Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

74F245B5-0819-4571-947E-528E80119335Something hasn’t been right at the roadside Sun Down Motel for a very long time, and Carly Kirk is about to find out why in this chilling new novel from the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.

Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her Aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.

The Sun Down Motel is yet another chilling ghost story from Simone St. James, who seems to surpass the level of shivers with each book. St. James’ style is an appealing blend of mystery and horror that straddles that gap between young adult and adult fiction. She consistently delivers some of the creepiest ghosts out there, and the vengeful ghost at The Sun Down is no exception.

The narrative bounces between present day with Carly and 1982 with Viv. Carly’s arrival in the small upstate NY town uncovers old secrets and stirs up some vengeful ghosts at the Sun Down Motel. This book will keep you hooked from the first chapter to the last.

Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Another “Best Books of the Decade” Post

books6Reflection is always a good thing. It helps you understand where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you’re going.

Looking back at a decade of reading, one thing was clear to me – if left to my own devices, I read very narrowly in just a few genres (children’s fiction, cookbooks, history, and mystery/suspense). When I assembled the list below of my “Best Books of the Decade,” I realized that many of these titles were sent my way by other people; they were *not* titles that I picked up on my own. This shows the power of being part of a reading community where you expose yourself to books you might otherwise never find.

There are many types of reading communities – book clubs where you gather with a group to discuss a particular book; online communities like Litsy, Goodreads, and LibraryThing; Book of the Month where you subscribe and receive a new set of books each month; and my favorite – your local library, where you can usually find someone who will happily discuss and recommend books.

Here are the books that resonated with me over the last 10 years. Perhaps you’ll find something interesting!

Just Kids by Patti Smith
Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth

My Antonia by Willa Cather
Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe (and here’s a music video inspired by the book by the Tuatha Dea)

Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Something Red by Douglas Nicholas
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Jackaby by William Ritter

Call the Nurse by Mary MacLeod
Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Little French Bistro by Nina George
Swiss Vendetta by Tracee deHahn

Goblins of Bell Water by Molly Ringle
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivy
Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

The Darkling Bride by Laura Anderson
The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie
Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Circe by Madeline Miller
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Florida by Lauren Groff
Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Cursed by Thomas Wheeler
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Inland by Tea Obrecht

My intent for the next few years is to read more widely – more non-fiction and more world authors.


A Decade of Reading

go awayThe end of a decade is a natural time to reflect on many things. Over the next few weeks, I am certain the internet will be flooded with “Best Of” posts on topics ranging from music to film to TV to books. I’ll be sharing a few posts here about some of the things I read and some of the authors and characters I discovered in the decade past.

At this time 10 years ago, I was preparing for an ambitious reading project. 2010 was the 100th anniversary of the founding of my employer, the Rochester (NY) Public Library. I spent the year reading 100 books representing each year the library had existed. I drew titles from best-seller lists from 1910-2010 and sourced the books from local library collections and online repositories. Some were wonderful:

Some had lost their luster to time and fell flat:

Others were just plain fun to read:

What I found most surprising were the number of books that had been best-sellers in their time but which were wholly unknown to me and to many of the librarians who helped me find copies. That certainly made me wonder how well some of our current best-sellers will age. Will Danielle Steel, James Patterson, and Malcolm Gladwell be footnotes in literary history?

If you’re interested in seeing the best-seller lists I used, take a peek here. I gave up on writing reviews of each book – I just didn’t have the time – but you can see my posts on the project by browsing the category 100 Books. 100 Years in the column to the right.

My reading goal for 2020 is to read more widely – more non-fiction, more books by non-white authors, more books by authors from countries other than the U.S.

What are your reading goals for the new decade?

Reader Profile – Rachel Y. DeGuzman

thumbnail_rachel headshotRachel Y. DeGuzman is the award-winning president and CEO of 21st Century Arts and
founder/executive director of WOC ART COLLABORATIVE. The focus of DeGuzman’s work is decentering whiteness in arts/culture by centering the art, narratives and voices of people of color – especially women and marginalized LGBTQ+ communities. Her professional focus evolved from a traditional career in the arts to work that is more rooted in both art and community – that values experimentation, innovation, creativity in all its forms, social justice, and equity. In fulfillment of that vision, she established “At the Crossroads: Activating the Intersection of Art and Justice” in October 2017 – which began with the collaborative ARTS POWER SYMPOSIUM and continues with a series of intersectional Long Tables and Installations. DeGuzman is the founder, producer, and host of UP CLOSE AND CULTURAL, a weekly radio show on WAYO 104.3 FM in Rochester. She is a fund and organizational development advisor to The Avenue Blackbox Theatre and a member of the Rochester Museum Science Center’s 2020 “Inspiring Women” content committee. A 2019/20 VSW Community Curator, DeGuzman is an in-demand speaker, panelist, and collaborator.

