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: Burning Girls

Burning Girls – Veronica Schanoes, 2013.   3.5/5

Witches and fairy tales, pogroms and factory fires: dark folklore meets historical fiction this genre-bending novella.

The story begins in Bialystok, Poland, just before the turn of the twentieth century. Deborah is a pious witch, like her bubbe, Hannah. From early childhood, she studies the Torah, the Talmud, and even the Kabbalah to learn Bubbe’s magic. Bubbe uses her powers to help women in the village, assisting in childbirth, offering natural medicines for contraception and abortion, and making amulets and protecting infants from the demons—the lilim—who are out to snatch them.

Not pretty like her younger sister, the talented seamstress Shayna, Deborah vows instead to be powerful. At this time, anti-Semitism is on rise in Europe. When Bubbe is killed by Cossacks, Deborah learns she has made a pact with a lilit: offering Deborah’s mother’s next-born child in return for the family’s safe passage to America.

Deborah must confront the demon to save her new-born brother—but she can’t protect her family against the Russian army. Tragedy drives Deborah and Shayna to immigrate to America but they soon discover that their demons from the Old World have pursued them to the New.

Burning Girls is quick but deep. There’s a lot to unpack, from the fiery symbolism, to the purposeful (if slightly off-note) threading in of the Rumpelstiltskin story, to the story’s historical context—the Bialystok pogrom of 1906, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy of 1911. Schanoes shines in her depiction of female community and its unique networks of support. She explores the differing, but not unequal empowerments of women, from socialist writer to seamstress. The blending of religion and magic, the Old World with the New, is so nicely realized it seems natural and inevitable. Burning Girls is suffused with darkly beautiful imagery.

My greatest problem with Burning Girls is my dislike for Deborah. Schanoes didn’t do enough to convince me that Deborah actually cared about those she helped, and I found myself empathizing more with Shayna. The novella length makes for a fast read, but it also leaves me wanting just a bit more detail to round out the characters—maybe I would have appreciated Deborah more.

Burning Girls is available to read free online at Tor.com.


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Review: The Line Between

The Line Between – Tosca Lee, 2019. 4.5/5

An apocalyptic pandemic. A religious doomsday cult. A naïve heroine with the key to earth’s salvation. Lee hits all the right buttons in this breakneck page-turner.

Wynter Roth is seven years old when her mom, fleeing her abusive husband, brings Wynter and her sister Jackie to the isolated New Earth compound. The cult is led by the handsome, charismatic, and shady ex-entrepreneur, Magnus Theisen. Despite being the New Adam to his flock and preaching of end times, he maintains his worldly business influences and illicit desires.

Initially, Wynter and her family find safety and acceptance in the community—at the expense of their freedom of thought and individuality. Things deteriorate when Magnus takes Jackie as his new wife and plans to add Wynter as a second. Wynter is disgusted with Magnus’ hypocrisy and loses faith in his divine vision. At twenty-two, Wynter is cast out and taken in by an old friend of her mom’s.

The world is hard to navigate. Information is overwhelming, and Magnus’s dire prophecies and condemnation echo in Wynter’s head.

But it’s more than that. People are going crazy. Forgetting things. Killing themselves and others in graphic, violent ways. The CDC calls it early onset dementia—and it’s contagious and spreading like wildfire. The U.S. descends into chaos. Gas and supplies run out. Power grids go down.

Wynter is the only hope. Jackie escapes New Earth, bringing Wynter a case of medical samples acquired by Magnus that may hold the key for a vaccine—but not a cure. Wynter must race the specimens across the ravaged Midwest and deliver them to a researcher in Colorado.

The Line Between keeps tensions high, alternating between Wynter’s gripping memories of emotional abuse in the cult, and the mounting present-day horrors as society disintegrates around her. Everything is distressingly, immediately believable: from the nature of the disease laying waste to humanity, to the country’s nosedive into anarchy.

