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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Best of 2020 (Yes, There Were Some Best Things!)

I’m glad 2020 is in the rear-view mirror. The year was an emotionally challenging one for me, as it was for everyone. But it wasn’t a total wash: I read a lot of great books this year. I’m thankful for the power of fiction which helped me through this time: letting me escape, letting me understand the world—and myself—on a deeper level, letting me empathize more deeply. Thanks, books! Here are some of my favorite reads of 2020. Text links go to my full reviews, image links send you to Amazon.

Intercepts – T.J. Payne, 2019.

With their personalities stripped and their senses deprived, the government-controlled human “antennas” collect sensitive info by intercepting their targets’ minds. When one antenna infiltrates Joe Gerhard, the man in charge of their care—and torture—Joe’s entire family is at risk. A horrific, gripping story of unethical experimentation and revenge.

The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith, 2019.

Claire, the librarian of Hell, must leave her unhallowed halls for Seattle, to track down an escaped character from an unwritten novel. Along with the inexperienced demon Leto and failed muse (and library assistant) Beverly, Claire discovers that her task is much more than it appears. Representatives of both Heaven and Hell will do anything to get their…hands (wings? claws?) on the pages in Claire’s possession. My only 5/5 rating of the year. Exquisitely written, deeply thought-provoking, uniquely original.

The Complete Carnacki, The Ghost Finder – William Hope Hodgson, 1913.

Nine fantastic tales about the enigmatic Carnacki, an “unprejudiced skeptic” who investigates hauntings, possessions, and all manner of “ab-natural” things in early 20th century London. What would be deliciously classic ghost stories on their own get an appealing new power from Carnacki’s strange “scientific” inventions. 

Haunted & The Ghosts of Sleath – James Herbert, 1988, 1994.

Paranormal investigator David Ash is a confirmed skeptic and skilled debunker. Gruff and flawed, he’s also in denial about his past. In Haunted, a straight-up scary haunted house story, David is called in by some creepy siblings and their old nanny to investigate a ghostly appearance. Things go very badly. Reeling from his experiences in Haunted, David next travels to the village of Sleath, ostensibly to probe the ghostly return of a drowned boy, only to discover the entire town is the imminent target of dark spirits. Darkly beautiful writing, great characters, and spooky, spooky plots make these must-reads.

Monster Hunter Siege – Larry Correia, 2017.

Owen Pitt, accountant-turned-monster-hunter, goes on the offensive, marshalling monster hunter agencies across the globe to attack the god of chaos, Asag. Owen must enter the Nightmare Realm alone to confront the supernatural bad guy and bring back lost comrades. Monster Hunter Siege is a glorious, whirlwind shoot-em-up with humor and heart.

The Tribe – Bari Wood, 1981.

When a rabbi’s son is murdered, and the murderers are later found gruesomely torn apart and covered in wet clay, police detective Roger Hawkins must investigate his old friend, Rabbi Jacob Levy. Jacob and a group of Jewish men from the same Polish town somehow survived the Belzec extermination camp. Now, in 1980s Brooklyn, Roger wonders if they had some supernatural help. A slow-burn multi-layered look at the nature of good and evil.

The Devil Aspect – Craig Russell, 2018.

In 1935, psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Kosárek is eager to prove his theories about evil through his work with the Devil’s Six—a group of criminally violent madmen (and women) of Prague. While Kosárek delves into the killers’ memories, police detective Kapitán Lukáš Smolák desperately tracks an active serial killer: the infamous Leather Apron. Russell’s use of Slavic folklore and his incorporation of the growing tension preceding the rise of Hitler make this intelligent, unnerving novel a standout.


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Review: The Haunting of Brynn Wilder

When a young English professor visits a quaint coastal town to emotionally regroup, she finds that her boardinghouse is haunted and falls for a handsome stranger with a mysterious secret.

The Haunting of Brynn Wilder—Wendy Webb, 2020.  Rating: 4/5


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Brynn Wilder is feeling fragile after a country-song worthy litany of losses (her mom to cancer, her beloved dog, and her twenty-year relationship). She decides to summer in the tourist town of Wharton on upper Lake Superior, where her friend Kate and Kate’s police chief husband (both characters from Webb’s previous novel, Daughters of the Lake, 2018) now live. Brynn loves the historic and luxe boardinghouse, run by quirky LuAnn and her bartender partner Gary. There, Brynn starts to relax and befriend her fellow boarders. She bonds with Jason and his husband Gil, and Jason’s ex-wife from before he came out, Alice, who suffers with early Alzheimer’s. Brynn also forms an instant, electric connection with the devastatingly handsome Dominic. Covered in vivid tattoos that oddly seem to change from day to day, Dominic is a literal “illustrated man.”

