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 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!


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Review: The Kingdom

The Kingdom – Amanda Stevens, 2012.  Rating 3.5/5

Only hallowed ground can keep the ghosts away from Amelia Gray, but even that can’t protect her from her past in this spooky sequel to The Restorer.

Glad for the chance to leave Charleston and distance herself from memories of the dark, handsome, and haunted cop she fell hard for, Amelia takes on the job of restoring the Thorngate cemetery.

From the moment of her arrival in all-but deserted Asher Falls, Amelia senses something is wrong. And it’s not just the ghosts that she has the dubious gift of seeing: here she senses pure evil.

As she uncovers and repairs the old cemetery, she also unearths secrets the town has kept buried for a long time–including secrets of Amelia’s own past.

The Kingdom is one of those guilty pleasure reads, kind of like eating a piece of chocolate: quick and tasty. The story flies along, the supernatural elements and truly eerie imagery have a fresh feel to them, and the romance—which borders on hot and heavy—is enjoyable. The graveyard restoration aspect of this series is fascinating. Stevens weaves in old cemetery symbolism, burial traditions, and regional superstitions to make this series unique.

Intrigue, black magic, ghosts, hidden graves, and a handsome heir make The Kingdom a scary-fun read. Amelia is a gutsy heroine and while her interior monologue sometimes feels a bit repetitious, the story moves along to a breakneck climax that will leave you eager for the next installment.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Drowning Guard

The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire – Linda Lafferty, 2013. Rating: 4/5

Intrigue and passion run rampant in this sumptuous, dark romance set during the twilight of the Ottoman Empire.

Esma Sultan, the wealthy and indulged sister of Sultan Mahmud II, slakes her desires on infidel lovers– whom she enjoys for one night only, before having them drowned in the Bosporus.

Ivan Postivich—now Ahmed Kadir—a Serb captured by the Ottomans as a child and conscripted into the elite Janissary cavalry, has been demoted to Esma’s drowning guard. His skill and leadership earned him the envy of the Sultan, and now, stripped of his horses, Ivan is tasked with the clandestine executions of Esma’s discarded lovers.

When guilty nightmares begin to torment Esma, her Greek physician recommends she confess her sins to a priest—or to her giant of a guard, the only other one who shares, and can understand her guilt.

As Esma relates the story of her upbringing in the harem, and stories of her friends and father and brothers, the hostile Ivan gradually begins to see her as a person.

Like Ivan, we begin by feeling contempt for Esma, but soon realize she is a complex and relatable character. She is a fierce protector of women and their rights and truly an activist of her age. In her harem, women do not have to wear face coverings—a freedom unheard of for the time—and are treated with respect. Needless to say, Esma doesn’t quite have the same relationship with men.

Truth be told, I was skeptical about the plotline. This book has been sitting in my to-read pile for a while. But I was more than pleasantly surprised. Actually, I was excitedly surprised. The Drowning Guard is a luxurious, intelligent read.

We are expertly embedded into Istanbul in 1826: a melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity, old customs and growing globalism, yet still governed firmly by the long-seated conquerors. It is also time of suspicion and change: the Janissary revolt and its violent suppression figures strongly in the story. Lafferty excels at invoking lush sensory detail—from the wild rush of the cirit games, down to the flavors of the famous sorbets served at the Sultan’s birthday celebration. We experience it all: evil, plotting eunuchs; exotic harem life; glittering Ottoman palaces; all woven smoothly together and grounded in history. The result is a satisfying romance of unusual depth.

I can’t wait to read more by this author.

rating system four crows


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Review: Little Girls

Little Girls – Ronald Malfi, 2015. Rating: 3.5/5

After the violent suicide of her elderly father, Laurie returns to her childhood home to handle the aftermath. She hasn’t had a relationship with her father since she was young and has no positive memories of the massive old house. Laurie plans to sell the place, sell her dad’s stuff, and go back to Hartford as quickly as possible. But Laurie, her writer husband, Ted, and their ten-year-old daughter Susan end up staying longer…bad idea.

Like the house, Laurie has a shadowed history and unpleasant, long-buried memories soon begin to surface. It doesn’t help that the creepy little girl next door, Abigail, happens to be the spitting image of Laurie’s sadistic childhood friend who was killed in a freak accident on the property. Laurie begins to worry about the uncanny Abigail’s influence on Susan.

Questions arise about her demented father’s seemingly straightforward death and the longer Laurie and her family stay, the more Laurie’s tension, her fear of little girls, and her frustration with Ted grow. Is the house haunted? Has Sadie somehow returned? Is Laurie losing her mind?

Malfi nails the classic ghost story atmosphere. A creepy house filled with sounds. Shadows under locked doors. An abandoned well. A shattered greenhouse. Slightly off-kilter neighbors. Remnants of her father’s madness carved into the house. Shivery! Tension builds nicely as two seemingly disparate storylines intersect—albeit awkwardly—in a stormy climax and gut-punch ending. My biggest difficulty is that I didn’t really like the characters all that much. Laurie, perhaps understandably, is a wet blanket, and Ted comes across as whiny and condescending. The most interesting character is the sick, dead father, whom we get glimpses of through flashbacks and second-hand accounts.

Little Girls is a fast read with some unique, creepy-gross touches. It will satisfy your summer ghost story craving, but personally I enjoyed the chilly suspense and dark weirdness of Malfi’s Bone White much more.

rating system three and a half crows