The thriller aspect alone makes this a standout novel, but Lee elevates the story further with layered, convincing characters, both good and bad. Wynter is beautifully drawn: she wrestles with self-doubt and her ignorance of the modern world but nurses a spark of independence and determination that even Magnus can’t destroy. On her quest, Wynter experiences tragedy and cruelty and selfishness, but also kindness, generosity, and…potential romance. The ending resolves major plot threads and sets us up nicely for a sequel. Which I want immediately, please.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: Bewitched and Betrothed

Bewitched and Betrothed—Juliet Blackwell, 2019.  4/5

Lily Ivory has her hands full running her vintage clothing store, worrying what her darkly handsome and brooding fiancé, Sailor, is up to, and wrangling her grandmother’s elderly West Texas coven that’s in town for her wedding. Oh, and saving San Francisco from an evil cupcake baker who’s teamed up with a literal demon from Lily’s past. An ordinary week for good-witch Lily, and her gobgoyle familiar, Oscar.

Lily is alarmed when her friend and co-worker, Maya, finds a shirt that may have belonged to a former Alcatraz inmate. The shirt has seriously malevolent vibrations and Lily doesn’t want it in Aunt Cora’s Closet. Moments after they donate the shirt to a pair of Alcatraz National Park Service Rangers—with strict warnings to keep it in a locked display—park ranger Elena is kidnapped, and the shirt with her. Forces of good face off against forces of evil in epic battle on Alcatraz island.

This series (Witchcraft Mysteries) is a guilty pleasure. Well, not really guilty, because the books are well-written, well-plotted, and outright fun. These are cozies with teeth. In Bewitched and Betrothed, there are serious threats here to characters we’ve come to enjoy: murder, violence, demonic sacrifice, and really, really bad guys (and gals). The supernatural mystery zips along, neatly balancing the light tension of Lily’s personal predicaments with her fate-of-city problems.

For our cozy side, there’s heaps of comforting contentment: lots of fashion, girl power, offbeat supporting characters, and smoky romance, all set against the vivid, bustling backdrop of San Francisco. Start with the first title, Secondhand Spirits, and welcome to a gratifyingly curl-uppable series.

rating system four crows


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Review: Boomtown

Boomtown—James A. Moore, 2019.  3.5/5

Jonathan Crowley is pissed.

It is 1869 and he’s been killed. Again. This time by a gang of renegade soldiers while trying to defend a helpless Irish family. Now, having been prised out of the ice and mud, he’s back and out for revenge. He is so focused on revenge that quite frankly, Mr. Crowley is not interested whatsoever in helping the humans in Carson Point, Colorado fight off an ancient and powerful evil. Or in stopping the wizard Albert Miles who’s got his own dark designs on the town. Yep, Crowley’s putting his monster-hunting mission on the back burner while he goes after the men who killed him.

It doesn’t matter that the conscientious albino undertaker, Mr. Slate, is having trouble keeping dead bodies, well, dead. They’ve taken to leaving the mortuary and hanging malevolently around the edges of town. Crowley doesn’t care that a group of Native Americans (also very dead) seem to be possessed by…something…and are changing into something even worse. Or that a monster is eating folks’ horses. Or that the town deputy, in charge now because the sheriff is—you guessed it—dead, is fathoms out of his league. Crowley’s got one thing in mind: payback.

Jonathan Crowley ranks up there as one of my favorite characters. Known to bad guys as The Hunter, he’s been around for centuries protecting humankind from nameless evils. He’s an average-looking, bespectacled fellow who packs a mighty aura of menace and a smile that makes evildoers think again (if they’re smart enough). Humans make Crowley impatient. Stupidity makes him extremely irritable. And evil things that prey on humans? They elicit a violent zero-tolerance policy. Usually.

Boomtown is dark Western horror. Moore’s author’s note (“Warning Shots”) informs us up front that this title is especially grim because of—unusual for Moore—violence towards women and young children. We’ve got cringeworthy monsters and a unique, seemingly immortal adversary. There’s a lot going on between competing evil powers, gunfights, and magical battles.

Moore excels at making us feel the bitter high-country winter and gritty frontier atmosphere. We learn quickly that the book’s title is ironic. The miners, immigrants, former slaves, and merchants are all out to make fortunes in a town that is a supernatural bust.

