Welcome to the afterlife of Denver—where phantom buffalo roam and ghost factions wage war.
Ashen is determined to find a cure, but at every turn opposing factions try to snatch her for themselves. As the menacing specters close in, a new threat is exposed—one that looms over the dead and the living—and Ashen and her posse of ghosts have one brief chance to stop them. If they fail, the entire world will be lost to darkness forever.
But Ashen’s time is running out. If she doesn’t cross over soon, she will be damned to roam the haunted city for eternity.
A little about Armarna first:
Armarna Forbes grew up in what remains of the Old West and likes to write stories about dead things. She now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her husband, Chris, and their two cats, Jack and Loki.
Karen Meyer’s Review: 4-Stars
I want to start out by saying this author is very good at what she does. I would love to read a novel she has written about the old west. People going west in covered wagons would be good. She is an amazing writer and with the right subject, I could see her having a best seller.
But this is another one of those dead people who can’t cross over novels. This is better than most because the author goes back to tell the story behind the ghost. How they lived and how they died. When Ashen dies and meets up with Max, sparks fly. Do ghosts have a way to love? Not sure, but then these books have no reality to me because I don’t believe this really happens.
Ashen is a girl put in a home when her mother dies. She didn’t like it there and her best friend, Jacob, decided he would take her home with him and his parents would foster her until they finished their senior year of high school. On the way they have a bus wreck, Ashen doesn’t have her personal information with her. When she does, she immediately meets Max, an old cowboy. He takes her under his wing and they end up hand in hand. Jacob, her best friend died in the same bus wreck. He ends up confessing his love for her, and crosses over to where he doesn’t have to watch her with Max. Max does love her too and they die happily ever after. I will be generous and give this book 4 stars.
Corinne Morier’s Review: DNF (did not finish)
No rating because A) I didn’t get far enough into this book to justify it (if I’m going to rate a book, I have to have at least finished up to the 25% mark and I stopped reading at about 20%) and B) this is an indie book that I solicited from the author and I cannot, in good conscience, give it a bad rating, nor can I really give it a very good rating, either. I mean, if I had to choose a rating, I’d say three stars, but I can’t make a decision one way or the other because I haven’t read enough of the book to pass judgment on it.
I freaking KNEW this would happen. The author contacted me through my blog, The Discerning Reader, and requested that I read her book. I said yes, even knowing that it was an urban fantasy and I have been known to not enjoy those. But I was both tired of constantly saying “no,” and actually rather excited about this one. Despite my overall unenthusiasm for urban fantasy as a genre, I have read and enjoyed one or two in the years since starting book blogging.
This one starts with the main character, Ashen, riding a bus with her best friend Jacob. And right away we run into one of my least favorite things in books: the logistics of the setting, the positioning of the characters, etc. isn’t made fully clear. Ashen notices a guy in the back of the bus who seems to be leering at her, and from how the scene is described, I was picturing that the man was sitting in the furthest row to the back and Ashen and Jacob were sitting about three or four rows in front of him, directly behind the back door of the bus. Ashen can apparently “see the man’s reflection in the glass (of the bus window),” but how is that possible if he’s sitting a whole three rows behind her? You tell me how that would be possible because I’ve ridden thousands of buses in just the past few years (I take the bus to and from work) and never once have I been able to see my fellow passengers’ reflections in the windows.
There’s also a cowboy or something on the bus with them, and when Ashen gets the creeps and pulls the cord to request a stop. As the bus pulls over and opens the door, the cowboy stands and blocks them from leaving, so they stay on the bus… except none of that makes sense.
First of all, if you’re on a bus and pull the cord to request a stop but then nobody actually gets off when the bus stops, the driver will look and/or call back to ask if anyone is getting off. After all, it might be an elderly or disabled person who is getting off and is having trouble standing up or can’t get to the door as quickly as a younger/able-bodied person. And yet the driver doesn’t say or do anything and just drives off again without even checking that everyone who wanted to get off has gotten off safely? Either that bus driver sucks at his job or the scene itself wasn’t well-written/well-researched.
Then you have just the basic logistics. Here we have a diagram of how I was imagining the scene/how it was described.
So you can see how it would be impossible for the cowboy to block their way. Sure, it wasn’t clear where everyone was sitting, but it can be assumed that Ashen and Jacob would not have been in danger of being blocked from exiting; they could just slip out of their seats, take two steps forward, and BAM they have control of the corridor between the seats and a clear path to the door. Meanwhile, the cowboy-guy has a longer distance to traverse to get to the door/corridor to be able to stand somewhere that would block the two kids. Or the kids, having the virtue of more bodies, can just push past him or go around him and leave the bus. Either way, it draws me out of the story and I don’t appreciate my reading experience interrupted in such a way. And the premise is that the bus gets into an accident and that’s how Ashen dies, but there are so many plot holes just in the premise and I’ve been known to not enjoy books that start with a questionable premise.
