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Monday, February 24, 2014


Author:  Chris Marie Green
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  ROC
          Only the Good Die Young (2/2014)  
          Another One Bites the Dust (11/2014)
          Every Breath You Take (4/2015) (FINAL?)

This post was revised and updated on 5/7/15 to include a review of Every Breath You Take, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.

            NOVEL 3:  Every Breath You Take            

     In this book, (Jen) Murphy finally resolves her search for the person who murdered her decades ago when she was just twenty-three years old. For the first 3/4 of the book, Jen and her alliesboth humans and ghostsstumble around trying to avoid being attacked by the dark spirit of Jen's killer even as they are attempting to learn the villain's true identity. If you haven't read the first two books, you will be completely lost in the crowded cast of characters, all of whom have some type of connection with Jenn based on past events that Jenn offhandedly mentions in her interior monologues and in conversations among her friends. The author does not summarize the highlights of the first two books; she just drops the reader into this third chapter in Jen's adventures.

     In the midst of Jen's search for her killer, she and her human friend, Amanda Lee, become acquainted with a group of ghostbusters in the depths of Elfin Forest, the same place that Jen met her death all those years ago. For the first half of the book, the ghostbusters don't add much to the story, but eventually, they do become a crucial plot element.

     About half-way into the book, Green introduces Kalli, a wiccan, into the mix of humans and ghosts. As soon as Kalli meets the ghosts, she feels compelled to explain myriad details of wiccan mythology, which slows the pace of the action from a walk to a stumble. Green has her reasons for introducing Kalli, but padding the book with superfluous details about wiccan mythology was a mistake. Another example of unnecessary padding is the scene involving the witch of the woods. That scene does add an important clue to Jen's investigation, but it comes across as a deus ex machina because the witch, who has been mentioned but never seen in previous books, has no other purpose but to drop the clue and then vanish.

     Other sub-plots include the finale of the ridiculous romance between Gavin and Suze, which I discussed in my review of book 2. That relationship is getting rocky (big surprise!), and Jen feels guilty because she believes that she is to blame.

     Then, there is fake Dean, the supernatural being who keeps trying to lure Jen to his home in a starry realm, promising her eternal happiness. Fake Dean keeps up his efforts until Jen banishes him from her lifebut then misses him so much that she wishes he would come back. Green has set up a love triangle involving Gavin, fake Dean, and Jen, but it never rings true.

     Just as in the previous books, the details of the world-building are muddy. Jenn darts in and out of people's heads, and the dark spirit injures and sometimes kills humans and ghosts, but I was never entirely clear on exactly what was happening. Jen's fellow ghosts rarely, if ever, do the mind-jumping thing that Jen does, even when it could possibly help out the story line, so why can she do it? Green has never really spelled out the rules of this world, so I have never truly understood the powers and limitations of Jenn and her fellow ghosts, not to mention her magic-touched human friends and acquaintances. Jen's ghostly friends just hang around making wise cracks at each other and not helping out much with Jen's investigation.

     I really had to push myself to keep reading the first half of this book because it moves so slowly and fails to cover any new ground. The pace picks up in the second half when Green begins to throw handfuls of red herrings into the storya variety of suspects, any one of whom could be Jen's killer. At that point, the story becomes slightly more interesting, but it doesn't really take off until the final few scenes. By the end of the book, all of the major issues are resolved, so I assume that this is the final novel in the series. This has been a disappointing series that began with an interesting concept but, in the long run, failed to deliver. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     Welcome to the Boo Worlda world of ghosts who exist among the mortal population, although most mortals aren't aware of their existence. In this universe, ghosts are energy trapped at the moment of death. The series mythology includes several types of ghosts:

    > Interactives: Intelligent spirits who "still have our personalities and...can think." (p. 95) These ghosts can move about among humans, see and communicate with other ghosts, manipulate objects, manifest vocal sounds, and go into the waking and sleeping minds of humans. They survive on electricity, but get the most power from their actual death spot. 

    > Noninteractive Spirits (aka Imprints): Ghosts stuck in time-loop imprints, destined to relive their deaths over and over again. They are unaware of their surroundings and never leave the exact place they died. These ghosts are "confused and afraid and won't come out to play like [Interactives] do." (p. 95)

    > Malevolent Ghosts: We learn next to nothing about these spirits in book 1, except that they exist and that they are dangerous to both humans and to other ghosts.

