The 31 Days of CeeCee-O-Ween: Lost Among the Living

Egads! Only a few days left ’til All Hallows Eve and CeeCee still has oodles of scary stories to review–not to mention a boatload of costumes to wear–before the big day! While reading this book, I was compelled to pick up this fabulous vampiress bust (now known as Drucilla) because she looks just like the woman on the cover.  It’s like she called to me….ooooh spooky!  Either way, here’s the scoop on my latest literary conquest.

Grieving war widow Jo Manders takes on a job as a paid companion at a spooky ol’ manor surrounded by haunted woods, a rabid dog and a ghostly girl who leaves a snail trail of leaves in the drafty hallways. Soon Jo finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery and everyone’s a suspect—even her dead husband! But of course, his body was never found…dum dum duuuuuum!

What worked: When I’m in the mood for a deliciously atmospheric gothic thriller/romance, Simone St. James always delivers. However, I must warn you that this is what I call “horror light,” so you’re not going to have to worry about sleeping with the lights on. I just really enjoyed the mystique of the haunted manor house that frightens the provincial townsfolk. And then there’s the threat of a man-eating ghost dog roaming the haunted woods. Such fun!

What didn’t work: One of my biggest literary pet peeves is the dreaded info dump. Sadly the story took a turn for the worst when I got hit with a barrage of information after the big plot twist. I had to hit the rewind button on my audiobook numerous times to catch it all. And to be honest, I was not all that surprised by the bombshell, which sadly watered down all the spooky ghostly goodness. I won’t reveal any spoilers but I will say that spy games aren’t my thing. Also, I should add that the main character seems to be cut from the same mold as all the other mopey women in St. James’ books. Might be time for her to mix things up in the next one.

Overall: Of all of St. James’ works, this one isn’t her best. We were off to a good start with the creepy Wych Elm House and the creepy nocturnal encounters with the desperate ghost girl. But after the focus shifted to wartime conspiracies, I lost interest. All things considered, this author is still in the same league as Wendy Webb and Barbara Michaels, two of the best gothic romance writers in the biz!


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!