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: Suicide Forest

Suicide Forest – Jeremy Bates, 2014.  3/5

Aokigahara forest, Japan’s infamous “Sea of Trees,” is the setting for Suicide Forest, Bates’ first installment in his World’s Scariest Places series.

English teachers Ethan and his girlfriend Mel have weekend plans to climb Mt. Fuji. They’ve brought along fellow teacher, Neil, their friend Tomo, and Mel’s former high school friend and macho military guy, John Scott. But when the weather turns dicey, they’re left searching for other ways to spend the night. Two other would-be climbers, Ben and Nina, suggest camping in nearby Aokigahara, then starting up Fuji the next day. Japan is notorious for its high suicide rate, and Aokigahara is notorious as the place where many people go to kill themselves.

Although Ethan has reservations about overnighting in the “perfect place to die,” he goes along with the crowd, the majority of whom are morbidly excited at the possibility of seeing a body or a ghost. Berated by local hikers as being disrespectful thrill seekers (which they are) the group promptly ignores warning signs and leaves the main trail, following paths marked by colored ribbons.

Things go to hell quickly. They get lost. Ben vanishes, only to be discovered hanging from a tree, dead. Nina believes ghosts are the culprit. The group’s cell phones go missing. Neil contracts food poisoning and is down for the count. They begin to see movements in the trees. Hear screams in the night. Something – or someone is in the forest with them. Make that someones.

Okay. First off, Suicide Forest is better-written than Helltown. Although the action takes a while to get going, Bates does a respectable job building suspense. He succeeds in making us feel as if we were trapped in the oppressive, still silence of the strange forest. The characters have a bit more going for them in this book as well, in that I didn’t out-right hate most of them. But I did tire of the head-butting between Ethan and John Scott over Mel. Guys, grow up. That said, I also didn’t get what Ethan sees in Mel, who seems even more jealous than Ethan.

I think what troubles me with Suicide Forest is the way the issue of suicide is handled. I do believe Bates is trying to be respectful and empathetic about the subject through the dialogue and thoughts of the most sensitive character, Ethan. But Ethan’s a minority. The others show an indifference to suffering: to Neil, for example, who is in dire straits, and to those who have committed suicide or would consider committing suicide. There’s a lack of understanding. But then again, this is a horror/thriller novel, and Ethan is the voice of reason, so maybe this level of compassion is okay.

*Spoilers ahead*

The next wildly problematic parts involve ‘capturing-and raping-the-women,’ and ‘a-raped-woman’s-violent revenge.’ Um. Lots of gender stereotypes and issues to unpack around this. In a profoundly frustrating short epilogue, Ethan also declares that Mel has unexpectedly “fallen pregnant.” What? Wait! By…whom, exactly? And, really? “Fallen pregnant?” (!) The book crashes to an abrupt, heavy end with another suicide and narrowly averted suicide attempt.Sigh.

Pros: The setting is nicely realized, the plot is suspenseful and intriguing, and the baddies in the forest are definitely unique. Cons: The treatment of suicide and rape lacks sensitivity.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 800 273 8255
rating system three crows


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Review: Mr. Wicker

Mr. Wicker Maria Alexander, 2014.

crow on books small copped super shortHorror author Alicia Baum has lost everything in her life: her husband, her talent, and most importantly, a childhood memory she didn’t even know she had.

When her suicide attempt lands her in a mysterious Library between worlds, she encounters Mr. Wicker – a strange being who takes damaging childhood memories and puts each in a book with the young owner’s name on it. This has the dubious result of scarring the children for life to an even greater extent than the harmful memory itself would have.

Mr. Wicker sends Alicia back to the land of the living and she awakens in the psych ward of her local hospital. There she makes friends and enemies and meets ally Dr. Farron, a child psychiatrist who is trying to discover why little children in his care whisper the name Mr. Wicker in their sleep. Together they try to uncover Alicia’s lost memory and save her from Mr. Wicker. Except Mr. Wicker isn’t that bad. And Alicia doesn’t seem to really want to be saved from him.

That is the gist of the plot. Really, however, it is much more complicated and at times confusing. Mr. Wicker has flashes of beauty and wonder and tantalizing dark imagery. The story is creative and fresh, but simultaneously frustrating. We don’t understand exactly why Mr. Wicker is a bad guy, or really, why what he is doing is that bad. He seems more a tragic hero than an ill-intentioned entity. The druidic backstory – where Alexander’s writing really comes into its own – paints Wicker rather to be a more of a savior of his people than abandoned by his gods. Similarly perplexing, his nemesis across time is the ostensible hero of the present-day story.

Alicia herself is a challenging heroine.  It is difficult to understand her 180-degree swings of sexual attraction and mood unless we chalk it up to her depression and lost memory.  We don’t quite know her well enough – until almost the story’s end – to care much about her. The narrative also switches viewpoints abruptly and often, making it an effort to pick out the wisps of plot threads and piece them together.

Mr. Wicker has great bones: a fascinating plot concept, lyrical imagery and potentially compelling characters.  Unfortunately, uneven development of those characters and of the storyline weaken its impact.
rating system three crows