Then, in chapter two, we get a flashback to her as a twelve-year-old, when she was living with her alcoholic mother and Jacob was her next-door neighbor, showing how, on Halloween night, a mysterious monster came and attacked her in her home. This chapter felt rather pointless, plus it didn’t read as if a twelve-year-old was experiencing it firsthand. Even considering how many books Ashen reads/read as a twelve-year-old, some of the turns of phrases used in this chapter again draw me out of the story because they don’t feel realistic for a child’s way of thinking. (yes, I do have some expertise in this because I work with twelve-year-olds, and not even my most well-read intelligent kids would use phrases like “she was exhausted to the core, but somehow her burdens were lighter,” or “The lights spasmed back on.”)
At the beginning of chapter three, I saw the same pattern emerging that dictates the plot of all urban fantasy novels. Girl is attacked by something mysterious as a preteen. For various reasons, the mysterious thing that attacked her is driven back and doesn’t return until she’s sixteen. Bonus points if it’s her sixteenth birthday or some other day of special significance. The plain Jane girl is drawn into an underworld-type situation (angels, demons, etc.) and has to save both her familiar world and this new world from a great and terrible evil. Yeah, readers of the genre will expect a familiar formula, but that predictable formula is exactly why I don’t like urban fantasy. Just once, I want a girl who’s born into the fantasy race, whatever it is, be it angels or demons or whatnot, and has to save the human world at the cost of her own world of angels, demons, etc. being sacrificed.
Then in Chapter Three, we return to the bus, where the two guys (the cowboy guy and the weird disgusting guy in the back who gave Ashen the creeps) are arguing and pull guns on each other.
LAWSUIT WAITING TO HAPPEN, the bus driver does and says nothing about the sound of multiple gunshots on his bus. Either the gunshots hit one of the other passengers, or hit a window and shattered it, or something. See my above note about the bus driver sucking at his job. City bus drivers are authorized (at least in my city) to deny their services to riders who are carrying a weapon. The minute those guns came out the bus driver should have pulled over and ordered both men off the bus. Or called his manager, or the police, or something. Not keep going along the route as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.
My editor’s brain kept kicking in, and I kept thinking to myself how the three chapters could have been condensed into one: start with Ashen and Jacob on the bus, but instead of all this brouhaha that happens that defies common sense, just go straight into the bus crash. Buses could crash for a variety of reasons: icy conditions, the bus driver loses control of the vehicle, the driver falls asleep at the wheel, etc. In my version of the story, Chapter One starts with Ashen waking up in the underworld, and then is like “last I remember, I was going to live with Jacob’s parents. Did our bus crash?” and introduce small flashbacks throughout to give us essential information. Get rid entirely of the shadow-thing attacking her at twelve on Halloween. Get rid entirely of the creepy guy leering at her, the cowboy blocking her from leaving, the gunfight on the bus. THAT is a much stronger hook that could bring in readers who dislike urban fantasy for its predictability but would love to get into the genre if every single book wasn’t exactly identical to all the others.
I don’t like reading books with my editor’s brain switched on. Sometimes my editor brain will get switched on early in a book and be like “But what if it was written THIS WAY instead” but there’s something that keeps me interested and reading (eg. character voice, empathy for the narrator, etc. as is what happened in Girls of Paper and Fire: the gorgeous prose and sympathy I felt for the protagonist overrode my editor brain saying BUT WHAT IF THIS HAPPENED INSTEAD) But in this case, there was nothing to keep me reading. I didn’t care about what happened to Ashen. I don’t think I even know much about her–all I know about her, even after fifty pages, is that she loved to read as a twelve-year-old and she has a turtle and she’s lived in an orphanage. She’s just kind of… reacting to stuff happening around her rather than having her own wants and desires within the story.
When I started skimming after the 20% or so mark, I decided to just throw in the proverbial towel, as it were. I have over 120+ books on my TBR and I don’t want to spend days on something I know I’m not going to enjoy. There’s definitely an audience out there somewhere for this book who will love it like it deserves because it’s not a bad book by any means. It’s just not the kind of book I like reading, and I don’t want to force myself to get through something I know I won’t be shoving in other people’s faces and saying THIS IS SOMETHING I JUST READ RECENTLY AND IT WAS AMAZING AND I LOVED IT SO MUCH READ IT PLEASE SO WE CAN DISCUSS IT. This book definitely has an audience, judging from how well-loved it is, but I don’t think it’s for me.
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