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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Lovely Lemon Curd

Lemon curd.

Deliciously smooth. Sweet and tangy. The taste of spring in a spread. O.k., I’m waxing a little poetic, here. But lemon curd rocks. It is expensive to buy, but easy and inexpensive to make. So make some! And then eat it with everything: on waffles or shortbread cookies. In yogurt (with or without granola!), with fresh berries. In a cheesecake. With ice cream. On gingerbread. As a cake filling. Then try the same recipe with limes. Or oranges!  These citrus curds would be beautiful additions to your Easter brunches!

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Ingredients:

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup lemon juice. I used Meyer lemons here, and needed three lemons

1.4 cup butter, cubed

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

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How to Make It:

In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended. Add the butter and the lemon zest and cook, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes until the mixture thickens. You will see it thicken, and feel it thicken as you stir. Test with a metal spoon: the curd is ready if it coats the back of the spoon. Be careful that you don’t let it boil, or it will curdle.

Pour the curd into a small bowl and let cool slightly before transferring to the refrigerator. Put a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the curd so you don’t get a skin.2019-03-22 10.58.13

Don’t panic if you see little bits of cooked egg white in your curd!  The egg whites coagulate at a lower temperature than the yolks. If this happens, all is not lost! The egg bits won’t affect the flavor of the curd, and you can simply strain them out. Spoon your curd into a strainer over a small bowl and gently press it through. Goodbye, egg whites. If you don’t like the zest in your final curd, this method will strain it out, also.

This makes a soft, spreadable, sweet curd. Use within a week, or freeze!

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Try it on vanilla yogurt! It tastes like a lemon meringue pie! Plus it looks like a fried egg. Which is fun. (For me.)

 

 


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Review: Shadowed Souls

Shadowed Souls – edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes.  Rating: 4/5

Eleven hard-hitting stories from superstar fantasy authors evoke a surprisingly emotional response in this distinctive collection.

Now, emotional doesn’t mean these stories are wimpy. There’s plenty of magical action. Battles rage against demons, genies, angry ghosts, arctic Cthulhu creatures, and monsters human and inhuman. Two-thirds of the tales feature female protagonists, and all our heroines and heroes are struggling with their magical gift-slash-curse. They have relationships challenges. Social challenges. Challenges with rule-following. You get the picture.

Jim Butcher opens the collection strong with a story from his Dresden Files universe. As a huge Harry Dresden fan, I was excited to read this one. Cold Case features Molly, Harry’s apprentice, on her first mission for Mab as the Winter Lady. As always, Butcher’s humor and ease with his characters and their magic simply shine. The story? On the heartbreaking side.

Seanan McGuire (of the October Daye and InCryptid series fame) follows with the tale of a half-succubus betrayed by her ex-girlfriend. Sad.

Next comes a vampire PI who worries about her aging human lover and her own waning connection to humanity. Poignant.

Clearly, Shadowed Souls is the perfect title. I was beginning to think I’d need a box of Kleenex and a support group to get through the rest of the book. Fortunately, the heavy mood lightens. Or maybe I just got used to it. The rest of the stories are also top caliber. One tough thief orchestrates an escape from hell; a zombie PI assists a one-eyed newt; a double-souled healer deals with her father’s treachery; a former superheroine fights a greedy demon…the imaginative range is delicious. There are no bad apples in the bunch to disappoint. Each story resonates with its own unique voice and fantastical vision. Well worthwhile.

rating system four crows


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Review: Gateways

Gateways—F. Paul Wilson, 2003. Rating: 4/5

The unthinkable happens in Gateways, the seventh novel in Wilson’s Repairman Jack series: Jack leaves his beloved New York City.

Jack is a Robin Hood of mercenaries: a fix-it man with a code of honor, a burning sense of justice, and a love of old movies. He’s also destined to take a stand against a hostile supernatural force that’s on track to annihilate our world. Jack’s a good guy. But the cops probably wouldn’t think so.

Because of his…nontraditional…job Jack stays under the government’s radar and off their computers. It would take a heck of a lot for him just to go through airport security. Like his estranged father laying in a coma after a near-fatal—and highly suspicious—car accident.