Boomtown is a standalone Crowley tale, and I enjoyed it as a grim shoot-em up with a character I enjoy. But believe it or not, I wanted a little more of the humans’ side of the story. (Who would have thought I’d ever say that?) It’s true: I needed a little more connection to the supporting characters in order for the creepy stuff (and carnage) to be totally effective.

If you’re already a fan, you’ll like Boomtown. If you’re new to Mr. Crowley, I’m going to suggest you meet him as I did with the 3-book Serenity Falls series. Writ in Blood is first: neatly plotted, very creepy, truly great horror. I think the series is out of print, but you can find used copies, or check your library. Definitely worth it.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Discount Armageddon

Discount Armageddon –Seanan McGuire, 2012.  4.5/5

Braving your bogeyman of a boss—literally—and dealing with dragons under Manhattan are all in a day’s work for cryptozoologist Verity Price in this first installment of McGuire’s InCryptid series.

Verity shares her shoebox of an apartment, (a semi legal sublet from a Sasquatch) with a colony of fervently celebratory talking mice. She gets by waitressing at a strip club and dreaming of a professional ballroom dancing career. That’s the normal side of Verity’s life.

The…abnormal…side of her life? She’s the local protector of cryptids: supporting and protecting monster and human communities from each other.

Not only is Verity a mad-skilled free runner, and a serious weapons specialist, but she can kill a man—or monster—six ways from Sunday. It runs in the family. Once a part of the fanatical, hidebound Covenant, which believes the only good cryptid is a dead one, the Price family went rogue generations ago when they realized cryptids had as much right to be in the world as any human.

Now, Covenant member Dominic De Luca is in town for his first solo mission. Verity and Dominic’s explosive mutual animosity is complicated by equally fiery mutual attraction. But the two face a bigger problem: cryptid virgins are disappearing at an alarming rate, weird lizard men are prowling the sewers, and there are rumors of a dragon sleeping beneath the city.

Discount Armageddon is great fun. McGuire skillfully builds a rich, urban cryptid world, tucking it seamlessly alongside the mundane city-life of ignorant humans. Excitingly unique monsters good, bad, and indifferent abound. A back matter “Field Guide” to NYC cryptids offers tongue-in-cheek details (in case you need help identifying a ghoul at your local bar). The characters—human and otherwise—are great, too, brought to life with breezy dialogue and a touch of surreal humor. Verity herself is skilled and sassy, with a tender heart under all that armament. The plot races along to a highly satisfying conclusion. Yes! At last! I can’t wait to get ahold of the next book.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: Jane-Emily

Jane-Emily – Patricia Clapp, 1969.  5/5

The vengeful spirit of a spiteful little girl torments the living in this deliciously shivery gothic ghost story.

It is 1912 and summertime in Massachusetts. Eighteen-year-old Louisa isn’t thrilled to leave her boyfriend and spend the glorious summer months chaperoning her orphaned niece, Jane, at the austere home of Mrs. Lydia Canfield. But Louisa agrees, knowing it will help Jane to bond with her grandmother, and maybe cheer her up after the untimely death of her parents.

Louisa and Jane bring laughter and light to the gloomy old Canfield house but can’t escape the malevolent memories of Mrs. Canfield’s spoiled daughter Emily. Beautiful and sweet when she got what she wanted, cruel and vindictive when she didn’t, Emily literally died for attention. It seems that Emily’s not done getting what—and whom—she wants. Now, she wants Jane.

As the summer progresses, Louisa meets the handsome young Dr. Adam, and Jane begins to blossom. Everything would be perfect, except for the sinister presence of Emily shadowing the household. Creepy and inexplicable things start to happen. The reflecting ball in garden glows impossibly on moonless nights, and Jane develops an uncanny connection to the dead girl. The frightening incidents escalate as Emily’s power grows in strength, climaxing in a truly chilling, unforgettable scene.

