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.


Leave a comment

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 creep into your brain and itch there like a bite, 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


Leave a comment

Strangeography: Gravity Hill

For my birthday I had a typically strange request. I wanted to visit Gravity Hill in western Pennsylvania. We filled the tank and took off on our unusual day trip.

You may be wondering. What is a gravity hill?

I’ll tell you. When you stop on a gravity hill and put your car in neutral, the inexplicable happens: your car slowly and creepily rolls uphill, supernaturally defying physics and the laws of gravity.

Or, maybe it isn’t so supernatural. Maybe it is just an optical illusion caused by the fact that the horizon is obscured or curved. Debunkers of the gravity hill magic explain that when we can’t see a true horizon, we have a really hard time judging the slope of a surface. Objects in the landscape, like trees, which we assume are perpendicular, may actually be leaning, and this conspires to trick our eyes. It appears that the slope we’re looking at goes up when it really goes down.

Or, maybe it is ghost children pushing your car up the hill, like they push stopped cars over the railroad tracks in my favorite San Antonio ghost story. Supposedly, if you put baby powder over the back of your car, you can catch the fingerprints of these little helpful ghosts. This legend made it into movie form in 2006 as well – check out Fingerprints. Low-budget. Not horrible! (There’s a ringing endorsement). One plus: it does have Lou Diamond Phillips in it.

Anyway. I digress.

Also called magnetic hills or mystery spots, you can find gravity hills all over the country.

Our destination: Gravity Hill in North Park. This is in the Wexford area north of Pittsburgh.

North Park is huge! At over 3,000 acres it is the largest in Allegheny County. “This park has everything,” we riffed off The Blues Brothers as we cruised the chilly roads. Massive lake. Golf course. Trails. Nature Center. Skating rink. Abandoned water tower (cool).

But Gravity Hill! Most awesome of all.

North Park’s Gravity Hill is in the middle section of the park at the intersection of Kummer and McKinney roads. Here’s a park map showing those roads.

Stop at the stop sign at the intersection. Put your car in neutral. Take your foot off the brake. Your car will almost immediately start rolling backwards, seemingly uphill. Be careful, because it speeds up quickly! Of course, make sure there’s no traffic coming – you’re on a public road, after all. We visited on a raw March day and there was zero traffic. So, my husband and I both tried it out. O.k., multiple times. It was really fun!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Car rolling uphill in neutral.

Clearly, the photos show the hill behind the stop sign. The hill that your car rolls up. In hindsight, video may have helped, here.

After enjoying the magic and mystery of Gravity Hill, we took a short (it was really cold) hike around the Latodami Nature Center.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Latodomi Nature Center

Then we went to check out the old North Park Water Tower.  Built in 1937, the tower is 101.6 feet tall.  It has an observation deck that was renovated in 2010 for the movie I Am Number Four.  But it is closed to us regular fans of abandoned things – and has been since the ‘70s.  Posted warnings plaster the base of the tower and the stairs are chained and padlocked closed. Disappointing.  But still neat to see.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

North Park Water Tower

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you’re in the area, definitely take a side trip to visit Gravity Hill.  If you have a few hours, North Park is simply beautiful and filled with things to do.  Take a picnic, and make a day of it.  You won’t be disappointed.


Leave a comment

Review: A Magical Match

A Magical Match – Juliet Blackwell, 2018.  Rating 4/5

Doppelgangers and dresses dominate the latest installment of this adorable cozy mystery series.

Lily Ivory runs a successful vintage clothing store in San Francisco’s famous Haight District. She’s also a witch with a lot on her plate.

Just weeks before the handfasting ceremony with her handsome fiancé, Sailor, Lily seems to be losing her magical abilities. Sailor lands in jail on a murder charge. The tour bus carrying her grandmother’s coven and her estranged mother is taking wildly random detours. Her familiar, a pig named Oscar, is acting strangely. To top it all off, Lily is apparently destined for a supernatural showdown, and the fate of all San Francisco depends on her.

Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries series is simply delightful. She lands all the elements that cozy readers expect. Lots of retro fashion. Lots of food. Vibrant and detailed descriptions of the San Francisco community. Warm, inclusive friendships that have grown over the course of the series. Endearing characters. Harmoniously integrated use of the supernatural. A sweet but strong heroine.

A Magical Match is book nine in the series. While I wished for a little more of an edge to the supernatural threat in this episode, Blackwell makes up for it by furthering the development of her characters. Although A Magical Match does stand on its own, I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series with Secondhand Spirits.

The Witchcraft Mysteries are simply lovely comfy books. Undemanding but emotionally satisfying. (They’re not called cozies for nothing!) Heck, clearly I’m a fan if I’ve followed through book nine…and I’d been anticipating the release of this title for a while.

