Serena’s Review: “Night Spinner”

45046766Book: “Night Spinner” by Addie Thorley

Publication Info: Page Street Kids, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.

Review: Another beautiful cover! It seems like I’m a broken record recently in my praise of the cover art of my books, but it’s also just true that many of them have been extraordinary! It’s nice to see original cover art that properly reflects the book itself rather than trying to brazenly mimic other successful titles in an attempt to trick readers into picking books up. I mean, I get it, publishing is a business and all of that. But a beautiful cover will do the job just as well, as many readers, myself included, will pick up titles like this because the cover is lovely and unique. The book was also marketed at a retelling of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” And because I can’t even really picture what that looks like, this was an immediate request for me!

Enebish’s life is now one of seclusion and repression, a far fall from a few years ago when she had been on the cusp of becoming a great warrior and great leader for her people. But when a horrific accident occurs, killing many and crippling Enebish, her life takes a drastic turn, leaving her hated and feared by those who used to respect her. But, after years of hiding from her own powers and ignoring the temptations of the night, she is finally given a path forward to redeem herself. As she chases down a notorious criminal, however, she learns that there are many secrets in the night, not least of all her own.

While this book wasn’t the home run I’d been hoping for, there was still a lot I ended up liking about it. For one thing (and in my book, most importantly), Enebish was an excellent character. While some of her secrets and the reveals she discovers throughout the book were easy to guess, her own process of exploring these new insights was always sympathetic and relatable. As the story progresses, we see more and more clearly that her physical injuries are not nearly as crippling as her fear. Fear of her past, fear of the judgement of others, and, of course, fear of herself.

I was also a fan of the writing style and world-building. It was the kind of book that I was able to immediately sink into. Writing is always one of the hardest aspects of a book to review because what makes one author’s style work and another’s struggle can be both very subjective to the reader as well as almost impossible to pinpoint with specifics. I can usually tell within the first few chapters of a book whether the writing is going to click for me, and right off the bat, this one did. The world-building was also interesting, and I was able to easily picture the various locations that Enebish travels to.

The romance is definitely on the slow-burn side and there were hints of a love triangle at points. Luckily, the story didn’t commit fully to said triangle and the romance itself was very sweet, what little we had of it.

My struggles had to do with the length/pacing of the story, as well as the comparison to ” The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” To the latter point, I found this expectation more distracting than anything. I can see the base elements for why this was referenced in the blurb, but frankly, in the first half of the book I spent way too much time comparing characters and events to that story and not enough appreciating the book before me. I think, as a whole, the comparison is too weak to add anything to the story and is likely to prove more distracting to readers. I recommend trying to put that thought out of your head immediately to better enjoy the book. The middle of the story also lagged a bit, and, overall, I think the book was a bit longer than what was necessary. As the writing and characters were strong, these were minor concerns, but still worth noting.

Overall, I thought this was a really interesting read. I’m not biting at the bit to get to the second one, but it laid down a decent foundation for the plot going forward, and I’m fairly invested in Enebish herself. If you’re looking for an original fantasy novel this spring, this might be one worth checking out!

Rating 7: A bit longer than was necessary, but a compelling lead character and interesting magic system pulled this one into the “win” column.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Night Spinner” is a new book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it is on “Profiles in Silhouette.”

Find “Night Spinner” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Black Canary: Ignite”

44433717Book: “Black Canary: Ignite” by Meg Cabot and Cara McGee (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Zoom, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Thirteen-year-old Dinah Lance knows exactly what she wants, who she is, and where she’s going. First, she’ll win the battle of the bands with her two best friends, then she’ll join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy so she can solve crimes just like her dad. Who knows, her rock star group of friends may even save the world, but first they’ll need to agree on a band name.

When a mysterious figure keeps getting in the way of Dinah’s goals and threatens her friends and family, she’ll learn more about herself, her mother’s secret past, and navigating the various power chords of life.