Write a one-sentence description of yourself as a Reader.

Reading is on a short list of things I can’t do without, an essential, but somehow, it is also one of my favorite indulgences.

What are you reading right now?

I am rereading “Fordlandia” by Greg Grandin. I am also reading “A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories,” by Bettye Collier-Thomas, and “The Nutcracker of Nuremberg,” by Alexandre Dumas, in preparation for a Christmas Eve special on my radio show.

Do you ever read the end of a book first? Why or why not?

Never. It would defeat the purpose of reading the book. I enjoy taking the journey even when I don’t like the writing style and/ or content.

What is at the top of your To Be Read pile?

Set the World on Fire” by Keisha Blain. I am interested in it as research for a book I am writing, and artmaking project focused on my great-grandmother Belle Hawkins Eubanks who was a Garveyite.

Has any book defined your life, as in you would be a different person if you hadn’t read it?

When I was 11 years old I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou and decided that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Maya (I did!) because I would want her to be a strong, creative and able to overcome tremendous adversity and still thrive. Or, since I’m referencing Angelou, I would want her to still rise.

Describe your favorite place to read.

In my family room, in front of a fire, or in the summer – with a warm breeze coming through the screen door at the back of my house.

Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

Almost always the book and though I love Amy Tan’s writing, I did in that case enjoy the movie “The Joy Luck Club” even more than her fabulous novel.

What is your preferred format? Hardcover, paperback, digital, audio, doesn’t matter?

All of the above. I appreciate the experience of reading a printed book and I prefer hardcover, but I also love the luxury having my library with me on my iPad or phone wherever I am. If I purchase a book, I generally buy both the printed and electronic versions. A couple of years ago, I was commuting to New York City weekly. Driving. And I found that if I really wanted to take a deeper dive in a book I already read, then I would listen to it in the car as I drove.

Share a favorite quote from a book you’ve read. Why is it meaningful to you?

I reread Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider” for a book group at the Library earlier this year. I was struck by the following quote because it is germane to so many conversations I am having.

“Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs upon the reasons they are dying.”

What book would you love to see made into a movie? Who would play the lead role?

Showman: The Life and Music of Perry George Lowery,” by Clifford Edward Watkins. Mahershala Ali.

What book are you recommending that everyone read right now?

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and The Making of American Capitalism” by Edward E. Baptist. It should be essential reading.

Why do you read?

I am very, very curious and interested in a lot of different things.

Woman in the Veil by Laura Joh Rowland

cover166960-mediumFrom the Publisher: Sarah Bain and her friends Lord Hugh Staunton and Mick O’Reilly are crime scene photographers for the Daily World newspaper. After solving a sensational murder, they’re under pressure to deliver another big story. On a foggy summer night, they’re called to the bank of the river Thames. The murder victim is an unidentified woman whose face has been slashed. But as Sarah takes photographs, she discovers that the woman is still alive.

The case of “Sleeping Beauty” becomes a public sensation, and three parties quickly come forward to identify her: a rich, sinister artist who claims she’s his wife; a mother and her two daughters who co-own a nursing home and claim she’s their stepdaughter/sister; and a precocious little girl who claims Sleeping Beauty is her mother. Which party is Sleeping Beauty’s rightful kin? Is someone among them her would-be killer?

Then Sleeping Beauty awakens—with a severe case of amnesia. She’s forgotten her name and everything else about herself. But she recognizes one of the people who’ve claimed her. Sarah is delighted to reunite a family and send Sleeping Beauty home—until one of the claimants is murdered. Suddenly, Sarah, her motley crew of friends, and her fiancé Detective Sergeant Barrett are on the wrong side of the law. Now they must identify the killer before they find themselves headed for the gallows.

Fourth in a series, The Woman in the Veil continues the current trend of mysteries set in the Victorian era and featuring remarkably liberated female detectives and the men who assist them.

The story is well-plotted and begins with the horrifying event described above. When Sarah discovers the woman is alive, she sets in motion a complicated, sometimes terrifying set of events that will leave you with a pounding heart at the end. The characters are well-developed if familiar, ranging from the precocious, beautiful child to the nonredeemable cad everyone loves to hate.

Rowland is a capable writer who has delivered a highly readable, engaging, and tightly plotted mystery that will appeal to fans of Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander. Recommended.

Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Published By: Crooked Lane Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Thief Knot by Kate Milford

cover168401-mediumGhosts, a kidnapping, a crew of young detectives, and family secrets mix in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the bestselling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award-winning author.

Marzana and her best friend are bored. Even though they live in a notorious city where normal rules do not apply, nothing interesting ever happens to them. Nothing, that is, until Marzana’s parents are recruited to help solve an odd crime/kidnapping, and she realizes that this could be the excitement she’s been waiting for. She assembles a group of kid detectives with special skills—including the ghost of a ship captain’s daughter—and together, they explore hidden passageways, navigate architecture that changes overnight, and try to unravel the puzzle of who the kidnappers are—and where they’re hiding. But will they beat the deadline for a ransom that’s impossible to pay?

Legendary smugglers, suspicious teachers, and some scary bad guys are just a few of the adults the crew must circumvent while discovering hidden truths about their families and themselves in this smart, richly imagined tale.

Kate Milford’s Nagspeake books just keep getting better. The world-building that began in Greenglass House continues with this latest entry featuring characters introduced in The Ghosts of Greenglass House last year. Marzana and her parents are back, as are Lucky and Emmett, in this case living a peaceful (if boring) life in The Liberty of Gammerbund. Marzana chafes at the ordinariness of her life, not understanding why her parents keep her from fully understanding their old lives as smugglers.

As the story picks up steam, Marzana finds herself making friends and taking charge, two things that have been difficult for her. Milford often includes a character who struggles with some sort of issue. For Milo in the Greenglass books, it’s anger. For Marzana, it’s shyness and anxiety that takes the form of a bear gnawing away at her insides. Milford wraps bibliotherapy into a cracking good story, which will keep kids reading at the same time it makes them feel better about themselves. Well done.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Treachery by S.J. Parris


From the Publisher: August, 1585. A relentless enemy. A treacherous conspiracy. Elizabethan England is on the brink of war.

Sir Francis Drake is preparing to launch a daring expedition against the Spanish when a murder aboard his ship changes everything. Giordano Bruno agrees to hunt the killer down, only to find that more than one deadly plot is brewing in Plymouth’s murky underworld. And as he tracks a murderer through its dangerous streets, he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the future of England itself.

Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this story featuring Sir Francis Drake – explorer, pirate, sea captain, and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Here, Drake engages Giordano Bruno and Sir Philip Sidney to investigate the possible murder of a shipmate, but also to decipher a mysterious text that may be the only account of the Gospel of Judas.

Bruno delivers an adept performance as detective, ferreting out clues and following suspicious men, including his old nemesis, the Man With No Ears. Nothing earth-shattering here – just a good mystery to pass the time on a cold, rainy afternoon.

About the Author:  S. J. Parris is the pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt. Since graduating from Cambridge, she has worked as a critic for a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as for radio and television. She currently writes for The Guardian in London and is the author of five novels in the Giordano Bruno mystery series. Visit S.J. Parris at

Publication Date: December 3, 2019
Published By: Pegasus Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Music Macabre by Sarah Rayne

cover171122-mediumResearching a biography of the composer Franz Liszt, Phineas Fox uncovers evidence of a brutal murder – and finds his own life in danger.

Music researcher Phin Fox has been enjoying his latest commission, gathering background material for a biography of Franz Liszt. But although he has – as anticipated – uncovered plenty of scandal in the 19th century composer’s past, matters take a decidedly unexpected turn when his investigations lead to Linklighters, a newly-opened Soho restaurant built on the site of an old Victorian music hall, and unearth evidence of a possible murder involving the notorious music hall performer known as Scaramel.

Just what was Liszt’s connection to Scaramel … and, through her, to the infamous Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper? As he delves further, Phin’s enquiries uncover clues to a fascinating and extraordinary story – and plunge his own life into jeopardy.

I have never been disappointed in a Sarah Rayne book, but this time she has outdone herself!

Books about Jack the Ripper abound and I’ve read most of them, so I was not expecting the shaken-to-the-bone experience Rayne delivers here. She continues with the same convention of a mystery unraveling in the present tied to the actual events in the past.  We watch Phin try to solve the mystery of Scaramel and a strange, macabre song associated with the nightclub where she performed. At the same time, we follow the story of Scaramel and her lady’s maid Daisy as they live the history that Phin is researching.

