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 Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen

The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen – Tosca Lee, 2014.  4/5

Sparks fly in this passionate match of wits between the beautiful, intelligent Queen of Sheba and the wise and wealthy King Solomon.

The queen is a woman of many name: she begins life as Bilqis, the Daughter of the Moon, heir to her father’s kingdom. She becomes Makeda, Woman of Fire in her teen years, happily removed from court intrigue. She becomes Saba, High Priestess of the Moon and unifier of tribes when she regains her rightful throne. To the Israelites, she becomes the exotic seductress Sheba, queen of the spice lands.

After the tragic death of her lover, Maqar, in the battle to regain Saba, Sheba throws herself into building trade, making pacts of federation, and learning everything about her kingdom, becoming a thoughtful and intelligent ruler. Over the course of several years, Sheba and the distant Israeli king, Solomon, exchange written communication filled with taunts and tantalizing innuendo. One day, however, the trader Tamrin brings news that Solomon is building a merchant navy, and suddenly holds the future of the spice route in his hands. Sheba is alarmed for the future of Saba and makes the dangerous journey to meet Solomon herself. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Sheba uses all her wit and wiles to win a treaty, but comes to love the poetic King who, like her, just wants to be known.

Sheba tells her story in the first person, and the result is a lush, intimate depiction of her life and legendary romance. Rich sensory detail brings the desert palaces vibrantly alive, gleaming in gold and alabaster and purple, tasting of wine. Solomon and Sheba’s courtship is a razor edge dance of repartee and desire as the rulers juggle conflicts with their gods and ambitions, as well as the growing unrest of the Israeli people and their disapproval of Sheba the whore. Lee is a master storyteller, exquisitely building suspense up to a satisfying, if bittersweet denouement. In an informative Afterword and Author’s Note, Lee explains more of Sheba’s historical background, including the fact that she appears in three historic texts: the Bible, the Quran, and the Kebra Nagast, the story of the Solomonic kings of Ethiopia.

Historical fiction and romance fans, rejoice! The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen is a treat.

rating system four crows


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Too Many Eggs! Egg Salad

Spring is here and our five chickens have kicked into overdrive: we’re averaging three eggs a day. We’re giving eggs away. We’re eating eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We’re rather desperately making angel food cakes. Lemon curd. Crustless quiches. And, of course, egg salad. Fast, easy, and delicious, egg salad is great because it is a tasty base to which you can add whatever you like. Purists can keep it simple. Everyone else can go crazy. It is hard to go wrong with egg salad. Use it for sandwiches, salad topping, a nice snack on crackers. Use up those eggs and enjoy!

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Thanks Babs (blue eggs), Agatha (dark brown speckled egg), Bubbles, Jinx, and Fran (lighter brown eggs). And Roo, for his aggressive protective services.

Ingredients:

6 hardboiled eggs, peeled and roughly chopped

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise of your choice

1 teaspoon mustard

¼ teaspoon paprika

1 Tablespoon sweet onion, minced

1 Tablespoon celery, minced

1-2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish

Salt & pepper to taste

Consider: fresh dill or fresh parsley; chopped pickled jalapenos; Tabasco

How to Make It:

Well, it doesn’t get much easier than this: gently combine all your ingredients. That’s it. Remember: this is all about what you enjoy. Not a pickle relish fan? Leave it out! Want more or less mayo? Go for it! Today I’ve also added minced pickled jalapenos and Tabasco.

Check your seasoning. If you’re using Tabasco, remember that’s adding some extra salt, so taste before you liberally add an extra pinch.

I like to let my egg salad rest in the fridge for a few hours, so all those flavors combine.

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Review: Suicide Forest

Suicide Forest – Jeremy Bates, 2014.  3/5

Aokigahara forest, Japan’s infamous “Sea of Trees,” is the setting for Suicide Forest, Bates’ first installment in his World’s Scariest Places series.

English teachers Ethan and his girlfriend Mel have weekend plans to climb Mt. Fuji. They’ve brought along fellow teacher, Neil, their friend Tomo, and Mel’s former high school friend and macho military guy, John Scott. But when the weather turns dicey, they’re left searching for other ways to spend the night. Two other would-be climbers, Ben and Nina, suggest camping in nearby Aokigahara, then starting up Fuji the next day. Japan is notorious for its high suicide rate, and Aokigahara is notorious as the place where many people go to kill themselves.