Review: While it’s hard to rate my favorite DC ladies in a specific order (as there are so many who are wonderful in their own unique ways!), I can say that Dinah “Black Canary” Lance is very high up on the list, like assuredly Top 5. Dinah has been given a lot of attention in the New 52 and DC Rebirth, and her back story has almost always been bleak and dark and indicative of how hardass she can be at times. When I stumbled upon “Black Canary: Ignite” by Meg Cabot, I was a little surprised that the woman who wrote “The Princess Diaries” took on a Black Canary origin story. But then, given that this is a graphic novel written for tweens, I did expect it to be far less dark than some of the stories Dinah has had in the past. Since I’m always looking for more Black Canary content, I checked it out. And what a good decision that was, because Meg Cabot gave Dinah a delightful and plucky storyline that I greatly enjoyed!

We meet Dinah as a rambunctious and snarky thirteen year old. She is in a band with her friends Kat and Vee, she wants to join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy, and tends to butt heads with her parents, as most thirteen year olds do. What struck me the most from the get go is that her life is functional, and she’s surrounded by people who love her and support her. Given that the most recent Black Canary storyline I read involved some serious Mom angst for Dina, thank you Meg Cabot for letting her live a happy early teenagehood! Dinah is funny and awkward, and she is flawed with her temper but cares for her friends. She is also perplexed by the fact that when she yells, things around her tend to break. Cabot was awesome in how she approached this, as Dinah, again, like most teenagers, just wants to be normal, and this crazy scream is hindering that. The situations when this arises are rather innocuous, but still hold pretty high stakes for a kid in middle school. As Dinah has to contend with his, she also has to contend with a strict principal who seems to be out to get her, and with her Dad, Detective Lance, who doesn’t want her to join the Junior Police Academy but won’t really tell her why. Dinah’s relationships are definitely the strongest aspects of this story, as I loved seeing how she interacts with her best friends Kat and Vee (even when things aren’t going great between all of them), and how she both loves but is frustrated by her parents, unaware of the secrets that they have that may shed light on her abilities. By the time she does have to reckon with her parents identities and what that means for her, Cabot had created a great coming of age story to go along with the origin theme.

Cabot’s dialogue is witty and snappy, which is what I’ve come to expect from her. She gives Dinah and those in her circle authentic voices, and had me laughing out loud multiple times as I read. The mystery, however, as to who is following Dinah and what they want with her, isn’t as compelling, if only because it’s pretty straight forward and then ends with a semi-interesting twist that wasn’t terribly surprising. While I was fine with the mystery taking backseat to what was going on with Dinah’s personal discovery of her Canary Cry, I’m not certain that it was supposed to be taking back seat. But it’s also important to keep in mind that this is written for an audience that is quite a bit younger than I am, so the way that I received and parsed out the mystery isn’t necessarily how it would be received by tweens. Therefore, I can’t really speak to its effectiveness.

And finally, the artwork by Cara McGee is so on point and charming. I loved the facial expressions, I loved that she would put hearts around Dinah’s parents when they were feeling loving towards each other or Dinah, and I loved the action moments. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the story at hand.

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“Black Canary: Ignite” is a charming as hell origin story for one of my favorite DC ladies. If you’re like me and love Dinah Lance, definitely find this story and read it.

Rating 8: A fun and clever origin story for Dinah “Black Canary” Lance with the Meg Cabot wit, “Black Canary: Ignite” does justice to one of my favorite super ladies!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Canary: Ignite” is included on the Goodreads lists “Strong Female Protagonist”, and “DC Comics by Women”.

Find “Black Canary: Ignite” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: February 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Joint Pick

mv5bmjazymq4ntutmgvjos00owrhltlmyjktzdlkztk2ogq2yje5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodkzntgxmdg40._v1_TV Show: “Picard”

We are both “Star Trek” people, and like many it’s safe to say that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is our favorite series of the franchise. One of the many reasons is because of Captain Jean Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart’s iconic leader of the Enterprise. So when it was announced that Picard was getting his own show (called “Picard”, appropriately), we were both pumped. It takes place a couple decades after the end of “TNG”, and shows a retired Picard trying to live his life after Star Fleet, and his controversial exit from the organization. But when he encounters a mysterious stranger, he finds himself drawn back into the messy politics of Star Fleet, a potential conspiracy, and a dangerous rescue mission. Not only does Stewart come back, we also get to see Data, Riker and Troi, and Seven of Nine. It’s a dark show, but we are both greatly enjoying it.

