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: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware, 2015.

In this twisty whodunit, Ruth Ware modernizes the classic closed circle mystery: striking readers’ nerves and resurfacing our own painful teenage insecurities.

Having lost touch with Clare, her former schoolmate and BFF, Nora is taken aback when she receives an invite to Clare’s hen party weekend.

It sounds fun. A cozy bachelorette celebration.  An upscale cabin in the northern woods. A chance to see her old friend.

But Nora isn’t sure whether to accept.  Although still socially awkward, she’s managed to overcome trauma from her teens and reinvent herself as a successful crime author in the years post-Clare.

She decides to go and realizes almost immediately she made a grave mistake.  The identity of Clare’s fiancé turns out to be a bit of a shock. Nora also discovers that some old emotional wounds haven’t quite healed and that the small circle of frenemies at the party is adept at picking at those scabs.  Everyone has their own secrets.

In a Dark, Dark, Wood is nimbly plotted. Foreshadowing and flashbacks, little twists and red herrings keep the reader flipping pages at a lightning pace.  With the character of Nora, Ware holds a mirror up to most of us readers.  We see ourselves in her: reliving painful teenage years of low self-esteem, uncertainty, and the agonizing navigation of true – and false – friendships.  We feel the insecurities of being the token nerd at the popular girl’s sleepover. Nora is everygirl. But can we trust her narration?

In a Dark, Dark, Wood is a whippity-quick read. Fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and others in the new wave of fast, sinuous thrillers will eat this up.

rating system four crows


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Review: Bone White

Bone White – Ronald Malfi, 2017.

A remote Alaskan village. Sinister, superstitious townsfolk. Mysterious disappearances. Granny tales of doppelgangers and devils stalking the woods, turning folks mad. Cue a delicious shiver: Ronald Malfi’s unique new horror novel delivers all this and then some.

In Dread’s Hand, Alaska, a backwoods serial killer turns himself in, confessing to eight murders. The investigating detective, Jill Ryerson, grows uncomfortably aware that the killer’s story defies rationality and is disturbingly connected to other uncanny killings.

On the far side of the country, Paul Gallo is certain that his missing twin brother, Danny, must be one of the victims. Paul travels to Alaska and ends up starting his own amateur probe into Danny’s disappearance.

But the folks of Dread’s Hand keep their macabre secrets well, and they don’t like outsiders. The deeper Paul digs, the greater his horror grows. And the danger grows, too.

Bone White is a crackerjack of a story. In a slow, menacing build, Malfi hooks us with tantalizing snippets of demon stories, dark impressions of village rituals and brief glimpses of the story’s ancient evil. All the while, we anxiously hope for the best – but expect the worst – in Paul’s quest.

Like Paul, we feel increasingly claustrophobic and vulnerable in Dread’s Hand. The inscrutable townspeople, affected by generations of long, lonely winters – and by the presence of the lurking malevolence in the woods – are alien and disturbing to us. This characterization brilliantly adds to our rising readerly paranoia.

Our chill of fear is matched by a nearly palpable chill of winter. Under Malfi’s deft detailing, the bitter landscape becomes a hostile entity in itself.  All around, Bone White is distinctively unnerving.

Grab an extra comforter – you’ll need it – and curl up with this one.

rating system four crowsbone white.jpg


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A Really Lovely Apple Pie. So What if it’s April?

A cold April rain is pelting the windows in my office-slash-craft room right now. It is dark and peaceful, and I could give in and take a Saturday afternoon nap, but I want something even more comforting: pie.

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Here is an apple pie recipe you’ll turn to again and again, and probably, knowing all you bakers out there, modify it some more yourselves with your own tricks. As it stands, however, this is a beauty of a pie. Your house will smell amazing as it bakes.

Ingredients:

Pie crust for a two-crust pie – use your go-to crust recipe or refrigerated crusts. You really can’t go wrong with this pie.

6 medium apples, peeled and thinly sliced*

¾ cup sugar plus extra for sprinkling

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon unsalted cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg white

* For heaven’s sake, use your favorite apple: Granny Smith are the traditional go-to baking apples because they add a nice tartness. Lots of folks enjoy McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, or a blend. Go with what you enjoy or what you have on hand. Like the crust, you won’t go wrong. I’ve got Fuji today, which are panned for their juices not thickening enough, but I’m not feeling picky. If you’re entering the county fair, then be picky.