Although Ethan has reservations about overnighting in the “perfect place to die,” he goes along with the crowd, the majority of whom are morbidly excited at the possibility of seeing a body or a ghost. Berated by local hikers as being disrespectful thrill seekers (which they are) the group promptly ignores warning signs and leaves the main trail, following paths marked by colored ribbons.

Things go to hell quickly. They get lost. Ben vanishes, only to be discovered hanging from a tree, dead. Nina believes ghosts are the culprit. The group’s cell phones go missing. Neil contracts food poisoning and is down for the count. They begin to see movements in the trees. Hear screams in the night. Something – or someone is in the forest with them. Make that someones.

Okay. First off, Suicide Forest is better-written than Helltown. Although the action takes a while to get going, Bates does a respectable job building suspense. He succeeds in making us feel as if we were trapped in the oppressive, still silence of the strange forest. The characters have a bit more going for them in this book as well, in that I didn’t out-right hate most of them. But I did tire of the head-butting between Ethan and John Scott over Mel. Guys, grow up. That said, I also didn’t get what Ethan sees in Mel, who seems even more jealous than Ethan.

I think what troubles me with Suicide Forest is the way the issue of suicide is handled. I do believe Bates is trying to be respectful and empathetic about the subject through the dialogue and thoughts of the most sensitive character, Ethan. But Ethan’s a minority. The others show an indifference to suffering: to Neil, for example, who is in dire straits, and to those who have committed suicide or would consider committing suicide. There’s a lack of understanding. But then again, this is a horror/thriller novel, and Ethan is the voice of reason, so maybe this level of compassion is okay.

*Spoilers ahead*

The next wildly problematic parts involve ‘capturing-and raping-the-women,’ and ‘a-raped-woman’s-violent revenge.’ Um. Lots of gender stereotypes and issues to unpack around this. In a profoundly frustrating short epilogue, Ethan also declares that Mel has unexpectedly “fallen pregnant.” What? Wait! By…whom, exactly? And, really? “Fallen pregnant?” (!) The book crashes to an abrupt, heavy end with another suicide and narrowly averted suicide attempt.Sigh.

Pros: The setting is nicely realized, the plot is suspenseful and intriguing, and the baddies in the forest are definitely unique. Cons: The treatment of suicide and rape lacks sensitivity.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 800 273 8255
rating system three crows


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Review: Monster Hunter: Nemesis

Monster Hunter: Nemesis – Larry Correia, 2014. 4/5

Agent Franks is the Monster Control Bureau’s secret weapon against all manner of demons, shoggoths, renegade werewolves, etc. If it threatens humanity, Franks will terminate it with extreme prejudice. Protect and serve: that’s the agreement he made with the U.S. government—Ben Franklin and George Washington, specifically. In Nemesis, we discover that Franks’ pledge and his life story go even farther back. Like, to the war in Heaven back.

Franks is a badass enigma in previous books, so an entire volume in the Monster Hunter International series devoted to Franks? Just, cool.

But Franks is in trouble. Stricken, an underhanded advisor to the president, is using his Project Nemesis to secretly build his own harder-better-faster-stronger versions of Franks. Stricken doesn’t really care that they’re turning out to be vessels for demons who are excited to get into—and lay waste to—our world. Stricken pins a slaughter on Franks, claiming he’s gone rogue. Now Franks is on the run from Nemesis, the MCB, and a bunch of international monster hunter groups all out for his bounty. But only Franks can stop Stricken and the arch demon Kurst from taking over the world.

Nemesis is a little heavier on the political side than previous titles, which is my only quibble with the book. There are fewer monsters that need routing, but they make up for it in toughness. Correia keeps the action going with plenty of brilliant fight scenes. Franks’ flashbacks fill out his life story across history and are fascinating, fun, and thought-provoking. Old friends like Earl Harbinger, Julie, and Owen Pitt from MHI make appearances, and, awesomely, so do the gnomes. Not only that, but Franks quite possibly experiences an emotion or two: earth-shattering character development! (Really!) Great book in a fantastic series. Read ‘em.

rating system four crows


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Lovely Lemon Curd

Lemon curd.

Deliciously smooth. Sweet and tangy. The taste of spring in a spread. O.k., I’m waxing a little poetic, here. But lemon curd rocks. It is expensive to buy, but easy and inexpensive to make. So make some! And then eat it with everything: on waffles or shortbread cookies. In yogurt (with or without granola!), with fresh berries. In a cheesecake. With ice cream. On gingerbread. As a cake filling. Then try the same recipe with limes. Or oranges!  These citrus curds would be beautiful additions to your Easter brunches!

