I loved the beginning of this book. It has banter between friends, TV series binge watching and an upcoming road trip to a haunted ranch that used to be the home of a serial killer. The main character is a true crime enthusiast who’s also more in tune with the spirit world than she’d like to be. Ever since the “Great Ouija Board Fiasco” in her childhood Riley has tried to squish, deny and otherwise ignore her ability to see dead people.
I was all in during the lead up to the weekend at the ranch and I loved the ooky spookiness of her time there. I loved Pete, the ghost boy she meets over hot chocolate; Pete became my favourite character. I even enjoyed the banter between Riley and Michael, a sceptic who was dragged along to the ranch because he lost a bet.
Michael, or Mr Perfect as I came to think of him, was a nice addition to the story during his initial banter with Riley but I ended up finding him nauseatingly perfect and hoped he’d turn out to be a serial killer in disguise. I was creeped out that Mr Perfect called Riley “my girl” and she goes all swoony about it when the serial killer also called his victims his girls. I also wondered how it was possible that Michael didn’t know what a séance was when he kept talking about his cousin who works as a medium.
Once the story left the ranch my excitement began to fade as this serial killer ghost story morphed into more of a romance (yes, I’m a romantiphobe), one that seemed to be a way for the characters to pass the time while they were waiting for people to respond to their murder investigation phone calls and emails. Naturally there’s the obligatory sex scene along with the follow up description of the next night – “They were two insatiable beasts”. Ugh! Trashy romance novel jargon is also borrowed, mentioning the serial killer’s “manhood”. Ugh! Eye roll!
I enjoyed the chapters that helped tell the story of the serial killer; the way he thought, what he was trying to accomplish and the history of some of his victims. I thought I would really like Mindy, the girl who lived, but was disappointed that she was mostly typecast as ‘helpless victim’. Fair enough, considering what she’d experienced but I wanted more for her. It also didn’t seem plausible that this woman who’d been in hiding since her escape would be so easy to find or that she’d respond to Riley in the way that she does.
I liked Riley’s character and really enjoyed the scenes when she was fangirling about her favourite TV series with another character as I could relate to that (maybe a little too well). I mostly enjoyed it when Riley chatted with her best friend Jade but Jade’s habit of spouting sexual euphemisms, while intended to be funny, had me practicing my eye rolling. The best (worst?) one was “cattle-prodding your oyster ditch with his lap rocket”. Seriously?
I did find Riley’s transition from denying her ability to embracing it a tad rushed but considering her experience at the ranch it was fairly understandable. I also found the wrap up of the story predictable right down to the police arriving fashionably late. I was really irritated by some of Riley’s actions including baiting the suspected murderer, leaving a key under her door mat for Mr Perfect when she was being stalked and mindlessly contaminating a crime scene even though she was obsessed with true crime and should have known better. Then again, it would take some of the fun out of reading a horror/mystery/paranormal book if the main characters didn’t do stupid things that you want to yell at them through the pages about.
I’m interested in reading the next book in the series because there was a lot to like about this book. I enjoyed the engaging style of writing and became hooked almost immediately. I was captivated until Riley left the ranch and turned into a swooner (is that a word?) who worries if her new boyfriend will yell at her for doing something stupid. It probably seems like I wouldn’t want to read on after essentially pulling this book apart but after such a strong beginning I have faith in this author’s ability to become one of my favourites. It feels like there’s potential for the characters to grow and given Riley’s still learning about her abilities I’m curious to see how the series progresses.
Content warnings include murder, sexual assault, stalking and kidnapping.
Thank you very much to NetGalley and Ringtail Press for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
The dead can speak. They need her to listen.
Ever since Riley Thomas, reluctant medium extraordinaire, accidentally released a malevolent spirit from a Ouija board when she was thirteen, she’s taken a hard pass on scary movies, haunted houses, and cemeteries. Twelve years later, when her best friend pressures her into spending a paranormal investigation weekend at the infamous Jordanville Ranch – former home of deceased serial killer Orin Jacobs – Riley’s still not ready to accept the fact that she can communicate with ghosts.
Shortly after their arrival at the ranch, the spirit of a little boy contacts Riley; a child who went missing – and was never found – in 1973.
In order to put the young boy’s spirit to rest, she has to come to grips with her ability. But how can she solve a mystery that happened a decade before she was born? Especially when someone who knows Orin’s secrets wants to keep the truth buried – no matter the cost.
CW/TW: Adult language, sexual situations, discussions about sexual assault