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmja3odmxmzm5nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdm1nju0ote40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_TV Show: “Bones”

Emily and I used to watch this show quite a bit while we were in college. We even rented a bunch of seasons from Blockbuster…so, yeah, we’re old. But at some point or another, amidst all of the vast amounts of shows available, I fell off the wagon for this show. The other side of the coin of all these different shows is the exhausting effort of trying to weed through it all to find a next thing. And finding myself at that point, it felt like the time was right to go back to this show and finish off the last 3 or so seasons I had missed. It’s a fairly standard procedural forensic show that gained much of its popularity on the chemistry between its main characters, Dr. Temperance Brennan and FBI Agent Seely Booth. By the point I fell off, the two characters were married and had a child together. But I was happy to see the show continue well past this point as it proves that it’s not only OK to have you main couple romantically pair up (avoiding the 10 year saga of will they/won’t they ala “Friends” which is also exhausting), but that your show can continue to succeed and be interesting after this point.

mv5bmtk1nzkymtuyn15bml5banbnxkftztgwntm0nzm2ode40._v1_Mini Series: “The Night Manager”

My husband and I watched this mini series over a couple of nights. He had already watched it, but I, for some reason, had never gotten around to it. I haven’t read any John le Carre, a very esteemed spy thriller author who’s book the show is based on. But again, my husband has and had really loved most of them. For me, the stellar cast was the main point of interest. Obviously Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie are excellent, but I also always love Olivia Colman in whatever she does. Between all of that talent, and a tense story of a hotel manager who, through various circumstances, ends up going under cover into the inner workings of a weapons dealer, I was on the edge of my seat throughout most of this show. If you like spy thrillers or have read le Carre’s work, this is definitely a mini series worth checking out.

Kate’s Picks

pokemon-sword-and-shield-legendary-625x352-1Video Game: “Pokemon Sword and Shield”

As someone who has loved Pokemon since she was a tween, I was very excited to try out the new Switch Pokemon games, “Sword” and “Shield”. My husband and I got each other the games for Christmas/Hanukkah, and I was able to dive back in this past month after taking a break post holiday down time. Both “Sword” and “Shield” take place in a whole new region of the Pokemon world, this time seemingly based on the U.K. Not only are there brand new Pokemon (some of which do, admittedly, verge on the ridiculous), there are a lot more side things you can do outside of catching and training Pokemon. Not only can you trade and design Trainer cards, you can change your character’s outfits and hairstyles, and you can also cook recipes for your Pokemon! I’ve enjoyed getting to know my Pokes a little better in this game.

mv5bzwewztcynjctmjazzc00zgu0lwixywqtmdawmmu1nzq1zjq3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodk4otc3mty40._v1_uy1200_cr9106301200_al_Prime Show: “Hunters”

Hunting down and killing Nazis who have infiltrated American society? Sign me the fuck up. This new show is part historical fiction, part spy show, part action movie. The premise is simple: in the 1970s a number of Nazis have come to America and are hoping to establish the Fourth Reich. It’s up to a rag tag group of hunters to track them down and kill them before their plan can succeed. The story is thrilling, clever, and chilling, and the cast is superb. Al Pacino plays a holocaust survivor in charge of the hunters, Carol Kane is an older member of the group, and both Lena Olin and Dylan Baker are a couple of the Nazis in hiding, and boy oh boy are they terrifying. Throw in Jordan Peele as a producer and you know you’re going to have a subversive and well thought out story with a lot of emotional prowess. Also, given the recent rise in vocal white supremacy, it’s a cathartic, if not sometimes difficult, watch. But content warnings abound: the anti-semitic and racial violence is VERY hard to watch.

Serena’s Review: “The Queen of Raiders”

45046587Book: “The Queen of Raiders” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The soliders of Oromondo have invaded the Free States, leaving a wake of misery and death. Thalen, a young scholar, survives and gathers a small cadre of guerilla fighters for a one-way mission into the heart of an enemy land.