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Ingredients:

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup lemon juice. I used Meyer lemons here, and needed three lemons

1.4 cup butter, cubed

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

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How to Make It:

In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended. Add the butter and the lemon zest and cook, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes until the mixture thickens. You will see it thicken, and feel it thicken as you stir. Test with a metal spoon: the curd is ready if it coats the back of the spoon. Be careful that you don’t let it boil, or it will curdle.

Pour the curd into a small bowl and let cool slightly before transferring to the refrigerator. Put a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the curd so you don’t get a skin.2019-03-22 10.58.13

Don’t panic if you see little bits of cooked egg white in your curd!  The egg whites coagulate at a lower temperature than the yolks. If this happens, all is not lost! The egg bits won’t affect the flavor of the curd, and you can simply strain them out. Spoon your curd into a strainer over a small bowl and gently press it through. Goodbye, egg whites. If you don’t like the zest in your final curd, this method will strain it out, also.

This makes a soft, spreadable, sweet curd. Use within a week, or freeze!

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Try it on vanilla yogurt! It tastes like a lemon meringue pie! Plus it looks like a fried egg. Which is fun. (For me.)

 

 


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Review: Shadowed Souls

Shadowed Souls – edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes.  Rating: 4/5

Eleven hard-hitting stories from superstar fantasy authors evoke a surprisingly emotional response in this distinctive collection.

Now, emotional doesn’t mean these stories are wimpy. There’s plenty of magical action. Battles rage against demons, genies, angry ghosts, arctic Cthulhu creatures, and monsters human and inhuman. Two-thirds of the tales feature female protagonists, and all our heroines and heroes are struggling with their magical gift-slash-curse. They have relationships challenges. Social challenges. Challenges with rule-following. You get the picture.

Jim Butcher opens the collection strong with a story from his Dresden Files universe. As a huge Harry Dresden fan, I was excited to read this one. Cold Case features Molly, Harry’s apprentice, on her first mission for Mab as the Winter Lady. As always, Butcher’s humor and ease with his characters and their magic simply shine. The story? On the heartbreaking side.

Seanan McGuire (of the October Daye and InCryptid series fame) follows with the tale of a half-succubus betrayed by her ex-girlfriend. Sad.

Next comes a vampire PI who worries about her aging human lover and her own waning connection to humanity. Poignant.

Clearly, Shadowed Souls is the perfect title. I was beginning to think I’d need a box of Kleenex and a support group to get through the rest of the book. Fortunately, the heavy mood lightens. Or maybe I just got used to it. The rest of the stories are also top caliber. One tough thief orchestrates an escape from hell; a zombie PI assists a one-eyed newt; a double-souled healer deals with her father’s treachery; a former superheroine fights a greedy demon…the imaginative range is delicious. There are no bad apples in the bunch to disappoint. Each story resonates with its own unique voice and fantastical vision. Well worthwhile.

rating system four crows


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Review: Gateways

Gateways—F. Paul Wilson, 2003. Rating: 4/5

The unthinkable happens in Gateways, the seventh novel in Wilson’s Repairman Jack series: Jack leaves his beloved New York City.

Jack is a Robin Hood of mercenaries: a fix-it man with a code of honor, a burning sense of justice, and a love of old movies. He’s also destined to take a stand against a hostile supernatural force that’s on track to annihilate our world. Jack’s a good guy. But the cops probably wouldn’t think so.

Because of his…nontraditional…job Jack stays under the government’s radar and off their computers. It would take a heck of a lot for him just to go through airport security. Like his estranged father laying in a coma after a near-fatal—and highly suspicious—car accident.

So, Jack travels to the Everglades to that find his fears are warranted. Someone’s trying to kill his father. A strange, unfriendly clan of folks is living out on the lagoon. Dad’s neighbor has secrets of her own. There’s a hurricane coming. And Jack doesn’t have enough ammo.

I love the action-adventure meets paranormal thriller combo that is the Repairman Jack series. Wilson takes time in this installment to advance the overarching storyline and ramp up tension about the Otherness, as well as do some solid character building. Jack, long estranged from his father, learns some things he never knew about his old man and gains a new respect for him. Similarly, Jack’s dad learns a few of Jack’s darker secrets.

Gateways has plenty of action. Lots of firearms. Weird supernatural stuff. Neat new characters. Wilson has a unique talent for creating people you feel like you could meet on the street and just pass the time of day with. It is also exciting to see Jack in a different locale. He may be out of NYC, but he’s sure not out of his element. I wouldn’t say Gateways is my favorite in this series—which is filled with brilliant entries—but it is great fun, as always.

rating system four crows