Book Review: How To Date Dead Guys

How to Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

How to Date Dead Guys is about Emma, a nerdy college girl who has problems fitting in because she’s always had a connection to spirits. When her crush drowns, Emma is over come with guilt, and she’ll do anything to get him back, including summoning him from beyond the grave. However, it’s not Mike that comes back, but Sam, a boy who killed himself the semester before. The story gets more complex, yet remains fun, as more people come back from the dead. Emma has to find a way to put them to rest while overcoming her own guilt over Mike’s death.

The call kidnaps Emma and Chrissy gives her a makeover. If you like Ghost World (the movie), you’ll love the tone and feel of this book. Early on, we meet a pioneer spirit girl and a chem TA who dropped in the river by the local college. The river becomes a major set piece in the novel, and it works unusual elements of horror into the story.

Let’s talk about Emma. She’s a complicated person, and she can often come off as an ice queen. However, you understand the emotional turmoil she deals with in her life, which humanizes her. Also, Emma is a biology and math major, which is comp bio, and it’s a great major. I personally related to Emma’s realization that she didn’t want to be a doctor, too. There’s so much humanness to Emma, and it pulls you into the story. This is necessary because the story lacked a solid villain, but the emotional conflicts between characters drove the plot well.

There are plenty of fun scenes in this story, which adds to the complexity of the world. Emma has 100% less fun than I did at house parties in college, where she meets her crush, Mike. The early part of this novel focuses on Emma and her relationship to her roommate, Chrissy, and a pair of brothers, Mike and Kevin. Mike is the guy whom Emma likes, and she attends his 21st birthday party, where Mike gets predictably shit-faced, and he wants to go for a swim in the river.

The story takes a turn for the dark here. Mike drowns in the river, kicking off the main plot of the novel. Through coincidence, Emma finds a grimoire, and her guilt drives her to attempt to bring Mike back to life. Emma becomes a de facto villain during this part of the story, and that’s kind of amazing.

Things don’t go as Emma planned, and Sam, the chem TA comes back from the river instead. There’s a murder mystery plot that begins to exist here, and Emma learns that loads of other people have drowned in this river. The book continues to veer into dark plot themes, and we find that Sam killed himself. Emma now has to help Sam deal with the baggage of his previous life with getting into med school, leaving his mom, and getting rejected by the girl he was obsessed with. Sam is a quintessential NiceGuy in some ways, but my strong dislike for automatically slotting ‘popular, pretty’ characters in as default villains vexed me. The characters are still strong, and we get introduced to Abby, a young woman who’s pregnant. I expected Abby’s baby daddy plot to factor into the story, and boy, does it ever, but the twist in that plot line is natural.

Sam is taken back to the river, and we get introduced to Jake next. Emma becomes a necromancer version of Touched By an Angel, and she has to help Jake with his personal struggles, too. The section with Jake starts weak, but it became my favorite part of the book. Jake and Emma’s relationship became a major emotional set piece, and it pays off by climaxing in a mid-book Christmas arc. (“It’s Christmas” will always get you drunker than you’d think.)

Setting anything around Christmas automatically makes it a hundred percent sadder, and the story hammers an emotional moment per page during this section. Jake visits his family, and the tension between Emma and Jake reaches a breaking point. Then, the magic yanks Jake away, and Mike returns, but not alone. Two other spirits return with Mike, and the remainder of the novel follows the same format of Emma unraveling their own pains and secret pasts. The story resolves most of its plot lines, and even though it’s the first in the series, the plots resolve themselves.

