August 26, 2020

Lauren James: "The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker" (ARC Review)

Title: The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Lauren James [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2020
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Imaginative take on ghosts. Lots of twists and turns. Solid characters.
Cons: Sometimes the writing gets in the way of our connecting with the characters. The anti-heroine might not sit well with everyone (though there are plenty of co-protagonists to love). 
WARNING! A sex scene (though not overly graphic). Some violence/gore.
Will appeal to: Those who like original afterlife scenarios and found families.

Blurb: When Harriet Stoker dies after falling from a balcony in a long-abandoned building, she discovers a world of ghosts with magical powers – shape-shifting, hypnosis, even the ability to possess the living. Felix, Kasper, Rima and Leah welcome her into their world, eager to make friends with the new arrival. Yet Harriet is more interested in unleashing her own power, even if it means destroying everyone around her. But when all of eternity is at stake, the afterlife can be a dangerous place to make an enemy. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Walker Books for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.


As anyone who knows me is well-aware of by now, I have a fascination for books about dead characters (whether set in the actual afterlife or having ghosts as protagonists), so I can honestly deem myself an expert on the subject. Thus, believe me when I say TRAOHS is one of the most original takes on "what comes after" that I've ever read - and I'll leave it at that, because I don't want to spoil the fun for you. Since the blurb itself mentions ghostly powers though, yep, they are part of this book's charm - but not the only one, albeit the plot is largely driven by those powers, their use and/or misuse (or lack thereof) and the consequences that come with it. But it doesn't end here. This novel piles up twist after twist and reveal after reveal, and though some of them you start to smell out before they become manifest, there are still plenty that you won't see coming. Not to mention, there's a mystery narrator who kept me on my toes for a long time, and who ended up being NOT the person I thought they were... [...]


Besides being an entertaining afterlife special with cool world-building, TRAOHS is a story about found families and toxic environments, hidden truths and real selves, ill-advised choices and redemption. Also, all the kids (if you can call "kid" a ghost who's been around since the '90s...or much earlier) have distinct personalities and interesting powers - somehow related to those - and I enjoyed their dynamics...though I could have done without the love triangle and the instalove (well, actually, two instances of it), and though there's a sex scene that rubbed me the wrong way (I do understand that it helps define a certain character's nature, but while not overly graphic, it was a bit crude). I also wish that the diversity was a little more fleshed out when it comes to Rima (who we're told wears a hijab, and that's the extent of it) and Harriet (who casually mentions being pan). But I'm sure that all the protagonists will stay with me, because each and every one of them put something special on the table.


So, why the 3.5 stars, you ask? Besides the pet-peeves I mentioned above, I felt like the writing was keeping me at an arm's length from the characters sometimes. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I kept experiencing this sense of disconnection, even while I was liking them and finding them interesting and rooting for them. It's not what I would call a case of telling-not-showing, but most of the time I was very aware that I was seeing Harriet and the others from the author's perspective - which could partly be ascribed to the third-person narrative, but then again, I've read plenty of books using that device, and I've never failed to feel like I was in the character's head, without any filters.


There were a handful more small problems I had with the story, though they didn't necessarily impact my final judgment:

  • Harriet's phone plays a huge part in the plot, since apparently she's able to unlock it via vocal command - but how is it possible that she can't touch it and still it responds to her voice? The author herself has one of the characters ask the question, but it's immediately filed away under "things that can't be explained", which is kind of lazy if you ask me. If you raise - or better, create - an issue, you should be able to provide a solution, as opposed to having it happen for mysterious reasons.
  • Also seems like a few of the ghosts are using it in order to go online, while they 1) can't actually touch it or give it orders (unless Harriet taught them, which isn't mentioned - plus, she should be the only one who can activate the phone vocally) and 2) weren't even alive when the internet became a thing, so how do they know what they're doing?
  • Finally, the thing that puzzles me the most: when Harriet enters the building where she will die, the ghosts have been in a semi-dormant state for years (technically, they are Shells, close to disintegrate for good), because they need the energy of a new death to properly awaken. But later they're aware of stuff like what day it is and how old Felix's brother is...

Then again, I'm only mentioning these quibbles out of honesty, but they didn't taint my enjoyment of the story (much).
I still recommend TRAOHS to all the ghost lovers looking for an original, surprise-ridden afterlife story with solid (ha! see what I did here?) characters, a bit of action and a touch of romance.

For more Afterlife books click here.


  1. I've been thinking of reading something by this author before, as two of her previous novels also sound pretty intriguing, but I always ended up deleting them from my to-read list. This one, however, I've added to my to-read and wishlist, and I'm hoping to get to it this fall, in time for Halloween. I really like ghost stories, so I'm hoping this will work for me despite the faults you pointed out here. Fantastic review! :)

    1. 😊 Plenty of lovely (and not-so-lovely) ghosts here! I hope it will work for you.

  2. Do you have that on your resume - expert on dead characters? LOVE IT! From the synopsis, it seems like they had quite an array of magic at their hands, yet the phone played a big role. Interesting. You do a good job figuring out what didn't work. I am terrible at that.

    1. LOL, I wish it would help me land a nice job! 😉

      At least you have a better shot at enjoying what you read. I'm a picky gal 😉.

  3. Bummer you felt disconnected from the characters! I have to really be invested in them to enjoy a book. However, the cover is giving off some serious Dr. Who vibes! ;)

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. It was not so much a disconnection, as the fact that I was feeling the author's presence too much...if it makes sense. Still an enjoyable read.

      I hadn't noticed that LOL.

  4. Isn't great when you read a lot about a certain topic but still manage to find original takes on it? I'm glad these characters stood out to you enough to stay with you :-) But yeah, I don't like it when I feel far away from the characters, for lack of a better way of putting it. I know what you're saying. I can understand your other complaints too. But I'm glad you still liked it!

    1. It was odd, because I liked them, and still didn't feel NEAR them. It's neat that you got my meaning...or maybe not so neat, because you too experienced this slightly off-putting feeling LOL.

  5. This is a fascinating premise, for sure. I'm fascinated by the subject matter as well. And I haven't heard of this one,m so yay for something new!

    The phone stuff is kind of weird, but otherwise this sounds pretty great!

    1. I'm the queen of unheard-of books LOL.

      Yeah, it's weird, and the author only addresses the issue to drop it at once...but as I said, that didn't bother me awfully. If we didn't suspend our disbelief, there probably would be only a handful of books we could read 😉.


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