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: Full Wolf Moon

Full Wolf Moon Lincoln Child, 2017.

Jeremy Logan, a professor of history at Yale, is looking forward to six uninterrupted weeks at a secluded retreat in the Adirondacks where he plans to finish work on his monograph about the Middle Ages.

But when a college friend turned forest ranger needs help investigating the savage murders of backpackers in a remote area of forest – all of which occurred during the full moon – Jeremy puts his research on the back burner and starts an off-the-record probe into the odd deaths.

Logan is an engaging character: he has appeared in his empathic enigmalogist role in several other books by Child including Deep Storm and Terminal Freeze. The trouble with Full Wolf Moon, quite frankly, is that from the title forward, we know where the story is going.  There are no great surprises: we know when something is going to happen, and the basics of what is going to happen, so the only mild suspense left is in the how, why, and who.

Suspects do abound as Jeremy digs deeper into the case. Residents of tiny Pike Hollow blame the Blakelys, an extended, inbred family living in a fortified compound outside town… A paroled ax-murderer happens to live nearby in the woods… A scientist, Laura Feverbridge, and her assistants are carrying out her father’s research on the lunar effect on animals in a lab nearby… All of these folks have the potential to be lycanthropic butchers.

Full Wolf Moon is a quick read.  Elements of the story are nicely realized: Child builds an eerily claustrophobic and threatening sense of the old woods. The Blakely compound raises reader’s hackles, and tying it all together is an interesting scientific take on the phenomena of werewolves.  While the storyline is – uncharacteristically for Child – a little bland because of that lack of anticipation, overall, Full Wolf Moon is a solid tale.

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Review: The Elementals

The Elementals   Michael McDowell, 1981.

The Elementals is an exquisitely written horror novel.

Following the death of his unpleasant matriarch, gentle Dauphin Savage, his wife Leigh McCray, and their housekeeper Odessa pack up and take a take a trip out to the remote family summer place, Beldame, to reminisce and recover.

Beldame stands isolate and alone on the Alabama Gulf Coast: bordered by the Gulf on one side, a lagoon on the other, and empty white dunes facing west. At high tide, the Gulf flows into the lagoon and turns Beldame into an island. There is nothing to do there. No neighbors to meet. No television. No air conditioning. All is heat and white light and waves and lassitude.

Joining them at Beldame are Leigh’s mother, Big Barbara, and Leigh’s brother Luker along with his thirteen-year old daughter India.  It is India’s first time visiting Beldame.

At Beldame, each branch of the family has an identical old Victorian home. One for the Savages. One for the McCrays. And one nobody goes into. Or talks about.

Slowly but inexorably, the white sand is swallowing this third house.

While the family memories of Beldame seem to be nothing but happy, there is a disconnect: each visitor except India carries a deeply-buried psychological scar from…things…they may have seen in the empty building.

Young India is fascinated by the third house and intrigued by the mysterious and seemingly superstitious knowledge about it that Odessa possesses. India’s curiosity helps set the coming fearful events in motion.

McDowell’s sense of place is vivid and immediate. The lack of sound, the shades of light, and the dominant, ceaselessly shifting sand, almost physically put the reader at Beldame. And it all gets into your head.

Like an island itself, The Elementals is an insular piece with a small cast brought strikingly to life. Their dialogue wraps around you and includes you in the family. You almost start to believe that you have your own summer memories of Beldame; you feel that close to the land and the household.

The Elementals is a slow burn. It paradoxically creates an overwhelming sense of languor with an undercurrent of extraordinary tension. Small terrors jolt and startle like heat lightning, leading up to a shocking storm of a finale. This is beautifully written horror: it leaves you feeling washed out, as after a receding tide, and wanting to read the book again immediately. Don’t miss this one.

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Review: The Graveyard Apartment

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike, 1993.

Translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm, 2016.

Misao can’t believe her good fortune when she and her young family move into Central Plaza Mansion in the spring of 1987.  The new high-rise apartment building sports fourteen spacious luxury units and is only twenty minutes from the center of Tokyo and close to local schools and shopping.  It is surrounded by cherry trees and lush greenery and…a graveyard.  From their balcony, Misao can see the morbid grave markers and the pall from the smokestack of the crematorium at the Buddhist temple.  Aside from a few distant, empty weed-covered buildings, Central Plaza Mansion stands alone next to the sprawling graveyard.

