The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Hello Kittens! I hope everyone is staying as well as they can. I know that for many people these are scary and uncertain times and I hope that you are finding comfort in any small ways that you can. I have been finding some small solace in reading. I’ve only been home for a few days but I’ve managed to immerse myself in my TBR pile and plow through a few books that had been lounging without the attention they deserved over the last few weeks. Reading allows me to get out of my head. I only know that things have gotten to be too much in my life when I can no longer focus on a book. Fortunately, I have not reached that point yet. This book is a creepy one that just might take your mind off of the real world for awhile. I know that it did the trick for me.

Title: The Sun Down MotelThe Sun Down Motel

Author: Simone St. James

Author website: http://www.simonestjames.com/

Publisher: Berkley (Penguin Random House imprint)

Publish date: February 18, 2020

ISBN: 9780440000174

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Simone St. James came on my radar last year when I read The Broken Girls as part of my PopSugar Challenge and it blew me away. She’s now on my must-read list, so when her newest book, The Sun Down Motel was offered as one of the options for the January Book of the Month Box, I jumped on it. St. James sets the scenes for creepy mysteries like no one else that I have ever read. She integrates more supernatural elements in this story than she did in The Broken Girls but still creates plenty of scary moments with her earthly characters as well. The story opens with two narratives, separated by 35 years, following Vivian Delaney in 1982 and Carly Kirk in 2017.,

In 1982 Viv Delaney has run away from home and is on her way to New York City to start a new life. She ends up only making it as far as Fell, New York, a sleepy town with limited opportunities. Viv finds work as the night desk clerk at the Sun Down Motel. The job doesn’t require too much of her, since the motel only has a few customers at a time. Soon after starting work, Viv begins to notice some strange happenings at the Sun Down. The more she works there, the more it seems like some of the hotel’s guest checked in…and never left. As Viv begins to unravel the mysteries of the Sun Down, both past and present, she puts herself in real danger. By the end of the first chapter we know one thing for sure about Viv Delaney: by 3am on November 30, 1982, she will vanish.

In 2017, Carly Kirk makes her way to Fell, seeking purpose in her life after the death of her mother. She is drawn to Fell because of an unsolved family mystery, the disappearance of her aunt Viv in 1982. No one in the family would talk about what happened to her aunt, and Carly doesn’t want to live with that mystery hanging over her any longer, so she travels to Fell to find out what really happened. Carly settles into town and starts investigating, ultimately following in her aunt’s footsteps and taking the night desk clerk job at the Sun Down Motel. Along the way she meets a cast of characters who are both helpful and unnerving, including the Sun Down’s long-term residents. She begins putting all of the pieces together and finds herself following the same trails that her aunt did. Carly discovers the truth. Viv Delaney wasn’t the first woman to go missing in Fell. In fact, the town has a history of women meeting violent ends…but Viv was the last.

Told in alternating narratives between Viv and Carly, the reader gets deeply inside the heads of both women. The setting of Fell, New York is eerie, with everyone in town seeming to acknowledge that bad things happen to women in their town. The ambivalence of the townspeople and the local police force in light of these facts only adds to the novel’s tension. Viv’s old-school armchair detective work contrasts sharply with the information that is available to Carly with modern technology. Even as both women are leading the reader to the same conclusion, the story holds so many twists that the reader is going to be flying through the pages, unable to put the book down for fear that they’ll miss something. St. James has a knack for adding supernatural elements that don’t bog down the story. When the final conclusion comes to bear, the real monsters are all too human.

The story is excellent entertainment, but it doesn’t shy away from addressing the very real nature of gender disparity in the 70s. It also succinctly covers issues like mental health and the need to disengage from the facts when they get too dark. The thing that makes this story so good for me, is the fact that Fell, New York, could have been almost any town in the 70s and the story still could have played out this way. Those were dark times, but in all honesty, the story translates well into 2017’s narrative as well. The high point of this story comes when the reader learns how little has actually changed in all those years.

It’s a fast-paced read that mystery readers will love unraveling. Figuring out the whodunnit is only half the battle in this story, where the why and the how is so much more compelling than the who. I would recommend this read to anyone who likes their mysteries a little spooky and isn’t afraid of a little gore. Most of the violence is left off of the page, with the reader left to imagine based on descriptions of the injuries, but it could definitely be a trigger for those who are sensitive to violence against women. Fair warning.

Disclaimer: No disclaimer needed. I got this one through the Book of the Month service that I subscribe to. It’s pretty neat and if you’re an avid reader, I recommend trying it out. You get your choice of books each month across a variety of genres. Some of them are pre-release titles. If you don’t like that month’s offerings, you can pause and choose a book the next month. The prices are reasonable and the titles are top-tier.