Unconsciously guided by the elemental Spirits of Ennea Mon, Cerulia is drawn to the Land of the Fire Mountains to join Thelan’s Raiders, where she will learn the price of war.

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” 

Review: It’s really fun being able to review an entire series like this, one book a month for four months to the series’ conclusion. It makes the whole process so much less painfully unsure. I can read this book, confident that any questions I still have or tension points that are left hanging will be followed up on in only 30 short days! (Well, less, because the publisher was kind enough to send ARCs.) But! Even the public has a very short wait between books, and for a fantasy series that started off as well as this one did, that’s something, indeed!

Cerulia, or Wren as we now know her, is still a queen without a home. Her quest back to her throne is by no means clear, but she is determined to find her way. In many ways, she is still learning the ins and outs of her Talent and is still coming to know her own strengths and weakness as a leader. In this book, her story converges with that of Thalen and his raiders who continue to work towards their own political goals.

This is definitely a complicated political fantasy novel. I’m in the midst of reading another book like this right now. It, too, is the second book in a series. But unlike this one, the first book came out a year ago. It took me quite a while to re-orient myself to the various players, the known (and unknown) alliances, the character motivations, etc. All this on top of the secrets and reveals that were still coming out in the book. It was a lot. This is one of the biggest strengths of releasing a series like this one after another. It’s a decision that may work better or worse for various types of books, but I think Tor picked the best option right of the gate choosing this series to release this way. All of these intricate moving pieces are a lot to keep in mind, but having the books come out one right after another allowed me to jump right into this book with very little adjustment needed.

We get most of the same POV characters that we had before, but between keeping up with Cerulia and Thalen, we also see behind enemy lines into the maneuverings of Lord Matwyck who is currently serving as Lord Regent. Through his son’s eyes, we see the corruption at the heart of Matwyck regime and the priority he places on his own power above that of the country he is meant to care for. I still continue to enjoy Thalen and Cerulia/Wren/Kestrel’s journey. It was fun trying to anticipate how their choices and actions would affect other aspects of the story, and it was great watching some storylines begin to converge (always a point of excitement for books with large ensemble casts like this).

I liked the detailed look into the effects of warfare on an entire region, not only the country first immediately targeted by an army itself. The book explores how war is a long-term disaster, one that doesn’t wrap up neatly or quickly, but instead spreads out with ripple effects touching far and wide. We also look into what rebellion looks like, both on the macro and micro level, from the organized actions of a group of raiders to the personal choices of those with varying levels of influence and power.

My one criticism of the book is one that I had in the first book, as well, and it has carried over here, too. For me, there is something a bit stilted about the writing style of the story. I think part of this is simply word choice and sentence construction. She has a very frank, and to the point, way of writing. But while this leaves a lot of room for detail, it also makes it hard to become emotionally invested in what is going on. The other part comes down to editing: a good editor could potentially identify parts of the story that could be trimmed down, giving the pacing a boost that I think it could use at times.

Overall, I continue to enjoy this series and am excited to get started on the third book in the series! I’ll have a giveaway for that title and my review coming out in March! In the mean time, don’t forget to enter the current giveaway to win a paperback copy of “The Queen of Raiders!”

Rating 7: The short wait time definitely plays in this series’ favor as the author only presses down harder on the complicated-political-fantasy gas pedal in this second novel.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Queen of Raiders” is a new book, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “The Queen of Raiders” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Cirque Berserk”

04 Cirque Beserk CoverBook: “Cirque Berserk” by Jessica Guess

Publishing Info: Unnerving, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the author.

Book Description: The summer of 1989 brought terror to the town of Shadows Creek, Florida in the form of a massacre at the local carnival, Cirque Berserk. One fateful night, a group of teens killed a dozen people then disappeared into thin air. No one knows why they did it, where they went, or even how many of them there were, but legend has it they still roam the abandoned carnival, looking for blood to spill.

Thirty years later, best friends, Sam and Rochelle, are in the midst of a boring senior trip when they learn about the infamous Cirque Berserk. Seeking one last adventure, they and their friends journey to the nearby Shadows Creek to see if the urban legends about Cirque Berserk are true. But waiting for them beyond the carnival gates is a night of brutality, bloodshed, and betrayal.