Brynn begins to have eerie dreams about past lives, and about the single locked room at the inn, where the body of an elderly lady was discovered. As the summer passes, Brynn begins to heal, she and Dominic fall in love, and the two do their best to support Gil and Jason and Alice as Alice’s symptoms rapidly progress. As Brynn learns more about herself—and Dominic—she begins to think her connection to him transcends time.

The Haunting of Brynn Wilder is a gentle supernatural romance. There are lots of leisurely meals, picnics, happy hours, and conversations with friends—all in a beautifully captured sense of place. You feel as if you are spending the summer with friends at the edge of the glorious—and eerie—Lake Superior. Suspense takes a backseat in The Haunting of Brynn Wilder. The story shines both as a character study, and in its loving treatment of the difficult emotional issues it raises. The story of Alice, transitioning between worlds, offers a poignant look at the devastating effect of Alzheimer’s on patient and loved ones. The novel makes you reflect that family is deeper than blood: connected instead by love, support, and compassion. Webb ultimately offers readers a positive, affirming vision of what happens to us after death.  

Although the ending (no spoilers) borders on being a little over the top for even my generous suspension of disbelief, it provides satisfying, touching closure. A comfortable, and comforting read.


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Review: Peace Talks

Harry Dresden, practicing wizard and dogged detective is back. Now, Harry’s racing to save his vampire brother, rescue Chicago from a formidable foe, and, equally challenging for Harry, exercise tact at the supernatural peace accords.

Oh, Harry—I’ve missed you.

Peace Talks—Jim Butcher, 2020. Rating: 4.5/5

It’s been six years since Skin Game (2014), when we last had the unmitigated pleasure of watching Harry pull off a daring heist of Hades’ bank vault. Peace Talks picks up right where Skin Game left off. Life has quieted down (marginally) for Harry. He and his daughter are living safely with the svartalves. His relationship with his brother Thomas is good. His relationship with Murphy is great. But who needs stability, right? Harry’s grandfather warns him the wizard’s White Council is out to get him. The Wardens think Harry’s humanity has been…compromised…by Queen Mab. Thomas is accused of an assassination attempt. Mab orders Harry to do a favor for the sexy and fearsome vampire leader, Lara Raith. The police are on Harry’s trail for some run-of-the-mill (for Harry) mayhem following the bank heist. Oh, and the dangerous, watery Fomor produce a bona-fide Titan goddess who enthusiastically plans destroy all of humanity. Harry lives in interesting times.

Honestly, I’ve been both longing for and dreading a new Harry adventure. Dread almost won out: what if Butcher lost Harry’s mojo? What if Harry wasn’t, well, Harry? What if the plot got pretentious? Or moribund, like so many series that drag on past their prime? Essentially, what if the book sucked? I refused to read Peace Talks for a few weeks, I was that worried.

Needlessly.

Peace Talks is everything I wanted and, frankly, needed right now: the rush of an amusement park ride, the familiarity of my most comfy chair, and a hero. Butcher got it all right. Harry is still Harry: battered but not broken, hard-nosed and soft-hearted, wry, and a little goofy. And he continues to grow. Harry’s newly developing intimacy with Murphy is tender and shy. Harry’s friends and enemies alike are equally complex. The Chicago Harry knows and loves is gloriously, grittily real. If I visit, I fully expect to run into Harry tooling around the city in his Munstermobile, or exercising on Montrose Beach. Returning to Harry’s world—chaotic, treacherous, violent, loving—is a joy.

Butcher brilliantly keeps a lot of balls in the air, ratcheting the suspense high, our anxiety higher, and the story flying. At 340 pages, the book was still too short, it was that good. The end of Peace Talks does leave the plot hanging off multiple cliffs. I’d be grumpy about this Empire Strikes Back finish, except the sequel is already out. Battle Ground. And I won’t be waiting weeks to read it. Insert sigh of happiness.   

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Review: The Library of the Unwritten

When Claire, Hell’s librarian, pursues an escaped character from an unwritten novel, she inadvertently retrieves scraps of the Devil’s Bible and sparks a conflict that spans realms and realities.