     Not all spirits remain on earth as ghosts. Some go on into the glare (a bright light) immediately following their deaths. "Not every spirit lingers or falls into a time loop. Sometimes there's so much anguish connected to their deaths or the people they leave behind that they can't stand the aftermath. Some spirits seek the light right away. Others…fall into a numb imprint." (p. 211) What happens in the afterlife is unknown. As one mysteriously powerful entity explains, "Not even I know what's beyond us, because once you go there, you don't come back. It might be heaven or hell, nirvana, or even a parallel dimension where everyone gets another chance in a reincarnated life." (p. 210) Each ghost has a wrangler—a reaper—and if a ghost decides to leave the earth and go into the glare, he or she can call on the wrangler for a ride into the afterlife. 

     Most of the ghostly characters are Interactives. They can enter buildings through cracks, chimneys, and open windows, but they can't move through solid objects like walls. They always look exactly like they did at the moment of their deaththe same clothing and hairstylesso it's easy to figure out when they died just by looking at them. Oddly, they don't manifest the injuries that led to their deathsno broken bones, bruises, or contusions. They can modify their shapes to suit various purposesfor example, becoming thin enough to slip through the narrowest cracks, becoming fist-shaped to pound on a wall. Their major human enemies are cleanersghostbusters who use salt and iron to send the ghosts on to the light. Most ghosts don't have much to do with humans, but some do maintain relationships with mediums (aka psychics) who can see and communicate with ghosts, sometimes just one and sometimes many, depending on the level of the medium's power.

     The series heroine, Jensen (Jen) Murphy, was in her early twenties when she was murdered 30 years ago. She was the designated driver for a group of her pot-smoking, heavy-drinking friends one night when they went out partying in the Elfin Forest (in Southern California). Jen had been slamming down can after can of Mellow Yellow (a highly caffeinated soft drink popular in the 1980s) and wandered off into the woods for a "bathroom break," only to disappear forever. In book 1, Jen has memory flashes of being killed with an ax by someone wearing an old-lady mask, but she can't remember anything else.

           NOVEL 1:  Only the Good Die Young            

     As the story opens, a medium named Amanda Lee (pronounced "A MANdaley") Minter uses her psychic powers to pull Jen out of the time loop she has been stuck in for the past 30 years. Amanda wants to use Jen to get revenge against Gavin Edgett, the man she believes killed her friend, Elizabeth, three years ago. She wants Jen to work her way into Gavin's mind and scare him so badly that he will confess his crime to the police.

     Because Jen is a newbie ghost, she spends much of her time in this book just learning how to be a ghostwhat she can and cannot do, how to travel from place to place, how to manifest her voice so that humans can hear it, and how to maintain a level of energy high enough that she doesn't fall back into the time loop. Eventually, she meets some more experienced ghosts who help her learn the ropes, but the world-building slows down the storyas is true of the first book in any series.

     Jen's relationship with Amanda is fraught with tension and distrust because Jen immediately recognizes that Amanda is completely blinded by her need for vengeance against Gavin. Even when Jen figures out that Gavin probably did not kill Elizabeth, Amanda refuses to accept that as truth. From the beginning, Jen (and the reader) know that Amanda is withholding information and telling some lies. In fact, most of the human characters are holding on to dark secrets that are not revealed until the final showdown scene. There are so many red herrings that the identity of the actual villain(s) is difficult to predict, but when the resolution finally comes, it plays out so quickly that it is somewhat unsatisfying, particularly since the rest of the story moves so very slowly.

     Among the non-humans that Jen meets is one who has glamoured himself to look and act just like Jen's long-ago ex-boyfriend, Dean. Dean is not dead. In fact, Jen flies over to his home to take a look at him in an early scene. But this non-human entity takes on Dean's persona and plays on Jen's emotions, trying to lure her to some mysterious place for his own nefarious purposes. At first, Jen thinks that "Dean" is the Grim Reaper, but he tells her that he is a keeper, not a reaper. He turns up several times during the story, usually to help Jen out of a tight spot, but he always follows up his good deeds by trying to get Jen to stay with him in his starry realm. He won't tell her exactly who or what he is, except to say that her life would be pleasant if she stayed with him. Jen, though, is too pragmatic to turn over her soul to someone she doesn't trust. Obviously, "Dean" will be a continuing character who will play an important role in future stories.

