Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Genre: Historical mystery
Secondary genre: paranormal
CW: mental health
Rep: violence against women, mental health

One thing I love about Simone St. James’ work is that all of her book, though stand alone, are set in the same world. There are often references to other books or events.

In this particular volume we follow Joanna, a dejected war widow who has no choice but to work for her husband’s selfish, horrible relatives. Officially she’s Dot’s companion–her husband’s aunt–but later transitions to being more of a secretary. Dot treats everyone like garbage, probably because her husband is a horrible man who hates her and she’s the type of person who takes it out on everyone around her.

Anyway, it’s not until returning to the family home that Joanna learns Dot’s mentally unwell daughter died several years earlier, by “jumping” off the roof (it’s never specified what she suffered from, but it’s implied she was a high-support autistic). In the nearby village, however, rumor fly ranging from murder to an aborted German invasion during the war, to all sorts of paranormal explanations, including a ghostly dog that can be heard howling in the woods at night.

It would seem that her ghost has a message for Jo, and she keeps appearing at the most inopportune times. Already near an emotional breakdown, Jo is half convinced she’s going crazy.

While this wasn’t my favorite Simone St. James novel, I did really enjoy it. I love how atmospheric her books are, but she does definitely have a type when it comes to heroines: poor, lonely, and depressed. But that is one thing I really love about them–they start at rock bottom and always find their strength through the book. It did mean I found this book a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed the reveals.

Ghosts Among Us by James Van Praagh

Genre: nonfiction
Secondary genre: paranormal/spiritual
Format: paperback
Rating: planchet

I don’t even want to admit how long this book has been on my TBR. I think I got it in college, or sometime shortly thereafter, and just never got around to it. In my defense, it’s a brick, well over 1,000 pages, and weighs more than most of my textbooks at the time. And it’s in paperback. I wouldn’t want to meet a hard bound edition in a dark alley, is all I’m saying.

By now you’ve probably figured out that I like a good ghost story, but I have to say this book left me fairly luke-warm. I didn’t realize going in, but apparently the author is a tv psychic from the 90s who later worked on The Ghost Whisperer tv show as a consultant. In my opinion, that makes him an unreliable narrator; still, I’m now for reading ghost books just for entertainment, so I plowed on.

This book contains literally hundreds of stories taken from around the US, with a few international stories thrown in. If you’re looking for diversity, however, this book ain’t it. It’s pretty evident from the narration that all the stories come from white people, with maybe two exceptions.

There were some good, creepy tales in this book, but there were also a lot of redundant ones.

In addition to ghosts, this book also covers things like orbs, aliens, and elementals, with a lot of pseudo-science thrown in. There were entire chapters I skipped because they just weren’t my cup of tea (I don’t do aliens outside of Doctor Who. Period).

I have definitely read better ghost books, so if you’re looking for a creepy midnight read, or more information on the theory behind ghosts and hauntings, give this one a pass. There are better books to be had.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Genre: Contemporary
Secondary genre: paranormal
Format read: audiobook
Rating: DNF

**This review contains mild spoilers**

Lara is in a lurch. She quit her job to start a company with her best friend, only to have said friend elope to another country. Her business is failing, her family is disappointed in her, and even worse, her wealthy relatives keep rubbing it in her face. To top it all off, her boyfriend dumped her.

And now she’s seeing ghosts. Well, a ghost. Of her great-aunt Sadie, whom she’s never met, but whose funeral she’s expected to attend.

The sad service–no flowers, only seven guests, and no one who’d ever actually met Sadie–is a huge disappointment on many levels, until suddenly Sadie’s ghost, circa 1927, swoops in and starts screaming about a lost necklace. And Lara’s the only one who can hear her.

This book should have been a home-run for me: Ghosts! The 1920s! A broke millennial finding her way in the world!

But no. I was cringing within the first five minutes.

Lara as a character is a wet noodle. She’s clingy, calling her ex so often he changed his phone number. She routinely put people in her life (like said ex, and her absentee best friend) who take advantage of her. This isn’t entirely surprising, considering her family  is a cluster of assholes. From a psychological standpoint, she’s drawn to what she knows.

Then we have Sadie. Sadie, of the screechy voice, the “look at me!” personality, and a complete lack of respect or consideration for the people around her.

The two of them butt heads from the first, and I couldn’t stand either of them. They were both extremely annoying. Just when I would start to feel sympathy for Sadie, she would go off and do something annoying again.

And Lara’s method of dealing with Sadie is to tell lie after lie…to the police. I’m not talking little white lies that might be funny later. I mean things like “I think someone at the nursing home murdered my aunt!” (shouted in desperation when Sadie pesters her to stop the funeral and subsequent cremation).

The fact that she would a) purger herself and b) put other people at risk without even thinking sent me so far over the edge that I DNFed this book at around 25%. It was a disappointing thing to do, especially after reading Finding Audrey and loving it so much. I don’t think I’ve ever read an author with both a 5 star read and a DNF before. But I just couldn’t stand listening to the two of them bicker, or watching as Lara sent her train wreck of a life straight over a cliff.

Maybe others find the things I dislike funny, but this one definitely didn’t hit the sweet spot for me.