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 Kingdom

The Kingdom – Amanda Stevens, 2012.  Rating 3.5/5

Only hallowed ground can keep the ghosts away from Amelia Gray, but even that can’t protect her from her past in this spooky sequel to The Restorer.

Glad for the chance to leave Charleston and distance herself from memories of the dark, handsome, and haunted cop she fell hard for, Amelia takes on the job of restoring the Thorngate cemetery.

From the moment of her arrival in all-but deserted Asher Falls, Amelia senses something is wrong. And it’s not just the ghosts that she has the dubious gift of seeing: here she senses pure evil.

As she uncovers and repairs the old cemetery, she also unearths secrets the town has kept buried for a long time–including secrets of Amelia’s own past.

The Kingdom is one of those guilty pleasure reads, kind of like eating a piece of chocolate: quick and tasty. The story flies along, the supernatural elements and truly eerie imagery have a fresh feel to them, and the romance—which borders on hot and heavy—is enjoyable. The graveyard restoration aspect of this series is fascinating. Stevens weaves in old cemetery symbolism, burial traditions, and regional superstitions to make this series unique.

Intrigue, black magic, ghosts, hidden graves, and a handsome heir make The Kingdom a scary-fun read. Amelia is a gutsy heroine and while her interior monologue sometimes feels a bit repetitious, the story moves along to a breakneck climax that will leave you eager for the next installment.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Drowning Guard

The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire – Linda Lafferty, 2013. Rating: 4/5

Intrigue and passion run rampant in this sumptuous, dark romance set during the twilight of the Ottoman Empire.

Esma Sultan, the wealthy and indulged sister of Sultan Mahmud II, slakes her desires on infidel lovers– whom she enjoys for one night only, before having them drowned in the Bosporus.

Ivan Postivich—now Ahmed Kadir—a Serb captured by the Ottomans as a child and conscripted into the elite Janissary cavalry, has been demoted to Esma’s drowning guard. His skill and leadership earned him the envy of the Sultan, and now, stripped of his horses, Ivan is tasked with the clandestine executions of Esma’s discarded lovers.

When guilty nightmares begin to torment Esma, her Greek physician recommends she confess her sins to a priest—or to her giant of a guard, the only other one who shares, and can understand her guilt.

As Esma relates the story of her upbringing in the harem, and stories of her friends and father and brothers, the hostile Ivan gradually begins to see her as a person.

Like Ivan, we begin by feeling contempt for Esma, but soon realize she is a complex and relatable character. She is a fierce protector of women and their rights and truly an activist of her age. In her harem, women do not have to wear face coverings—a freedom unheard of for the time—and are treated with respect. Needless to say, Esma doesn’t quite have the same relationship with men.

Truth be told, I was skeptical about the plotline. This book has been sitting in my to-read pile for a while. But I was more than pleasantly surprised. Actually, I was excitedly surprised. The Drowning Guard is a luxurious, intelligent read.

We are expertly embedded into Istanbul in 1826: a melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity, old customs and growing globalism, yet still governed firmly by the long-seated conquerors. It is also time of suspicion and change: the Janissary revolt and its violent suppression figures strongly in the story. Lafferty excels at invoking lush sensory detail—from the wild rush of the cirit games, down to the flavors of the famous sorbets served at the Sultan’s birthday celebration. We experience it all: evil, plotting eunuchs; exotic harem life; glittering Ottoman palaces; all woven smoothly together and grounded in history. The result is a satisfying romance of unusual depth.

I can’t wait to read more by this author.

rating system four crows


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Review: Little Girls

Little Girls – Ronald Malfi, 2015. Rating: 3.5/5

After the violent suicide of her elderly father, Laurie returns to her childhood home to handle the aftermath. She hasn’t had a relationship with her father since she was young and has no positive memories of the massive old house. Laurie plans to sell the place, sell her dad’s stuff, and go back to Hartford as quickly as possible. But Laurie, her writer husband, Ted, and their ten-year-old daughter Susan end up staying longer…bad idea.

Like the house, Laurie has a shadowed history and unpleasant, long-buried memories soon begin to surface. It doesn’t help that the creepy little girl next door, Abigail, happens to be the spitting image of Laurie’s sadistic childhood friend who was killed in a freak accident on the property. Laurie begins to worry about the uncanny Abigail’s influence on Susan.

Questions arise about her demented father’s seemingly straightforward death and the longer Laurie and her family stay, the more Laurie’s tension, her fear of little girls, and her frustration with Ted grow. Is the house haunted? Has Sadie somehow returned? Is Laurie losing her mind?