My rating:

lemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_icon4 glasses of lemonade= a book you could recommend to a book group or anybody who reads.  You might find controversial subject matter, but it is handled delicately.

 

Most of the violence takes place off of the page. I think this would be a great book group selection because it is going to spur discussion of why society has so much trouble taking the endemic problem of violence against women seriously. It’s also pretty thought provoking when it comes to the nature of justice. There is a very minimal amount of foul language in the book, primarily spoken by villains, which I feel makes it more palatable to readers. Overall, I will be recommending this book to several of my patrons and most of my co-workers.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall-Smith

What up Kittens? I am in a fabulous mood after a weekend full of truly excellent reading. Finally, I have found for you the elusive 5 glasses of lemonade rating for a satisfying mystery that is NOT a cozy! Yes, you read that right. It is not a cozy…at least not in the traditional sense. The Department of Sensistive Crimes by Alexander McCall-Smith has been billed by his publishers (and presumably himself) as “Scandi Lite” or “Scandi blanc”. Supposedly it is a new subgenre in crime fiction and we’ll have to see if it takes off. I, for one, think people are really going to like this, but I’m not sure how it will play with hard-core mystery fans. For the time being, I like to think of Gretchen Wieners and “fetch” from Mean Girls whenever I think about McCall-Smith coining this new term. I also have to say that this book helped expand my vocabulary in a non-intimidating way. Here is a selection of the terms that I had to check the definition of from this book: concomitants, philately, auto-didact, abstruse, locus, solipsistic, perfidy, sinecure, and profligacy. For such a short book, it was quite the vocabulary lesson, but that only adds to the charm of this book for me.

Title: The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Author: Alexander McCall-SmithThe Department of Sensitive Crimes (Detective Varg, #1)

Author website: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/

Publisher: Pantheon (division of Penguin Randomhouse)

Publish date: April 16th, 2019

ISBN: 9781524748210

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

 

Alexander McCall-Smith is probably best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels, so starting a new series is likely no easy feat. In The Department of Sensitive Crimes we meet Ulf Varg, a detective who works as part of a small team to investigate the crimes that are deemed “sensitive” and therefore are diverted from the regular field police to this special unit. Varg drives a charming car and lives alone, his wife having left him some years before. He is an unassuming but thoughtful detective who might have a little bit of a crush on a coworker but would never act upon it. Throughout the course of the novel he will investigate a stabbing, multiple missing persons cases, and a concerning incident with a possible werewolf. Through it all, he maintains his calm and pleasant demeanor, even when working with those whose nonstop chatter might ruffle his feathers a little bit.

The Sensitive Crimes unit is charming and easy to like. In the unit we are introduced to the full range of characters we have come to expect in these situations, including the weekend angler whose just trying to collect a paycheck until he retires and the overeager workaholic who somehow manages to maintain a perfect home life. The reader may be expecting a dark turn any moment if they’re accustomed to Nordic Noir but **spoiler alert**, it never comes. This book is a comforting read and will appeal as much to fans of travel as it does to fans of cozy mysteries. Think of this title as what would result if Jan Karon wrote a mystery novel.

I have only a few minor criticisms of the novel itself, nothing that should dissuade readers in the least. First, Varg references the story of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. A little light digging on the Internet reveals this to be a largely American story that isn’t well known in Scandinavia, so it diminishes the setting a little bit for me. The second concern that I had was that the novel treats the presumed disappearance of a young lady somewhat lightly. It fits in with the theme of the entire novel, but it is a jarring turn of events from the traditional mystery novel which would treat that type of thing with urgency. The whole book gives the impression of a forced slow-down if the reader is a crime buff, and it does take some adjustment. Lastly, the book references the fact that the detective’s name translates to Wolf Wolf over and over again, but if there is any other connection to that, I missed it. Possibly it is a build up to a future novel, but it gets really repetitive after a while.

Nonetheless, I would have no trouble recommending this title to patrons. I can’t think of anything that would be a cause for significant complaint. I intend to start pulling this one out for people who are looking for a good easy read.

Disclaimer: No disclaimer needed on this one. I checked it out from my local library.

My rating:

lemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_icon5 glasses of lemonade= you could recommend this book to anyone.  There is nothing in here that is going to upset anyone and you could start handing it out on street corners.  (This kind of book is a Librarian’s dream.  As much as we love good literature, suggesting a book for someone can be nerve-wracking work that can backfire BIG TIME.)

There’s no cursing, no gore. This book is nothing but charm and good humor set in a place that many people would love to visit. It will make you want to pop down to a cafe and have a warm beverage. Comfort reading at its best, but still with plenty of twists to keep you entertained.

