Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: She Smells the Dead by E.J. Stevens

Title:  She Smells the Dead
Author:  E.J. Stevens
Publisher:  Sacred Oaks Press
Genre: YA/paranormal
Hardcover: 168 pages
ISBN: 0984247521
Summary from Goodreads:
It's the beginning of senior year and Yuki's psychic awareness of ghostly spirits is threatening to ruin her life. Her ability to sense spirits of the dead isn't glamorous like the ghost hunting on television. 


The smell impressions are becoming stronger. Yuki is being visited in her dreams, and she suspects that her friend Calvin is involved in something strange. To make matters worse her crush on Garrett is going unrequited, Yuki's friend Emma is on a rampage against bee oppression, and annoying Calvin Miller mysteriously disappears. 

Will Yuki be able to focus her powers in time to save the lost soul who is haunting her? Meanwhile, who will save Yuki from following the spirits into the light? 
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E.J. Stevens' She Smells the Dead is a paranormal mystery about a girl nicknamed Yuki who is haunted by ghostly spirits.  When someone haunts her, she finds herself assaulted by an overwhelming scent related to the recently deceased person.  Fortunately, she doesn't smell decaying flesh or rotting corpses, but what she does smell isn't much more pleasant.  For instance, if she was haunted by a person who used to make furniture, she might smell wood stain or varnish all day long.  Luckily for Yuki, her two best friends know all about her unusual paranormal ability, and they do everything they can to help her complete the detective work necessary to give the wayward spirits whatever resolution they're seeking.  But Yuki's friends just might be keeping some secrets of their own...

What I Liked:
-     The premise is intriguing.  I've read several novels about characters with paranormal abilities who connect with the dead in various ways, but this is the first book I've read that focused on smell as the protagonist's primary method of connecting with the dead.
-     Yuki is not the only one with a supernatural ability in this story, so there are some interesting twists in this book.  The description makes She Smells the Dead sound like a ghost story, but there are other paranormal elements at work too.
-    From her sense of humor to her goth wardrobe, I found Yuki easy to like.  In some ways she is an outsider, but aside from her distinctive fashion sense and her unique paranormal ability she is a fairly normal high school senior.  She is a member of the anime club, has a crush on a 'bad boy', and is looking forward to the homecoming dance.    
-     I am a fan of best-friend romances, and the main relationship in this story fits that bill nicely.
-     I really liked Yuki's friend Emma, who is confident, intelligent, and supportive.  Emma also happens to be a vegan, animal-rights activist, which I loved!
-     She Smells the Dead is the first book in E.J. Stevens' Spirit Guide series, so Yuki's challenges are actually just beginning by the final pages of the book, but it does feel like most of the major players and paranormal concepts have been introduced by the end of this first book.

What I Liked Less:
-     This book seemed a bit more like a short story than a novel.  It is only 168 pages and some chapters are only a page and a half long.
-     A few scenes could have benefited from tighter editing.  For instance, in one scene Yuki and Calvin are in his truck driving across a farm.  Yuki sees some bee hives and gets lost in thought as she recalls a conversation she had with a Emma the previous semester.  When Yuki snaps out of her reverie, she is startled by a person standing behind her asking why she is there.  As the reader, I was startled by the fact that Yuki was suddenly out of the truck somewhere on the farm.  When and where did Calvin park the truck?  When did Yuki get out of the truck?  Disorienting moments like that occasionally distracted me from the story.
-     I wanted more to unfold on the page.  Some scenes (including the resolution of the ghost story in this book) felt as though they were summarized rather than shared in detail on the page.  A lot of conversations are described rather than shown through dialogue, and many scenes that could have illustrated the romantic chemistry between two characters happen off the page and are summarized with lines like "Well and there was kissing. Lots and lots of kissing."
-     I was not a fan of Simon, a guy in his late thirties/early forties who constantly makes suggestive comments to high-schooler Yuki.  He is her mentor, and his inappropriate flirtatiousness is creepy and made him very difficult to tolerate or respect.  I basically wanted to skim forward a few paragraphs every time I saw his name on the page.

She Smells the Dead is a very quick read and a unique paranormal YA story.  It is the first book in E.J. Stevens' Spirit Guide series.  If you would like to learn more about She Smells the Dead or E.J. Stevens' poetry collections, visit her Spirit Guide website, blog, or twitter.


H Woodhurst said...

Just from the cover and title I don't think I would pick this book up. (Plus being so short I'd think it was a middle grader, not a YA book.) The title is different, but not something that would catch my eyes for reading purposes. And the idea that an older man is hitting on her is not only creepy (as you said) but I most certainly wouldn't want my daughter to read that in high school thinking that was a good, normal thing. On the other hand, as you pointed out, this is a definite different approach to finding the paranormal. Also a parent, if they read this, could talk to their child about why the older man hitting on a younger girl is not only wrong but how to deal with that. Thanks for the review

Candace said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this! I was really wondering how the story was, and am relieved that she doesn't actually smell rotting corpses. The title really made me wonder. I think I'll probably skip this one for now, but if I did run across a copy I might give it a try since it's so short.

Cleverly Inked said...

I enjoy EJ Stevens, I have her poetry book.

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