Malfi nails the classic ghost story atmosphere. A creepy house filled with sounds. Shadows under locked doors. An abandoned well. A shattered greenhouse. Slightly off-kilter neighbors. Remnants of her father’s madness carved into the house. Shivery! Tension builds nicely as two seemingly disparate storylines intersect—albeit awkwardly—in a stormy climax and gut-punch ending. My biggest difficulty is that I didn’t really like the characters all that much. Laurie, perhaps understandably, is a wet blanket, and Ted comes across as whiny and condescending. The most interesting character is the sick, dead father, whom we get glimpses of through flashbacks and second-hand accounts.

Little Girls is a fast read with some unique, creepy-gross touches. It will satisfy your summer ghost story craving, but personally I enjoyed the chilly suspense and dark weirdness of Malfi’s Bone White much more.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Hunger

The Hunger – Alma Matsu, 2018. Rating: 4/5

“…never take no cutoffs, and hurry along as fast as you can.”

That’s advice from an actual letter from young Virginia Reed, one of the few surviving members of the Donner Party, the ill-fated group of pioneers who both lingered too long on the trail, and took the difficult, unproved Hastings route to California. The group was snowed in for the winter of 1846-1847 at Truckee Lake, where some desperate individuals resorted to cannibalism to survive.

That quote gives me chills every time I read it.

The real-life drama with its twist of the macabre is endlessly fascinating. The story is intrinsically filled with suspense, illustrating the great range of the human condition: from heroism to depravity. The tale of the Donner Party doesn’t need much to tip it over into a horror story, which is exactly what Matsu does in The Hunger.

Matsu fleshes out the characters from history books and old correspondence and succeeds in bringing them vividly to life for us. Through shifting points of view and flashbacks to the pioneers’ pre-trail lives, we get to know Tamsen Donner, George Donner’s young and controversial wife; Edward Stanton, one of the most eligible bachelors in the group; Lewis Keseberg a sharp-tempered German immigrant, and others. Everyone is traveling to California for a fresh start. But there is no true fresh start: many of the pioneers are carrying a secret—or a sin—in their hearts. The trip becomes a type of penance. To make matters worse (!) they’re being stalked by a supernatural horror along their way.

Matsu beautifully captures the immediacy of place: we feel the vast and eerie isolation of the prairie and the punishing salt desert. We sense the magnitude of the pioneers’ undertaking. We share their ever-present (and valid) fears of the dangers that lurk everywhere. Our paranoia grows alongside theirs.

The Hunger is a slow, satisfying burn, heavy with foreboding and punctuated by sudden, shocking brutalities. By the time the group is snowed in, we readers are on tenterhooks. And we’re kind of left there. The immediate end of the story is satisfying, but it comes almost too soon after such an extensive build up. We’re left with loose ends. Or perhaps, we’re left to our imagination, or to history. It might be because I was enjoying the book so much, I just got greedy for more.

The Hunger will leave you thinking. About taboos. About what is considered unnatural—historically and today. And about the hunger of humanity: the disease and darkness in the human heart.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Man of Legends

The Man of Legends – Kenneth Johnson, 2017. Rating: 3.5/5

People who meet him think he’s an angel. He knows he’s cursed. He has been around for centuries. His mission on earth is electrifying.

Will, the mysterious man of legends, is always on the move, constantly striving to help mankind better itself, one person at a time. He is an empathetic ear, a nudge in right direction, a gift that changes your life. A savior of suicides, and protector of the defenseless. He has studied under the likes of Gandhi. He has influenced authors, inventors, and scientists; sharing ideas that have transformed the world.

The Catholic Church has been pursuing him across time. They must not catch him. And he must not give in to the sympathetic dark-haired man who appears in Will’s rare moments of weakness.

With The Man of Legends, Johnson, a prolific writer-director of both film and tv classics (including the original V miniseries) has created an intriguing genre-bender.

Johnson mashes together the thriller, historical fiction, an age-old legend, and a timeless conflict into a contemporary urban setting. It actually works. The writing moves fast, flipping between multiple points of view. We follow mainly the perspectives of Jillian, a jaded, racist tabloid reporter; Father St. Jacques, Will’s Vatican-empowered pursuer; a lover grown old; and Will himself. The story flashes back often to vividly-imagined turning points in history, then leaps back to the present where the storyline races to its crisis point. We learn Will’s secret, and a secret even more profound.

