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: Murder in Thrall

Murder in Thrall – Anne Cleeland, 2013.  3/5

Brilliant Chief Inspector Lord Acton takes young newbie Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle under his wing to help solve a string of murders in this first of Cleeland’s New Scotland Yard Mysteries.

Cooly intelligent, handsome, unfailingly polite, educated, and disgustingly wealthy, Acton raises Doyle above the other lowly DCs—to their great envy and confusion—because he is aware of her special gift.

Doyle couldn’t be more different from Acton. She’s proudly Irish and Catholic, she’s not exactly swimming in cash, she’s a terrible driver, and her efforts to improve her vocabulary are sweetly pathetic. But—she can tell when people are lying and read the truth of their emotions. So far, his expertise and her intuition have solved several high profile-cases.

When a trainer at a local racetrack and the witness’s girlfriend, are killed point blank, and Kathleen’s own estranged father is murdered, Acton and Doyle must find the connection and stop the murderer.

The real story, however, is Acton and Doyle’s relationship. The title is perfectly indicative of the hold the main characters have on each other, and the motivation of the killer.

Acton is a Section Seven—a felony stalker— who’s had his eye on Kathleen for a while and it’s gone waaaay beyond the point of some binoculars and a few photos. He’s monitoring her computer. Buying her clothes. Planning their wedding.

And Doyle’s reaction is…positive. She’s flattered. Her Scooby Sense tells her that Acton genuinely loves her.

The killer keeps killing, and Acton predictably is overwhelmingly protective towards Doyle. He takes her off field work on the murder cases. And she knows that he knows something he’s not telling her. There is no shortage of suspects both internal and external, from Russian gun runners, to other DCs, to the lecherous head of Forensics. As the danger grows, Doyle ultimately must take care of herself.

Cleeland writes well. The dialogue is snappy, the pacing is great, and I very much enjoyed the police procedural aspects of this view into Scotland Yard. Likewise, supporting characters—especially Doyle’s supervisor Habib, and her nemesis the pretty, ambitious DC Munoz—add realism and depth to the story. The mystery itself does read a little thin, which I know because I pegged the killer early on. If I, truly among the most dupable of readers, can do that…well, it’s a little thin.

My big problem, however, is with Doyle and Acton’s relationship, which is just downright creepy and disturbing. He manipulates, directs, and basically takes over her life, and she’s happy to let him. When she’s frustrated at being put on desk work, or made to appear as if she’s in Acton’s bad graces, or has any qualms about the future, she just drinks the delicious latte he sends her and tells herself how stupid she is to be so sensitive.  After all, she knows he loves her, plus she’s having great sex. And she knows she’s good for him. She just needs to learn work with—or around—his possessiveness.

So, this is a tough one. I can’t relate well to Doyle quickly and contentedly abandoning her autonomy. I’m on the fence about reading the next book in the series. I probably will, just to see if Doyle and Acton’s relationship can evolve beyond obsession and self-subjugation.

rating system three crows


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Review: Under a Graveyard Sky

Under a Graveyard Sky—John Ringo, 2013. 3/5

When a zombie apocalypse destroys civilization, a family of extremely well-prepped survivalists takes to the seas in this first installment of Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series.

Steven John Smith, former Aussie para turned high school teacher, is ready for action when his brother Tom texts him a coded message indicating a bona-fide, world-ending emergency. Yep, zombies. Steven, his wife Stacey, and his daughters, fifteen-year old Sophia and thirteen-year-old Faith, load up their trailer with enough supplies to embarrass Costco and enough armament to invade Cuba. They stock their boat and set sail to avoid the crumbling infrastructure. Oh, and avoid exposure to the man-made pathogen that’s turning people into naked, ravening monsters. Once at sea, Steven makes it his personal mission to track down all the ships that are emitting emergency signals, clear off the zombies, save any survivors, salvage supplies, and add the ship to his growing flotilla of rescued and rescuers.

I loved the first third of this book: the CDC and international health organizations tracking and reverse-engineering the double-virus, the FBI searching for the villain who painstakingly released the disease, the inevitable breakdown of society. Ringo did a great job imagining the end of the world. I did need to suspend a lot of disbelief with the Smith family, however. For instance, high-school student Sophia is enlisted by Tom to assist a high-powered scientist in creating the first zombie vaccine. Because…she’s good at science?? While middle-schooler Faith is tougher, better trained, better armed, and more skilled than most military weapons instructors. Still, the first part of the book moves along, has lots of action, and maintains a sense of humor.

