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: Monster Hunter Siege

Owen Pitt is tired of waiting for the end of the world. Now, he and a crew of elite international monster hunters are taking the fight to the chief baddie himself, Asag, the god of chaos, in an effort to preempt humanity’s holocaust.

Monster Hunter Siege – Larry Correia, 2017. Rating: 4.5/5

Once an accountant, Owen Zastava Pitt, or “Z”, is now a top-notch monster hunter and the Chosen One, destined to save the world or die trying. Now, about to be a father, Owen knows he needs to go on the offensive and stop letting ultra-powerful and mysterious entities call the shots. Owen convinces his werewolf boss, Earl, to mount a massive attack on the City of Monsters, located on a remote Russian island where intel suggests there is a portal to the Nightmare Realm—and Asag. While MHI and their allies hold the island against all kinds of creative monstrosities, it is Owen alone who can travel to the Nightmare Realm and not only take the fight to Asag, but bring back seven hunters who have been trapped there for months.

Monster Hunter Siege is exactly what I’ve been needing: a warm-hearted, breakneck shoot-em up with lots of monsters, good and bad, and characters that shine. There is never a dull moment—or even a slightly less exciting moment—as Owen achieves détente between the orcs and elves at a local barbeque (open bar), establishes fraternal relations with a Russian mobster as they battle a child-eating vodyanoy, and goes on to fight sky squids, evil Fey, and legions of Asag’s minions. We’re talking sheer fun and lots of firepower, here.

Correia writes with a droll sense of humor and doesn’t compromise on characterization; two reasons I love the Monster Hunter International series. Owen’s relationships with his father, and with the lost hunter and ex-nemesis, Lococo, are authentically moving. The novel’s poignancy and the dark nature of its conflict are offset with brilliantly sweet and funny scenes like Owen’s meeting with Poly, the one-eyed, comic-book loving cyclops. The series is a treat.

If you’re new to Owen and MHI, you can certainly jump in with this installment, but I recommend starting with the first title, Monster Hunter International: pure enjoyment.


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Review: Rage

A mysterious cabal masterminds a bio-weapon attack on a small island off the coast of North Korea, killing the entire population and bringing the US, China, and the Koreas to the brink of war. It is up to Joe Ledger and the newly formed Rogue Team International to take down the baddies before one of the world leaders gets an itchy nuclear trigger finger.

Rage – Jonathan Maberry, 2019.  Rating: 3.5

Joe is an ex-cop, fighting machine, weapons expert, and good-guy at heart—at least until the Killer facet of his three-fold personality takes over. Then he becomes a merciless enforcer of justice. Joe and his team work for the enigmatic and powerful Mr. Church, responding to international incidents and protecting regular folks around the world. This time, Joe must track down two of his arch-nemeses who are behind the horrific attacks driving sane people into (graphically) murderous rages.

Rage left me pensive. I am a big fan of the Joe Ledger books: the characters are old friends, and I love to get reacquainted with them and watch their growth—and hope that they don’t get killed. Rudy, Joe’s friend, and criminal psychiatrist extraordinaire is back, and Junie, too, worrying (rightfully) about Joe’s mental health. The action sequences are breakneck and shudderingly memorable: Maberry knows his weaponry. And the bad guys? Depraved geniuses. This is all good stuff. (Really!)

Rage put me in a brown study, however, because it hits remarkably close to current world politics. Like, nail-on-the-head close. It was somber. Critical. Bleak. Hopefully not prophetic. Definitely not a typical rollicking escapist action-thriller. I feel that we lost a little of the heart of the series—sacrificing character relationships for a platform, albeit an important one. For those of us already feeling disaffected with our government, Rage exacerbates our levels of unease and fear. It is well-written, suspenseful, and absorbing, but grimly true to life.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Book of the Dead

Shoggoths are popping out of sinkholes, Cthulhu is clawing its way out of some other dimension, and mankind is on track to be enslaved and devoured unless ancient languages professor and reluctant hero, Matt Kearns, can save the world. Beck pulls out all the stops in this entertaining homage to Lovecraft.