So, Jack travels to the Everglades to that find his fears are warranted. Someone’s trying to kill his father. A strange, unfriendly clan of folks is living out on the lagoon. Dad’s neighbor has secrets of her own. There’s a hurricane coming. And Jack doesn’t have enough ammo.

I love the action-adventure meets paranormal thriller combo that is the Repairman Jack series. Wilson takes time in this installment to advance the overarching storyline and ramp up tension about the Otherness, as well as do some solid character building. Jack, long estranged from his father, learns some things he never knew about his old man and gains a new respect for him. Similarly, Jack’s dad learns a few of Jack’s darker secrets.

Gateways has plenty of action. Lots of firearms. Weird supernatural stuff. Neat new characters. Wilson has a unique talent for creating people you feel like you could meet on the street and just pass the time of day with. It is also exciting to see Jack in a different locale. He may be out of NYC, but he’s sure not out of his element. I wouldn’t say Gateways is my favorite in this series—which is filled with brilliant entries—but it is great fun, as always.

rating system four crows


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Scrumptious Orange Walnut Granola. Really: Scrumptious.

I know. I know. Scruptious? Granola?

But give me a minute, here, before you click away in disgust.

I’ve never been a granola fan. I’ve always felt there’s nothing quite as dreary as chewing your way through a dentally-challenging bowl of nuts and twigs first thing in morning. I have a weakness for children’s breakfast cereals. Comforting baked goods.

This granola though…dang! It puts store-bought granola to shame. It tastes good. Really good. And it’s not going to chip a molar. In fact…think of it as a deconstructed oatmeal cookie. Use it as a crumble on ice cream. Whatever! But give it a try!

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Ingredients:

Zest of one orange

2 Tablespoons sugar

4 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 ½ cups walnuts, broken up slightly

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup melted coconut oil

½ cup honey

1 cup dried fruit of your choice: cherries, blueberries, raisins, cranberries, dates…

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How to Make It:

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line a jelly-roll pan or other big, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the orange zest and sugar in a little bowl. Rub the zest into the sugar until it is bright orange and smells amazing.

Break up your walnuts a little bit so you don’t have entire walnut halves going in to the mix, here. I put them in a bag and pushed a rolling pin over them a few times. You don’t want them pulverized or chopped finely, just broken into smaller bite-size pieces.

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In a large bowl, combine the oats, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, and your orange sugar. Stir to combine. Make sure you break up any sugar clumps, so the orange flavor goes all through the mix.

Pour in the coconut oil and honey. Mix well, coating all the oats.

With a spatula, spread the granola onto your baking sheet in an even layer. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally as it bakes, until it turns a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool on a rack. The granola will crisp up nicely as it cools down.

When the granola is cool, add in your dried fruit. I love cherries in this mix. Today I used blueberries and cranberries, because that’s what I had on hand. This granola will keep in an airtight container for a week or two. But don’t be surprised if you eat it all up long before then!

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Review: Afterlife

Afterlife – Marcus Sakey, 2017. 5/5

Being dead doesn’t stop FBI agent Will Brody from reuniting with his soulmate in this sci-fi thriller that is also one of the most affecting love stories you’ll ever read.

Killed pursuing a shooter, Brody discovers that the afterlife isn’t exactly what he expected. Not that he knew what to expect, but still. Turns out bad guys end up there too. In an empty, greyer version of Chicago, Brody joins a community of other dead who have banded together for safety against the eaters: those who eat other souls to gain a measure of vitality. Brody and Claire, the love of his life—and death—go up against an ancient, powerful eater who is not only wreaking havoc in the afterlife but pushing his terror out into the world of the living.

Afterlife is a heart-pounding page-turner. The thriller action is sharp and fast, the dialogue pops with humor, and the characters are touchingly genuine. What elevates Afterlife to spectacular is the depth of thought and emotion that sings in every aspect of Sakey’s writing. Even mundane details of daily life attain gut-punching poignancy. Sakey’s vision of the hereafter also calls to mind two works by one of my favorite authors, Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (’54) and What Dreams May Come (’78). Sakey’s unique perspective invokes a layered but similar post-apocalyptic vibe, and a similar message: the power of love and power of good transcend all.

