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: Daughters of the Lake

Daughters of the Lake—Wendy Webb, 2018. Rating: 3.5/5

When Kate’s father discovers the bodies of a perfectly preserved woman and infant washed up on the lakeshore, Kate is swept into a decades-old mystery in this is a gentle ghost story-cum-family saga.

Kate’s emotional response to the two bodies makes the police suspicious. She travels down the coast to stay with her cousin—partially to regroup from the discovery that her husband has been cheating on her—and handsome detective Nick Stone is called in to investigate her discreetly.

Staying in the old family mansion that’s been newly transformed into a gracious B&B, Kate is troubled by both dreams of the dead woman and a malevolent spirit on the third floor. She begins her own investigation into the woman’s identity and murder. A separate story line follows the life of the dead woman, Addie, from her mysterious fog-shrouded birth, to her marriage to her childhood sweetheart, to her unfortunate end. Her story and her connection to the Spirit of the Lake is inexorably tangled with Kate’s.

Daughters of the Lake is a light, comfortable mystery, almost falling in the cozy category. Characters in both storylines are warm and kind, there is plenty of good food and deep glasses of wine, a light romance, a picturesque locale. Throw in a little creepy atmosphere, a dash of madness, a grumpy spirit, and a dose of fate, and you have a recipe for enjoyable evening’s read. I also appreciate Webb’s sentimentally uplifting view of the afterlife, in which love continues forever after.

Unfortunately, it is this same near-coziness that is also a bit of a downside to Daughters of the Lake. For me, the story lacks a little supernatural edge. And while I’ve enjoyed all of Webb’s lake-inspired ghost stories, this one feels both milder than, and too similar to the others. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve read it before. It didn’t entirely have the depth of characters or great Gothic chills as Webb’s The Vanishing, or The End of Temperance Dare. That said, if you’re in the mood for a tale of family secrets with a light touch of spooky, this fits the bill quite satisfactorily.

rating system three and a half crows


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Tempting Toffee

Need a last-minute stocking stuffer or a quick treat for Santa? Make this delicious toffee! Use the traditional semi-sweet chocolate and pecan topping, or use your imagination and your own favorite toppings.

However you make it, this toffee is supreme: buttery, chocolaty and ridiculously easy. It only takes 20 minutes of your time to stir up. You can have it ready in no time for Santa, or party favors, or a plate all for yourself to enjoy while you’re festively watching A Christmas Horror Story. Or Scrooged. Or Die Hard. Whatever your favorite holiday flick is, this toffee is a treat!

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Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

¼ cup water

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips (or customize: use dark chocolate; drizzle with white chocolate…)

½ cup finely chopped toasted pecans (pecans are traditional, but again, make it your own! Try chopped candy canes! Flaky sea salt! Pistachios! Heck, even sprinkles!)

Special equipment: A candy thermometer would be VERY helpful

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How to Make It:

Toast and chop your pecans, first. Then, in a heavy 2-quart saucepan, heat the sugar, butter, and water to boiling, stirring constantly; reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 13 minutes, stirring constantly until you reach 300F on a candy thermometer or until a small bit of mixture dropped into some very cold water separates into hard, brittle threads (the hard crack stage). Watch REALLY carefully – if it the mixture gets too hot it will darken and go bad, and definitely not be a delectable holiday treat.

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Yes. So this is right at the start of the process before anything happens. It is the only picture I have of the cooking procedure because I was busy trying to stir, and hold onto, and watch my candy thermometer, which decided not to hook onto the saucepan, today. Of course.

As soon as the temperature hits 300F, pour the toffee CAREFULLY (so you don’t burn yourself) onto a large, ungreased cookie sheet. Spread to ¼ inch thick. Sprinkle with chocolate chips; let stand about 1 minute or until the chips are completely softened. Spread the softened chocolate evenly over the toffee, then sprinkle with chopped pecans.

Let the toffee stand at room temperature about 1 hour, or refrigerate if you’d like to speed things up, until firm. Break into bite-size pieces. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 3 dozen candies.

Enjoy!


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Review: Deep Silence

Deep Silence—Jonathan Maberry, 2018. Rating: 4/5

Captain Joe Ledger and his team are back to save the world in what is possibly the series’ darkest installment yet.

A massive terrorist attack on Washington, DC, leaves hundreds dead. Ledger’s department, the clandestine DMS, suspects that a new baddie has refined an alien technology and is making a God machine: triggering earthquakes and causing madness, murder, and suicide in people exposed to its influence.

Even worse, the sitting U.S. president is an incompetent pawn for a far savvier foreign government. He disregards dire intelligence warnings, decides that his own DMS is a threat to his power, declares it unpatriotic, and vows to disband it. All this, despite the imminent destruction of his country.

Ledger fights the good fight for the freedoms of the average joe, battling ignorance at home and the sly and deadly machinations of a new Soviet Union. Ledger encounters everything from the evil legacies of former foes, to aliens and dark gods from a Lovecraftian universe.

I have been a rabid fan of Joe Ledger series for years, so I will warn you: Don’t pick this one up unless you’ve read the others. It won’t have the emotional impact, and you’ll be a little lost by references to past villains and their evil toys.

