Rating: 4.25 stars
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When Jason agrees to babysit his nephew, Timmy, while his sister and her boyfriend go on a month long vacation, he’s expecting his nephew to complicate his life, but he never expected it to be turned completely upside down. Things start off rocky when he realizes that he’s in no way prepared for the energy level and deceptive skills of a four-year old. Then, to make matters worse, while he’s still learning how to cope with keeping up with Timmy, Sam, Timmy’s uncle on his other side shows up. Sam hasn’t seen Timmy since he was born, being in the military and then not visiting at all after his brother ran off and left Timmy and his mother. Sam wants to get to know Timmy and Jason agrees that it’s a good idea and invites Sam to stay with them while he’s in town.
Things then get further complicated when it’s revealed that Jason’s house is haunted. Timmy seems to know quite a bit about “the man in the basement” and, at first, Jason and Sam don’t believe his claims until the ghost reveals itself to them. As the three of them investigate more about who the ghost is and what he could possibly want, truths come out and cause Jason to question things he thought he knew about his life and the people in it, all while getting swept up into a romance with Sam and falling more in love with Timmy every day.
This story was a fantastic example of pairing a good mystery with a romance and making both elements work well. The mystery element was really well done and draws the reader in nicely. This story, like any good mystery, is all about who knows what, and when, including the reader, and it felt very interactive in some ways—at times I felt like I was a character in the story trying to solve this. It really would have been a perfect read if not for a few small issues I had with it.
I liked the characters here a lot. Most romance novels have only two main characters and a supporting cast, but this was really a cast of four (five if you include the dog—who was definitely nuanced enough to be a character) and I loved them all and thought they made the cutest little family unit. Jason and Sam were great, but I actually thought the kid and the ghost were the most dimensional and added so much to the story.
Jason was really the perfect POV character for this story, especially considering that it was presented as a mystery and I thought Inman made some really smart choices with Jason’s voice in that regard. He has enough background information to present the reader with enough “evidence” for their own “investigation” and yet he’s clueless about what’s going on around him and relies on those around him to help him understand what’s happening. He really drives the plot in that way. You also really feel for his struggle with accepting the things he’s learning throughout the narrative. I’m going to be vague here, because I don’t want to give anything at all away about the ghost’s identity, but let’s just say that each clue brings Jason closer and closer to a truth that he doesn’t want to accept and the reader can easily empathize with that position. If it had been me in Jason’s situation, I wouldn’t have wanted to accept that truth until I had to either.
Sam is great in the sense of his evolution throughout the story. At first he’s very much a mystery. Jason himself has only met him once and the reader is left trying to understand why such an obviously caring guy, who’s so great with Timmy, has chosen to stay out of his life for so long. As you get to know more about him (again I’m staying non-specific as to not ruin it), he becomes a really sympathetic character, and then transitions into the real hero of the story.
Timmy was a fantastic character. As kids often are, he’s the comic relief for much of this book, but in a way that felt real. He’s also a real centerpiece for the supernatural elements going on in the story and that adds an interesting complexity to his character. He definitely made me smile throughout the entirety of the book (except for the parts where my heart broke for him, but again I won’t get specific), especially the scene at the end of the book when he meets his grandparents for the first time, which was sheer brilliance.
Similarly, the ghost was incredibly well done. The descriptions of the supernatural occurrences in the book were probably the most visceral and definitely made the reader connect emotionally to the mystery of the ghost’s identity and desires. By the end of the book, he feels as much a part of the family as the rest of them. Also, he speaks to them by channeling Bugs Bunny at one point—how great is that?
I loved all of these characters and I loved the way that they worked together, and as much as I liked the romance here, it really almost took a backseat to the sense that they were really building a family. It was beautiful in that sense.
As much as I liked the characters, the plot was probably my favorite thing about this story though. It was a great balance between the mystery of the supernatural goings on and the romance between Jason and Sam. The way the story is set up is the perfect beginning to a mystery, with Timmy being the only one aware of the ghost at first and therefore his arrival sparking the directionality of the plot. The beginning seeds of doubt about what’s presented as truth and what is actually true are brilliantly sowed and I had so much fun trying to figure out which characters knew what information at various points in the story and evolving my guess as to the identity of the ghost and what happened to him as the story unfolded.
By the time we get to the middle part of the narrative and to the heart of the conflict, the plot is so delicately layered and complex, it’s a real joy to read. Each individual character’s motivations are so interesting and at such direct opposition to each other, yet their love for each other forces them to strive toward resolution. It’s fascinating and really well-crafted. The pacing of the story is perfect, and as I’ve already mentioned very well-balanced, and it leads the reader along to draw their own conclusions perfectly, and the ending, while a touch cliché, is very emotionally satisfying.
The only complaint I have at all about this book is the writing style. In places it felt very overworked and clear and effective prose was sacrificed in the attempt at being clever. I also found the dialogue really cheesy at some points and a few scenes were actually hard to get through without just skimming because of it.
On the whole, I found this book to be exciting, interesting and layered despite the sketchy writing in some places, and the complex character motivations make up a lot of the ground lost there. I’d recommend this one for fans of stories about kids, ghosts, or mysteries with a side of romance.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.