Book Review: The Haunted Heart of America by Logan Corelli

The Haunted Heart of America: In-Depth Investigations of the Villisca Ax Murder House, Myrtles Plantation & Other Frightful Sites by Logan Corelli

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? A tale of phantom footsteps, flickering lights, and unexpected icy drafts. So much the better when huddled under the blankets on a dark winter’s night. I’d be willing to lay down money that even the most scientific and logical among us experience a pleasurable frisson while reading about these purportedly true hauntings. And so I opened The Haunted Heart of America with anticipation, especially as the book details the author’s own experiences in famous (or infamous) haunted locations across the country.

Unfortunately, I found the book to be disappointing. While Corelli brings us to well known sites like the Myrtles Plantation and Waverly Sanatorium (famous from any number of ghost hunter television shows), he doesnt really bring anything new to the story. Each chapter details his experiences at a different haunted location, and each is written in the style of a high school lab report. The chapters are ungainly and awkwardly written, with little attention paid to telling Corelli’s story in a compelling manner. The use of lab report-style chapters would be more appropriate if the techniques and approach to the subject matter was handled in a more scientific way, but Corelli and his colleagues seem to be without defined purpose or set methodology, and rather wander about haunted locations, using instrumentation and personal observation at whim.

I’ll say again, I don’t read books such as these for their scientific merits, by rather for their entertainment value. Unfortunately, Haunted Heart of America fails to deliver on both counts.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James


The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

In the 1950s, Idlewild Hall in rural Vermont was a place where families sent daughters they’d rather forget. The residents of the boarding school are illegitimate, traumatized, criminal. But the school may be haunted by more than bad memories; a spirit called Mary Hand is said to stalk the halls, and four roommates, bonded over shared misery, will face the spirits of Idlewild when one of them disappears.

Meanwhile, in 2014, a local journalist is shocked to hear that long-abandoned Idlewild Hall is being restored. Her own obsession with the overgrown and forgotten school started when her sister’s body was discovered on the grounds twenty years earlier. As she begins to dig into the history of the school, she finds old mysteries entwined with new, and a growing sense that something haunts the grounds of the old school.

This was a wonderful mystery story with a supernatural twist. St. James weaves her narrative between 1950 and 2014, slowly parsing out information and clues to the reader. The book is atmospheric; the boarding school exudes a palpable sense of menace and despair. Fiona Sheridan, the journalist, and the four roommates from 1950 are well-written, with the young students quickly becoming characters to care about and fear for. 

The supernatural elements of the story are well done, and fit organically into the plot. Who, or what, Mary Hand may be is dangled in front of the reader, but largely kept teasingly out of reach until the very end.

In all, this is a wonderfully satisfying mystery that avoids the pitfalls of the mystery thriller genre. Anyone who wants a ghost story mixed in with their mystery will enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: Widow’s Point by Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar

Widow’s Point by Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar

On an isolated stretch of the Nova Scotia coast, the Widow’s Point lighthouse stands alone against the cliffs and the ocean. The local townsfolk look on the lighthouse with suspicion bordering on superstitious dread–there has always been an air of tragedy and death about the place. The increasing body found over the decades does nothing to help the lighthouse’s reputation.

Enter Thomas Livingston, best-selling author and ghost hunter, who is determined to spend a weekend locked inside Widow’s Point with a video camera and a tape recorder, hoping to strike supernatural gold for his next book. What he finds inside the lighthouse is something utterly malign and alien, something awake and hungry.

This is a haunted house tale along the lines of Stephen King’s early work. Imagine The Shining takig place not in an expansive, snowed in hotel, but within the twisted confines of a century old lighthouse. The story is told as a transcript, the video and audio recordings made by Livingston having been recovered by another party. Most of the story is relayed to us via transcripts of Livingston’ s audio files, allowing the reader’s imagination to provide the bulk of the horror.

This is a great read, and a truly creepy story. Chizmar has already proved himself to be a credit to the genre with Gwendy’s Button Box, and Widow’s Point does not disappoint.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

In 1983, Jeffery Halcomb instigated a massacre. Living Charles Manson-like among a group of fanatical followers, he convinced eight people to commit suicide, while he murdered a pregnant woman and tore the baby from her womb. The police interrupted his bloody ritual, and now, thirty years later, he still has not said a single word about his crimes. Enter Lucas Graham, struggling true crime writer on the verge of divorce. When a strange letter arrives from Halcomb offering him the interview of a lifetime, he jumps at the chance. There’s only one small catch, Lucas must live in the house where the deaths occurred. Bringing his twelve-year-old daughter Vee along for the ride, Lucas soon discovers that sometimes, the past will not stay buried . . .

I genuinely believe that Ania Ahlborn is one of the great modern horror writers. The Devil Crept In was a phenomenally written creature feature. Within These Walls is probably best described as a haunted house story, and the story showcases Ahlborn’s superb grasp of suspense and creeps-up-your-spine horror. As usual, Ahlborn conceives her protagonists as full-fledged people. There are of course the stereotypical roles of the desperate divorced dad and moody teen, but Ahlborn manages to bring Lucas and Vee to life as more than their simple tropes.

Within These Walls is also wonderful because it is truly, deeply scary without the need to resort to disgusting levels of blood and gore. As I’ve said before, I find the torture-porn style of horror to be lazy and utterly not fun, and I’m so glad to find an author who knows that it takes more than blood and guts to make something scary. I have to say that after reading this book, it is going to be awhile before I feel like walking through my house at night without turning on all the lights.

Fans of the horror genre should definitely check out Ania Ahlborn’s (dead) body of work (heh heh heh). I really feel like she is one of the natural successors to genre legends like Stephen King. Anyone looking to find a good entre into the genre will find Within These Walls to be an example of horror in its tip-top form.

Book Review: Ghostland by Colin Dickey

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Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

America is a haunted country. Through the 300+ year history of European settlement on this continent, we have amassed an army of restless spirits. Certainly more than can be contained in a 300 page book. Fortunately, Dickey isn’t looking so much at the individual ghosts. Rather, he is looking at our ghostly archetypes, and what our national ghosts can tell us about our evolving history.

Dickey takes us to haunted houses, businesses, cemeteries, prisons, asylums, and towns. We march over familiar ground such as The House of Seven Gables in Salem, and the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. But Dickey shines light in the hidden corners of our collective psyche. Perhaps the Winchester House isn’t a labyrinth to entrap vengeful spirits, but rather the overblown publicity paid to a fiercely independent woman who felt no desire to conform to society’s mores.

Dickey brings this fresh approach to the Moundsville Penitentiary, and to the Mustang Ranch. To the antebellum ghosts of Richmond, Virginia (why, with a notorious slave market in town, are all the ghosts white?), and to the city of Detroit, where “ruin porn” has turned the city itself into a sort of ghost.

Ghost stories are common, and the most famous legends have been repeated time and again. Dickey spins us away from the well-trod path, and into the darkened forest of our own history and collective psyche. And, as it turns out, that might be all we need for a scary story.

Ghostland is currently available for purchase.