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: The Summoner

The Summoner Layton Green, 2013.

Dominic Grey, working as a US diplomatic security agent in Zimbabwe, is tasked with finding out what happened to the ambassador’s good friend, who apparently vanished during a secretive religious ritual.

Together with a fierce and beautiful local official and a world expert on cults, Grey follows a dark trail of corruption and terror.  Hunting a powerful and evil n’anga – usually a healer and spiritual advisor –  Grey sees things that defy rational explanation and shake his world view to the core.

A tough guy with a lack of respect for authority and zero tolerance for injustice, Grey survived childhood with a violent father and watched his sick mother die despite all her faith and prayers.  Now, his own beliefs – or lack thereof – are challenged by the magic and butchery he witnesses.

The Summoner is a deep book: on the surface a mystery/ thriller with a hint of supernatural, it is truly thought-provoking and disturbing on an elemental level.  Green captures the essence of the dichotomy that is modern Zimbabwe:  vitality and despair, beauty and secrecy, honor and corruption, globalism and racial tension.  This setting creates a shocking juxtaposition of contemporary urban life with primitive rituals and belief systems.

Green leaves the reader with a deep sense of unease.  What is real?  Can unknown beliefs or concepts affect one’s reality, despite one’s own beliefs?  Is magic real? The Summoner will get under your skin.


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Petrifyingly Perfect Pumpkin Coconut Bread

Fall is in the air and there is no better time for Pumpkin Coconut Bread.  I’ve been baking this for years.  It always turns out beautifully: moist, flavorful.  And it makes three loaves.  Oh yes.  One to eat, one to freeze, and one to give away.  Or maybe two to freeze.  Or… You work out the distribution.

This recipe also lends itself perfectly to other add-ins: chopped candied ginger, mini chocolate chips, raisins, currants.  Change the nuts to walnuts.  Play with it!  This is an easy recipe that will be a keeper for you.

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Ingredients:

5 eggs

2 cups canned pumpkin

2 cups sugar

1 ¼ cups vegetable oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 packages (3.4 ounces each) instant coconut pudding mix

3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teasopon ground nutmeg

¾ cup chopped pecans, toasted (optional)

How to Make It:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Grease and flour three 8-inch x 4-inch loaf pans.

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Toast your nuts if you’re so inclined.

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In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and pumpkin until smooth.  Add the sugar and oil; mix well.

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Combine the flour, pudding mixes, cinnamon, baking soda, and nutmeg; add to the pumpkin mixture.

Stir in the nuts and anything else you may be adding.

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Transfer the mixture to your three loaf pans.

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Bake at 350F for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

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Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pans to wire racks.  Let cool completely.  Wrap and freeze for up to six months!

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Happy Fall!


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Día de los Muertos Marigold Garlands

I recently held a BOOOk Fair at our school library with a Day of the Dead theme.  (Aside – I am so fortunate to have an administration that loves a spooky fall Book – “BOOOk” – Fair).

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Día de los Muertos is primarily a Mexican holiday. It is a multi-day celebration that starts on October 31st – Halloween – and goes through November 2nd – All Souls’ Day.  Over these days, families take time to remember and celebrate family members who have passed on.  They visit cemeteries where they clean the graves of their loved ones and decorate them with altars – ofrendas – using foods & drinks their loved ones enjoyed, toys, and marigolds.  The marigold, known as the Flor de Muerto, is supposed to attract the souls of the dead to the offerings.  We have a large Hispanic population at the school and they loved this Fair.

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One decoration I made was marigold garlands.  These are absolutely stunning and super-simple to make.  Fortunately, in our backyard, marigolds are essentially perennials and come up on their own every spring.  I have an abundance to work with.

Take a sunny fall afternoon and string these beautiful garlands.  They have an amazing weight to them when they are fresh, and a lovely, almost spicy scent.  As they dry, they shrink up, but remain so pretty.  You can cut the garland and spread the dried seeds in your fall garden to come up again next year.  Use them as necklaces or add to a fall tablescape. Use your decorating imagination!

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You need:

Marigold flowers – lots: The string I made for the blog today was three feet long and used 55 flowers.

Embroidery floss

Embroidery needle

Pony beads

How to make them:

Gather your marigold flowers.  You can cut them off the plants with scissors or just pick them by hand.  Make sure to get the seed pod with the flower – this is the part you will be passing the needle through.