If you need a warm-hearted, good-humored story with a dash of romance, fashion and witchcraft, look no farther: you’ll find your cozy Nirvana with this series.

rating system four crows


Leave a comment

Review: A Hell Within

A Hell Within – James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge, 2018.  Rating 3/5

Just finish War and Peace? Not quite ready to pick up Bleak House? Need a palate cleanser for your intellect? Look no further. A Hell Within provides brain relief in the form of a straightforward monster shoot-‘em-up.

Carl Price is the long-suffering Sheriff of a small Georgia town that has seen more than its fair share of unearthly foul play. Together with Wade Griffin, his old high school buddy now turned PI, the two men have previously faced off against a vampire preacher and his undead flock as well as an old race of inbred – and interdimensional – folk who live down in the hollers.

In A Hell Within, Carl and Wade confront an ambitious demon summoner who is busily wreaking havoc on their town. Both men are more than adept at fighting their way out of trouble, but they welcome the assist from Wade’s girlfriend (who runs an occult bookstore) and her mentor, a mysterious master of arcane knowledge. To complicate matters further, a new organized crime boss has also arrived on the scene.

Yup. A Hell Within is an odd blend of both cop drama and horror genres. It works, actually. There’s plenty of very imaginative, swiftly-paced supernatural action; lots of violence and tightly-choreographed fight scenes; and uniquely memorable characters, all balanced with a dry sense of humor. A Hell Within is a quick read that will satisfy your itch for a little otherworldy mayhem.

This isn’t Camus or Dostoevsky or Austen, here. It is good fun.

rating system three crows 


Leave a comment

Simple & Savory: Mom’s Salmon Bake

Mom’s Salmon Bake

It is a rainy spring afternoon (breaking news: spring finally arrived!) and a perfect day to make a big, comforting casserole. What better than my mom’s Salmon Bake?

Now, before you say eeew, hold on. This is loaded with rice and veggies and, yes, salmon. It works. It’s good. It is immanently customizable. Add other veggies. Use different cheeses. Spice it up. (I do!)  Try adding some herbs. Change your veggie ratios – I like more mushrooms, for example.

2018-05-15 16.11.21

Give it a try: I think you’ll be surprised and pleased at the result.

Ingredients:

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped mushrooms

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ green pepper, chopped (optional)

1 Tablespoon butter

1 ½ cups wild rice, cooked

1 14-ounce can skinless, boneless salmon, flaked and drained (I use three 5-ounce pouches)

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 egg, beaten

½ cup Parmesan cheese

1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained.

1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Salt and Pepper

Tabasco (optional)

How to Make It:

Heat the oven to 350F.

Make your rice according to the package directions – that’ll take a little time.

Sauté the onion, pepper, garlic, and mushrooms in butter until softened, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

In a big bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the egg.  Add in the rice (make sure it is cooled a little, first), the sautéed veggies, and the salmon.  I also add a few dashes of Tabasco at this point. Mix lightly.

In a 1-quart casserole dish, layer half of the salmon mixture, then half of the Parmesan cheese.  Cheese fiend?  Sure, toss a little of the cheddar in with the Parm for this layer.  Next, layer on half of the broccoli.  Cover this with 1 cup of the cheddar cheese.  Repeat the layers: salmon mixture, Parmesan, broccoli.  Stop there.  End with the broccoli.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese and continue to bake just until the cheese melts.  The casserole should look bubbly and melty.

 

Serve with some crusty bread or a side salad.  This reheats marvelously.  Enjoy!

2018-05-15 18.52.56


Leave a comment

Review: The Twilight Pariah

The Twilight Pariah – Jeffrey Ford, 2017.

Violence erupts when a trio of college students unwittingly unleashes an age-old monster in The Twilight Pariah.

Home for summer break, Henry and Russell agree to help Maggie with her new – clandestine – archaeology project: excavating the outhouse pit of the nearby abandoned mansion.

Harmless, right? And who knows how much more time the friends have together before their separate schools and careers cause them to drift apart? This may be their last adventure together. In more ways than one.

To their shock, they uncover the misshapen skeleton of an infant. A not-quite-human infant. The three quickly discover that they’ve disturbed something else: a monster that has plagued the small town in the past. Now, they are its targets. Henry, Russell and Maggie must learn the creature’s secrets and end its rampage once and for all, before more people die.

The Twilight Pariah is a fun, quick, novella-length read that stands out because of its characters. Russell, the gentle giant. Henry, mild and unsure. Maggie a driving force. Ford excels in bringing their personalities to life, giving them vivacity and a sweetness and surprising depth in a very short space. The character of Professor Medley, a creaky cryptozoologist, made me laugh out loud. That’s the other part of this book that elevates it above typical: its wry and gentle sense of humor.

The story itself is enjoyable: it is successfully atmospheric, has a uniquely-imagined monster, and tension builds to a satisfying climax.  Characterization, however, carries the day.

rating system three and a half crows


Leave a comment

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