Random Notes:

  • Every guy who plays Frisbee is named Mike.
  • Some of get As and have belly rings. Just saying.
  • When your bf, here Chrissy, tells your crush how rich your family is, you need to find a new best friend.
  • The novels don’t mention abortion as an option when it totally is. This is my only real complaint with Abby’s story line is that this option is completely ignored. Maybe the author didn’t want to go there, but when a young woman doesn’t have a baby and getting rid of the baby isn’t seriously discussed, it’s an irksome oversight in plot to me. In this story, where every character has emotionally driven motives, Abby never considering abortion or at least objecting to it for an emotional reason stands out as a strange oversight.
  • The dead men shed an ectoplasm skin, which is a great piece of horror.
  • Emma, the NiceGuy apologetic, rears her head several times.
  • There’s an 80s movie prank montage! I’m a bit picky about Nostalgia because it usually says more about the author than the characters, but it works here.

Rating: 4 stars

The story had light-hearted dialogue, but it veers into dark territory. There’s a lot of emotional angst here, but the characters stay grounded. This is a great start to a unique paranormal YA fantasy.

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Book Review: A Stolen Kiss

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A Stolen Kiss by Kelsey Keating

A Stolen Kiss

Derric is a stable boy whose sister, Sarah, is the lady in waiting to Princess Maria. Maria is under a curse, which she thinks can be broken by Prince Humphrey. However, curses are like contracts, and true love gets in the way, so Derric has to have is step mother, the evil sorceress, but the curse on Maria. There are a lot of good plot elements that should be in this story, but the characters are one-dimensional and the writing lacks the humor needed to carry off the story’s more interesting ideas.

The book starts as info-dumpy with characters wondering about their lives. There’s not enough world building and the characters do a lot of talking about each other without becoming fleshed out as characters. There’s nothing more tedious than characters talking about themselves without doing anything that shows they’re well-rounded people. They problem could’ve been avoided because there’s some tension buried deep in the story.

Derric’s mom is an evil sorceress, Gilda Harver, who provides some twists towards the end of the story, but this should’ve come earlier in the book because I just didn’t care by the end. Gilda shows up almost at the end, and there’s no tension because of this. There’s a lot of ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ without any real movement in the narrative. There’s a lot of ‘cryptic’ messages, but this is the problem with having the main plot rely too much on hidden backstory. It saps the novel of any tension it might’ve had.

This brings me to the world building, which is thin and hinders the character growth. The characters only talk about the plot because there’s nothing else they like and no other context to their world. There’s not enough world building in this story to make it an interesting MG tale, and a bit more development in both characters and ANY of their surroundings would’ve helped. There just keeps being more and more random characters added, and none of them stick with you.

Random Notes:

  • Too many riddles, too thin on details.
  • I wanted to love this book, but these characters are so thin. Very little they did made me care about them. Maria’s curse and Derric’s mother were interesting, but it was too little too late.
  • This story wants to be funny, but it’s not. It wants to be cute, but it’s not.
  • There shouldn’t literally be a list of ‘why’ questions you want your readers to think about.

Rating:

2 stars: This might work for MG readers, but if you’re a fantasy fan or fairy tale retelling junkie, skip this book.

Book Review: Fall

Fall (The Ragnarok Prophesies #2) by A.K. Morgen

Fall picks up about a month after Fade ends, and Arionna is recovering in the hospital from Skröll and Hati’s attack. Arionna is now plagued by nightmares of Fenrir and the twin demon wolves; she’s also starting to understand the darker side of Dace’s nature. Dace is willing to sacrifice anything and everyone to keep her from being attacked again, and Arionna fears this is going to turn him into a literal monster, so she leaves Bebee to go in search of answers to stop the apocalypse.

The story starts out stronger than Fade does, and there’s an urgency to Arionna’s problems in this book that there wasn’t in the first one. Her relationship to Dace is sorely tested, too, and there are good moments where Dace gives off the vibe that he could potentially become abusive. Arionna is smart enough to realize that, if she doesn’t figure this thing out for herself, Dace’s need to protect her is going to lead him to further manipulate her, controlling every aspect of her life. This is a challenge most heroines with alpha male boyfriends face, and Arionna is wise enough to know what the starter kit for an abusive relationship looks like; in a nice twist, she leaves Dace instead of him fleeing to protect her from himself.