As always, Maberry delivers great battle action and intense fight scenes. Ledger’s military tech and weaponry put James Bond’s gadgets to shame. Rapidly changing points of view add to the tension and make you fly through the pages.

There is less character development in Deep Silence, which is mostly o.k., because by now we know these tough, true guys and gals. At the same time, I wished for a little more to soften things a bit, because this story is dark.

In Deep Silence, Maberry creates a unsettling political climate that is frighteningly, realistically close to that in America today. This realism somehow spills over onto the ideas of alien technology and Cthulhu-like monsters, making them disturbingly plausible. I very much enjoyed Deep Silence and it is a turning point in the series: but is isn’t my favorite. Maybe it is too uncomfortably close to reality. At the same time, it offers something I’m lacking a little bit these days: hope for the future.

rating system four crows


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Review: House of Bathory

House of Bathory – Linda Lafferty, 2013. Rating 4/5

In this intriguing historical mystery, an Aspen psychiatrist discovers that the brutal legacy of torture and death begun by the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, remains alive hundreds of years later.

Practicing Jungian psychiatrist Betsy Path is doing her best to keep her spirits up despite her father’s death, her mother’s distant disapproval, and her own divorce.

Betsy makes a strange connection with one of her patients, teen Goth girl Daisy, and suddenly too many occurrences of Jungian synchronicity––meaningful coincidences—start to ring her intuitive warning bells.

When Betsy’s mother disappears in Bratislava oddly close to Countess Bathory’s castle, and to where Betsy’s father died, and to where Goth girls are mysteriously going missing, Betsy and her ex-husband set out to find her.

In a separate but parallel storyline set four hundred years in the past, we follow the arrival of a handsome young horsemaster, Janos, to the tainted Cachtice Castle. He vows to end the Countess’ sick and deadly games with help of the pox-marked ladies’ maid, Zuzana.

There is a lot to unpack in this book. Dark history. Jungian theories. Dreams and coincidences. Magic and superstition. Madness and family legacies. Yet it all works.

The jumps between centuries are not jarring, because the same themes weave through both stories, converging in nail-biting endings. We are quickly caught up in Betsy’s search, but even more so with the macabre events in the Countess’s castle. Lafferty writes with rich—and at times graphic—historical detail, bringing daily life in 1610 vividly into our present.

House of Bathory is a darkly satisfying mystery with just enough supernatural suggestion to keep the pages flying.

rating system four crows


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Movie Review: Train to Busan

Train to Busan Directed by Sang-ho Yeon. Written by Joo-Suk Park and Sang-ho Yeon. Rating 5/5

What? A perfect rating for a movie about zombies on a train? Absolutely. And it’s coming from a person who’s a devoted fan of both.

I’ll watch any train movie from classic to campy: Silverstreak. The Cassandra Crossing. Breakheart Pass. The Midnight Meat Train

Same with zombie movies: Rec, Pontypool, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Some are good. Some are bad. Some are great. Train to Busan is great.

When heard about Train to Busan I was excited, but also fearful that zombies on a train would fall into a mediocre slot at best. Boy, I was thrilled to be proven wrong: Train to Busan combines the absolute best of both genres. It is like an even more amped-up version of 28 Days Later meets Unstoppable.

The story is set and filmed in South Korea, with a South Korean cast. The version I watched was dubbed in English but don’t let that put you off. Any initial weirdness you may feel about the voice-overs vanishes almost immediately as you’re sucked into the story.

Seok-woo, (Gong-Yoo) is a young father and a stock trader who is a little too absorbed in his business. He neglects his little daughter Soo-an (soulfully played by Su-an Kim). Realizing he’s been a jerk, he gives into her birthday wishes to see her estranged mother in Busan. Together they board the train to Busan amidst ominous signs of unrest in the city around them.

Things go badly, bloodily wrong from there. A leak from a bio-research facility has resulted in violent, instantly reanimated, extremely fast zombies. The outbreak spreads rapidly through the country—and on board their train. Seok-woo and his daughter band together with a husband and his pregnant wife, a high-school baseball player and cheerleader, and a few other unfortunates. They battle for survival as the train barrels along to Busan.

Several things set this movie apart and above other train and zombie flicks. For train buffs: this film does some highly original, over-the-top train action that I’ve never seen before. I won’t give it away, except to say it ramps up in second half of film: I was electrified.

The same goes with the zombie action. I know you’re thinking, “ah, seen one fast zombie, seen ‘em all.” Not so. The film does some clever camera work: teasing you with things barely seen and hitting you with things very graphically seen that makes these zombies truly frightening. Equally frightening is the film’s creative use of the sheer overwhelming mass of zombie attackers. And, additional kudos: these zombies are deeply alarming without exorbitant makeup.

Finally, the acting is excellent. There are bona-fide tear-jerker moments. Out-loud “oh no!” moments. The father-daughter pair is heartwarmingly portrayed. There is even character growth—in a horror thriller! Nice.

Train to Busan is impressive. It screams along, leaving you feeling pumped-up and in a weirdly positive mood: kind of like you just survived the zombie apocalypse yourself. I watched it last night. I’m ready to watch it again. Don’t miss this one: you’re in for a great ride.

rating system five crows