Rayne has an uncanny ability to instill real fear in her readers. It’s been a very long time since I felt my heart racing as I read a passage as terrifying as Daisy’s encounter with Jack in the ghost river. Rayne is just as skilled at fleshing out her characters, and gives us a larger-than-life Scaramel, a saucy but respectful Daisy, tweedy academics, caring sisters, and colorful ordinary people. I also enjoyed the continued development of Phin, Arabella, and Tobey.

I would adore this series adapted for television. Netflix or Acorn TV, are you reading Sarah Rayne? If not, you should!

Publication Date: December 3, 2019
Published By: Severn House Publishers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Author Spotlight – Robin L. Flanigan

RobinRobin L. Flanigan grew up among the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, and launched a writing career in the early ‘90s while living in a Baltimore graveyard.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in language and literature from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she studied for a semester at Oxford University’s Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Robin worked in newsrooms for eleven years, winning several national awards. Her essays have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies.

Her children’s book, M is for Mindful, uses inspiring verses to help children cultivate self-awareness, compassion, respect for diversity, and other practices—for an intentional, balanced, considerate life.

How did you get started as a writer?

I wrote my first story when I was seven, and have been writing ever since. As a newspaper reporter, I came up the old-school way—-writing for free to get bylines, then using those bylines to sell stories to various publications. That led to jobs at newspapers in Maryland, North Carolina and eventually, Rochester, New York. I have been freelancing now for 14 years, working mostly for newspapers and magazines around the country. When it comes to writing, I feel like I’m never off the clock. If I’m not on deadline, for example, I’m usually drafting a personal essay or jotting notes about future book ideas.

Who has influenced your writing career?

One of my friends from the Little Italy section of Baltimore is Rosalia Maria Scalia, and she raised three children on a freelancer’s salary. A former Baltimore Sun reporter named Rafael Alvarez, who taught me about persistence and the importance of place, introduced me to her. Good mentors are critical. For me, these two offered detailed instructions on how to turn my passion into a career. I’ve always wanted to make them proud. Other writers I admire and use as inspiration include Julia Cameron, Jo Ann Beard, and Sonja Livingston.

What prompted you to write M is for Mindful?

The idea for the book started because I wanted to be a better mother. When my daughter was three, I’d wake up early, do a yoga session by streetlight in the living room, and read a book passage or online article about mindfulness. I wanted her to grow up understanding what mindfulness is, instead of having to learn about it as an adult like I was doing, so I started creating poems to help her. This went on for years. At bath time, in the grocery store, we would play with countless versions of verses. I would discard a concept because it didn’t feel right to me; she would reject a rhyme because it didn’t sound right to her. The manuscript spent years in my desk drawer. My daughter just had a birthday—she’s 14. Now that M is for Mindful exists in the world, as the parent of a teenager I’m finding myself relying on many of the verses in the book—especially “A is for ATTITUDE.”

accept what comes
your way with grace
lessons come
from every place

There’s irony here somewhere…

What is your favorite story from your writing past?

Unfortunately, it is a tragic story, one in which a friendship ends in tragedy. I wrote a series of stories for the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper more than a decade ago about a boy who accidentally killed one of his best friends with a bow and arrow. It’s odd to use the word “favorite” here, but the reason I chose this story is because this boy, his family, and his friends let me spend months with them learning about what it’s like to go through something so horrific. Their honesty and bravery live with me and, from my perspective, spotlight how difficult it can be to be human—and how we all can help each other heal.

Praise for M is for Mindful:

“This is the kind of book I want on my shelf, and when I have grandchildren I will read it to them daily—for them and me too.” —Andie MacDowell, Golden Globe-winning actress

M is for Mindful will teach children values and attitudes that will give them a positive direction to live their lives.” —Temple Grandin, PhD, award-winning author of Thinking in Pictures, autism spokesperson, National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee

Robin Flanigan’s book, M is for Mindful, is available from online retailers.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Katie Racculia


From the publisher:
A handsome stranger. A dead billionaire. A citywide treasure hunt. Tuesday Mooney’s life is about to change…forevermore. Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.

Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can’t be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.

If you like madcap mysteries featuring a cooler-than-cool heroine and her dapper sidekick, this book might be for you. Tuesday Mooney is the kind of character I so want to see transferred to the screen. She’s hip without trying to be hip, and super smart, plus she can see ghosts – all of which makes her a dangerous person to cross.

The story here is so intriguing – weird rich guy dies and leaves his fortune in a treasure hunt. Imagine all the trivia night commanders who would totally respond to this kind of challenge in your town, then amplify that into the urban environs of present day Boston and you’re in for a wild ride.

While the story is clever and well-told, it is Tuesday and her friends who make this story special. Fun, fun, fun!

Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy