman who got away from him—Woody’s mom, Megan. Forces of good and evil gather for a showdown.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a heartwarming animal story. Koontz, master storyteller, that he is, effectively pulls all the heartstrings in this one. If you’re a dog-lover, you don’t need to read any more of my review. Just get the book.

The story moves like wildfire: There are many anxious and alarming moments, and lots and lots of teary—in a beautiful way—moments.  While some plot points stretch even my completely willing disbelief, and the deus ex machina ending is very convenient, I don’t care. I care about Kipp, Woody, Megan, and the good and helpful strangers who join their fight. Things are hard in the world now. People are isolated and lonely, and all of us wish for truth and magical connection with those we love—dog and human. Devoted offers us that connection, if only in our imagination. Devoted is emotionally affecting: a suspenseful, thoughtful, lovely read.


Leave a comment

Review: The Rust Maidens

I am back after a long hiatus; dealing with a lot of emotions and worldly minutiae after the death of my father. But life goes on, and so does the blog. The Rust Maidens is an especially apropos read for this memory-crowded time. Like the main character, I was born in Cleveland and grew up in the area during the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The Rust Maidens—Gwendolyn Kiste, 2018. Rating: 3.5/5

Decades after graduating from high school, Phoebe returns to her tired old Cleveland neighborhood. The nearby steel mill, once a source of both jobs and pollution, is closed and deteriorating. One-by-one, the homes on Phoebe’s block are being razed for condos. The narrative switches between past and present as Phoebe recalls the summer after her graduation, when a handful of her friends, including her cousin and BFF, Jacqueline, began slowly transforming into creatures of glass and metal. How Phoebe was the only one who stood up for them. How angry she was at the gossipy ‘80s stay-at-home moms and hard-working but hidebound steel working dads who unjustly reject the girls. How much Phoebe wanted to shatter stereotypes and go to college.

The girls, now known as the rust maidens, become a freaky phenomenon, drawing the FBI, doctors, and gawkers to their street. Phoebe faces a losing battle to defend the girls from public ostracization and stop their metallic metamorphosis.

The Rust Maidens leaves me conflicted. The gritty, economically-depressed setting resonates with my childhood–the polluted Cuyahoga river infamously caught fire the year I was born. Kiste’s descriptions, especially of the girls’ transformation, are exquisite: poetically capturing both the beauty of decay and poignantly highlighting the girls’ sole—if uncanny—opportunity to buck stifling cultural expectations. It is Phoebe’s self-righteous anger that emotionally misses mark for me. It feels one-note, as do many of the characterizations of neighbors and family members. The storyline is pat in some ways yet leaves readers with dissatisfying holes. I wanted the book to be not longer, but deeper. That said, The Rust Maidens is undeniably original, thought-provoking…and bleak.

rating system three and a half crows


Leave a comment

Review: The List

The List – J.A. Konrath, 2009. Rating:  3.5

Clones, ostriches, and inflatable butt donuts (yes, you read that correctly) combine to make a fast-paced and successful (you read that right, too) thriller with a surprising bit of heart.

Chicago homicide detective Tom Mankowski is disconcerted to find a murder victim—a gruesomely murdered victim—with a number 7 tattooed on his heel. Tom has a number 5 on his own heel. After being viciously attacked at the crime scene, Tom and his partner, Roy, track down another numbered soul (see what I did there? soul? sole?) at a fishing lure convention. Bert explains that he and Tom are clones: Tom is a replica of Thomas Jefferson, and Bert is Albert Einstein. The trio is attacked again, Roy suffers a butt injury, hence the donut, and they head off to Albuquerque to meet the doctor in charge of their cloning project. He runs an ostrich farm. Well, briefly. Tom, Roy, and Bert learn that evil clones of Atilla the Hun and a couple of other historic baddies are trying to eradicate them all. The ragtag team splits up to rescue Joan (of Arc) and Abe (one guess) and together they rush to stop the mastermind behind a diabolical plot to take over the presidency and start an international war.

Deep inhale. I know. This sounds far-fetched. Goofy. Cliché in spots. Yes, The List is all of those things. But is it fun? Entertaining? You bet. Tom and Joan enjoy a cute opposites-who-share-the-same-values-deep-down romance, plus Joan’s got mean martial arts skills. Roy and Bert share a priceless sibling frenemies vibe. Konrath brings an engaging, puckish sense of humor to a plot that involves impalement and kidney transplants.

The List is one of those guilty-pleasure reads, like eating those Girl Scout Samoas that weigh in at 8 grams of fat/serving, that you know you shouldn’t have and sure as heck don’t want your holier-than-thou health-conscious friends to see you eating. But darn it, they’re tasty. The List is like that: a quick, satisfying bite. Suspend your disbelief, squash your inner critic, and have some fun with this over-the-top thriller.

rating system three and a half crows


1 Comment

Review: Afterlife

Afterlife – Marcus Sakey, 2017. 5/5

Being dead doesn’t stop FBI agent Will Brody from reuniting with his soulmate in this sci-fi thriller that is also one of the most affecting love stories you’ll ever read.

Killed pursuing a shooter, Brody discovers that the afterlife isn’t exactly what he expected. Not that he knew what to expect, but still. Turns out bad guys end up there too. In an empty, greyer version of Chicago, Brody joins a community of other dead who have banded together for safety against the eaters: those who eat other souls to gain a measure of vitality. Brody and Claire, the love of his life—and death—go up against an ancient, powerful eater who is not only wreaking havoc in the afterlife but pushing his terror out into the world of the living.

