Unfinished: Tombstone Tea

By Joanne Dahme [LibraryThingGoodreads]

[Sometimes we come across books that even we can’t finish. But how can we give them a rating if we haven’t finished them? Thus we have the Unfinished/Unrated category, for those times when we want to talk about a book we didn’t finish – and why.]

From the back cover copy: “In order to fit in at her new school, Jessie accepts a dare to spend one night in a local cemetery. Once inside the heavy iron entrance gate, she encounters a handsome young boy named Paul. He tells her that she is just in time to watch the rehearsal of Tombstone Tea, a memorial for those buried in the cemetery in which actors impersonate the deceased. But Jessie notices that there is something strange about these actors – something deadly.”

I struggled about a third of the way through this book before eventually giving up, but I was skeptical of my ability to finish it by the second page. I didn’t run across anything that offended me or anything – it’s just really poorly written. Like, the worst prose I have encountered since this blog started, or at least the worst prose that wasn’t a translation from another language. In fact, I checked the author bio very early on to make sure it wasn’t originally written in German or something. Since Dahme is a lifelong Philadelphian, I’m guessing not.

The book is written in first person, which makes the awkward, stilted prose seem even more unnatural. It doesn’t help that Dahme seems to have a hate on for contractions, and doesn’t always make her sentences cohesive. Here’s an example from the second page, where Jessie describes her ability to sense the presence of the dead:

“A face would flash before my eyes, or I’d hear a voice I did not recognize whisper or laugh in my ear. It was a bit distracting and, of course, I never shared this with anyone. People would think that I was crazy, although it had happened in small ways for as long as I could remember, particularly if I was in a place that had some history.”

The “did not” in the first sentence so jarringly formal that it took me out of the narrative. In the second and third sentences, the first clauses have nothing to do with the second. What does the distracting aspect of seeing ghosts have to do with telling other people? What does the length of time Jessie’s been seeing them for have to do with people thinking she’s crazy? I’ll admit my current love affair with Reasoning with Vampires has made me more conscious of grammar as I read, but seriously, this is not good writing.

The blurb I quoted at the beginning of this review shows the other major problem with Dahme’s writing – it’s more concerned with description than action or character. Is it really necessary for us to know that the entrance gate to the cemetery is heavy iron (as opposed to what, light iron?)? No. But you’d best believe that I learned all about the heaviness of that gate – as well as every other aspect of the cemetery, because the entire first third of the book consists of one scene with one setting. I’d really have been more interested in seeing Jessie do something.

I could have forced my way through Tombstone Tea, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and the book wouldn’t have rated more than a cupcake, probably less. For a bestseller, I’d make the effort to at least keep abreast of market trends. Since this book seems to be almost completely unheard of, I’ll pass.

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    3 Responses to “Unfinished: Tombstone Tea”

    1. Carolyn says:

      Have y’all reviewed the “Chaos Walking” books? Can’t find the review if so.

    2. Jessica says:

      We definitely haven’t reviewed them. I haven’t read them – Becky?

    3. Rebecca says:

      Never even heard of ’em.

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