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: 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: A Magical Match

A Magical Match – Juliet Blackwell, 2018.  Rating 4/5

Doppelgangers and dresses dominate the latest installment of this adorable cozy mystery series.

Lily Ivory runs a successful vintage clothing store in San Francisco’s famous Haight District. She’s also a witch with a lot on her plate.

Just weeks before the handfasting ceremony with her handsome fiancé, Sailor, Lily seems to be losing her magical abilities. Sailor lands in jail on a murder charge. The tour bus carrying her grandmother’s coven and her estranged mother is taking wildly random detours. Her familiar, a pig named Oscar, is acting strangely. To top it all off, Lily is apparently destined for a supernatural showdown, and the fate of all San Francisco depends on her.

Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries series is simply delightful. She lands all the elements that cozy readers expect. Lots of retro fashion. Lots of food. Vibrant and detailed descriptions of the San Francisco community. Warm, inclusive friendships that have grown over the course of the series. Endearing characters. Harmoniously integrated use of the supernatural. A sweet but strong heroine.

A Magical Match is book nine in the series. While I wished for a little more of an edge to the supernatural threat in this episode, Blackwell makes up for it by furthering the development of her characters. Although A Magical Match does stand on its own, I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series with Secondhand Spirits.

The Witchcraft Mysteries are simply lovely comfy books. Undemanding but emotionally satisfying. (They’re not called cozies for nothing!) Heck, clearly I’m a fan if I’ve followed through book nine…and I’d been anticipating the release of this title for a while.

If you need a warm-hearted, good-humored story with a dash of romance, fashion and witchcraft, look no farther: you’ll find your cozy Nirvana with this series.

rating system four crows


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Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware, 2015.

In this twisty whodunit, Ruth Ware modernizes the classic closed circle mystery: striking readers’ nerves and resurfacing our own painful teenage insecurities.

Having lost touch with Clare, her former schoolmate and BFF, Nora is taken aback when she receives an invite to Clare’s hen party weekend.

It sounds fun. A cozy bachelorette celebration.  An upscale cabin in the northern woods. A chance to see her old friend.

But Nora isn’t sure whether to accept.  Although still socially awkward, she’s managed to overcome trauma from her teens and reinvent herself as a successful crime author in the years post-Clare.

She decides to go and realizes almost immediately she made a grave mistake.  The identity of Clare’s fiancé turns out to be a bit of a shock. Nora also discovers that some old emotional wounds haven’t quite healed and that the small circle of frenemies at the party is adept at picking at those scabs.  Everyone has their own secrets.

In a Dark, Dark, Wood is nimbly plotted. Foreshadowing and flashbacks, little twists and red herrings keep the reader flipping pages at a lightning pace.  With the character of Nora, Ware holds a mirror up to most of us readers.  We see ourselves in her: reliving painful teenage years of low self-esteem, uncertainty, and the agonizing navigation of true – and false – friendships.  We feel the insecurities of being the token nerd at the popular girl’s sleepover. Nora is everygirl. But can we trust her narration?

In a Dark, Dark, Wood is a whippity-quick read. Fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and others in the new wave of fast, sinuous thrillers will eat this up.

rating system four crows


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Review: Edinburgh Twilight

Edinburgh Twilight – Carole Lawrence, 2017.

The year is 1881, and Ian Hamilton is the youngest of Edinburgh’s City Police force to earn the rank of Detective Inspector. His first solo case is a doozy: A serial killer is stalking the good – and bad – citizens of Edinburgh. Dubbed the Holyrood Strangler by the local press, the villain quickly racks up a significant body count. Teamed with the good-natured Sergeant Dickerson, Ian struggles to use his wits and modern detective techniques to find the killer.  Unfortunately, the strangler seems to always be a step ahead…

Edinburgh Twilight nicely brings the colorful Scottish city to life in all its aspects: from the grittiness of the slums to glitterati of the theater. Although the pacing lags at times, the story is replete with historical detail, lovingly vitalized for the reader. There are moments of gentle humor throughout that lighten the storyline and bring more depth to the characters.

Ian, however, is a difficult protagonist to like. Personal tragedy – losing both his parents in an arsonist’s fire – has left Ian estranged from his older brother and emotionally isolated from his fellow man. He is aloof, often self-righteous, and obsessively devoted to his work.  While readers understand that Ian’s flaws stem from childhood wounds, and we do get glimpses of a sensitive and empathetic side, it is a bit of work to relate to him.

While the bulk of the book centers on Ian’s brooding role, I would have enjoyed seeing other characters explored more deeply. One is left feeling slightly frustrated, as if doors to intriguing personalities had been opened but not entered.

Edinburgh Twilight is, overall, an enjoyable period mystery, populated with characters who great have potential for future development. This title promises to be the first in a series, and I would happily read a sequel.

rating system three and a half crows