The Man of Legends is an absorbing read and one that would transfer easily to film—Johnson’s writing is so animated. Although at times the depiction of Will’s good deeds and their grateful recipients feels a little heavy-handed and cliché—edging towards saccharine—Johnson makes up for it with his evocative historical snapshots and the genuine poignancy of Will’s suffering. The Man of Legends delivers a unique, fast-paced tale that leaves you pondering the nature of redemption as well as the nature of evil—and the possibility of its salvation.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: A Brush with Shadows

A Brush with Shadows – Anna Lee Huber, 2018.  Rating: 5/5

There are no spectral hounds terrorizing the moors in A Brush with Shadows, but mysterious poisonings, a family curse, and treacherous tors more than satisfy in this deliciously atmospheric installment in Huber’s Lady Darby series.

It is the summer of 1831, and newlyweds Lady Kiera Darby and her husband, golden boy and inquiry agent Sebastian Gage, are summoned to Dartmoor by Gage’s failing grandfather. Their task: to find Gage’s missing ne’er-do-well cousin, last seen on the perilous moor. Gage, however, is less than happy to be home.

After an emotionally abusive childhood at the hands of his viperish aunt and vicious cousins, followed by the unnatural death of his mother, Gage left his family home forever.  Returning now to Langstone Manor, he and Kiera find that little has changed: the manor is heavy with lies and animosity and secrets.

Despite deceptions thrown up by the unhelpful family and Gage’s own deep-seated anger towards his cousin, Gage feels honor-bound find him. And Kiera is there to help, both with the inquiry and with helping Gage confront his long-suppressed emotions.

A Brush with Shadows ranks as perhaps my favorite in the series thus far. Huber is beautifully on point in creating a sinister—even slightly spooky—mood. The manor itself is labyrinthian, dark, and filled with secret passages. Whispers of witchcraft, possible pixie encounters, and ominous dreams add delightful shivers.

Huber uses this tantalizing mystery to further deepen her characters. We have watched Kiera’s progression across the series as she worked to transcend her past and the invectives cast at her: transforming from social pariah to self-assured partner and even a quietly strong advocate for women in an age when their rights were limited.

As a new wife, Kiera treads gently but firmly to get to root of Gage’s emotions, intuiting her way through highly relatable marital uncertainties. And the pair’s romantic relationship—yep, satisfying there, too.

I didn’t want this book to end, and I can’t wait for the next one, though Huber will have her work cut out for her to surpass A Brush with Shadows. New to Lady Darby?  You are in for a treat. But start with the first title so you don’t miss anything: The Anatomist’s Wife.

rating system five crows


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Review: Written in Blood

Written in Blood – Layton Green, 2018.  3.5/5

At last: a bibliophilic serial killer!

Former big-city detective Preach returns to his small North Carolina hometown hoping for a quiet, fresh start.

Instead, he finds himself investigating the town’s first murder in years. Even more baffling, the crime scene is arranged to mirror the murder in the literary classic, Crime and Punishment.

Preach thinks – hopes – he’s up to the job. He’s coming off a brutal case that shattered his confidence and lost him his position in the big city force. In fact, his new job is conditional on passing a psych evaluation.

But he doesn’t have a choice. The small-town police are green. He’s their only hope. And the murders continue.

Preach and his young newbie partner Kirby, turn up clues and connections to drugs, blackmail, old high-school friends, and a local crime boss, but nothing gels. Meanwhile, victims multiply, each murdered like characters in classics by Poe, Christie, and Nabokov.

An interesting departure from Green’s dark, supernatural Dominic Grey series, Written in Blood is an absorbing combo of literary mystery and police procedural. The somber storyline is lifted – and complicated – when Preach finds both romance and a meeting of minds with Ari, a young bookstore employee. Well-plotted misdirections bring us to a surprising and satisfying end.

Fans of Green’s writing appreciate its depth. There is an ever-present philosophical and self-reflective aspect to his books that intensifies the storylines. Written in Blood is no different. The character of Preach is complex: an old, battered soul, an engaging mix of compassion and hardness. We empathize with his self-doubt, struggles with faith, and the sting of the shadows cast on his abilities. Preach exorcises his inner ghosts while wrestling with issues of retribution and man’s inhumanity toward man. To solve this crime, he must resolve within himself how he can overcome despair and still fight the good fight against the darkness in the world.

An intelligent, strong, multi-layered mystery.

rating system three and a half crows