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 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


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Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay, 2015. 5/5

An exquisitely disturbing tale of demonic possession, A Head Full of Ghosts will slink under your skin and itch there like a bite on your brain, for a long, long time. It’s that good.

The story’s premise is very of the moment: a small 80’s working-class family is struggling to make ends meet. The father has lost his job. The teenage daughter is suddenly acting…strangely. The anxious parents futilely try doctors and meds, quickly exhausting their funds. The youngest daughter, energetic and imaginative, doesn’t quite understand what’s happening. The father turns to religion. The mother turns to drink. The answer to all their woes seems to arrive in the form of reality tv: a multi-part series documenting the possession and exorcism of the troubled teen.

This is a flat-out mundane synopsis on purpose. I’m trying to avoid even atmospheric spoilers. Truth is, the story is a stunner. Tremblay has created a powerfully unnerving tale that questions the process of making memories. We’re given one narrator who tells her story as an adult remembering her childhood, while a second perspective offers a blistering analysis of the old television show. We’re left chilled, wondering. Which memories are truly ours? Which are “real” and which have we fabricated? Which early memories have been colored for us, or even created for us, by all the media we’ve absorbed?

As the exorcism approaches, tension builds inexorably to a false summit (think the Manitou Incline, if you’ve ever hiked that beast), then almost impossibly, peaks again. Brilliant.

Tremblay knows and owns his ‘80s culture and uses it to great effect: who would have ever thought the beloved children’s author/illustrator Richard Scarry could be made, well, scary? Tremblay also has a downright encyclopedic knowledge of the horror pantheon, subtly infusing his story with film and lit references.

A Head Full of Ghosts leaves you with chills and deep, troubled thoughts. I immediately had to share these chilly, deep, troubled thoughts with my brother, and sent him a copy of the book for his birthday. Basically, “Have a great day! Here’s a deeply unsettling story set during our childhoods that will freak you out! Love you!” Fortunately, he was excited. The horror gene runs in the family.

rating system five crows