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 First Bird

The First Bird – Greig Beck, 2013.

When a greedy social anthropologist unwittingly carries home a deadly infectious mite from the unexplored reaches of South America’s Gran Chaco Boreal, he launches a world-ending pandemic.

So begins an odd combination of an H. Rider Haggard-style lost world adventure, with a full-on George A. Romero movie. It takes a massive suspension of disbelief to join in this journey, but if you can overlook the two wildly disparate stories, The First Bird is an entertaining read. A little formulaic. A little heavy-handed. But redeemed by some creative ideas.

Hotshot professor and paleolinguist Matt Kearns – a character who appeared in several of Beck’s Alex Hunter novels – and his student-cum-girlfriend Megan have their working vacation cut short by the CDC. Dr. Carla Nero is one of the sole members of the organization who recognizes the dire nature of the skin-sloughing epidemic. With hopes of finding a cure, she strong-arms Matt and Megan into joining a private expedition to the ground-zero source of the parasitic pathogen.

Their ragtag team also includes a millionaire movie maker scoping material for his next big hit, his bodyguard and jungle pro Kurt, his personal physician, a paleobiologist, an entomologist, another linguist and their local Brazilian guide. Many of these folks are clearly on board as redshirts.

The expedition discovers a deadly primal landscape filled with grotesquely evolved creatures. Romantic jealousy blossoms. Action abounds. The body count rises. And then the story abruptly switches genres.

What’s left of the team arrives back in the states to find that the U.S. has spectacularly (in a bad way) deteriorated into an apocalyptic battleground. They must fight their way – with a little military assistance – to the besieged CDC and create and disseminate a cure.

The First Bird sacrifices depth for breadth of story, and one wishes for more detailed characterization as well as greater dimension from both plotlines. That said, the book is a fast paced, interesting read: the different human manifestations of the infestation in the second half of the book are neatly imagined, and the story (ies) race along. Action junkies – and I – will most likely hunt down the second title in the Matt Kearns series, Book of the Dead.


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Review: Slade House

Slade House – David Mitchell, 2015.

It is the last Saturday in October.

You are walking down an oddly-shaped, narrow alley cut off from rest of the city.

Maybe a jogger in black and orange trots by.

You are looking for a gnome-sized iron door set into the brick wall.

Maybe you miss it the first time.

You are a bit of a loner, maybe a bit marginalized, a little bit different from the norm. But there is something special about you that you probably aren’t even aware of.

The iron door opens for you.

You might see a beautiful mansion, staggeringly beautiful gardens, or the Halloween frat party to end all parties. Any of which, if you stop to think, is really impossible to fit behind this wall, in this neighborhood; but you don’t stop to think about that very long, because this is such a wonderful place.

Until you lose your soul.

Because every nine years the – unusual – inhabitants of Slade House need a new soul to feed on.

Slade House is a creepy read, and Mitchell is a virtuoso at playing on – and building – your unease.

From the first character’s shocking story, one knows the awful gist of what will happen to future visitors. With this use of dramatic irony, Mitchell cleverly puts the reader in a similar position to the victims of Slade House, but with an even greater, terrifying awareness of what’s ahead. You want to shout at the characters to warn them, but helplessly, cannot.

And these characters are likeable. You share the common and poignant insecurities of those drawn to Slade House: the oddly awkward tween, the recently divorced cop, the overweight college student. In a short space with an edge of dark humor, Mitchell masterfully gives them all souls, and then horribly takes them away.

This is a lightning book: fast and almost impossible to put down. You are trapped in the narrative of Slade House. And while you can escape at the end of the book, this is one that will haunt you for a long time. Great read.


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Review: The End of Temperance Dare

The End of Temperance Dare: A Novel – Wendy Webb, 2017.

Alone in the world and suffering PTSD from her years as crime reporter, Eleanor Harper is excited to become the new director of Cliffside, a coveted artists’ retreat overlooking the brooding waters of Lake Superior.

Miss Penny, the exiting director and last of the Dare family who once operated Cliffside as a TB sanatorium, briefs Eleanor on her new role and then promptly kills herself. Eleanor is left with a token staff in an empty house, an ominous suicide note, and a mystery that is soon to become a nightmare.

Eleanor’s anxiety increases as she experiences disturbing unnatural phenomena in the house and on the grounds. When the artistic fellows arrive, the alarming incidents escalate. Eleanor discovers that each of the fellows – some knowingly, some unknowingly – holds a clue to a very dark secret.

The End of Temperance Dare is a nicely-plotted blend of gothic horror and country house mystery woven together with a pleasant thread of romance. All of the characters, from Eleanor to young Dr. Nate and the proper housekeeper Harriet, are well-drawn and relatable and just right for their parts in this small cast supernatural drama.

Webb does a skillful job deepening the reader’s tension as danger increases for the household. Using classic elements of a good haunted house story – storms, washed out roads, disembodied children’s voices, bumps in the night, and creepy dolls to list a few – Webb brings the story to an unexpected and genuinely scary climax. This is a delicious read to curl up with on a stormy evening.


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Review: Pandemic

Pandemic (The Extinction Files, Book 1)   A.G. Riddle.  2017.

