The first thing I want to say about this novel is that it had heaps of potential. It's a really clever twist on the very popular editor/publisher/writer romance trope that's kicking off lately.
In this version... the editor's dead and the writer sees ghosts.
I was SO excited for this release. But ultimately, I was really let down across the board.
Characterization & Relationships
This is where the book fell flat for me. The issues are two-fold.
The romance portion of the book was a big letdown. Whenever Benji and Florence were together, they never seemed to click. The chemistry just wasn't there, and I kept waiting for something to change that, but there was never a moment where I thought huh they're good together. I could tell that Ashley Poston thought there were those moments, but it never really came together. The moments were too fleeting and surface-level to give any real depth to them.
Benji is an interesting character in that he breaks from the "grumpy" character mode. He's kind, softer, a bit nerdy, and humbly intelligent. It's an attractive take on the editor character. He's someone who lived his life in love with what he did.
But we never saw that. Even when he's dead, it's alluded to that he loved what he did, but the emotions just aren't on the page. Whether he's sad about being dead or fondly remembering being alive, it felt shallow and brushed over. Poston isn't able to write empathy very well, and it created a real disconnect in almost every character relationship.
There were a lot of plot threads that centered on fractured relationships. The ideas behind there were all really good, but we never got felt sadness, betrayal, and frustration that the author alluded to. There wasn't enough to feel what the characters felt. It was "telling, not showing" but with emotions.
For example, there's a strain on Florence's relationship with her sister because Florence moved out of their small town and left Alice behind.
This creates that "coming-home-again" tension that should've set the scene for Florence's arrival back home. It tried to amp up the tension, but their arguments were really juvenile and repetitive. So repetitive. Then suddenly it was over. They were fine again because Alice suddenly needed her big sister.
Lastly, there were a lot of characters who felt unnecessary because they were incredibly underdeveloped... resting on clichés without substance. They were plot devices (that we didn't even need).
Florence's best friend. She exists only to push Florence out of her comfort zone so that the author had a way to make Florence and Ben meet (which was really poorly done anyway). Then she shows up at the end to make shitty jokes that don't at all fit with the funeral vibe.
Florence's high school bully. This WHOLE subplot sucked. Hardcore. It was disorganized, VERY cliché, and did a ridiculous job of closing out the "I was bullied for years" subplot. Basically, asshole teenager is still an asshole (even though she's being rude to someone whose dad literally just died) but then suddenly decides to "change" and is magically forgiven. YUCK. BOO. BOOOOOOO.
Just so many small moments that the author thought added up to what she intended, but they missed the mark completely.
Writing & Plot
SOOO, the PLOT. I already said - first thing - that this plot had eons of potential. It's clever. It could've had that Lucy Score-esque small town supernatural romantic comedy vibe that she does SO well in the Riley Thorne series. But it didn't. This book just didn't accomplish any of the things it set out to do: not the plot, not the characters, not the humor, not the overall tone. Without these things, the plot can't succeed, no matter how good the idea.
The idea behind the plot is solid, but once Poston broke it down into pieces to try to write this novel, it fell apart. None of the subplots are successful. None of them are really interesting, even though they could've been. This is because of the writing.
Poston's writing is riddled with cliché jokes that she seems to think are on-the-nose funny. There were multiple times where I wanted to groan and roll my eyes. The jokes are dated and immature, yet she seems to think it's witty banter. It just didn't work, and the fact that she thought it was top-tier humor really turns me off from reading more of her writing.
Her writing is repetitive without actually moving the story along. The same conversations seem to happen then the problems are just resolved. This happens between Florence and her siblings and her mother. It happens in Florence's own thought process CONSTANTLY. This book would be a lot shorter if she actually did anything. But she just walks around town thinking about it.
The only action she actually took was to hunt down an Elvis impersonator for her dad's funeral. But the whole time, everyone was complaining about how Florence refuses to let anyone help her with all the work she's doing. But like??? She didn't DO anything.
The writing, at its base level, contradicted itself and talked in circles. So many continuity issues. There were many, many times where one of the characters would say something or something would happen, then the author seemed to forget about it?
For example, Ben asks Florence what happened to him. He says he doesn't remember how he died. Then one chapter later, Florence is musing to herself and "wonders" if Ben remembers how he dies.
This happens multiple times. It's so frustrating. It seems like the author wrote this book out of order then forgot what she wrote and forgot to go back and fix the continuity issues.
I don't know how an editor didn't catch these. When it comes to this book, everyone could've done better. They saw a cool twist on a current trend and didn't look much farther into the writing.
I knew from the beginning how this book would play out... that's how it goes with books that rely heavily on trope and popular plots. But everything else should've made a familiar trope really exciting and new.
There was one twist that I didn't see coming. It was really clever. (I might've seen it if I hadn't been so over this book). I think people saw that interesting twist and let that influence their opinion on this, because nothing else was done well.
I really wished for more. The small moments I enjoyed where seriously overshadowed by how lackluster this was.