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: 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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Review: Suicide Forest

Suicide Forest – Jeremy Bates, 2014.  3/5

Aokigahara forest, Japan’s infamous “Sea of Trees,” is the setting for Suicide Forest, Bates’ first installment in his World’s Scariest Places series.

English teachers Ethan and his girlfriend Mel have weekend plans to climb Mt. Fuji. They’ve brought along fellow teacher, Neil, their friend Tomo, and Mel’s former high school friend and macho military guy, John Scott. But when the weather turns dicey, they’re left searching for other ways to spend the night. Two other would-be climbers, Ben and Nina, suggest camping in nearby Aokigahara, then starting up Fuji the next day. Japan is notorious for its high suicide rate, and Aokigahara is notorious as the place where many people go to kill themselves.

Although Ethan has reservations about overnighting in the “perfect place to die,” he goes along with the crowd, the majority of whom are morbidly excited at the possibility of seeing a body or a ghost. Berated by local hikers as being disrespectful thrill seekers (which they are) the group promptly ignores warning signs and leaves the main trail, following paths marked by colored ribbons.

Things go to hell quickly. They get lost. Ben vanishes, only to be discovered hanging from a tree, dead. Nina believes ghosts are the culprit. The group’s cell phones go missing. Neil contracts food poisoning and is down for the count. They begin to see movements in the trees. Hear screams in the night. Something – or someone is in the forest with them. Make that someones.

Okay. First off, Suicide Forest is better-written than Helltown. Although the action takes a while to get going, Bates does a respectable job building suspense. He succeeds in making us feel as if we were trapped in the oppressive, still silence of the strange forest. The characters have a bit more going for them in this book as well, in that I didn’t out-right hate most of them. But I did tire of the head-butting between Ethan and John Scott over Mel. Guys, grow up. That said, I also didn’t get what Ethan sees in Mel, who seems even more jealous than Ethan.

I think what troubles me with Suicide Forest is the way the issue of suicide is handled. I do believe Bates is trying to be respectful and empathetic about the subject through the dialogue and thoughts of the most sensitive character, Ethan. But Ethan’s a minority. The others show an indifference to suffering: to Neil, for example, who is in dire straits, and to those who have committed suicide or would consider committing suicide. There’s a lack of understanding. But then again, this is a horror/thriller novel, and Ethan is the voice of reason, so maybe this level of compassion is okay.

*Spoilers ahead*

The next wildly problematic parts involve ‘capturing-and raping-the-women,’ and ‘a-raped-woman’s-violent revenge.’ Um. Lots of gender stereotypes and issues to unpack around this. In a profoundly frustrating short epilogue, Ethan also declares that Mel has unexpectedly “fallen pregnant.” What? Wait! By…whom, exactly? And, really? “Fallen pregnant?” (!) The book crashes to an abrupt, heavy end with another suicide and narrowly averted suicide attempt.Sigh.

Pros: The setting is nicely realized, the plot is suspenseful and intriguing, and the baddies in the forest are definitely unique. Cons: The treatment of suicide and rape lacks sensitivity.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 800 273 8255
rating system three crows


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Review: Monster Hunter: Nemesis

Monster Hunter: Nemesis – Larry Correia, 2014. 4/5

Agent Franks is the Monster Control Bureau’s secret weapon against all manner of demons, shoggoths, renegade werewolves, etc. If it threatens humanity, Franks will terminate it with extreme prejudice. Protect and serve: that’s the agreement he made with the U.S. government—Ben Franklin and George Washington, specifically. In Nemesis, we discover that Franks’ pledge and his life story go even farther back. Like, to the war in Heaven back.

Franks is a badass enigma in previous books, so an entire volume in the Monster Hunter International series devoted to Franks? Just, cool.

But Franks is in trouble. Stricken, an underhanded advisor to the president, is using his Project Nemesis to secretly build his own harder-better-faster-stronger versions of Franks. Stricken doesn’t really care that they’re turning out to be vessels for demons who are excited to get into—and lay waste to—our world. Stricken pins a slaughter on Franks, claiming he’s gone rogue. Now Franks is on the run from Nemesis, the MCB, and a bunch of international monster hunter groups all out for his bounty. But only Franks can stop Stricken and the arch demon Kurst from taking over the world.

Nemesis is a little heavier on the political side than previous titles, which is my only quibble with the book. There are fewer monsters that need routing, but they make up for it in toughness. Correia keeps the action going with plenty of brilliant fight scenes. Franks’ flashbacks fill out his life story across history and are fascinating, fun, and thought-provoking. Old friends like Earl Harbinger, Julie, and Owen Pitt from MHI make appearances, and, awesomely, so do the gnomes. Not only that, but Franks quite possibly experiences an emotion or two: earth-shattering character development! (Really!) Great book in a fantastic series. Read ‘em.

rating system four crows


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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