Madison, the 17-year-old protagonist of Once Dead, Twice Shy, informs us in the first paragraph of the book that she died in a freak car accident - on her birthday, no less - on prom night. That kind of set-up left me expecting the story to backtrack, then lead up to that moment; but no, Madison is dead, yet she's still around, thanks to a magical amulet she somehow managed to snatch from a mysterious stranger after she woke up in the morgue.
She shouldn't have been able to take the amulet, much less use it to stay around and appear to be alive. She did it in moment of reflexive self-defense, as the dark reaper who was attacking her was bent on destroying her soul. Now she is being tutored by a light reaper named Barnabas, a sort of angelic being who attempts to thwart the destructive plans of the dark reapers. But Madison just can't seem to learn the most basic skills of being a light reaper. She is being chased by the dark reapers, who are determined to finish the job they started, and she is desperate to learn the skills to protect herself.
It seems that Madison can't manage to follow even the simplest rules, and she not only puts herself in danger, but she ends up putting one of her classmates in danger, too. He happens to be the guy she walked away from at the prom, the night she'd been killed in the accident, and the more she gets to know him, the more she realizes what a mistake it had been to walk away like that. She has to tell him the truth about herself, in order to keep him safe, at the risk of him thinking she's an utter lunatic - and that sets in motion a chain of events that unfold at a hair-raising, breakneck pace.
First of all, can I say how annoying it is to read a book and then discover that the first part of that book was actually a short story in an anthology somewhere, and there is no mention made of that fact anywhere on the book itself? I was able to figure out what was happening as the pieces of back story came together, but the opening of this book made me feel I was missing important information. I realize I am on the fanatical end of the spectrum when it comes to reading series books in order, so take it with a grain of salt when I say you might want to read the short story that introduces Madison, which is in the anthology Prom Nights from Hell (edited by Meg Cabot). Also it bugged me that the book repeatedly refers to the purple streaks in Madison's hair, but the cover image shows a blonde, no streaks, like it's some other girl who's on the cover.
That said, I did enjoy the novel. It introduced an interesting supernatural element that posed a lot of questions, which, as the plot twisted and turned, were answered in surprising ways. There is a nice romantic touch, and it was bittersweet to watch Madison realizing truths that might have helped her be happier when she was still alive. Her pleasure in photography gave her added depth, particularly as she discussed the details that inspired her attempts to capture specific images. Apparently there always has to be an over-the-top bitchy girl in YA novels these days, and I didn't think this particular girl added a whole lot - but it may be that I've just been reading too many similar teen novels lately.
I liked that the book has a satisfying conclusion, while leaving plenty of loose ends and unresolved issues that can be explored in future books. I did find that the conclusion cast into doubt much of what was told to us throughout the earlier parts of the novel, and the way it ended left me a bit confused as far as what was true and what wasn't. It did set up a most interesting dynamic, however, and I'm looking forward to further exploration of that in future books.
Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison (HarperCollins, 2009)
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Beyond Books: "I loved Madison and I was amused by Barnabas. I have to admit that I couldn’t stand the guardian angel at first, but then she grew on me. I liked her by the end of the story. The book was shorter than I would have liked (especially for the price of the book)."
The Story Siren: "Madison’s character as well as her thoughts seemed uneven at times. Adding another complication to the story. The plot was steady throughout the novel until the very fast and anticlimactic ending."
Writer's Block Reviews: "I adored Madison, she is a very feisty girl that will make you smile. If you are a paranormal junkie, you truly have to read this book!"