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: Into the Drowning Deep

Into the Drowning Deep  Mira Grant, 2017.

Mermaids are real, and they’re not cute.  They’re repulsive-looking, highly-advanced killers that would treat Disney’s Ariel as an amuse-bouche.

Marine biologist Tory knows that the mermaids are out there: they killed her sister and every other living thing onboard the Atargatis.  As a part of Imagine Entertainment’s tv special, the ship had blithely sailed off to the Mariana Trench searching for – and not expecting to find – the fishy cryptids.  They did, and they died.

Tory dedicates her life to avenging her sister, and years later, Tory’s research earns her passage on Imagine’s new expedition. The company got a bigger boat, as it were, and assembled a widely varied new crew of scientists, security guards and tv people, including sirenologist Jillian Thorn, two borderline-psycho big game hunters, twin deaf marine researchers, and Tory’s arrogant ex-boyfriend.  They’re all supported by a high-tech safety system.

Needless to say, they encounter mermaids.  Violent, intelligent mermaids.  And the safety system turns out not to work so great.

Now, I am a huge fan of this author’s October Daye urban fantasy series: across the board amazing characters, world-building, storylines…awesome.  Go read them, they’re great. I was primed to wholeheartedly enjoy Into the Drowning Deep.

But with this new book, the components just never gel.  The story has a conflicted identity.  Horror fiction?  Science adventure?

The reader is presented with mermaids as monsters, and the book reads like a horror novel, but this doesn’t quite work.  For one thing, we know what the monsters are like from the very beginning, so any suspenseful reveal is already undercut.

We also are not sure how to feel about the mermaids: many of the characters on board want to kill them for various reasons, other characters raise ethical environmental dilemmas.  If these are sentient beings, they argue, mermaids should be studied, not exterminated.

So, we have crafty predators going about slaughtering crew members in a wholesale shipboard bloodbath, and we’re not sure who to root for.  Awkward.

The book also feels long, explanation-heavy, and at times repetitious. All the story build-up does not work towards creating suspense before the inevitable concentrated attack on the vessel.  What it does, is leave you unsatisfied at the book’s abrupt ending.  We’ve followed all these characters’ storylines and we’re left thinking, “Hey, wait – that’s it?”

There are great elements to the book.  First, scary mermaids: that’s a unique and intriguing concept. Grant also succeeds in sharing a deep love of the ocean and its mysteries, as well as its desperate need for our conservation.  Central to the story is the importance of language and communication, and Grant sensitively highlights the perspectives of the deaf characters and their feelings towards non-signing hearing people. The concept of how we communicate meaning – from vocalization to sign language – is nicely intertwined with the idea of the mermaids’ methods of conversing.

Into the Drowning Deep is a thought-provoking read.  It captured and held my interest to the end but left me with a general feeling of disappointment.  It was o.k. at many levels, but super at none.

rating system three crows 

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On Beloved Books, the Eccentricities of Librarians, and the Soul: Best Reads of 2017

If you ask a librarian what his or her favorite book is, you’ll probably get a bemused and somewhat pitying look. At worst you’ll get a polite brush off – librarians are almost unfailingly polite – a bright smile, and a placating non-answer like “The one I’m reading now!” or “Oh, I just can’t choose.”

The former reply is rarely true. The latter – well, much more likely.

If pressed, your librarian may come up with a single title. Quite possibly, it won’t be one of their favorite books. Quite probably, he or she will give you a title just to get you onto your own journey of discovery for your favorite book(s). Because, even though your question seems innocuous, its answer is deeply, deeply personal.

This is not that librarians don’t enjoy recommending books. Oh, my goodness, yes, they do! They love it. They read widely and have a massive knowledge of fiction and non-fiction that spans many genres: graphic novels to true-life survival literature and everything in between. They will interview you to find out what you like, and make some suggestions from there. This process has a name: readers’ advisory. We’re good at it. Yeah, did I mention I’m a librarian? I am.

But to pick just one book…as the best book ever in the world, across all time…almost impossible.

Now and then, you may find someone who stands adamantly behind one title that is the end-all be-all of their existence. Maybe it was deeply formative in their life. That’s o.k., and it is kind of rare to find.