Will they make they make it out alive, or will the carnival’s past demons extinguish their futures?

Review: Thanks to Jessica Guess for sending me an eARC of this novella!

If there are two things you should know about me and my pop culture affinities, I love slasher movies, and I love the 1980s (in terms of the art and music scene, NOT the political one). And if you give me slasher movies from the 1980s, I’m golden. When Jessica Guess contacted me asking if I would be willing to read her new novella “Cirque Berserk”, the description alone sucked me in. A haunted/evil carnival? Urban legends? A mention of the 1980s? And then, the cover had ROLLER SKATES?! I was IN!! If anything I figured it would be campy and entertaining, but “Cirque Berserk” was more than that. It achieved something I’ve seen a few horror novels fail: it felt like I was reading a slasher movie.

Guess creates a fun urban legend, some visceral gore and violence moments, and wicked characters that are easy to root for even when they are committing horrendous acts of violence. You assume that you’re going to be reading a novella that hits the usual slasher tropes and check boxes: the supernatural or unstoppable/ faceless killer, the final girl, the innocent but expendable teenagers, and on and on. But Guess takes those tropes and manages to subvert them in various ways that kept catching me by surprise. I thought I knew where certain characters or scenes were going, and then the rug would be yanked out from under me and I’d be genuinely surprised. I really don’t want to spoil anything about the plot’s big reveals, and I found them to be fun and effective, but I WILL say that Guess created not only a good mythology for Cirque Berserk and the horrifying things that go on there, she also gives the baddies some real motivation, motivation that the reader can, in some ways, relate to. She also gives the killers identities and backgrounds that aren’t generally seen as much in slasher stories, at least in the sense of how they are fully explored and given some actually tangible and relatable reasons for why they do what they do, at least at first. The focus is less on the expendable teenagers who’ve wandered into the fairgrounds, and more on the baddies, and how they got to where they are when we meet them.

And honestly? This novella is, pardon the bad pub, a scream to read. It opens with a classic slasher movie situation, and goes balls to the wall in terms of visceral horror violence as well as showing the stakes that we are dealing with. We get flashbacks to the fateful and dreadful night when Cirque Berserk went bad, we get some really gnarly kills right out of the Tom Savini playbook, and we get some pretty creepy moments and concepts AND a cameo from my favorite Biblical demon Lilith. On top of all that, it becomes quite clear, quite quickly that this candy coated fever dream of a slasher story is going to be accompanied by a bitchin’ 80s sound track, including tracks by Whitney Huston, Bonnie Tyler, and A-ha.

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Honestly, if you like old school slasher movies that are dropping in day glo 80s nostalgia, “Cirque Berserk” is a novella that you should absolutely check out. It’s fun, it’s a quick read, and it has some great curveballs.

Rating 8: A hell of a fun ride that reads like a slasher movie on the page, “Cirque Berserk” was an entertaining read that I greatly enjoyed.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cirque Berserk” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but for a similar read I would steer you towards “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”.

“Cirque Berserk” isn’t in WorldCat yet, but you can find it HERE at Unnerving Magazine.

 

Giveaway: “The Queen of Raiders”

45046587Book: “The Queen of Raiders” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The soldiers of Oromondo have invaded the Free States, leaving a wake of misery and death. Thalen, a young scholar, survives and gathers a small cadre of guerrilla fighters for a one-way mission into the heart of an enemy land.

Unconsciously guided by the elemental Spirits of Ennea Mon, Cerulia is drawn to the Land of the Fire Mountains to join Thelan’s Raiders, where she will learn the price of war.

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding”

Giveaway Details: In partnership with the publisher, I’m happy to be able to offer an ongoing giveaway for each book in this series as they come out! As I mentioned in my review of “A Queen in Hiding,” I was drawn to check out these books not only because of  the intriguing book description but because of the publisher’s initiative “binge-style” approach to publishing: releasing all four books over the course of four months. What a novel approach! Think of it, being an epic fantasy fan and not only not having to secretly wonder whether your favorite series will ever be finished at all, but knowing that you’ll be able to get your hands on the next book in only one short month! Short enough that many readers might even struggle to keep up with publishing rate! An unheard thing for most of us fantasy fans who are used to grueling waits.