When Desmond Hughes, a successful venture capitalist, wakes up in his Berlin hotel room he has no memory of his past, there is a dead body on the floor, and security is knocking at the door.

Across the ocean, Dr. Peyton Shaw, an epidemiologist with CDC, races to Kenya to investigate and contain a virulent Ebola-like outbreak.

The two quickly discover they are both fighting against time to save the world as we know it. The virus spreads, infecting and killing a staggering number of people, and governments begin to crumble. But the pandemic may be just the beginning of a more insidious plot. A covert, elitist group called Citium plans to remake the world into a utopia. This just happens to require an unavoidable few – million – casualties.

On the run from the police and Citium, Desmond slowly regains his past, memory by memory. To his horror, he discovers he has played a pivotal role in the nightmare taking place around him.

Desmond’s and Peyton’s paths – and past – cross and they unite with Avery, a U.S. government operative, to strike at the heart of Citium and find a cure for the virus. But not everyone is who they appear to be. And it may already be too late for the infected.

Riddle has blended medical suspense, shoot-‘em-up military action, spy thriller, and a bit of historical and science fiction into a very satisfying read. Pandemic is a mighty book, pushing 700 pages, but the story flies by, spanning the globe and nearly a century. Memories and diaries are clues to unravelling Citium’s plot and Riddle deftly takes us in place and time to Australia, the arid plains of Oklahoma, WWII London during the blitz, Nairobi, the Arctic Ocean, and beyond.

Although Pandemic could have had more of an edge, Riddle’s time was well-spent developing his compelling characters and their surprisingly entangled histories.  Pandemic is a fast-paced, imaginative thriller with all around good storytelling.  A cliffhanger ending leaves us eagerly looking forward to the sequel, Genome, due out in November.


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Nachos to Watch Zombies By

These are loaded, meal-strength nachos. Perfect for a night in front of the TV watching your favorite horror flick. It has been a little dark and stormy here, and a nice campy zombie movie sounds great. Not hard core. These are nachos, after all.

Some of my favorite zombie-nacho movies? Dead and Breakfast. Not only does it star David Carradine, it is also sort of a musical! Zombieland. Arguably the best Bill Murray cameo ever. Dead Snow. Nazi zombies attack college students staying in a cabin in Norway. What?! You can’t go wrong with these. That is, if you enjoy more-than-slightly weird zombie flicks.

Back to the nachos. This is a free-spirit recipe: no real measurements involved. I’ll give suggestions, but you scale up to how many people you plan to serve, and how hungry you are. All ingredients are totally optional, but here is what we enjoy.

Ingredients:

Chicken strips – pre cooked. I’m using Trader Joe’s.

Bacon – try Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ends and Pieces. Giant, thick-cut slices and chunks.

Tater tots – Yes, I’m using Trader Joe’s again, but use your favorite. You will cook them in advance and crumble them up on top of your nachos

Olives – I’ve got a spicy blend that contains extra jalapenos!

Avocado*

Scallions

Cilantro*

Corn – if it is summertime, use any leftover ears of corn you may have grilled or boiled. Scrape off the kernels. In the winter, frozen sweet corn kernels work great too: heat some up with a little water on the stove and drain.

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Jalapenos – Can’t beat Trader Joe’s Hot & Sweet Jalapenos, but today I’ve got sliced Hatch jalapenos. Also nice.

Roasted red peppers*

Cheese – LOTS of cheese. I like a blend. Today I’m using sharp cheddar, white cheddar, mozzarella, and Oaxaca. Pepper jack is also fabulous.

Chips – A blend of Sweet Potato Corn Chips and Doritos (Roulette, Nacho, Spicy Nacho, whatever spice level you like.)

Salsa – Your choice.  Make your own!

Sour cream – I actually went light, here. Which is patently ridiculous given the other ingredients and massive cheese level, but I can pretend.

Guacamole*

* Sadly, I didn’t have these ingredients today, but they are delicious on the nachos. I’m substituting in some chopped roasted garlic, and sliced cherry tomatoes.

How to make them:

At your leisure earlier in the day, bake the tater tots. Let them cool and store them in the fridge.

Heat up the chicken strips if they’re frozen.  Let them cool a bit, then either shred with a fork, or cut into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Cook up the bacon. If you’re using that Trader Joe’s pack of ends and pieces, you’re lucky! They’re awesome. Cut them down to bite-sized pieces and cook them up in a large pan on the stovetop for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they all get done but don’t get overdone.  Drain and set aside until you’re ready to top your nachos.

Grate your cheese ahead of time as well. We like a LOT of cheese.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. The paper will keep the nachos from sticking and make them easy to remove. Heat up the oven to 350F.

Spread the chips evenly over the cookie sheet. Liberally cheese your chips, saving some cheese for the top. Get cheese on every chip. Add in all the other ingredients you want, except the cilantro and avocado which you will save for a garnish. With the tater tots, crumble them up a bit before you sprinkle them on top. Unless you want whole tater tots. Which is fine. Top with the remaining cheese.

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No naked chips!