It’s when the family takes to sea that the story falls apart and I started wondering if the whole book wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek romp. The zombies stop being scary, or even a real threat. Characters drop off the radar: Tom, corporate security head for the Banks of Americas disappears—in theory to his own safe retreat—and we lose a strong, interesting character. Ditto with Steven’s wife and Sophia, who remain in the background piloting various ships. It’s as if once in a while Ringo suddenly remembers, ‘oh yeah, the rest of the family,’ and resurrects them for a short scene. What we do have, is endless boarding and clearing of zombie-infested (but not really dangerous thanks to Faith) ships.

Now, I love survival horror. Action-adventure and all its subgenres: military action, military horror, thriller, and yes, girls with guns and swords. But the last couple hundred pages of Under a Graveyard Sky just get repetitive and annoying. Faith boards ships. Faith talks guns. Faith trains newbies. Faith blows zombies to smithereens—well, she does add variety by hacking many of them to smithereens—over and over. Assorted older males tell her if she were old enough, they’d propose. She could be a pin-up girl for Soldier of Fortune magazine. Um. At thirteen. And while I appreciate the detailed descriptions of ship boarding and the seamanship involved, as well as the challenges of avoiding ricochets while shooting monsters, a little goes a long way. What happened to the storyline?

So, I’m torn with this one. I was excited about the first third. Gleeful, really, that I’d landed on a great series. The latter half of the book ticked me off. No doubt there is action, but there’s not a lot of forward motion. If the next book is more ship clearing, and as Faith-foremost, I’m going to give it a pass.

rating system three crows


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Review: A Shattered Lens

A Shattered Lens – Layton Green, 2019.  4/5

There aren’t a lot of murders in small Creekville, North Carolina, so when star high-school football player and all-around good kid David Stratton is found shot to death in the woods, the case goes to Detective Joe “Preach” Everson.

We first met Preach in Written in Blood. Once a hometown boy, Preach spent years working homicides in Atlanta. Now he’s returned to Creekville, despite knowing intrinsically that you can’t go home again.

Life experiences have changed him: he’s not a complete outsider, but he’s no longer a local. His mindset sets him apart from the other small-town cops. An introspective, intelligent, sensitive badass, Preach is secure in his identity. At least, until this case. The murdered boy’s mother, Claire, is an old high-school flame, and she sparks a new desire. She’s beautiful, alluring, and a prime suspect. She also triggers an emotional rift between Preach and his county-prosecutor girlfriend, Ari.

As Preach digs into the case, interviewing David’s friends and family, memories from his youth threaten to overwhelm him. He, and others, question his objectivity. Complicating things further is a tenuous and connection between David’s murder and Ari’s case involving a ruthlessly brilliant drug lord.

But someone else was in those woods on the night of the murder: Blue, a teenager from the trailer park on the wrong side of town. With big dreams and a stolen camera, she was out filming her breakthrough opus. Now, Blue holds the key to the case, and the murderer knows it.

A Shattered Lens is a crackerjack mystery. We’ve got compelling suspects in Claire’s rich boyfriend, David’s disturbingly sensual teacher, and others. We’re successfully misdirected by some clever red herrings. Thanks to the narrative perspective switching between Preach and Ari and Blue, our tension levels stay pegged. Across the board, the characters come into their own more completely in this book. Even the bad guys have souls, winning a whisper of our empathy.

But A Shattered Lens succeeds as more than a tightly plotted detective novel. Woven beautifully and uncompromisingly into the mystery is a poignant reflection on the nature of relationships. The underlying message is bittersweet: embrace those relationships while you can. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. As Preach observes, only love combats the “transcendental sadness” that resides deep within us all.

A Shattered Lens is an absorbing read that will content your inner detective and leave your inner philosopher solemnly self-reflective. In a good way. I look forward to Preach’s next case.

Full disclosure, here: I received a publisher’s copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

rating system four crows


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Review: Ghosthunting Ohio

Ghosthunting Ohio – John B. Kachuba, 2004.  4.5/5

Ghostly ladies in shades of grey and green and white, invisible soldiers, wispy weeping women, haunting music, disembodied voices, inexplicable fogs, rushes of cold air, hooded apparitions, sorority ghosts: you can find them all here in the great state of Ohio, and John Kachuba tells you exactly where to look.

Part of America’s Haunted Road Trip series, Ghosthunting Ohio is a highly enjoyable tour of thirty-two haunted locations around the state, all of which are open to the public. Kachuba visits each one, accompanied by his trusty camera and often his wife Mary, as well.

Not a sensitive or medium, just a self-described “average guy” with a curiosity about the paranormal, Kachuba maintains an objective and open-minded approach to all things supernatural. In the Introduction, he offers a list of ghosthunting guidelines which boil down to respect & preparation: respect the site, respect the people you meet, respect the spirit world, and take time to learn from people who are serious about ghosthunting—not the thrill seekers.

