Thursday, August 6, 2015

ARC Review + Interview: The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts - K.C. Tansley

The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts
K.C. Tansley
Series: The Unbelievable #1
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Release Date: August 1st, 2015
Publisher: Beckett Publishing Group
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Because of scheduling, I'm posting this review after the book's been published. Since it's only been a couple of days, I hope I'll be forgiven. I received an uncorrected copy of this book for an honest review, and I want to thank K.C. Tansley and her publishing team for being so lovely and cooperative!

Anyway, this is not a ghost story.

I say this because I seriously thought this was going to be a ghost story. Which, usually, I'm skeptical about and don't read, but the blurb had me gripped from the first line. Instead, it's the sci-fi paranormal late 19th century murder mystery I didn't know I needed.

The novel starts off slow, easing the reader into Kat Preston's life at McTernan Academy. This put me off because nothing major happened during this period other than vignettes introducing us to the pieces of Kat's life that matter: having to be in public spaces to avoid ghosts (so, the library), Morgan, her best friend, and her academic life (specifically her coursework in history). The book is very focused on Kat's inner life that, while we see Kat preparing for the party, we never see her go to the party, and it's not until much later in the novel does it make sense why a scene like that would be cut after listening to Kat and Morgan discuss it for half a chapter. However, the book held me.

What kept me reading in the beginning, and what makes the book so special to me, are the quirks. The humor definitely adds a lot of relief necessary to relax the tension in the novel, and in the beginning, helped give space to digest the mythology that Kat was explaining. From remarks about tylonol-laced brownies to literally wearing a rock collection to fend off ghosts, this novel can be hilarious. While it definitely takes a couple of chapters to get comfortable with itself, it heats up, and by chapter seven, the narrative current pulled me under. I'll get to the mythology later on, but a significant portion was explained in this section, and it all felt fresh and interesting and very specific.

Another quirck I loved was the way Tansley chooses to describe eye color. Describing eye color has always been a challenge, it seems, because it is ubiquitously done, but rarely does it give much characterization. Smudged eyeliner, perfect eyebrows, wrinkles near the eye – these are all things that can give actual characterization over eye color. However, this novel not only makes it forgivable, but helps characterize the protagonist instead of another character. Every person Kat describes the eye color for has a certain rock to match it – hematite, turquoise, etc. Kat also believes that rocks can hold protective power from the Earth, which helps add a layer to the way she describes people. If you look into the supernatural myths about certain rocks and how they are important to some cultures, it gets even more bizarre and wonderful.

As it is an ARC, I won't spend too long discussing the language. From what I've read, the core of the language is straightforward. The only real flaw is its timing with breaks, as it can occasionally be choppy when transitioning from scene to scene when time has passed or when flashbacks are occurring. There are few other flaws, none that are glaring (the dialogue can be exceptionally good, but a couple of times slips into awkward adjectives). Overall, however, it gets the job done, mostly because the voice in it is honest and realistic. Since the book is in First Person narration, this is the voice of our MC, Kat. Kat doesn't linger on one thing for long periods of time, so her language is rarely flowery. Every so often though, there are gems like this: "Toria emerged from me like steam rising from a cup of tea." (Tansley, 5) In this way, the novel feels as though it is being relayed at a campfire late at night, like a ghost story (which is totally why I thought it was going to be a ghost story). It's that feeling that really helped bring the book alive, because it's pretty rare to find that voice – at once dramatic, personal, self-aware, and lighthearted.

There is a romance. And it is actually really good. Enough to hook me, and I approach book romances like they're bear traps. But not this one. No insta-love, no nonsense. In fact, the protagonists Kat and Evan, to whom most of the plot is dedicated to trying to kill, hate each other. He's her TA and doesn't like that he's been dragged into a summer project with high schoolers. Especially Kat. Kat hates him as well, because he's posh and grades her poorly. She's inquisitive and a believer, he's the hard scientific unbeliever. And slowly, like a real actual romance, they begin to like each other. In their case (like the case with many popular romances that flourish this way, like Percy and Annabeth), it is through trauma and force that they're stuck together. In the end, they've worked out their crap: he's still a jerk, and she's still a prat, but they're totally in love. (Also I'm not sure if it counts if only their souls have sex . . . but they totally had sex.)

But what it really comes down to is the plot and mythology. If this novel shines the most anywhere, it's here.The protagnist's-investigation-of-a-centuries-old-murder in a ghost-story may be critiqued as a clichéd sub-plot, but the author frames it perfectly so that it unfolds into the protagnist's life as if two stories are happening, rather than a sub-plot for dramatic effect. She does this by giving the protagonist a window to witness the events leading up to the murder 129 years ago. Kat and Evan time travel into other perople's bodies and have to live their lives, trying to find the killer. It's so . . . rad. After all, it isn't often that you have ghosts who were at the scene of the crime, and it's even rarer for you to trade places in time with that ghost and live the scene of the crime. And it's even rarer to have this awesome set of rules and mythology behind the plot. This is the major one, as noted by Kat:
"Death shattered souls. This is the first thing you need to know. The largest chunk of the soul moved on. I’m pretty sure it reincarnated, but the ghosts were kind of cagey about that part. The ghosts themselves were the biggest pieces of what was left behind. Then there were the shards from the ghost chunk that were called “spirits”. They were attached to a specific location and a particular event. They were mostly just a nuisance. They didn’t have any real thought processes or intentions. They just repeated a moment. Maybe it was the last thing they thought about before they died. Maybe it was the moment of death. Either way, I did my best to avoid spirits." (3)
But there's so much more. For example, only the living can do magic, so good generally need the living. My favorite part, though, is the fact that everything hinges on belief. If you don't believe in ghosts, they have no effect on you. You can even, to an extent, convince yourself that they're not there. Evan, a staunch skeptic about ghosts, was enough to deter them from Kat's life for a significant portion of their time in a definitely haunted house.

A reminder though. Because the plot includes time travelling through mirrors to discover the secrets of the 129 year old murder mystery that literally still haunts our protagonist for some reason, even the humor and witty dialogue is appropriated to help make the plot more seamless. This is done deftly, and I only noticed it after going back through my highlights (mostly everything Evan said was highlighted, because he's the bomb). Lines like these, while funny, also helped with scene transitions:
Now it was my turn to blush. “Stop flirting with underage girls,” Evan muttered. Morgan snorted. “That’s like asking him to stop breathing.” “Speaking of dangerous ages. How close is Joshua to twenty-three?” Seth asked. Morgan gazed at the landscape flashing by the train window. “His twenty-third birthday is July 30th,” she said softly. (pg 35)
Seriously though, I love the plot. I couldn't guess who committed the crime until really late in the novel, and even then I was shaky and thought I was pulling at straws.

That's it for my review . . . but below is a short interview I have with K.C. Tansley about the book, so stick around!

- Marlon

Interview with K.C. Tansley
Website | Twitter

Q: The novel is an intricate blend of ghost-story, murder mystery, and paranormal romance. Was it hard blending genres for this book? 

A: No in the drafting, but yes during revision. When I’m crafting the story, I don’t think about genre boxes. I focus on telling the best story I can. Sometimes something paranormal happens; sometimes it takes a thriller turn. I don’t decide on a genre and write to it. I tell a story and the story goes where it goes. The drafting is always fun and exciting. When I’m revising, that’s when it gets harder. I have to think about what the two main genres are and make sure I hit on the key things that readers expect and require in those genres. Mysteries require different elements than paranormals. Genre blending requires that I hit on the key elements of the genre, but that I don’t get bogged down in trying to play to every single genre expectation for every genre I’m blending into the story.

Q: I've read that you've traveled quite a bit. Were there any places you traveled to that influenced the Isle of Acacia?

A: When I was in prep school, we went to France for spring break. There was one place I will never forget: Mont St. Michel in Normandy. Back then, it sat on an island that was only connected to the mainland via a single road. I loved the idea of a storm cutting us off from the mainland. It spoke to the gothic part of my soul and it inspired the Isle of Acacia. Much closer to home, the Thimble Islands sit off the coast of Connecticut. I loved the idea of a family owning a private island. I melded these two places together to create the Isle of Acacia.

Q: The intricate universe behind your story has been with you since at least middle school. Were its concepts what enticed you to write?

A: Sadly, I let them sit for decades. It was J.K. Rowling who made me do it, actually. The ending of the Harry Potter series was what propelled me to finally write my own story world because I wanted to hang out with characters and not have someone else deciding when their story ended. I wanted characters I could be around for the rest of my life.

Q: What was your biggest hurdle getting this book out into the world?

A: The business side of things had some major hiccups. After the book sold to a big publisher, my agent and the publisher were in contract negotiations for a while. Then I got my editorial letter and things started moving. I made it through the editorial revisions and was headed into line edits when my imprint shut down. Everything was in limbo for a few months until my rights reverted back to me. I had a better book, but no home for it. It was incredibly difficult to go through. I’m lucky a small press picked me up.

 Q: Whose story did you find easier or more interesting: Toria's or Kat's?

A: Toria’s was definitely easier to write. She’s got such a strong sense of self. Plus with Toria, I got dropped into her world for a week. It’s easy to make it really exciting and fun when you are covering a short timespan with tons of action. Toria was a little older and so she’s more settled into who she is. In 1886, a nineteen year old was an adult. I think of Toria as Kat’s shadow. She’s everything Kat isn’t. I love the juxtaposition of them because Toria’s personality is so solid and Kat’s is still developing. Kat is quieter and she’s still finding herself, which means she has so much room to grow in the series.

So . . . ghosts? Real or not?
Let us know in the comments!


  1. It's often said that genre crossing is a no-no in writing, but at a recent writers' conference I attended, there was a discussion devoted to genre crossing (blending) and how it's the new thing in fiction. So go you. Ahead of your time! :)

    1. I've been to a few conferences and I think it really depends on the writer. It's definitely harder than writing straight genre fiction because you are now playing to a few sets of expectations for different genres. LOL. Well, that's very cool to hear. I just love letting the story go where it wants and categorizing it when it's done.