I’ve always been a fan of ghost stories and themes of magic. While I’m betting I’m not the target audience for this book, I found the story well executed and engaging. I stayed up too late reading as I’d lost track of time and wanted to read ‘just one more chapter’ before bed.
For me, characters (and character development) are the most important parts of a story. In How to Date Dead Guys, Ann Noser presents us with Emma Roberts, a meek College freshman who is socially inept, painfully shy, and absorbed in her own world of safe solitude.
Her comfort zone is rattled when she falls in crush with a guy, Mike, but he soon meets a tragic accidental death when trying to swim in a treacherous river that cuts through the campus. Since she was with him that night, and unable to stop his drunken attempt to swim, she blames herself.
Before that, her roommate’s sister had dabbled in witchcraft by casting a love spell, which Emma didn’t much believe in until it seemed to work. Overcome with grief and guilt, she swipes the spell book and tries to bring him back. Her spell ‘misses’ and brings back other people who died in the river. The appearance of the spell book did seem a bit strange – though I got the sense there is a deeper reason for its mysterious appearance (don’t want to spoil, but it seems as though it shouldn’t have been where she found it) which I hope will be fleshed out in one of the next books in this series.
Over the course of the story, Emma’s encounters with the various drowning victims cause her to evolve as a character. She finds courage and purpose in helping others, and the Emma at the end of the book is not the same girl you meet in the beginning.
Ann Noser has done an adept job weaving several subplots together into a well-paced narrative that carries the stories of the victims as well as Emma along to a satisfying conclusion. An excellent debut novel and the start of a series that looks to be quite interesting―part ghost story, part crime drama.
If I had to gripe about anything in this book, it would be minor. Her transition from not knowing thing one about witchcraft to summoning the dead souls back seemed to happen a bit fast. It might have been fun to see her experimenting with some learning―though, that may also have changed the tone of the book, which was overall serious and emotional. Her aptitude with magic felt a little hastened, however the mention of her seeing ghosts early on in life suggests she possesses some kind of latent power. If she already saw the dead, perhaps she could have called them without the spell book and only needed that as a tool to ‘focus her desires’ into the effect. Perhaps this will come out more in the next book.
On a technical note, (perhaps this isn’t an issue to most readers, but it stood out to me) the dialogue attribution made use of frequent awkward and explanatory tags. However, the story’s pacing and the life the author breathed into the characters (even the dead ones) prevented it from being a huge distraction.
The characters felt believable and real, from Emma to the strange cop that seems to know more than he should, to the kindly old retired nurse. The quotes interspersed throughout were a nice touch as well, that built on Emma’s character traits. All in all, this is a wonderful start to a series that looks like it will be a lot of fun to read. I look forward to seeing where Emma Roberts goes from here.