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How to Make It:

Heat your oven to 425 F.

Place your bottom crust into a 9-inch pie plate.

In a large bowl, mix the apples, ¾ cup sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and lemon juice. Do this gently, so you don’t break up your apple slices. Spoon the filling into the bottom crust.

Sprinkle on the cut-up bits of butter.2018-01-27 14.17.11

Cover with your top crust. Trim off any excess and tuck the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust. Pinch it together and flute it. (No woodwinds involved.) Use both hands and pinch and seal the dough with your pointer fingers and thumbs, giving a tiny twist as you go all around the edge of the pie. Check out my Bloody Good Cherry Pie recipe for marginally more details on fluting.

With a sharp knife, cut some slits in the top crust to vent the steam. Or you could use a pie bird, or little cookie cutters and cut shapes out of the crust (before you put it on top of the filling, making sure everything stays cool) to do the same thing.

In a little bowl, whisk the egg white until it is nice and frothy. Brush the egg white over the top of the pie. This will give you a nice shiny finish.

Now, sprinkle sugar gently over the top of the egg white. You’ll end with a sparkly, delicious top.

Step carefully around your mini-Schnauzer who is positioned so she can instantly grab any accidental food-from-the-sky.  She doesn’t look alert.  That’s a deception.  Just wait until you drop something…

Bake your pie for 40 to 45 minutes or until the apples are tender, you can see bubbling through the vents, and the crust is golden brown.

Before this happens, though, you need to check after 15 to 20 minutes of baking and cover the edges of the crust. You can do this with foil, or a pie crust shield. I got these little Norpro 3275 Silicone Pie Crust Shields, 5-Piece for Christmas, and I have to say, they’re the bomb. They’re adjustable to other sizes of pie, go on so easily (WAY easier than foil) and clean up fast. I do recommend them.

Whatever method you use, be sure you cover those edges on the crust, or they will be over-browned by the end of the baking time. And you’ll be sad.

Cool your pie on the cooling rack for at least two hours before serving. If you can wait even longer, believe it or not, that’s better: the filling will set even more and not seep when you cut it. Still, I know: it smells like heaven and you can’t touch it for two hours. Now is a good time for that nap.

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Review: The Silent Corner

The Silent Corner – Dean Koontz, 2017.

Jane Hawk is a now-rogue FBI agent who has gone off grid and into the silent corner in this tense and timely thriller.

In the wake of her husband’s unexpected suicide, Jane discovers that a rapidly rising number of happy, well-adjusted professionals are killing themselves – and leaving very strange notes.

Following the barest of clues, Jane latches onto the trail of a monstrous conspiracy that is already altering the future of the human race in unspeakable ways.

Jane’s got grit, guts, and goodness on her side, but the high-powered cabal she’s gunning for has unlimited resources, power, and connections at its disposal. Alone and pursued, Jane fights for herself, her son, and for the soul of humanity.

With The Silent Corner, Koontz gives us a cautionary techno-thriller with heart. Jane is a strong heroine. Tough. Skilled. She’s not afraid to use force, even though it comes with an emotional price. She’s also self-reflective, pondering the nature of good and evil when her discoveries shake her worldview. Fortunately, a handful of surprising and quirky allies along the way work to mend Jane’s faith in people.

Throughout all the chases, gunfire, daring escapes and infiltrations, Koontz takes time to reveal gently, with reverence, the amazing gift that life is and the beauty of world we live in. His writing, as always, speaks to the heart. There are moments of description in The Silent Corner so concisely and perfectly beautiful, you will pause to read them again before being swept into Jane’s next white-knuckle crisis.

The Silent Corner rockets along, building to a heck of a climax and…leaves us with a cliffhanger. Arrgh! I ordered the next book in the series about five minutes after I finished this one.

rating system four crowssilent corner


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Crabby Melts

Winter seems here to stay, so I’m still cheerfully making comfort food.  Here’s an easy, substantial sandwich that will make a cozy lunch or dinner.  These originally started out as an appetizer recipe from, oh, fifteen years ago, but I’ve updated it over time to make it meal-strength.  Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

12 ounces decent white crab meat, picked over for shells – use what you can afford.  This is a cheesy sandwich melt, so the crab will be friends with some other strong flavors.  Maybe don’t drop a ton of money on the finest lump, is what I’m saying.