After coming off a couple of “meh” books I needed a palate cleanser. I first read Jane-Emily when I was in elementary school and it terrified me then. Now I re-read it every other summer or so and appreciate its depth, from the intricate period detail to the budding romance: things that child me didn’t notice, and adult me now appreciates. Plus, the ghost story is still legitimately terrifying.

Jane-Emily is pitch perfect. You can feel the sweltering summer heat, smell the dust in the airless old house, envision the beautiful garden, and shiver at the lurking menace of the reflecting ball. The rising tension builds like a coming summer storm: slowly and oppressively, at first just a distant rumbling, then finally rising to a crash of wind and thunder.

Sit on your porch or out in your garden and read this gem of a ghost story and you’ll get chills, no matter how hot it is outside. Really. I’m a gardener and I’m a fan of flowerpots and garden paths and stone statues and ornaments—but I will never have a reflecting ball, thanks to Jane-Emily.

Jane-Emily is still in print and paired with another of Clapp’s novels, Witches’ Children. It is also available to borrow free (hooray!) online at the Internet Digital Archives. Treat yourself to a superb summer scare.

rating system five crows


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Review: Murder in Thrall

Murder in Thrall – Anne Cleeland, 2013.  3/5

Brilliant Chief Inspector Lord Acton takes young newbie Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle under his wing to help solve a string of murders in this first of Cleeland’s New Scotland Yard Mysteries.

Cooly intelligent, handsome, unfailingly polite, educated, and disgustingly wealthy, Acton raises Doyle above the other lowly DCs—to their great envy and confusion—because he is aware of her special gift.

Doyle couldn’t be more different from Acton. She’s proudly Irish and Catholic, she’s not exactly swimming in cash, she’s a terrible driver, and her efforts to improve her vocabulary are sweetly pathetic. But—she can tell when people are lying and read the truth of their emotions. So far, his expertise and her intuition have solved several high profile-cases.

When a trainer at a local racetrack and the witness’s girlfriend, are killed point blank, and Kathleen’s own estranged father is murdered, Acton and Doyle must find the connection and stop the murderer.

The real story, however, is Acton and Doyle’s relationship. The title is perfectly indicative of the hold the main characters have on each other, and the motivation of the killer.

Acton is a Section Seven—a felony stalker— who’s had his eye on Kathleen for a while and it’s gone waaaay beyond the point of some binoculars and a few photos. He’s monitoring her computer. Buying her clothes. Planning their wedding.

And Doyle’s reaction is…positive. She’s flattered. Her Scooby Sense tells her that Acton genuinely loves her.

The killer keeps killing, and Acton predictably is overwhelmingly protective towards Doyle. He takes her off field work on the murder cases. And she knows that he knows something he’s not telling her. There is no shortage of suspects both internal and external, from Russian gun runners, to other DCs, to the lecherous head of Forensics. As the danger grows, Doyle ultimately must take care of herself.

Cleeland writes well. The dialogue is snappy, the pacing is great, and I very much enjoyed the police procedural aspects of this view into Scotland Yard. Likewise, supporting characters—especially Doyle’s supervisor Habib, and her nemesis the pretty, ambitious DC Munoz—add realism and depth to the story. The mystery itself does read a little thin, which I know because I pegged the killer early on. If I, truly among the most dupable of readers, can do that…well, it’s a little thin.

My big problem, however, is with Doyle and Acton’s relationship, which is just downright creepy and disturbing. He manipulates, directs, and basically takes over her life, and she’s happy to let him. When she’s frustrated at being put on desk work, or made to appear as if she’s in Acton’s bad graces, or has any qualms about the future, she just drinks the delicious latte he sends her and tells herself how stupid she is to be so sensitive.  After all, she knows he loves her, plus she’s having great sex. And she knows she’s good for him. She just needs to learn work with—or around—his possessiveness.

So, this is a tough one. I can’t relate well to Doyle quickly and contentedly abandoning her autonomy. I’m on the fence about reading the next book in the series. I probably will, just to see if Doyle and Acton’s relationship can evolve beyond obsession and self-subjugation.

rating system three crows