 

Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. You may want to put the oven on convect for the last few minutes to achieve desired meltiness. That is too a word. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with your cilantro and avocado.   Yum.

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Settle down and enjoy with your favorite beverage and scary movie. If you’re feeling really guilty, make a side salad. (Or not!)


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Review: Ghosthunting Colorado

Ghosthunting Colorado – Kailyn Lamb, 2016.

I was extremely excited to find this book in our local bookstore. I read paranormal nonfiction like some people eat chocolate: voraciously. I have a boundless curiosity and interest in the subject, and a large personal collection of books in the genre. Having lived in Colorado for thirty-odd years, I have also visited over a dozen of the locations featured in the book.

I’m getting personal and stating all this because I’m about to give a disappointing review when I had been predisposed to absolutely love this book.

Ghosthunting Colorado suffers from a bit from an identity crisis. It is the first I have read (and will probably be the last) in the series America’s Haunted Road Trip. The introduction states that the book’s goal is to provide readers with actual resources to help them visit places that may be haunted.

Sadly, the result is an unexciting book heavy on Colorado history and light on ghosthunting with a sprinkling of travel advice thrown in. The book is organized into regional sections of the state with a map of the area at the beginning of each section. Unfortunately, the haunted locations featured in the book aren’t listed on the maps. Not so helpful to travelers. The end matter of the book contains more useful information: addresses, phone numbers and websites of each haunted site, along with weather tips, driving info, and little bits visitor information about the area.

Let’s think in terms of “glows” and “grows” as elementary school teachers do. (Really. They do.)

Glows:

Lamb’s research into the history of each potentially haunted Colorado location seems solid. Within the text she refers to sources she has contacted for information, and she includes a bibliography at the end.   The research is also extremely detailed. You will get a thorough factual background into each location.  History buffs (like me) will approve of this part. She features a lot of well-known Colorado haunts, like the Stanley Hotel of The Shining fame (read details of my visit to the Stanley).  Lamb also includes Mackey Auditorium on the CU campus, where a young girl was murdered in a room of the west tower. Additionally, she surveys lots of lesser-known haunted locations like Redstone Castle and various sites in Manitou Springs. This is great.

Grows:

The “ghosthunting” part runs a distant second to the history. Some chapters give us the full ghost story behind the haunting (although at times relying heavily on Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society investigations). Unfortunately, several chapters reduce the paranormal occurrences to a few dry sentences in a final paragraph or two.

The biggest obstacle to awesomeness, however, and what really drags this book down, is the writing style. It just isn’t interesting. Reading becomes a struggle. The pervasive use of the passive voice is mind-numbing. (Think: “some people have claimed,” “it was determined,” “photographs were compared,” “the elevator has also been seen moving,” “two casinos were opened,” “psychics were brought…”) It makes the history dry and the ghostly bits bland.

When all is said and done, Ghosthunting Colorado provides detailed backgrounds of famous and not-so-famous allegedly haunted Colorado locations and gives you the information you need to visit them yourselves. In those areas, it is a success. For those of us who want a little more enthusiasm in our history and our ghosthunting, it is a disappointment.


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Review: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library  Genevieve Cogman, 2016.

Irene is a Librarian with a capital L.

She is careful with her grammar.  (By necessity: the language of the Library is very powerful.)

She is level-headed.  Capable.  Passionate about all books.  (She does harbor a secret fondness for detective fiction.)  And she is highly effective at self-defense.

She needs all of these qualities, because her job is to infiltrate alternate realities and retrieve, that is, steal, books unique to that reality.

Just back from a taxing assignment burgling a book on necromancy from a school of magic – which involved a rather narrow escape from hellhounds and gargoyles – Irene is ordered to a quarantined, chaos-infested alternate.

This is less than optimal.  Natural laws don’t apply so much in chaotic worlds.  Plus, the Fae tend to cause extra disorder there.  Not only that, Irene is saddled with a handsome, mysterious student named Kai who is much more than he appears.

The two arrive in an alternate Victorian-esque London suffused with magic and steam technology: dragons and zeppelins and werewolves and clockwork centipedes.  Their task is to pilfer a special copy of Grimm’s fairy tales.  In the process, they befriend a dashing private investigator but run afoul of almost everyone else: a secret Iron society, one of Irene’s unpleasant colleagues, and a mesmerizing Fae ambassador.  Oh, and a rogue Librarian who has turned to the dark side and become an agent of chaos. Everyone wants the book.  Irene has her work cut out for her.

The Invisible Library is simply a joy.  Cogman deftly blends fantasy and sci-fi to create a version of London so wonderful and immediate that the reader wishes they could hop on the first plane – or dirigible – and go visit.  Irene herself is a plucky heroine whose proper (mostly) and wry inner monologue is just delightful.  This is a splendidly satisfying adventure packed with highly imaginative action sequences, novel characters, fun literary references and a wicked sense of humor.  The Invisible Library is a book to curl up with on a grey day and immerse yourself in the bewitching chaos of a reality where almost anything is possible, and yet be ultimately comforted by the notion that there is a magnificently powerful Library where order does indeed exist.  And, thank goodness, The Invisible Library is the first in a series.