But chances are, most people will need to give you a handful of favorites.

In my home, I have a lot of full-to-capacity bookcases. It’s an occupational hazard for bibliophiles. (Quick aside here: A friendly warning to other librarians that when moving across the country, as we did recently, your spouse may get irrationally frustrated when the extremely expensive moving truck’s weight is primarily devoted to your books. But hey, he knew he wasn’t marrying a collector of feathers or pressed flowers, right?)

Anyway, one entire bookcase in my home – o.k., two really – is devoted to books I reread regularly.

These books are my favorites. They range wildly from Watership Down, to the Complete Sherlock Holmes, to the Little House on the Prairie series.  The Stand, Hamlet, and The Great Brain. Death in Kenya, All Creatures Great and Small, and Where Eagles Dare.

These titles are my friends. They are books I can reread and feel like I’m where I should be. Every time I visit one again I find something different. A detail I missed. An image that gives me a new idea. Something unique to take back to my real life.

A favorite book speaks to something inside you: it resonates with your soul, it reflects a facet of your personality. These titles keep their relevance throughout changes in your life. You can read them when you are ten or forty-eight. I fully expect to read them still when I am eighty-four. My favorite books, of course, will not be the same favorite books as everyone else, because their importance to me is tied to the specific meanings they have in my life.

That’s why, when you offhandedly ask someone who loves books what their favorite book is, you are asking to see into their soul. Be mindful of this.

I read and reviewed a lot of books for you this year. I truly enjoyed all of them. (Well, except for three. Don’t read those. Really.) To pick the top five titles out of all those I’ve reviewed is a challenge, so I’m going with re-readability as my criteria. Of all those I read this year, here are the top five I would re-read. Links are to my reviews. May you continue to find many, many favorite books of your own.

Did I say top five? Oops.

Best of the Best 2017

Bird Box  Josh Malerman, 2014. Almost unbearably tense. A blindfolded mother and two children journey downriver to escape – something – that will drive them mad if they see it.

Monster Hunter International Larry Correia, 2007. A warm-hearted, shoot-em’ up (there is such a thing!) with fantastic characters and a great sense of humor.

The Elementals  Michael McDowell, 1981. Family secrets and powerful entities on Alabama’s Gulf coast. Exquisitely-written, slow burn, summer southern horror.

Broken Monsters Lauren Beukes, 2014. A cop story. A story about dreams and art. Pink doors in the wasteland that is Detroit. Surreal and brilliant and creepy.

Dogs of War Jonathan Maberry, 2017. Captain Joe Ledger and his team fight nanites and artificial intelligences to save the world from a tech apocalypse. Rip-roaring and well-crafted military sci-fi.

Under the Overtree James A. Moore, 2000. A small town and its folks are tormented by an old evil. Amazing sense of place and detailed character build. And of course, there’s the wonderfully infamous Mr. Crowley.

The Supernaturals David A. Golemon, A classic ghost story on steroids, complete with a tv broadcast, dream walking, psychics, and a possessed professor.








Sweet & Spicy Candied Pecans

It is negative two degrees Fahrenheit outside right now, with a wind chill of negative thirteen. It’s warmed up a bunch since yesterday! With arctic air blowing in the new year, a chilly salad may not sound like the most appealing meal, despite your resolution for healthier eating.

Don’t despair! These candied pecans add a richly satisfying crunch of sweet and spice that will elevate your obligatory bowl of greens.

Granted, these delectable nuts probably aren’t that healthy, and you’ll most likely end up eating them straight out of a bowl as a comfort snack but, hey. All things in moderation.

These nuts are super-easy to make, and your house will smell fabulous while they’re in the oven. They may also remind you of outdoor festivals –  like my winter favorite, the National Western Stock Show – cheerful events where they sell those cinnamon almonds (but these are better).  Happy times!

Sweet & Spicy Candied Pecans

Sweet & Spicy Candied Pecans. Yum.


1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg white

1 Tablespoon water

1 pound of pecan halves*

* I used 8 oz for today’s batch. If you use fewer pecans, which is fine, you don’t have to change the proportions on the sugar mixture. You’ll just have a slightly heavier coating. Which, trust me, is not bad. Similarly, use the whole egg white and the full tablespoon of water.


