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 Brightest Fell

The Brightest Fell, Seanan McGuire, 2017. Rating: 3.5/5

In this installment of McGuire’s brilliant urban fantasy series, October Daye–changeling, blood-magic worker, knight, and official hero of Faerie—finds herself forced on a quest to find her half-sister. At stake? The sanity—and lives—of those she loves.

Amandine, Toby’s powerful (and sociopathic) mother, orders Toby to locate August, who has been missing for a century or so. As collateral, Amandine kidnaps Toby’s fiance, the King of Cats, and her friend Jazz, imprisoning them in their animal forms until Toby completes her near-impossible task.

The only one who can help with Toby’s search? August’s father, Simon, who happens to be Toby’s arch enemy. Along with her squire, Quentin, Toby and Simon travel deep into Faerie to find and bring Autumn home and restore what Toby holds dear.

The Brightest Fell explores Toby’s life-long issues with her mother and enables us to see the evil Simon in a different, poignant light. The latter is arguably the best part of the book.

We return to locations that Toby visited in previous adventures. Discover haunting loose ends of other quests. Confront dark, old memories. While it is neat to revisit past story lines, here it feels a little repetitive mostly because the quest itself doesn’t seem particularly challenging. The powerful sea witch, the Luidaeg, is the one who ends up solving most of the problems.

I’m conflicted with The Brightest Fell.

McGuire’s world-building is so imaginatively detailed that picking up any book in the series is like taking a vacation to an exotic locale with characters who are old, familiar friends. It’s that good. I’ve been an avid fan of the series from the first book, Rosemary and Rue. And I flew enjoyably through this title in a couple days. The writing is great. The suspense is there. When I finished, however, I was left feeling…sad. Like nothing—plot, characters—had progressed or developed. Like I came full circle back to the start of the book with everyone, me and the characters, left a little jaded. It’s still a good read. It’s still great to be able to slide comfortably into a fantasy world that seems just next door to ours. I just wanted a little more.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls—Simone St. James, 2018. 4/5

Obsessed with investigating the murder of her older sister, journalist Fiona uncovers an unsolved homicide and a malevolent ghost in this supernatural mystery.

Even though her sister’s murderer is in jail, Fiona returns again and again to the grounds of the abandoned girls’ school where her sister’s body was dumped. Now a crumbling ruin, Idlewild was once a school for social embarrassments and undesirables. When a wealthy patron decides to restore and reopen Idlewild, Fiona seizes the chance to explore and write about its history. As she digs deeper into the past, Fiona discovers another murder and an ominous specter that has terrorized students at the school for decades.

The Broken Girls is an interesting departure from St. James’ previous ghostly tales in plot and setting: this book reads as more of a cold case police procedural complemented with a supernatural element. Which is not a bad thing.

St. James’ writing is, as always, suspenseful and atmospheric. She tells a good tale. We eagerly follow two parallel stories–that of four teenage roommates at Idlewild in 1950, and Fiona’s contemporary investigation and her complicated romance with her cop boyfriend—to their ultimate intersection. The book especially shines in St. James’ poignant characterizations of the four close roommates. The drama of boarding school life is rich in both detail and emotion.

As mystery, The Broken Girls works great, but I’m on fence about supernatural element. The ghost of Mary Hand prowling through the story is shivery and dark, but almost superfluous. I wanted more of this spooky legend and kept thinking it must have a greater connection to the murder-mystery. Mary Hand could command a book of her own! That said, all of the threads do come neatly together, and The Broken Girls delivers a gripping read.

rating system four crows 


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Review: Devil’s Call

Devil’s Call—J. Danielle Dorn, 2017. 4/5

Witches roam the wild west in this beguiling tale of magic, vengeance, and one tough-as-nails enchantress.

A wild child in her youth, Li Lian grew up sheltered by her extended family of female witches.

Along comes a gentle Mexican War veteran who unexpectedly steals her heart and together they wind up in Nebraska Territory, where Li Lian is pregnant with their first child.

When her husband is killed by a trio of travelers, Li Lian and an unexpected ally pursue them from New Orleans to the badlands of South Dakota and beyond. But dark portents along their trail suggest that the leader of the bad guys may be more than a match for Li Lian’s powers.

Devil’s Call takes a simple storyline—the typical revenge western—and neatly and believably weaves it together with a story of practicing Scottish witches. Instead of seeming forced, this works. It makes the western theme feel fresh and adds an unexpected layer of depth. Readers are treated to the best of multiple genres: ancient magic worked by powerful female characters, and good, old-fashioned western shoot-outs.

The story’s success rests in its narrator. Li Lian chronicles the tale herself, recording details past and present for her unborn child. Her voice rings true in best tradition of oral storytellers. We root for her. She’s a fierce heroine. We empathize with her love, her loss, and her avenging spirit. We hear her regrets in the things says—and doesn’t say. We get tantalizing glimpses of her magical heritage that leave us wanting to know more about her world.

Devil’s Call is an unusual, effective mashup: a whip-quick, exciting read that will resonate even after you put it down.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Haunted Air

The Haunted Air – F. Paul Wilson, 2002. Rating 4/5

Has a portal to hell—or somewhere worse—opened up in your basement? Repairman Jack’s the man to call. Jack is the ultimate fix-it guy: Anonymous. Tough as nails with a heart of gold. A New Yorker to the core.

In The Haunted Air, Jack tackles two seemingly unrelated cases. In the first, Jack assists two brothers—likeable con men running a fake medium scam who are being harassed by even more unscrupulous competitors. Oh, and they also have that supernatural basement problem along with a bona fide angry spirit haunting their home. In a parallel investigation, Jack follows a string of cold case child disappearances tied to a skeletal curio shop owner with a hand in some seriously bad magic.