The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith, 2019. Rating: 5/5

Hell’s Unwritten Wing houses all the books that authors never finished. It is Claire Hadley’s job to keep the volumes asleep and in good repair. Occasionally, however, they awaken and escape back to earth to find their author or to strike out on their own. With the awkward demon Leto, and her assistant, the failed muse, Brevity, Claire sets out for Seattle to retrieve a dashing escapee. They collar Hero but run afoul of Ramiel, a fallen angel. Ramiel was a Watcher: His job protecting lost human souls led to his part in the Fall. Now, the fanatical angel Uriel offers him a chance to return to his former heavenly glory if he catches Claire and retrieves the Devil’s Bible. But Claire has no taste for politics. The Library is neutral. Her devotion is solely for her written charges—some of which are her own. Claire, Hero, Leto, Brevity, and the sly demon Andras, race against Heaven to prevent a second cataclysmic war.

Bibilophiles, storytellers—everyone who appreciates a great story will love this book. Fellow librarians will rejoice. Though admittedly, we rarely reject a book about books or heroic librarians, The Library of the Unwritten stands apart and above. The premise is fresh, yet centuries of literature, mythology, and history permeate its pages. The characters shine. Each reflects our own fragilities, regrets, and longings. Their realism makes the novel’s fantastical elements wholly believable—and enviable. The Library of the Unwritten is both fantasy and philosophical adventure. It is a self-reflective story about stories, about the act of writing and creation, but it also raises questions about reality and the construction of self. What makes something real? What makes us autonomous? During her journey, Claire faces one of her own characters, forcing her to acknowledge aspects of herself. As we follow the heroes and villains (though the lines between the two are muddied) from the West Coast to Valhalla, from Heaven to Hell, we share in their journey of self-understanding and forgiveness.

I rarely give a perfect rating. The Library of the Unwritten deserves it.

rating system five crows


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Review: The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death

How exactly did a tomato decimate humankind and cause vampires, witches, werewolves come out of hiding? Find out in this prequel to Harrison’s bestselling Hollows series.

The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death—Kim Harrison, 2017. Rating 3/5

Trisk, a dark elf, is a top-notch geneticist but the glass ceiling keeps her from getting a plum job. Her bitter nemesis, elf Trent Kalamack—“Kal”—has had his way smoothed by his parents’ name and money. Trisk lands a position in a human lab as part researcher and part elven corporate spy. While keeping an eye on fellow scientist, Dr. Plank, who is working on a tactical virus, Trisk develops a genetically modified tomato that promises to end world hunger. Kal, out to discredit Trisk’s research and steal her ideas for himself, links the tomato to the weaponized virus and unleashes a killing plague that rips through the human population.

Trisk and Dr. Plank hop trains, avoid weres, escape the police, and race pell-mell towards Washington, DC to warn humans not to eat tomatoes. But the Inderlander species who have been in hiding for years (witches, pixies, werewolves, vampires, and elves) aren’t so sure they want humans to survive. Political infighting ensues.

I am an enthusiastic fan of Harrison’s Hollows series. While The Turn offers interesting detail on the backstory of series heroes and villains like Kalamack, the demon Algaliarept, and security guard extraordinaire, Quen, the novel is a disappointment. It runs long, takes a while to get going, feels repetitive, and would have worked better as a novella. Believe it or not, even those issues didn’t irritate me too much: The characters are the major turn off. Trisk and Kal are egoistic, selfish, petty, and prideful. I know that’s Harrison’s point, but it makes for a downer read. You don’t care about either of them. The two throw fits of pique, worry about each other stealing their thunder, loathe each other, deceive each other, lead each other on (while totally aware they’re being led on)—and then have sex. Please. I also realize that Harrison is making a stand for women’s rights in the male workplace: Trisk is more competent than Kal, yet her skills are dismissed. Trisk longs for geneticist glory, but it is hard to relate to her struggle when she is as self-serving as Kal—to the point of summoning a demon to thwart him. Fortunately, Trisk has a modicum more empathy than Kal and genuinely wants to warn people about her tomato. But on the whole, The Turn is just meh.

If you’re new to the Hollows, don’t start with this book. Pick up Dead Witch Walking (2004), the first in the series and you’ll enter a beautifully realized world where the supernatural exists alongside the mundane; one that is filled with well-rounded characters and great stories. Save The Turn for last.

rating system three crows