Misao tells herself that life will be wonderful here for her and her daughter Tamao and husband Teppei if she can just get over her unease with the cemetery.  Needless to say, everything will not be wonderful.  The inexplicable death of their pet white finch after they move in heralds trouble to come.

The few tenants in the building start experiencing eerie and inexplicable events: voices whispering in the basement.  Strange images on their televisions.  And, one by one, neighbors start to move out.

After Teppei and the resident  managers are rescued from a basement ordeal, Teppei agrees that their family also needs to get out of Central Plaza Mansion.  He and Misao look desperately for new place to live, but will they be allowed to leave?

The Graveyard Apartment moves along quickly.  The novelty of a foreign locale and customs gives a little extra spice to the story.  The characters are relatable, but their emotions feel explained, rather than evolved from their dialogue and actions.  This may be a factor of the translation (which seems aptly done) or simply a style choice, but does end up feeling a bit stiff.

More frustrating, however, is the use of the supernatural elements.  The scary bits are neat: the imagery is effective and the suspense is strong.  Unfortunately, there is such a wide variety of seemingly unconnected horror devices it proves vexing.

One doesn’t see how the white handprints appearing on outside of the apartment building connect with the Lovecraftian entity in basement, the nuclear-acting beams of light, the shadow figure in television, the seemingly possessed elevator, or the preternatural attack on Tamao or the violent death of Pyoko, the finch.

Is it just the proximity of a graveyard?  Does it have something to do with the abandoned subterranean shopping mall that dead-ends in the basement?  Does the suicide of Teppei’s ex-wife play into the hauntings?  All of these things are hinted but not brought to fruition, leaving the reader impatient.

Because the background story threads are not woven together, the reader also doesn’t know how to interpret the horror elements and it lessens their effect.  Mr. Shoji, an intriguing character with the potential to help out the reader – and the other characters – unfortunately exits early in the story.

All said, The Graveyard Apartment is not a bad read: it does hold interest until the somewhat anticlimactic end.  It just lacks the cohesion that would have made it great.


Review: Bird Box

Bird Box – Josh Malerman, 2014.

An unusual apocalypse has blinded the world.

The bizarre reports start in Russia and then move to the US.  Something is outside.  If you see it, you go violently mad and kill yourself.  Society has collapsed.  Few if any survivors exist, and those few are trapped inside with their windows tightly covered.

For years, Malorie has lived alone with the children, Boy and Girl, blindfolding herself and going outside only for necessities.  She has trained the children with blindfolds since their birth to hone their sense of hearing.  One morning a masking fog comes, and Malorie risks everything for the faint promise of a better life.  Eyes closed and covered, they make their way to the river and a rowboat, beginning a journey of hope – and terror.  Because something is following them.

Bird Box is simply brilliant.  Malerman has a tight rein on the narrative, keeping the tension almost unbearable for the reader.  He drops plot revelations like little firecrackers that jolt the jumpy reader’s sensibility. This is a book you can’t look away from.

The story follows two timelines:  in the immediate present, we are on the boat with Malorie and the kids, almost viscerally sharing their panic on the open river.  We are as blind as Malorie.  This thread alternates with Malorie’s memories – also in present tense – that fill in the years up to this point.

Malorie discovers she is pregnant just as the first reports of the macabre deaths surface.  As civilization collapses around her, she makes a solitary trip to a safe house where she meets a small group of people who become her roommates.  Personalities mesh well and Malorie bonds with Tom, the optimist who is trying to find a way to live in the changed times and improve the housemates’ situation. Things are as good as they can be until a newcomer, Gary, creates a subtle, increasing divide in loyalties that culminates in the unthinkable.

The reader experiences the same psychological anxiety as the characters.  No one knows what the “creatures” are that must not be seen.  Or could the ensuing madness be self-fulfilling?  Is “man the creature he fears?”  Malerman creates an atmosphere of claustrophobic apprehension.  His writing is spare, but paints a rich picture for the imagination.  Bird Box tears on to powerful finishes in both storylines.   Don’t miss this one.  You will not be disappointed.