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Thread your needle with your embroidery and string your first pony bead, making a knot.  I am using the embroidery floss without separating it into strands so it will be a little stronger. I’m using an orange color to blend in with the flowers.  There is a huge variety of pony beads available!  I am working with some translucent pony beads in all colors.  They add a subtle sparkle in the garland.

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Now, string your first marigold flower.  Push the needle through the seedpod and pull the flower down the floss so it rests on the anchor pony bead.  Next, string another bead.  Then, add another flower. Continue alternating beads and flowers, scooting them down so they are tight together on the string.

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Turn the marigold flowers at different angles to make the garland look full from all sides.

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When you have your garland as long as you want it, knot the end.  Leave enough thread extending so that you can tie the two ends together if you like, to make a circle, or necklace.2017-09-25 16.10.44

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This garland was just under three feet, and used 55 marigold flowers.  It only took about twenty minutes!  Have fun!

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Review: Full Wolf Moon

Full Wolf Moon Lincoln Child, 2017.

Jeremy Logan, a professor of history at Yale, is looking forward to six uninterrupted weeks at a secluded retreat in the Adirondacks where he plans to finish work on his monograph about the Middle Ages.

But when a college friend turned forest ranger needs help investigating the savage murders of backpackers in a remote area of forest – all of which occurred during the full moon – Jeremy puts his research on the back burner and starts an off-the-record probe into the odd deaths.

Logan is an engaging character: he has appeared in his empathic enigmalogist role in several other books by Child including Deep Storm and Terminal Freeze. The trouble with Full Wolf Moon, quite frankly, is that from the title forward, we know where the story is going.  There are no great surprises: we know when something is going to happen, and the basics of what is going to happen, so the only mild suspense left is in the how, why, and who.

Suspects do abound as Jeremy digs deeper into the case. Residents of tiny Pike Hollow blame the Blakelys, an extended, inbred family living in a fortified compound outside town… A paroled ax-murderer happens to live nearby in the woods… A scientist, Laura Feverbridge, and her assistants are carrying out her father’s research on the lunar effect on animals in a lab nearby… All of these folks have the potential to be lycanthropic butchers.

Full Wolf Moon is a quick read.  Elements of the story are nicely realized: Child builds an eerily claustrophobic and threatening sense of the old woods. The Blakely compound raises reader’s hackles, and tying it all together is an interesting scientific take on the phenomena of werewolves.  While the storyline is – uncharacteristically for Child – a little bland because of that lack of anticipation, overall, Full Wolf Moon is a solid tale.


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Review: The Elementals

The Elementals   Michael McDowell, 1981.

The Elementals is an exquisitely written horror novel.

Following the death of his unpleasant matriarch, gentle Dauphin Savage, his wife Leigh McCray, and their housekeeper Odessa pack up and take a take a trip out to the remote family summer place, Beldame, to reminisce and recover.

Beldame stands isolate and alone on the Alabama Gulf Coast: bordered by the Gulf on one side, a lagoon on the other, and empty white dunes facing west. At high tide, the Gulf flows into the lagoon and turns Beldame into an island. There is nothing to do there. No neighbors to meet. No television. No air conditioning. All is heat and white light and waves and lassitude.

Joining them at Beldame are Leigh’s mother, Big Barbara, and Leigh’s brother Luker along with his thirteen-year old daughter India.  It is India’s first time visiting Beldame.

At Beldame, each branch of the family has an identical old Victorian home. One for the Savages. One for the McCrays. And one nobody goes into. Or talks about.

Slowly but inexorably, the white sand is swallowing this third house.

While the family memories of Beldame seem to be nothing but happy, there is a disconnect: each visitor except India carries a deeply-buried psychological scar from…things…they may have seen in the empty building.

Young India is fascinated by the third house and intrigued by the mysterious and seemingly superstitious knowledge about it that Odessa possesses. India’s curiosity helps set the coming fearful events in motion.

McDowell’s sense of place is vivid and immediate. The lack of sound, the shades of light, and the dominant, ceaselessly shifting sand, almost physically put the reader at Beldame. And it all gets into your head.

Like an island itself, The Elementals is an insular piece with a small cast brought strikingly to life. Their dialogue wraps around you and includes you in the family. You almost start to believe that you have your own summer memories of Beldame; you feel that close to the land and the household.

The Elementals is a slow burn. It paradoxically creates an overwhelming sense of languor with an undercurrent of extraordinary tension. Small terrors jolt and startle like heat lightning, leading up to a shocking storm of a finale. This is beautifully written horror: it leaves you feeling washed out, as after a receding tide, and wanting to read the book again immediately. Don’t miss this one.