The Book of the Dead – Greig Beck,  2015. Rating: 3.5/5

Matt Kearns is a good-looking professor, a bit of a ladies’ man, who is currently jockeying for a tenured job at Harvard. But the position is contingent on a short, easy trip to Syria to help the military translate some ancient tome. No problem. Except the book is a copy of the original Necronomicon, and a planetary convergence is just days away when a cult of Cthulhu worshippers will open the gate for the Old Ones. Plus, tentacled slimy things are eating people. Matt and a tiny elite team made up of a couple SEALs, two military officers, a young anthropologist, and a formidable one-woman army in the form of an Israeli Mossad agent, must decipher the Necronomicon and stop the madness.

The Book of the Dead does not require a lot of brain power but does demand a lot of suspension of disbelief. One little sinkhole and a Shoggoth quickly ramps up to world-wide earth-falls and a full-out army of slimy monstrosities that is subjugating the population. Salvation comes down to the woefully outnumbered (and rapidly dwindling) little strike team. If you can avoid rigorous logic—actually, any logic—for a while and accept Beck’s wild premise, you’ll get a kick out of the book. Kearns is a likeable hero who doesn’t take himself too seriously (except when dealing with viscid monsters). A good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor balances out the military action. Lovecraft groupies will appreciate the abundance of black goo and floating eyeballs while thriller fans will enjoy the tale’s shoot-outs, knife-outs, and all numbers of battles versus both humans and octopus-like things. In his concluding Author’s Notes, Beck reveals his own love of the Cthulhu Mythos, and explains a few allusions for those of us who aren’t quite as well-versed.

The Book of the Dead rockets along and will make for a fun, escapist beach read. Wait. Make that a porch read, it’s safer. Who knows what might suck you down into that sand?

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Devil Aspect

Everyone has the potential for evil, according to Carl Jung. Psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Kosárek agrees. He has revolutionary plans to expose this Devil Aspect in six of Czechoslovakia’s most notorious serial killers. But will Kosárek’s findings come in time to help the police stop a madman’s bloody spree? Keep a light on: This intelligent, profoundly disturbing thriller will have you physically looking over your shoulder while intellectually pondering the true nature of evil.

The Devil Aspect—Craig Russell, 2018. Rating: 4.5/5

Young Dr. Kosárek is eager to begin his new position at the remote Hrad Orlů Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The asylum, located in a forbidding castle with a dark history, has always attracted evil. Now it houses the Devil’s Six, the most violent madmen—and women—of the modern age. Kosárek ignores the unfriendly attitude of the of local villagers as well as the castle’s ominous legends and begins his narcosynthesis sessions. Kosárek fully intends to restore each criminal’s memories of their evil side, unify their dichotomized selves, and if not cure them, at least ease their “great sadness.”  Kosárek’s quest intersects with that of experienced police detective, Kapitán Lukáš Smolák, who is desperately tracking the infamous Leather Apron–a killer who is literally butchering German women in Prague.

The Devil Aspect is an exceptional read. On one level, the novel is a fast-paced police-procedural crossed with a psychological thriller, but Russell weaves in many other threads that add depth and color (dark, dark color) to the story. The setting is 1935, and Russell integrates the growing tension—fueled by the rise of Hitler—between the Sudeten Germans and the Czechs. Kosárek’s Jewish transcriber, Judita, foresees the coming cataclysm, and fears becoming a victim. Compounding the real unease of the political situation is the growing menace of sinister figures from Slavic folklore which assume terrifying reality as motivators for the Devil’s Six. Both Kosárek and Smolák also struggle with memories of traumatic childhood incidents that now inform their adult lives. What have they—and we—walled off to protect fragile psyches? An electric, unnerving read.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: Intercepts

Intercepts: A Horror Novel—T.J. Payne, 2019. Rating: 4.5/5

Joe Gerhard works for the Company. He’s in charge of painfully forcing vegetative, sensory-deprived human “antennas” to gather intel on international bad guys. But one of the antennas tunes in to Joe’s family, intent on making Joe’s life as hellish as their own.  Payne’s uniquely arresting thriller is unputdownable.

