How to Ditch Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser
We start where How to Date Dead Guys left off. There’s no time skip—we jump right in after Mike disappears into the river. Emma is still dealing from the shock of losing all of her friends, and she wants to solve Steve’s murder. She also clearly has unresolved feelings for Jake, even though she came to grips with her issues with Mike at the end of How to Date Dead Guys.
Emma and Walker investigate a series of murders, and Emma becomes possessed by the spirits of the victims. She relives their deaths, and a particularly evil spirit, Shadow, inhabits her, too. Through Shadow, Emma learns that ‘the Master’ wants to turn her to The Dark Side. This part of the plot isn’t particularly clear, but it launches the story into the possession plot line, which carries through the remainder of the story in a more satisfying way than whatever is meant to happen with the Master.
There are lots of horror elements in this novel, more so than in the first book of the series. The dead church ladies coupled with Emma’s hallucinations are creepy, and while the visualization works, it’s not the story’s strongest elements. The psychological tension between Emma, Walker, and their respective families grips much harder than anything with dead people and witches. The tone in How to Ditch Dead Guys isn’t as lighthearted as the one in How to Date Dead Guys, but during its best moments, the book tries for it. The ease with which the characters interact offsets the darker moments in this series.
The award of ‘Most Improved Character’ goes to Walker. He’s an actual character in this novel instead of a plot device! Walker’s growing relationship with Emma and the tension between Emma and his family is more dramatic than a thousand spirit possessions. I genuinely cared what would happen with Walker this time, and I’m glad he’s sticking around in this series. Being that this is, you know, a series about dead people and necromancy, that’s not a guarantee.
Part 2 opens when Emma ‘dies’ and goes to purgatory. Her spell to destroy the Book of Shadows goes awry and she finds herself in a swim center. The bad news? She thinks she’s dead. The best news? Jake is back, and oh boy, did this story need the romantic tension he shares with Emma. The purgatory section focused on what this series does best: interpersonal tensions. All of the paranormal elements are side dressings to how Bernard misses his wife or how none of them trust Steve or how Emma can’t parse her complicated feelings for Jake. The paranormal elements are underwhelming compared to what’s happening between the characters, which is the tension the feeds the story.
This carries through to the end of the novel, where Mike and his brother, Kevin, come back into the story. Kevin’s a cop now, and he helps Emma clear Walker’s name. Emma’s guilt propelled How to Date Dead Guys into the final act, and Emma’s understandable stubbornness in the face of her family and friends’ struggles brings this second book in the series to a close. If I’m honest, I wasn’t quite as into the earlier parts of this book because I didn’t feel the focus on the paranormal elements did Emma or the story any favors, but these stories are slow burners. The later parts of the book make up for some of what I found lacking early on because the story shifted back to relying on the tension between the characters for drama, which is what worked the best in this novel.
- Black moths! Moth terror: take 2. This is the second book I’ve read with demonic moths. I’m glad their horror potential is being recognized.
- Walker’s mom is quite the obstacle. The best parts of this book are the human elements. It almost feels more like contemporary NA than paranormal.
- Of course purgatory is swim aerobics.
- The series always shocks me with how dark it gets. It feels like a cozy family drama, but then it springs this ending on you, and you wonder what you’re reading.
Rating: 4 stars
Even though I personally didn’t like this story as much as the first one, it builds the series and ultimately will have the same elements that made How to Date Dead Guys so much fun to read. This is a darker book, but this is a series about dead people, so I’m not completely shocked.
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