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Review: Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International  Larry Correia, 2007.

Owen Pitt works very hard to live a normal, boring life as an accountant

That all goes to hell one day when his boss turns into a werewolf and tries to eat him.

Throwing his boss out of a nice, high office window understandably loses him his accounting position, but, on the bright side, lands him a job offer with Monster Hunter International. MHI is a private cadre of warriors gleaned from librarians, Army Rangers, chemistry teachers and others who have survived encounters with one of the many horrors that secretly roam the earth. MHI’s job is to handle those unfriendlies that go bump in the night.

What follows is the end of Owen’s normal life and the beginning of a ripping good read for all of us. Our narrator, Owen, is smart (he graduated top of his class as a CPA and speaks five languages fluently), a crack shot (thanks to his over-militant dad who essentially prepared Owen for an apocalypse while still in elementary school), a wise-ass, and an all-around big-hearted, no-so-handsome lug.

Owen attends a monster version of basic training, bonds with a handful of new trainees and quirky mentors, falls hard for the boss’s niece – a glasses-wearing, sharpshooting, intellectual hottie – and is soon on a mission to save the world from a cadre of master vampires and a powerful 500-year-old cursed being.

Monster Hunter International is just great fun. Parts are actually laugh-out-loud funny. The scene with the elves: priceless. That’s all I’ll say about that. You need to read it yourself. There is tons of monster-hunting action and intricate gun battles against vampires, wights, gargoyles, and demon things from another dimension. Correia, a past firearms instructor and competitive shooter (and accountant!), clearly knows and respects his ordnance.

The storyline, which travels wildly around the Alabama swamps, jumps to a little old Jewish man chatting with Owen in his dreams, and flashes back to conquistadors in the early Americas holds together because it is so well-written and the characters are fantastic. Eccentric but not one-dimensional: you truly come to care for them.

The only thing wrong with this book? There is nothing wrong: I’m just kicking myself because I haven’t read it sooner. On the plus side, there are more books in the series lined up ready for me to read like cookies waiting on a plate. That’s how enjoyable this book is. Like a lovely, violent, monster-filled, warm-hearted cookie treat. No kidding. Delicious fun.


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Film Review: Get Out

Get Out  2017.

Horror is not a genre known for exploring sensitive cultural issues, but writer/director Jordan Peele brilliantly makes racial tension the source of the terror in this highly suspenseful and marvelously creepy film.

Privileged white-girl Rose (Allison Williams) is bringing her African American boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an art photographer, home to meet her parents. Rose hasn’t told her family that he’s African American, insisting to Chris that it won’t matter. Trepidatious but in love with Rose, Chris goes along and finds his fears realized, and then some.

The secluded family manor oozes wealth, and the family is study in privilege. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a voluble neurosurgeon eager to show he is “with it.” Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), raises viewer’s hackles as the eerily-calm, soft-spoken psychiatrist keen to hypnotize Chris and help him quit smoking. Twitchy, ukulele-strumming younger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is a med student fascinated by Chris’ racial genetic makeup. Compounding the awkwardness, the house is maintained by African-American servants Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), who are all bright smiles and sinister subservience. Chris endures the subtle racism for Rose’s sake, but is deeply disquieted.

Threaded inexorably together, the racial and horror tension ramps up at an uncomfortable gathering with the family’s older, wealthy, white neighbors who are a perfect hairsbreadth away from tipping into grotesque caricatures – which makes them even more disturbing. The party is an ordeal in thoughtless prejudice for Chris, who handles it with grace and good spirit, but can’t shake his growing unease that something even greater than blatant racism is wrong with all these people. He’s right.

The film’s creepiness derives from the cringeworthy racial tension and a magnificently-elicited sense of dread and wrongness. The cast elevates Get Out to an exceptional film: acting is spot on across the board. Kaluuya is perfect as the sensitive, strong, savvy photographer drawn into what becomes an unthinkable situation. Betty Gabriel’s performance as Georgina literally – and I mean literally – gives goosebumps. The ominously dark musical score by Michael Abels captures the film’s building sense of menace. According to an article in Splinter, Peele worked closely with Abels to incorporate blues and African musical influences in the music: the haunting theme song features lyrics in Swahili which translate into “Something bad is coming. Run!”

Get Out has distant echoes of film classics like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives, but Peele takes his film to a unique and truly shocking level. Get Out is chilling. Thought-provoking. Terrifying. Do not miss this one.