What’s Ashley Reading?: The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

First line: The night it all ended, Vivian was alone.

Summary: In 1982 Viv Delaney is hitchhiking through New York when she is dropped off at the Sun Down Motel. That night she is offered the job of the night clerk for the motel. On her first nights she learns that not everything is as it seems at the Sun Down. The strong smell of cigarettes, doors opening and closing on their own and ghostly voices around every corner. Then one night in November Viv disappears without a trace.

Flash forward to 2017, Carly Kirk travels to the town of Fell, New York to find out what really happened to her aunt who disappeared from the Sun Down Motel in 1982.

My Thoughts: This was so much fun!! I read it in just 2 days. I loved the old motel, the people and the mystery. I always drive by old motels and wonder who actually stops there. This answered it for me. St. James’ descriptions of the place are just eerie. It is a place stuck in a time bubble. I can easily imagine the smell of the old smoke, the dirty carpets and the old bedspreads. Add to the creepy hotel a few ghosts and you have the recipe for a perfect story. The first time that Viv sees the woman it gave me chills.

FYI: If you love a good ghost story than this is for you!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

First line: Louis Creed, who had lost his father at three and who had never known a grandfather, never expected to find a father as he entered his middle age, but that is exactly what happened…although he called this man a friend, as a grown man must do when he finds the man who should have been his father relatively late in life.

Summary: Dr. Louis Creed takes a job as the resident physician at a college in Maine. He moves his family from their home in Chicago to a farm house in the country. Upon their first day there they are warned about the trucks that drive too fast down the road. As strange things start to happen that may be connected to the Pet Sematary located behind their house, Louis begins to wonder if he made a mistake bringing his family to Ludlow, Maine.

My Thoughts: I have been on a big Stephen King kick lately. It is all I want to read. Before October I had only read two of his novels. Both were good, Joyland and The Shining, but neither gave me the urge to read more. However, for the Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon at the library I picked Carrie for my horror novel. I am so glad I did. It was fantastic! I watched the movie after and really enjoyed it as well.

Pet Sematary was even more chilling. The way King describes everything makes them seem so real. I can see why the movies have not been able to do this novel justice. There is no way to convey the eeriness of the Church or the spooky trek through the woods to the burial ground. I did find the beginning slow as he was laying the groundwork for the second half. But as you come to the end you understand why he had to spend so much time on the backstory. I had nightmares while reading this but it did not stop me from buying a copy of Doctor Sleep and Misery the next time I was at a used bookstore. If you want something that will give you chills then King is definitely your guy!

FYI: I tried the new movie but I did not make it very far before I decided I did not want to mess with the version in my head.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Ninth House

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

First line: By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it.

Summary: Galaxy “Alex” stern is a freshman at Yale. She grew up in California but got in with a rough crowd as a teenager. She dropped out of school, took drugs and lived with her drug dealing boyfriend. Until one night everyone in her apartment is found dead except for her. She is approached during her hospital stay with the offer of a lifetime, a full ride scholarship to Yale.

However, when she arrives at the prestigious college she learns that her role here is not just academic. Alex is now a part of a society that is tasked with monitoring the activities of the universities secret societies. With her ability to see ghosts she is charged with helping keep the spirits and the rituals in order.

When a local girl is found murdered around the campus Alex believes that the societies may have something to do with it. As she continues to search for more clues to the mysterious death her she finds herself being attacked by the ghosts the walk the town of New Haven.

My Thoughts: I have been looking forward to reading this book ever since I heard about it. I really enjoyed her young adult series. Bardugo is a master at world building and wit. But as the release day got closer I saw several reviewers I follow giving it low ratings or not finishing the book at all. This started to scare me. Even though there were these negative reviews with lots of trigger warnings I decided to ignore them and judge it for myself. And I am so glad I did!

I started the book as an audio. I liked it and continued listening to it but alternating between it and the physical book. However, I wish that I had read the first few chapters where much of the world building information was. There are eight secret societies with different rituals. There are lots of characters and also time jumps between characters. This got a little confusing. Once I started to read more it smoothed out and got to be quite enjoyable. I found it hard to put down. Alex gives us a glimpse back into her life before Yale and what led her to this point. Darlington shows us what the first few months are like with Alex as the new Virgil.

I believe that my favorite part was when Alex interacted with the ghosts. Some are very listless but others can be very malevolent. I hope that Bardugo gives us more of this in the upcoming books. Even though the main mystery was who killed Tara there is an underlying and more interesting mystery. What happened to Darlington?! Is he alive? Where did he go? Is he coming back? We get left with quite a cliffhanger so I really hope that the next book is not several years in the future!

FYI: This is Bardugo’s adult debut. Her young adult series are The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, The Dregs Duology, and the Nikolai Duology.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

First line: It would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was normal before they came.

Summary: When Libby Jones turned twenty-five she receives and envelope telling her that she has inherited a house from the estate of her dead parents. She never knew who she was or where she came from but the answers are finally being revealed.

