Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

by Heather Caliendo
the sun down motel review - book club chat

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James is one of the best novels I’ve read in some time. And I don’t normally do creepy/ghost stories but this one is incredible.

So let me really emphasize the fact that I’m a scaredy-cat. I don’t see horror movies—I can’t even handle the trailers. I like Halloween enough but if involves haunted houses, I’m out. When I read that The Sun Down Motel is a ghost story, I definitely paused. However, the synopsis was so compelling, and I liked that it also had a dual setting of the ’80s and current times, which is why I added it to my must-read book clubs list. I’m so glad that I got beyond my worry about being scared because this book is fantastic! Yes, it’s creepy but it’s all done in such an intriguing way that you won’t want put this one down.

The synopsis:

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.

Dual timelines

I love dual timeline stories. You typically see those in more traditional historical fiction. It’s always interesting to see how the past relates to the present. In the dual timeline format, both Viv and Carly are working to solve mysteries—and have more in common than just being related. It was so fascinating to follow both of their journeys and the ways they go about solving the mysteries, which becomes much bigger than either expected. I truly enjoyed being on the ride with both of them.

Something that was interesting is that as we follow Viv and Carly in their storylines—they’re both exactly 20 years old and dealt with a lot already in life. The age definitely played a factor in some of their rash decisions, which I think worked really well with the story. I loved following these amateur detectives.

How scary is it?

I posted about The Sun Down Motel on Instagram and asked fellow bookstagrammers that very question—how scary is it? The answers ranged from a bit creepy to downright freaky. So for all my fellow book readers who don’t do scary I’m here to say that yes, there are some truly creepy scenes—yes, there are ghosts in this story. But it’s done so well and it’s not over the top (I know we’re talking about ghosts but trust me!) that you’ll be so engaged with the story, you’ll be all in and have to know how it will end.

I have to say it was a nice switch to read a book that was more of a mystery than a thriller. The key differences between the two is one is more of an investigation while the other is psychological suspense. I definitely am ready for more mysteries in my life!

Now I’m wondering, do I actually like ghost stories? Maybe I won’t go that far but I’m pretty confident, I’ll love anything Simone St. James writes. She’s truly in a league of her own and it’s one of those stories, you’ll be sad when it’s over and might even have a book hangover. I will say, while 2020 is still young, this is such a surprise hit for me. Can’t wait to hear what you all think!

Final review thoughts: A chilling and engaging story that will draw you in on the first page.

There’s so much to discuss for book clubs! Check out my book club questions here.

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