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: Under a Graveyard Sky

Under a Graveyard Sky—John Ringo, 2013. 3/5

When a zombie apocalypse destroys civilization, a family of extremely well-prepped survivalists takes to the seas in this first installment of Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series.

Steven John Smith, former Aussie para turned high school teacher, is ready for action when his brother Tom texts him a coded message indicating a bona-fide, world-ending emergency. Yep, zombies. Steven, his wife Stacey, and his daughters, fifteen-year old Sophia and thirteen-year-old Faith, load up their trailer with enough supplies to embarrass Costco and enough armament to invade Cuba. They stock their boat and set sail to avoid the crumbling infrastructure. Oh, and avoid exposure to the man-made pathogen that’s turning people into naked, ravening monsters. Once at sea, Steven makes it his personal mission to track down all the ships that are emitting emergency signals, clear off the zombies, save any survivors, salvage supplies, and add the ship to his growing flotilla of rescued and rescuers.

I loved the first third of this book: the CDC and international health organizations tracking and reverse-engineering the double-virus, the FBI searching for the villain who painstakingly released the disease, the inevitable breakdown of society. Ringo did a great job imagining the end of the world. I did need to suspend a lot of disbelief with the Smith family, however. For instance, high-school student Sophia is enlisted by Tom to assist a high-powered scientist in creating the first zombie vaccine. Because…she’s good at science?? While middle-schooler Faith is tougher, better trained, better armed, and more skilled than most military weapons instructors. Still, the first part of the book moves along, has lots of action, and maintains a sense of humor.

It’s when the family takes to sea that the story falls apart and I started wondering if the whole book wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek romp. The zombies stop being scary, or even a real threat. Characters drop off the radar: Tom, corporate security head for the Banks of Americas disappears—in theory to his own safe retreat—and we lose a strong, interesting character. Ditto with Steven’s wife and Sophia, who remain in the background piloting various ships. It’s as if once in a while Ringo suddenly remembers, ‘oh yeah, the rest of the family,’ and resurrects them for a short scene. What we do have, is endless boarding and clearing of zombie-infested (but not really dangerous thanks to Faith) ships.

Now, I love survival horror. Action-adventure and all its subgenres: military action, military horror, thriller, and yes, girls with guns and swords. But the last couple hundred pages of Under a Graveyard Sky just get repetitive and annoying. Faith boards ships. Faith talks guns. Faith trains newbies. Faith blows zombies to smithereens—well, she does add variety by hacking many of them to smithereens—over and over. Assorted older males tell her if she were old enough, they’d propose. She could be a pin-up girl for Soldier of Fortune magazine. Um. At thirteen. And while I appreciate the detailed descriptions of ship boarding and the seamanship involved, as well as the challenges of avoiding ricochets while shooting monsters, a little goes a long way. What happened to the storyline?

So, I’m torn with this one. I was excited about the first third. Gleeful, really, that I’d landed on a great series. The latter half of the book ticked me off. No doubt there is action, but there’s not a lot of forward motion. If the next book is more ship clearing, and as Faith-foremost, I’m going to give it a pass.

rating system three crows


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Review: Stranded

Stranded – Bracken MacLeod, 2016.

One sailor must confront the unimaginable in this rugged, unsettling thriller.

Aboard the supply ship Arctic Promise, Nick Cabot is about as popular as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.

Following the lead of the ship’s master, Noah’s bitter-father in-law, most of the small crew treats Noah with scorn and outright physical hostility.

Then the ship becomes trapped in the ice, surrounded by an impenetrable fog.  Navigation and communication instruments go dead.  The crew becomes strangely sick and shadow-haunted.

Noah alone remains healthy. He and a small group set out toward what they hope is the oil platform they were scheduled to resupply.  What they find is mind-blowing.

With Stranded, MacLeod delivers a slam-bang story from start to finish.

Noah is besieged with battles on all fronts. The increasingly unstable crew. The relentless and deadly subzero temperatures that affect every aspect of shipboard existence. His own insecurities and self-doubt.  And of course, the mysterious supernatural threat of the shadow figures.  As we learn Noah’s personal story through tantalizingly brief flashbacks, we come to empathize with him and root for his survival.

Stranded is flat-out gripping. I think I actually said “oh no” out loud a few times as I read, startling my poor husband.  MacLeod portrays the harsh life aboard ship as well as the ever-present cold, cold, cold with compelling detail.

My only, miniscule quibble is with the ending.  Although, really, the story ends in the best way it can.  Leaving us with a piece of wisdom that we should all take to heart. Tiny cavil aside, as soon as I finished Stranded I immediately sent a copy to my dad, another die-hard thriller fan.  Grab a comforter – or a parka – and a thermos of something hot and prepare to be lost in an icy sea for a few hours until you finish Stranded.

rating system four crows