Pre-read: Oh wow, I think…this may be my very first read from the author here.
I’m going in, guys. Seriously, I’m taking the plunge. Let’s hope it turns out well. *crosses fingers*
Post-read: Upon finishing “Ghost House”, I feel a myriad of frustrations along several levels, but the one comment I’ve made that my mind keeps coming back is this: “If this book had been put in the hands of a more capable writer, this could’ve actually been a good story, despite how formulaic it was. Unfortunately, the downfall – pretty much 98% of the problems I saw – of the novel was its extremely juvenile and lackluster writing.”
I feel like I’ve run a marathon reading Alexandra Adornetto’s “Ghost House” because of the many patience breaks I took to be able to slog through it. This is my first read from the author, and while I haven’t read her first series “Halo” (and notably, I don’t plan on doing so because of its respective content issues), I’ve read enough excerpts and opinions surrounding the series to get an idea of what it offered.
One note I’ll start with in this review is that I’m really drawn to YA ghost stories. Liked them ever since I was a kid. I think some can be creepy, some contemplative, some reflective, others sweet depending on the content of the work.
The thing about “Ghost House” that I knew going in was that it had a very template PNR structure to it. Upon finishing it, I would say that pretty much any YA writer could’ve made this a compelling, powerful read in the vein of PNR or a tough subject read reflecting on loss and even having an ending that provides an unexpected promise of reunion. You have a protagonist who unexpectedly lost her mother (never mentioned cause of death, probably would’ve made it more significant if something had been), the girl’s life gets upended to England, she meets a ghost with a troubled past and has an alluring pull to her in more ways than one. But in the same breath, she ends up the target of another vengeful spirit who has ties with the ghost her affections turn toward, and there’s a bit of a historical story interspersed that tells the story of these two ghosts and the tragic circumstances that befall them. And interspersed with that, the protagonist has to come to terms with her own loss and sentiments with the people who surround her.
That sounds like a compelling template, right? And like I said, pretty much any writer in the vein of YA could probably make this work in an interesting way.
Anyone EXCEPT Alexandra Adornetto. *Rose pinches brow and sighs* I’m pretty floored in the aftermath of reading this because the main problem with “Ghost House” is the extremely poor writing. And there’s no excuse for it, none at all. A lot of the problems I saw in this narrative are things that are textbook Fiction Writing 101 – things that can be fixed with thorough editing and just common sense for knowing what makes a narrative move best. There are massive infodumps that cut the tension in this book short where it would be more potent, superfluous tangents that a reader probably wouldn’t care less about, and formulaic progressions that have very little to no imagination behind them, particularly with the template considered. And I don’t understand why these issues weren’t addressed before this book ever hit primetime.
Chloe, the protagonist, is a rather insufferable lead to follow when all is said and done. She’s not as bad when we first meet her, considering the loss of her mother and dealing with family issues. I kind of felt for her because I had the consideration of the recent loss of my own mother, so the beginning had me for Chloe’s struggles. She shows her naivete in places with the assumptions she makes about British culture and for an American teenager, she felt quite awkward for presentation for the most part – I honestly thought it was an inaccurate portrayal. She comes across as not only culturally ignorant, but also uses phrases that seem to bounce between American and something else – too formal for the character voice. It threw me out more than a few times through the story.
What made it worse was the fact that Chloe’s character is constantly assuming and in her own head most of the narrative – there wasn’t a lot of dynamic actions to be had. Details were told more than shown, and the moments that were shown were superfluous environmental details that did too much, bogging down the flow of the story. The dialogues between characters were stiff, particularly as Chloe makes her way to England, ends up instaloving between a handsome ghost that she sees upon the grounds, and also instaloving on another living boy who befriends her. It’s all too convenient and the way that Chloe will go from the immediate encounters that promise fear and peril to random tangents that break the tension really bothered me (I mean seriously, digressing to contemplations over ghost sex? Come on…). One of the times when Chloe’s brother was *drowning,* she really doesn’t do anything but observe in the scene and what should’ve been a scene with heightened tensions came across as a heroine who really did nothing at all while everyone else was acting around her and felt tedious in its recounting of details.
But Chloe’s has the *power* to right all wrongs and triumph over evil!**
**Wait…wrong scenario, I’m thinking of Sailor Moon.
I struggled quite a bit to follow Chloe because for all the clumsiness she had as a character, her telegraphing of her clumsiness and the cluttered presentation of that and lack of focus made it a hard read. (Word to the wise: just because you have a clumsy character doesn’t mean your presentation of that should be clumsy.) I struggled through this even when I was at least partially intrigued by the backstory of the ghosts – particularly Alexander Reade and his former lover Isobel. Alex wasn’t exactly a bad character for a ghost (but he was too convenient of an LI), and Isobel had enough creepy factors surrounding her and mystique to carry the narrative at least some of the way. Not enough, but some – and that’s what saved this narrative from me giving it a half star or even 1-star for the read. I’m being extremely generous with saying that, because people with lesser patience than me – I don’t see them even getting past the tedious and formulaic points.
I still feel like the periodic details of this were skipped around and not really accurate to the time for language and set-up. When it is revealed what led to Alexander’s and Isobel’s demises, it’s a tragic circumstance, but the juvenile interludes really shortchange the impact of what that presented here. Also, I saw that the narrative was trying to draw a powerful parallel of loss in Chloe’s life with the ghosts here, but again – the problem is the focus of the narrative. On one hand it tries too hard to telegraph this in blunt terms (not allowing the emotion to come through on its own) and on another, it diverts from the more pertinent turns of the narrative to Chloe’s instalust.
The ending is really another beginning in what seems to be a longer series, but while I saw a parallel in the ending of this with an anime series I remember watching long ago (Fushigi Yuugi), I can’t really say it was a cute reveal because it was such a long slog getting to that point. I was ready to be done with the novel by the time I finished, and I think if the narrative is going to carry past this point, it’s got to gain one major thing in its overarching presentation: FOCUS. And Adornettto does not have that in her narrative here.
There weren’t many specific things I could recall that I was offended by in the overarching narrative – maybe a few things about virginity and other odd tangents that made me side-eye my reader screen a few times. But while it’s not the worst narrative I’ve read, it could use a lot of work.
I think those who have read Adornetto’s “Halo” series or her other books will not have seen much growth in narration from the author here, and that is likely to her detriment. “Ghost House” seems to make the same mistakes for narration, and follow so much to the template of its genre that it doesn’t really stand out in the vein of YA PNR. And that makes it a forgettable title, despite some points where it could’ve had promise. Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed, and I’m not sure if I’d pick up another title from the author based on this, considering it was such a tedious, unfocused read.
Overall: 1.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Harlequin TEEN.