1 5-ounce jar of Kraft Old English cheese spread

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ cup butter, softened

½ teaspoon horseradish

Dash of Tabasco

8 English muffin halves, toasted.  (So, four English muffins, split.)

8 slices mozzarella cheese

8 slices tomato*

8 slices avocado*

8 strips of bacon, cooked, cut in half

2 scallions, chopped

* Optional: I usually use one or the other.

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How to Make Them:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

In a medium bowl, gently combine the crab, cheese spread, mayonnaise, garlic powder, butter, horseradish, and Tabasco.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it well, and set your toasted English muffin rounds onto it.  To each round, add a slice of cheese, two pieces of bacon (the two halves of one strip), and slice of avocado or tomato.

Next, spoon the crab mixture over the top of each round.  Carefully avoid your mini-Schnauzer who has parked herself predatorily in the center of the kitchen, waiting for food to fall from the sky.

Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and everything is heated through.  Make sure your bottom slice of cheese is melty!  Garnish with chopped scallion.

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In the winter, crabby melts go great with fries and sautéed greens like spinach or chard, or steamed veggies. In the summer, they’re lovely with a crisp salad.


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Review: Kill Creek

Kill Creek – Scott Thomas, 2017.

Four wildly different horror writers, each slipping in their popularity, take a lucrative offer to get back in the spotlight: $100,000 for an intimate interview livestreamed from a famously haunted house.

Their destination: the house on Kill Creek. Site of the brutal murder of a mixed-race couple during the Civil War and more recently, the former home of two mysterious, disturbingly reclusive sisters.

Halloween night finds the authors, their interviewer, and one camerawoman alone in the ominous house.  Somewhat to their disappointment, nothing supernatural seems to happen.  No orbs, no rattling chains or wisps of ectoplasm.  But… something does happen. The real horror begins when each author returns home.

Kill Creek is a deliciously creepy tale.  Thomas revitalizes the classic haunted house theme with vividly atmospheric writing and finely-honed tension.  Small, subtle terrors give the reader satisfying shivers and ramp up the suspense.  Top things off with a nail-biting, gory finale and a quiet, sharp little dig at the end, and you’ve got wickedly good novel.

The characters as much as the house make the story great.  Sam, an author of small-town horror struggles with writer’s block.  Moore’s violent, hard-core, sex-laden books are too extreme for mainstream fans. Daniel, who makes his living on Christian teen scare novels, is losing his base.  Sebastian, king of the classic ghost story finds his writing relegated to the older generation.  The house will use each of their weaknesses.

Under all the terror, Thomas conveys a poignancy in each character’s desperate craving for relevance: In the need to balance their drive for self-expression with the desire to maintain personal space outside of their writing. Deep down, Kill Creek is also a story about the bittersweet nature of the creative act of writing.  But mostly, it’s a treat of a horror story. Nicely done, Mr. Thomas.

rating system four crowskill creek.jpg


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Review: The Twelfth Enchantment

The Twelfth Enchantment – David Liss, 2011.

Spells and magic contest with political intrigue in this oddly satisfying historical novel.

Living in the friendless home of a family connection and nearly penniless, about to be married to an odious man she doesn’t love, Lucy Derrick views her future with despair.

Until she unexpectedly frees the great romantic poet, Lord Byron, from a strange curse.

This startling act of magic catapults Lucy into the forefront of a battle for the very future of England as the conflict between the Luddites – angry laborers and textile workers – and proponents of mechanization builds to a crescendo.

Now Lucy must unravel secrets from her own past while racing to reassemble the pages of the most powerful book in the world: the Mutus Liber, a true book of alchemy.

The Twelfth Enchantment is an uncommon mélange of historical fiction, fantasy, lively action, and light romance. In other words, it’s pretty great. The premise is wild, but Liss flawlessly melds magic with, of all things, the Industrial Revolution.

Changelings, cunning women, and revenants comingle with actual historical figures that Liss meticulously brings to life in his pages: among them, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, William Blake, and of course Lord Byron. Intelligent and brave, Lucy herself is an intriguing original character. Frustrated with, but bound by societal constraints, Lucy gradually empowers herself, and we cheer her on.

Maybe all these disparate elements shouldn’t work together. But they do. The Twelfth Enchantment is a singularly memorable – and enjoyable – read.

rating system four crows