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 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: Deep Silence

Deep Silence—Jonathan Maberry, 2018. Rating: 4/5

Captain Joe Ledger and his team are back to save the world in what is possibly the series’ darkest installment yet.

A massive terrorist attack on Washington, DC, leaves hundreds dead. Ledger’s department, the clandestine DMS, suspects that a new baddie has refined an alien technology and is making a God machine: triggering earthquakes and causing madness, murder, and suicide in people exposed to its influence.

Even worse, the sitting U.S. president is an incompetent pawn for a far savvier foreign government. He disregards dire intelligence warnings, decides that his own DMS is a threat to his power, declares it unpatriotic, and vows to disband it. All this, despite the imminent destruction of his country.

Ledger fights the good fight for the freedoms of the average joe, battling ignorance at home and the sly and deadly machinations of a new Soviet Union. Ledger encounters everything from the evil legacies of former foes, to aliens and dark gods from a Lovecraftian universe.

I have been a rabid fan of Joe Ledger series for years, so I will warn you: Don’t pick this one up unless you’ve read the others. It won’t have the emotional impact, and you’ll be a little lost by references to past villains and their evil toys.

As always, Maberry delivers great battle action and intense fight scenes. Ledger’s military tech and weaponry put James Bond’s gadgets to shame. Rapidly changing points of view add to the tension and make you fly through the pages.

There is less character development in Deep Silence, which is mostly o.k., because by now we know these tough, true guys and gals. At the same time, I wished for a little more to soften things a bit, because this story is dark.

In Deep Silence, Maberry creates a unsettling political climate that is frighteningly, realistically close to that in America today. This realism somehow spills over onto the ideas of alien technology and Cthulhu-like monsters, making them disturbingly plausible. I very much enjoyed Deep Silence and it is a turning point in the series: but is isn’t my favorite. Maybe it is too uncomfortably close to reality. At the same time, it offers something I’m lacking a little bit these days: hope for the future.

rating system four crows


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Movie Review: Train to Busan

Train to Busan Directed by Sang-ho Yeon. Written by Joo-Suk Park and Sang-ho Yeon. Rating 5/5

What? A perfect rating for a movie about zombies on a train? Absolutely. And it’s coming from a person who’s a devoted fan of both.

I’ll watch any train movie from classic to campy: Silverstreak. The Cassandra Crossing. Breakheart Pass. The Midnight Meat Train

Same with zombie movies: Rec, Pontypool, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Some are good. Some are bad. Some are great. Train to Busan is great.

When heard about Train to Busan I was excited, but also fearful that zombies on a train would fall into a mediocre slot at best. Boy, I was thrilled to be proven wrong: Train to Busan combines the absolute best of both genres. It is like an even more amped-up version of 28 Days Later meets Unstoppable.

The story is set and filmed in South Korea, with a South Korean cast. The version I watched was dubbed in English but don’t let that put you off. Any initial weirdness you may feel about the voice-overs vanishes almost immediately as you’re sucked into the story.

Seok-woo, (Gong-Yoo) is a young father and a stock trader who is a little too absorbed in his business. He neglects his little daughter Soo-an (soulfully played by Su-an Kim). Realizing he’s been a jerk, he gives into her birthday wishes to see her estranged mother in Busan. Together they board the train to Busan amidst ominous signs of unrest in the city around them.

Things go badly, bloodily wrong from there. A leak from a bio-research facility has resulted in violent, instantly reanimated, extremely fast zombies. The outbreak spreads rapidly through the country—and on board their train. Seok-woo and his daughter band together with a husband and his pregnant wife, a high-school baseball player and cheerleader, and a few other unfortunates. They battle for survival as the train barrels along to Busan.

Several things set this movie apart and above other train and zombie flicks. For train buffs: this film does some highly original, over-the-top train action that I’ve never seen before. I won’t give it away, except to say it ramps up in second half of film: I was electrified.

The same goes with the zombie action. I know you’re thinking, “ah, seen one fast zombie, seen ‘em all.” Not so. The film does some clever camera work: teasing you with things barely seen and hitting you with things very graphically seen that makes these zombies truly frightening. Equally frightening is the film’s creative use of the sheer overwhelming mass of zombie attackers. And, additional kudos: these zombies are deeply alarming without exorbitant makeup.

Finally, the acting is excellent. There are bona-fide tear-jerker moments. Out-loud “oh no!” moments. The father-daughter pair is heartwarmingly portrayed. There is even character growth—in a horror thriller! Nice.

Train to Busan is impressive. It screams along, leaving you feeling pumped-up and in a weirdly positive mood: kind of like you just survived the zombie apocalypse yourself. I watched it last night. I’m ready to watch it again. Don’t miss this one: you’re in for a great ride.

rating system five crows


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Review: The Others

The Others – Jeremy Robinson, 2018. Rating 4/5

Willingly suspend your disbelief and you’re in for a crazy-fun ride along the 37th parallel with PI Dan Delgado and his ragtag team on a quest to find a missing child.

