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Kimberly Derting

REVIEW: Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting

REVIEW: Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting

Dear Ms. Derting,

I greatly enjoyed your debut YA, The Body Finder, about Violet Ambrose, a girl who can sense the presence of corpses. Her story, her supportive relationship with her family, and her blossoming romance with her best friend, Jay, combined to make for an enjoyable read. While your sophomore effort didn’t blow me away as much as I’d hoped it would, it was still worth the wait.

desires of the deadIt’s been a few months since the events of The Body Finder, and Violet and Jay are settling into their new relationship. After all, the rules of being an official couple are different from those of being best friends since childhood. Violet is looking forward to enjoying a normal life, or as normal as can be expected when you can sense the dead.

But Violet’s peaceful respite is cut short. A new boy, Mike, and his younger sister have transferred to her school, and soon becomes best friends with Jay. Not a bad thing, except Jay’s now spending all his time with his new friend and hardly any with his girlfriend. To say Violet is jealous is an understatement.

Even more worrisome, Violet has been receiving threatening messages and harassing phone calls. Does she have a stalker? Or is someone after her boyfriend and want her out of the way?

And possibly the most troublesome of all, a woman claiming to be from the FBI keeps wanting to speak to Violet. She wants to know how Violet can pinpoint the locations of missing bodies. The last thing Violet wants is the notice of the police; her uncle is a sheriff and knows about her strange ability, but he keeps it a secret. If the FBI found out, she worries that she’ll become a glorified lab rat.

As with The Body Finder, the part I enjoyed the most about Desires of the Dead were the depiction and exploration of Violet’s relationships. I liked that we see what happens after best friends turn lovers. Violet and Jay have known each other since they were little. They are literally best friends who have known each other their entire lives. But transitioning to being girlfriend and boyfriend is a new realm for them. The rules are different. I thought the new tension between them was very realistic and believable.

Bonus points for Violet being the aggressor in their relationship and wanting to take things to the next level while Jay was hesitant and trying to hold back. In YA, we so often see the reverse, that the girl is being pressured by the guy in all manner of things. But Violet is the instigator and in a time when so many young adult novels have questionable gender and relationship dynamics, it was great to see Violet give her 100%, no doubt or question, assent.

I also liked the introduction of Sara Priest. Violet’s ability has always been a carefully hidden secret, only known to a select trusted few. But it has great potential to be used for good. It was nice to see Violet discover a way to be proud of her ability rather than feel like she was a freak.

Unfortunately, like The Body Finder, I thought the mystery/thriller plot was weak. The connection between new kids, Mike and Megan, Violet’s stalker, and the mystery surrounding their missing mother was too obvious and the resolution very convenient. I found myself very frustrated by those aspects because the scenes from the POV of Violet’s stalker made things so obvious that I honestly wanted to skip them half the time.

I also like the introduction of Rafe because I want Violet to interact with other people who also have unusual abilities. However, that interest is almost nullified by the fear of a developing love triangle. Nothing happens in this book, but I worry that one will be set up in future novels, and I am tired of love triangles. I feel like there’s enough potential conflict between Violet and Jay for them to remain interesting without one, especially with the introduction of Sara Priest and her “project.” I thought that part of the book where they fight over the identity of Violet’s stalker was very realistic. After all, what do you do when you fight with your boyfriend? Talk to your best friend, right? But what do you do when your boyfriend is also your best friend? What do you do then?

Overall, I found Desires of the Dead to be a great read. I just love seeing depictions of positive, healthy relationships in young adult novels. Not only are the parents present, they know about Violet’s ability (it runs in the family) and support her in whatever she chooses to do with it. It’s a sad statement that this is relatively rare in paranormal YA, but I think readers looking for non-emo, paranormal YA featuring a romance based on the friends to lovers trope might find something to like here. B-

My regards,

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REVIEW: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

REVIEW: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

Dear Ms. Derting,

Your debut initially piqued my interest when I read the premise: a teenage girl with the ability to sense death gets tangled up with a serial killer. For all my purported weariness with the urban fantasy genre and its related subsets, I can’t seem to stay away because I love the paranormal and all things fantasy. I admit it’s not the most original concept but as with many things, it’s all in the execution. An added element is all that’s needed to elevate something from merely good to great. For me, that was the relationship of the heroine with her male best friend and the promise of a childhood friends turned lovers trope, which remains a surefire favorite of mine.

