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: Written in Blood

Written in Blood – Layton Green, 2018.  3.5/5

At last: a bibliophilic serial killer!

Former big-city detective Preach returns to his small North Carolina hometown hoping for a quiet, fresh start.

Instead, he finds himself investigating the town’s first murder in years. Even more baffling, the crime scene is arranged to mirror the murder in the literary classic, Crime and Punishment.

Preach thinks – hopes – he’s up to the job. He’s coming off a brutal case that shattered his confidence and lost him his position in the big city force. In fact, his new job is conditional on passing a psych evaluation.

But he doesn’t have a choice. The small-town police are green. He’s their only hope. And the murders continue.

Preach and his young newbie partner Kirby, turn up clues and connections to drugs, blackmail, old high-school friends, and a local crime boss, but nothing gels. Meanwhile, victims multiply, each murdered like characters in classics by Poe, Christie, and Nabokov.

An interesting departure from Green’s dark, supernatural Dominic Grey series, Written in Blood is an absorbing combo of literary mystery and police procedural. The somber storyline is lifted – and complicated – when Preach finds both romance and a meeting of minds with Ari, a young bookstore employee. Well-plotted misdirections bring us to a surprising and satisfying end.

Fans of Green’s writing appreciate its depth. There is an ever-present philosophical and self-reflective aspect to his books that intensifies the storylines. Written in Blood is no different. The character of Preach is complex: an old, battered soul, an engaging mix of compassion and hardness. We empathize with his self-doubt, struggles with faith, and the sting of the shadows cast on his abilities. Preach exorcises his inner ghosts while wrestling with issues of retribution and man’s inhumanity toward man. To solve this crime, he must resolve within himself how he can overcome despair and still fight the good fight against the darkness in the world.

An intelligent, strong, multi-layered mystery.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The River at Night

The River at Night – Erica Ferencik, 2014. 4/5

We all have that friend, right? The shining star with her infectious charisma and almost obnoxious joie de vivre, throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude whom we’d follow to the ends of the earth – despite the gut-level misgivings we may have?

In The River at Night, Pia is that friend for her small posse of forty-something BFFs, Win, Rachel and Sandra. Seemingly unlike Pia, the three are weighted down with mid-life baggage: Win is suffering the loss of her special needs brother; Rachel, a brittle ER nurse counts the days of her sobriety; and Sandra struggles with an abusive husband.

For their yearly weekend get-together, Pia convinces the three to go white water rafting on an uncharted river in remote northern Maine. This is well outside the three ladies’ comfort zone, but they agree with a mixture of fear and exhilaration.

What could possibly go wrong? Lots. Lots and lots of things could – and do – go wrong. Kind of north woods, Deliverance-level wrong. This girls-weekend-out turns into a survival thriller.

Through the eyes of our narrator, Win, the most fearful of the group, we experience both the beauty of the outdoors and its terrors. We appreciate the give and take of friendships: from an initial tiff that exposes tiny slivers of resentment towards Pia, to the ladies’ trial-by fire (well, water) empowerment, to the overarching love the women have for each other.

That’s all good stuff, but the book really takes off with its river sequences. Ferencik treats us to some great physical action writing: graphic description and vivid, immediate detail. You’re in the raft – or more likely out of the raft – with the women, struggling to swim, surface, breathe, survive. My tiny cavil? I personally wished for just a little …more… at the very end. Just a little. Still, the book is a stunner.

The River at Night reads as fast and frenetic as screaming down the high slide at a waterpark, its increasingly frenetic pace mirroring the growing desperation of the women. If you have a fear of water, this will be an especially white-knuckle read for you. A great summer read. That is, as long as you’re safe on shore.

rating system four crows


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A DIY UFO: Make Your Own Roswell Crash

July. Time for barbeques, sparklers, and of course, the anniversary of the 1947 Roswell crash. I knew that was high on your list of celebrations!

What could be more exciting? Government coverups, weather balloons, alien autopsies: awesome! The Smithsonian magazine has a good article commemorating the seven-odd decades since the crash, if you want the “facts.”

On the off chance you wish to create your own UFO crash – for the 4th of July or Halloween, or your school’s Scholastic Book Fair (like I did) – I’m here for you. You need a decent UFO to complete the whole Roswell look. No problem. This UFO is easy to make and comes out looking really sharp, in a retro, Lost-in-Space kind of way.

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Hopefully, you have some amazingly creepy translucent aliens that you already made from a previous post. Did you miss that post? Go back and check it out.

