Pros: An interesting variety of takes on the spiritual side of life
Cons: Stories range from fantastic to awful
Rating: 3 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
The Other Side is a book of five stories by bestselling authors, in which all of them attempt to poke into the ghostly and/or spiritual. There are plenty of shades of mystery and romance to go around as well, depending on the story, and some erotic material as well. I found two stories to be outstanding; two to fall somewhere in the middle; and one… well. I’ll come back to that.
I was a tad leery of J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts’s Possession in Death. Her futuristic detective series is fantastical, but not generally supernatural, and I wasn’t sure how the change would work out. Robb makes it seamless, and I absolutely loved the result. This story takes place just after the events in Indulgence in Death. Eve stumbles across a dying old woman who makes her promise to help the woman’s missing granddaughter. Eve naturally can’t let go of the case, but not entirely for her usual reasons—she finds herself believing more and more that some part of the old woman has stuck around with her to see the job done.
Mary Blayney’s The Other Side of the Coin didn’t really do it for me, but I could imagine fans of historicals liking it more than I did. An earl and his countess are having marital difficulties that are driving them apart, when a wish upon a coin causes them to spend time literally walking in each other’s shoes. Frankly, I tend to feel that body swap stories are done to death, and that plot element-wise, this one didn’t really have anything new to offer. However, people who are particularly into this era of historicals might enjoy the perspectives and details more than I did.
Patricia Gaffney’s The Dancing Ghost ended up unexpectedly enthralling me. I’m really not much into historicals (this one is set in the late 1800s on the east coast of the US), but the characters are so fresh and snappy, the details so enjoyable, that I got completely sucked in. In this tale, a woman wants to keep her ancestral home from being sold off, and she hires a fraud of a ghost investigator to help her scare off buyers. She hardly expected to fall in love with him, nor to find out that he isn’t quite what he seems. And perhaps there is something supernatural going on in the house after all, at that.
Mary Kay McComas’s Never Too Late to Love tells the tale of a very practical woman who wants to knock down her crumbling childhood home—only to find the ghosts of her mother and aunts holding it hostage until she can figure out how to set them free to move on. Add in a handsome next-door neighbor whose son can see the ghosts, and things unexpectedly get complicated. This tale is enjoyable, if a tad predictable in places; it didn’t blow me away like Gaffney and Robb’s entries, but I certainly enjoyed it.
Unfortunately, it was Ruth Ryan Langan’s Almost Heaven that let me down. First, let me say that I really don’t like to get too negative about someone’s story. Not just because I know what it feels like to have someone tear apart your work, but because I’m well aware that different people have different tastes, and what I dislike someone else will undoubtedly love. All that said, this story frustrated me enough that I’m going to have to vent a bit here.
The dialogue had me saying, “who actually talks like that?!” It felt so… false, as though each character was reading pre-prepared, well-considered lines. The plot was extremely transparent and predictable; even before anything bad happened it was obvious who the bad guy was and what he was doing. The good-guy characters were ALL complete and utter Mary Sues—they were sweet as sugar, pure as the driven snow, and without flaw. The bad guys were pure eeeevil, to the point where I was surprised they weren’t twirling mustaches while laughing.
Add on top of that some plot developments that were absolutely ridiculous… Okay, given how obvious most of the story is I don’t feel that this is much of a spoiler, but skip to the next paragraph if you wish to avoid it. If you were a ghost, and you wanted to keep your daughter from marrying someone dangerous, would your first thought be to find a properly handsome man for her to fall in love with instead, and spend a long time trying to get them to fall for each other, or would you try the much quicker route (given that you clearly have some means of affecting the world) of simply exposing the bad guy? Especially since that’s what they end up having to do later on anyway, which gives away the fact that they could have done it at any time?
Anyway, I apologize for spending so much of the review on one story. However, the experience of reading it frustrated me enough that it eclipsed some of the more positive experiences of reading the other stories. I do recommend reading the book if just for the utter delights of Robb and Gaffney’s stories, not to mention McComas’s fun piece. And of course, if you enjoy historicals and don’t mind another body-swap story, don’t forget to check out Blayney’s tale. But I just can’t recommend Langan’s story unless you don’t mind saccharine, too-perfect situations and characters.
I appreciate your review. I think you saved me from yet another disappointment caused by listening to my sister’s recommendations of “good reads”.
Possession in Death and the Dancing Ghost seem like very enjoyable reads. I too can’t stand another body swap story. It was done for me the day I watched freaky Friday for the fifth time. And I totally understand your frustration with ‘Almost Heaven’. It’s one thing for a story to be predictable and the characters unidimensional, and it’s another thing that you feel that the writer is not even trying to fix that.