Back in the mists of time (or February, as it’s better known – is it really only a few months ago?), I attended one of the stop-offs on the Orenda Roadshow. You can read my post about it here.
The event provided an opportunity to meet the authors at the end and, of course, buy a few books. Tempted to purchase a book by each author there, my innate frugality won over in the end and I only bought six – though I’ve never bought that many in one go before. A book I’d intended to buy was I Am Dust by Louise Beech, about which I’d read terrific reviews but, by the time I came to pick a copy up, it had sold out. Disappointed, I found another of hers I’d heard good things about: Call Me Star Girl.
All six books were added to a pile I have next to my bed, and I was really looking forward to getting started on them. And then lockdown occurred. Unfortunately, I was 160 miles away from home when it happened (a hazard of a long-distance relationship), and haven’t seen my house – or pile of books – since. For a variety of reasons, regardless of how lockdown rules are relaxed, that situation isn’t likely to change for at least a couple of months. Frustrating, or what?
Then, several weeks ago, I noticed Louise had put something on social media about I Am Dust being available on Kindle for 99p. In spite of my innate frugality, the price wasn’t a key driver. But it was a useful reminder that I could still get the book I’d wanted to buy. Downloading it was a no-brainer. And so was bringing it to the top of my reading list.
So, what did I think?
Before I answer that, it’s worth adding a cautionary note. This period of lockdown has been an opportunity to catch up on reading – amongst other things – but it’s also taken its toll in ways other than the virus itself. I don’t expect to absolutely love each book I read, but with most I’ve picked up recently I’ve struggled to properly engage with them. At first I thought it was the books, but the range I’ve read should have meant there’d be at least one that hooked me in and keep me glued. That wasn’t the case at all.
I should also add that there was an issue with the formatting that niggled me. Very often the text would end part way down a page, only for me to flip over and find the chapter continued. Changing the font sizing on my kindle eliminated it sometimes, but not always. This, of course, is no fault of the author, but it did detract from the reading experience.
My point is that, whilst I’ll give an honest review, I know it probably doesn’t do justice to the book or Louise.
From what I’ve heard of her writing, she doesn’t slot neatly into a genre. Nor do I, and it’s always good to find out you’re not alone. It will be interesting to read her other books to see how they vary in this sense. Certainly, I saw no obvious genre here. I note it’s been put into Gay and Lesbian Literary Fiction, Occult Suspense and Ghost Suspense on Amazon. Some of the reviewers have also suggested it would fit into a YA category, though I struggle to understand why they think that. Still, some people have said there’s sci-fi in Ravens Gathering, and I promise you there isn’t.
The narrative flowed well, and the switching from past to present was also done effectively. As was the characterisation, particularly Chloe, around whom the story revolved. Even the minor players also came across fully formed. It’s a rare talent that can create relatable characters in a few lines.
Having flashbacks to teenage years and realising this was only the mid-noughties was a little unnerving, a reflection of my age, not the story itself. My teenage years were in the ’70s and ’80s, so my teenage references were quite different, but I connected in the end. The Ouija scenes were very effective, conveying the eeriness very well. No spoilers, though. If you want to know whether they really contacted the dead, you’ll have to read it yourself.
For me, the early part of the book felt slow, but I suspect that’s largely down to my frame of mind. The concept would have been intriguing enough for me under normal circumstances and, by the half way mark I was up and running, so something in there did break through the funk affecting the rest of my reading. The story isn’t filled with twists, but there were reveals, and one of those caught me completely by surprise.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Even with a comparatively negative head on, I can see the book’s well written and taps into the emotions at a core level. I’m certainly glad I persevered, and I’m looking forward to getting home and starting on that pile of other books from Orenda’s authors, including Call Me Star Girl.