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 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


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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


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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.
   


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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.


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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.

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