Afterlife is a heart-pounding page-turner. The thriller action is sharp and fast, the dialogue pops with humor, and the characters are touchingly genuine. What elevates Afterlife to spectacular is the depth of thought and emotion that sings in every aspect of Sakey’s writing. Even mundane details of daily life attain gut-punching poignancy. Sakey’s vision of the hereafter also calls to mind two works by one of my favorite authors, Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (’54) and What Dreams May Come (’78). Sakey’s unique perspective invokes a layered but similar post-apocalyptic vibe, and a similar message: the power of love and power of good transcend all.

Afterlife resonates like a poem. You’ll finish this book and whisper, “wow.” It will settle insistently, but gently, in your subconscious and your heart, reminding you to live your own life story with passion. You don’t know how much you value something until it’s lost.

rating system five crows


Leave a comment

Best of 2018

There’s a little something for everyone in this year’s top five. Er, six. O.k., maybe seven. (I had to throw in the UFO thriller. And the movie.)

But these are my favorites. We’ve got a western, a Gothic mystery, demonic possession, cryptids, a freakish carnival…Some of these reads are hauntingly, existentially mind-blowing. Some are just great fun. Some will trick you. They’re all magnificent. Text links are to my extended reviews, image links take you to Amazon. Really, all of these books I’d read again, and the movie I’ll definitely watch again. So, yes, I’m glad I own them. You would be too.

Train to BusanFilm directed by Sang-ho Yeon. 2016. You’re in for a bloody and deadly ride on this train when a viral outbreak turns folks into savage, fast zombies. Awesome action sequences and even a little bit of tear-jerking make this South Korean film a gem.

A Head Full of GhostsPaul Tremblay, 2015. An unforgettably disturbing tale of a 1980’s working-class family that deals with the demonic possession of their oldest daughter by letting a reality tv show document the teen’s paranormal behavior and exorcism. But there’s so much, much, more to the story… Multiple narrators, (sort of) make us question the reality of our memories. Profoundly chilling.

Devil’s CallJ. Danielle Dorn, 2017.  Pregnant Li Lian pursues her husband’s killer from New Orleans across the badlands of South Dakota in typical revenge-western style. The difference? She’s a witch. And the killer she’s after isn’t exactly human. Great genre mash-up with a fierce female heroine.

Those Across the RiverChristopher Buehlman, 2011.  A college professor discovers that ending a southern small town’s odd ritual has horrifying results. You can almost feel the slow southern heat and the simmering malevolence of the sinister folks across the river in this sensual, evocative, surprising novel.

A Brush with ShadowsAnna Lee Huber, 2018. It is 1831. Lady Kiera Darby and her inquiry agent husband, Gage, are summoned to the ominous family manor to find Gage’s missing ne’er-do-well cousin, last seen on the perilous moor. A deliciously spooky atmosphere, ominous dreams, and whispers of witchcraft combine with some solid character building to make this Gothic mystery my favorite in the series so far.

The Rib From Which I Remake The WorldEd Kurtz, 2016. Midnight showings from a travelling picture show bring black magic, madness, and murder home to folks in a small 1940’s town. It is up to a hotel detective, Jojo, to unravel the truth. But what he finds makes him question both the very nature of reality and his own existence. Brilliantly written and deeply creepy, this is a stunner of a read.

The OthersJeremy Robinson, 2018. PI Dan Delgado takes on almost every conspiracy theory known to man—UFOs, subterranean bases, polygamous sects, cattle mutilations, the 37th parallel, nanites, empaths—in his quest to find an abducted child. I had to add this to the list just because it is sheer over-the-top, action-packed, good-hearted fun.
   


Leave a comment

Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter  Blake Crouch, 2017.

Jason Dessen is an unambitious quantum physics professor at a decent if unremarkable college.   Contentedly if not happily married to his wife.  He could have been brilliant in his field.  In a parallel universe, he is.

On the way home from celebrating his old roommate’s stellar Pavia Prize – a coveted sciences award he himself potentially should have won – Jason is abducted at gunpoint.  Forcibly injected with an unknown substance.

He awakens in a tightly-guarded research facility hospital.  He is decontaminated and lauded by people who know him, but whom he has no memory of.

Is he losing his mind? Which is his real world?

The Jason Dessen he is in this universe is colder.  Ruthless.  Driven.  As he learns about the powerful invention the other Jason created, he knows he must find his way back to his version of Chicago and the love of his life.

What follows is a suspenseful, blistering-fast read.  Jason travels across parallel universes; some heart-achingly close to his old life, some hellishly or marvelously different.  There is a terrible pathos in Jason’s predicament, and readers identify with him on a profound level.  Crouch touches an enduring existential fear in all of us.  Where does one fit?  What is the meaning of one’s life?  Is there, in fact, meaning?

Dark Matter is foremost a thriller, but it resonates deeper; leaving readers contemplating their own paths not taken and the results of their own choices made or not made.

Some plot revelations you’ll see coming.  Some you won’t.  Guaranteed, you will not want to put this book down.


Leave a comment

Review: Panacea

Panacea by F. Paul Wilson, 2016

What if there was a cure for every ailment?  Cancer.  Leukemia.  MS.  Diabetes.  AIDS.  A cure that reset your body back to its maximum health.  You would make it available to everyone in the world, right?  But, if everyone had access to it, people would live longer, and that could lead to social and economic chaos…Or, would you make sure that your country’s government controlled it?  To make sure it didn’t fall into the wrong hands, of course. Like to those who would release a bioweapon and then sell the panacea to the highest bidder?  That is the central ethical dilemma in F. Paul Wilson’s new book.  There is such a panacea.  Thoughtfully and secretly doled out by a benevolent organization.  And it is being sought after by those with murky motives and deadly means.

Continue reading