How to Make Them:

Preheat your oven to 250F.

Mix together the sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt in a bowl.

Whisk the egg white and the water together in a separate bowl until frothy. Really frothy.

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Put the pecans in the egg white mixture and toss well to coat.

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Remove the pecans with a slotted spoon, letting the excess egg white drip off, and put the pecans in the bowl with your spice mixture.

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Mix the pecans in until they’re evenly coated in spice.

Spread the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet.

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Bake at 250F for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes, until they are evenly browned. Meanwhile, accomplish small tasks in those 15 minute blocks between stirring. Taking short, unsatisfying naps? Watering the plants? Starting a load of laundry? Watching almost all of a beloved episode of Hogan’s Heroes?

The image above left shows the pecans half-way through baking.  The photo on the right shows them at the end.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool a little bit.  I transferred them to some parchment paper to cool.

Then, snack away.  Or – save them for your salad!

Happy New Year, Everyone!

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Review: In the Still of the Night

In the Still of the Night David L. Golemon, 2017.

The Supernaturals are back.

This time, we find the ragtag group of paranormal investigators facing prison for their unpopular work debunking haunted house reality shows.

Released by the FBI, Professor Kennedy and the team are tasked with saving the president of the United States.  The unpopular leader is in a coma, tormented by an entity – or entities – far more powerful than even the team’s old nemesis, Summer Place.

To rescue the president before an angry power is released on the world, the team must unravel ties to insidious Nazi experiment and investigate a contaminated California town that died in the 60’s but has been showing…unnatural…signs of life. They must also follow the memories of a young blind girl, whose death long ago is part of the puzzle.

Having just read The Supernaturals – fantastic, see last week’s review – I was thrilled to get this book for the holidays. Unfortunately, it left me a little disappointed.

In the Still of the Night feels rushed: it lacks polish, detail, and depth. It would benefit from a tighter editorial review.

The characters that Golemon built so carefully in The Supernaturals – Leonard, the tech whiz, tough cop Damian, and Jenny, the possessed professor to name a few – all return here, but attain no further development. Golemon relies significantly on what we know of the characters from the previous book, and consequently they feel flat.

We don’t get the same level of nail-biting suspense, either, because In the Still of the Night charges largely down a single path: there aren’t as many diverse story threads coming together for an intense finish.

There are some great bits, however. The plot is uniquely imaginative. Gloria, the blind girl, is a beautifully developed character and the most interesting one in the book. The power of dream walking is expanded in the story – largely for flashbacks – and offers an intriguing shift of perspective. We also get a nostalgic look back at ‘50s and early ‘60s rock music classics, that will leave a few oldies stuck in your head at the end of various chapters.

In the Still of the Night is a good book: fast-paced and entertaining, and I am glad I read it. I enjoyed following Professor Kennedy and his team on this adventure. The Supernaturals is simply better-written. I would very much like a third book featuring these characters. Just, one that’s as masterful as the first.

rating system three crows


Review: The Supernaturals

The Supernaturals David L. Golemon, 2016.

The last time parapsychology professor Gabriel Kennedy set foot in Summer Place, one of his students disappeared.  Kennedy turned from a cocky skeptic into a believer: Something evil lives in Summer Place.

Badgered by a cutthroat television producer – and his conscience – Kennedy agrees to return to investigate Summer Place for the filming of a live Halloween special.

But Kennedy isn’t going back to investigate, he’s going back to fight. And Summer Place plans to win.

Kennedy assembles a team of friends with unusual talents including a psychic, a young computer maven from the ‘hood, a Native American dream walking sheriff and a possessed paleontology professor – trust me, this all works somehow – and together they prepare to face down Summer Place.

Golemon based his story on a personal encounter: after visiting a beautiful three-story mansion for a total of two minutes he fled with the disturbing sense that the house was aware of him, and not thrilled he was there. Golemon vowed never to return. In The Supernaturals, Golemon neatly creates this lurking sentience in Summer Place and crafts a deep mythos for his fictional house of horrors.

The Supernaturals is flat-out a great haunted house story. The tale starts strong and builds suspense to nail-biting levels by the tense climax. Standard ghostly tropes are taken to the extreme and freshened with unexpected twists.