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia

Hello Kittens! I’ve got a great backlist title for you today. It’s going to appeal to fans of non-traditional thrillers and all the “city folk” who get freaked out just thinking about going into the woods. “Leave no trace” is a well-known concept when it comes to responsibly interacting with the great outdoors. The main idea is that whatever you bring with you must also leave with you so that you leave no trace that you were ever there. Letting nature remain undisturbed by your unnatural presence. This was an impulse grab at the library for me. I read an excerpt of the first few chapters quite a while ago on BookishFirst, but I wasn’t a winner in that drawing so I kind of moved on and forgot about this title. Too many books, too little time. I’m glad I found the time for this one and I hope you will clear a little time and space in your TBR for it.

Some of you may be thinking to yourself, “Hey Dani! You haven’t posted anything in a really long time. Aren’t you going to explain why?” To which I reply, “Nope. We’re just going to gloss over it and all move on with our lives. Enjoy the review darlin’.”

Title: Leave No Trace

Author: Mindy Mejia

Author website: https://mindymejia.com/

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Publish date: September 4, 2018

ISBN: 9781501177361

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Lucas Blackthorn and his father Josiah disappeared in the wilds of Minnesota over a decade ago. They vanished without a trace from a camping trip and were never heard from again…until now. Lucas is discovered in a town not far from where he and his father originally disappeared. Josiah is nowhere to be found and Lucas won’t speak to anyone, not even to explain what happened to him and where his father is. The justice system delivers the uncommunicative Lucas to a local mental health facility where the Senior Psychiatrist for the facility makes a bold decision to pair a relatively inexperienced speech therapist with this challenging patient. Maya Stark has a history of her own and isn’t overly sure about this whole plan, especially not when her first encounter with Lucas results in Maya unconscious on the floor and Lucas attempting the first of many escapes.

This story kept me mesmerized for all 319 pages. The reader knows very little about either Lucas or Maya in the beginning of the story, but there are hints at darker pasts for both of them. Lucas comes across unhinged and extremely dangerous. He attempts to escape multiple times and always seems to be trying to return to the woods. The reader is left asking again and again, if he wanted to be in the woods so badly, why did he come out? He’s completely disconnected with modern society and doesn’t understand most of what is happening to him in the mental health system.

Maya, on the other hand, knows the system inside and out. She was a patient before she went to school for speech therapy, and her history with the facility is a persistent teaser throughout the first half of the book. As Maya struggles to acclimate to her new role and to this challenging patient, she also has to confront the decisions that led her to this point and the past that is still influencing her daily interactions. Maya’s character is well-developed and intriguing.

The book will have the reader fascinated by the inner workings of the mental health system and the courageous, hopeful, and sometimes disappointing staff who work within it. While the social commentary isn’t laid on too thick, the point is made well that the pipeline between the judicial system, the mental health system, and a successful re-entry into society is riddled with holes and switchbacks. Mejia paints a rich cast of characters, both patients and staff, and challenges the reader to not accept the first version of a story as the only version of the story.

It takes a lot to surprise me with a mystery, but this one got me. There are great twists throughout, and the final one is gut wrenching. You won’t be sure who to root for, if anyone, but the ending was extremely satisfying. There’s nothing like a story that wraps itself in a perfect little bow at the end. Sometimes a person just gets tired of cliffhangers.

Disclaimer: None needed. This was a library find and I fully encourage you to go pick up a copy from your local library too.

My rating:

lemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_icon4 glasses of lemonade= a book you could recommend to a book group or anybody who reads.  You might find controversial subject matter, but it is handled delicately.

I don’t recall any curse words in this one. There are a couple of homicides, drug use, and an attempted rape, so it won’t be everyone’s glass of lemonade. Still, it’s a good addition to the genre and the underlying themes of the mental health system should keep a book group going for a while.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Hello Kittens! This week’s creepy tale should cool you off if you’re mired in the heat like we are down South. This one gave me the major heebie-jeebies. I was reading it on a dark and stormy night and ended up yelping out loud when thunder clapped just as I read, “There was someone in the field.” It was way creepier than it sounds, okay? I was actually in the middle of Our House by Louise Candlish when this library hold came in for me. It was perfect timing because I needed an emotional break from the characters in Our House. I ended up devouring this book in 3 days. This was my first title from Simone St. James, but I am officially a fan now, so I’ll be looking for more from this Canadian author in the future.

Title: The Broken GirlsThe Broken Girls

Author: Simone St. James

Author website: http://www.simonestjames.com/

Publisher: Berkley

Publish date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 9780451476203

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

From the first few pages, The Broken Girls draws the reader into a creepy world where something dark is stalking girls in the woods of Barrons, Vermont. This story follows the trend of the last few years of dividing its storyline between two time periods in the same place. We meet Katie, Roberta, CeCe, and Sonia in Barrons in 1950. All four girls are students at Idlewild Hall, a boarding school that takes girls who are unwanted by their families or other boarding schools. These are tough girls whose pasts are already haunted, but they are in for more of the same at Idlewild, because something sinister lives there too. “Do not let her in again!

