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 Man of Legends

The Man of Legends – Kenneth Johnson, 2017. Rating: 3.5/5

People who meet him think he’s an angel. He knows he’s cursed. He has been around for centuries. His mission on earth is electrifying.

Will, the mysterious man of legends, is always on the move, constantly striving to help mankind better itself, one person at a time. He is an empathetic ear, a nudge in right direction, a gift that changes your life. A savior of suicides, and protector of the defenseless. He has studied under the likes of Gandhi. He has influenced authors, inventors, and scientists; sharing ideas that have transformed the world.

The Catholic Church has been pursuing him across time. They must not catch him. And he must not give in to the sympathetic dark-haired man who appears in Will’s rare moments of weakness.

With The Man of Legends, Johnson, a prolific writer-director of both film and tv classics (including the original V miniseries) has created an intriguing genre-bender.

Johnson mashes together the thriller, historical fiction, an age-old legend, and a timeless conflict into a contemporary urban setting. It actually works. The writing moves fast, flipping between multiple points of view. We follow mainly the perspectives of Jillian, a jaded, racist tabloid reporter; Father St. Jacques, Will’s Vatican-empowered pursuer; a lover grown old; and Will himself. The story flashes back often to vividly-imagined turning points in history, then leaps back to the present where the storyline races to its crisis point. We learn Will’s secret, and a secret even more profound.

The Man of Legends is an absorbing read and one that would transfer easily to film—Johnson’s writing is so animated. Although at times the depiction of Will’s good deeds and their grateful recipients feels a little heavy-handed and cliché—edging towards saccharine—Johnson makes up for it with his evocative historical snapshots and the genuine poignancy of Will’s suffering. The Man of Legends delivers a unique, fast-paced tale that leaves you pondering the nature of redemption as well as the nature of evil—and the possibility of its salvation.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: A Brush with Shadows

A Brush with Shadows – Anna Lee Huber, 2018.  Rating: 5/5

There are no spectral hounds terrorizing the moors in A Brush with Shadows, but mysterious poisonings, a family curse, and treacherous tors more than satisfy in this deliciously atmospheric installment in Huber’s Lady Darby series.

It is the summer of 1831, and newlyweds Lady Kiera Darby and her husband, golden boy and inquiry agent Sebastian Gage, are summoned to Dartmoor by Gage’s failing grandfather. Their task: to find Gage’s missing ne’er-do-well cousin, last seen on the perilous moor. Gage, however, is less than happy to be home.

After an emotionally abusive childhood at the hands of his viperish aunt and vicious cousins, followed by the unnatural death of his mother, Gage left his family home forever.  Returning now to Langstone Manor, he and Kiera find that little has changed: the manor is heavy with lies and animosity and secrets.

Despite deceptions thrown up by the unhelpful family and Gage’s own deep-seated anger towards his cousin, Gage feels honor-bound find him. And Kiera is there to help, both with the inquiry and with helping Gage confront his long-suppressed emotions.

A Brush with Shadows ranks as perhaps my favorite in the series thus far. Huber is beautifully on point in creating a sinister—even slightly spooky—mood. The manor itself is labyrinthian, dark, and filled with secret passages. Whispers of witchcraft, possible pixie encounters, and ominous dreams add delightful shivers.

Huber uses this tantalizing mystery to further deepen her characters. We have watched Kiera’s progression across the series as she worked to transcend her past and the invectives cast at her: transforming from social pariah to self-assured partner and even a quietly strong advocate for women in an age when their rights were limited.

As a new wife, Kiera treads gently but firmly to get to root of Gage’s emotions, intuiting her way through highly relatable marital uncertainties. And the pair’s romantic relationship—yep, satisfying there, too.

I didn’t want this book to end, and I can’t wait for the next one, though Huber will have her work cut out for her to surpass A Brush with Shadows. New to Lady Darby?  You are in for a treat. But start with the first title so you don’t miss anything: The Anatomist’s Wife.

rating system five crows


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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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