I love all the spooky stories: from the mist rising above the mummy in the Cincinnati Art Museum, to the ghost of the old brakeman stumbling after the train in the Moonville Tunnel. But what makes these, and all the stories come to life (pun intended, after I thought about it), is Kachuba’s engaging, almost conversational style. He adds just the lightest touch of humor here and there that makes me smile. He also has a deft hand with interviewing folks about their ghostly experiences. Dowsers, concierges, cleaning ladies, librarians, Kachuba quickly characterizes each individual, and humanizes each visit. As he explores haunted sites old and new, Kachuba details his perceptions and occasionally includes one of own photographs which may have captured an orb or shadow that he is at a loss to explain.

Above all, Kachuba’s respect for the history of each location shines out. In the context of his various visits he describes the importance of Fort Meigs War to the of 1812; the vitality of the canal days of the 1820s-1830s; the tragedy of the confederate POW camp and cemetery in Columbus; the prominence of the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, host to ten US presidents; the powerful memories and emotions at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton; the macabre use of Cincinnati’s Majestic Theater as a spare morgue for the hundreds of Army troops killed when the Spanish influenza decimated their training camp in 1918…the list, and the ghost stories, go on.

An afterword by renown psychic researchers Ed & Lorraine Warren emphasizes the importance for ghosthunters to protect themselves against inhuman and diabolical forces. The Warrens urge would-be paranormal seekers to know their opponents, respect their powers, and to be intelligent, not foolhardy.

Final sections offer all the information you need to follow in Kachuba’s footsteps. Addresses, phone numbers, proprietor names, hours, yearly events, even occasional menu items of each locale are helpfully listed for you. Online contacts for ghosthunting organizations in Ohio, and a short list of “ghostly people”—researchers and psychics—round out the book.

While I was just a little disappointed that Kachuba didn’t visit any sites in my own personal (o.k., pretty rural) wedge of east central Ohio, I’m hoping he’ll remedy that in his second book Ghosthunting Ohio: On the Road Again.

Ghosthunting Ohio is one of the best “true” ghost story books I’ve read in a while, which is saying a lot. You’ll get a few chills here and there, but mostly your curiosity will be piqued and you’ll leave the book with a greater, more thoughtful connection to the past.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: Closer than You Think

Closer than You Think: A Broken Minds Thriller—Lee Maguire, 2018. 3.5/5

In Maguire’s suspenseful thriller, a vindictive stalker isn’t just out to ruin Bryce Davison’s life: they’re out to end it.

Sensitive psychologist Dr. Bryce Davison is struggling to adjust to separation from his wife of fifteen years. Vicki has had enough of Davison’s recurrent depression and seems anxious to move on – without him. Feeling hopeless and adrift, Davison throws himself into his work as a consulting psychotherapist at a combined outpatient and residential treatment center for adolescent youth.

But when Davison scents a familiar perfume on his pillow and receives an ominous e-mail, “Closer than you think,” his staid life begins to spiral out of control.

Intrusive and violent incidents swiftly escalate, taking a toll on Davison physically and mentally. His anxiety increases. Coworkers seem to be treating him differently. Suspects abound, from Marge the receptionist to Dr. Jones the medical director; Wendy, the young therapist, Scooch the townhome maintenance man, even Vicki herself. Could she be gaslighting him? Or is it all in his mind?

A newly-admitted patient, 16-year old Maegan Mitchell, may have the key to everything—if she’s willing to undergo hypnosis to remember.

With Davison, Maguire has created a relatable, likeable protagonist. It is hard not to care about someone who takes custody-sharing of his beloved basset hound so seriously! Although the book launches into the stalking element almost before we feel like we know Davison well enough to empathize, Maguire remedies that quickly. Davison’s character is deepened through flashbacks to a traumatic childhood memory and memories of what he feels was a past professional failure. These events contribute to the story’s mounting suspense and to our understanding of Davison. Supporting characters don’t have Davison’s depth, but play their roles satisfactorily.

Closer than You Think shines brightest in scenes at the mental health facility and in Davison’s therapeutic interactions with his adolescent patients. Maguire’s knowledge of psychotherapy and mental health adds a unique and fascinating aspect to the novel. The dramatic ending sets us up nicely for a sequel. Closer than You Think is a solid read, and I look forward to seeing more of Dr. Davison.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. The author’s and publisher’s media links are included below.

rating system three and a half crows

Closer than You Think / Lee Maguire’s Facebook / TCK Publishing / TCK Facebook


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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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