The Body Finder by Kimberly DertingFor as long as she can remember, Violet Ambrose has been able to sense death. This means primarily two things: finding dead bodies and being able to tell if someone has taken a life. Obviously, neither hospitals nor cemeteries are her favorite places. Violet’s ability manifests in any number of sensory cues, including: visual distortions like bright colors or oily films, bells ringing, or bitter tastes on her tongue. When she was little, her ability was mostly confined to finding dead animals. That changed one day when she found a dead girl buried in a forest.

Now Violet is a teenager, coping with the every day concerns of being in high school and struggling with her growing feelings for her best friend, Jay, who’s experiencing a sudden burst of popularity due to “suddenly” becoming hot. Nothing out of the ordinary but given Violet’s special ability, we know that can’t stay the case for long. Soon girls start disappearing and turning up dead. Violet has the unfortunate luck of finding the first corpse at the last lake party of the summer. And as the victims start hitting closer to home with each disappearance, Violet finds that staying uninvolved and denying her ability is no longer an option.

It took me a couple chapters to get hooked but once I did, it was hard for me to put the book down. I chose this book for the premise but I’ll be honest. The relationship between Violet and Jay is why I stayed. Violet’s struggle with taking the chance to jump from friend to something more was really honest and heartfelt. The steadfast denial of her true feelings, even though it was obvious to everyone except for the object of her affections, is something many people will be familiar with. I also really empathized with her bafflement over what to do when her best friend suddenly becomes the most wanted boy in school and what that means for their very close friendship.

Another thing I enjoyed was Violet’s frustration over all the adults in their lives viewing their relationship as being platonic with no chance of anything more — the scene in which she gets angry because her parents are completely fine with Jay being in her room with the door shut when that certainly wouldn’t be the case with any other boy made me smile. Overall, I really thought the romantic aspect was well done and I believe any reader who’s a fan of this particular trope will like this book a great deal because it’s very well-done.

Bonus points for Violet having a family that’s present, supportive, and not dysfunctional! This shouldn’t be so extraordinary that I feel the need to comment on it but coming from a fantasy reading background, I’ve had more than my fair share of dead or non-present parents in a protagonist’s backstory. To have parents not only be present but be aware of Violet’s abilities? And be at turns supportive and protective of her because of it? Miraculous. In addition, we got to see Jay’s mother and Violet’s aunt, uncle and cousins. It was nice to see a character have normal, healthy relatiionships with both immediate and extended family.

One thing I wasn’t so keen on were the brief passages from the villain’s point of view. I really don’t know why this is such a popular method used in thriller-type books. They never add suspense to my reading experience and instead often conjure the mental image of a villain caricature who’s twirling his mustache and flinging his cape over a shoulder. I don’t know about other readers, but that doesn’t keep me on the edge of my seat.

There was also a (thankfully very brief) scene towards the end of the book with a very off-putting incident of homophobia and biphobia. It was so out of place from the rest of the book that I couldn’t even understand why it was included in the first place. It’s not important to the plot. It didn’t add anything to the characterization other than making me think Violet’s flighty friend is now a homophobic jerk. I don’t know if it was meant to be “realistic” or what, but it struck me as unnecessary. Given that this is a young adult novel, in which a portion of the target audience is coming to terms with their sexual identity (in this case, specifically bisexual girls), I really felt that this however-brief scene should be mentioned with a cautionary note because it does come out of left field.

But other than that bit of unpleasantness, I did enjoy the The Body Finder. I don’t think the mystery-thriller part is particularly that outstanding but it was functional enough to hold together. I think the main reason to read the book is the changing relationship between Violet and Jay, which was lovely and well-done. Everything else was sidelined for me. B-

My regards,