Then we fast forward to 2014 and meet Fiona Sheridan, a freelance journalist who has her own tragic history at Idlewild. The school was already closed down when the body of Fiona’s sister, Deb, was found there, but it is no less haunting for her 20 years later. When Fiona learns that the property has been purchased and that the new owner intends to renovate the school and re-open it, she knows she has to act. So much of what happened to her sister is unresolved for Fiona, that she has to keep digging to figure out what happened, and she just so happens to stumble upon the rest of the story of Idlewild in the process.

All of these women have survived terrible things, but as the story vacillates between 1950 and 2014 all of their stories will come to a point, revealing many long-held secrets.

The pacing of this story was excellent, and the plot twists were superb. I truly had no idea how St. James was going to tie all of the threads together, but she did a wonderful job. It’s difficult to pinpoint the real villain in the story, and there is an incredibly creepy ghost influencing the story throughout. The suspense in this novel was taut and the historical details added a new level of intensity midway through that kept the story moving when it might otherwise have stalled. It reminded me of…nothing. It was truly a unique read for me, and that was a very pleasant surprise.

Disclaimer: None needed. I got this title from my library.

My rating:

lemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_icon4 glasses of lemonade= a book you could recommend to a book group or anybody who reads.  You might find controversial subject matter, but it is handled delicately.

There are a few things that might trouble a reader in this story, namely, ghosts, rape, children born out of wedlock, grisly murders. Nothing graphic and not overly descriptive of the worst parts.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Hello Kittens! Sometimes I Lie is one of those books where I thought I knew what I was getting into before I even opened the cover, but the reading experience ended up being completely different from expectations. This title was everywhere for a while and it has been out for some time now, so I am extremely grateful that no one ruined the plot twists for me. This is a twisty plot with an unreliable narrator who will have you guessing what is real many times before the end. For fans of modern psychological suspense, this is a definite must-read and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this story transformed for the screen sometime in the next few years.

Title: Sometimes I LieSometimes I Lie

Author: Alice Feeney

Author website: https://www.alicefeeney.com/

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publish date: March 23, 2017

ISBN: 9781250144843

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Amber Reynolds is 35-years-old, is married to Paul, and is in a coma. Thus this book starts off with the first twist from the very first chapter. The reader will follow Amber backwards in time, unraveling the lost memories of what led to her coma along with flashes from her childhood which help the reader get to know who Amber really is. Amber is in a coma, aware of everything that is going on around her but unable to move and unable to remember how she got in this situation. Her husband, Paul, and her sister, Claire, are frequent visitors in her hospital room, and Amber believes she has reason to fear them both…if only she could remember why. Lastly, a mysterious visitor who she can’t identify is sneaking in and out of her room whispering sinister things in her ear…if he is real and not one of her dreams that is.

As you read, you won’t know who to trust. Did Paul hurt Amber? Did he cheat on her? Why is Amber afraid of her sister? Why does her childhood factor into this? Is Amber guilty of cheating? What is real in Amber’s life and what has she imagined and why? Who is the mystery man in her room? Did Amber bring this on herself? I loved how much tension the dream sequences in this book built up. Just when you think Amber is remembering something significant, you discover that she is dreaming, but her dreams are all significant, with specific takeaways. The ending weaves all of these differing pieces together and answers so many questions. It was highly satisfying in that respect.

Sometimes I Lie is the debut title from writer and journalist Alice Feeny. Considering how much buzz I have been hearing about this book for the past several months, I was surprised by how slowly it started off. There are a lot of important foundation points that are built in the first several chapters, but there are so many competing narratives, and with an unreliable narrator who can’t trust herself to parse out what is real and what is not, it can be a little tedious for the reader. That being said, even now, several hours after having finished the book, I am still doubting that I understand everything that happened in the end. I have seen some people compare this book to Gone Girl, and I can see that in the sense that it almost reads as though it were two different books. Half the book is spent positing potential theories of what is going on, and the other half is spent allowing the mind to unwind the truth that is stranger than fiction. An extremely engaging ending, and a very promising start from this writer.

Disclaimer: Not necessary. I waited so long to read this one that I was able to get it from my library.

My rating:

lemonade_iconlemonade_icon2 glasses of lemonade= a book that you could probably recommend to family and close friends.  They may not like everything that’s in it, but they’re not going to start sending you cards with holy scripture written in them as messages to get you back on the path of righteousness after reading them either.

There are definitely some disturbing scenes in Sometimes I Lie, including stalking, rape and murder. I know murder isn’t generally mentioned when it comes to thrillers, being somewhat expected, but the murders in this book were a little ghastly. While the writing is strong, the content could make some uncomfortable. Keep the recommendations on this one to those whose reading preferences you know well.