So, if you’ve already gotten through the first book in the series, don’t miss your opportunity to win a finished copy of the second! And don’t forget to check back in March and April for giveaways of the third and fourth books, too! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on February 26.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “The Sun Down Motel”

45885644Book: “The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James

Publishing Info: Berkley, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Book Description: The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

Review: Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I have memories of spending childhood road trips, be it out to Lake Superior or just visiting family down in Iowa, staying in motels. Eventually my mother had it and we were upgraded to hotels, but there was always something kinda fun about the rooms leading out to the parking lot, at least in my mind. It’s been a long while since having that kind of experience, but I thought about it a lot as I read “The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James. I greatly enjoyed her book “The Broken Girls”, and when this ended up in my inbox I was happy to see that she had a new book. And not just any old new book, but a new book involving a missing woman, a true crime obsessed amateur sleuth, AND a haunted motel!

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It’s like this book was written with me in mind!! (source)

Our two stories/mysteries take place in two different timelines and POVs. The first is that of Viv, who left home in 1982 in hopes of going to New York City, but finds herself in Fell, a strange small town in upstate New York that has a lot of weird and violent baggage. Stranded and broke, she decides to take a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel, a run down motel that’s seedy at best. She disappears without a trace. Then in 2017, her niece Carly, wanting to figure out what happened to her aunt, arrives in Fell, and takes the same job Viv had. Viv’s perspective is in the third person, and Carly’s is in the first, and both POV styles worked well for their parts of the story, and worked together to weave a complex and rich set of mysteries. The first mystery is what happened to Viv, and the second is the question of why the Sun Down Motel is so damn haunted, and I was fully invested in both. St. James was masterful at building upon both mysteries from each others foundations, and I was kept guessing for pretty much all of the book.

And then there are the haunting and ghost elements of this story. These too were incredibly well done and right up my alley. From strange noises, to the feeling of a presence near you even if you can’t see anyone, to lights going out one by one and doors opening on their own, St. James has taken a number of the best tropes from the haunted house genre and applied them effortlessly to a run down motel. The history of The Sun Down has the tragedy and scandal that is comparable to The Overlook in “The Shining”, and like King St. James has created a whole character for a place made of brick, mortar, and ectoplasm. The various ghosts range from the tragic to the intimidating, and all of them had sufficiently creepy moments. Both Viv and Carly have their run ins, and the first one we see was genuinely heart pounding and knocked my socks off. St. James makes it clear that she has not come to play, nor has she come to be ambiguous. There are ghosts at the Sun Down, and one of them is especially PISSED OFF.

But the thing that struck the most resonant chord with me as a reader was the undercurrent of the toxicities of misogyny within our culture, both in the 1980s and in modern times. Girls go missing or are murdered in Fell, and while it causes sensation and gossip, the women are completely forgotten soon thereafter, or objectified in the moment. A mother goes missing and ends up murdered, and the town mourns and turns her into a martyr. A girl with a bad reputation is murdered, and there are underpinnings of victim blaming. A warning is sent out about a strange man who is seemingly fixated and following a girl, and no one cares enough to investigate further. And a ghost who was the victim of misogynistic rage has a wrath and fury that was never afforded to her in life, and has turned her into an unsolved and salacious mystery in death. St. James both makes true crime aficionados plucky and useful in their quest for the truth, but also points out that their interest and arguably ‘hobby’ is based in actual people’s pain, and can cause damage in and of itself. I really, really liked how these themes were sprinkled throughout the story.

I highly recommend “The Sun Down Motel” for fans of thrillers and horror alike! And if you can, read it in a roadside motel, and don’t pay too much attention to the strange sounds you may hear outside. It’s probably nothing.

Rating 9: Eerie and suspenseful, and simmering with justifiable anger, “The Sun Down Motel” is a wonderful mystery with fantastic characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sun Down Motel” is included on the Goodreads lists “2020 Gothic”, and “Haunted House Books”.

Find “The Sun Down Motel” at your library using WorldCat!