     For me this was a rough start for a new series—bogged down with an overload of exposition and character-building and struggling with a slow-moving plot that begins light but turns very dark in the final pages. It's a seemingly standard urban fantasy that slowly becomes a realistic true-crime horror story. Green uses Jen's first-person voice to tell her story, and she handles this sometimes-tricky voice with ease. Now that the world-building is out of the way, I'll be interested in seeing what Green does with her lead character in book 2. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Only the Good Die Young.

            NOVEL 2:  Another One Bites the Dust            
     The primary plot in this novel revolves around a sociopathic young man (Tim Knudson) who is becoming a dangerous threat to his girlfriend (Nichelle Shaw), a close friend of Wendy Edgett—sister of Gavin Edgett, one of the primary characters in book 1. (If you haven't read book 1, you might want to do that first so that you will understand the relationships among the relatively large cast of characters, both ghosts and humans.) Jenn and her fellow ghosts are already protecting Wendy from a menacing, but unidentified, dark spirit that was released at the climax of book 1, and now they add Wendy and Nichelle to their list of responsibilities. Jenn and Amanda immediately begin to investigate Tim's mental state and his personal life, while some of the other ghosts deal with the actual protecting. The investigation muddles along very slowly, with Jenn and her friends attempting to go into Tim's mind in a variety of ways, none of which are described with any clarity. The characters of Tim and Nichelle are so poorly developed that we never really get to know them at all, and as a consequence, I had trouble caring what happened to either one of them. In fact, I had trouble even finishing the book.

     The book has several subplots: Jenn's continuing relationship with fake Dean (a sexy but sinister entity who takes the form of Jenn's high school boyfriend, the real Dean); Jenn's continuing attraction to Harriet's brother, Gavin; Jenn's continuing search for her killer; and Jenn's continuing search for the true identity of the dark spirit. (As the book begins, she believes that the dark spirit might be the ghost of Harriet and Gavin's evil father.) These story lines disrupt the flow of the main plot because they are inserted so awkwardly into the action. 

     In one of the story threads, Gavin hits it off with Suze, one of Jenn's friends from her human life. At this point in time, Suze is in her early fifties, and Gavin is in his twenties—maybe early thirties—and they are supposedly becoming romantically attracted, making Jenn extremely jealous. For me, this story line is improbable and silly. In the Dean-Jenn story line, the author includes a gratuitous scene in which fake Dean touches Jenn in a sexual manner. The scene comes out of nowhere and goes no further. It's as if the author felt compelled to add some mild sex and couldn't figure out any other way to do it. She has really painted herself into a corner here, because her heroine is a transparent, vaporous entity who can solidify her body only when she is in fake Dean's presence. Even though Jenn is attracted to Gavin, she can't have a physical relationship him because they can't touch each other, so Jenn is stuck with the mysterious, untrustworthy Dean. About all we know about Dean is that he collects ghosts that entertain him, feeds on them until he gets bored, and then turns his attentions to new ghosts—definitely not an honorable hero.

     One last nit-pick: I don't wish to be a grammar tyrant, but Jenn constantly makes one very perplexing and irritating grammar error that drives me crazy. Instead of beginning compound-subject sentences correctly (for example, "My friends and I," with "I," the subject pronoun, coming after the noun, "friends")," she begins sentences incorrectly, using "me" (which is an object, not a subject, pronoun) and placing it first: "Me and my friends did this..." or "Me and Twyla went there..." or "Me and Louis talked..." or "Me and Amanda visited...," and so forth. I truly don't understand the author's decision to have Jenn break this basic grammar rule because, in general, Jenn's dialogue and interior monologues are grammatically correct, and her vocabulary is relatively sophisticated (e.g., using words like assuagedolorous, and fraught). Yet she breaks this simple rule over and over again. 

     I had hoped that this series would grow stronger, but this book is a disappointment. The author uses the "tell, not show" method of character development, and as a result, her characters are all as flat as cardboard cutouts. In the case of Tim and Nichelle, character development is practically nonexistent. The plot moves at a glacial pace, and the ghost-magic scenes in which Jenn and her buddies invade Tim's mind are so disjointed that I had trouble figuring out exactly what the ghosts were doing. At this point, I can't recommend the series. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

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