The antennas were once human. Maybe a tiny part of them that isn’t insane is still human. Now, trapped in padded cells in a high-security underground laboratory, breathing gas that takes away all feeling, the antenna exist only to lock onto the Company’s targets. When sensation is briefly, excruciatingly returned to the antennas, they achieve a kind of focused remote viewing. Joe doesn’t know if the shadowy Company is military, government, or private, but they have the funds and the chilling ability to red flag—and disappear—people.

For years, Joe has chosen work over his family, although his work was always for his family: his ex-wife Kate, and his teenage daughter Riley. Joe has become inured to the suffering of the antennas, accepting their condition as a tradeoff for the greater good. Motivated by hatred and vengeance, one antenna, Bishop, has painstakingly fought her mental imprisonment, intercepted Joe’s mind, and found his weaknesses. Bishop drives Kate to kill herself and starts working on Riley. The teen struggles to fight the suicidal suggestions that Bishop plants in her mind. Joe will do anything to save his daughter.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot because Intercepts is exceptional. You must read it and discover it for yourself—trust me, you will never forget it. The story rockets along—the suspense is agonizing because you have a bad, gut feeling of how things must end. (You might be wrong…a little bit.) Payne also doesn’t sacrifice character development for plot. You are emotionally conflicted because you empathize with both the antennas—even the vindictive acts of Bishop—and with good-intentioned dad Joe and his sensitive teen daughter.

Payne hits a contemporary nerve in Intercepts: His shocking vision is all-too possible. Horror, here, is the justification of man’s inhumanity to man…and what happens when the products of ethically immoral science strike back.  Intercepts is the first book this year to earn a place my end-of-the-year top five list.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: White Lies

White Lies – Jeremy Bates, 2012. Rating: 1/5

On a dark and stormy night, high-school English teacher Katrina Burton acts against her better judgment and picks up a hitchhiker. A skeevy, drunken, angry hitchhiker. Katrina lies to get him out of her car, and while the trick works, it spirals into a series of untruths that involve her falling for a sociopath and covering up multiple murders. Don’t get too excited. The book is awful.

Katrina is recovering from the death of her fiancé two years ago and looks forward to her new teaching job in small-town Leavenworth, WA. Unfortunately, she discovers that the creepy hitchhiker she picked up is Zach Marshall, the philosophy teacher at her new school. Zach is equally unpleasant sober. He thinks she lied about having a house on the lake (she did). To catch her out, Zach wants Katrina to throw a teacher party at her home. He decides to “start a vendetta” against Katrina and sneaks around her house, peeping in her bathroom window while she’s bathing.

Meanwhile, Kristin meets tall, broad-shouldered, charismatic, handsome Jack Reeves. Jack is Kristin’s knight in shining armor. Plus, he has a Porsche. They hit it off immediately and fall into bed, despite Jack’s admission that he was a pit fighter with mob connections who killed a guy in the ring (!)

** Major plot spoilers ahead in the next paragraph. But frankly, I hope no one reads this book. So go ahead, read the spoilers. **

Kristin and Jack throw the faculty party at a rental house. Jack savagely kills the elderly landlord. Kristin believes that it was self-defense or an accident—whatever: the point is, Jack’s not to blame—and helps Jack stuff the body into a truck and to make it look like the old man died in a car accident. Except they mess it up and have to go back and set the truck on fire. But a witness already found the truck, so Jack kills him. Zach also witnessed the murder, but he’s falling for Katrina’s sister and doesn’t want to screw up his chances with her by calling the police on Katrina. (What?!) More murders (four, I think) and more intimidation (Jack threatens to have a friend rape Zach’s mother) ensue. Kristin and Zach finally tell the truth, and we learn that Jack is not what he seems. (He’s a homicidal ex-CIA agent. Really.) Despite being charged as accessory to murder and receiving a year of probation – Kristin keeps her job at the school. Excuse me?!

