Three-and-a-Half Paws Up for The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James

Hello and happy Saturday, my lovely readers! I don’t know about you but weekends are feeling rather anticlimactic as of late, no? The only difference between today and a Monday is that I don’t have to be chained to my home office until quitting time, which means many long hours of reading and blogging. Heck–maybe I’ll even get started on my very own book project! It’s not like I have any “there’s no time” excuses anymore.

But I digress. This post is not about my incurable chronic procrastination disorder. Nope, I’m blogging today to encourage you all to pick up a paranormal romance by Simone St. James! I’m a sucker for atmospheric ghostly mysteries with a dash of romance–and this author always delivers! Most of her stories are set in the Victorian era or the Roaring Twenties, so this one is quite a departure. But one look at this magnificent cover and I was sold.

There’s just something really creepy about old no-tell motels with those flickering neon “vacancy” signs standing sentinel on the side of a dusty country road. Am I right?

The gist:  It’s rather hard summing up this book in a blurb since we have two main characters in two decades. I’ll start with the most prominent character, and that is the Sun Down Hotel, a spooky motor lodge in a remote hamlet of upstate New York that would give Norman Bates a run for his money…or shall I say mummy—HA! Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Either way, both of our protagonists become sitting ducks while working as night clerks at the rundown motel, tending to sleazy traveling salesmen and drunkards. The mystery begins when Carly Kirk—a true crime enthusiast–follows in her aunt’s footsteps by taking on a job at the derelict motel. Ghostly visions ensue as she tracks down clues to her aunt’s final days those many years ago when she vanished one fateful night while working the night desk.

What I liked: Normally I read this author’s books for the rich, atmospheric settings and haunting prose. Yet with this book, she delivered something even more thrilling: a cold case mystery with a girl power twist! Our two intrepid sleuths get a little help (albeit, reluctantly) from a couple of female crime-stoppers, Alma and Marnie. One is a cop trying to keep her job and her sanity in a man’s world; the other is a working mom trying to make ends meet as a PI. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that the underlying message here is that we all have to stick together, ladies, to help each other out and fight for what’s right—YA YA, sistas!

What irked me: More ghosts, please! I absolutely loved the ghostly encounters in the seedy motel’s darkened corridors and rooms, but yet these scenes were few and far between. Ms. St. James, this is your wheelhouse, so please indulge just a tad more! I mean really, you guys, this author right on par with Susan Hill—the British queen of Gothic ghost mysteries. She’s also in the same league as Barbara Michael…with perhaps a little less harlequin cheese. Sorry, Barbs, love you!

The romance: The plot thickens when our sort-of-present-day (2015), protagonist, Carly, discovers some romance and intrigue with a rather lethargic, disheveled resident hotel guest. The romantic tension amps up a few watts when Carly learns of his dark past and questions his intentions. A dark horse enters the scene in the form of a preppy college boy, thus completing the ubiquitous good boy/bad boy love triangle. Normally this plot device gets rather tedious, but both of these suitors appear to have some secrets of their own, adding to the many, many question marks swimming around in my head!

Overall: This is a quality read for anyone who enjoys cold case mysteries with surprising twists. You’ve ripped the rug out from under me once again, Miss St. James. Was it a believable ending? Eh, perhaps not, but thrilling nonetheless!

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James

15808471There’s nothing I’d rather do on a cold wintery night than to curl up with an atmospheric Gothic ghost story. So you can imagine my excitement when a rep from Penguin offered me a copy of this dark and tragic ghost tale set in post-WWI England. Although I’m not familiar with this author, I had a hunch that she would earn a spot right next to Barbara Michaels in my dirty dozen of top Gothic mystery writers! 

Set in the Roaring 20s, the story revolves around Jillian Leigh, a headstrong Oxford student who gets thrust into the middle of a mystery after her uncle Toby’s tragic death. Leaving at the beginning of the term is downright unthinkable, but Jillian has no other option but to drop everything to straighten out his affairs. 

You see, Toby wasn’t really much of a family favorite, probably because of his rather unorthodox profession. Despite his brother’s plea to do something more socially acceptable, like becoming a banker, Toby spent his waking hours tracking ghosts. And for some inexplicable reason, he was drawn to the sleepy seaside village of Rothewell. 

Now here’s where the story gets really good! As Jillian settles in for her first night alone in her dead uncle’s lonely old house, strange things start to happen outside in the dark thicket of woods. Inexplicable noises keep her awake at night…as if something or someone is beckoning her to walk outside along the cliffs where her uncle plummeted to his death. 

It gets even creepier when she starts snooping through Toby’s ghost-hunting tools and finds his journal of haunted happenings. As she starts asking the town locals about Rothewell’s ghost lore, she comes up with more questions than answers. Is the town haunted by the ghost of an angry smuggler named “Walking John”? Or are the locals just trying to keep people out of Blood Moon Bay for other reasons? Who – or what – is to blame for Toby’s staged suicide? And why was Toby so enraptured by a woman named Elizabeth? 

With some help from a sexy Scotland Yard investigator and a scrappy orange cat, Jillian searches for clues and digs up some dark secrets about the strangely enchanting town. 

I’ll leave it at that to save you from any spoilers. I will say that this book is kick ass – and if you’re a fan of supernatural historical mysteries, this one’s a surefire winner! The scorching romantic tension, the complex characters, the plot twists – everything about it is spot on. 

The biggest selling point, however, is the setting. This author has a talent for transporting a reader into England’s lush and misty coast – the perfect setting for a chilling ghost tale. As I lost myself in her lyrical descriptions, I could practically smell the sea salt and hear the waves crashing against the jagged cliffs. 

This isn’t just a tale of ghosts and mystery; it’s also a journey of self-discovery. As Jillian delves into the legends and lore of Rothewell, she also stumbles upon some life-altering family secrets. I loved watching her grow from a self-conscious, sheltered bookworm into a fearless crime-solving sleuth. I’m really hoping I’ll get to see more of her in the future. There’s plenty of opportunity for a sequel, so fingers crossed!