Along with his elderly office assistant, a gun-toting pastor, and a fast-talking young Uber driver, Delgado travels to Colorado City, AZ following the trail of an abducted girl. The question soon becomes…abducted by whom…or what?

And Delgado isn’t the only one searching. Some heavily-armed and very skilled paramilitary teams are now after him.

The Others is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. A brainwashed polygamous sect, UFOs, cattle mutilations, empaths, nanites, greys, government cover-ups, a secret underground base…The Others has it all.

We’ve got plenty of shoot-outs and alien encounters. A righteous cause. Truly funny bits. Characters with just enough depth to save them from being cartoony: Delgado, for instance, is dogged by a personal tragedy that ultimately strengthens him. By the end, hearts and minds alike are opened.

The Others is good-humored and good-hearted. When you pick it up to read the next chapter, you get a weirdly upbeat, anticipatory feeling, like you’re about to eat a plate of your favorite cookies while watching an old-time, action-packed T.V. show from your childhood. Like, maybe the A Team. And that’s a good thing.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Man of Legends

The Man of Legends – Kenneth Johnson, 2017. Rating: 3.5/5

People who meet him think he’s an angel. He knows he’s cursed. He has been around for centuries. His mission on earth is electrifying.

Will, the mysterious man of legends, is always on the move, constantly striving to help mankind better itself, one person at a time. He is an empathetic ear, a nudge in right direction, a gift that changes your life. A savior of suicides, and protector of the defenseless. He has studied under the likes of Gandhi. He has influenced authors, inventors, and scientists; sharing ideas that have transformed the world.

The Catholic Church has been pursuing him across time. They must not catch him. And he must not give in to the sympathetic dark-haired man who appears in Will’s rare moments of weakness.

With The Man of Legends, Johnson, a prolific writer-director of both film and tv classics (including the original V miniseries) has created an intriguing genre-bender.

Johnson mashes together the thriller, historical fiction, an age-old legend, and a timeless conflict into a contemporary urban setting. It actually works. The writing moves fast, flipping between multiple points of view. We follow mainly the perspectives of Jillian, a jaded, racist tabloid reporter; Father St. Jacques, Will’s Vatican-empowered pursuer; a lover grown old; and Will himself. The story flashes back often to vividly-imagined turning points in history, then leaps back to the present where the storyline races to its crisis point. We learn Will’s secret, and a secret even more profound.

The Man of Legends is an absorbing read and one that would transfer easily to film—Johnson’s writing is so animated. Although at times the depiction of Will’s good deeds and their grateful recipients feels a little heavy-handed and cliché—edging towards saccharine—Johnson makes up for it with his evocative historical snapshots and the genuine poignancy of Will’s suffering. The Man of Legends delivers a unique, fast-paced tale that leaves you pondering the nature of redemption as well as the nature of evil—and the possibility of its salvation.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The River at Night

The River at Night – Erica Ferencik, 2014. 4/5

We all have that friend, right? The shining star with her infectious charisma and almost obnoxious joie de vivre, throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude whom we’d follow to the ends of the earth – despite the gut-level misgivings we may have?

In The River at Night, Pia is that friend for her small posse of forty-something BFFs, Win, Rachel and Sandra. Seemingly unlike Pia, the three are weighted down with mid-life baggage: Win is suffering the loss of her special needs brother; Rachel, a brittle ER nurse counts the days of her sobriety; and Sandra struggles with an abusive husband.

For their yearly weekend get-together, Pia convinces the three to go white water rafting on an uncharted river in remote northern Maine. This is well outside the three ladies’ comfort zone, but they agree with a mixture of fear and exhilaration.

What could possibly go wrong? Lots. Lots and lots of things could – and do – go wrong. Kind of north woods, Deliverance-level wrong. This girls-weekend-out turns into a survival thriller.

Through the eyes of our narrator, Win, the most fearful of the group, we experience both the beauty of the outdoors and its terrors. We appreciate the give and take of friendships: from an initial tiff that exposes tiny slivers of resentment towards Pia, to the ladies’ trial-by fire (well, water) empowerment, to the overarching love the women have for each other.

That’s all good stuff, but the book really takes off with its river sequences. Ferencik treats us to some great physical action writing: graphic description and vivid, immediate detail. You’re in the raft – or more likely out of the raft – with the women, struggling to swim, surface, breathe, survive. My tiny cavil? I personally wished for just a little …more… at the very end. Just a little. Still, the book is a stunner.

The River at Night reads as fast and frenetic as screaming down the high slide at a waterpark, its increasingly frenetic pace mirroring the growing desperation of the women. If you have a fear of water, this will be an especially white-knuckle read for you. A great summer read. That is, as long as you’re safe on shore.

rating system four crows