The other characters that benefit from spending more time with them in the sequel are Chelle, who I didn’t have much of a sense of as an individual before, and Ronan, who was the surprise not-an-actual-bad-guy in Fade. The story also nicely sidesteps conflicts with love triangles by having Arionna struggle with herself and Dace, which eliminates the need to use Ronan as a love interest. If you want relationship conflict, a brooding bad boy, but hate love triangles, this sequel is going to make you very happy. I found myself liking Ronan, but I’m a corvid/avian fan, so that’s not a hard sell. Not going to lie, I hope the sequel includes the potential of a new love interest for Ronan because I appreciate romances where the characters come into it with a lot of baggage and no illusions about True Love, only with the feeling that they need each other or are better together than apart. Ronan could benefit from this, but I’m not sure he’ll get it. Arionna and Dace’s relationship is more of the cosmic love variety, and the story does a good job at layering it with conflict despite this fact.

My big time beef with this book is, while I enjoyed the characters a lot more, the ending left the story feeling incomplete, but not in a good way. This book is trying to set up for the big conclusion, but ends up offering very few climactic moments or pay offs of its own, and I went into the ending prepared for a big twist and a surprise via the big mythology mysteries the story teases. There is plenty of new mythology layered into the story, and Fade used its mythology to create a surprising yet satisfying ending, but Fall, well, falls flat on that front. I expected either the visit to the professor or the interrogation of the flower shop lady (it makes sense in story) to result in a major twist or two, but they turned into more frustrating dead ends. The climactic ending happens off page, and it suffers from the fact that, because some of these characters are literal wolves, they don’t always have the same emotional impact as the human characters. There was a moment when I thought something happened to Chelle, and I thought that might be the real twist at the end, but it wasn’t. Instead, Mandy, a character who’s been mostly in the background, goes missing, but this fails to resonate. The big ending moment of the novel could’ve still happened (it’s teased throughout the story and isn’t terribly surprising), but there needed to be something more, action wise, to this ending. This ending is an example of how to write a strong story, deepen the mythology for the final sequel act, but then fail to actually build on anything at the end of this story itself; this wouldn’t be the first second act book to fall flat because it fails to grasp what the middle part of a story could and should do. When it came to Dace’s character and Arionna’s relationship with him, the stakes are raised for sure, but there needed to be more plot outside of this.

Random Thoughts:

  • Arionna cries a lot early on. Fair warning.
  • I can’t overstate how much I appreciated a character like Ronan in this story. It needed the levity of the Debbie Downer, and he delivered. Also, corvids are rad.
  • Like, seriously, guys, Ronan saves a bird, and it’s the sweetest scene in the book.
  • Did you ever want to read a story where flowers invoke horror? This is for you.
  • I personally support ketchup with scrambled eggs; if I lose all my followers/readers over this, then so be it.

Read if: You liked the first book and trust the author is going to deliver on all the delicious mythology she’s setting up. It kind of reminds me of Robin McKinley’s Pegasus in that way; you like the story, even if the ending of the book is anti-climactic and pissed you off.

Beware if: You want pay-off on the mystery front. This is not the book in this series that’s going to do that for you.

Rating: I can’t state enough how I wanted to like this book more, but the ending killed it for me. Something else needed to happen; it was too much set-up and too little pay off. This isn’t the first series I’ve read that’s done this, and it ticks me off every time. Sequels are hard, I know, but book two is where the ugly, miserable parts of your characters and weird, complex world-building can really shine. I am going to finish this series, but 3 stars for dropping the ball on the climax.

God’s Play is a Featured New Release!