** Spoilers over. **

This book is dreadful.

The characters are shallow, unbelievable, and completely unlikeable. Kristin is bald-faced stupid. She helps Jack because she can’t envision him in jail. He has such zest for life, he’s like a “stallion,” who is “not meant to be caged.” Please. Kristin weakly argues with her conscience that maybe Jack is a murderer and a liar, (Yes!) but more likely, he’s a “decent man doing what anyone would have done.” (No! No!) Even the priest she confesses to urges her to turn Jack in, but she is “blinded by love.” Ugh. I can’t suspend my disbelief (and basic outrage) at such a wuss of a character to enjoy any part of this book. And she’s supposed to be a teacher! Look: I don’t need or want strong female characters in everything I read. I’m not asking for Arya or Hermione, here. But there’s a difference between a well-written vulnerable female character, or a meek character, or even a weak-willed character, and this caricature of a helpless female character. She thinks hardware stores are “men’s places” for gosh sakes. Everyone else is just as disagreeable.

I’m a thriller junkie. But this wasn’t thrilling, it was ridiculous and irritating. I typically don’t review books that I don’t like—I don’t want to waste my time. In this case, I’m doing it to save other people time. Don’t bother with White Lies. Cons: Characters. Plot. All the biggies. Pros: It was over quickly.

rating system one crow


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Review: A Single Light

A Single Light – Tosca Lee, 2020. Rating 4/5

In this fast-paced sequel to The Line Between, Wynter and Chase emerge from their underground bunker to find America in shambles. Somewhere in this lawless wasteland they must find antibiotics to save the life of Wynter’s friend.

Months earlier, Wynter escaped a doomsday cult, met and fell for an ex-Marine named Chase, delivered a suitcase of bio samples which could save the world from the early onset dementia pandemic, and ended up in a time-locked silo with her last remaining loved ones and about 50 other folks for six months. There. You’re caught up.

Now, the silo residents anxiously await Open Day—when they can return to the world. The gentle Doomsday prepper, Noah, gives the group daily video updates from the farm on top, until one day the messages stop. Tensions mount, suspicions grow, and things get violent down below. Wynter and Chase have a falling out. Chase takes a team topside and discovers that the farm has been looted and ransacked and everyone is gone. Unfortunately, the group also finds out that America has not recovered—the opposite in fact. There is no vaccine, the virus is still rampant, and the existing survivors are not the nicest folks. Chase and Wynter go on a dangerous quest for the medicine that will save Julie.

Calling A Single Light “action-packed” would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, the book feels like an extended, breakneck A-Team episode (though a lot grittier). We’ve got a bad boss-man and his henchmen, a car chase, explosions, fires, a helicopter crash, and urban shootouts. Now, I love a good thriller (and the A-Team), but what I miss in this novel is the character development that made Lee’s first title shine and inspired me to put it on my Best of 2019 list. The best parts of A Single Light take place in the silo. Lee skillfully portrays the simmering tensions of the silo occupants, their descent into mistrust, and their readiness to relinquish cultural norms. That is the good stuff.

Don’t get me wrong: The rest of the book flies. It is exciting, suspenseful, and totally engaging. I had a hard time putting it down—but I did have trouble suspending my disbelief. There are moments of sadness with a few character losses, but the book careens along towards a happy ending. Comparatively happy. There is a pandemic on, after all.

rating system four crows


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Review: Infernal

Infernal – F. Paul Wilson, 2005.  Rating:  3/5

After years of separation, a family tragedy brings Jack together with his waster brother, Tom, who wants Jack to help him start a new life, under a new name. Tom is, to put it nicely, an opportunist. A crooked judge, he’s been taking bribes and working the system to benefit himself for a while. Now, the Feds are after him. Tom’s only hope is to recover and sell the Lilitongue, one of the Seven Infernals, which is supposed to grant protection from one’s enemies. It also happens to be a cursed artifact that the Catholic Church tried to dispose of (for good reason) centuries ago. Jack has no love for Tom’s crooked ways, mooching personality, and his crush on Jack’s girl, Gia, but family obligation wins out. The two sail to Bermuda, successfully find the Lilitongue and bring it back to New York. When Vicky, Gia’s young daughter touches the creepy thing, a dark stain appears on her back and she has only hours left in this world—unless someone takes the stain from her. While Jack desperately searches for a cure, he tries to track down the terrorist group responsible for a mass-slaughter at La Guardia that took the life of someone Jack loved.

I’ve been a big fan of the Repairman Jack series since Book 1, The Tomb. The gritty under (and upper) belly of New York City, the supernatural weirdness, and the characters—especially Jack, a seriously tough guy with big heart who loves classic horror films—all click. Everything works. With each book in the series, I look forward to a tight, realistically paranormal (!) thriller with NYC attitude. That’s why it hurts to say that Infernal falls short. While I enjoyed learning more about Tom (kind of) and Jack’s family, the plot lacked its usual tension. Events felt a little too pat, and the end was not a surprise. The trip to Bermuda read long and was a believability stretch even for a series in which some weird stuff happens all the time. The Lilitongue? Not so scary. The vengeance-against-terrorists subplot was another disconnect. That said, Wilson’s writing style is great, as always, and Infernal did inch the overarching storyline along, and best of all, I got my fix of Jack and Abe. Yep. I’m still a big fan. I’m looking forward to the next title, Harbingers, and hope Wilson, and Jack, get back in the groove.

rating system three crows


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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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Best Books of 2019

O.k., folks! I’m back after a brief hiatus and kicking off the New Year (albeit a little late) with my top five recommendations from all the books I reviewed for 2019. And yes, this time I actually kept it to five. Wonders never cease. All of these are great reads: inspiring, scary, funny, thrilling, oddly beautiful…they run the emotional gamut. Enjoy.

Text links go to my full reviews, cover images link to Amazon.

Afterlife

FBI agent Will Brody is dead: killed pursuing a shooter. But Brody quickly learns that there are bad guys in the afterlife, too, and they’re threating the living—including Brody’s soulmate, Claire. Non-stop thriller action meets a thoughtful, deeply touching exploration of death, and love.

Discount Armageddon

Cryptozoologist, parkour queen, and almost-professional ballroom dancer, Verity Price carries on the family business of protecting the monster communities in New York City from the humans. And vice versa. If that’s not challenging enough, things get complicated when Verity and a handsome enemy must work together to save disappearing cryptid virgins. Fast-paced and filled with fun characters and great monsters.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

A suspenseful, whimsical, stunningly beautiful Victorian mystery about a musical telegraph operator who is befriended by a Japanese watchmaker. There are secrets. Bombs. Clockworks. Gilbert and Sullivan. And magic. Exquisite.

The Line Between

Violence and panic erupt as a pandemic sweeps through the US. Only Wynter Roth, who has lived most of her life in a doomsday cult, has the key to a vaccine. As society rapidly deteriorates, Wynter must cope with present-day lawlessness and past traumatic memories of the cult while she rushes the precious medical samples across the country. Gripping read.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Down-on-her-luck Hal is barely scraping by as a tarot reader when she learns she’s listed as a beneficiary in her recently deceased grandmother’s will. Impossible, since her grandparents died long ago. Despite pangs of conscience, Hal decides to scam her way into the inheritance. Gathered with the family in the lonely country house, Hal uncovers family secrets and finds herself in deadly danger. Engaging, classic mystery with well-drawn characters and a touch of almost-supernatural.