As always, the Otherness is out there, an overarching darkness that is drawing Jack—and all of humanity—closer to a final confrontation.

The Haunted Air is the sixth book in Wilson’s Repairman Jack series. A beautiful thing about these stories is that you can pick one up as a stand-alone and enjoy yourself thoroughly. You’ll just get even more satisfaction if you start from the beginning with The Tomb.

Jack is just a neat character, a down-to-earth enigma. With each book, we learn more about his mysterious background. Jack’s girlfriend, Gia, also plays a welcome, larger role in the story.

Genuinely quirky characters, lots of action, a droll sense of humor and a spooky dose of the uncanny side-by-side with a behind-the-scenes look at how fake psychics work their tricks, all combine to make this a great read. Don’t miss this series.

rating system four crows


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An Embarrassment of Tomatoes: Mango Salsa

I like tomatoes. I am currently overwhelmed with tomatoes.

So, today I thought I’d share my Mango Salsa recipe. It is delicious: sweet but not cloying, with a nice heat. It makes a lot. It is easily customizable to your spice level, which is great because I like things on the spicy side. You can freeze this salsa very successfully. And most importantly, it uses a lot of tomatoes!

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Living in an arid part of Colorado, I was lucky to get a bowl of two of Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from our plants over the course of the summer. Plants would die. Plants would get too hot. Or too cold. Or shredded during hailstorms.

Last fall, we moved to a rural property in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio. This was my chance, I thought gleefully. At last, we can have a great, productive garden! I lovingly started my seeds. By mid-May, I had 25 robust tomato seedlings of multiple varieties. (Diversify! I thought. When you get that predictable die off, surely something will make it through!)

I planted the seedlings in the new garden. Everything grew. Every. Single. Seedling. Even one that had broken off at the base (thanks to a large night intruder) that I ended up sticking hopefully back in the ground, returned phoenix-like to robust health. I was awed. And slightly terrified.

It is now September, and the plants are six feet tall and still putting out flowers. I have an embarrassment of tomatoes. Juliettes. Paisanos. Big Beefys. Brandywines. Sun Golds. Sweet 100s. I am hauling pounds of tomatoes into the kitchen every other day. I have been making tomato sauce and salsas for weeks. I am dreaming about tomatoes. I am exhausted by tomatoes. On the off chance any of you are experiencing similar tomato angst, I thought I would share our Mango Salsa recipe.

 

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Ingredients:*

10 good-sized Roma tomatoes. Peeled, seeded, and cored. (Don’t worry: I’ve got some tips for you.)

1 bag (16 oz) frozen mango chunks cut into bite-sized pieces – or use fresh mango. I was just sick of chopping things up. Fresh mango frankly seemed overwhelming.

2 bell peppers – red or green, chopped

½ cup red onion, chopped

2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped. Or more.

¼ cup fresh lime juice

Big handful of cilantro, chopped

1 cup brown sugar

2 cans tomato paste

2 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

* Kick up the base recipe any way you like. I add roasted Anaheim chiles (yes, from our garden!) for a little more heat and depth. I also like adding extra garlic or roasting a head of garlic and using that instead.  Remember, with those roasted peppers, peel their blistered skins off before adding them to your salsa! Want it less sweet? Reduce the brown sugar.

How to Make It:

Deal with your tomatoes first. Believe it or not, my Paisanos are so firm I can use a vegetable peeler to get just the skin off. I prefer them peeled in my salsa, but it isn’t a requirement, if you don’t mind chewing tomato skins. You have some other options for peeling. If you want to fire roast on the grill or oven roast them, that also works like a charm. I have used both fresh and roasted tomatoes successfully with this recipe.

Peeling tomatoes

For oven roasting: Heat the oven to 450F. Cut the tomatoes in half and core and seed them. Place the tomatoes cut side down in a rimmed baking pan, like a jelly-roll pan. Bake for 30 minutes. The tomato skins will turn a little brown and crinkle up off the flesh. Remove from the oven and cover the pan – ideally with another jelly roll pan. Let them steam for 10 minutes. This will help loosen the skins. Lift off the top cover and just pull the skins off the tomatoes. Voila! Roasting gives the tomatoes a great flavor, as well.

Or you can do it by blanching: cut a small X in the bottoms of the tomatoes. Drop them in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds to a minute. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them immediately into a bowl of ice water. You’ll be able to peel off the skins with your fingers.

Don’t waste those skins – add them to your compost pile! We’ve got a kitchen compost bin that works great. No smell. No fruit flies. We add our veggie scraps and then take it out to the compost pile every day or so.  Found it on Amazon: Top Rated Epica Stainless Steel Compost Bin 1.3 Gallon-Includes Charcoal Filter.

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Once you’ve got the tomatoes peeled, cored and seeded, add them to a large pot along with all the other ingredients above. Yes, just add everything to one pot.

Stir to mix your ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour until everything is tender. About half-way through cooking, taste and adjust your seasonings. Add more peppers if it still isn’t spicy enough for you.

Let it cool completely before putting it in freezer bags. One method that works nicely is to set the freezer bag into a drinking glass, fold back the top, and then fill. That way you don’t get any salsa spilled on the zip-lock part and everything stays mess-free. I put about 2 cups in each quart-size freezer bag, and then lay flat to freeze. I then put the quart bags into a gallon bag for extra freezer protection and to keep the batch together. Label and date your bags.

I’ve kept this salsa in the freezer for three months successfully. It could probably go a lot longer, but we eat a lot of salsa! Enjoy!