It’s also $0.99. In honor of writing what I consider a particularly bloody scene in my WIP today, I’m going to post another snippet from God’s Play that I considered a bit…gruesome. 🙂

“No sign of habitation. Bad tip, brother.” Henry shakes his head, still scanning with his flashlight. He turns to her and mouths one word. “Father.” My mum frowns, the shadowed creases in her forehead half-lit by the dual beams. Henry treads without so much as a shoe squeak towards the front of the store while Mum and I sweep out, moving like a single pair of headlights.

A door shuts. I jerk my head up. A thump from the back of the warehouse, and something crashes over. The woman shouts. There’s a gun shot. And then, another.

There’s more than one monster.

I pull the Bowie knife, and Henry sprints around a dresser. I turn to him, watching in time to see a wolf jump on his back . There’re no wolves this large― it’s a shape-shifter that’s slipped its human skin. The creature digs into his neck, and Henry’s arm twists around, stabbing it in the side. My knife sails through the air, but it whizzes past the monster’s hindquarter.

I drop the flashlight and pull out both knives. Henry’s light thuds on the carpet, rolling around like a top, illuminating the warehouse like an epileptic strobe light. Behind Henry’s attacker, there’s another pair of glittering eyes. My mother steps forward, throwing a knife at it. Hers connects, a sharp thud in the rib cage, and the creature charges, blood leaking from its side. It wheezes, stumbling like a drunk. She hit a lung― the wolf collapses before we need to bother fighting it again.

Her butterfly knife flits in her left hand, the big hunting knife poised in her right. The second pair of eyes gauges her, but this monster lurks behind a set of drawers. It slinks out of sight, and neither of us have a chance to strike it. One of the shifters growls and sprints across the carpet. It pounds down on me like a speeding train. I pivot, duck, and thrust upwards with my hunting knife . I connect with flesh, slitting the stomach when it leaps over me. The canine shifter staggers into a mattress column, howling with rage, splitting my ear drums.

Deafened, I can’t hear the other one attack. It flashes by, maybe some type of feline, pinning me underneath it . My mother screams. Claws dig into my chest, but I thrust upwards and kick it off like I’m launching from the gymnastics vault. My vision bursts into a thousand colors. I punch my knife hand into the feline, and the blade glints in the flashlight beam after each strike. The animal wheezes, and in its death spasms, falls down on top of me. I gasp under its weight, avoiding the last snaps of its jaw before it goes limp, but my eyes are still popping. The flashlight rolls, spinning the world in dollar store yellow lighting. I fumble for my Bowie knife, numb hand grasping chunks of cheap carpet. There’s a scuffle, and in the beam of light, on the other side of a stack of off-white mattresses, my mum is crouched. She only has her butterfly knife left, and she’s swinging it at the giant wolf approaching her. Its eyes glow like a hell hound’s. She backs up, and through neon color pops, I watch the wolf jump at her. She thrusts the knife into its throat.

Its breath gurgles as it dies, but I can’t see either my mother or the wolf over the mattresses now. The scent of blood floods the air like after a shark attack. It can’t be my mum’s― there’s too much of it. My heart is still beating, and it’s driving the bile up my throat. I’m rocking on one of those cheap county fair rides. The world tilts up and down, whirling me until the little cart breaks and goes flying through the cotton candy stands and into the parking lot.

A hand grasps the flashlight, pulling it off the floor, and turning the world dark. Footsteps crunch over the carpet. The soles are heavy, not practiced and light, so it’s not a hunter. I’m hearing through a tunnel now, so maybe I don’t know. The world is all neon lights and animal stench. Someone speaks, and I think it’s a man, but I can’t understand him. The voice is stretched like it’s in slow motion.

The footsteps come near me. A man leans down, and I look up into the face of a jackal.

When I lurch awake like a car with no brakes skidding on ice, I see a monster’s face― the jackal. It slips away, turning into the face of all the monsters I’ve hunted. But that’s a hallucination, and I slip back into nothingness. He’s carrying me― it feels like floating. The rain pours over him while he changes back to a man, but it smells like alcohol and the bitter sting of antiseptic.