Afterlife resonates like a poem. You’ll finish this book and whisper, “wow.” It will settle insistently, but gently, in your subconscious and your heart, reminding you to live your own life story with passion. You don’t know how much you value something until it’s lost.

rating system five crows


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Review: The Deep

The Deep – Nick Cutter, 2015. Rating: 3.5 / 5

Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts…I’m pretty sure Cutter’s writing playlist for The Deep includes this classic campfire song. Well, except Cutter’s rodent of choice isn’t a gopher. There are lots of other pertinent adjectives that start with “g” that also describe The Deep: Gruesome. Gory. Gut-churning. Gross. Gag-worthy. Gooey (in a slimy, icky way; not a happy-saccharine way). Graphic. Grim.

This is not a surprise to me. I know this about Cutter’s writing. Take Little Heaven. Awesome. Very, very graphic. So, I had to steel myself for this one. (I failed.)

In The Deep, the modern world is falling prey to a disease called the ‘Gets. People forget how to do everything–including breathing. Dr. Luke Nelson, a compassionate veterinarian, is summoned to a research station eight miles down in the Mariana Trench by his estranged genius of a brother, Clayton. Along with two other scientists, Clayton is investigating a mysterious substance that might cure the ‘Gets.

Luke and Naval Lt. Commander Alice Sykes descend into the deep and dock at the Trieste, where very, very bad things have been happening to the scientists. Luke and Alice discover that the station seems to have slipped out of time and out of reality. Things quickly go pear-shaped. In a visually explicit, profoundly visceral way.

Have problems with claustrophobia or insects? The Deep will push those buttons to your breaking point.

Animal lover and/or fond of children? No spoilers, but this not a safe book for you.

That is my personal problem with The Deep. I can’t stand animal suffering in real life, and I can’t handle it well in fiction. It is ratcheted up to an extreme in The Deep and compounded because we like and relate to Luke, a good guy who also truly loves animals. Witnessing what he does is torture for Luke, as well as for us. So readers get a double-whammy of distress. Honestly, in a few scenes I had to sort of slide my eyes past some passages I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to mentally unsee.

But, The Deep is a compelling, unputdownable story. You’re pretty sure things can’t possibly end well, but you’re not sure exactly how they will end, so you’re stuck for the duration. Luke’s character is masterfully fleshed-out (!) with flashbacks and traumatic childhood memories: personal demons that ultimately manifest. The end gave me chilly, fatalistic echoes of Hellraiser. The Deep is a darkly engrossing read.

My next book? A palate cleanser. An Amelia Peabody mystery, maybe: a nice cheerful mélange of mystery, history, romance, and archaeology. Up in the sun. Far away from Cutter’s deep.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Blood Kin

Blood Kin—Steve Rasnic Tem, 2015. Rating 3.5 / 5

A snake-handling preacher delivers more than scary sermons to the folks of this rural Appalachian town.

Michael is the last of a Melungeon bloodline as ancient as the Virginia hills themselves. Following an accident, he returns to the small town of his birth to recover and to take care of his dying grandmother, Sadie. But Michael has a special hereditary talent—or curse. He can make empathetic connections with people to the point of feeling their emotions. As Sadie shares stories of her Depression-era childhood, Michael lives them.

As young girl on the cusp of womanhood, Sadie deals with a litany of horrors in her small town: evil and prejudice from regular folks and an unholy supernatural power in the hands of her twisted preacher-kin. Things everybody knows, and nobody talks about. Together, Michael and old Sadie must confront the evil she put to sleep decades earlier.

Like the best of storytellers, Tem engages us effortlessly, immersing us in the slow southern pace and insular lives and secrets of townsfolk young and old. He builds an extraordinary family saga that is layered with beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and transcendence and worldliness. The contrast between young Sadie and the elderly, infirm Sadie is deeply affecting.

Blood Kin’s unique storyline and characters had me riveted right up to the very end. Then there seemed to be a gear change, or disconnect, with the pacing. All the thoughtful story and character build-up leading up to the finale rushed to what felt like an abrupt, slightly unsatisfying end. But that’s me, and I’m just being picky. I enjoyed Blood Kin. I’ll be reading others by this author.

rating system three and a half crows