Title:Soul Beach [on Amazon | on Goodreads] Series:Soul Beach (1st of 3 books) Author:Kate Harrison [Site | Goodreads] Genres:Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery Year:2011 Age:12+ Stars:2/5 Pros:Peculiar, potentially killer idea... Cons: ...whose execution ends up being stretched beyond believability though. Also, lead may generate mixed feelings. WARNING!Some underage drinking. Sex on the Beach is mentioned. Will appeal to:Hardcore romantics who also happen to be ardent supporters of social networks and virtual reality.
Blurb:When Alice Forster receives an email from her dead sister she assumes it must be a sick practical joke. Then an invitation arrives to the virtual world of Soul Beach, an idyllic online paradise of sun, sea and sand where Alice can finally talk to her sister again - and discover a new world of friendships, secrets and maybe even love...But why is Soul Beach only inhabited by the young, the beautiful and the dead? Who really murdered Megan Forster? And could Alice be next? (Amazon excerpt)
Review:I had high expectations for this one. (Original take on) afterlife novel? Check. Murder mystery? Check. Just my kind of stuff. So I decided to dismiss the tendentially cheesy covers as insignificant (also because, based on the cover only, I wouldn't have read that gem called Sweethearts by Sara Zarr). In addiction to that, being my usual have-to-read-the-complete-series-together-or-nothing self, I waited for the last installment to come out and bought the whole package without a second thought. Which, for someone who's always refining her TBR list, was proof of an unwavering commitment. After all, the Goodreads reviews were highly favourable, and the pet peeves someone occasionally mentioned weren't supposed to mean much to me. Well, before I account for my disappointment, I just mean to point it out that this book is narrated by Alice, the dead girl's sister, but also gets the odd chapter where the unknown villain speaks. The first one of which I read on Amazon, and it made me think the book was better executed than it would have seemed to me later. OK, the first problem I encountered was the massive amount of acronyms. I had to look most of them up on an online dictionary, but honestly, that wasn't my main concern (also, it's not Mrs. Harrison's fault that I'm Italian, and thus not familiar with them). It's just that I had never come across a book that spotted all those many. Around 20 of them or more in a 256 (small-size) page novel - too many, really. Not the biggest of deals, but still. Then, there was Alice. At first I sympathized with her predicament - on one hand, Megan's tragic death had obviously struck her hard; on the other, finding that she could still talk to her via an exclusive website/social network for dead kids was of course a startling discovery, and having to live a double life because of that was distressing. But when she began to act like her own life was rubbish and the Beach was her reality of choice - even hinting at the supposed appeal of being dead herself in order to be reunited with her sister - she lost me. Also, do you need to have a boyfriend in order to feel compelled to apply make-up or (even) comb your hair? Is this the message Soul Beach passes to young girls? That if you're grieving but dating someone in the meantime, you have to make an effort to look decent, while otherwise it's acceptable not to? Because no one - from Alice's parents to her best friend Cara - really questions that. Of course, Cara tries her utmost in order to help Alice revert to her usual self...but never says anything about her going around like a crumpled bag - which, apparently, is the case. [...] But there's more that fuels my disappointment in this book. Now, the dead kids (called Guests) are all teens or barely out of that age range. (And the Beach even makes them - and their Visitors - look more beautiful than IRL, which is very convenient). We are told, more or less, that the Beach is a kind of limbo for those who died well ahead of their time, and due to unnatural causes. Does this rule out slightly older people, say, those who are 30 or so, and still died untimely at someone's hand? Where does the line get drawn? Too convenient, isn't it, that there are no adults around. And not really explained. Another convenient thing is that no one on the Beach (or at least, no one of the kids Alice befriends) remembers her/his own death - and even if they did, asking about such details would be forbidden. So Alice doesn't know who killed her sister, though she's (almost) sure it can't be Tim, Maggie's boyfriend, though the police is keeping close tabs on him. Also, Alice is apparently the only Visitor who has stuck around in a long time, and of course, she ultimately realises that she's the only one who can set the Guests free. Because, again apparently, if the case that brought a Guest on the Beach is resolved, she/he can leave the place - though no one knows where that person goes. And one of the Guests, a girl called Triti, is desperate to leave the Beach and its everlasting, fake perfection. Meggie even bosses her sister about it, more or less - as in "get your ass on the job because there's a girl suffering here (not to mention, embarassing the hell out of everyone else, of course), and if this goes on any longer, it's all your fault". So Alice tests this theory by trying to solve the mystery about Triti's death, and in the meantime rehearsing her own sister's shot at freedom. She also gets an unexpected ally, a 19 year old computer genius-slash-geek called Lewis, who agrees to help her research Triti's death and even takes active part in an unrealistic plan aimed at making the culprit pay. Of course, Alice finds the time to fall in love as well...not with the geek, but with a Guest. As in, a dead kid. Because the specifics of Soul Beach (the site) are a bit blurry...Alice is having an entirely virtual experience, mouse in hand - but at the same time, a version of herself is actually walking on the Beach and somehow interacting with it (the sights, the smells, the weather), though she can't physically connect with the people there nor taste their food. So, of course, love is only the next step...and that's when I go ballistic. Because at first I tried to reason that such a thing is the 2.0 version of having a crush on a music/TV/movie celebrity. But dating a dead kid, that's a no-no. To top it all, a certain thing happened at the end of the book, and my not-stellar rating further dropped along with it... I was forgetting...the cheesy lines about Danny (Alice's dead beau). Only a couple of examples... "Saying his name is like giving myself an exquisite little electric shock." "Speaking his name is like reciting the world's shortest, most beautiful piece of poetry." Yikes. So, basically, the 2 stars here are for the killer idea...that would have deserved a much better-thought execution.
For my review of "Soul Fire" (second installment in the series) click here. For my review of "Soul Storm" (third installment in the series) click here. For more Afterlife books click here.
Left to right: German Hardcover/Kindle cover (old crime novel style);
Dutch Paperback cover (we're-all-drunk-here style...)