We also get a fascinating, behind-the-scenes perspective of all those popular paranormal investigator shows. For as the story progresses, we see Summer Place through the eyes of Kennedy and his crew as well as through the eye of the tv camera. This cinematographic aspect adds an immediacy to events – putting the reader front and center in the supernatural mix along with the camera people. It also gives a deeply visual facet to our reading experience.

Kennedy’s crew battles deceit, entertainment industry egos, disbelief, and dark secrets in their fight against the malevolence that imbues Summer Place. Can they win? Can they survive? At what cost? Don’t miss this one.

rating system four crows

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Wickedly Delicious Russian Teacakes

I knew it was time to bake when I put on a beloved episode of Hogan’s Heroes and reached for a Russian Teacake. And I didn’t have one. Crushing.

From an early childhood, these two disparate things have gone together and somehow signify the holiday season, taking me back to a comforting time.

I think most people have some version of this cookie in their repertoire under a variety of names – Mexican Wedding Cookies, Pecan Balls – but I’ll share the recipe that my mom passed down. There is a little extra step that makes this one stand out on your cookie tray. Since these are one of my favorite cookies, I always double the recipe. They also freeze beautifully.

I know it is down to the wire for holiday baking, but if you have a little time today, treat yourself to a batch of these. You probably have the ingredients around, and these are a simple cookie to bake. If you don’t get to them for this holiday, don’t worry: you really don’t need an occasion. They’re delicious anytime. Enjoy!

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¼ cup sugar

½ pound butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups finely chopped pecans

Confectioners’ sugar

How to Make them: 

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

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Add the flour and salt and mix to a soft, smooth dough. Stir in the pecans.

Shape into 1-inch balls by rolling between your hands, and place them 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

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Bake for 25 minutes until the cookies are firm and light brown on the bottom.

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This cookie is nicely light brown on the bottom: this batch is done.

Remove from the cookie sheet and gently roll in the confectioners’ sugar. Cool on wire racks.

Now, here’s the “something special” step: when the cookies are totally cool, roll them a second time in confectioners’ sugar.

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The cookies to the right and bottom middle have been rolled a second time in the powdered sugar…see how much snowier they are than the single-roll cookies!

This leaves them snowy and beautiful! Store in an airtight container or freeze.  Happy Holidays!

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Review: Jackaby

Jackaby – William Ritter, 2014.

Since she was little, Abigail Rook has longed for the kinds of adventures that thrilled her in stories. Jealously following the exploits of her daring archeologist father, she determines to discover excitement by hook or by crook.

After absconding with her tuition money and ending up in New England, she takes a position as an investigative assistant to the peculiar Mr. R.F. Jackaby. In Jackaby’s employ, Abigail finds everything she’s looking for and then some.

Jackaby is a seer. Whether his ability is a blessing or a curse, he sees the extraordinary creatures of legend and lore that coexist alongside us humans.

In his hideous hat (made from yeti wool), long scarf, and bulky brown coat stuffed with arcane bits and bobs, Jackaby is a kind of Dr. Who of folkloric beasties. Science and magic exist harmoniously in his world view.

He can see the domovoi (Russian house spirit) and Klambautermann (German kobold, helpful to fishermen) that have attached themselves to Abigail.  What Jackaby can’t see as clearly are the mundane details of everyday life, those noticed by regular people. That’s where Abigail is his perfect complement.

As Jackaby and Abigail investigate several mysterious and bloody murders, Abigail’s initial skepticism of Jackaby’s abilities – and his sanity – vanishes. Her world view expands to include both the marvelous…and the horrible.

Jackaby is a genre-bending joy to read. Ritter suffuses the narrative with a warm-hearted yet often dry sense of humor that just leaves you smiling. The wintry, small-town Victorian setting is a beautifully realized blend of mundane and magic.

Jackaby and Abigail and the supporting cast – including the supernatural beasties – feel very modern and human in their vulnerabilities and beliefs and hopes. This is a testament to some fine character building.

Jackaby (book and character) is eccentric and clever and great fun. Anticipate a delightful afternoon’s read. I can’t wait to pick up the second volume in the series. And the third. And… You get my drift.

rating system four crows