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You Need:

Two child-sized round plastic saucer sleds – I used Paricon Flying Saucer Sleds, the largest (26 inch diameter) and cheapest I could find in the summer. You probably have a few hiding out in your garage!

Shiny/metallic silver spray paint – I used Rust-oleum

Drill and four pop rivets

A plastic salad bowl: opaque if you can find one. I used a clear one from the Dollar Tree and wet sanded to make it opaque (tell you how in a minute).

700 grit wet/dry sandpaper and soapy water – if you need to sand your bowl

White fairy string lights – Like these on Amazon

Blue glowing neon wire – This worked great

Saran wrap

Hot glue

AA batteries (for your neon wire)

Clear tape

Aluminum foil

How to Make It:

Peel any stickers off your sleds.

Go outside and put down a drop cloth where you plan to paint. Put your sleds on the drop cloth and spray with the silver paint. You only need to paint the convex side – the side that curves out. Be careful, however: the paint scratches easily because it is covering that slippery plastic.

When your sleds are dry, you are going to attach two of them together, with the sides curving out. We used a drill and four pop rivets.

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Now, work on your dome. Take any stickers off the bowl. If you have an opaque bowl, great: you don’t need to do anything! If you have a clear plastic bowl, use some wet/dry sandpaper and a little soapy water and gently rub the moistened paper over the inside of the bowl until it has a nice opacity.

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Take some saran wrap and wad it up to fill the inside of the bowl. This will allow some support for your lights to spread out inside, so they do not all fall to the bottom. Wind your white string lights through the plastic wrap, getting them in the middle, top, and sides of the bowl. I ended up using four strings to get a nice glow.

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Carefully put a little hot glue around the edge of the bowl and quickly and carefully flip it over and attach to the center of your UFO, leaving space for the edge of the light wires and battery packs to hang out. (Don’t worry: you will cover these up with aluminum foil later).

Now, take your neon wire and carefully thread it into that indentation between the two discs. Every few inches or so, use a tiny piece of clear packing tape (which I’m sure you have left over from making your aliens) to secure it. Depending on the length of your neon, you may go around the UFO a little more than one time.

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You did it! Turn on your lights and have fun. Set your scene with crumpled aluminum foil to make it look like a crash site. Put a piece of the foil over the controllers for the white fairy lights to hide them.

We had some beat-up paper mache rocks left over from a production of The Pirates of Penzance which also added to the scene. I used green strobe lights that matched the rocks and aliens, and found a large old tumbleweed that I broke up to make it look more desert-y.

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Adding to the look: purple fairy lights on black paper with cut-out planets are in the back, along with a shiny silver curtain over the window. The kids loved it.

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Review: Viking Tomorrow

Viking Tomorrow – Jeremy Robinson & Kane Gilmour, 2017. Rating 4/5

In this violent post-apocalyptic world technology is dead, but Vikings are very much alive.

A few wise men with knowledge of the old ways, however, realize that their berserker future is doomed. Unless…

When Val, a brilliant young female fighter with a mysterious background, bests a mountainous challenger she becomes the leader of a fateful mission.

Her task? Travel across the wildly altered and dangerous European landscape to bring back vital genetic material. Val and her small but fierce team of warriors is the only hope for the future of the human race.

Along the way, the group battles everything from mutant horrors to twisted human gangs. Val not only faces threats to her leadership, but also recognizes that their nonstop violent encounters reveal a pattern of betrayal. Val must watch her back to ensure the mission succeeds.

Viking Tomorrow is good fun. It vaguely reminded me – in a good way – of the classic ‘79 film The Warriors – in which a NYC gang fights its way through series of hostile territories. Viking Tomorrow goes balls out (that’s a steam engine reference) from beginning to end.

Robinson and Gilmour offer us a fresh vision of a post-catastrophic future, with uniquely disturbing inhabitants.

There is lots of fighting. Lots. With big axes and flails and many other pointy weapons. Choreographed battles with all kinds of creatures. Humans. Sort-of humans. Monsters. Did I mention lots of fighting? Battles on ATVs. On motorcycles. On speedboats. (O.k., some technology survived.)

The narrative is definitely story-driven. While the authors do try for some character growth with occasional fleeting moments of gruff individual introspection, there’s just not a ton of time for development between all the extremely bloody battles. That’s alright. Viking Tomorrow is unabashedly full-blast action adventure. I’ll look forward to the second in the series.

rating system four crows


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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 slink under your skin and itch there like a bite on your brain, 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


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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!

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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.

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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.

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North Park Water Tower

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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.


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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