Twenty-four years before the police were summoned to a mansion along the Thames. Inside were the three dead bodies and a baby girl in a crib. It appears to be a suicide pact as part of a cult ritual. But neighbors reported seeing older children in the house but none are found on the night in question. What happened at 16 Cheyne Walk that fateful night?

My Thoughts: I love Lisa Jewell! Every book I have read by her has been a lot of fun. This one is no exception. I really considered giving it a 5 star rating. It flipped between three characters. Libby, the baby, who recently inherited the house. Henry, who is telling the story of what happened in the house. And Lucy, who is struggling to keep her family afloat while living abroad in France.

Henry was by far my favorite chapters because we got to see how life at 16 Cheyne Walk changed over time. His story is told chronologically from the beginning to the end. It fills in the gaps that Libby is trying to uncover. But his narrative is much darker and more sinister than the others.

I struggled to understand that point behind Lucy’s chapters. It seemed like they were filler or a separate story. She lives in France with her children and is trying to find a way to get back to England. It just did not seem to fit with everything else.

But the ending. It literally gave me goosebumps and sent a chill down my spine. What a way to close a book. Great job again Ms. Jewell!

FYI: Perfect for fans of Shari Lapena and Gillian Flynn.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wolf Wants In

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

First line: A bitter wind sheared through the darkness, biting into my exposed flesh and lashing my hair across my face.

Summary: Sadie Keller is determined to find out what happened to her brother on the night he died. She does not believe the story told to her by his wife, Crystle. But the police do not believe that there is enough evidence to allow them to look deeper into the events.

Henley is hoping to escape from her small Kansas town. Her family are involved in some dangerous activities and she wants to leave before she is sucked into them.

My Thoughts: I loved the author’s previous book Arrowood. It was thrilling. This was sold to be a thriller but it really fell flat. I was hoping for more but it took almost 60% of the book to get to the more interesting pieces. The beginning was about the town, its people and the life in small town Kansas. This made it easy to connect with at least, as a girl from a small town in Kansas.

I liked the characters but they needed something more. We got glimpses into Sadie’s past with her brother. I would have liked more of that. Henley seemed like a filler character. She did reveal some information that lead to big reveal but her story was blah.

FYI: Read Arrowood!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Perfect Wife

The Perfect Wife by J. P. Delaney

First line: You’re having that dream again, the one where you and Tim are in Jaipur for Diwali.

Summary: When Abbie wakes up in a hospital bed she has no memory of how she got there. There is a man who tells her she is his wife and that something terrible happened to her five years before. And through his determination and technological advancements he was able to bring her back. She is the prototype for a new technology called CoBots.

As Abbie acclimates to her new life she starts to wonder what happen to the real Abbie. Using Abbie’s memories, old text messages and the built in intuition she follows the clues to find out how and why Abbie disappeared.

My Thoughts: This was a lot of fun. It was modern day science fiction thriller. At the beginning there is a separate narrative by an unknown character who gives us a look into the past and the real Abbie. I was constantly trying to figure out who it was and I never would have guessed. I like the idea of being able to “bring back” someone who has died but it is also a little sad. I know that there is one person I would love to “see” again but this may make it harder too.

So many different scenarios were flying through my head while trying to figure out the ending. There were lots of twists and turns which make it a great psychological thriller.

FYI: Check out Delaney’s other books Believe Me and The Girl Before.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

First line: Barry Sutton pulls into the fire lane at the main entrance of the Poe Building, an Art Deco tower glowing white in the illumination of its exterior sconces.

Summary: Barry Sutton is a New York cop who witnesses the tragic effects of False Memory Syndrome when a woman jumps from the forty first floor of a skyscraper.

Helena Smith is a researcher looking for a way to save and record memories to help Alzheimer patients.

As the world around them begins to unravel because of the mysterious FMS, they must team up to try and learn how to stop the phenomenon from continuing to plague the world. If they cannot not it can lead to the possible end of the world.

My Thoughts: From the very first page this story is off and running. There is no build up or major character development in the first twenty pages like most novels. Crouch puts us immediately into the story. This is by far one of my favorite parts of his writing. It is very easy to lose interest in a book that drags its story out too long.

When we meet Barry we also hear about False Memory Syndrome but it is not really explained. For a while it was difficult to understand what is happening to those that are affected. However, once I understood what the disease entailed it became obvious why it could be terrifying to contract.

There are several time hops which makes it very important to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each new section.

I love how fast paced his story telling is. I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

I was never very good with science. Give me history or literature any day. Even though Recursion is very much a science fiction thriller it was not bogged down by the technicalities. When I tried reading The Martian by Andy Weir, the science is what killed the book for me. I just did not get it. But Crouch does a great job of having it as part of the story but not making it overwhelming for the everyday reader.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. Just give it a try. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

FYI: Pick up Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It is just as thrilling!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Haunting of Maddy Clare

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

First line: The day I met Mr. Gellis, I had been walking in the rain.

Summary: Sarah Piper is a poor young woman working for a temp agency in London when an unusual job becomes available. She is hired on as an assistant for a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis, a WWI veteran and ghost enthusiast, is determined to prove the existence of ghosts. He wants Sarah’s help with the ghost of Maddy Clare. Maddy was a servant for the Clare family until she took her own life in their barn. Now her spirit is wreaking havoc on the occupants. With the help of Matthew Ryder, a former soldier and friend of Alistair’s they search for a way to help Maddy move on and solve the mystery behind her destructive behavior.

My Thoughts: Absolutely chilling! Simone St. James is by far one of the best writers, in my opinion, of the Gothic ghost story. She can weave the historical fiction, romance and spookiness together seamlessly. I have been meaning to read this for some time now. It took me just a few days to read because it was that good!

I loved the mystery behind Maddy. No one knew who she was or where she came from. She had no memory and rarely spoke. Then one day she hangs herself in the barn of her employer. That’s when the trouble really begins. Maddy’s vengeful spirit is set to attack any man who sets foot on the Clare property. What happened in her past? Sarah’s first interactions with Maddy were a little terrifying. It literally gets your blood pumping as you read it. When you pick this up be prepared to finish it. Maybe even the same day. Just saying.

FYI: If you like this then try Wendy Webb and Amanda Stevens.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Huntress

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

First line: She was not used to being hunted.

Summary: Nina dreamed of becoming a pilot. When the German army attacks her native Russia, she enlists to help her country fight its invaders. As one of the all-female bomber regiment called the Night Witches, she gets her wish. Until one day when she goes down behind enemy lines and encounters the evil villainous known as the Huntress.

Ian Graham spent the war years as a war correspondent. He everything from the invasion of Omaha Beach to the Nuremburg Trials but he is determined to find and bring to justice one person, the Huntress. With a personal vendetta against the war criminal he joins an organization tasked with finding members of the Nazi party that escaped punishment.

Jordan McBride is a young girl and aspiring photographer in 1946. Her father recently married a mysterious Austrian widow but her story makes Jordan suspicious. The more she learns the less she trusts her. She is determined to find out who this woman is in order to protect her father.

Told in three narratives we piece together the story of the Huntress.

My Thoughts: From the very first chapter I was hooked. I have been a longtime fan of Kate Quinn and her newest novel does not disappoint. I think I can even say with confidence that it is her best book to date. I loved the different timelines and how each intertwine. This would be perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries.

Nina was by far my favorite character. She is strong woman but also has a deep seeded fear. I enjoyed seeing her change and grow throughout the story. She starts as a poor girl from eastern Russia who dreams of becoming a pilot. As the war progresses she discovers more about herself and the country she serves. I learned so much while reading her chapters. I had never heard of female bomber teams during World War II. Even though Russia has a history of being behind the times, this is a very progressive stance. And for them to be highly decorated after the war for their courage.

Read the author’s notes at the end for more background on the story. You can tell that Quinn did a lot of research to build her narrative.

FYI: This reminded me a lot of the new release movie, Operation Finale, starring Oscar Isaac. It follows the search and capture of Adolph Eichmann, the mastermind behind the Holocaust.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy

I love to hold a paper book.  There is something about feeling the pages in my hands.  However, sometimes I find I like the convenience of a digital copy.  I can take it with me where ever I am using an app on my phone.  How cool is that?  Plus, we have such a great selection of books available on our Sunflower eLibrary.  The app used to be called Overdrive but is slowly migrating over to Libby by Overdrive.  It is a fantastic upgrade.  Definitely check it out if you enjoy ebooks and audio books.

*This review will be a little different because the library does not own a physical copy but only a digital one that is available on Sunflower eLibrary.*

  Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Elizabeth Chadwick

1. The Summer Queen

2. The Winter Crown

3. The Autumn Throne

First line: Alienor woke at dawn.

Summary: This is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine (or Alienor as she is called in the book).  She was married to two kings, one of France and one of England.  She was the mother of kings.  However, she was a duchess in her own right and a very strong and determined woman.  She traveled to the Holy Lands on a crusade.  Through her the Plantagenet dynasty began.  Her life was not all easy, she faced imprisonment, war and death but managed to achieve greatness in the face of it all.

Highlights: I loved this trilogy.  This was my first interaction with Elizabeth Chadwick’s work and I was very impressed.  Chadwick brings Eleanor to life.  She shows what a strong woman she was.  I loved seeing her take on kings and prove that a woman is just as powerful.  The writing is superb.  I will definitely be reading more of her books.

I had heard very little about Eleanor before picking up these books.  As I read I learned so much about her and life in the 12th century.  Her family life was very erratic and messy.  I find it hard to believe how dysfunctional her family was.  Her sons were constantly fighting with one another and their father.  She had to be the peace keeper but also an instigator once in a while.  But I found her fascinating!  I think after Anne Boleyn, Eleanor is my favorite female historical figure.  She did so much, lived a long life and is still remembered nearly 900 years later.

 FYI: This is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory!