Tag Archives: simone st. james

Lost Among the Living

Lost Among the Living

Title:  Lost Among the Living
Author:  Simone St. James
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-451-47619-7

Book Summary:
Although the war is over and her husband did not come home, Jo Manders does not feel closure.  Her husband was shot down in Germany but as no body was ever found, he is listed as missing in action and she cannot truly view herself as a widow.  With no benefits and limited job prospects in 1921 England, Jo is forced to sell her belongings and become a lady’s companion to Dottie Forsyth, Alex’s husband’s wealthy but patronizing aunt.  Jo travels with Dottie through Europe as she meticulously and ruthlessly purchases art.  Although dealing with Dottie is a challenge, Jo finds her days busy and numbing.  When Dottie announces that they will be traveling to the family estate of Wych Elm House in Sussex, Jo is filled with apprehension and sadness as she returns to English soil.

Life at Wych Elm House provides Jo with a very different view of her husband’s family.  She meets Dottie’s husband Robert; whose existence Jo was unaware.  He is both flirty and distant, harsh and unemotional.  Also newly arrived at the house is Dottie’s son Martin, who was injured in the war and still deals with both emotional and physical pain.  There is yet another inhabitant of the house, although Jo is the only one who can see Francis, Dottie’s dead daughter.

Alternating between sanity and madness, Francis had always been a difficult child.  She claimed to be frightened of the creatures who came through the door.  The people of the surrounding estates and towns were afraid of Francis and now claim that her ghost haunts the woods.  She committed suicide by jumping off the roof and a darkness has since spread throughout the house.  Jo finds her belongings moved and leaves appearing inside the house; when she sees Francis, she becomes afraid that the madness has crept into her own psyche.

Soon Jo realizes that Francis is asking for her help and Jo must delve into the family’s secrets.  What she discovers about her own husband shocks her and she questions whether she truly knew him.  Time is running out however as Francis’ ghost becomes more active and Jo fears for her sanity and her life.  She just isn’t sure who she should be afraid of – the dead or the living.

Book Commentary:
This is the fifth book by Simone St. James and they just keep getting better!  Set in the same time period as her previous novels, St. James explores the generation following World War 1.  Those who come home are dealing with physical pain and mental horror, but I find the characters who were left behind equally compelling.  There is a sense of desperation about Jo and the loss of her husband.  Her own background is fraught with sorrow and loss, and I just wanted the poor woman to get a break!  Her strength of character is admirable and there is a sense of compulsion and desperation in her fight for any sense of peace.

St. James also incorporates some fascinating details about how the Sussex coast could have played a part in the war.  This plot detail really brings the story together and gives depth beyond a paranormal romance story.  Even if a reader isn’t into “ghosts,” you can really appreciate the gothic atmosphere and rich details of the plot.

Who might like this book:
I don’t think fans of St. James will be disappointed with the story.  The protagonist is a widow, which is a departure from her previous stories, but the character is very appealing and heartfelt.  Fans of a good suspense story should definitely check out this author.  As I have previously mentioned, I shied away from her books because I am not a fan of horror stories and the back cover plot descriptions turned me off.  This couldn’t be more from the truth; the fast-paced, atmospheric story really kept me engaged and fascinated.

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Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday

Book Hooks

Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday
Book Hooks . . . also known as, the things that attract me to a book before I read the synopsis teaser.  There are so many books on the market, and even though you can narrow down your choices by interest and reading the backs of the books, the sheer number is still rather daunting.  As I have mentioned previously, I love to wander bookstores to see what might strike my fancy, and I started to think about what attracts me to pick up one book to peruse the back synopsis and not pick up another.  To use the old cliche, I guess I do check out books by their covers.  So, here are four things that I look at BEFORE I read what the book is about.  A shout-out to my youngest for coming up with the title BOOK HOOKS; thank you, peanut!

Author
I almost always look first at the author of a book . . . of course it helps that most stores arrange their books alphabetically by author!!  Although, I noticed recently, that a local Barnes and Noble separated cozy mysteries from other mysteries.  Hmmm.  “Cozy” mysteries is somewhat of an ambiguous term and I don’t like that they are telling me what is cozy and what isn’t.  Rather annoys me; kind of like when they pushed the mysteries to the back of the store.  Kind of gets my goat . . . but I digress.

I have a list . . . of course I have a list . . . of about 50 favorite authors that I follow and read regularly. Sometimes I add new ones and sometimes I have to break up with them, but if I see a book by one of “my” authors, I am going to pick it up.  Now, I don’t always read every series by each of the authors, but I am more likely to try something new from an author I like.  I do this with movies too; I follow certain actors, regardless of the film itself.  Richard Armitage is in a movie . . . yup, I’m gonna see it.

Cover Art
I suppose this is the cliche at its finest, but if a book has a castle and a character in period clothing, I am going to pick it up!  I know that was how I found both of my two most favorite authors – Anna Lee Huber and C. S. Harris.  Huber’s first cover indicates a period mystery set in Scottish Highlands (uh, yeah!) and Harris’ cover shows a darker, more gothic environment.

I will admit that the cartoon-y, cutesy covers tend to turn me off though and some books covers just don’t give the right feel for the book.

Title
I appreciate a good play on words and enjoy a creative title.  Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile series attracted me with the title Homicide in Hardcover, and I enjoyed the contradiction of Anne Cleeland’s Murder in Thrall.  A newer series by Loretta Ross (check out my review next week!) has Death in every title, but it is the name of main character.  Most of Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries are Irish phrases and song titles – In Like Flynn and Oh Danny Boy.

Because I tend to be a bit detailed oriented . . . you kind of figured that out, right . . . I really enjoy titles that have a pattern.  C. A. Belmond’s series all starts with “A Rather . . .,” as in A Rather Lovely Inheritance and A Rather Curious Engagement.  Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series titles all have clothing references in the title: A Toxic Trousseau and Hexes and Hemlines.  When I see a series of titles on the shelf that seem to follow a pattern, I will pick them up.  Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery series and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series appeal to my sense of organization.

Endorsements
Finally, I look at endorsements.  I figure that if an author that I enjoy likes the book, there is a reasonable chance that I might also enjoy it.  I will get especially excited when more than one of my favorite authors comments on the book!  Both Anna Lee Huber and Deanna Raybourn commented on the Simone St. James books and that was clincher for me to try her out.  I have often wondered though how an author is asked to comment on another author’s book; is there an insiders secret code?  Hmmm.  Might have to research that.  Finally, once I have found a possibility based on one of these four draws, I will then read the synopsis.

Of course the real challenge starts next; how do I choose which to purchase from the stack that I have assembled?!  Ah, the life of a reader!  How about you?  What attracts . . . or detracts . . . you from picking up a book?

Four BOOKS I CAN’T WAIT FOR IN 2016 on Friday

Books for 2016

Four BOOKS I CAN’T WAIT FOR IN 2016 on Friday
New Year’s Resolutions are a staple of January but a much more enjoyable aspect of this month is the look at all the new books to be released in the year.  If you haven’t guessed yet, I am a bit detailed oriented.  I have a running list of my favorite authors and when they have scheduled new releases.  I search through Amazon and look up my favorite authors to watch for their latest books.  I keep a monthly schedule so I can either order the book or reserve it at the library.  As always, there are thousands and thousands of new books released each year, but these are four of the ones from some of my favorite authors that I am most excited about.

MARCH – C.S. Harris, When Falcons Fall
C.S. Harris is one of my foremost favorite authors and I absolutely love her Sebastian St. Cyr series.  I have written about this series previously in my Four FAVORITE MYSTERY WRITERS on Friday, and I feel that the series just keeps getting better and better.  Harris does an amazing job at telling a really great mystery that melds together all the beautiful and horrific elements of Regency London while creating engaging and captivating characters.  Every story is unique and allows the reader to truly become immersed in both the plot and setting.  Her characters are multi-dimensional and the reader feels that there is still so much depth to discover.

This is the eleventh book in the series and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the characters grow and evolve.  Sebastian and Hero seem to have found a common ground and have accepted each other and parts of their pasts, but if anything holds true for this series, there is always more to come.  I really appreciate how the author is able to both keep the story and characters fresh and exciting while still making the reader feel the comfort of old friends.  This new book also takes the characters from London which may allow them some more freedom away from society’s restrictions while providing the opportunity for new encounters and situations.

APRIL – Simone St. James, Lost Among the Living
I had to smile when I put this author and book on my list.  Six months ago, I had never read anything by Simone St. James.  Although I had picked up her first book The Haunting of Maddy Clare numerous times, each time I read the back I thought that it just wasn’t for me.  I picked up her newest release The Other Side of Midnight, devoured the book in a day, purchased everything else she had written, and kicked myself for “judging a book by its back cover!”

St. James’ book are individual stories but all take place post World War I and involve a bit of paranormal and a bit of romance.  They are very gothic and atmospheric, but don’t have the creepy horror factor that my over-active imagination avoids.  I am excited about Lost Among the Living because the premise involves a woman who lost her husband during the war and her time with his family divulges secrets that indicate that perhaps she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought.  It is a bit of a divergence from previous stories and I am looking forward to see what she does with it.

MAY – Anna Lee Huber, A Pressing Engagement (ebook)
JUNE – Anna Lee Huber, As Death Draws Near
Squeak!!  What is more exciting than one new book by a favorite author?  Two!!!  One of my very top favorite authors Anna Lee Huber has both an ebook and a full novel to be released this year.  Although I often have mixed feelings about ebooks, I will never squander any opportunity for more works to be written by a favorite author!  The ebooks allow an author to tell a small part of the character’s story that really can add dimension to the series.  A Pressing Engagement hints to look at the wedding between Kiera and Gage, and as always with these two, nothing is simple.  Readers who have followed the series from the start are truly looking forward to this gift.

The series will then continue in June with the fifth novel.  I like a little romance in my mysteries.  Sometime mystery books can become so bogged down in procedurals that they lose their empathy and humanity.  By blending the real human emotions with the pressing need to find justice and security, I think gives a story a greater sense of urgency and builds the anticipation.  Sometimes when the status of the characters’ relationship changes, the series can’t maintain tension and interest.  I have no fear of this with Huber’s newest book.  She has already hinted a bit at the evolving relationship between Kiera and Gage, and I am excited to see how their new status clashes with the societal expectations of a married couple and their own individual juggling of between part of a pair while still maintaining their independence.

AUGUST – Deborah Crombie, The Garden of Lamentations
It has been almost two years since the last Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James book.  To Dwell in Darkness was released in hardcover in September of 2014, and I am so excited to see that the next book in the series will be out this year.  The Garden of Lamentations is the seventeenth book in the series and I truly admire how the author has maintained the freshness and excitement with each new story.  The characters have evolved from working together, to being in a relationship, to being married with a family.  I love how Duncan and Gemma work on separate cases but often find that through the crimes committed or their own police partners or politics du jour, there is a commonality between the stories.

Another aspect I love about Crombie is that as an American, she seems to have such a grasp of the English culture and lifestyle.  I found that as an American reader, I notice how she highlights aspects of the English that are interesting to me as someone who doesn’t live in the UK.  I am curious if the UK readers find her stories as believable and fascinating as I do.

These are only four of the many books I am looking forward to in 2016.  What about you?  What new release of 2016 is top on your most anticipated list?

Silence for the Dead

Silence for the Dead

Title:  Silence for the Dead
Author:  Simone St. James
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN:  978-0-451-41948-4

Book Summary:
After her mother runs away and her brother is assumed dead in the Great War, Kitty Weeks finds that living with her abusive and violent father unbearable.  She sneaks out in the middle of the day and finds work at a local factory.  Always looking over her shoulder, she slowly builds a life for herself.  When she overhears her roommate talking about a job for a nurse at Portis House, a remote and distant place desperate for nurses to aid in the care of a handful of soldiers, Kitty quickly applies.  She has no nursing experience, but is able to fake an application using her roommate’s job experience and a forge a letter of recommendation from her roommate’s boss.  The Matron at Portis House quickly sees through Kitty’s lie but allows her to stay on temporarily because of their extreme need of help.

Portis House is located on a small island, connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge that often is ice-covered because of the wind and water and fog.  Previously owned by the Gersbach family, the house had been refurbished into a hospital when the family mysteriously up and disappeared.  The hospital was able to get a very good price for the property and the location and isolation provided a solitary and quiet environment for soldiers returning from the war with mental and emotional distress.  The work is hard and the hospital is hopelessly understaffed, but there is a faint undercurrent of something sinister hiding in the shadows.  There are only about 20 patients, including the mysterious Patient Sixteen, but many suffer from emotional pain and are haunted by nightmares.  When Kitty works her first night shift, she hears haunting words seeping through the walls and she senses a ghostly presense.

When the doctors come to visit and evaluate the patients, it becomes evident that there is little effort being made for the patients to get well enough to return home.  With the help of war hero Jack Yates, whose presence at the hospital is a big mystery, Kitty searches for the secret evil that is haunting the house and the inability of the patients to get well.  When a fierce storm cuts off access to the island and patients begin to show signs of an influenza epidemic, the race to find the source of the haunting takes on a new intensity.  Kitty and Jack must not only fight for their sanity but also their lives.

Book Commentary:
This is the fourth book I have ready by Simone St. James and I really enjoy her style.  There is a bit of mystery, a bit of history, a bit of romance, and a bit of the supernatural.  I love the gothic, atmospheric feel of her books; they are exciting and engaging without being scary or horrific.  I have way too active an imagination for horror stories; St. James’ stories create a mood that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages without needing to hide under the covers!

Kitty and Jack are a little different than some of the protagonists in her other books; I really felt that their pain and suffering created a very believable plot and the reader becomes vested in their success. Her setting for this story was truly something from times past.  St. James spent more time in this novel describing the setting and creating the imagery so that the reader could visualize where everything was.  This was essential to the plot development but I didn’t feel that the added exposition slowed the story pacing down in any way.

Who might like this book:
I think fans of true gothic romances like Wuthering Heights or Rebecca will enjoy Silence for the Dead.  When favorite authors of mine like C.S. Harris, Deanna Raybourn, and Anna Lee Huber make comments on a book, I usually trust that it will be a good read!

St. James has three other books out – The Haunting of Maddy Clare, An Inquiry into Love and Death, and The Other Side of Midnight.  Her fifth book Lost Among the Living will be released on April 5, 2016.

An Inquiry into Love and Death

Title: In Inquiry into Love and Death
Author: Simone St. James
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-451-23925-9

Book Summary:
In the 1920’s being a woman at Oxford is a challenge. Jillian Leigh works tirelessly to keep up with her studies and prove herself a worthy student; she has no time at all deal with a family issue. When a solicitor from London appears with news of her uncle Toby’s fatal fall from a cliff, she travels to the seaside village of Rothewell to officially identify the body and pack up his belongings. Jillian remembers her Uncle Toby fondly from childhood but after he became estranged from her parents, her interaction with him stopped. Some of the separation may have been due to Toby’s occupation – a ghost hunter. As her parents are in Europe, Jillian must take the responsible family role.

She arrives at the Barrow House, which her uncle had rented for his research, and immediately the incidents start up. A book appears in a stove, a gate swings open but no one is there; soon they escalate into something much more terrifying. An angry spirit seems to be intent on entering the house. Is it Walking John, a-two-hundred-year-old ghost who haunts Blood Moon Bay in search of his drowned son? Or, is it something significantly more real?

To complicate matters, Scotland Yard inspector Drew Merriken arrives on the scene. Jillian is both attracted to him and wary of him. That Scotland Yard is interested in an accidental death doesn’t sit well with the small community, and Rothewell’s eccentric populations seems to close ranks. As the accidents intensify, it become apparent to Jillian and Drew that there is more to the death of her uncle and the ghost stories than either can imagine.

Book Commentary:
This is the third book I have read by Simone St. James and I really enjoy each unique and independent story. All her novels contain a supernatural element and occur following World War I. The horrors of war affect the characters in different ways in each of the novels, and it is fascinating to see the different manifestations of ghosts in her works. The spirit in An Inquiry into Love and Death has a historical appeal and a link to smuggling on the coast of England. I found the tie to the past combined with the post-World War I really engaging. Regardless of what you think of ghosts, St. James provides some compelling justification. The story is suspenseful and exciting, but just short of scary. I have way too active an imagination for horror stories!!

Who might like this book:
An Inquiry into Love and Death would be a great book for a book club. Fans of the post-World War I era will find the descriptions of vehicles and societal attitudes especially fascinating; I enjoyed the description of the Alvis motorcar and the reactions to Jillian’s driving. Although all St. James’ stories include a romantic element, I really enjoy how that part of the plot line doesn’t detract from the main story. My 15-year-old daughter enjoys St. James’ books as well and I think her novels are a good bridge between young adult/teen literature and adult literature. We have enjoyed discussing her novels and they would work well for a mother-daughter book club selection.

The Other Side of Midnight

Title: The Other Side of Midnight
Author: Simone St. James
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-0-451-41949-1

Book Summary:
The year is 1925 and the place is London. As families deal with soldiers who do not make it home after the war, many seek out mediums to help them contact the dead. Gloria Sutter is almost as well-known for her ability to make contact with the dead as she is for her wild and excessive lifestyle. When she is murdered at a séance, her estranged brother finds a final message from Gloria advising him to seek out her former friend, Ellie Winter. Ellie too is a medium, but she uses her talents to find lost items, not make contact with the dead.

George Sutter uses his influence to convince Ellie to aid in the investigation, and she reluctantly is reconnected with James Hawley, a war veteran and researcher dedicated to proving in the invalidity of psychics. It becomes very apparent that no one is what they seem to be. What organization does George Sutter work for and how is he able to obtain classified police information? Why did Gloria work with Ramona, a fake drug-addicted charlatan of a psychic? How do Gloria’s three brothers who died in the war figure in to the choice that Gloria made to perform the unusual séance that was the site of her demise?

St. James weaves an intricate plot that creates a lot of suspense and tension. There is a feeling that answers must be found out quickly or more tragedy will strike.

Book Commentary:
Most of the descriptions of the book use the word “atmospheric” and that is a perfect word choice. The author does a great job at creating a sense of mystery and darkness as England recovers from World War I; women are gaining independence, hair lengths are getting shorter, and hemlines are going higher.

I really enjoyed the character development and how the author wove in history, without the book being a serious historical novel. There is a lot of discussion about psychics and their growth in popularity following the first World War; the mysticism adds to the ambiance of the story without distracting from the plot. Although I was able to figure out the “who dun it” fairly easily, it was much more interesting to learn the how and why.

I have seen books by Simone St. James before, especially The Haunting of Maddy Clare, and for some reason the plot line didn’t interest me. I am going to revisit some of the author’s other works and give them a try.

Who might like this book:
Not really a fluff read, as the mysticism and history are woven so deeply into the plot, but rather a very enjoyable book. If you have read The Haunting of Maddy Clare, you will really like this one. The author has gotten even better with her plot structure and description. Paranormal mysteries can sometimes be overdone and draw attention away from the plot and characters; I feel that this novel achieves a good balance.

The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Title: The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Author: Simone St. James
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 2012
ISBN: 978-0-451-23568-8

Book Summary:
Sarah Piper’s parents are dead and she is left alone in the world. Struggling to survive, she accepts a questionable temporary assignment with a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis is wealthy, handsome, extremely personable . . . and obsessed with ghosts. His books and reputation have brought on the interest of Mrs. Clare. Widowed and living with her housekeeper, Mrs. Macready, Mrs. Clare has asked for Alistair’s assistance with the ghost of Maddy. Maddy was a young girl who arrived filthy, abused, and mute at the Clare house many years before. Unable to find any family or anyone who knew who she was, Mrs. Clare, her husband, and housekeeper cared for the girl. She slowly began to talk and help around the house but was never comfortable around men and periodically fell into fits of fear. At age seventeen, she hung herself in the barn and won’t leave.

Because of her aversion to men, Sarah is requested to make contact with Maddy and convince her to pass on to the next life. Alistair feels that this experience will add to his book and his assistant, Matthew Ryder, helps with the scientific data collection. Matthew is everything Alistair is not – gruff, moody, and scarred. The three quickly realize that Maddy Clare is no ordinary ghost and her powers are capable to bringing great destruction. Sarah knows that the only way Maddy — and the rest of them — can have any peace and safety is to find out the true story of what happened.

Book Commentary:
Set in the backdrop of the conclusion of World War I, this story blends the horrors of the war with the supernatural and the evils of man. Although the story has some very thrilling and intense scenes, much of its power in storytelling relies on the supernatural. I admit that I have picked this book up numerous times and put it back on the shelf. I am not sure if the cover or the hint of a chilling story turned me off, but the book is not scary or “creepy,” as the book back summary suggested. I read The Other Side of Midnight, also by this author, and really enjoyed her storytelling, combined with the supernatural elements, relatable characters, and mysterious tone. Although the “what” that happened was very predictable, the “how” and “way” were very intriguing and kept my interest. As this was her first novel, I think that the author has only gotten better and I am looking forward to reading more of her stories.

Who might like this book:
Not a difficult or thinking type of read, but the details and descriptions are very engaging. The fascination more than the thrilling aspect is what kept me engaged in the story. Susanna Kearsley had a quoted review on the cover and readers who enjoy her works will most likely enjoy this as well.